Reading Room Book Reviews: New Books by Hudson Valley Authors in December 2014
New and noteworthy books of local interest
Yonkers’s Getty Square, as it looked in the early 20th century
The decline of New York State’s fourth largest city, a metropolis once known as ‘The Queen City of the Hudson’ and the ‘City of Gracious Living,’ from the pinnacle of industrial output and economic vitality and its rebirth characterized by the redevelopment of a waterfront long dominated by factories, occurred within the 10 decades highlighted in this work.” So writes Marilyn E. Weigold in the preface to her ambitious new tome, Yonkers in the Twentieth Century (State University of New York Press, $34.95).
Weigold, a history professor at Pace University (and also the author of The Long Island Sound: A History of Its People, Places and Environment), worked closely with the Yonkers Historical Society to dig up lots of fascinating facts about the city from each decade. Even history buffs, for instance, may not know that in the early 1900s there was a major movement to annex Yonkers to become part of the Bronx. (Apparently New Rochelle and Mount Vernon were also set to be gobbled up by New York City.) The mastermind behind the plan? Millionaire attorney Samuel Untermyer, who purchased the city’s Greystone estate from failed presidential candidate Samuel Tilden.
Weigold also details the earliest years of the Empire City horse-racing track. “Thousands of fans turned out in 1903 to see a popular horse named Prince Alert set a world’s record of a mile in one minute, 57 seconds. Described as ‘the most sensational mile that had ever been stepped on a track,’ this feat positively delighted the crowd who cheered the driver, trainer and owner, as well as the horse,” she writes.
The book outlines the city’s years of both pain and glory during the Great Depression and World War II, and its rebuilding efforts after the war. The Cross County Shopping Center “was the new crown jewel of the city’s economy,” writes the author. In the planning stages since 1947, the center finally opened in April 1954 to much fanfare, even though the two anchor department stores — Wanamaker’s and Gimbels — were not yet ready for shoppers. “Despite the unfavorable weather, before the day was over 15,000 people had visited the center,” Weigold notes.
During the 1960s, it became apparent that Yonkers was no longer an industrial powerhouse — although residents were glad when the Otis Elevator Company, the city’s largest employer, opted to stay put for a while longer. Weigold writes extensively about this magazine’s founder (and current chairman), Angelo Martinelli, who was elected mayor of Yonkers in 1973, and guided the city through a time of mounting economic and racial strife. And she explains in great detail the issue that Yonkers is perhaps best known for: its decades-long federal court case that — for the first time in U.S. history — linked school and housing segregation. While the city fought against desegregation, the schools finally were integrated in 1988. (The author describes that year as “the city’s Annus Terribilis.”)
One of our favorite parts of this well-researched book is the “Yonkers Speaks” section at the back. Here, the author shares random quotes about the city taken from oral history interviews with regular folks. Says resident Mary Hoar: “My mother’s family grew up in Nodine Hill.... When my mother first moved there.... her family were the only Irish Catholics on the street. There was an Italian family who lived next door... but every one else was Scottish and it was considered to be the Scottish neighborhood back in the nineteen-tens, nineteen-twenties.”
Athens resident Ian S. MacNiven brings to life one of the giants of the publishing industry in his new biography, Literchoor Is My Beat: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $35). Known as an expert skier, ladies man, and raconteur, Laughlin founded the New Directions publishing house before he had even graduated from Harvard. He went on to publish classics like Ezra Pound’s The Cantos and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson; introduced literary heavy-hitters like Herman Hesse and Jorge Luis Borges to the American audience; and wrote a substantial number of poems himself. MacNiven depicts a charismatic entrepreneur and intellectual, and in the process exposes Laughlin’s innermost doubt: that he himself had no clout as a writer. Time has certainly dispelled that notion, however, as his works are still being printed. Published for the 100th anniversary of Laughlin’s birth, The Collected Poems of James Laughlin (New Directions, $49.95) contains more than 1,200 pieces penned by the publisher-poet over six decades. Compiled and edited by former New Directions editor-in-chief Peter Glassgold, the volume illustrates Laughlin’s growth as a writer, showing how his style changes from his signature “typewriter” metric to “long line” poems as he matures.
One of life’s sad realities is the fact that some grandchildren never get to know their grandparents. Author and Albany TV personality Mary Beth Wegner is one such grandchild; her grandmother, lifelong Columbia County resident Edna Coons Yager, passed away long before her birth. But thanks to a unique find — Grandma Edna’s recipe book — Wegner was able to get a feel for what her grandmother was all about. Wegner has compiled Edna’s recipes — many of which were attached to her cookbook pages with straight pins — in Finding Grandma: A Sentimental Journey Through 1920s Columbia County Recipes (The Troy Book Makers, $18.99). Each chapter features a recipe and gives an anecdote about Edna’s life, painting a unique portrait of the woman and the community in which she lived.
Many travelers will no doubt remember the Red Apple Rest on Route 17 in Orange County. Located midway between New York City and the Catskills resorts, the restaurant ran a booming business from the 1930s to the ’80s. Rockland resident Elaine Freed Lindenblatt, the youngest child of the eatery’s owner, has penned a tribute to her family’s operation called Stop at the Red Apple (Excelsior Editions, $19.95). Stuffed with vignettes, photos (including some of celebrity autographs), interviews, and personal recollections, this charming memoir describes the beloved restaurant during its heyday — and should offer many readers a pleasant trip down memory lane.