Rochester Radical: The Journey of Christopher Lasch



Social critic Christopher Lasch

Join us on Saturday, April 16, from 1-2:30 pm in the Rundel Auditorium (Rundel Memorial Building, 3rd floor) for a fascinating look into the life and times of Christopher Lasch, perhaps America’s most preeminent social critic of the mid- to late 20th century.

The author of numerous celebrated books and articles, Lasch also seemed poised for an academic career as a historian that would lead him to the highest heights of the American university system. Instead, in 1970 after a decade of job-hopping, Lasch landed in Rochester and never moved again. He found an enriching community and planted deep roots in the “Flower City,” turning down other opportunities in order to remain in a place that aligned with his intellectual values. Join us for an exploration of the connections and affinities between person and place that tell Lasch’s quintessentially Rochester story.

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig is the Director of Education at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, N.Y. He previously worked as a researcher in the Rochester Office of the City Historian and for the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library. Jeff earned a PhD in History at the University of Rochester in 2014, completing a dissertation on the Rochester-based social critic Christopher Lasch.


March is Women’s History Month!

March 26, 2016
Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building
*Please note: Parking on the Court and Broad street bridges is free on weekends*

Women Voted in New York—Before Columbus

The very first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, N.Y., 168 years ago, culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments (a document that has since been lost to history). The resulting women’s rights movement changed the course of history. But to the neighboring Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) communities, political and economic equality among men and women was nothing new. Haudenosaunee women had had this authority—and more—since long before Christopher Columbus came to these shores.

While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than New York State women have today. Haudenosaunee women had the responsibility for putting the male leaders in place. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society. When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities. Despite the assimilation policies of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.

The 2017 centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State opens the opportunity for us to explore this new—yet very old—and unknown history of our region. We invite you to join us on March 26 at 1pm for a talk given by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, Founding Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, N.Y. Dr. Wagner holds one of the first doctorates awarded for work in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz).

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

This program was made possible by funding from the Public Scholars program of the New York Council for the Humanities.  NYCH logo


Celebrate Black History Month with Rochester’s Rich History!

RRH logo

Frederick Douglass in Ireland

Presented by Dr. Tim Madigan

February 20, 2016


Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building

imagesCACSD0DPIn 1845 Frederick Douglass was invited by leaders of the worldwide abolitionist movement to come to Ireland, where he spent months visiting such cities as Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Belfast and befriending orator and political leader Daniel O’Connell. Join us as we’re offered a glimpse of Douglass’s time in Ireland, where he came to feel for the first time that he was truly accepted as a human being.

To this day, Douglass remains a powerful figure for reconciliation in modern-day Ireland and Northern Ireland, with plaques commemorating him in Cork and Waterford, murals honoring him in Belfast, and a statue of him in Dublin.

O Tim Madigan and Danny Devenny  at Douglass Plaque Belfast June 2013

Dr. Madigan and muralist Danny Devenny in Belfast.

EE Tim Madigan with Plaque Honoring Douglass in Cork

Dr. Madigan at the Douglass plaque unveiling in Cork.

Dr. Tim Madigan is the Director of Irish Studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, the city where Douglass lived for over 20 years after his return to America from his trip to Ireland.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian


New Exhibit in Local History!

You may not have realized (I didn’t, and I work here), but the Local History & Genealogy Division has a rather extensive collection of postcards dating back to the early 1900s. When I discovered this trove I thought, “Wouldn’t these make for a great exhibit?” As it turns out, they do!

Featuring items from our collection, “Greetings from Rochester: Exploring the Past through Postcards” looks at the history of postcards and what they can tell us about the people who used them and how they saw the place and time in which they lived. Commonplace objects with historical significance, these artifacts not only reveal what Rochester once looked like, they also show us what the people who lived here once did.

Visit our exhibit and travel to the past through these enchanting images of landscapes, businesses, amusement parks, lakeside resorts, grand hotels, dance halls, movie houses, theaters, trolley lines, and other compelling scenes from a bygone era.

The exhibit will be up from now through May 2016 in the main hallway of the Local History & Genealogy Division, 2nd floor Rundel Building, 115 South Avenue. Come check it out!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Next up in Rochester’s Rich History: Native American Storytelling


Next in the “Rochester’s Rich History” Series…


Rochester’s Rich History for December 2014


Local History Hits Big in Japan!

Mono Cover

Move over, Norma Desmond, it’s time for the Local History Division’s closeup! There isn’t much glitz or glamor to be found here at the library, but once in a while we’re fortunate to have the spotlight shine on the variety of materials in our collection. Here in Local History, helping researchers find information that isn’t available anywhere else is our specialty, and it’s always fun to see someone’s reaction when they encounter something in our collections that until that point had eluded them. One researcher found a tiny detail in the minutes of a meeting that took place in 1927 that confirmed a longtime theory of his—a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if the records of that organization hadn’t been preserved or described in a finding aid.

Sometimes, people will even cross oceans in order to find what they need from our collections. People like Eriko Sugimoto.

Eriko works for Mono magazine. “Mono” is a Japanese word that can be loosely translated as “stuff.” And Mono sure has a lot of stuff. Essentially a publication devoted to Western brands, Mono is heavy on the visuals, with pictures of watches, bags, coats, and all manner of clothing and shoes accompanied by logos bedecking each glossy page. Eriko, one of the magazine’s editors, was in charge of putting together a section for an upcoming “Master Book of Authentic American Brand” special issue with an emphasis on Champion Products. She asked what resources we had on the company. After a thorough search of our collections, I contacted her to tell her what I had found, which wasn’t a whole lot, I thought.

“Do you think it’s enough to make it worth a trip to Rochester?” she asked.

That was a tough call. Had she been coming from say, Livingston County, I would have said maybe. But Japan? I didn’t want to encourage a research trip to the other side of the globe if it wasn’t going to be fruitful. So my goal was to get her as much information as I could so that she could decide whether or not to make the trip. Our clipping files provided some background on the history of the company, which began operations in 1919 on St. Paul Boulevard as Knickerbocker Knitting Mills. Not surprisingly, Eriko was particularly interested in any graphics or images that we might have of Champion products through the years. Digging into our pamphlet file collection, I found several advertising pieces which I took pictures of and e-mailed to Eriko. I also found some annual reports in the general collection. It wasn’t much. She thanked me for the information.

A few weeks later, Eriko called and said she’d be coming to Rochester with several colleagues to look at what we had. As is the custom in Japan, she arrived bearing gifts for the staff; a box filled with green tea-flavored KitKat bars, a Japanese specialty.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

She was accompanied by Teruhiko Doi, Mono’s Editorial Director, Daisuke Takeuchi, Marketing Services Manager for Hanesbrands Japan, and a photographer. They were some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. We spent the afternoon at one of the large wooden tables in the division, sifting through newspaper articles and using old city directories to trace the company’s history. Since Eriko’s English was stronger than that of her companions, she translated various bits of information I pointed out to the two men. (A vigorous game of charades ensued when Eriko left briefly to put money in the meter.)

Two-and-a-half months later, Eriko sent me the result: A glorious spread on the company’s origins in Rochester featuring materials found here in the Local History Division, and a picture of the library to boot. Have a look. (Click on images to enlarge.)



They even made a Japanese logo for us!


Note the hip, new spelling of "Knickerbocker," the company's original name.

Note the hip, new spelling of “Knickerbocker,” the company’s original name.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian/Archivist

Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm  Comments (6)  
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Halloween Headlines from Yesteryear

“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” queried the Democrat & Chronicle on October 31, 1945. Good question! And one of the many approaches Rochester’s leaders took over the years to try and curb rascally Halloween antics by the city’s youth. Don’t want ‘em breaking streetlamps with rocks or setting fire to piles of leaves? Host a community party, and be sure to offer lots of sugary delights because as every wise parent knows, lollipops are “tricks insurance” (“Suckers Ban Kids’ Tricks,” D&C, Oct 29, 1949), and “Doughnuts and Cider Keep Them from Mischief” (Times-Union, Nov 1, 1940). (Personally, I know that my nieces and nephews are much calmer after we’ve plied them with candy!)

An even cleverer tactic, and one that was particular to the spirit of conservation and patriotic milieu of the Second World War, was to malign pranksters as Hitler’s helpers. “If you see anyone breaking a light, stop him…If you can’t stop him, report him to the police because he is working for Hitler and Hirohito, and against Uncle Sam” (“Pranksters: Don’t Help Hitler!” Times-Union, Oct 28, 1943). The concern was wasting unnecessary amounts of tungsten on broken streetlights when it was needed to make Radar equipment and lamps for ships. Soap and wax were also needed for the war effort, so the Rochester War Council asked kids to lay off area windows, too. As the catchy 1942 Halloween slogan went: “Monkey business is sabotage” (“Quiet Halloween Plea Based on Patriotism,” Times-Union, Oct 31, 1942). Indeed!

And here’s another Halloween fun fact from the WWII era that you might not know (I didn’t): the now ubiquitous request (demand? threat?) “Trick or Treat!” wasn’t commonly heard in Rochester until the 1940s. The phrase was apparently still new enough in 1946 to require explanation (as straightforward as it might seem to the modern-day resident): “Treat ‘Em or Be Tricked When Bell Rings Tonight” (D&C Oct 28, 1946). The article helps clueless grownups by situating “Trick or Treat Night” in a longstanding series of ostensibly more familiar Halloween traditions including the infamous “Doorbell Night” when kids perfected their skill at the classic “Ding Dong Ditch” prank, and the lesser known but perhaps more troubling “Gate Night” when “Pop” (and maybe even “Grandpop”) “used to swipe Old Man Smith’s front gate and with the help of other pre-Halloween pranksters hang it on the crossbar of the nearest lamp post.” (It seems George Wilson has got nothing on Old Man Smith in the way of menacing neighborhood punks!)

In an effort to supplant such naughty games with more wholesome fare, Norman Ulp offered some alternatives in the Democrat & Chronicle in 1938 (“Games for Youngsters From 7 to 70”). And since I’m a sucker for a good Halloween pun (see what I did there?), I’ll leave you with these riddles about the “Graveyard Dweller” (Spoiler alert: answers provided):

“If you lived in a graveyard:

1.  How would you open the gate?

          [With a skeleton key.]

2.  How would you gamble?

          [Roll the bones.]

3.  What kind of jewels would you wear?


4.  Where would you keep them?

          [In a casket.]

5.  How would you get money?

          [Urn it.]

6.  What would you eat?

          [Pyre cake. Special thanks to Emily Morry for helping me with this one. I totally didn’t get it. Hint: it helps to say it out loud.]

7.  What would you drink?


8.  What would you feed the cats?

          [The remains. Gross!]

9.  By what method would you move things about?

          [By carrion them.]

10.  What would protect you from the sun?

          [The Shades.]

11.  How would you know if a lady called?

          [You would Spectre.]

12.  What would be your disposition?


Admittedly, not all puns are created equal. Regardless, we here in the Local History and Genealogy Division hope you enjoyed today’s installment and wish you


And remember:
“We all play pranks, that’s very true, but don’t make anyone black and blue.”
(“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” D&C, Oct 31, 1945)


~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Murder and Mayhem at Falls Field! (revisited)

UPDATE: Scroll down to see primary source documents about Ira Stout’s incarceration at Eastern State Penitentiary.

One of the best parts of my job is when I happen upon a piece of information about my hometown that I never would have guessed. Buffalo Bill Cody once lived in Rochester? You don’t say! Jumbo the Elephant was stuffed here? I had no idea!

And the most recent revelation: Public hangings. Here. In Rochester.

According to the Union and Advertiser, Octavius Baron was hanged in 1837 for shooting and robbing William Lyman near Franklin and Clinton streets. The following year, Austin Squires went to the gallows for shooting his wife in a drunken rage. Fourteen execution-free years would pass in Rochester before Maurice Antonio was tried and hanged for the murder of a fellow Portuguese in Gates in 1852.

But it was the fourth execution that particularly grabbed my attention. The circumstances leading up to Marion Ira Stout’s trip to the gallows in 1858 are the stuff of which 19th-century scandals were made.

Ira, as he was called, was 22 years old when he was released from Eastern State Penitentiary, where he served four-and-a-half years for robbing a store with his father and setting it ablaze. Upon his arrival in Rochester, Stout—who happened to be in love with his sister Sarah—became enraged when he discovered that she had married. Charles Littles was reported to be a drunken lout and general cad who abused his wife, and Stout resolved to get rid of the man who stood in the way of his incestuous designs.

On December 19, 1857, Stout lured Littles to Falls Field—also known as Genesee Falls Park (present-day High Falls)—with a story that Sarah was rumored to be meeting a man there. Whether coerced by Stout or of her own free will, Sarah was waiting by the edge of the river gorge to bait the trap.

Falls Field, the scene of the crime. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)

Falls Field, the scene of the crime. (From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)

Before Littles knew what was happening, Stout pulled out an iron-headed hammer and smashed his rival’s skull with it. Stout then rolled the body over the precipice and, he assumed, into the river. But instead of a splash, he heard a thud. Littles had landed on a ledge 30 feet below. From there, Stout’s luck only got worse.

Determined to hide the evidence of his crime, Stout made his way down the rocky escarpment to finish the job. In what can only be described as an act of instant karma, Stout lost his footing, tumbled down the narrow path, and landed squarely next to Littles’ body, breaking his left arm in the process. Just before passing out, Stout managed to shove the corpse off the ledge. When he came to, he called to Sarah for help. As she descended, Sarah stumbled and fell headlong beside her brother’s prostrate form, breaking her left wrist.

The unfortunate siblings somehow made it back to the top of the ridge. Having left behind several personal items in the fall, the pair were quickly apprehended and charged in the death of Charles W. Littles. Sarah, convicted of manslaughter, served seven years at Sing Sing Prison, while her brother was sentenced to hang. During his time in jail, Stout received a steady flow of visitors—mainly women—who brought him poison and lancets so that he could be the instrument of his own destruction and avoid the noose.

Despite appealing his sentence and receiving support from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony—both of whom opposed capital punishment—Stout’s appeal was denied. Marion Ira Stout went to the gallows at the Monroe County Penitentiary on October 22, 1858. According to witnesses, Stout’s execution went no smoother than the crime for which he was sentenced—it took 10 minutes for Stout to strangle to death when the noose failed to break his neck, which would have ensured his swift and merciful death. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Hope Cemetery.

The last execution by hanging in Monroe County took place in 1888, after which New York State assumed responsibility for administering the death penalty.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian

(From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)

(From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)

(From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)

(From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.)



 Record of Ira Stout’s arrival to Eastern State Penitentiary in 1853.

Record of Ira Stout's arrival to Eastern State Penitentiary.

Credit: Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Justice; Eastern State Penitentiary, Prison Administration Records; Warden’s Daily Journals (series #15.50), Volume 1 (1829-1855), Microfilm Roll 7016., unnumbered pages.


Stout’s release from prison in 1857  is documented on this page from the warden’s daily record.

Stout's release from prison is documented in this page from the warden's daily record.

Credit: Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Justice; Eastern State Penitentiary, Prison Administration Records; Warden’s Daily Journals (series #15.50), Volume 2 (1856-1877)- Microfilm Roll 6608, unnumbered pages.

Prior to a recent planned visit to the City of Brotherly Love, I exchanged e-mails with Eastern State Penitentiary Archivist Erica Harman, and Historic Site Researcher Annie Anderson, who (with very little to go on) were able to locate pages from the prison’s daily records documenting Ira Stout’s intake and discharge from ESP. She was kind enough to send scans of those pages. Based on the dates of incarceration and a birth year of 1835, Stout was 18 years old when he and his father looted and burned down a Pennsylvania store.

(click to enlarge)

Stout received inset

Based on this entry, it is likely that the crime committed by Stout and his father Orange occurred in Bradford County, in the northern part of Pennsylvania. The term “Quarter Sessions” refers to courts established in some of the states that were held four times a year and dealt mainly with criminal matters.

(click to enlarge)

Stout discharge inset

After serving his 4 1/2-year sentence, Stout was released “in good health,” and joined his family in Rochester, where four months later, he would lure Charles Littles to his death at Falls Field.



“Marion Ira Stout. His Life, Crimes, Last Hours, and Execution on the Gallows: Full Particulars.” Union and Advertiser (Rochester, NY), Oct. 22, 1858.

Peck, William F. History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York. (New York: The Pioneer Publishing Co., 1908).

Published in: on October 3, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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