Tour guide. For several years I gave tours of Congress Park in my new home town, Saratoga Springs, NY. I loved it: a walk around a city park that served as a jumping off place for fabulous stories, mostly true, about the rich and famous who’ve visited this city every summer since it was founded. History buffs who came on the tours added gossip and trivia of their own. Priceless stuff for a storyteller.
For example, you say. Well, how about Diamond Jim Brady who started with nothing, made a fortune in the railroad industry, and believed in flaunting it. He owned thirty sets of diamonds (more than 20,000 in all, plus 6,000 other gems) and wore a different set every day of the month. The theme of his most famous set was transportation: 2,548 diamonds in settings that included a camel, a bicycle, a locomotive in diamonds on his eyeglass case, and a diamond Pullman car worn on his underwear.
To wear that many diamonds at one time, he had to wear them everywhere: collar buttons, shirt studs, necktie pin and clasp, cuff links, belt buckle, watch chain, watch, eyeglass case, pencil. “Them as as ’em, wears ’em,” he’d say proudly.
To his ladylove, the voluptuous singer Lillian Russell, he gave a gold-plated bicycle with her initials in diamonds and rubies on the handlebars. She rode it around town on Sundays in her white cycling attire and jaunty Tyrolean hat.
And remember, we’re talking about the 1890s. Think of how much this would all be worth nowadays!
Brady’s appetite for food was equally extravagant. Clams and oysters and crabs and ducks and steak and turtles and a roast—all in one meal. (And a plate of veggies too, just to keep it healthy.) Gallons of orange juice and lemon soda—every day. Dessert measured not by the slice, but by the number of pies, the platters of pastries, and the pounds of candy. People watched him dine, cheered him on, and took bets on whether he’d die of a heart attack before he finished dinner. One restaurant owner called him his 25 best customers.
He died in his fifties of a stroke, not before he’d given away substantial amounts to charity. In Baltimore, there’s a urology center named after him, one of the recipients of his generosity.
Of course, he was never accepted by old money, but he didn’t care. Maybe that’s why people were intrigued by his story. They still are.
But I also like the stories about the people who stay after the summer folk go home. They fascinate me as much, maybe more.
One of the most intriguing and mysterious people is Angeline Tubbs, the Witch of Saratoga. I’m telling a story about her on July 21st at 7:30 pm at the Boght Arts Center. She fascinates me for a lot of reasons, maybe because I don’t quite have a handle on what to make of her life. (That’s true of most of the people I know, come to think of it. When I think I do have a handle on a person, I’ve probably not gone deep enough.)
Angeline lived in Saratoga for a very long time, from the American Revolution to the Civil War. During that time, she was mostly mocked, feared, shunned, or ignored. People either called her “touched in the head” or a witch. Nowadays, people marvel that she survived and call her a heroine. I’ll let you decide what to make of her.
If you can, come Wednesday to hear Betty Cassidy and I tell our stories about people of Saratoga and the Adirondacks.
By the way, the Boght Center is fascinating, a church converted into a place that celebrates the arts, yet keeps its spiritual underpinnings. As they say on their website, “Here, artists from varying faith and cultural backgrounds feel comfortable expressing themselves through the arts.” A wonderful goal. Check out their website: http://www.boghtarts.org/
I promise you Angeline Tubbs will be one of the stories I tell.
All the information you’ll want to know:
We’re performing on Wednesday, July 21st at 7:30 pm. at the Boght Arts Center, in Cohoes, NY.
Our program is called “Portraits from High Places: Stories of Saratoga and the Adirondacks.” It’s part of a series called the Summer Storytelling Vespers. The phone number of the Boght Center is 518-785-ARTS.
Others are telling this summer too. Joe Doolittle, Ed Munger, and Nancy Munger were absolutely wonderful on July 7th. You won’t want to miss the other tellers in the series:
On July 28th, Dee Lee and Claire Nolan will tell “Stories of Portraits in Our Family Album”
On August 4th, Mary Murphy and Nancy Marie Payne will tell “Portraits of Women: Stories of Women Who Made a Difference”