Love In The Civil War At The New York State Museum

The Civil War is the subject of numerous exhibitions and special events these days as the country commemorates the war’s sesquicentennial. Most study the battles and politics, but one at the New York State Museum in Albany is focusing on how the war affected the relationship between two lovers.

“I Shall Think of You Often: The Civil War Story of Doctor and Mary Tarbell” opens today as part of “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War,” a 7,000-square-foot exhibition that examines New York’s role in the war.

Doctor and Mary Tarbell were childhood sweethearts who got separated when Doctor Tarbell went off to war with the Union army. They kept up a regular correspondence until the doctor was captured and sent to a Confederate prison.

Mary heard nothing from him and didn’t even know he was alive until he was released in February 1865. The doctor wasted no time getting leave to go home and marry his true love.

The exhibition tells of their enduring relationship with letters, diaries, photographs and Mary’s wedding dress, giving a personal and emotional side to a period of history so often concerned with death and violence.

Both exhibitions run through September 22.

[Photo courtesy Tompkins County History Center]

Civil War New York Subject Of New Exhibition

During the Civil War, New York was the wealthiest and most populous state on either side of the conflict. A new exhibition at the New York State Museum in Albany examines the important role New York played in preserving the Union.

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” features more than two hundred artifacts, documents and images centering around the themes of Antebellum New York, the Civil War, and Reconstruction and Legacy. Artifacts on display include a Lincoln life mask from 1860, the earliest photograph of Frederick Douglass, and the only known portrait of Dred Scott. There’s also a slave collar from c.1806 to point out the often-overlooked fact that slavery was once common in this northern state.

The exhibition examines various aspects of the war and home front and has a section dedicated to the Elmira Prison Camp, dubbed “Hellmira” by the Confederate soldiers interned there. Nearly 25 percent of them died from malnutrition, exposure and disease.

In a press release, the museum stated that the exhibition’s title was inspired by an 1858 quote from then U.S. Senator William H. Seward, who disagreed with those who believed that the prospect of war between the North and South was the work of “fanatical agitators.” He understood that the roots of conflict went far deeper, writing, “It is an irrepressible conflict, between opposing and enduring forces.”

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” starts today and runs until September 22, 2013.

[Photo of noncommissioned officers’ mess of Co. D, 93d New York Infantry courtesy Library of Congress]

Galley Gossip: A flight attendant Christmas story

I graduated from flight attendant training on the 8th of December in 1995. Two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, my roommate and I were called out to work a trip – together. The crew scheduling God’s must have been smiling down on us that day because it’s not often a flight attendant gets to work with their roommate who also happens to be their best friend on reserve. Although we were scheduled to layover in Buffalo, or maybe it was Albany (I can’t remember), we knew we were lucky. By the way, that’s us in the photograph.

What I remember most is glancing out the window and seeing rooftops and – Oh. My. God! – we were seconds from landing and I still had first class meal trays out in the cabin! I ran like crazy to collect everything and lock it up in the galley before we touched ground, barely making it to my jump seat in time. The Captain never made the prepare for landing PA, even though he swore he did when I called him on it later, which is why I had no idea how close we were to landing. As if that weren’t stressful enough for a new-hire, things went from bad to worse (at least in my head it did) real quick.

As we taxied to the gate, I began to make an announcement, you know the one. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to….to….to -” Oh no…where the heck are we?! For the life of me I could not remember. My brain was shot after having flown to so many cities in just two weeks on the job. With my heart pounding like crazy, I frantically searched my pockets for the flight itinerary.

“Buffalo, we’re in Buffalo!” yelled a passenger. Or maybe he said Albany. I still can’t remember. But wherever we were that Christmas Eve, that’s when everyone on board started to laugh – at me. Mortified, I hung my head.

The following day my roommate and I wound up eating Christmas dinner out of a vending machine located on the second floor of our three-star hotel. The restaurant in the hotel was closed and there was nothing else open nearby. Although we would have been much happier eating turkey and dressing at home with our family and friends, we made the best of it with a couple packets of peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke. To this day, fifteen years later, it’s the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.

Four months later my roommate quit. I’ll never forget the day my cab pulled up to the curb outside our crash pad in Queens and I spotted her sitting on the stoop smiling from ear to ear. She couldn’t wait to tell me the big news. I hadn’t seen her look so happy since our first day of flight attendant training. The job is not for everyone, and being away from loved ones during the holidays certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

Today I still work for the same airline, and from time to time I still screw up. But not this Christmas! Seniority is everything at an airline and because I work out of New York, the most junior base in the system, I have the day off. New Years Eve, however, is a different story. So for those of you traveling to North Carolina in a few days, consider yourself warned.

NOTE TO SELF: North Carolina, North Carolina, I’m flying to North Carolina!

A special thanks to all the airline employees who went to work today! It’s because of them that many of you are having a very merry Christmas this year.

Photo courtesy of me! (Heather Poole)

New York to tax travel, the web

New York has been scrambling for tax revenues, and no stone has been left unturned (including my beloved cigars, which are now costing me more than they did a week ago). Well, the Empire State looks like it’s now going after my second passion: travel. Visitors who book hotel rooms on sites like Expedia or Orbitz could get slapped with a higher total price if a proposed tax on lodging booked online goes through.

For a local, it’s pretty tempting to support this measure. I don’t spend a whole lot of time in hotel rooms here, unsurprisingly, because I already have a roof over my head. And, the notion of making out-of-staters shell out for the services I consume is pretty attractive. After all, it’s a net gain for the state – and for me. But, there are two aspects of this proposed travel tax that disturb me.

The first is the usual: higher prices for one sector of the travel booking business create a skewed competitive landscape, imperiling the abilities of several companies to compete and effectively destroying wealth. It’s hard for me to be in favor of that, as a general rule. Also, the higher prices, due to the proposed taxes, could constrain demand and lead to less tourist revenue coming into the city. Like taxes paid by people from out of state, money spent by these people is also a net gain for the state … and it’s ultimately more productive.

So, taxes = bad, spending = good. I know; this isn’t tough stuff.

The other side of this proposed tax is actually more problematic. It’s a tax on web sales, effectively. The web has generally been safe from inane taxation, and I was hoping (more than a little) that it would stay that way. According to the New York Times:

The measure, included in the budget that lawmakers in Albany completed on Tuesday, reclassifies third-party vendors under the tax umbrella of hotel operators, requiring them to collect the same sales tax.

At the moment, travel sites buy hotel rooms from hotel operators at a price that includes the 4 percent state sales tax. They make the rooms available to consumers at a higher price, but no sales tax is collected on the difference in price. The new provision, which takes effect on Sept. 1, eliminates the loophole.

The folks up in Albany expect this violation of the freedom of the internet to be worth $10 million this fiscal year … which seems like an awfully small return on an investment in the deprivation of dignity and freedom – not to mention putting an unnecessary and anti-competitive constraint on the online travel agency business.

Don’t worry, fellow travelers: we want your money in this state so much that litigation seems likely. Says Colin Tooze, vice president for government affairs of the American Society of Travel Agents: “I expect that one or more affected parties will consider litigating.”

[photo by n8kowald via Flickr]

River Day: Celebrate Henry Hudson’s river discovery 400 years ago

One of my favorite sites last summer on my train trip from Cleveland to New York City was the sun glinting off the Hudson River starting north of Poughkeepsie and continuing until we were past West Point and the shine had deepened to a darker color. The Hudson is a river that has inspired artists and poets and has drawn the wealthy to its banks to create fabulous mansions, private colleges and upstate getaways, and religious types to build monasteries that offer solace in nature and quiet.

To celebrate Henry Hudson’s discovery of one of nature’s river masterpieces 400 years ago, New York is throwing a festival beginning next weekend that starts at Battery Park and New York Harbor on June 5 and continues up to the towns and villages in the Hudson Valley all the way to Albany. The final day for River Day is Saturday, June 13. At each location there are various events to commemorate the occasion.

Some of the main highlights are:

  • Flotilla of boats
  • Parade
  • Cannon welcome
  • fireworks
  • antique plane fly-overs
  • educational programs
  • food
  • music
  • and more of course

From reading the event’s page menu of what’s taking place at each of the festival’s locations, it’s clear how much the Hudson River means to the people who live near it and how the river connects people who live in New York with each other.

At you can find out more information about other happenings this commemorative year.