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The Last Reporter The Elmira Star-Gazette Star-Gazette’s’s Jeff Murray Makes a Last Stand at the First Gannett Newspaper
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Volume 15 Issue 3
A Writer’s Journey
By Michael Capuzzo
The Last Reporter
By Gayle Morrow
The Elmira Star-Gazette’s Jeff Murray makes a last stand at the first Gannett newspaper.
Ketchup with Fry’s
By David O’Reilly
Former Liberty resident Helen Beck found fame at Fry Brothers’.
Corning Bike Works By Karey Solomon
Our Orphan Train Lady By Mark Bromberg
A Cut Above
West Burlington’s Anna Laura Hill helped her friends build a family.
By Kerry Gyekis Notes on the timeless art of horse logging.
Back of the Mountain By Linda Stager The road to spring.
14 Shed Hunter’s Month Cover by Gwen Button; cover photo courtesy Jeff Murray. This page (top) courtesy Jeff Murray; (middle) by Kerry Geykis; (bottom) by Roger Kingsley.
By Roger Kingsley It’s March, and antlers are down for the pickin’.
w w w. m o u n ta i n h o m e m ag . co m Editors & Publishers Teresa Banik Capuzzo Michael Capuzzo Associate Publisher George Bochetto, Esq. D i r e c t o r o f O pe r a t i o n s Gwen Button Managing Editor Gayle Morrow S a l e s R ep r e s e n t a t i v e s Joseph Campbell, Robin Ingerick, Richard Trotta Circulation Director Michael Banik Accounting Amy Packard Cover Design Gwen Button Contributing Writers Maggie Barnes, Mike Cutillo, Ann E. Duckett, Melissa Farenish, Elaine Farkas, Kerry Geykis, Carrie Hagen, Lisa Howeler, Don Knaus, Nicole Landers, Janet McCue, Dave Milano, Cornelius O’Donnell, Brendan O’Meara, David O’Reilly, Peter Petokas, Peter Joffre Nye, Linda Roller, Jan Smith, Karey Solomon, Beth Williams C o n t r i b u t i n g P h o t o g r ap h e r s Marlo Carl, Bernadette Chiaramonte, Diane Cobourn, Bill Crowell, Bruce Dart, Lisa Howeler, Jan Keck, Nigel P. Kent, Roger Kingsley, Jonathan Mack, Peter Rutt, Deb Stafford, Linda Stager, Mary Sweely, Sue Vogler, Sarah Wagaman, Curt Weinhold, Ardath Wolcott D i s t r i b u t i o n T eam Layne Conrad, Grapevine Distribution, Duane Meixel, Linda Roller, Phil Waber
T h e B ea g l e Nano Cosmo (1996-2014) • Yogi (2004-2018)
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A Writer’s Journey By Michael Capuzzo
y friend David O’Reilly was a star writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer for thirty-five years. He traveled the world with Pope Francis, touched foreheads with the Dalai Lama in spiritual communion, walked through the dust in Kenya to tell the story of the poorest of the poor, lunched with James Baldwin in Manhattan, sailed the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson River with folk singer Pete Seeger. My wife and I are often asked how does Mountain Home find so many talented writers? They come out of the past, like my wife’s Wellsboro music teacher Pat Davis, or out of the woods, like the late “Mountain Man” Roy Kain, or out of law, or medicine, or the church, or even recovery. But Teresa and I have never been so astonished as the day last fall we knocked on a door on our block and there stood David O’Reilly, globe-trotting reporter and new Wellsboro resident. “Welcome to Wellsboro,” we said, stunned. Thirty years ago when I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer David was my colleague and first friend in Philadelphia. I bought my first house a half-mile from his in Riverton, New Worldly writer: David Jersey; now, with but a few weeks’ notice, he and his wife O’Reilly has shared Birnie, our dear friend, had moved seven houses down. religious news all “Well, hello,” David said with smile. Now it’s my over the world; (from pleasure to introduce you to my old friend. I’m happy top) boarding Pope to say that after getting acclimated David jumped in as Francis’ plane en the author of this month’s fascinating cover story that route to Havana; is a true sign of our times—“The Last Reporter,” the meeting Pope Francis story of Jeff Murray of the Star-Gazette. I hope you’ll on the 2015 Havana be enthralled with the story as I was and with powerful flight; shaking hands evidence, in stereo, of what a reporter can mean to a with the Dalai Lama in community. Philadelphia, 2008. When I met him, David was already one of the top writers on one of the best newspapers in the country. Then he got on the religion beat for the Inquirer, his true love, and held it for twenty-two years. “Religion is enormously important in most people’s personal lives,” he says. “It’s a wonderful medium for telling stories.” David had an audience with Pope John Paul in 2005, and kissed his ring. Keeping his objectivity, his reporting on the Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis led to landmark legislation in Harrisburg protecting minors. In 2008, David interviewed the Dalai Lama. “A buoyant, jubilant man,” he recalls. “He pressed his forehead to mine. I felt his peace for days.” He flew with Pope Francis in 2015 from Rome to Havana when the pope met Fidel Castro, then on to the pope’s speeches before Congress and the United Nations. David presented the pontiff with a papal skullcap, or zucchetto, which in the priestly tradition the pope put on his head for a moment and gave back to David (CNN reported on the swap). His work was nominated for a Pulitzer; he twice won the Templeton Award as the best religion reporter in the United States. Even as newspapers lost readers and reporters to smartphones, the Inquirer’s religion writer kept his unsinkable zeal for the profession and the people he wrote about. His colleagues applauded in his honor in 2016 as he walked out of the newsroom in Philadelphia for the last time. He thought he’d retired. As you’ll see on page seven, that’s not quite true.
The Last Reporter The Elmira Star-Gazette ’s Jeff Murray Makes a Last Stand at the First Gannett Newspaper By David O’Reilly
fter he makes the coffee and feeds his hunting dogs Malibu, R.J., and Ivy, newspaper reporter Jeff Murray starts his workday around 7 a.m. Pen in hand, he flips on the TV, toggling between Elmira’s two local stations for word of overnight fires, crimes, or car crashes. Then he pops open his laptop and skims through his emails for anything he might need to “jump on” straight from home. If nothing’s going on, he kisses his wife, Carol, goodbye and drives ten minutes to his newsroom, housed since 2015 in a one-story building on E. Church Street across from Elmira City Hall. Emblazoned across the office’s plate glass windows are the words STAR-GAZETTE. Since 1907, that’s been the name for news in this historic city. In bygone days its sprawling newsroom in the old Baldwin Street headquarters never slept. But when Jeff, sixty-one, unlocks the rear door and steps inside around 8:15, it is he who flips the lights on each day to bring the paper to life. He’s the only news reporter left at Elmira’s only daily newspaper. “I’m the everything guy,” he says with a rueful smile as he sweeps a hand around the modern blue-and-gray newsroom. Twenty-eight empty desks gaze back. Once humming with reporters, editors, 6
photographers, and advertising salespeople, the room is empty—save for the short, grayhaired “everything guy” in the rumpled red sweater. This month marks Jeff’s twenty-fifth anniversary with the Star-Gazette, the very first newspaper in the giant Gannett chain. And nowadays it’s up to him to cover this city of 30,000 people while keeping an eye on the rest of Chemung County—and pleasing bosses he rarely sees. “Yeah,” he admits. “It’s kinda lonely.” His editors are in Binghamton and communicate with him via interoffice texts. The pages are laid out at Gannett facilities in New Jersey or Arizona, and the paper is printed in Rochester. “But I’m a gregarious, friendly guy,” he says. “I’m used to working in a newsroom with a couple of dozen people, with lots of noise and activity going on.” Gone are the pizzas on election nights, the holiday parties, the friendships. “I do miss that,” he admits. Today the Star-Gazette has a daily print circulation of little more than 6,000, down from 17,000 a decade ago and 32,000 in 1997. Sunday circulation has tumbled, meanwhile, from 45,000 to 9,500. With so many people getting news, opinion, and entertainment for free online, plummeting readership has squeezed nearly every daily and weekly newspaper in the nation—
sometimes fatally. More than 2,000 newspapers have shuttered their doors since 2004 as the car dealerships, department stores, supermarkets, and jewelry shops whose advertising sustained them for more than a century began following readers to the Internet. There they can reach targeted audiences, mostly through Google search or Facebook: the “duopoly” that dominates online advertising. For nearly a century newspapers in the “golden age” of print journalism—Star-Gazette included— enjoyed a local monopoly, charged handsomely to advertise in their pages, and made millionaires of their owners. Alas, those bygone profit margins of 20 and 30 percent are what paid for the army of reporters who profiled the new football coach at your kids’ high school, reviewed the community theater’s production of Guys and Dolls, described last night’s thrilling stickup at the gas station, sat through a crushingly dull late-night council meeting to explain the latest tax hike, and grilled your county executive on why the new water treatment plant was a million dollars over budget. All in one day. “When I started in March, 1995, the total staff [at the Star-Gazette] was about 250,” Jeff recalls. “The office was on Baldwin See Reporter on page 8
Reporter continued from page 7
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Street and was huge. It took up a block and half. The press room was two stories, and we had the news, advertising, circulation, and human resources all in one building. “In the news department we had at least ten reporters doing news in Elmira. Our bureau in Corning had two or three reporters, and we had another one in Wellsboro. We had part-time stringers all over the Twin Tiers, probably four or five editors, three full-time photographers and one part-time, and two graphic artists. (It’s a measure of the Star-Gazette’s influence that in 1968 it coined the now familiar term “Twin Tiers” to describe the border region of north-central Pennsylvania and south-central New York where it circulated.) We also had two opinion page editors, probably a halfdozen layout people, copy editors, five or six on the sports staff, and at least four in features. It was a full-service newsroom,” he says, and also the paper of record, regularly filling out weekday editions of thirty-two pages and Sunday editions of eighty pages or more. But Jeff also remembers “very well” the day the paper began cutting news staff. “It was 2005. Our editor came out and announced that the most recently hired reporter had to be let go. She was practically in tears, and we were all in shock. We said ‘No, no! We’ll give up this, we’ll give up that!’ We had no idea this was just the beginning. “Then, a year later, a couple of more people were let go and we were all looking over our shoulders, wondering ‘Who’s next? Will it be me? What will I do?’” Several cubicles around him still bear evidence of his coworkers’ abrupt departures. A calendar above one desk shows each day of 2017 crossed out with a red X—until February 11. The rest of the year is blank. At another sits an abandoned Canon Rebel SLR camera. “I’d like to think I’m irreplaceable,” Jeff jokes about his lastman-standing status, but there’s a whiff of anxiety behind the smile. Star-Gazette employees were never unionized, he says, and seniority guarantees no job protection. “Somehow I just kept dodging the bullet. I don’t know why.” His colleagues have a good idea. “Jeff always took on lots of assignments and never complained,” explains George Osgood, who retired in 2008 after thirty-two years as the paper’s Tioga County reporter based in Wellsboro. “He’s workmanlike, objective, he covers the bases. He has the respect of everyone he works with.” • The Star-Gazette’s doors stay locked these days. The rare visitor must stand in bushes and rap on the front windows to be let in. “We used to have a receptionist,” Jeff says. Still, he is not entirely alone here. At 11 a.m. most mornings, Gannett’s regional print planner, Keith Kraska, enters through the rear door, says “good morning” as he passes by, and sits at his desk in silence. At 3:30 p.m. the paper’s longtime sportswriter, Andre Legare, arrives, says hi, and hunkers down at his desk. Their relations are not hostile, says Jeff. “We just have different jobs.” Since its first appearance in March of 1995, the name Jeff Murray has appeared in the Star-Gazette 14,855 times by last count, either as a byline or in invitations to readers to contact him. Mere productivity doesn’t define him, however. In 2016 the New York State Associated Press Association awarded him first prize in enterprise reporting for his account of the 2006 death of trooper Andrew Sperr, shot and killed by a bank robber. “An incredibly
(2) David O’Reilly
• The last reporter works for a huge corporation—the Gannett Company publishes 260 daily newspapers in the U.S., including USA Today, and more than 300 weeklies, making it the nation’s largest news publisher by circulation. These are turbulent times, however, for Gannett. In November, Rochester-based GateHouse Media acquired the struggling chain for $1.4 billion and changed its own name to Gannett—an iconic name in the industry ever since a teetotaling young newspaperman, Frank E. Gannett, acquired the Elmira Star in 1907 and merged it with the Elmira Gazette. Two cents and eight pages long, the new Star-Gazette was the first newspaper in the giant chain. His longtime chief operating officer became Frank Tripp, a young reporter at the Gazette when Gannett bought it. (Tripp once interviewed Mark Twain, the city’s most famous resident.) In 1917 he was made the paper’s head of advertising, bought 25 percent interest in the burgeoning Gannett chain in 1922, and succeeded Gannett as chairman upon his death in 1957. (Tripp promptly reversed Gannett’s chain-wide ban on ads for alcohol.) Tripp’s grandson, Ted Marks, remembers a red Public partnerships: telephone in his grandfather’s Elmira home that rang Jeff Murray works with the community when lifted at Gannett’s headquarters in Rochester. “A and community voice on the other end would say ‘Good morning, Mr. leaders to get Tripp. This is Rochester.’” Now seventy-eight and owner their stories to the of Atwater Estate Vineyards on Seneca Lake, Ted doesn’t public. (From top) read the Star-Gazette anymore because “there’s no news” Elmira Mayor Dan of the Finger Lakes. But two decades ago, while president Mandell; with Dave of Corning’s Chamber of Commerce, he found Jeff to be Panosian discussing “a wonderful reporter.” the store’s 100th “Honest and trustworthy,” he says. “That’s very anniversary. important.” Mike Reed, the GateHouse CEO who now heads Gannett, grew up in Elmira and delivered the Star-Gazette as a boy. What that augurs for it or any other paper in the chain is uncertain, however. Under his leadership GateHouse had “shrunk newsrooms while pursuing shareholder value, in part by consolidating operations in regional hubs and merging newspapers,” The New York Times wrote of the merger. With the CEO now predicting he can effect cost savings of $300 million or more, “job cuts, in newsrooms and other areas, are likely,” the Times predicted. Gannett did not respond to a request from Mountain Home to interview Mike Reed, but the merger’s aftershocks may already be trembling the lonely newsroom on E. Church Street. On a recent Tuesday, Jeff has plans to cover a press conference at Elmira College announcing a student fundraiser, and has invited a writer from Mountain Home to join him. This will be an opportunity, they both suppose, to see him working his beat. But the veteran newsman is in for a surprise. At 9:30 a.m. a tan rectangle appears on his computer screen. It’s a memo from Matt Weinstein in Binghamton, his immediate editor. Skip the Elmira College announcement and work on enterprise stories, videos, etc., Weinstein writes. Need to focus on subscriber-only content rather than press conferences and news releases. Jeff is stunned. He’s already scaled back on stories like business
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briefs and road closings that seemed important to the community but weren’t getting much readership—even an outdoor column he’d loved to do. But press conferences have long been a staple of community news coverage. “This kind of throws off my day,” he says. He writes back to say he’d planned this day around the news conference. Not trying to be difficult but we need to go in the direction corporate wants us to go, Weinstein replies, then assures Jeff that his feature on a local shoe store, Panosian’s, celebrating its 100th anniversary that ran this morning is just the kind of story that “corporate” is looking for. Story already hit our goals for premium views, writes Weinstein. That excellent makes people way above very happy. (“Premium views” are stories only paying subscribers can read on a website. It’s a way papers entice non-paying readers to subscribe.) Jeff writes thanks, that he understands. His feature story on the Panosian founders—who met a century ago in Elmira after fleeing the Armenian genocide and opened a shoe store—is just the kind of tale readers enjoy. But the city has a lot of news that needs his attention, and he gazes at the messages in silence. “This is a major adjustment,” he says, and compresses his lips for a moment. “That last line about ‘people way above’ tells you this is not just coming from Binghamton,” he says, “but McLean,” Gannett’s corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia. Later that morning he pays a return visit to the enormous shoe store, which boasts an inventory of 9,000 shoes, and runs into another quirk of newspapers struggling in the digital age. Owner Dave Panosian is a major advertiser of the newspaper—“their readers are my customers”—but “I didn’t see it yet,” he says of the article, “but some people called to say it’s really good.” Jeff explains
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that it’s appearing only online for now, as a premium view, but will appear in print later. “So you have to be a subscriber to see it?” Dave asks. “Well,” Jeff says with a laugh, “they have to be able to pay my princely salary.” A young reporter from WENY-TV, a local station, is there with a video camera to do his own story. “I’m a big Jeff Murray advocate,” he says, adding that he looks to Jeff for story ideas. They chat as Dave waits on a customer. Jeff confides in the TV reporter, Brandon Menard, that his editors just waved him off press conferences in favor of unique content. “They’re really changing day-to-day focus. They just want breaking news and enterprise,” he tells him. “Nothing in between.” “Wow,” says Brandon, twenty-five. “That’s frustrating. That sucks.” It’s now about noon. Jeff says he’s heading back to the office. “So long, buddy,” Brandon says. “I hope they let you do more.” He then starts taping his own interview with Dave Panosian, who points out a stuffed moose head on a rear wall wearing a black eyepatch. “We had it at our former store on S. Main Street,” he says, “and in the ’72 flood the water went all the way to the second floor and washed him out into the street.” Family members found him buried in debris and See Reporter on page 12
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missing an eye. They cleaned him up and gave him the eye patch. Itâ€™s a poignant reminder of the vital role the Star-Gazette has played in the life of the city for more than one hundred years. Reporters and photographers covered the great storm of June 22, 1972, reporting that â€œmore than half of Elmiraâ€™s 46,000 residents had been evacuated as the Chemung River poured into the city,â€? even as the storm damaged or ruined the presses and newsroom. Star-Gazette writers have spent decades chronicling the deadly aftermath of now legendary Hurricane Agnes. The cityâ€™s tax base suffered, unemployment rose, and crime and drugs moved in. The city is enjoying a â€œresurgence,â€? as evidenced by the recent decision of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine to create a campus in the city. â€œWe still get a bad rap,â€? Mayor Dan Mandell says in an interview at his City Hall office. â€œThereâ€™s still this perception of high crime, that weâ€™re a dangerous city. But that couldnâ€™t be further from the truthâ€? when compared, he says, to some neighboring cities. But the Star-Gazetteâ€™s radically reduced coverage of government can be â€œfrustrating,â€? says the mayor, now in his second term. â€œThey donâ€™t cover things like the ribbon cutting we did at the Cultural Center. And Jeffâ€™s not available after hours any more to cover our council meetings. But I understand that. He still gives us coverage, and heâ€™s doing yeomanâ€™s work every time I see him.â€? Jeff is modest about his workâ€”work that he loves. â€œI canâ€™t say Iâ€™ve changed people lives or the way government does things,â€? he says. Yes, there are the solid investigative pieces, like his expose some years ago of mismanagement at a publicly owned flight museum that led to big changes. â€œBut I think the stories I like doing best are the human interest stories, where people share something personal and I spin it into a good narrative.â€? He never wanted to do anything else but be a news reporter, he says. â€œJeffâ€™s the perfect example of a community reporter. He can do anything,â€? says Kevin Hogan, the paperâ€™s executive editor. Kevin, who also oversees the Ithaca Journal from the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, where he is editor, defends Gannettâ€™s scaling back of news staff as unavoidable. But he notes that its newspapers and their websites contain abundant, well-reported regional news generated by the chainâ€™s statewide network of papers and bureaus. Back in the newsroom, Jeff is tapping out a story heâ€™s assembledâ€”from a news release and a phone callâ€”about an abandoned homeless camp that authorities discovered on the banks of the Chemung River, with 300 pounds of debris left behindâ€” â€œItâ€™s all Iâ€™ve got for todayâ€?â€”and ships it to Binghamton at 3:08 p.m. â€œOK, thatâ€™s done,â€? he says before getting on the phone to set up an interview, photo, and videoâ€”heâ€™ll do them all himselfâ€”at a local animal shelter. Kevin says boots-on-the-ground reporters like Jeff Murray are crucial to community papers like the Star-Gazette. â€œHe knows the [Elmira] community and they know him. He can jump in and cover a trial, or turn out a great human interest or enterprise story, or write about fishing and hunting, which is right up his alley,â€? says Kevin. â€œIt doesnâ€™t get any more valuable than that.â€?
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David Oâ€™Reilly was a writer and editor for thirty-five years at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he covered religion for two decades. He and his wife, Birnie, moved to Wellsboro last fall.Â
Skilled squad: Luke Patt and his team pull a log through a job in Beaver Dams, New York.
A Cut Above
Notes on the Timeless Art of Horse Logging By Kerry Gyekis
oâ€Śyou like the idea of horse logging your land? Last winter was absent much of a winter. It was wet, mushy, and muddy much of the time. For that reason, we (myself, a mill that had bought the timber, and the owner of the timber) used a horse logger to log a fairly large tract of timber near Wellsboro, simply because it would have been much harder on the land to use mechanized logging equipment. It was a tough slog for the loggerâ€”a lot of logs in long skids in steep and otherwise difficult conditions, and the horse logger was new at it. We learned a lot in doing it. As imperfect as it was at times, there
were also times, especially on cold mornings in fresh snow, when the whole process worked well, and it was quite beautiful to watch. In fact, it was almost surreal at times like that. The young man doing the horse logging, Luke Patt, and his partner Kristen (she, too, sometimes runs a pair of horses) have come a long way in a short time in a profession and partnership. In the early part of this winter Luke actually logged in Woodland Park in the middle of Wellsboro, a place where the resident deer would stand and watch the huge 2,000-pound animals like kids at a zoo. It was pretty funny to
watch the deer watching the horses. They probably had never seen anything with four legs that big. That worked out well for Wellsboro and Luke, and we basically took only the ash (all in the process of dying), and the over-mature sugar (hard) maple. It was a fine line to walk. The idea was to take the stuff that would likely be hazardous for folks walking in the park in the near future, but do it in a way to make it economically possible for the logger, even with many rotten butt portions (especially the maple). So now (during the winter of 2019-20) Luke and Kristen are doing a bigger, more rural job near Beaver Dams, New York, on
welcome to three adjacent properties, and doing quite well at it. In fact, it is a great place to do it. The horses are in a stable in the middle property and are taken care of (very willingly) by the owner when Luke is not there. Luke did have some assistance from a small bulldozer to build a skid trail to a log decking area for two of the three properties by another logger who is mechanized—and an excellent logger in all aspects. In fact, this logger could have probably done this sale cheaper for the owners. “What?!” you say, “Horse logging can be more expensive than mechanized logging?” Well, yes, especially in larger forests with large volumes of timber. So it turns out that it is not that simple. Here are some things horse loggers have said about their work: “Horses are great in small forests with the right high-value timber and terrain. The problem is that really good sites for horses are not common, and I log them fast since they are so small.” “Logging horses have good days and bad days, but they like routine more than anything.” In other words, “The best thing you can do for a horse is work him often and put him with an experienced horse.” Also: “You need landowners that will take less for their logs. That works where folks understand, but not enough for lots of loggers to make a living that way.” Luke usually works with a steel logging arch which suspends the front end of the log via a cantilever frame on two wheels to ease the skid as well as provide a place for the logger to ride. Moving an average of 250 board feet of hardwood per skid at about 3,000 pounds goes downhill quick when you go up hill long or steep. Skid distances of over 1,500 feet become a time-consuming thing. Skid distance is from the fallen tree to the landing where logs are picked up by a logging truck or to a bunching place where mechanization takes over. Skidding downhill is easier until it isn’t. Working on steeper slopes requires greater skill and well-trained horses. On some steep slopes where trees would normally be taken, if there is not a good run-out at the bottom, I do not mark the trees to be cut. Just too hazardous. Working in snow on steep ground is dangerous, as the logs can run over the horses. Luke actually just hooks up one horse in some of these situations and basically bunches the logs at the bottom to be skidded by a team from there. Most of the horse-logging operations I’ve seen in recent years are restorative/salvage, taking the dying species such as ash and adding the over-mature of other species. That’s what is happening in the Beaver Dams operation. Aside from a horse logger’s log-cutting and moving skills, skill at grading the logs to give owners more value at the mill as well as giving the mill the right sizing are also important. Most of the loggers, both horse and otherwise, I have known through the years have been a cut above and I love their humor. I guess you have to have a sense of humor when you work in a profession which is about as dangerous as anything out there. In the end of things, if you ever have the opportunity to have a logger with or without horses logging for you, enjoy the process. It is special.
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Kerry Gyekis is a consultant forester who started out in his field a long time ago in a far-away place (Malaysia) as a Peace Corps forester. 15
NathanArts Fry Courtesy Deane Center forCourtesy the Performing Hope Berger
Big moment: Helen Beck (above and right) poses with Howard Fry for a photo to be used by Heinz products in the August 1953 issue of Look magazine.
Ketchup with Fry’s Former Liberty Resident Helen Beck Found Fame at Fry Brothers’ By Gayle Morrow
t was sixty-seven years ago so, honestly, nobody can be blamed for not remembering exactly how or why it all came about. But here’s what we do know. On May 18, 1953, Helen Beck was living near Liberty and working at Fry Brothers’ Turkey Ranch, the popular (then and now) eatery perched on Route 15 at the top of Steam Valley. She wrote in her diary that it was “cloudy” and “cool” that day. She had the 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift, and it was “rather busy.” And then there were, as she described, “Big Moments!!” “Photographer from “Look” [magazine] (for Heinz products) came to take pictures! Fry’s was selected as one of restaurants in Pa. ... quite a thrill! Supposed to be in August issue of “Look”!” And Helen had her picture taken. “I think the only reason I was in that picture was because I was the only waitress there that day,” she says with a grin. Clearly her fifteen minutes of fame did
not go to her head. Sue Kreger, who has worked at the restaurant for thirty-six years, and who characterizes Helen as “amazing,” says she thinks the Heinz/Look selection of the Turkey Ranch for an advertising photo was mostly random, but surmises it could have had something to do with the amount of Heinz ketchup they used. She says there weren’t a lot of restaurants that served that brand in those days, and the Turkey Ranch “bought it by the case.” Helen, who worked fifty-nine years at the Turkey Ranch, is ninety-one now. She likes talking about her time there—more than half of her life, when you think about it—but she has a lot more to say and many more stories to tell. Helen and her sister, Pat, share cozy digs at Leighton Place, an assisted living facility overlooking Williamsport. There were four girls in the family—one sister passed away some years ago, the other still lives
independently. They grew up on a farm near Liberty, where the family raised potatoes. “We had a contract with the Wise potato company,” Helen says. When harvest time came, she remembers that there were those who could gather as much as 100 bushels of spuds a day. Some of those tubers found their way into the Beck’s potato cellar for storage. It had a “nice cement floor” that was “perfect for roller skating.” “Nobody had any money,” Helen says matter-of-factly. “You had to make your own fun.” The family later moved to property on Milk Plant Road, not very far, relatively speaking, from their childhood homestead. “We had a lot of nice neighbors,” Helen recalls. The Beck girls graduated from Liberty High School; Helen remembers that her class “went to Washington (D.C.) on our senior trip.” She’s always liked music, she continues, but didn’t really want to go See Heinz on page 18
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Heinz continued from page 16
to college to study it. However, that was her father’s dream for her, so she was prepared to do it to please him. But, right about that time, thousands of soldiers were returning home from World War II, and those GIs had dibs on classroom space—hers included. She didn’t go to college. She went to the Turkey Ranch instead, where she waited on tables, worked in the kitchen, but didn’t give up on music. “I saved my tips until I had $800,” Helen says. “Then I went to Robert Sides [Robert M. Sides music store in Williamsport] with my tips all wrapped.” She bought a piano with the money, took lessons, but says she could also play by ear. She recalls that a more famous musician lived for a time in Buttonwood, just down the road from the Turkey Ranch. That was Mr. Rollo Maitland, a classical and theater organist who also helped develop specifications for the Curtis Organ, known as the “organists’ organ” and one of the largest pipe organs in the world. For Helen in those days, it wasn’t all work and piano playing. She enjoyed life. The family had dairy cattle, and she admits she “used to like to milk cows.” It was fun, she says, “when they tapped the trees to make syrup.” “I used to love to knit,” she recalls. “Turning a heel on a sock is a real trick.” Writing letters was another favorite pastime. It’s evident from the pages of her diary and her neat, daily accounting of tips that penmanship was also important to her. “They used to stress penmanship in school, but they don’t anymore,” she says with a bit of a sigh. “I loved spelling and spelling bees, too.” She didn’t get her driver’s license until she was forty, but perhaps
the wait was worth it, as then she “had a little Mustang car that I really liked.” And, she says, “I’ve always liked people.” Especially boys. “I had lots of boyfriends,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Indeed she must have. The May 18 diary entry includes not only the “Big Moments” of the Heinz photograph episode, but an entire paragraph in which she mentions several fellows who had stopped in—ostensibly for coffee or a meal but maybe just to chat. A couple came to visit after she got home. There was one boy she almost married, she acknowledges, but that didn’t happen. She doesn’t go into the details about why—sister Pat just kind of shakes her head when the subject comes up. She never married, either. “I stayed home on the farm until I was thirty-three,” says Pat, who will be ninety this year. Then she went to work at Pennsylvania Wire and Rope in Williamsport. It’s only been over the past couple of years that broken bones and other health concerns led to the sisters’ decision to sell the property they still owned on Milk Plant Road and take up residence together at Leighton Place. And even after a few hours of reflection on the old days, days that will never come again, the two are smiling and upbeat. Helen shares one last memory—this about the Pony Man. He was the Depression-era traveling salesman, coming around their Liberty neighborhood with his pony and cart “with treats to sell.” Nothing was very pricey, which was good because “back then everybody was poor.” Still, Helen says, “I’m glad we grew up in those times.”
Courtesy Josh Magnotta/Tioga Publishing Co.
Signs of Spring(!?)
Courtesy Caleb Williams Heritage Portrait Studio www.WellsboroHeritagePhoto.com
id the guy above ever hand you a copy of Mountain Home? He’s Michael Banik, better known as the circulation director for Beagle Media, who has been growing his locks below instead of above his face for a few years now. We’re not the only ones who noticed. Mike won the Crowd Favorite Award at the Wellsboro House/Harley Davidson Beards & Beers contest a few weeks ago. He also happens to be my oldest brother. Second in the family line is my brother Steve, who for years stopped shaving in the fall the minute he heard the first goose call overhead winging south, and who picked up his razor again in the spring the minute he heard the first airborne honk. I don’t think Mike has any such bald-faced notions. Below, his beard turns him into “The Polish Gentleman,” part of Caleb Williams’ series of “Storytelling Portraits.” ~ Teresa Banik Capuzzo, Editor and Publisher
Shed Hunter’s Month
It’s March, and Antlers Are Down for the Pickin’ By Roger Kingsley
ver the years, people have told me that they’ve never found a shed antler. When I question them to learn why, the reason is quite obvious—they weren’t looking for them. Think about it. Who’s most apt to see more deer, the person who goes hunting, or the person who doesn’t hunt, even though they live in deer country? Years ago, my Dad and I used to have conflicting estimates of the deer population on our farm. Dad would argue that there “aren’t many deer around,” while I was frequently witnessing an abundant population since I was spending considerable time perched in a tree stand. Therefore, he had a totally different view of our deer herd, only because he wasn’t out
and about looking for them. Shed antler hunting is exactly like that. You won’t find a daypack full of antlers by cruising through the woodlots looking toward the canopy sizing up the timber’s worth. And you won’t find many while you’re hiking across an open field if the beauty of the landscape beyond has seized your attention. Sheds lay on the ground, be it field or forest. As you walk, they may be in front, to the left, or to the right, so that’s where you must train your eyes to focus—not toward the sky nor the horizon. On rare occasions though, sheds will be found by those who are wandering for reasons other than antlers, but if you suddenly have a yearning to set your own
shed collection record, here’s some points that may help narrow the spread between each beam you find. Antlers—grown and cast annually— start off in early spring shrouded in a soft skin (velvet) that nourishes the developing bone. By the time the autumnal equinox arrives, antlers have formed into not only an object of attraction, but tools of defense for domination. When the breeding cycle and its hormonal demand has run its course, the casting or shedding of the antlers commences. The bulk of the shedding process takes place during January and February, but pinpointing the occurrence is impossible because it’s highly influenced by such factors as weather, nutrition, and See Shed Hunting on page 22
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Needle in a haystack: Roger Kingsley displays a shed within an area of similar colors and shapes, showing how challenging it can be to find these trophies. Shed Hunting continued from page 20
prolonged rut. Knowing when to start seeking sheds is the first key to finding them. Since I only search private land, I can set my own start date without running the risk of losing antlers to other individuals. I practice the philosophy that later is far better than sooner. So, I don’t start looking for them until I know most of them have hit the ground. That time is March. To me, March is the shed hunter’s month, clearly because the vast majority of antlers in northern Pennsylvania where I live will be cast by then. But there’s another reason. Unlike some states that prohibit the gathering of sheds until a certain date, Pennsylvania has no policy governing such excursions. Nevertheless, I prefer to stay clear of prime bedding and feeding sites until March, to minimize the risk of additional herd stress and possible displacement of bucks. Your net worth of antlers will total far less at the end of the season if you push animals out
of the area. Troy Tire & Equipment is a thirtyyear-old business on Fallbrook Road in Troy, specializing in tire sales and repair for automotive and farm equipment. On February 27 last year, I talked to Kevin Schucker, who works there. He and another coworker had already repaired six tractor and implement tires that month. Were they flattened from rocks, wear and tear, or other means? Nope…punctured by antlers! “It’s a common occurrence this time of year,” says Kevin. That remark should grab your attention. Here’s why. Deflated farm equipment tires caused by antlers means that bucks spent a considerable amount of time in those fields—lured in by either leftover grains or other crops. Antlers dropped off, and tires found them. Downtime frustrates a farmer. Ask permission and you may be granted hundreds of acres to search for sheds. Don’t forget to pack binoculars. They’ll save you lots of steps by quickly identifying
something that resembles tines or a beam. Disappointment is normal if your steps turn into miles without scoring a single shed. But look at it this way. Your odds were far better walking those fields, than they were sprawled out on the couch watching TV! The very best time to conduct a shed search is morning when you are (presumably) fresh and full of energy. Ideally, the best days are overcast. The lighter hue of antlers will contrast with the darker leaves or vegetation. Start before sunrise on days that promise to be sunny, as shadows actually camouflage antlers. If patches of snow or drifts still exist, hold off until bare ground. I like to hit the best areas first, then return later and finish the area using a grid search pattern. This scheme of searching cuts down on the length of exposure to critters who have a habit of dining on them. You may now have the green light to enter areas that were off limits (sanctuaries) during hunting season. Spook See Shed Hunting on page 30
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feel the l ve feell the feel the ve l ve feel the l ve feel the l ve deer out of their beds while on a search? Better inspect that area because if it happened to be unpressured for an extended period, they might have spent several days bedding there. Imagine how you would conduct a shed search if someone planted an antler on a parcel of ground, and challenged you to find it. You’d be extremely thorough, right? Visually mark off and search small areas at a time. Don’t tackle a huge expanse or you’ll get sloppy. Go slow! Sloppy searching allows branches, brush, cradle knolls, and other terrain to retain the prizes as you rush on by. There’re bound to be distractions of all sorts as you walk, so stop and get them out of your system before continuing on. And at the end of the day, retrace all the ground you covered by scanning an aerial map. That’ll show you how much territory in the nooks and crannies that you really missed, if any. My friend Gordy Wesneski is a master shed hunter with over 400 drops in his collection. I once asked him, “What would be the single most useful piece of advice you’d share to entry-level shed seekers?” His answer? “Determination!” I agree. Regardless of when or how you search, if you’re determined to find an antler, you will.
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Corning Bike Works
ikes are a very personal matter for Tom and Margo Underwood (above), owners of Corning Bike Works at 88 West Market Street. From the antique motorized bicycle in the window, which once belonged to Tom’s dad, to their explorations of scenic back roads along the towpaths of the Erie Canal, they spend a lot of time pedaling when they aren’t making it possible for others. Once they found three buffalo on a back road—it’s a long story, but they wouldn’t have had a close encounter like that any other way. Experience has taught the Underwoods that bikes are not one-sizefits-most. You have to think about the kind of riding you want to do. “Just because they come out of the box this way,” Tom says, pointing to a bike he’s just removed from its wrappings and started putting together, “doesn’t mean that’s how they’ve got to stay. What kind of handlebars are most comfortable? A saddle that fits me doesn’t fit Margo. Tell us what your issue is and we can custom fit.” Even before they began the bike shop, bicycles were large in their lives. Margot has been a nationally-ranked racer and, in pre-bike-shop years, Tom easily racked up 500 miles per week. They even took a bike trip from Elmira to St. Louis, Missouri, and back. How long did that take? “Too long,” Tom quips. At the shop, a wide upper shelf around three sides of the store holds Tom’s collection of beautifully-restored vintage pedal cars, some containing the names of those who want a chance at ownership if Tom ever decides to thin the herd. Closer to eye level are multiple sizes and styles of bicycles, unicycles, and accessories. Clientele includes kids, commuters, and serious riders. CBW also handles repairs and equipment modifications. “A lot of people have bikes sitting in garages that are the wrong fit for their owners. We might be able to make them more usable,” Tom says. The Underwoods are big on bike safety. Their short list: always wear some bright colors (you want to contrast with the road) and a helmet, keep your lights on, and obey the rules of the road. Margo says she always wears red gloves to draw attention to her hand-signals. As riders, they can advocate for how worthwhile getting out on the road—and off it—can be. “This area is phenomenal,” Margo notes. “We have friends from Pennsylvania who come up here just to ride,” Tom adds. “It’s wonderful. And you never know when you’ll see some buffalo.” Find out more at corningbikeworks.com or call (607) 962-7831. ~Karey Solomon 27
Courtesy National Orphan Train Complex
On the right track: Anna Laura Hill (far right) stands in front of the United Charities Building with a group of boys departing for new homes.
Our Orphan Train Lady
West Burlington’s Anna Laura Hill Helped Her Friends Build a Family By Mark Bromberg
racing ancestors can be a fascinating hobby. All the resources available on the Internet may uncover facts that may be lost or unknown to even the most avid researcher bitten with the familyhistory bug. I knew, for example, that my mother had been adopted in New York City before 1920—I have a copy of the letter from the Children’s Aid Society in Manhattan dated 1921. What I subsequently discovered from clues found in that letter led to an important part of American history. The 1921 letter to the Elmira couple who adopted my mother when she was five was written by Anna Laura Hill, a placing agent known as “the orphan train lady.” The two-page letter was filled with intriguing, personal clues, including last names and other details, like, “the father was an architect.” I wondered why Miss Hill would write an informal letter addressed to “Dear Frances,” assuming that Children’s
Aid was an adoption group that rarely gave out that kind of information. My Internet search for Anna Laura Hill led me to the Tri-County genealogy website curated by Joyce Tice, an invaluable resource for family and social histories of Tioga and Bradford counties in Pennsylvania and Chemung County in New York. There I found the key: an 1898 elementary school graduation souvenir booklet from Hickory Grove School with “Teacher Anna Laura Hill” and her sepia-colored photo on the front cover. She was twenty. More digging revealed that Anna Laura and both my grandparents had grown up in West Burlington, just outside of Troy (my grandmother, Frances, was even the same age as Anna Laura; all the families attended the Methodist Church). The kindhearted “orphan train lady” had arranged my mother’s adoption for two old school friends. The history of the orphan trains and
Anna Laura Hill’s role as a “placing agent” is fast receding. The last train carrying hopeful children westward was in 1929. But it has been estimated by the National Orphan Train Museum that more than 250,000 children found new homes during the seventy-five years of what is now remembered as the Orphan Train Movement. Before it ended, children were placed in forty-five states as well as in Canada and Mexico. Anna Laura accepted a position at the Children’s Aid Society in 1903. Charles Loring Brace had founded the organization in 1853 with the hope that orphan children would thrive in a home environment with parents who genuinely wanted to raise them, and that the fresh air and hard work that farms provided would prove beneficial to them. “There’s always room at a farmer’s table,” Brace wrote in 1872. At the time there were as many as 10,000 homeless children in Manhattan, and his proposal See Train on page 31
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Train continued from page 28
to “place out” the city’s orphans to the wide-open country beyond New York City became the foundation of the social work profession in the U.S. Charles Brace died in 1890. By 1900 the Children’s Aid Society was the largest aid group in New York City; in 1903 Anna Laura, the schoolteacher from West Burlington, joined the organization. Until she retired from her duties in 1932, Anna Laura accompanied groups of children on their long train rides from New York westward, often with Kansas as a destination. Her own well-kept records show that she made 160 rail trips with groups of orphans. There were sometimes fifty or more children, aged five to seventeen, occupying a single railcar. The train trips lasted days and often were not easy ones. The children, in their new clothes and given a Bible to read, would, understandably, become restless, and the journey itself would be affected by weather or hazardous track conditions. In a 1913 letter to her mother in West Burlington, Anna Laura wrote about a flood: “While at Bellevue we could see the men and boys going about town on rafts and many houses entirely surrounded by water. We were in constant danger for twenty six hours and such awful places that we went thru and over, submerged tracks, water on both sides and two terrible rivers. We crossed a river at midnight. They sent a work train and 200 workmen ahead of us, they worked about two hours making the bridge more secure. They put in 8 car loads of rock and sand-bags, then took two engines across, and then we went over. It was an anxious time for every one on that train, not a berth was occupied that night.” The letter ends with even more unexpected news:“We have taken a three week-old baby born here and I do not know yet what we will do with her.” Most of the children were seldom told about their final destinations. Advance advertisements in newspapers drew crowds to theaters and sometimes right to the train station, where children were lined up for inspection by townspeople. The National Orphan Train Complex explains that the children would “take turns giving their names, singing a little ditty, or ‘saying a piece.’” There were many brothers and sisters sent out on the train; when one was chosen for a new home and the other left behind, realization that the other was being led away was often loud and tearful. Anna Laura witnessed many scenes like this. Later she would write, “The requirements for a worker at that time were physical strength, fearlessness, imagination, sense of humor, love of children...and a missionary spirit...I tackled the job, much as fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” She moved to Topeka, Kansas, in 1917 and continued to make the train journey back to New York for more children, as well as make regular home inspections to check on each family’s progress and report problems. Thousands of children that were placed were monitored by only a handful of agents across the U.S.; the Society letterhead on the 1921 letter to “Dear Frances” contained the names of only eight placing agents. Anna Laura was seemingly tireless, though the work must have been exhausting. Home visits were a requirement twice a year until the child turned eighteen. She documented those visits with her camera. There are over 200 photographs showing boys and girls with their new families. Her precise recordkeeping later See Train on page 32
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Train continued from page 31
helped to reunite separated siblings. There were always more grueling train trips to make. Taken together the results of the Children’s Aid Society’s efforts were considered a success. A survey conducted in 1910 reflected that eighty-seven percent of the placed children reported as “done well,” eight percent returned to New York, and five percent had died or had been arrested. Still, there was growing opposition by the late 1920s that the orphan children were becoming “a public charge” in their new communities. Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, and other states passed regulations guaranteeing payment of a large bond for adoption of out-of-state children. Railroads were sued by parents attempting to reclaim runaways. Catholic clergy maintained that some charities were deliberately placing Catholic children in Protestant homes to change their religious practices. By the beginning of the 1930s, however, the Children’s Aid Society had inspired nearly thirty more “placing organizations,” and local groups themselves were realizing the need to take care of destitute children, organizing the first programs of foster care. The work of the Children’s Aid Society had other national and far-reaching results. As early as 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt called a conference to discuss the care of disadvantaged children: “Surely nothing ought to interest our people more than the care of the children who are destitute and neglected but not delinquent. Personally, I very earnestly believe that the best way in which to care for dependent children is in the family home.” The ideas expressed were an echo of the work started by Charles Loring Brace sixty years before. One of the provisions of the 1935 Social Security Act signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt not only approved funding for child welfare services, but also provided grants-in-aid to states for financial aid to dependent children, maternal and child health services, and services for crippled children. Anna Laura Hill never married, but considered the orphans as her children, corresponding with them for many years after she moved to Elmira and continued working in foster services throughout Chemung County. She died in 1963 and is buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Soon thereafter, Anna Laura was honored as an “Extraordinary Woman of History” by the Daughters of the American Revolution. One of the lasting results of her tireless work is that there are an estimated two million descendants of orphan train riders in the U.S.—a lasting tribute to the idealism of Charles Loring Brace and his faith in the kindness of total strangers, and a testament to Anna Laura’s dedication. In 1985 the National Orphan Train Complex opened in Concordia, Kansas, offering research tools, education, history, and permanent exhibitions of letters, photographs, and other memorabilia. A life-size statue of Anna Laura Hill joins twentyfour statues of orphan train riders who found new homes and new hope through her work. For more information, visit orphantraindepot.org. Mark Bromberg grew up in Elmira, and, after moving to Georgia, has spent forty years writing for publications across the country. He currently lives in Athens, Georgia, where he writes and performs poetry and runs his own small press, Bellemeade Books.
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B A C K O F T H E M O U N TA I N
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"The Last Reporter" by David O'Reilly. The Elmira Star-Gazette's Jeff Murray makes a last stand at the first Gannett newspaper. This issue a...
Published on Feb 18, 2020
"The Last Reporter" by David O'Reilly. The Elmira Star-Gazette's Jeff Murray makes a last stand at the first Gannett newspaper. This issue a...