Tag Archives: Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs humorist Frank Sullivan is honored!


Author Frank Sullivan reading The New Yorker

Author Frank Sullivan reading The New Yorker

The 20th Century American humorist Frank Sullivan is beginning to enjoy a much-deserved revival in the 21st Century! “The Sage of Saratoga,” as he is lovingly called in his birthplace, Saratoga Springs, was in his heyday a renowned humorist and regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and a published author whose works delighted millions.

Thomas Dimopoulos reports in Saratoga Today‘s “Sage of Saratoga Honored with National Literary Landmark” that Frank Sullivan’s home on 135 Lincoln Avenue in Saratoga Springs is to be dedicated as a “Literary Landmark” by United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. This gives Frank’s home the same honor as places associated with other great American authors as diverse as Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, W. E. B. DuBois, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frederick Douglass, to name just a few.

In addition, Saratoga Springs Public Library will feature “Frank Sullivan at His Best,” a selection of Frank Sullivan’s writings that are the library’s 2017 choice for the SaratogaReads! a community-wide reading and discussion initiative. Hats off to Saratoga Springs Public Library Director Issac Pulver!

On a personal note, Frank Sullivan came into my family’s life in 1946, when my parents, George and Jane King, moved to Saratoga Springs. They rented the first floor of 121 Lincoln Avenue, just down the street from Frank’s home, where he lived with his sister Kate. My father had accepted the job as Manager of MacFinn’s Drugstore on Broadway and Frank immediately reached out to the young couple, starting a friendship that lasted until Frank’s death 30 years later. Even after we moved from Saratoga, my mother corresponded with Frank and stayed in touch with him until he died in 1976. For our family, then, simultaneously thinking of Frank Sullivan as both a dear friend and a great author was very easy.

However, I have to recognize, however grudgingly, that forty years have passed since Frank’s death, and many more since his heyday, and people’s memories are short. So, in this time when we need gentle humor served with real intellect, it’s wonderful that the humorist whose New York Times obituary described him as “a gentle wit” is being brought back for a whole new generation to enjoy.

For those of you not familiar with Frank Sullivan, here’s a thumbnail biography of him. Frank was born in 1892 in Saratoga Springs on 177 Lincoln Avenue, next door to the Saratoga Race Track and not far from his second and last home on 135 Lincoln Avenue. He was educated in Saratoga—meaning then that he not only attended schools there, but also worked at the track, where he received a liberal expansion of his scholarly education. As Alden Whitman wrote in his New York Times obituary of Frank, “Frank Sullivan, Humorist, Dies at 83; A Gentle Wit and Spoofer of Cliches”

As a boy of 10 he worked as a pump boy in the betting ring at the race track. On one occasion he served a glass of water to Lillian Russell, the actress, who tipped him 50 cents and said to him:

“Thank you, little boy. Tastes better out of a tin cup, too.”

“It was a swell job,” Mr. Sullivan said of his pump‐boy job, “easy hours, plenty to see, little to do, 10 to 15 bucks a day in tips and no income tax.”

While in Saratoga Springs High School, Frank was also a part-time reporter for The Saratogian. He went on to Cornell University, graduated in 1914, and then returned to the Spa City to write full time for The Saratogian.

So far, much of that description typifies the careers of many hundreds of newspaper reporters of that era, but Frank’s rise to renown began right after World War I. Drafted into the US Army in 1917, he served as a Lieutenant. Post-war, he moved to New York City and briefly worked as a reporter for the Sun and then the New York Herald, before joining The World in 1922. Very significantly, in 1925 he also began a long association with The New Yorker magazine, newly created by Harold Ross. That literary relationship lasted until a little before Frank’s death in 1976.

Frank’s fame began in the Roaring Twenties and it is this part of his life that I know will provide some keen biographer with the core of an excellent book. Simultaneously writing for The World and The New Yorker, while contributing to the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, Frank Sullivan also became an “unofficial” member of the Algonquin Round Table. A daily luncheon gathering at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, the Round Table included newspaper reporters, columnists, and humorists, as well as Broadway playwrights, producers, directors, and actors. Its“official” (charter) members were:  Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Ruth Hale, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Brock Pemberton, Harold Ross, Robert E. Sherwood, John Peter Toohey, and Alexander Woollcott. Harold Ross, not coincidentally, was the founder and editor of The New Yorker.

Frank Sullivan had been “invited to the table” as an intellectual compatriot and would become a lifelong friend to many of them. But, before you think of the Round Table’s “unofficial” members being minor players in that scene, consider just some of those who held that rank with Frank:  Noël Coward, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Jane Grant, and Edna Ferber. Ferber, you’ll recall, wrote Saratoga Trunk, later made into the musical Saratoga by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Frank’s period of greatest fame spanned from the 1920s through the 1940s. Beyond the Algonquin Round Table, Frank’s friends also included noted writers, actors, playwrights and producers. For example, there was his dear friend and drinking companion Monty Wooley—Yale professor, Broadway producer and actor, and Hollywood movie star. Also, Frank counted the acclaimed novelist and short story writer John O’Hara as a friend. And there were many more friends from every walk of life. That was the gift he had.

In all things, Frank was a Saratogian at heart. In 1930 his newspaper, The World, went out of business and, deeply affected, Frank moved from New York City back to Saratoga Springs, where he bought his second and last house on 135 Lincoln Avenue. (I should note that there are differences among sources as to the date he returned to live full time in Saratoga Springs. I chose the year that Alden Whitman had reported in his obituary of Frank.)

Of course, business dictated that Frank still went to Manhattan. While there he stayed at the Cornell Club on East 44th Street, right next to Grand Central Station. Being a short hop from Grand Central must have appealed greatly to Frank as, to my knowledge, he never drove a car or even had a driver’s license.

 

The Night They Burned the Old Nostalgia Down

The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down

 

Beyond newspaper and magazine articles, Frank published eight books, including The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down. For many, Frank’s Christmas poems in The New Yorker were a much-anticipated annual event, as he extended greetings to the internationally famous and his neighbors down the street.

What is Frank Sullivan’s place among American writers? I can’t say. His humor was subtle and gentle and, in contrast to Dorothy Parker’s pithy zingers, probably wouldn’t have the same appeal in today’s world. But Frank deserves a full examination of his work, and a good biography of his life. For Frank Sullivan was a renowned writer who walked among, and had lunch with, the giants of his day.

I’ll be back next week with some King family memories and more personal history of Frank Sullivan. Meanwhile, may I ask a favor? Does anyone have a photo of Frank taken in, say, the 1940s, something from around when he was 50? The photo always shown now (and which is included in this article) is of Frank as an older man with thick glasses. Yet I always conjure up an image of him as younger, being smartly dressed in a suit and tie, as if ready to step out to a Broadway show in Manhattan or to the Colonial, his favorite watering hole on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

Till then,

J.A.C.K.

———————

© 2016 Joseph A. Cutshall-King; all rights reserved.
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PLEASE HELP Racing City Chorus’ $how to Benefit Saratoga Springs HS Music ♫ Department


THE RACING CITY CHORUS NEEDS YOUR HELP!!! (Yes, I am repeating myself!) The Racing City Chorus is Raising $$$ to Benefit the Saratoga Springs High School Music ♫ Department. PLEASE join us! Please help us make this a smash hit! (At the bottom of this you’ll see all kinds of ways you can share this.)

The Racing City Chorus (RCC) of Saratoga Springs, NY, is celebrating its 60 anniversary this year with a Diamond Anniversary Show on June 4thand we are going to donate 50% of the Show’s net proceeds to the Music Department of the Saratoga Springs High School.

I call this cause RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music.RCC Sings for Saratoga Springs 7

For our Chorus, this is HUGE (or as Billy Fuccillo would say, “You-jah!“) and we need  your help. We believe in our Barbershop music and in supporting music education for youth. Candidly, we’d like to raise a LOT of money to make a really large donation. (For some more information see Paul Post’s great article “Singing for a Cause” in the 4/12 issue of The Saratogian.)

AND PLEASE COME TO OUR SHOW! It will be an a capella singing lover’s feast! Here are the details:

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, June 4, 2016, the Maple Avenue Middle School 515 Maple Avenue Saratoga Springs NY 12866. Two performances: 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

Maino2

Mike Maino

OUR PERFORMERS: Barbershop Harmony Society favorite Mike Maino will Emcee this fabulous LINE UP:

2015-NED-0456The Racing City Chorus and its four Quartets – Contempt of Chord, Elderly Brothers, Late Bloomers, and Primrose Lane!

VS 1Vocal Spectrum, 2006 International Barbershop Harmony Society champions! These four young men rock Barbershop singing, America’s original a capella art form!

SSCSD logo JCK 3Saratoga Springs High School Choraliers led by Kathleen McCarty (7:00 pm show)!

southgf_HP_bannerSouth Glens Falls High School  SGF Vocal Point led by Elizabeth Stambach-Fuller (2:00 pm show)! (Thank you SGF Vocal Point for helping!!!)

The Afterglow: Join Vocal Spectrum, Mike Maino, and all of us for a more casual sing. Pizza and wings to be served. (Starts after the Show at the Saratoga Springs K of C hall.)

  • TICKETS AND COST:

    • TO BUY TICKETS ONLINE CLICK HERE: (Reserved Seating available, first come, first serve!)
    • OR CALL:  518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464) to buy Tickets through the Racing City Chorus.
    • NEED HELP ORDERING? HAVE A GROUP ATTENDING? HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS? Please Email pbaker1@nycap.rr.com.
  • Show Tickets:
    • VIP Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $23.00
    • Premium Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . $19.00
    • General admission: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $17.00
    • Non Reserved General Admission: .  .  . . . $15.00
  • Afterglow Tickets: Per person: . . . . . . $20.00

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit the Racing City Chorus website OR Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464).

Join the  Racing City Chorus June 4th  as RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music“!  Thank you!

Joe Cutshall-King

  • Information on The Racing City Chorus:
    • The Racing City Chorus is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, chartered in Saratoga Springs in 1956 as a Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
    • Mailing Address: PO Box 713, Saratoga Springs, NY  12866
    • Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464)
    • Website: http://racingcitychorus.org/

Do you think my ♫ cause is worth going viral?


I have a Music ♬ Cause and I am asking you this:   Should it go viral?

Here is my cause:  My Barbershop chorus, The Racing City Chorus (RCC) of Saratoga Springs, NY, is celebrating its 60 anniversary this year with a Diamond Anniversary Show on June 4thand we are going to donate 50% of the Show’s net proceeds to the Music Department of the Saratoga Springs High School.

I call the cause RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music  (or RCC ♬ for $$$ for Saratoga ♬).RCC Sings for Saratoga Springs 7

For our Chorus, this is a huge undertaking and we need the public’s support. But we believe in our Barbershop music and in supporting music education for youth by 1) donating to our hometown school’s Music Department and in doing so,  2) drawing attention to music education for youth. Candidly, we’d like to raise a lot of money to make a really large donation.

Paul Post beautifully describes our efforts in his article “Singing for a Cause” in the 4/12 issue of The Saratogian. If you think RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music is a good cause, will you share this on social media and via email and help it go viral? (See: “Share this” below.)

And please come to our show! It will be an a capella singing lover’s delight! Here are the details:

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, June 4, 2016, the Maple Avenue Middle School 515 Maple Avenue Saratoga Springs NY 12866. Two performances: 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

Maino2

Mike Maino

OUR PERFORMERS: Barbershop Harmony Society favorite Mike Maino will Emcee this fabulous LINE UP:

2015-NED-0456The Racing City Chorus and its four Quartets – Contempt of Chord, Elderly Brothers, Late Bloomers, and Primrose Lane!

VS 1Vocal Spectrum, 2006 International Barbershop Harmony Society champions! These four young men rock Barbershop singing, America’s original a capella art form!

SSCSD logo JCK 3Saratoga Springs High School Choraliers led by Kathleen McCarty (7:00 pm show)!

southgf_HP_banner

The Afterglow: Join Vocal Spectrum, Mike Maino, and all of us for a more casual sing. Pizza and wings to be served. (Starts after the Show at the Saratoga Springs K of C hall.)

  • TICKETS AND COST:

    • TO BUY TICKETS ONLINE CLICK HERE: (Reserved Seating available, first come, first serve!)
    • OR CALL:  518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464) to buy Tickets through the Racing City Chorus.
    • NEED HELP ORDERING? HAVE A GROUP ATTENDING? HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS? Please Email pbaker1@nycap.rr.com.
  • Show Tickets:
    • VIP Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $23.00
    • Premium Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . $19.00
    • General admission: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $17.00
    • Non Reserved General Admission: .  .  . . . $15.00
  • Afterglow Tickets: Per person: . . . . . . $20.00

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit the Racing City Chorus website OR Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464).

Join the  Racing City Chorus June 4th  as RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music“!  Thank you!

Joe Cutshall-King

  • Information on The Racing City Chorus:
    • The Racing City Chorus is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, chartered in Saratoga Springs in 1956 as a Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
    • Mailing Address: PO Box 713, Saratoga Springs, NY  12866
    • Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464)
    • Website: http://racingcitychorus.org/

American Pharoah faces the “Saratoga Jinx” on Triple Crown winners


American Pharoah

American Pharoah

Saratoga Springs—It’s all about American Pharoah. Whether we don’t know a horse from the carrot it’s chomping, we all seem to know about American Pharoah. Tomorrow (8/29) we’ll all see if that Triple Crown winner breaks the “Saratoga Jinx” at the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

With this world-wide American Pharoah mania, all eyes are on Saratoga Springs—and on its infamous gambling history. Last Sunday journalist Heather Kovar had me on WTEN TV’s News10 @ 9am to talk about those gambling heydays, as one of her top stories was on whether Triple Crown winner American Pharoah would be visiting Saratoga Springs while the ravers was run. (Thanks, Heather!)

Heather Kovar

Heather Kovar

Well, we know now that American Pharaoh is more than visiting–he’s running in the Travers. The only speculation now is whether American Pharoah can beat the “Saratoga Jinx” on Triple Crown winners competing in the Travers Stakes.

For those unfamiliar with horse racing, here’s a short explanation of the Travers and the Triple Crown. The Travers Stakes has been held at Saratoga Race Course since 1869 and was named for William R. Travers, the first president of the then Saratoga Racing Association.

The Triple Crown is officially “The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.” Three-year-old Thoroughbred horses that win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes in a single season are Triple Crown winners. The first Triple Crown was won in 1919.

And what is this “Saratoga Jinx”? It’s simple. While twelve horses have won the Triple Crown, only one of them has ever won the Travers Stakes—Whirlaway in 1941!

NYRA’s webpage on Whirlaway  reports that, “in 1941 the crowd-pleasing ‘Mr. Longtail’ often landed above” baseball great Joe DiMaggio and boxing legend Joe Louis “on the front pages of the nation’s sports sections.” It also states that the famed jockey “Eddie Arcaro called him ‘not the best, but the runningest’ horse. His trainer called him dumb, stupid and crazy.” Out of the Whirlaway could unpredictably run all over the track, but then always pulled out at the right moment to leave the others in his dust. Arcaro rode Whirlaway to his Belmont victory for his 1941 Triple Crown victory.

Whirlaway was now slated to run in the Travers on August 16, 1941, when tragedy struck! Ten days before the race, on August 6th, the Jockey Board of Stewards suspended Arcaro from riding because of charges of “rough handling” of the horses he rode. Instead, Alfred Robertson took Arcaro’s place. The racing world was in a state of frenzy.

Piping Rock Casino

Piping Rock Casino

In the Spa City, the casinos and other businesses were finally enjoying a financial revival after the Great Depression and this race was symbolic of that revival. What would happen now? Never mind that most of the world was already at war, with the US was aiding the beleaguered British in their fight against the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. (And Pearl Harbor was 103 days away.) No, what was vital was the Travers!

On Saturday, August 16, 1941, the stands at Saratoga Race Course were packed for the Travers Stakes. As the horses broke from gate, Whirlaway sprung to action—well, almost. William DuPont’s Fairymant took the lead by 15 lengths and Samuel D. Riddle’s two horses, War Relic and Lord Kitchener, were coming up strong. Whirlaway wasn’t doing well.

Cy Peterman of the Philadelphia Inquirer summed it up best: “When Whirlaway turned on the pressure, all chances of a shock were erased. Up to the mile post, before he made his move, he looked as if bound to make history repeat. . . . But once Whirlaway came into full stride there wasn’t much to it. As far out as the 16th pole the race was over; he was almost four lengths ahead at the finish, and Fairymant had two and a half on Lord Kitchener.”

Peterman also reported that, “By his victory, Whirlaway took down another $16,900 for [Whirlaway owner] Warren Wright. Chicago sportsman who found there are more ways of raising dough than with the baking powder he manufactures.”

Whirlaway

Whirlaway

Wright was presented with the gold cup by Samuel D. Riddle, owner of War Relic and Lord Kitchener, and George H. Bull, president of the Saratoga Association.

And since that day 74 years ago no Triple Crown winner has ever won the Travers Stakes. In fact, Whirlaway is the only Triple Crown winner ever to have won the Travers!

Damon Runyon

Damon Runyon

“The play,” as author Damon Runyon described gambling in Saratoga’s gaming heydays, is understandably high. In just a few days, the Travers purse has risen from $1.2 to $1.6 million. As of this writing (Friday, 8/28) the odds are, well, odd. Saratoga Race Course is showing 3/5 odds, while across the pond in the UK, Ladbrokes is offering 28/9 odds. (We attempted to find Runyon’s Bookie Bob, but Bob’s kidnappers have yet to release him.)

Adding to the frenzy is that Saratoga Race Course has sold out seating for tomorrow’s Travers!

So, all that remains now is to see if Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh breaks the “Saratoga Jinx” and wins the 2015 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

In this instance, all bets are definitely on!

Tour Saratoga Springs and enjoy the architecture that nearly disappeared!


Right now is a great time to go Saratoga Springs and enjoy its many treats—especially the architecture that nearly disappeared.

Colonial Tavern-Saratoga Springs-August-25, 1946-George Bolster

Colonial Tavern on the east side of Broadway in Saratoga Springs: August 25, 1946. Photo by George Bolster

It nearly disappeared because of a plague of “fires of mysterious origins,” as the newspapers would term them.

Let me explain. This August marks the 60th Anniversary of the arson that destroyed Piping Rock Casino on August 16-17, 1954. For all its mystery, it was in reality only one of the hundreds of “fires of mysterious origins”—so many of them unsolved arsons—that bedeviled Saratoga Springs for more than a century. As it was, many of Saratoga Springs’ beautiful buildings disappeared in the same way as the mob-controlled Piping Rock Casino, which was torched by “a person or persons unknown” another phrase too commonly used in the newspapers of that time.

All that remains of Piping Rock Casino, which sat on the NW corner of Union Avenue and Gilbert Road in Saratoga Springs, is the overgrown concrete driveway of its entrance and, near that, a street named Piping Rock Circle.

It could have been the same with much of the Spa City.

Walk Saratoga Springs’ streets today and you are delighted by its lovely architecture. But, given the number of “fires of mysterious origins” that occurred in Saratoga Springs, it is a wonder there’s a historic structure left to admire there.

Saratoga Springs Public Library’s History Room has documented 146 fires in the 20th century—and that is not a complete listing! Of those 146 fires, 63 occurred between 1931 and 1961. Of the six most famous (or infamous) casinos in Saratoga—Arrowhead, Piping Rock, Newman’s Lake House, Riley’s, the Brook Club, and the Meadowbrook—four were destroyed by arson (Arrowhead, Piping Rock, the Brook Club, and Meadowbrook). Individual fires—most “unexplained” and many regarded as arson—claimed huge historic landmarks such as the Drink Hall, the United States Hotel in 1945, the Worden Hotel in 1961; the Convention Hall in 1965; and the Columbian Hotel in 1965. Also, houses, barns at Saratoga Race Course, and other structures are found on the Library’s list of fires in Saratoga.

The Saratogian and numerous other newspapers reporting on the blazes regularly used phrases such as “mysteriously burned” or “burned by causes unknown.” The worst conflagration in Saratoga Springs’ history occurred in 1957. That fire destroyed buildings on the east side of Broadway. Beginning at 396 Broadway (the old MacFinn’s Drugstore, which my father had managed from 1946 to 1952) it worked it way up to 418 Broadway. It caused $1 million dollars damage. In today’s dollars, given the history of the buildings, the replacement cost of such structures, and the current worth of Saratoga Springs real estate, the same buildings’ loss could easily be calculated as high as $15 million.

For years, fires were expected in Saratoga. I recall as a boy in the ‘fifties that, whenever there was a fire, the eyes of the adults in my family would roll and the question would be asked, “What would burn next?” My grandmother worked in Saratoga Springs as a house mother at Skidmore College. It was assumed by everyone we knew, who lived in, or was familiar with Saratoga Springs in the 1950s and 1960s, that those mansions along Union Avenue would all be “mysteriously burn.” That they didn’t, I consider a miracle.

More than personal assumptions and anecdote were involved in this fear, however. Bob Dillon, son of the chief legal counsel for the old Glens Falls Insurance Company, a huge national insurance firm back then, said that his father complained constantly of the claims submitted for arsons that were consuming Saratoga Springs in the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1970s, Saratoga County had the highest percentages of occurrences of arson of any county in America!

Saratoga Springs: Broadway fire, January 27, 1957

Saratoga Springs: Broadway fire, January 27, 1957

The change for the better, ironically, began in the late 1970s, when a group of concerned citizens began fighting for the preservation of Saratoga Spring’s architectural heritage and the renovation and adaptive reuse of this precious resource. The result today is evident, a vibrant and beautiful city with gorgeous old architecture that is being sensitively adapted and reused, and which is influencing the creation of a new generation of lovely buildings.

This is not to say that fire—particularly arson—isn’t still a threat to Saratoga’s history, as is evidenced by the fire in July 2013 that destroyed the historic structures on 106-108 to Woodlawn Avenue. According to The Saratogian of October 2013 Saratoga Springs police determined that fire to be arson. (http://www.news10.com/story/23820342/saratoga-spring-police-determine-woodlawn-ave-fire-to-be-arson) However, very happily, the incidents of accidental fires and intentional arsons are much lower now than they were in Saratoga’s past.

So, as the racing season wraps up in Saratoga Springs, let me urge you to go Saratoga Springs, and walk the streets of the historic Spa City, enjoying its architectural treats. And while you’re there, hoist a glass of spring water and give a toast to Piping Rock Casino, would you?

“A Very Special Santa”—a Christmas memory


Here is a Christmas memory I wrote for my “Over My Shoulder” Column© in the Glens Falls Post-Star of December 21, 1994. I hope you enjoy it.

A Very Special Santa

My mother had a little ornament that she placed on the Christmas tree each year, a tiny cotton Santa that she said she had placed on her tree from the time she was a little girl. The little Santa was, truthfully, in sad shape for its years of wear. But it was one of “those things,” something given a special meaning when my mother was so little. Why, no one knew. Not even Mom.

As I grew older, with each Christmas I came to look forward to that Santa being placed gently on a high bough, nestled securely to prevent shrieking children, or cats, from knocking it to the floor. Without realizing it, a part of her childhood Christmases gradually became a part of her children’s. It was a good feeling.

The tiny Santa moved a lot over the years. From my mother’s birthplace in Mechanicville, it went to Saratoga, then to Fort Edward and then Ticonderoga, at each juncture adding children and years to its life. It sagged and it drooped and it faded. Yet it survived, tying each new Christmas into the ones that had passed.

The last time my mother put the Santa on her tree was in Ticonderoga in 1982. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer and on her next Christmas, which was to be her last, she decided she and my father would come to our homes instead. I remember her apology for not having a tree, which I later recognized as her way of saying, “I’m angry because I can’t put up a tree, like I should.”

So that year, 1983, for the first time in decades, the little Santa stayed in a box in my parents’ cellar. At Christmas, 1984, my mother was gone and, again, the little cotton Santa stayed packed away. For that Christmas and the next two, my father would not decorate the house nor have a tree. The Christmas person in the King family was Mom and the Christmas person was gone.

About two and a half years after my mother died, Dad told us he was selling our family home in Ticonderoga. It was too big and too full of memories. “Come and take what you want,” he told his children. The rest he would sell. For weeks upon weeks we helped him sort through the remains of a lifetime, as much a reward as a burden. For you must understand that Mom saved everything:  family pictures and letters, dad’s service records, the kids’ report cards, canceled checks, even occupant mail. As I had before, I looked through acres of boxes of Christmas decorations. As before, I could not, amidst them all, find the tiny Santa.

Mom always was fond of saying, “What will be will be.” I resigned myself to the fact that it was gone. “Things change,” my father was always saying. Oddly, I think that while he knew that was true, in a way he never resigned himself to his own wisdom. Almost three years to the day after my mother’s death, he died. Things had, indeed, changed.

For my wife, Sara, and I, that Christmas of 1987 in Glens Falls was, with my daughter being six, filled with expectations of Santa. It was also an oddly empty Christmas. We got out the boxes of decorations and frantically searched for our tree’s special angel, fearful it had been misplaced and then found it packed snugly away. My daughter sighed a big sigh! Under our regular boxes were the ones I’d brought from Ticonderoga. I rummaged through them, looking at the bubble lights and other things from my childhood Christmas trees.

And then, I found it. A tiny box inside of which was my mother’s faded cotton Santa wrapped up securely. Lost, but never really lost. Tenderly, I placed it on a high bough. And there it will go again this year, as we celebrate our Christmas and the memories that a special decoration carry with it.

From my family to you, a very merry Christmas.

Joe Cutshall-King

(“Over My Shoulder” – a weekly column written Joseph A. Cutshall-King for the for the Post-Star of Glens Falls, NY. All content Copyright © 1994-2013 by Joseph A. Cutshall-King. All rights reserved. No reproduction by any means or methods allowed without express written permission by the author.)

A very special Santa


What follows is a Christmas story from my family that I published in my Post-Star “Over My Shoulder” Column for December 21, 1994. Hope you enjoy it!

A very special Santa

My mother had a little ornament that she placed on the Christmas tree each year, a tiny cotton Santa that she said she had placed on her tree from the time she was a little girl. The little Santa was, truthfully, in sad shape for its years of wear. But it was one of “those things,” something given a special meaning when my mother was so little. Why, no one knew. Not even Mom.

As I grew older, with each Christmas I came to look forward to that Santa being placed gently on a high bough, nestled securely to prevent shrieking children, or cats, from knocking it to the floor. Without realizing it, a part of her childhood Christmases gradually became a part of her children’s. It was a good feeling.

The tiny Santa moved a lot over the years. From my mother’s birthplace in Mechanicville, it went to Saratoga, then to Fort Edward and then Ticonderoga, at each juncture adding children and years to its life. It sagged and it drooped and it faded. Yet it survived, tying each new Christmas into the ones that had passed.

The last time my mother put the Santa on her tree was in Ticonderoga in 1982. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer and on her next Christmas, which was to be her last, she decided she and my father would come to our homes instead. I remember her apology for not having a tree, which I later recognized as her way of saying, “I’m angry because I can’t put up a tree, like I should.”

So that year, 1983, for the first time in decades, the little Santa stayed in a box in my parents’ cellar. At Christmas, 1984, my mother was gone and, again, the little cotton Santa stayed packed away. For that Christmas and the next two, my father would not decorate the house nor have a tree. The Christmas person in the King family was Mom and the Christmas person was gone.

About two and a half years after my mother died, Dad told us he was selling our family home in Ticonderoga. It was too big and too full of memories. “Come and take what you want,” he told his children. The rest he would sell. For weeks upon weeks we helped him sort through the remains of a lifetime, as much a reward as a burden. For you must understand that Mom saved everything:  family pictures and letters, dad’s service records, the kids’ report cards, canceled checks, even occupant mail. As I had before, I looked through acres of boxes of Christmas decorations. As before, I could not, amidst them all, find the tiny Santa.

Mom always was fond of saying, “What will be will be.” I resigned myself to the fact that it was gone. “Things change,” my father was always saying. Oddly, I think that while he knew that was true, in a way he never resigned himself to his own wisdom. Almost three years to the day after my mother’s death, he died. Things had, indeed, changed.

For my wife, Sara, and I, that Christmas of 1987 in Glens Falls was, with my daughter being six, filled with expectations of Santa. It was also an oddly empty Christmas. We got out the boxes of decorations and frantically searched for our tree’s special angel, fearful it had been misplaced and then found it packed snugly away. My daughter sighed a big sigh! Under our regular boxes were the ones I’d brought from Ticonderoga. I rummaged through them, looking at the bubble lights and other things from my childhood Christmas trees.

And then, I found it. A tiny box inside of which was my mother’s faded cotton Santa wrapped up securely. Lost, but never really lost. Tenderly, I placed it on a high bough. And there it will go again this year, as we celebrate our Christmas and the memories that a special decoration carry with it.

From my family to you, a very merry Christmas.