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Posts Tagged ‘Binghamton’

GC Myers- Icon: Mary TOne of the things I am trying to emphasize with this current Icon series is the fact that we are all flawed in some way, that we all have deficiencies and stumbles along the way.  Yet, uncovering these faults in my research, I find myself holding affection for many of these ancestors that dot my family tree.  Perhaps it is the simple fact that without them I would not be here or perhaps I see some of my own flaws in them.

I’m still working on that bit of psychology.

The 12″ by 12″ canvas shown here is titled Icon: Mary T.  She is my great-great grandmother.  Born Mary Anne Ryan  of Irish immigrant parents in the Utica area she married Michael Tobin, an Irishman ( I believe he was from County Kerry but the research is still up in the air on this) who came to the States around 1850, right in the midst of the Great Irish Immigration.

Michael worked on the railroads being built throughout central New York in the late 1800’s.  Following the progress of the railroads, the couple and their growing family worked their way down through the state towards Binghamton, NY where they eventually settled.  Mary Anne eventually ended up as a housekeeper in a prominent home in the area.  Michael died around 1890 although records are sketchy on this and Mary died at my great-grandmother’s home in Elmira in 1914.

All told, they had seven daughters and three sons.  Most worked in the then booming tobacco industry of that time and place.  Most of her daughters worked as tobacco strippers  and some worked as cigar rollers, as did her sons.

That’s the simple telling of the story.  Looking into the back stories provide a little more depth which can sometimes change all perceptions.

None of her sons ever married and all were had desperate problems with alcohol.  One son was listed in a newspaper report from some years later as having been arrested for public drunkenness around 40 times over the years, seven times in one year.  He was also arrested for running a still more than once during the prohibition years.  Two of her sons died in institutions where they had been placed for their alcoholism.

A Silk Spencer

A Silk Spencer

I came across a story in the local Binghamton newspapers about Mary and two of her daughters, who were also working as domestics with here in the prominent Binghamton home owned by a local attorney and nephew of the founder of Binghamton .  In 1874, the story reports that a number  of items came up missing, including a “forty dollar silk spencer,” which is a sort of short garment like the one shown here at the right.  Neighbors informed the owner of the spencer that Mary had a number of the stolen items in her possession and a search warrant was sworn out.

Detectives came to the Tobin home and made a thorough search but turned up nothing.  They then tore up the carpets which revealed a trap door that led to a small basement.  There they found many of the stolen items but no spencer.  But they did find a silk collar that had been attached to it.  Mary and her two daughters were arrested.

Mary did finally claim to be the sole thief and her daughters were released.  I have yet to find how this particular story ends and how Mary was punished but based on the futures of some of her children I can’t see it being a happy ending.

Doing this painting, I was tempted to make my Mary a bit harsher, a lit more worn.  But as I said, there’s some sort of strange ancestral affection at play even though I know she was obviously a flawed human.  She’s smaller and more delicate looking in the painting than I imagine she was in reality. But maybe that’s little payback for the information her story reveals about the future of my family.

This is a simple painting because, as I pointed out, this is a simple story at its surface.  It’s the story of many, many families.

 

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Born to Run CoverBorn to Run turned 40 years old yesterday and I am somehow surprised, even though I am well aware of time passing.  Maybe because it remains so in the present for me to this day.  Actually, my first artistic foray involved selling Bruce t-shirts out of the want ads in the back of Circus magazine.  They were a little crude,  screen-printed with a logo for the E Street Band that I had designed on the front and  a verse from Born to Run on the back.  Sold a few, mainly to fans in Europe including one in Northern Ireland who remains a friend to this very day, but not enough to call it a success or even break even.

But Springsteen, and Born to Run in particular, had a huge influence on my life as well, well beyond that failed attempt at marketing.  I was knocked out by his commitment to his passion, his need to keep true to his own vision for his work and his need to do all he could to get that vision across to his audience.  It may not always be your style or taste, but his work is as true to his vision as any artist in any medium.

Here’s a blog entry from back in 2009 where I documented my first encounter with Bruce:

When I was seventeen years old I left high school early, in January.  I guess I graduated.  I had enough credits, had fulfilled all the requirements.  Never went to a ceremony, never received a diploma.  I had had enough school at that point.  I was adrift in my life.  No real goals to speak of.  Oh, I had desires and dreams but no direction, no guidance.

At some point, I decided i would move to Syracuse and work for my brother, putting in above-ground swimming pools, but that wouldn’t start until April so I had several months to kill.  Free time.  I spent most of my time reading or watching TV or just driving around.  One day in February, I stopped in at the local OTB (that’s off-track betting, by the way) and bet my last eight dollars on the ponies at Aqueduct.

Good fortune was with me that day and I won, hitting the daily double and walking away with a couple of hundred dollars.  I called Cheri, my girlfriend (and now my wife) and asked if she would be interested in going out.  There was a guy playing tonight at the Arena in Binghamton who I had heard a little about.  I had his first two LPs and they were alright.  Might be interesting and I had money burning a hole in my pocket.  His name was Bruce Springstone, Springstein- something like that.

So we went to Binghamton.  We got there about an hour before the show and it seemed so different than other shows we’d been to at that time, the mid-70’s.  It was so quiet.  People were lined up but it was almost silent, like there was this heavy air of anticipation stifling all sound.  We still needed tickets so we headed to the box office.  I asked the lady behind the glass for the best seats she had and after a moment she slid me two tickets.  I looked at them then asked if she had anything better.  She laughed and said no, these were pretty good.

They were in the third row, just left of centerstage.

I did say that I was seventeen, right?

Inside, there was a quiet stillness as we took out seats.  There weren’t the screams of drunk kids nor the pungent clouds of pot smoke. No beach balls bouncing through crowd–just that heavy air of anticipation.  As we waited, the people around us kept nervously looking at the stage, which was close enough to touch, as a well dressed older man tuned a grand piano.  We had no idea what to expect but our interest was being piqued.  Finally, the roadies cleared the stage and the arena went black.  The first Bruuuces filled the air.

The lights came up and there they were, only feet away.  Bruce was in a white collarless shirt buttoned at the neck and a vest with a woolen sport jacket.  Miami Steve ( Silvio for those of you who know him from the Sopranos) was dressed in a hot pink suit with a white fedora. And directly in front of us, resplendent in a white suit that seemed to glow in the lights was the Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons, his sax glinting gold.

It was overwhelming for someone not knowing what to expect, like mistakenly walking into a revival meeting and coming out converted.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen to that time.  It was pure sonic nirvana with the thump of Mighty Max’s bass drum rattling my sternum and the Big Man’s sax  flowing high over jangly guitar and tinkling piano  lines.  

But more than that was the sheer effort that was put out by Springsteen.  It was the first time I had seen someone so committed to what they did.  It seemed that all that mattered at that moment for him was to get across that space to the people in that arena.  He dove across the stage.  He clambered onto speakers.  He gave everything.  By the end of the show, some three and a half hours later, he appeared to have been dragged from a river.  He was soaked from the top of his boots to the top of head and when he played his Telecaster, his hand on the neck of the guitar would fill with a pool of  sweat.

His desire and commitment to please us was something I carried with me.

Several years later I ran into a person who had been at that show and when I told him my luck at getting such great seats he turned green with envy.  His seats were much further back in the hockey arena.  We then both agreed that our favorite moment was when they did a cover of  It’s My Life from the Animals.  We didn’t really know one another but we both gushed about how that song had moved us, had changed our lives in some small way.  I still carry that image and when I hear that song I am suddenly 17 years old again.  And ten feet tall with the world at my feet because it was my life and I’d do what I want…

That’s my first Bruce story.

Here’s She’s the One from the year before the show I was at.  Enjoy.

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A Return to RootsI live in a part of New York state that doesn’t normally get a lot of headlines.  We’re somewhat rural with a few smaller  cities scattered across what is called the Southern Tier  that runs along the NY/Pennsylvania border.  

We have Corning which is known for its glass industry including a world-class museum.  There’s Ithaca with  Cornell and Ithaca College.  Then there’s my hometown of Elmira where Mark Twain spent his summers, writing many of his books from his study overlooking the valley, and is buried here.  Home of the late, great Ernie Davis.  We’re also known for our prisons.  I can barely contain my pride.

Then a little east there’s Binghamton.  

It was primarily known as the birthplace of IBM but after yesterday will be known in the national mind as the location of yet another murderous rampage.

14 killed.

I don’t know much about the assailant and I really don’t need to hear a lot.  I’m sure there will be all kinds of new info today and  in the week ahead, all profiling a troubled soul.  Unfortunately, we’ve heard it all before.  Too many times.

I don’t have any answers to the scourge of mass killings.  I have sympathy for the families who lost members.   I have empathy for those who witnessed and survived, many immigrants to this country.  Their terror and bewilderment that such a thing could happen in their chosen home is palpable.

And I have a degree of sorrow and empathy for the killer.  While I can’t understand how a person could be driven to such violence , I can imagine the alienation and rage that ran through his mind.  I don’t know his circumstances or what might have possibly tripped that final switch but he obviously lived in a troubled state of mind without the necessary coping mechanisms.  

That doesn’t excuse or justify his actions.  It only brings to mind the scores of people that live among us with that same anger, that same sense of separation.  The vast majority live this side of the line but more and more cross it and we’re left watching the news, horrified.

And you hope and you pray that this time will be the last.

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