by Fred Schrock

Archive for October, 2014

The Legend of Murder Creek

Murder Creek in Akron Falls Park. The quickly moving water powered small mills in the early 1800s.

Happy Halloween. . . . This story has been retold around Akron, New York, a village in the town of Newstead, over the last two centuries. Even the official website for Erie County has a variant of it online. The definitive tale is by Arthur C. Parker, who recounted it in The Life of General Ely S. Parker: Last Grand Sachem of the Iroquois. It was published by the Buffalo Historical Society in 1919; any more recent publication appears to derive from that source.

A professional historian and folklorist, Arthur was Ely’s great nephew and a Seneca Indian. He made the story part of the biography “for it was gossiped about the Parker fireside in the years of the early [18] ’30’s, and its dramatic incidents happened but a little way from their own doorstep. It is of importance, too, to those who live today, for it explains the ghosts that hover about the haunted corners.”

The below version of The Legend of Murder Creek was part of their 4th Grade local history curriculum at Akron Central School in the 1980s. I do not know who wrote it or if any other copies exist today, but it is definitely a direct adaptation of Parker’s book–even reusing the final sentence.

Akron Falls was known as Falkirk Falls for a time, and Falkirk a distinct settlement from Akron. This map from 1855 added an extra “L” to the name. East Avenue now runs along Murder Creek.

The Legend of Murder Creek.

Murder Creek was originally known to the Indians as See-un-gut (roar of distant waters). This legend tells how the name was changed.

In the spring of 1820, a white man, named John Dolph came from Mohawk country near Utica and built his log cabin close to the See-un-gut. The creek attracted many settlers in those days because it was necessary to be near water as a source of power to operate mills. It was also important for the settler’s personal needs.

John Dolph and Peter Van Deventer had planned to build a sawmill on the Creek. One evening in October, John and his wife were discussing plans when they heard a shriek from the woods. John opened the door and saw an Indian girl running towards him breathlessly yelling, “Save me. Please save me!” John let her in his cabin and closed the door on a man on the outside yelling “Let me in!”

The Dolphs hid the girl and allowed the man in.

“My name is Sanders,” said the man, “and that girl is a prisoner, whom I am to take to authorities in Canada. Her father, a chief, placed her in my hands, because she wishes to marry a bad Indian.”

He looked around the cabin to see if he could find her. He couldn’t, and flew into a rage muttering, “She shall not escape, I will find her yet!” He then left the ca[b]in and hid himself in the woods.

Mr. and Mrs. Dolph then listened to the story of Ah-weh-hah’s (Wild Rose’s) life.

My home is near Spirit Lake, under the cliff about a mile below the Tonawanda Falls. My mother has been dead several years and my father, a chief of the Senecas, has just been murdered by Sanders. For more than a year, this dreadful man has been staying around Spirit Lake begging me to marry him. I love Toh-yon-oe (Gray Wolf) and will become his wife very soon. Sanders told me that rather than see me the wife of a Seneca, he would murder me and all who stood in his way.

My father and I were going to the Cattaraugus nation to avoid trouble. Gray Wolf was going to meet us there. We started out on foot, taking the old trail, leading to Te-os-ah-wah, a place called Buffalo by your people. When we reached the See-un-gut my father sat down to rest. Sanders came up behind us and said he was sorry for his past conduct. He wished me happiness in my life with Gray Wolf. The man spoke so nicely, he tricked us. When I turned to look eastward, I heard a blow strike and then a groan. Quickly I turned to see my father laying dead on the ground with Sanders standing over him with a club in his hands.

I fled into the forest with him close behind yelling he would kill me too. Here I am. You know the rest.

The Dolphs located Gray Wolf and informed him of the tragedy. He came to his sweetheart and together they journeyed to her father’s grave where John had buried him. They chanted the death song, as a last token of their affection. A grave fire was lighted and the sacred tobacco incense rose to life the burden of their prayer to the Maker of All.

Suddenly Sanders appeared from behind a tree. He and Gray Wolf struggled with knife and tomahawk until Sanders fell from losing too much blood. He was dead. Gray Wolf tried to speak to Wild Rose but instead staggered forward and fell. They had both died at her father’s graveside.

Mr. Dolph heard her cry. He found her on her knees sobbing the death chant. John then buried both bodies and comforted Wild Rose.

She often went to visit the graves of her father and sweetheart to chant her grief. One day the Dolphs missed her, they went out to the graveyard and found her lying upon the grave of Gray Wolf, dead of a broken heart. Beside the graves of her father and sweetheart she was buried.

As the legend goes ——- if you stroll along Murder Creek at midnight, you may hear the voices of the two lovers as they wander over the new dust on the ancient trail. Death united them in a bond the years have not broken.

Alfred E. Smith Building: The Lobby Ceiling Murals

Samuel F.B. Morse, John Roebling, William Cullen Bryant, and Peter Stuyvesant (clockwise from top) on the Smith lobby ceiling

David C. Lithgow; from a 1978 edition of The Times Record.

David Cunningham Lithgow was born in Sheffield, England on 12 November 1868 but immigrated to the United States from Glasgow, Scotland as a young man, finally settling in the Capitol region in 1890. Some of his art depicts scenes of the Adirondacks, where he once had a cabin. Some family members believe he lived for a time on an Iroquois reservation and sketched many of its residents. Starting with odd jobs—draftsman for the Gilbert Car Works, drop painter at the Strand Theatre in Albany and Proctor’s in Troy—Lithgow became a nationally recognized artist. Some of his works include civic auditoriums in Cleveland, Ohio and Long Beach, California, and the courthouse in Elizabethtown. Lithgow lived at Hudson Avenue on Green Island until his death on 26 May 1958 at age 89.

Lithgow’s mural of Lafayette above Proctor’s Theater in Troy; from After the Final Curtain

Lithgow’s sculptures can be found throughout Albany, including the Spanish-American War Monument at Townsend Park and the St. Andrew’s Monument at Albany Rural Cemetery. Some of his other murals can still be found in financial institutions such as the Fleet Bank at State and Pearl Street, the State Bank of Albany, and the Cohoes Savings Bank. His most well-known murals, however, are probably the Iroquois paintings in the State Education Building.

William Andrew Mackay; from Camoupedia

WWI propaganda by Charles B. Falls; image from Wikipedia

The Smith Lobby Ceiling Mural is attributed to Lithgow, but in the center panel, four small faces are painted next to three names: William Andrew Mackay, Louis J. Borgo, and Charles B. Falls. Mackay and Borgo also painted the ceiling of the State Office Building in Buffalo, and Falls was a professional illustrator. Interestingly, Falls developed propaganda posters during World War I, including some of the earliest uses of the “Devil Dog” by the Marines, while Mackay helped design camouflage for ships. This center section features four modes of transportation and commerce: trucking, flight, shipping, and locomotives.

The surrounding eight panels altogether depict the visages of thirty-two famous New Yorkers, from political leaders to explorers, scientists, engineers, inventors, artists, authors, and entrepreneurs. (Many of these faces in the Smith Building can also be found carved in the Great Western Staircase just across the street at the New York State Capitol.)

About a decade ago, Evergreene Architectural Arts restored the paintings in the lobby ceiling and several other rooms; this image comes from their website

A diagram of all the faces in the ceiling murals can be found by clicking here.

From 1933 to 1946, Lithgow worked on a series of fourteen murals at the Milne School in what is now the second floor of the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University of Albany. It is no surprise that the themes he explored in those later murals—the Mohawk people, Albany as a trading port, and Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage—reflect a long painting career accentuated by his projects on Capitol Hill. Those paintings are currently being restored. In fact, one of the University murals is of Capitol Hill itself, complete with an image of the Smith Building.

“1943–Capitol Hill–Modern Albany–Three Forms of Architecture” by Lithgow for the Milne School, now part of the University of Albany

Why a Presidential Assassination is Proudly Displayed in a Government Building

Panoramic view; click to enlarge

Edwin W. Becker was born on 10 December 1912 in Brooklyn. He moved to the Albany area in the 1930s, eventually living on Nathaniel Boulevard in the suburb of Delmar, and enlisted in the Signal Corps during World War II. An employee of the New York State Department of Civil Service, he was an agency artist for four decades. The Civil Service Mural he completed in 1962 was located where he worked: the Harriman State Office Building Campus just outside the city. In 2006, when Civil Service workers relocated into the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building across from the State Capitol, they brought the mural with them. It has been on display in the Department’s reception room ever since.

Civil Service workers, from teacher to park ranger

The Civil Service Mural highlights New York’s movement from a “spoils system” of patronage to the modern merit system of today. Users of patronage—DeWitt Clinton, Martin Van Buren, and Thurlow Weed, for example—are shown next to important reformers such as Dorman B. Eaton, Elihu Root, Theodore Roosevelt, and Grover Cleveland. In the left background, one can see the Hudson River, Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon, Robert Fulton’s steamship the Clermont, and packet boats on the Erie Canal. On the right, different Civil Service occupations are represented by various figures in occupational garb.

The killing of President Garfield

The most shocking feature of the mural reenacts a presidential assassination. Slightly left of center, the disgruntled patronage job seeker Charles Guiteau puts a bullet into James A. Garfield. The figures of several other men seem to watch as the shooting takes place, looking interested but unwilling to stop it. As listed by name at the end of this article, those men were politicians infamous for their use of patronage in political machines and opposing reforms. Though Vice President Chester A. Arthur had his own shady personal history with the spoils system, he made civil service reform the highlight of his short presidency. When he signed the Pendleton Act in 1882, it created a federal Civil Service Commission. New York was quick to make its own reforms, even instituting them directly into the State Constitution of 1894. President Arthur is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Mastodon mural on display c.1960. Historic photo from the current mastodon exhibit

Along with three other Delmar artists, Edwin Becker was part of a group called “The Village Four.” They held local art showings and contests in the 1950s and 1960s. The Albany Institute of History and Art exhibited some of his works as well, where he taught art classes in his spare time. Becker also painted murals for the mastodon display at the New York State Museum as seen in this black and white image from a 1957 issue of the Knickerbocker News. His 1960 mural depicting the history of Schenectady can still be seen in the First Niagara Bank on State Street in that city. Becker died on 6 February 1989 at the age of 76.

Becker’s Civil Service Mural