Q and A: Writer-turned-deacon, Alan Hart shares father’s love of history

Alan Hart’s father knew how to tell a story, with words or pictures. As a result, Alan developed a d

Alan Hart’s father knew how to tell a story, with words or pictures.

As a result, Alan developed a deep appreciation of history early in his life, and just like his father, Larry Hart, he has always enjoyed perusing through Schenectady County’s past.

Saturday at the Schenectady County Historical Society, Hart will host a viewing of some of his father’s best work as well as some other rare and historical film footage of Schenectady. Most of the material was donated to the society by the Hart family soon after Larry’s death in February 2004.

A newspaperman, author, former Schenectady County and City historian, and past president of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Larry Hart chronicled much of the area’s past with 15 published books. Alan, a former sportswriter for the Albany Times Union and now an ordained minister and deacon at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Lake Luzerne, has written four books, mostly relating to the 20th century history of Schenectady and Scotia, his hometown. He has no plans, however, of producing the same volume of published works as his father because his current job, which includes volunteering his time at Ellis Hospital, keeps him plenty busy.

Among the events that will be seen on film Saturday at the SCHS will be Lindbergh’s arrival at the Schenectady County Airport in 1927, the 1948 fire that destroyed much of the First Reformed Church in the Stockade, and footage from the last trolley car ride in Schenectady in the 1940s.

Larry Hart also accompanied Schenectady’s 1954 Little League World Series champions to the Major League Baseball World Series later that fall when the Cleveland Indians played the New York Giants. He caught on film the pitch by Giants’ pitcher Don Liddle and the swing and long drive to center off the bat of the Indians’ Vic Wertz. Hart, however, missed “The Catch” in deep center at the Polo Grounds in New York by Willie Mays, one of the most famous highlights in baseball history.

Q: How did your father feel about missing “The Catch?”

A: I used to joke with him how he got the pitch and Wertz hitting the ball, but he missed the catch. Instead of seeing Mays make the play, you see Wertz running to first. I could joke with him about it in a family setting, but I wouldn’t bring it up with other people around. You didn’t tease my father. If I was being a typical smart aleck teenager and made a crack about it, he got annoyed at me. I think he was probably a little disappointed he didn’t get it because he had a knack for that sort of thing. But he probably saw it out of the corner of his eye.

Q: What other footage is there about the 1954 Schenectady Little League World Series champions?

A: There’s film of them appearing on the Dave Garroway show [NBC’s “The Today Show”] in New York and other shots of them walking around the city. I remember my father talking about getting a shot of Jim Barbieri throwing out the first ball of a World Series game to the Giants’ catcher Wes Westrum, who later managed the Mets.

Q: Do you remember the First Reformed Church fire in 1948?

A: I wasn’t yet 2, so I don’t remember it. But I do remember him telling me stories about it. He didn’t have a car at the time, so he either took a bus or walked over the bridge from our house in Scotia to get to the fire. We lived on Sanders Avenue at the time, and he must have taken both his black and white camera and his movie camera with him because we have the pictures and the movies. He often took the bus to work, and then he would cover Schenectady for the Union Star without an automobile. McClellan Street was pretty much the end of the city in those days, and if he had to go shoot a fire or be somewhere else, he’d just take the bus.

Q: How did your father break into the newspaper business?

A: He had a year in at Union College after graduating from Mont Pleasant in 1938, and then World War II broke out. He was a reconnaissance photographer for the Air Corps, and when he came home after the war he was already married with a young daughter so he went right to work. He got a job as a photographer at the Union-Star, and worked there until 1960 when the Gazette hired him to cover local politics. He was a photographer at the Star, and strictly a reporter at the Gazette.

Q: Did your father have a favorite period in American history?

A: He was a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, so he really had an interest in the Civil War. But he knew as much about Lincoln as anyone. He did a program that was a series of Lincoln photographs and he would go to different places, historical societies and senior centers and schools, and talk about Lincoln. He also loved local and national politics and was a big fan of FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]. I think Lincoln was his favorite president, but he always said that FDR was the best president he ever voted for.

Q: Do you have a favorite book authored by your father?

A: I probably have two. The one he did on growing up in Schenectady, “This I Remember,” and the other one would be “Did I Wake You?” It’s a great book about Schenectady in the 1950s and ’60s, when it seemed like we always had famous people stopping in the city and spending time at the Van Curler Hotel. The title comes from the time he called up [former heavyweight boxing champion] Joe Louis at the Van Curler to ask him if he could come and take a picture. It sounded like Joe had been sleeping when the phone rang, so my dad asked him, ‘Did I wake you?’ It’s a fascinating book, and so is “Schenectady’s Golden Era.” I guess I have three favorites.

Q: You also were a journalist. How did you get started?

A: I graduated from Scotia-Glenville in 1964, then went to Hudson Valley Community College for two years and then [the University at] Albany where I got a degree in English. I always wanted to be a baseball player, but as you know you do get realistic, so I decided I would go to broadcasting school at Syracuse. But I had a job at the Gazette as a sportswriter and I really liked it so I kept on doing that. I worked there for five years, and then went to the Times Union where I covered sports for 34-and-a-half years.

Q: Then what happened?

A: My wife and I were married in 1994, and I just felt the call to become a minister. It was something I always thought about, but I was always too young, or too busy, and then suddenly I was too old. One night I was reading the Bible and the story in Luke of Jesus going fishing with Peter at night. Everyone knows the story: Jesus tells Peter not to be afraid, and that he would make him a fisher of men instead of fish. Peter had always been afraid to go into the deep water, just like me. But I suddenly just felt like it was time. It felt like Jesus was actually talking to me, and I felt like I was finally answering a lifetime call.

Categories: Life and Arts

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