Friday, October 7, 2016

History Comes to Life in Celebration of Oswego County Bicentennial

Oswego County's bicentennial celebration continues this weekend with the Oswego Players' production, "Dawn of Freedom." The show tells the story of a local "safe haven" for refugees during one of the darkest hours in world history.
As the German Nazi regime swept across Europe during World War II, millions of lives were destroyed. Then, as now, many countries were hesitant to take in refugees. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally agreed to accept 1,000 people outside regular immigration quotas.

As "guests" of the president, they would not be permitted to stay in America beyond the war and were required to sign a statement that they would return to their home country at that time. To many; however, that condition didn't matter if it meant their escape from war-torn Europe and nearly 3,000 people applied for the opportunity.

The grueling selection process considered those who had escaped concentration camps and whose skills would aid in running a shelter in America. Priority was also given to full family units and those who had relatives already living in the U.S.

U.S. Navy photo of USS Henry Gibbons.
Image courtesy of NavSource Naval History.

Finally, in July 1944, 982 men, women and children boarded the USS Henry Gibbons in Naples, Italy, bound for America. The troop transport ship was carrying injured U.S. soldiers and protected on both sides by ships holding German POWs. An additional 18 people who were chosen did not embark on the ship and their whereabouts were, and remain, unknown.

The rigorous two-week journey across the ocean was fraught with seasickness, extreme heat, and cramped space. When, at last, they arrived in the New York harbor, the group was elated at the sight of the ultimate promise of freedom: the Statue of Liberty.  

"Casual Baggage" claim ticket issued to refugees for identification.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.
The refugees were each tagged with a "casual baggage" ticket for identification purposes and taken to New Jersey where they would board a train to Oswego. The sight of the train raised an alarm throughout the group as many of them had been taken to a concentration camp this way. After much reassurance, the group was finally persuaded to embark.

LIFE Magazine (Aug. 21, 1944) article describing the refugees arrival.
Image courtesy of Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
Their fears were further fanned when they arrived at Fort Ontario in Oswego, N.Y. One of three locations considered for the shelter, the fort was chosen due to its ample space, solid infrastructure and support from a small crew that remained behind after the U.S. Army had vacated the base earlier in the year.

As an active military station, the fort was surrounded with a chain-link fence topped with rows of barbed wire for security purposes. This only reminded the refugees of the horrors of concentration camps. They feared that they'd been tricked into another one and refused to leave the train.

The arrival of the refugees.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

After much persuasion, one refugee was convinced to enter base and assess this new situation. After careful inspection, he returned to the train and reported that it was not another concentration camp and told of the tables and tables of food that had been laid out in anticipation of the group's arrival.

Children from the shelter attend local schools.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

Children from the shelter enjoy Oswego's famous winter snow.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

Teens from the shelter spend time together.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

The refugees were quarantined for 30 days after their August arrival, so local family and townspeople came to the fence to greet and talk with them. In September, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt paid a well-publicized visit the shelter. Later, a public open house was held and day passes were given to the refugees. Children attended local schools and adults were assigned jobs at the base. They all received English speaking lessons and preserved their own culture with art, music and theatre classes, concerts and productions. They mingled with the local community by attending dinners and hosting dances.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt tours the shelter with site director Joseph Smart.
Image courtesy of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

With the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945, the refugees' future became more uncertain. Many wished to remain in the U.S., despite having signed a document agreeing to return to their home country after the war. Later that year, with the Allies' victory secured, the U.S. Congress ruled that they must return to Europe after the December holidays.
President Harry S. Truman; however, decided that it would be inhumane to sent them back to Europe knowing its condition after the war. On December 22, he signed an order allowing them to remain in the country if they so chose. While some people did return to Europe, the majority were bused to Canada where they received their visas to re-enter the country as immigrants and apply for U.S. citizenship.
The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.
Image courtesy of Mary Ellen Barbeau.

The Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter in Oswego, N.Y. was the only site in the U.S. that sheltered refugees of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum is located in the shelter's former administration building to preserve their stories.

Bob Davidson answers questions about the shelter exhibit.
Image courtesy of Mary Ellen Barbeau.

Historian George DeMass describes the original site of the shelter.
Image courtesy of Mary Ellen Barbeau.

Come to the Francis Marion Brown Theater at the Fort Ontario Park Complex on East Fourth Street in Oswego, N.Y. to hear some of the refugees' personal accounts with the production, "Dawn of Freedom." Written and directed by Richard Sivers, the show is a living history of what life was like in the shelter. Through the words of 10 refugees, experience their joy and sadness and learn how their lives have impacted ours today.

The cast of "Dawn of Freedom" includes (from left):
front row: Alyssa Halstead, Noah Pauldine, and Brienna Pauldine;
center row: Pablo Mendoza, Bobby Fontana, Kristie Pauldine, and Marilyn Dirk;
back row: Jeffrey Cole, Marianne Natoli, and Ken Snow.
Image courtesy of Richard Sivers.

Presented by the Oswego Players and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, the show begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 8 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 9. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Proceeds will benefit the museum. For tickets, call the theater box office at 315/343-5138.

To learn more about this chapter in local history, visit the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, 2 East 7th Street, Oswego, N.Y. 13126. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children and students. To schedule a group tour, call 315/342-3003.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Celebrate Oswego County's Bicentennial in Fulton

Oswego County continues its bicentennial celebration in Fulton, N.Y., with events that offer something for everyone to enjoy!

Salt City Jazz Collective delivers the big band sound.
Photo courtesy of Reidsma-Logan.

On Friday, come to the War Memorial on NYS Route 3 to kick off the eighth annual Fulton Jazz Festival! The 16-piece Salt City Jazz Collective brings the big band sound to the stage at 5 p.m., followed by the jazz and funk rhythms of the Longwood Jazz Project at 6:30 p.m. Fan favourite Atlas, who have opened for the likes of Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, and Earth, Wind & Fire, performs at 8:30 p.m.

The CNY Arts Center in the River Glen Plaza on NYS Route 481 presents its production of "Pollyanna" at 8 p.m. The cast welcomes all to come to 'Glad Town' with this family musical based on the 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter. Follow the antics of the ever-hopeful orphan girl Pollyanna who teaches an entire town to smile in the face of adversity, just as her father taught her with the 'Glad Game.'  Photos courtesy of Nancy Fox of the CNY Arts Center.
Fultonville townsfolk receive word of Pollyanna's arrival.
Pollyanna teaches Mrs. Snow and Milly how to play 'The Glad Game.'
Aunt Polly confronts Jimmy Bean and Pollyanna.
This production; however, is set in Fulton, N.Y. (Fultonville) and features several pieces of artwork in the background that reflect its past.
In commemoration of Oswego County's bicentennial this year, artist Melinda Lamb was commissioned to create five paintings from a series of historic postcards. Some of the locations may be familiar to the audience such as the Fulton Public Library and John Wells Pratt House Museum. Other pieces feature a street scene from 1909, a former church that was located on the corner of West First Street and NYS Route 3, and a gazebo that once stood in Voorhees Park where many community events were held and also serves as the backdrop for the Independence Day picnic shown in the production.

Historic postcard features gazebo in Voorhees Park, Fulton, N.Y.

Audience members will be able to bid on each of the five paintings in a silent auction throughout the weekend. The proceeds from the sale will fund arts programming and the pieces will be awarded following the final performance.

Historic postcard features view of First Street looking south in Fulton, N.Y.

On Saturday, return to the War Memorial for the Arts and Crafts Festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Browse original pieces of hand-made artwork from local artists. Get a free vendor passport at the fair information booth and begin your journey through the festival. Receive a stamp at each booth (no purchase necessary) to be entered in a drawing for a getaway at Chase Lake Lodge in the Adirondack Mountains.

The "Tale of Two Bridges" Fun Walk begins at 10 a.m. from the War Memorial. Come as you are, in costume, or with a team of friends to join the fun and support the arts. Take a relaxing stroll around the two bridges of Fulton to learn more about local history in the county's bicentennial year and raise money for arts programming. Prizes will be awarded at 1 p.m. based on the most funds raised (individual or group), most artistic or creative (individual or group), largest community group, and best team spirit.

Representatives from Home Depot lead a free woodworking project for kids and their parents from 3 to 5 p.m. at the War Memorial, while the Jazz Fest resumes at 4 p.m. with the 17-piece FreeFall Jazz Orchestra led by Stan Gosek.

Trumpeter and vocalist Jumaane Smith headlines the 2016 Jazz Festival.
Photo courtesy of Jumaane Smith.

Headliner Jumaane Smith and drummer Carmen Intorre take the stage at 6 p.m. Smith is a trumpeter and vocalist who trained at The Julliard School and with jazz great Wynton Marsalis before touring and recording with Michael Bublé for the last decade. He was a special guest soloist and opener for Jackie Evancho on her "Songs of the Silver Screen" world tour and has worked with Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. He has also performed on the Grammy Awards with Stevie Wonder, on American Idol, and at the White House. Grammy-nominee Intorre is also Julliard trained and participated on "Legends of Jazz," a program for PBS. He has worked with a variety of acclaimed musicians, including George Benson, Larry Coryell, Wynton Marsalis and Monty Alexander.

Classified closes out the show with their 8 p.m. performance. Known for their swinging sound, the band has performed around the world with artists such as Jason Marsalis, Eddie Money, KC & the Sunshine Band and The Pointer Sisters.

"Pollyanna" returns to the stage at the CNY Arts Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday and again at 3 p.m. on Sunday, after which the set paintings will be awarded in the silent auction.

Admission is free to the Jazz Festival and Arts and Crafts Festival. Tickets to see "Pollyanna" are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, while children age 5 to 9 'pay their age.' For details, visit or For more great summer events, go to



Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating the Arts, History and Oswego County's Bicentennial...

As Oswego County celebrates its bicentennial in 2016, the Richardson-Bates House Museum welcomes visitors to come in and learn more about local Victorian-era culture.

Richardson-Bates House Museum in Oswego, N.Y.

The beautiful Italianate Villa-style home was built between 1867 and 1890 for Maxwell Richardson; local attorney, real estate developer, and two-time mayor of Oswego. It remained in the family until 1946 when it was donated to the Oswego County Historical Society. Today, it features period rooms with 95 percent of the home’s original furnishings, much of it preserved as the family knew it. The exotic and opulent furniture and decorative arts provide a unique glimpse at Victorian America’s fascination with history, arts and culture, education, and travel.

The museum also houses the society’s collection of nearly 25,000 artifacts, documents and photographs that trace the history of the area and also displays permanent and changing exhibits. One such exhibit highlights the Richardson Theater in Oswego and includes photos, props, lighting, floor plans and architectural blueprints, various memorabilia and a scenic theater drop.

In the early 1800s, there were limited theater opportunities available to the Oswego community. As cultural activity increased, professional productions were held in various halls around the city. In September 1875, the completely re-modeled Doolittle Hall opened as the Academy of Music and, for nearly 20 years, featured many significant stars of the day in various productions.

Richardson Theatre as it looked in 1909.
Image courtesy of Richard Sivers.
Then, in January 1895, the Richardson Theatre opened at the corner of East First and Oneida streets in Oswego. It was a state-of-the-art facility, equipped with all of the latest innovations of the time. The four-story brick building featured a domed ceiling, was lit with gas and electric lights, equipped with 25 permanent sets and provided seating for 1,400 people before its massive stage.

The opera “Robin Hood” launched the theatre with a sold-out show and, over the next 50 years, more than 5,000 performances featuring the most popular performers, musicians, orchestras and bands graced its stage. In 1897, the first silent movie was shown, followed by the first “talkie” in July 1912. In the 1920s, film began to overtake theatre as a means of entertainment and professional performances at the theatre declined, leading to its darkened stage from May 1930 to January 1931. The theatre re-opened from January to December of 1931 thanks to a contract with Warner Brothers to present a series of first-run movies. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to save the theatre and, for a variety of reasons, it closed in 1932, never to re-open. Oswego’s premiere theatre was finally demolished in 1945.

At the turn of the 20th century, a new art theatre movement taking place in Europe crossed over to the U.S. and community theatre was born. In 1938, Frances Marion Brown and fellow thespians founded the Oswego Players, making it now one of the oldest continuously-run theatre programs in the country. A testament to true community theatre, the Players attract cast and crew from around the county for a variety of productions run throughout the year.

Oswego Players' cast prepares for "Way Down East" production.
Image courtesy of Rick Sivers.

For the next two weekends, the Oswego Players will mark the county's bicentennial with their premiere of “Way Down East,” a melodrama written by Oswego native Lottie Parker.

Lottie Blair Parker.
Image courtesy of the Oswego County Historical Society.

Parker was born Charlotte M. Blair in 1858 to Captain George and Emily Blair of Oswego. She graduated from Oswego High School in 1870 and the newly-formed Oswego State Normal School in 1872. She began her career as a teacher; however, the lure of the spotlight drew her to the stage. She married Henry Parker and the pair toured the Northeast with various theatre companies. In the 1890s, they returned to Oswego where Lottie penned the play which would go on to become one of the most successful and popular shows of its day.

One of producer William Brady's original advertisements for "Way Down East."
Image courtesy of Richard Sivers.

The story follows the arrival of a young woman, Anna Moore, on the doorstep of a New England family, disrupting their lives and casting doubt upon their future. Filled with love, mystery, chaos and humor, the production provides a fun and entertaining theatrical experience.

Inside cover of souvenir booklet from original 1898 production.
Image courtesy of Richard Sivers.

The production played in Oswego’s Richardson Theatre nine times as did D.W. Griffith’s silent film adaptation starring Lillian Gish. Now, audiences can see the original play on stage in the Frances Marion Brown Theater at the Fort Ontario Park Complex on East Fourth Street in Oswego. It will run on Fridays and Saturdays, May 6, 7, 13, 14 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, May 15 at 2 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students. For tickets, reservations and details, call the box office at 315-343-5138.

Alfred E. Rickert once wrote, “The role of the theatre, its traditions, its experiments and probes, its vitality and contributions, in Oswego as in so many communities across these United States is kept alive by community theatres.”

Memorabilia associated with “Way Down East” is included in the Richardson Theatre exhibit now on display at the Richardson-Bates House Museum, 135 East Third Street, Oswego. The exhibit will run through the remainder of the year. Museum hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from April to December or by appointment. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for seniors and students. For more information about the museum and its exhibits, call 315-343-1342.