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Voices, Fall-Winter 2014:
Follow the links on the Table of Contents to see excerpts of articles and read columns.
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VOICES FW2014 cover


Volume 40

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In Her Own Words: The Story of Alice Testrake [excerpt]
Collected and Illustrated by Valerie Walawender

20 Cultured Wilderness and Wild Culture The Olmsted Legacy in Rochester and Graffiti in the Grove [excerpt]
by Charles Burroughs

28 How I Spent My Summer (1967) [excerpt]
by Erica Wolfe Burke

32 Evaluation of Petrifaction Legends in Turkey in Terms of Cultural Heritage and Tourism [excerpt]
by Hasan Buğrul

42 Remembering My Grandfather’s Left-Wing Bungalow Colony in Dutchess County [excerpt]
by Raanan Geberer

Departments and Columns

12 Upstate: An Open Invitation To My Downstate Friends
by Varick A. Chittenden

18 Downstate: Lion’s Gate
by Steve Zeitlin

31 Obituary: Yacub Addy

40 From the Waterfront: Rumrunners on the Bay
by Nancy Solomon

44 Voices in New York: Bairbre McCarthy—Irish Storyteller
by Anna Mulé

45 Good Read
Caffè Lena: Inside America’s Legendary Folk Music Coffeehouse

by Chris Linendoll

45 Book Review
Unsettling Assumptions: Tradition, Gender, Drag

by Frieda Toth

46 NYFS News and Notes

Yacub Addy
Cover: We remember Yacub Addy, Ghanaian drum master from Latham, New York, and 2010 NEA Heritage Fellow.

Ellen McHale
From the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of Voices:

Today, President Obama released his FY2016 budget. Economists and politicians will spend the next several weeks dissecting and debating its merits, and the final result will very likely be an alteration of President Obama’s original intention. In its first presentation, however, the President recommends a modest increase for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and specific funding for a national program of arts education.

Why, one might ask, should government support the arts? The reasons are numerous and range from the purely economic reason that the arts are economic drivers for the nation’s downtowns and tourist industries, to the quality of life issues, which have shown that the arts provide important vehicles for leisure and for the aesthetic expressions of our everyday lives. Government support for the arts, although not a total answer for arts activities, provides a mechanism for art and arts activities to reach every member of our nation.

The arts have historically benefitted from wealthy patrons, predominantly located in urban areas and that continues to be the case, as the wealthier among us provide support to those arts activities that inspire them. However, to rely upon that patronage for the entire nation skews the equation and creates a situation where art is accessible only to those who can pay for it. With arts funding from the state or federal level, it has been found that arts education, and the opportunities to experience art activities, reaches a less enfranchised portion of our nation: the rural, the poor, minority populations, and the young.

For a folklore organization, government support for folk arts provides support for arts that are specific to certain communities or segments of our populations. Support for folk arts provides a validation for arts, which are seldom seen within American popular culture, or within Western European fine art expressions. Referencing the American populace as a whole, Bill Ivey, former NEA Chair and folklorist, pointed to the importance for Americans everywhere to live a vibrant “expressive life” comprised of two components: heritage and voice. He said, “Every American (and all people) must continually choose between activities and engagements that connect them with family and community and those that enable them to ‘go inside,’ digging into personal expression, individual creativity, and idiosyncrasies” (Ivey 2012, 142). Folk and traditional arts provide one vehicle for this expression of heritage, coupled with a personal aesthetic and creative impulse.

In the upcoming months, as Congress debates the proposed FY2016 budget, I urge you to contact your local congressman to express your support for arts and culture. Your support matters.

Ellen McHale, PhD
Executive Director
New York Folklore Society

Source: Ivey, Bill. 2012. Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

Todd DeGarmo
From the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of Voices:

My brother Mark surprised me in early November with a request for his birthday. He wanted to come up from New York City to visit grave sites of our father’s ancestors found on both sides of the upper Hudson River. He thought it was fitting, given his birthday’s proximity to Día de los Muertos, the Mexican celebration, Day of the Dead.

This was not a typical request. There had been no such visits within our immediate family. We were taught that loved ones were not found at the grave; these contained only earthly remains, and reunions would take place in the afterlife, in heaven.

Nonetheless, I could easily fulfill Mark’s request. As the family historian living in the upper Hudson Valley for almost 30 years, I had tracked down many generations of my father’s family who lived here since before the American Revolution. We could spend many hours visiting a dizzying number of small plots with headstones bearing the names of DeGarmo, Ham, Spicer, Angel, Sprague, Sutfin, and so on. After all, as you trace your lineage back through the generations, you add the family of each mother and acknowledge another bloodline. If we wanted to be inclusive, this could be a long visit.

We had an interesting day, touring the countryside, visiting a select number of graveyards and house sites in our quest for ancestors. That evening, I posted on Facebook, “Celebrating family, birthdays, and Día de los Muertos with Mark DeGarmo,” and included a photo of Mark embracing a family headstone where my dad, his brother, and their parents are buried.

Among the “likes” and assorted supportive comments to my post was the question, “Are you Hispanic?”

This seemingly innocent question brought me back to school-age questions of nationality, and ultimately, identity. Are you Italian? Maybe, Spanish? “No,” I would reply, “DeGarmo” comes from a ‘de Garmeaux’ with a castle in Brittany, and that our first ancestor in this country was Pierre, a fur trader who left some debts behind in Montreal.” I was pleased to be connected to this “vagabond” and his French nobility. I readily claimed my French heritage and still do. This identity, however, doesn’t match the genetics. Pierre married a Dutch woman in late 17th-century colonial Albany, and his descendants married many different nationalities over the generations. Though my surname is a reminder, the French has become a very diluted portion of my bloodline.

Borden is my mother’s maiden name, tracing back to an English ancestor who came to this country, also during the colonial period, marrying into German, Swedish and many other nationalities over the generations. When asked about his ancestry, my mother’s father, called “Pop” by his grandchildren, would reply with pride, “We’re mutts, American Mutts, a blend of many nationalities; no purebreds here!”

Pop would follow up with a story from the early 20th century, from the time he was courting his wife-to-be, Bessie McDowell. Sitting in the parlor of his future mother-in- law, he was told by Bessie’s mother, “Our family came over on the Mayflower. What about your family?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “My family heard that there were a bunch of ruffians aboard the Mayflower, so they waited for the next boat.”

McDowell is Scots-Irish. One or more of this family’s ancestral lines can be traced back to the group on the Mayflower and other New England cultural hearths, but the McDowells themselves arrived a bit later. This line of the family also had later immigrants added to the mix: folks from Norway and Ireland in the mid-19th century. Although my great-grandmother felt a need to identify with one of the oldest lines instead of the newer additions, it’s interesting to note that her daughter (my Grandma Bessie) was quite proud of her Scots-Irish heritage, proclaiming, “We’re a frugal and hearty stock!”

Although my family ancestry can be called “American Mutt,” I continue my search to rediscover the journeys and interesting stories of our multiple bloodlines, and seek to discover how these contribute to the family we are today.

“Are you Hispanic?” I did celebrate Día de los Muertos with Mark that day, but I do not claim “Hispanic” as a bloodline or an identity. But surely Mark does. When he called me with his birthday request, he had just gotten back from Mexico. His life and work has many special connections to Mexico and Latin America, as an artist, teacher, and adopted son. On this most recent visit, he celebrated a wedding as a witness and special guest of the Velasco family who had “adopted” both he and his husband Jan in the 1970s. They identify Mark and Jan as family, with open-armed hospitality and love.

My brother-in-law Jan responded to the Facebook question: “Should it be called the Day of the Dead or also the Day of the Living? If it helps us appreciate what we have and where and whom we come from. Tombstones always make me think, ‘They’re there and they’re not there.’”

Bloodlines can be important but are certainly not the end-all in determining family identity. Mark’s celebration of Día de los Muertos in the graveyards of upstate New York is a natural extension of this identity with his adopted Mexican family. As with all of us, it is but one of many family identities he claims. Family histories are often more complicated than at first glance. Teasing out the details of stories of identity requires careful search and careful listening to all the parties involved, both the dead and the living.

Todd DeGarmo
Voices Acquisitions Editor
Founding Director of the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library


Alice Testrake

Cultured Wilderness

Erica Wolfe Burke

At the bungalow

Fall–Winter 2014, Volume 40:3–4

Acquisitions Editor
   Todd DeGarmo
Copy Editor
   Patricia Mason
Administrative Manager
   Laurie Longfield
   Mary Beth Malmsheimer
   Eastwood Litho

Editorial Board: Varick Chittenden, Lydia Fish, Hanna Griff-Sleven, Nancy Groce, Lee Haring, Bruce Jackson, Christopher Mulé, Libby Tucker, Kay Turner, Dan Ward, Steve Zeitlin

Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore is published twice a year by the New York Folklore Society, Inc.

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