Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cheap Eats

Script No, 542

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Last time we read a humorous account in an 1830 Rochester, New York, newspaper spoofing the reportedly treacherous conditions of a street in this frontier town. And traces of the frontier were still in evidence, less than a decade after the opening of the Eire Canal. Many of those muddy streets still contain the stumps of trees. And back in February, half a year before our arrival here with traveler John Fowler, a five-and-a-half foot wolf was spotted up by Irondequoit Bay. For the five days following its sighting, a large number of persons tracked the predator as it ranged to the southeast killing a number of sheep along the way. Finally, just outside the village of Penfield, O. C. Andrews, got a clear shot, ending the animal’s nefarious career.

Another local newspaper had a rather brief career of its own. On January 20th it was reported that a new journal, the Morning Courier, was established by E. J. Roberts and Company. It was announced to be politically neutral. Perhaps that’s what killed it. An April 21st item announced that the paper was being discontinued, “for want of patronage.”

Not that local readers were uninformed. Fowler reports that there were two weekly and perhaps three daily newspapers in this town along the Genesee River. His host for the night had informed him of the discovery, back on St. Patrick’s Day, of the body of daredevil Sam Patch, up by Lake Ontario. Among other tell-tale marks on the corpse there had been a black handkerchief around the waist, reportedly what Patch had been wearing the previous year when his second leap off the Genesee falls had ended in disaster. The following month there had been talk of bringing the remains found by the mouth of the river upstream and reburying them near the falls. But, in the end, they were buried at the port of Charlotte, near where they had been found. Fowler’s host passed along the rumor that Patch had been drunk at the time of his leap.

Fowler reports his own view of Sam’s various leaps. “All that can be said of it is, that . . . they were the acts of a madman, and sooner or later were likely to incur a destiny . . . due to such presumptuous, absurd temerity.” Draw your own conclusions on the matter.

Fowler set out the next morning for a brief exploration of this village of over 10,000 people, the 21st largest settlement in the country. He reports that besides well-arranged streets, with stores, warehouses, and elegant homes, the village contains, “a court-house, gaol, and eleven churches, two markets, two banks, and several very excellent hotels . . . a museum, an institute, an athenaeum, an arcade, a Vaux-hall, public baths, reading rooms, &c. &c. . . .”. He paid a visit to one of the markets, possibly the one off the main street, just to the east of the river, later to become Front Street. He notes it seems well supplied with a wide variety of comestibles, such as meat selling at 4 to 6 cents a pound, wheat from 87 cents to a dollar a bushel – flour was $4.50 a barrel - and eggs at a dime a dozen.

The Erie Canal passing here in Rochester had made the village and the surrounding countryside the breadbasket of the state. We’ll explore the industry with Fowler next time.

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