A Look Back (Part I): An Early (1841) View Of A New Village

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Here’s an annoying problem I discovered while researching for the book Hamburger Dreams: there’s a lot of people and places that come up when you search the words “hamburger” or “hamburg” that have nothing to do with the delicious sandwich that spawned a trillion-dollar industry.

This required me to be both creative and patient as I sifted through hundreds of century old newspaper articles. It eventually worked, but it took a lot of time. In the end, it proved worthy.

The same thing is happening now as I complete my research on the Masonic Temple/Wilcox Hotel/Wilcox House/Falls Hotel (yes, that one building has gone by several names during its nearly 200-year existence). It turns out Continue Reading “A Look Back (Part I): An Early (1841) View Of A New Village”

Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right

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I weep for my city. I weep for my country. I weep for our ancestors who worked so hard to overcome the obvious frailty that is all humanity.

I cry for those swept aside by events. My heart bleeds for the bystanders who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I grow sullen, knowing the damage done cannot be quickly repaired.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our citizenry that a noble cause has devolved into a self-inflicted chaos. Surely, no one believes it’s fair to punish innocents. Yet, clearly, we enable those who feel justified in doing precisely that.

None of this should have ever been allowed to happen.Continue Reading “Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right”

3 Reasons Why Amtrak Should Not Rename Rochester’s Train Station after Louise Slaughter

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Many who met her say she seemed like a nice lady, but should Amtrak rename the Rochester train station after Louise Slaughter? To best answer this question, we should consider her legacy, a legacy long forgotten but memorialized in a book written nearly three decades ago. Here’s what made me remember it:

About a year ago, Ted Benna went over the beginnings of the 401k with me. The interview was for part of a series of articles that would eventually be published in several national media outlets. You might not recognize the name “Ted Benna” but you should. Chances are he changed your life and the lives of many of your neighbors. He was the man who discovered and created the world’s first 401k account. Well, he didn’t exactly do it alone.

Ted Benna’s discovery of the true significance of section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code required confirmation. As he retold the story of the very beginning, he read through the litany of executive branch policymakers who helped pave the wave for Benna and his coworkers. They represented familiar figures from the Reagan administration.

But Benna said the seeds for his discovery were sown years before when Congress amended the U.S. Tax Code in 1978. He mentioned many names, quite a few who I remembered. I listened and let him talk uninterrupted. Until he said one congressman in particular offered the key piece to this 1978 legislation. His name was Barber Conable.

“Barber Conable?” I asked in shocked disbelief. “You mean the same Continue Reading “3 Reasons Why Amtrak Should Not Rename Rochester’s Train Station after Louise Slaughter”

This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option

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If you haven’t heard by now, Amazon wants to build a second headquarters somewhere else, preferably in the USA. Many pundits believe, since it’s already on the West Coast (Seattle), it only makes sense to place the new headquarters somewhere in the eastern half of the nation. Forbes, on the other hand, believes the top five most likely cities are Atlanta, Austin, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Boston.

The good news is Rochester and Buffalo have finally realized they’re on the same team and, rather than each placing a competing bid as originally considered, will be joining together in one unified Greater Western New York bid. This is significant. Here’s why.Continue Reading “This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option”

Cuomo Albany Über Alles

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The ambitious lawyer took no time to achieve his goal. In less than a decade, he had moved from being a partner in his New York City firm to a major real estate investor in the Albany area before finally relocating his family to a county located on New York’s farthest boundary. There, within a short span of three years, he had used his New York City and Albany connections to place his own ally in the position of county sheriff and get himself elected to the assembly. There, he steered the powerful New York-Albany axis towards his own political ends. Those constituents he left in the hinterland? Once he went to the assembly in Albany, no one cared about them. He didn’t. His wealthy backers in New York City didn’t. And the powers that be in Albany didn’t.

Sound familiar? After reading the above, you may be thinking of the poor underserved Continue Reading “Cuomo Albany Über Alles”

What is News? (and How to Become a Part of It)

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broadcast-1545372-1920x1440Sometimes I feel as though I live this ethereal existence, floating (or seeping?) between the world of the news and the world of those who want to be in the news. That I feel this way offers testament to how much journalism has changed since the days of “Uncle Walter.” Actually, it reveals how flawed our vision of this “unbiased” news narrative has been.

Several items over the past week have prompted these thoughts. The first was a headline that came out in the waning days of January proclaiming The Drudge Report was about to surpass CNN in terms of on-line pageviews. According to an article published by MediaPost (“10 Publishers Account for  All Online News,” January 28, 2016), last year The Drudge Report had 8.5 billion page views, barely behind CNN’s 8.8 billion (MSN and ESPN at 27 billion and 23 billion respectively topped the list). The data was collected by a firm called SimilarWeb and is available onContinue Reading “What is News? (and How to Become a Part of It)”

A Model of Christian Spirit

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Ever since John Winthrop’s famous “city upon a hill” sermon aboard the Arbella in 1630, it’s been tough to separate religion from the spirit of America’s founding. Indeed, IMG_2733_Spiritual_Out-of_Focus_300some say the evangelical movement of the mid-eighteenth century known as The First Great Awakening played a key role in America’s strive for independence.1 And don’t think the whole “separation of Church and State” thing in the Constitution came about because the Founding Fathers felt the First Great Awakening was a tad too much. I’ll remind you the whole purpose of the First Great Awakening was to rebel against the Church of England and to recognize broader religious freedom. This is the very philosophy embodied by our constitution.

Our focus in this chapter, though, isn’t the First Great Awakening, but the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening began in 1790 and lasted for about 50 years. It featured traveling preachers leading revival camps where “hundreds and sometimes thousands of people would gather for miles around in wilderness encampment for four days to a week.”2 One such preacher was Charles Finney, who, from September 1830, through June 1831, led various revival campaigns3 in Rochester, Buffalo and “the intermediate towns between there.”4 And what facilitated this travel? Why, none other Continue Reading “A Model of Christian Spirit”

Seeds of a New Movement

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The Erie Canal made Buffalo. Joseph Dart made Buffalo memorable.

Through Joseph Ellicott and the establishment of Greater Western New York west of the Genesee River, we’ve seen the importance of the canal from before it was even drawn up. We’ve witnessed how its opening paved the way for the creation of America’s first tourist destination – Niagara Falls. We’ll discover in a few chapters how it allowed our region to become ground zero for Continue Reading “Seeds of a New Movement”

A Bridge Too Quiet

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I never understood the lure of trains. Don’t get me wrong. I love trains. I just can’t figure out why. I mean, I was born at the dawn of the Space Age, watched Star Trek when it was still on the air and followed NASA’s lunar program with diligent pride. Heck, I even majored in physics and astronomy, served on the Strasenburgh Planetarium’s 40th Anniversary Task Force and created an official astronomy outreach project (AstronomyTop100.com) that received the official endorsement of the United Nations during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Many were the times when I thought I was finally done with trains. But, like the mob to Continue Reading “A Bridge Too Quiet”

Low Bridge, Everybody Down

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By the time Thomas S. Allen wrote The Erie Canal Song (as the song is most commonly referred to) in 1905,1 the famous canal had already been in operation for 80 years. Allen chose the title Low Bridge, Everybody Down because the canal had just ditched the mules for steam power and he wanted to pay homage to the animal so critical to canal operations.2 That Allen celebrates the mule Sal tells us he’s commemorating a then not-too-distant past. Incidentally, the title wasn’t the only thing about the song that changed over the years, including, ironically, the word “years.” The original lyrics were “fifteen years on the Erie Canal” and  refers to the length of the partnership between Sal and his owner, while the new lyrics are “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,” referring to how Continue Reading ““Low Bridge, Everybody Down””