Today in History: Syracuse Celebrates the First Earth Day

Earth Day, Syracuse, 1970 (photo credit Kath Buffington)

On this day in 1970, Syracuse celebrated the first Earth Day with the “Sludge Trudge” to Clinton Square. Associate Professor at University of Cincinnati, David Stradling’s book, The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State, outlines the events that took place that day.

“Roughly five hundred people participated, marching through downtown and demonstrating their concern for the environment. At the event, Mayor Lee Alexander offered his analysis of how cars were ruining the city with air pollution, parking problems, and traffic. Elsewhere in the city, Students for a Livable Environment, a Syracuse University organization, led boat tours around Onondaga Lake, Pointing out sources of pollution.”

Of those 500 people, Kath Buffington of Rochester, now retired, attended the New York State College of Forestry in 1969-70 and earned a master’s degree from SUNY ESF in 1978, talks about her experiences on that day in this article. 

(Photo Credit Kath Buffington).

Today in History: The Last Frank Sinatra Performance in Syracuse

Sinatra 1994

(April 16th) On this day in 1994 at the Onondaga County War Memorial, Frank Sinatra performed his last concert in Syracuse. His son, Frank Sinatra Jr. conducted the orchestra for the show. In 1994, at the age of 79, Sinatra performed an amazing 30+ shows. The following year, in February 1995 at Marriott’s Desert Springs Resorts in Palm Springs, Sinatra performed for the last time. He would pass away three years later in May of 1998 at the age of 83. Sinatra’s long time friend and song writer, Syracuse native Jimmy Van Heusen, passed away in 1990. Van Heusen was responsible for songs such as The Last Dance and Come Fly Away. 

Here’s what you would have heard if you went to the show:

“History will record in detail this greatest tragedy of our National existence” – Syracuse Learns of Lincoln’s Assassination


Today in 1865, the world learned of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Ansel Judd Northrup (photo below), who moved to Syracuse in 1859 after finishing Law School at Columbia University, consistently wrote in a diary. Each entry gives insight and individual perspective on events occurring in and out of Syracuse. However, as we find ourselves looking back at Lincoln’s assassination 150 years later, OHA’s staff wondered if the well spoken Northrup recorded his thoughts on this historic event. Lucky for us, he did. In one of Northrup’s longest diary entries he explains

NorthrupAnselJ“Abraham Lincoln is dead!  Last night at about 10 o’clock-just as we were leaving Wieting Hall. I suppose-he was shot by an Assassin, in the head, at Ford’s Theater, in Washington, and this morning, at 7 o’clock 22 minutes, he breathed his last!  I write this day after the event, but the great grief is not over. The overwhelming sorrow, as for the death of a Father, is yet pushing its fearful weight upon my heart. I tried, a few hours after he, the beloved of the nation, yielded up his life on the altar of His country, to write something of my feelings in my book of “Chance thoughts”, but they were feebleness itself compared with my emotions. I cannot attempt here and now to express what I could not then.  Alas!  A great and good man has fallen!  A man whom God chose to do a great work has been taken when he seemed to be indispensable.  But God loves this land, I am sure, and He will do for us what seems best in his sight. We mourning with a grief which almost refused to bow and utter the chosen words of resignation. “Thy will be done!”  And yet we by Wm H Seward, on his death bed of pain, just trembling at the verge of the otherworld, was assailed, at the same hour, and fearfully wounded, but we yet hope, not fatally.  God save the Nation!  A formable conspiracy seems to have been formed to destroy by one fell stroke the whole government at Washington. God averted all harm from all but the dear President, and the Wise Secretary, the heart and the Head of the Nation. –History will record in detail this greatest tragedy of our National existence, and I need not, men in outline, attempt to do it here.

Mrs. Fitch and Willie came to my door at 6 o’clock this morning, rapped, and upon my responding, said, “There is news!” “What I asked. “Here is your paper read it”.  I arose, took the paper at the door, turned to the telegraphic column, and read aloud, “Abraham Lincoln Assassinated!”   I sank down in a chair overwhelmed, and could only utter “God have mercy on the nation!” The stroke was as if I had read the news of the death of my whole family. At length I was able to read the remainder. Was it some horrible dream? I asked myself. Can it be true- is it possible- is the Man of the Nation gone!  And all through the long, sad day I involuntarily repeated to myself these questions. Yet, there were the evidence, the details in startling clearness.   It was true. No mourning ……….Yet the President was not dead the Secretary was not dead. Is there hope!  None for the President- almost none for the Secretary after breakfast as I stepped upon the street to go down town, said a stranger to me, “sad news- the President is dead!’ And that was true. At 7:22 am the good and great man breathed his last. –Oh the long, long weary day!  The bells were told, the cannon boomed (not in rejoicing now!) places of business were closed, the whole city was draped in mourning and there was mourning, mourning everywhere.  But the longest the weariest, the saddest day at last comes to an end, and we went to our houses made desolate by this great sorrow. With all our grief was mingled horror at the terrible deed which cast us in mourning, and fear for the National Welfare; for a new and united board held the helm of State.”


Today in History: Syracuse Remembers the Titanic


Today in 1912, the Titanic left Southampton, England on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Later that night, after failing to divert its course, it struck and iceberg and sank the following morning. Here is a video by put together on the 100th anniversary. Central New York descendants of survivors recount some of the stories and remembrances passed down to them from their family members who were on the ship’s fateful voyage:

This Week in Civil War History: The Last Soldier Killed at Appomattox Served in Onondaga County’s 185th

185thInfPersonClarkeOn April 9, 1865, New York’s 185th  (the last regiment organized in Onondaga County) was one of two regiments making up the Union’s Fifth Corps. As they approached Appomattox Court House, Virginia,  where Generals Ulysses S. Grant (Union) and Robert E. Lee (Confederate) met to discuss, and make official, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, the battle began to die out. However, before fully laying down their arms, a Confederate battery fired their last shot of defiance, hitting Cortland’s Hiram Clark of the 185th, killing him instantly. Clark would turn out to be the regiment’s only causality in the battle and is said to be the last man killed at Appomattox.

Veterans today can tell you that, perhaps, the most feared time in war is the last day one fights. Whether that’s because the war is ending or your tour of duty is finished, even after facing death for months at a time, and surviving, it seems particularly terrible to lose your life just moments before safety arrives.

Hiram Clark was 26 years old.

Today in History (Part II): The Beastie Boys Fight For Their Right to Party, and Win

Beastie Boys 1987

Today in 1987, the Beastie Boys performed at the Onondaga County War Memorial during their Licensed to Ill Tour. The day fefore the show, according to the Spokane Chronicle, County officials and the director of the Onondaga County War Memorial tried to work with the Beastie Boys and their promoter to tone down their show, one that often included some “lewd acts.” Despite threats of banning the group from the War Memorial, it was decremented they could not legally stop the show.

Here’s the Beastie Boys album, Licensed to Ill.

Today in History 1955: Syracuse Nationals Win NBA Championship, Shot Clock Introduced


During the 1954-1955 National Basketball Association season, there was an invention that changed the game, helping to shape it into what we know today. Before the 54-55 season, scoring in NBA games was low due to teams running out the clock after securing a lead. Shot attempts were down, and games were being won 19-18, unheard of in today’s game. Before the season began, Danny Biasone, founding owner of the Syracuse Nationals, invented the 24 second shot clock following the 1953-54 season to try to speed up the game and prevent teams from stalling during games and increase scoring. Why 24 seconds?

Replica Shot Clock in Syracuse’s Armory Square

Biasone chose the unusual number of 24 seconds by figuring that the average number of shots two teams would take during a game was 120. He divided that number into 48 minutes or 2,880 seconds, the length of a game, and ended up with the magical number of 24.

The 24-second shot clock debuted in the National Basketball Association on Oct. 30, 1954 as the Rochester Royals defeated the Boston Celtics, 98-95, in what would have been the seventh-highest scoring game of the previous season.

As fate would have it, the Syracuse Nationals would go on to win their first, and only, NBA championship that season, defeating the Fort Wayne Pistons in Game 7 of the finals 92-91 on April 10th, 1955.