Seneca Village, Remembered

For my final project, I wrote a historical narrative about Seneca Village, a free Black community in New York City that existed during the antebellum period. Founded when slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, Seneca Village became a thriving center of Black political activism and resistance.  Community members sought to qualify for voting rights through the acquisition of land, which was a requirement in New York State at the time, and Seneca Village was home to the largest enclave of Black voters in the state. Unfortunately, during the mid-1850s, white New Yorkers were interested in creating a grand park in their city and the area surrounding and including Seneca Village was slated as a viable option for its development. After a long battle with city government, the residents of Seneca Village were forcibly evicted and Central Park was constructed, largely erasing the site and the memory of Seneca Village as the community scattered.

Detail from Egbert Viele’s 1856 topographical survey of the area to become Central Park, which includes Seneca Village. The horizontal street is today’s Central Park West (then 8th Ave). [Source: The Junto, https://earlyamericanists.com/2014/07/28/seneca-village-memory-the-problem-of-forgetting/]

Despite having visited New York and Central Park on numerous occasions, I had never heard of Seneca Village until I went in search of a topic for this project. It was precisely for this reason that I felt compelled to write this narrative – the stories of antebellum Blacks in the North are not well known.

How I picture my fictional character, Sarah Walker. [Source: Beinecke Library, Yale University, Call #: Uncat JWJ MS 59]

Although I had many resources to draw upon, I found it very difficult to write this story. As a white woman living in the 21st century, I have few obvious commonalities with my fictional character, Sarah Walker, and I struggled to imagine what it would be like to be her and to live through the events of the mid-19th century as a Black woman. I found some inspiration in Alice Walker’s short stories, In Love & Trouble, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I still wondered if it was right for me to be writing Sarah’s story. Ultimately, the narrative that unfolded became a way for me to practice listening to and amplifying others’ voices because, although they are my words on the page, they are drawn from all I have read and all I have heard about Seneca Village and the Black community that lived there. It is my hope that Sarah’s story can contribute to the remembrance of this place and this community so that it may not be neglected again.

If you would like to learn more about Seneca Village, please visit the Seneca Village Project website.

Click here to read my narrative. I apologize for the strange formatting on Google Docs, it did not translate well from my Word document.

Heinz’s Long Lost Competitor

Curtice Brothers Preservers, Rochester, NY

Pictured here is an early twentieth century ketchup bottle produced by the Curtice Brothers Company, which was founded in 1868 in Rochester, New York. Although you have probably never heard of Curtice Brothers, their ketchup once rivaled the more well-known Heinz in the early twentieth century. The story of their descent into the recesses of popular memory is bound up with early government food safety regulations, but I’ll get to that in a moment…

The bottle itself was mouth blown and made in a two piece mold with a cup bottom, likely manufactured by the Berney-Bond Glass Company based in Pennsylvania.1 The finish (the lip of the bottle) is externally threaded so that a cap could have been screwed on it and was made using the “improved tooled finishing” method, meaning that most of the finish was created in the mold itself with just minor tooled touches to ensure that the cap would fit.2 This is evident in the seam on the finish, which nearly reaches the mouth, but you can see where the tool turned the seam.

Evidence of “improved tooled” finish

Also visible on the bottle is the maker’s seal on the shoulder reading “Curtice Brothers / Preservers / Rochester, N.Y.” within a circle. Vertical ridges line the sides of the body with an open space for the label, which would have marketed the company’s Blue Label Ketchup. An example of one of Curtice Brothers’ ads from around 1910 is shown below.

Circa 1910 ad for Blue Label Ketchup (Source: MSU Campus Archaeology Program)

The Curtice Brothers’ Blue Label Ketchup was a casualty of one of the first federal consumer protection regulations, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, a precursor to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. This Act sought to inform and protect consumers from drugs and additives that were perceived as dangerous. One of those dangerous additives was benzoate of soda, then a common preservative in many condiments, including Curtice Brothers’ ketchup. Unfortunately for the company in the long run, Curtice Brothers refused to change their ketchup recipe as they believed benzoate of soda was necessary and posed no threat. On the other side of the argument was Heinz Company, which began producing ketchup using a different recipe that omitted benzoate of soda but sold at a higher price. Despite initial successful legal pushback (note the language of the above ad referencing the endorsement of the US government), ultimately public opinion and government regulation against the additive won out and Curtice Brothers “Blue Label Ketchup” lost its market share to Heinz.3

  1. Society for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes.” https://sha.org/bottle/food.htm#Catsup
  2. Soceity for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Finishes & Closures.” https://sha.org/bottle/finishes.htm
  3. Smith, Adam F., 1996. Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

“Every Room a Corner Room”

If you’ve visited Seattle’s University District, you have probably noticed Hotel Deca, a towering structure located at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and 45th Street NE. Its Art Deco style, boutique feel and proximity to the University draw guests today, just as they did when the hotel first opened in 1931.

Postcard advertising the Hotel Edmond Meany, ca. 1934 (Courtesy of UW Special Collections)

The idea for a hotel in the University District came from members of the community and local businesses under the University Hotel Operating Corporation, which raised $297,700 to buy the land and then further financed the construction through the sale of stocks and bonds. After amassing the required capital, the Hotel Corporation chose Robert C. Reamer to design what they envisioned to be a cultural and social landmark for the neighborhood. In keeping with their commitment to community engagement, the Hotel Corporation hosted a contest to name the new hotel, with the ultimate winning entry honoring Edmond S. Meany, a beloved professor, former state representative and local icon of the time.

Hotel Construction, from The Seattle Daily Times, May 3, 1931

Construction of The Hotel Edmond Meany began in 1930 and was extensively covered in The Seattle Daily Times, which featured several photos at various stages of the building’s construction, one of which is shown here. The structure is in the modernist Art Deco style and is primarily made of steel reinforced concrete, which was poured in place. Sixteen stories tall, the hotel featured nearly 150 rooms located around a central elevator shaft and stairwell – allowing the hotel to proudly boast that “every room is a corner room.” When the building opened on November 12, 1931, it was celebrated with a grand banquet and ball. The honored guest of the evening was Edmond S. Meany himself, who was the first person to sign the hotel registry.

House being moved to make way for the construction of a parking garage adjacent to the Hotel, April 1946 (Courtesy of MOHAI)

Lobby of the Hotel after renovation in 1997 (Courtesy of Assassi Productions for NBBJ)

Since its opening, the Edmond Meany has changed hands three times, but has always remained a hotel. While today the external structure looks much as it did in 1931, the interior has been redesigned several times. Notably, a renovation in the 1990s by Seattle architecture firm NBBJ sought to restore the 1930s style of the hotel by revealing older floors and columns to recapture the initial design of the building, which had been plastered over through the decades. The name has also shifted from the Edmond Meany Hotel to the Meany Tower Hotel to the University Tower Hotel – before attaining its current name, Hotel Deca, in 2008, when the building was acquired by Noble House Hotels and Resorts.

Hotel Deca today (Wikimedia Commons)

The hotel has served and continues to serve as an icon of the University District and a popular location for functions and meetings. Today much of the original majesty of this storied hotel still survives, so if you have the chance, go inside and have a look around the lobby!

An Historical Graveyard Survey

Cemeteries provide a unique setting in which to examine social attitudes about death and remembrance over time, which may be tied to larger cultural themes. Over the past week, our class has been doing gravestone surveys at Calvary Cemetery and analyzing data regarding the size and shape of gravestones, their design and the content of their inscriptions.

Here I report on the frequency of internments over time, which I compiled to see if there were particular time periods that saw a rise in deaths. Frequency of internments by year from 1900 to 2016 is shown in the figure below. These include all the data from our class survey – data from 225 individuals and 185 grave markers – which is only a small portion of total internments in the cemetery. Right away I notice that the most burials occurred in the period from about 1920 to 1935, with another significant peak from about 1945 to 1955. After those periods, the number of internments tapered off before increasing a bit again in the past 10 years. Those two periods with the most burials immediately follow the First and Second World Wars, so perhaps these spikes represent the deaths of veterans. Alternatively, the trend could indicate that Seattle’s population grew in the post-war periods such that the cemetery was utilized by more families.

The idea of a growing client population fits in with the other data that I collected about changes in the shape and size of grave markers over time. The figure below shows a seriation of different gravestone shapes in five year increments. The wider the band at a particular year, the more prominent that shape during that period. Note the dominance of blocks after 1930 – these are smaller horizontal slabs that are flush with the grass. Before 1930, columns and crosses are present, which largely disappear after blocks become dominant. Tablets have a surge between 1915 and 1935, but then peter off, and monuments have a low, but consistent presence throughout the sequence. I suggest that those larger upright markers were once indicative of the social class of the deceased, an emphasis on monumentality that has decreased over time. Those markers also take up more space, so as the cemetery grew, people may have been encouraged to use more modest markers. Overall, this fits with my field observations at the cemetery, during which I noticed that the tallest and largest grave markers were concentrated in the oldest parts of the cemetery.

Getting trash to talk

It is rare that we think about the garbage that we produce. You throw something away and then forget about it – you’ve passed it out of your hands, done your duty. If asked, I would not be able to recall what I had thrown away in the past week, and yet the garbage that I produce holds valuable data about my behavior, social position, and identity.

The study of garbage is called garbology, and has been a topic of great interest to archaeologists. You may ask why archaeologists, who primarily study the past, would be interested in modern refuse. The answer lies in the connection between material culture (in this case, garbage) and human behavior. Garbology has become a way for archaeologists to better understand the formation of trash deposits (also called middens in archaeological contexts) and get a sense of how representative middens are of the households that produced them.

This past week, our historical archaeology class took the challenge of recording our own garbage (and recycling/compost) for a week and then anonymously analyzing the data of a classmate to see what behaviors we could discern from what they left behind. In looking at a classmate’s data, I was amazed at how much of their daily routine I could recreate. For instance, given the preponderance of instant oatmeal packets, yogurt smoothie containers and Quaker Chewy wrappers, I imagine a hurried breakfast as she rushes out the door to catch a bus to school, tossing a few snacks in her bag as she goes. I might further extrapolate that this classmate is not a morning person, preferring to sleep in as long as possible and then being forced to race through her morning routine.

Through this exercise, I also gained a better understanding of my own trash habits and patterns – I throw away a lot more than I thought I did! As a result, I am now thinking about how I could live more sustainably.

Looking for a challenge this week? Try recording your own garbage and see what you can learn!

If you are interested in learning more about garbology, I recommend Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy (1992: Harper Collins).

In preserving the past, communication is key

The first lunchtime workshop of the Preserving the Past seminar series (@preserveseminar) kicked off last Thursday with an overwhelming turnout at wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a.k.a. the Intellectual House) on UW’s campus. This workshop, Collaborating on Heritage in the Salish Sea, brought together a panel consisting of tribal members, cultural resource managers, and local/state agency representatives in order to create conversation around the opportunities and challenges of caring for heritage within the Salish Sea.

The biggest theme that emerged from this conversation was the need to foster better communication between tribes and non-native archaeologists. As Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, Leonard Forsman, admitted, both parties have a history of making assumptions about the goals and interests of the other – a practice that has not led to productive collaboration. Instead, it is imperative that archaeologists consult with tribes when they are engaging in excavation projects. This means going beyond merely complying with the law and filling out required paperwork, but actually speaking with the THPO (tribal historic preservation office) about interests that tribal members may have in the proposed project. As Chairman Forsman said, “We are not an obstacle, we are an asset.” Indeed, tribes operate their own libraries and have access to a wealth of historical documents, both written and oral, which could be of use in archaeological interpretation by illuminating additional voices and lines of evidence. Additionally, there is a lot of value in face-to-face conversation and negotiation as it helps to build trust and foster mutual understanding – and can only lead to better archaeology (and better archaeologists).

By opening up lines of communication, a rich and fruitful collaboration may be possible, as archaeologists educate themselves about local tribes and their histories and tribal members are able to learn about archaeology and recover some material aspects of their heritage.

The next Preserving the Past event will continue this conversation on February 16, 2017 from 12:30-2:30pm in the Smith Room (324) of the Suzzallo-Allen Library. This workshop, entitled Meaningful Collaboration and Indigenous Archaeologies, will feature a keynote delivered by Dr. Chip Colwell, Senior Curator of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and founder of SAPIENS.

Hollis’ Bio

Hello! My name is Hollis and I am an archaeology grad student at UW. I grew up and went to college in Pennsylvania, where I studied geology and anthropology. Although initially interested in the study of past climates, I eventually found my path to archaeology as a way to use both my geological and anthropological trainings. My research interests revolve around people and their interactions with the environment. For instance, I am curious about how people use their social connections in order to navigate or mediate climatic or environmental change. I am also interested in community-based methods and strategies in archaeology.

In addition to my academic pursuits, I am a music lover (with an actual CD collection!), a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanatic, and the proud owner of the cutest cat in the Pacific Northwest.

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