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October 1999


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Phil Lord <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 19 Oct 1999 12:12:43 -0400
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The full history of the old State Historic Marker Program can be found at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/hismarkers.html

The program ran from 1926 to 1939 under state funding and the oversight of the State Education Department.

Since 1939 no state funding has gone to these small markers, although large area markers have been erected at interstate rest areas and other spots along major roads.

Small markers since 1939 usually bear the ID of the funding organization (DAR, Town Bicentennial Comm., etc.). Last year the Governor formed a commission to commemorate significant women in the State, and it was decided, in consultation with the State Education Department, that markers were an appropriate medium.

I believe two were funded for each county, and erected. Since the funding was a Governor's Commission, it does not seem inappropriate to identify the source of the grants.

Philip Lord, Jr.
Acting Chief, Historical Survey
New York State Museum
Albany, NY 12230
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Website: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov

>>> Ian McGiver <[log in to unmask]> 10/18 9:04 PM >>>
I just came across what seems to me to be an example of the recent
politicization of the state's system of "official" roadside
historical markers. I would be interested in a discussion on the matter.

Although I have not looked all that closely, I have always assumed that
the state's "official" roadside historical markers were placed by some
(seemingly) non-political state agency or organization. I have seen some
markers credited to the state education department. I have seen some
(circa late 1920s) that were credited to the New York State Historical
Marker association (although I am sure that I am wildly misquoting the
name of this agency/group).

However, I recently come across a marker that was placed within the past
year in the village of Schoharie in Schoharie County. (I believe that the
marker was put up this summer, but I have not confirmed this point.) The
marker is located alongside the road in front of the cemetery that is
adjacent to the "Old Stone Fort" in Schoharie. The roadside marker refers
to the burial place of Catherine Lawrence, who was a Civil War nurse and
is buried in the cemetery. The credit for the placement of the marker is
given to Gov. George Pataki.
        Does this signal a shift in the significance of these markers? For
it seems to me that Patiki's taking credit for the marker is an attempt to
take personal (political) credit for historical commemoration.
        I read the Catharine Lawrence marker as bit of electioneering.
After reading the marker's inscription I am left wondering who I have
asked to remember: the Civil War Nurse or the magnanimous Governor who put
up the marker.
        I understand that, of course, historical commemoration is often
all about and only about the politics of the moment in which the
remembering occurs. Often, of course, this political maneuvering occurs on
relativel submerged level of what might be referred to as cultural
(We are familiar with this. For example, markers that commemorate the
Revolutionary period will refer
to "battles"
where Rebel Americans defeated and killed Native-Americans, as in the
Clinton-Sullivan campaign. But the word
"massacre" will be is reserved only for those markers that commemorate
what Native-Americans did to Whites.)
And, of
course, there is certainly an amount of political maneuvering that goes on
in the placing of historical markers. That is, the currying of favors and
attempt to garner votes.
        However, until I saw the Catharine Lawrence marker I had naively
thought that the state's "official" markers were removed from the more
obvious levels of politics.

        BUT I know little of the history of these "official" state
markers.(And, of course, the "politics "of this marker may only existing
my reading of it.) So I would be interested in discussion of the matter.

Ian McGiver