Friday, October 14, 2011

The first quarter century of the New York state library school, 1887-1912. New York State Library School, State of New York Education Department, 1912, page 61
Spring had just begun to take the chill out of the air, when we awakened one morning to find the New York State Library in ashes. As we stood on the street corner watching the smoldering flames, which now and again burst forth with renewed energy and played with awful beauty within the narrow confines of the tower, we wondered how this great library could ever be restored. But we did not doubt that the work would go on, for we knew our director and his staff. It was not long before we were all assembled in the audtorium of the State Normal College, and Mr Wyer standing before us held up one poor charred volume saying, "My friends, this is the New York State Library." Upon so small a foundation were plans quickly laid for the future; comfortable quarters were provided at the State Normal College, lectures delivered, books purchased, and with only a day's interruption our work proceeded with its former interest and efficiency.

As we looked upon the blackened walls of the Capitol we realized how great a calamity had fallen on the State but we were also filled with admiration for the courage and energy of our faculty. There was no faltering, no hesitation but a marvelous spirit of determination to save what was possible from the ruins and to rebuild upon the same broad lines.

To the class of 1912 there was one gleam of light in the darkness. The fire had been terrible but if it had to be, we were glad it had come at this time. Our recent examination in shelf and accession work had caused us many pangs of anxiety but out of the blackness peeped a silver-lining. Everything had been destroyed so our examination papers were no more. But our joy was short lived for everything was lost except one small iron box and this contained the examination papers, only blackened a little along the edges.

Then came the library trip, when we traveled from place to place, invested with somewhat the same feeling of importance that took possession of David Copperfield when he donned his first suit of mourning. In the eyes of the library world we were refugees from a great fire and
received with unusual interest. We told and retold the story of the conflagration and dwelt with pardonable pride on all that had been accomplished in the succeeding weeks.

On our return we found our room at the Normal College provided with unhoped-for conveniences and equipped with an excellent working library. So the year ended with a little fun intermingled with the long hours of cataloging and the bond between faculty and students was drawn more closely because of the great crisis through which they had passed together.

The next fall we assembled, our own class somewhat diminished in numbers, but not in enthusiasm. The gloomy loft of the guild house of the Cathedral of All Saints had been transformed into a pleasant study room and the walls lined with a splendid collection of books. In spite of the fire there seemed to be no lack of material for our work and we delighted in the soft strains of music which came to us from the choir boys in the cathedral.

Soon the strange faces of the juniors became familiar to us. We entertained them; they invited us to a dance; the months slipped by and we separated to do practice and research work in various parts of the country. All too quickly June arrived and our two years at Albany became but a memory.

Our course had been varied and broken, but was there one who was not glad and proud to belong to the " fire class? " We had lost much in the form of lecture notes and books, but we had gained far more in seeing the courage with which men and women could face a great disaster and the ability and perseverance which made it possible to build a new library on the ashes of the old.

Study Room, New York State Library School, 1897-1900
Room 51, southwest tower of Capital, fifth floor.

Lecture Room, New York State Library School, 1897-1900
Room 51A, State Capital. Afterward used as Director's office.

Lecture Room, New York State Library School, 1900-
Room 71, State Capital, southeast tower, seventh floor. [?]

Study Room, New York State Library School, 1893-1897.
Room 31, State Capital. Used also for several years for the summer school.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Giving Back.

From the [Albany] Times-Union: 1911 Capitol fire

Burnt artifacts salvaged from the State Capitol fire of March 29, 1911 in Albany. (Courtesy NYS Library)

Dan Odell with three Audubon bird prints at his Delmar home Wednesday June 8, 2011. Damaged in the 1911 Capitol fire and discarded by the state,the prints were salvaged by Odell's grandfather, state zoologist Sherman C. Bishop. They were in Bishop's summer cottage and Odell is now giving them back to the state on the Capitol fire's centennial. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

An Audubon print of a Rice Bird, one of three bird prints salvaged by Sherman C. Bishop, NYS zoologist from 1916-1928. Bishop's grandson Dan Odell is now giving them back to the state on the Capitol fire's centennial. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

An Audubon print of a Yellow Throated Warbler, one of three bird prints salvaged by Sherman C. Bishop, NYS zoologist from 1916-1928. Bishop's grandson Dan Odell is now giving them back to the state on the Capitol fire's centennial. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

An Audubon print of a Blue Yellow-backed Warbler, one of three bird prints salvaged by Sherman C. Bishop, NYS zoologist from 1916-1928. Bishop's grandson Dan Odell is now giving them back to the state on the Capitol fire's centennial. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

Discarded Audubon prints returning to state - State Museum will get lithographs damaged in 1911 fire at Capitol. by Paul Grondahl, Staff writer
Published 12:01 a.m., Sunday, June 19, 2011
ALBANY -- The stunning avian colors in John James Audubon's life-size color lithographs have been clouded by smoke from the 1911 Capitol fire and a century of benign neglect, but the valuable bird prints once assumed to be destroyed have risen, phoenix-like.

Now, the grandson of the state zoologist who salvaged them from a large discard pile of fire-damaged materials long ago is planning to return them to the State Museum collection.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," said Dan Odell, 59, a retired state Office of Mental Health administrator.

Odell's grandfather, Sherman C. Bishop, rescued three of the marginally salvageable Audubon engravings from a sodden, charred pile of 90 plates that were destroyed in the March 29, 1911, fire and were about to be thrown out. They were among more than 10,000 State Museum items lost in the catastrophic fire that left a night watchman dead and consumed nearly the entire collection of the State Library, including 500,000 books and 300,000 manuscripts.

Bishop began work as state zoologist in 1916 and five years later offered the three prints he rescued to his friend Langdon Gibson, an explorer and naturalist who lived in Schenectady. Gibson had the smoke- and water-damaged edges trimmed off, framed them and gave them back to Bishop as a gift. The three Audubon images are the yellow-throated warbler, blue yellow-backed warbler and rice bird. They were engraved, printed and hand-colored by R. Havell in the 1820s and 1830s and were contained in what is known as a Havell edition. It was the only Audubon volume in the State Museum collection.

Bishop hung the three bird prints in his summer cottage in the Finger Lakes. That's where they remained for the next six decades, until Odell's mother gave him the prints in the 1980s.

"They'd been sitting in my closet ever since and I wasn't doing anything with them, so I decided to give them back," Odell said.

He was spurred to action after reading a Times Union story last month about descendants of A.J.F. van Laer, the State Library's archivist who rushed into the burning Capitol in 1911 to save Colonial Dutch records he was translating. His descendants donated books and items to the State Library from van Laer's estate.

"It's nice to have a representation of Audubon's work back in our collection," said Patricia Kernan, a biological illustrator with the State Museum. "It's a very important piece of history for us."

She said the prints will require conservation work and they will be stored properly for the first time -- with archival paper and temperature and humidity controls.

Because the prints have been trimmed down and they are damaged, their value is limited, perhaps worth about $2,000 apiece. An online dealer of Havell edition Audubon plates in good condition is offering them for sale from $5,000 apiece to more than $100,000 based on the type and size of the bird.

Union College has an extra-large and rare set of Audubon prints, known as a "double elephant folio" edition. Those 435 bound and hand-colored etchings are valued in excess of $1 million. They were restored and returned to the Schaffer Library in 2006. One hundred of the Audubons were recovered after being stolen from the college in 1971.

Bishop left his job as state zoologist in 1928 and took a faculty position in the zoology department at the University of Rochester. He continued to work there until his death in 1951. His research specialty was spiders and salamanders and his "Handbook of American Salamanders" remains a standard college text.

Odell rediscovered the Audubon prints when he and his wife, a certified public accountant, began downsizing and packing. They have sold their large Colonial home in Delmar home and are moving this summer into a loft apartment in Cohoes.

In his retirement, Odell has become a licensed outdoor guide and has led parties on fishing and hiking trips into the Adirondack back country. He has traversed some of the locales where his grandfather conducted field work and collected specimens. In his backpack, Odell carries his grandfather's L.L. Bean hunting knife and enamel camping plates.

"I feel a connection to the past," said Odell, whose great-uncle was the former New York Gov. Benjamin B. Odell, who held the office from 1901-1905.

"I'm glad I could return some of the State Museum's history to its collection," he said.

Reach Grondahl at 454-5623 or
From: New York State Library 94th Annual Report 1911, Transmitted to the Legislature March 27, 1912.

Following page 34:

The folio edition of Audobon's Birds of America as saved from the ruins.
Also found at:Annual report, Issue 94, 1912, (Google eBook)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Burning of the New York State Library - March 29, 1911.

March 30, 1911, New York Times, Page 10, Column 4,

The Capital Fire.

To the Editor of The New York Times

Let us give thanks to St. Abraham again. The Republican Party is saved again. It has burned the documents. ------------ N.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


June 24, 1910, New York Times, PALTSITS ASSAILS DRAPER.

State Historian Accuses Commissioner of Education of Lobbying.
ALBANY, June 23. -- Charges of "misrepresentation, pernicious lobbying, and coercion," are made against State Commissioner of Education Andrew S. Draper by State Historian Victor Hugo Paltsits, in a circular letter which he has sent to Presidents of historical societies, educators, and other persons interested in historical study and research. The accusations grow out of the efforts of the Commissioner to defeat legislation proposed by Mr. Paltsits at the last two sessions to have the historian's department made a bureau in the Department of Education.

The bill gave the State Historian access to all county records for the purpose of examining them and ascertaining whether they contained anything of historical value. It also gave him the right to copy and photograph such originals and prohibited their destruction by county officials or custodians of records without first consulting and receiving his permission.

The legislation which Mr. Paltsits was endeavoring to have passed had the indorsement of historical societies throughout the State, and of nearly every every prominent educator, as well as many writers on historical subjects. These men, as is clear from letters on file in the office of the State Historian, are also opposed, almost without exception, to subordinating the department to that of the Commissioner of Education.

Mr. Paltsits declined to-day to give out his letter for publication on the ground that it was personal correspondence, and he even refused to confirm the accuracy of a copy which reached THE TIMES correspondent through other channels.

Dr. Draper is out of town. Dr. Thomas E. Finegan, Third Assistant Commissioner of Education, said to-day:

"Mr. Paltsits is laboring under some very strange delusions with reference to the entire matter. There was no pernicious lobbying, nor any effort except what was made in the open on behalf of this department to defeat that bill. We believed---and I think with some justification---that the powers the bill would have given the State Historian over public records were too sweeping, especially as they would have covered certain manuscripts of tremendous value in the State Library, which under the existing law is in the custody of the Regents and this department.

"We did not feel that we could afford to divide the responsibility with the State Historian. As a way out it was suggested to Mr. Paltsits that he become an official in this department and have the benefits of everything in the State Library. He declined to do so."
Less than a year after this contretemps, on March 29, 1911, the New York State House in Albany, built of massive stone construction and widely considered fireproof, inexplicably caught fire late at night, in a blaze so quick spreading and intensely hot it has to be judged by modern sensibilities to be the result of incendiarism---although no direct mention of this possibility was ever made in the public newspapers of the time. In addition to "about 600,000 volumes it contained 400,000 pamphlets, and 300,000 historical manuscripts," many of which were of an "irreplaceable nature," and the entire undivided collection was nearly totally destroyed. Also lost were the library of the Assembly, comprising much of the essential record of State legislation, as well as the entire case record of the Claims Court, the forum for civil litigants seeking damages against the State of New York. Other losses, including "10,000 of the State Museum's most prized archaeological and ethnographic objects stored in tall glass cases, including its world-famous Iroquois collection were consumed in a flaming corsage," as the Albany Times-Union wrote this year in coverage of the 100-year anniversary of the event.

Although, in at least one image, apparently released through the Associated Press for the first time in 2011, the wooden cases appear to have survived the fire relatively unscathed.

In the major piece of reporting published in The New York Times the day following the fire, can be found a quote from Paltsits that literally jumps out:
"Victor Hugo Paltsits, State Historian, said to-night that he had long feared the loss of the priceless historical records in the State Library, which he has repeatedly tried to have transferred to his own department.

"'They were stored,' he said, 'in an improvised room, the shelving and furniture of which were all of wood. The whole thing was tinder and could not have withstood fire from within or without. The disaster had been expected by those of us who were familiar with the ground.'"
Such expressed public opinion would indicate to me Paltsits was either a plot co-conspirator who was tasked with planting seeds of legitimacy---if not actual justification---in the press coverage of a what would seem otherwise to be an incredible event; or else he was providing a serious indictment of the public officials whose stewardship of the collection held them ultimately responsible for any lack of fire safety, prevention, or effective response. This loss occurred of the State Library occurred just in advance of its planned move into new quarters in a nearly completed building just across the street from the Capital in Albany, where for the first time much of the collection stood the chance of being accessible for historical review. Given this, and much else, I'd say Paltsits represents a true whistle blower, although in the hallmark of insiders to a powerful conspiracy, there were no repercussions for men like Dr. Finegan and Dr. Draper afterward.

April 20, 1911,Page 1, New York Times, DIX TO ASK PUBLIC TO REBUILD CAPITOL, About $1 a Head All Round, He Figures, Would Help Out This Empire State.

"Party lines are removed in the great problems of citizenship,. and now, when the State has suffered such a heavy and unexpected loss through the recent fire in its Capital, it is proper that an appeal should be made to all its citizens. In that fire many of the State's most valuable documents were destroyed. It was only through the foresight of Dr. Draper that two of the most valued documents---Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Proclamation---were not lost in the fire. Two years ago Dr. Draper expressed his fear that the documents might be lost through just such a conflagration, and he put them away in a safe in his office. It was thought for a time that the sword given by Frederick the Great has also been saved, but unfortunately it was in the fire. It was found in the burnt building three days later damaged, but not so badly but that it can be, and I hope will soon be, repaired.

"As a result of the fire, the State now finds itself obliged to rebuild the State Library, which was worth over $2,000,000, and repairs to the Capital will also cost about $2,000,000. There is, besides, the necessity of erecting a State educational building. All these are important improvements to the State's property for the use of future generations. They will require money---about $1 from each citizen of the State. "The need of providing a building where the important papers and documents shall hereafter be kept safe from fire and water must be self-evident to all citizens, and an appeal will be made to all its loyal citizens to respond to the need. I know that they and you will rise to the occasion and that with your help our great problem can be solved."

The Governor's aid, Lieut. Commander de Kay, was asked afterward for more details as to the nature of the proposed collection, but he said that as far as he knew the matter had not yet taken very definite shape. He thought it had been suggested because the loss due to the fire, being altogether unforeseen or unforeseeable, had fallen so much more heavily now when an earnest effort is being made to curtail expenditures, He could add nothing to what the Governor had said.
Lieut. de Kay's characterization of the fire as "being altogether unforeseen or unforeseeable," directly contradicts what Governor Dix had said previously that evening, in praising Dr. Draper's "foresight" for preserving two of the most precious documents under his care. It also sounds awfully similar to "nobody in this administration, and I don't think in the previous administration, could have imagined them flying airplanes into buildings."

There are a great many eerie parallels between the fire at the State Capital in Albany on March 29, 1911 and the fire 289 days later at the Equitable Life Assurance Building in lower Manhattan. Both were spectacular events in the media, if not equally so on the ground. Both buildings were of the same massive, mid-19th-century, masonry and iron construction, and were standards of that era's indestructibility by fire, yet both experienced quick, raging fires leading to partial building collapses.

Neither structure was insured against damage by fire, nor were the valuable contents in each insured against loss.

The burning up of libraries was a central event in both fires, although the loss of Equitable's touted law library was insignificant in comparison. But a primary motive for both arsons was the destruction, or at least the claim of destruction, for many important legal and business documents. The survival of bronze statues figured in media coverage of both---one of Henry Hyde, the founder of the Equitable Society, the other George Washington, the founder of the United States of America.

"Sparks" from the New York state capitol fire, Albany, N.Y., March 29, 1911. Over 50 souvenir views

Minutes of The Commissioners For Detecting Conspiracies In The State of New York: Albany County Sessions 1778-1781, Volume III. Analytical Index. 1909-1910, Edited by Victor Hugo Paltsits,

An Illustrated Legislative Manual: The NEW YORK RED BOOK, page 62

March 30, 1911, New York Times,"$5,000,000 Loss in Capitol Fire",

March 29, 1911 (Extra Edition) New York Times, "State Capital Afire After Caucus Quits,"

March 28, 2011, Associated Press, NY marks 100th anniversary of 1911 Capitol fire

March 28, 2011, Albany Times-Union,1911 Capitol fire remains seared into city's history,

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Minutes of The Commissioners For Detecting Conspiracies In The State of New York:

Minutes of The Commissioners For Detecting Conspiracies In The State of New YorkAlbany County Sessions 1778-1781, Volume II. Analytical Index. 1909-1910,
Edited by Victor Hugo Paltsits, State Historian,

The Commissioners for detecting and defeating Conspiracies, was officially created on February 5, 1778 in response to the invasion of New York by the British army, and the fear of domestic foes, such as the Tories. The nine Commisioners, aided by armed forces, traveled throughout New York, where they sought out and arrested "enemies of the State." This 3-volume work analyzes the laws passed for the repression of disaffection and disloyalty in the state of New York.

Volume I: 1778-1779 covers inquisitorial bodies of New York during the American Revolution and the origin of the Commissioners, operations of the Commissioners as revealed by Albany County Board proceeding, and minutes of Commissioners for Conspiracy meetings.

Volume II: 1780-1781 continues with the minutes of the Commissioners for Conspiracies meetings, followed by Appendix I: Laws, Appendix II: Financial Accounts, and Appendix III: Miscellanea.

Volume III: Analytical Index is "closely analytical, by persons, places and subjects. The vagaries that occur in personal and place nomenclature, so common to the period, have been preserved in parentheses after the standard entry or are pointed out by cross-references, which have been used freely for this purpose, as well as for calling attention to correlated or synonymous topics." This volume is a "magnet with which to extract the ore from a rich mine of operations of commisioners for conspiracies during the American Revolution."