News

The History of Santa Claus

Hi Everyone! Our Holiday Open House and Craft festival is this Saturday from 10-3. We are celebrating Santa Claus this year. So we thought it might be fun to take a look at the history of Santa.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around A.D. 280 in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. In the Netherlands and Belgium St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas, a skinny bearded man in a red suit, trimmed with fur and wearing a bishop’s miter. Sinterklaas would leave presents for good girls and boys in their shoes left by the children’s beds, and he would also bring treats for the families horses. In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a replace. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of Santa. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, MO. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930. It was an instant success and further cemented our modern image of Santa.

We are so lucky that Santa will be joining us this weekend for our event, so if you have little ones, please bring them along so they can give Santa their wish list! The event is free and we are open from 10-3. We hope to see you there!

Holiday Open House

Hi Everyone, we are taking a quick break from our Artifact Corner videos to tell you about our upcoming Holiday Open House and Artisan Craft Festival. We have local artists, blacksmiths, basket weavers, quilters, honey goods, and more! We also have it on good authority that Santa will be stopping by to take requests from children. This Saturday December 2, we are opening our doors from 10 to 3. Admission to the event is free!

Artifact Corner: House Pictures

Hi Everyone, today we will be looking at some amazing photos from our collections of our museum. This series of pictures is from the 19- teens through the 1930’s. We are so lucky to have these in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/7813-sunny-morning
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://cemmusicproject.wixsite.com/musiclibraryfiles

Artifact Corner: Umbrella

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at an absolutely stunning umbrella. This piece likely dates to the early part of the 19th Century. It is made from multiple materials. The canopy is made of silk, the shaft is made of wood, the ribs are made of steel, the handle is made of brass and ivory. The ferrule, or the tip of the umbrella is also made of brass that has an engraved design on it. The handle has a name engraved in the ivory, Matthew Lane, who appears to hail from Troy, NY. We do not know who Matthew is, or why his umbrella ended up in our collections, but I’ll talk about that more in a bit. First let’s learn a bit more about umbrellas.

The English word “umbrella” comes from the Italian word “ombrella”, which traces its origins from the Latin word “umbella”, which is then derived from “umbra”. These Latin terms translate to shade or shadow. Like the word “parasol”, which is a combination of the French words “parare” and “sol” to mean “shield from the sun”, the umbrella was originally used to give oneself shade from the heat of the sun. Almost every ancient culture had umbrellas. Ancient Egyptians made umbrellas out of palm fronds, feathers, and stretched papyrus. In Mesopotamia, a similar picture is painted by artifacts from around the same period. Hindu culture assigns great importance to the umbrella with the chatra, a symbol in Hinduism closely connected to divinity and fortune. China made use of umbrellas and parasols as protection from both the sun and rain, but this practice was also con ned to the upper classes. Women in both Ancient Greece and Rome had parasols to protect them from the sun, but they were also a sought after fashion accessory. Records of umbrellas in Europe’s Middle Ages are extremely rare. Cloaks were the oft-cited instrument that medieval European people used to cover themselves when caught out in the rain. Umbrellas came back into fashion in Europe around the 16th Century. They were mostly used by women, until the mid to late 18th Century, when men started to adopt the practice of carrying one.

So, who is Matthew Lane, and why do we have his umbrella? Well, property records indicate that a Matthew Lane was selling, leasing, and buying a lot of property in Rensselaer County and Clinton County NY in the 1830’s. So, he seems to be a mover and shaker in the Albany area as well as up in our neck of woods in the 1830’s. If our research is correct, Matthew Lane’s father was a Revolutionary War veteran, and a very prominent businessman in Troy from the late 1700’s. So, Matthew and his family would have been well known in the area from the 1790’s through the 1860’s and 70’s. In 1832 our Frances Henrietta Delord was being courted and then married prominent businessman and Albany resident Henry Webb. Did they connect at a party perhaps, and he gifted them this umbrella on a rainy night? Did they somehow all meet in Plattsburgh at a social gathering? We simply have no records of it, so the umbrella’s history is still shrouded in mystery.

This umbrella is in good condition given it’s age and likely use. The silk has torn in some spots, most typically the wear spots on the piece, but the mechanical aspects still work. The handle, ribs and shaft are all in good condition. This is a truly stunning piece and we are so lucky to have it in collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/7813-sunny-morning
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://cemmusicproject.wixsite.com/musiclibraryfiles

Artifact Corner: Riverside Cemetery


Hi everyone, and welcome to a special Halloween edition of our series Artifact Corner. This week and next week we will be exploring a very special place in Plattsburgh that has a connection to our museum. We will be checking out Riverside cemetery, which is the final resting place of the founding member of our family’s museum, Henry Delord.
Riverside cemetery is the final resting place of many of Plattsburgh’s most prominent founding members, and soldiers involved in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Plattsburgh was founded in 1784 when Zephaniah Platt of Poughkeepsie, NY, and two of his brothers received a state grant for 33,000 acres of land along the Saranac River. The next year, Charles Platt and a group of settlers began construction of homes. Three years later, New York State created Clinton County. In 1815, Plattsburgh was officially made a village, but it wasn’t until 1902 that Plattsburgh became a city.
So, let’s take a closer look at cemeteries. Why do we bury people after they have passed? The practice of burying people dates back as far as the middle Paleolithic period. In the Stone Age, it was common practice to bury the dead and place a large stone over the grave to mark the spot. In the Middle Ages, in Europe, the marker on the burial site was entirely dependent on your wealth. The average person would have a wooden marker, with maybe a few words carved into it. If you were wealthy you would likely have a stone marker in a prominent spot. If you were very wealthy you would have a heavily decorated headstone, or possibly a likeness of yourself atop a stone tomb.
In the 18th and early 19th Centuries most people would have a stone burial marker with their name, birth date, and the date they passed. A wealthy citizen’s stone could also contain decorative carving and sometimes a quote or poem. When we look at Henry Delord’s headstone, you can see that the decoration and lettering has deteriorated over the last 200 years. The stone says “In Memory of Henry Delord, born at Nismes France, July 15th 1764, Died March 29th 1825, Age 61 years.” There is a further inscription at the bottom that has since been obscured by soil. There appears to be some decoration at the top of the stone, and there may have been more fine detailed work when the stone was first placed, that has since been worn away. It’s difficult to tell.
Early Colonial cemeteries grew up around settlement. Early headstones were typically smaller in size and made of softer, more easily harvested stones. Sandstone, slate, and eventually marble were very popular because they are easy to quarry, and to move to a location. This picture is of a stone in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Hampton, NH. This stone belongs to Susanna Smith, who died in 1680. You can see the stone, despite being 340 years old, is still quite legible. The stone is quite small, and lacking decoration. Large “flashy” headstones were not common. This is not to say that they did not have motifs on headstones. A common motif was a winged death head. This symbolized deaths grip on man, and its inevitability. During this time, gravestone carving was not a full time position, simply because there was not enough demand. Across America, most gravestones were carved by regular stone masons. In the 18th Century, headstones become more elaborated and decorative. The winged deaths head of the 1600’s is replaced by a bit friendlier motif of the winged angel. Views on death and the afterlife had softened, and the angel was representative of the eternal life that was awaiting the deceased. In the later 1700’s and early 1800’s we see beautiful willow trees, a symbol of sorrow for the departed, and intricate scroll work along the edges of the stones. The stones also get taller in the period. The shorter more demure stones of the 1600’s are replaced with stones that could be in excess of 5 feet tall. The 1800’s have multiple phases of headstone design. This Century was one of numerous major shifts in technology, attire, and even the design of headstones. In the early 1800’s the style was similar to the late 18th Century. We still see willow trees, we see urns, and scroll details. In all ages, there are some outliers. This is Col. Melancton Smith’s headstone, and he has a lot going on here. He was buried with Masonic rights, he also was buried with military honors by his regiment, and he decided to make sure everyone knew all of that by his headstone. As the century progressed, stone styles changed pretty often. The lettering became more uniform. In the middle to late 19th Century people began to adorn their graves with large statues, often of angels or mourners. These beautifully carved monuments adorn many cemeteries and are truly works of art. Frank and Fannie Hall (Fannie is the granddaughter of Henry Delord) were buried here at the beginning of the 20th Century. Their headstone reflects the style of the times. The lettering is raised, and there is a shield surrounding both of their names. It is a simple, yet very well carved stone. Stones continued to change and adapt to the styles of the day. We have so enjoyed this little peak into Riverside Cemetery, and hope you’ve enjoyed it as well. Have a safe and fun Halloween, and thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, https://www.bensound.com
A Really Dark Alley by Loyalty Freak Music

Artifact Corner: Victorian Hair Broach

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a lovely little piece of jewelry, a brooch. This brooch is unique because it contains the hair of two of our family members. Frances Henrietta Delord and her husband Henry Livingston Webb, who died twelve years apart. Their marriage was cut short by Frances Henrietta’s tragic death at the age of just twenty. Henry Webb survived her for more than a decade, but never remarried, and continued to morn the loss of his wife. Let’s learn a bit more about the love story of Frances and Henry.

In May of 1832, 18 year old Frances Henrietta was visiting friends and family in Albany. Her letters home to her mother repeatedly mention a Mr. Webb, saying, “Mr. Webb has been quite attentive and polite, and has been often to see me.” In another letter she states, “As Saturday evening got somewhat advanced, I was reading, very sleepy, my hair really looked frightful, when there was a ring at the door. Who should I behold but Mr. W. He brought me a work on Revivals.” The two were engaged by July, and Frances returned home to plan the wedding. The two wrote each other constantly with Henry calling Frances “my beloved French girl,” in his letters. By August of that year, the two were married in the Gold Parlor room of our home. They went of a glorious honeymoon in Europe, traveling home in the Fall of 1833. By this point it was clear that Frances was pregnant with their first child. Their daughter, who they also named Frances, was born on February 11th, 1834. Henry Webb writes in a letter as to his wife’s condition following the birth of their child, “I regret to state that Frances is not so well. For the last two days she has been very weak. We have been extremely anxious about her.” The doctor’s who attended her informed Henry that Frances was suffering from child bed fever, an infection brought on due to unsanitary birthing conditions. Frances Henrietta suffered for three weeks before dying at the age of just 20 years old. Henry writes “I take my pen with a heavy heart. My wife is no more.” Frances Henrietta was buried in Albany, and Henry dealt with the grief as best he could.

Henry remained in Albany until 1844 when his health began to decline. He decided to move back to the family farm in Wethers eld CT where his sisters had been raising his daughter Fannie. He sold his store in Albany, and settled down in CT. His health fluctuated in the next two years, but in October of 1846, his condition took a drastic turn, as explained in a letter his daughter wrote to her grandmother, Betsy. “Oh, my dear grandmother, what an awful scene was before us. The Dr. bled him very freely & for a few moments we had some hope of his life. But in about an hour & a half from the time he was first attacked he breathed his last at 1 o’clock. Every thing was done that could be imagined, warm water and drafts to his feet, mustard on his chest etc. but all in vain. His appointed hour had come & we humbly hope this blessed spirit is united to my sainted mother & they are happy with their God.” Henry died on October 12th, 1846 at the age of 51. He was buried in the family plot, next to his beloved wife Frances Henrietta.

Hair jewelry was a very common adornment for the grieving Victorians. The life expectancy during this period was between 33 to 40 years of age for the average person. People in the early to mid 1800’s were far more familiar with people passing away young than we are today. One way to keep a person close to you, was to have some memento that you could possess or even wear. Hair brooches were so common in this period because you could wear a treasured piece of a loved one pinned close to your heart. You can see on the back of the brooch the engraving states Frances and Henry’s names and the dates of their deaths. We don’t know exactly who this brooch belonged to but it was obviously a family member. Frances and Henry’s hair is forever entwined, which is fitting given that they had so little time together. This brooch is in beautiful condition, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/7813-sunny-morning
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://cemmusicproject.wixsite.com/musiclibraryfiles