SARATOGA SPRINGS — Minnie Clark Bolster loved nothing better than a good lesson in Saratoga Springs history, but she also had quite a few fascinating stories to tell herself.
“Minnie did a great job doing her family genealogy, tracing it all the way back to Saratoga Springs in 1773,” city historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald said. “She loved sharing ideas and stories about Saratoga history. She was legendary in this town, and I have so much respect for her.”
Bolster, 97, passed away Saturday in Saratoga Hospital. She had been relatively healthy up until last month. Jamie Parillo, director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum, had a regular lunch date with Bolster and a small circle of friends at least once a month.
“Our group had lunch in late October, and I was at her house once in November,” Parillo said. “We would just meet and talk about Saratoga history. She had been a past president of our museum for 12 years back in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and she would do anything for us to help preserve Saratoga history.”
Parillo started at the museum 18 years ago, after serving as a park ranger at the Saratoga National Historic Park and Battlefield.
“Once you earned her respect, you had it,” he said. “We became very good friends. She had a big collection, and she would find something new and call me to tell me about it, or I might get something new here at the museum and I would call her.”
A 1938 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School, Bolster went to the Eastman Business School in Saratoga Springs and spent most of her life as a legal secretary, retiring in 1983. She worked for Michael E. Sweeney at the Leary & Fuller law firm in Saratoga Springs, and then continued on with Sweeney when he became a state judge in the Appellate Division.
Bolster wrote books about Saratoga’s history, including “Saratoga: The Way We Were and What They Said About Us,” and collected anything that said Saratoga Springs. According to Fitzgerald, a visit to her home on the West Side of the city was like taking a trip back in time.
“When you walked into her house, it was all Saratoga Springs,” Fitzgerald said. “She collected anything that had to do with Saratoga. She had postcards and prints and photographs, and she also had furniture. Every chair, the drapes, anything in her house had a story connected to it, and she would share the story.”
Bolster’s husband, Frank, died in 1976. It was his brother, George, who donated a large collection of photographs and other images to the Saratoga Springs History Museum called the Bolster Collection.
“But her own collection was pretty impressive,” Parillo said. “She had some very rare pieces that she took very good care of. Anything that was connected to Saratoga history she would collect.”
One of Bolster’s most-prized possessions was her family connection to the Solomon Northup story, made famous by an award-winning 2013 movie, “Twelve Years a Slave.” It was a Bolster ancestor, Cephas Parker, who received letters from Northup and then gave them to Northup’s wife, Ann Hampton, while Northup was enslaved in the Deep South prior to the Civil War.
“When we first started working on Solomon Northup Day, Minnie was there because she was involved in anything that had something to do with Saratoga history,” Fitzgerald said. “One year, she raised her hand and told us of her family connection. She was very proud of it.”
While the movie took some poetic license in the film and made Cephas Parker the guy who went south to bring Solomon back, Bolster herself was always a stickler to get the history right.
“When we did the centennial book a few years ago, she was our mentor,” Fitzgerald said. “There were like 30 authors of that book, and we would have meetings at Skidmore College. Minnie was our sounding board. We’d bounce ideas off of her, and whenever people donated something, whether it be to the history museum, Brookside, the library, wherever, she would always make sure it got to the right place. That was important to her.”
Calling hours for Bolster will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing and Cunniff Funeral Homes at 628 North Broadway. A Mass will be celebrated 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of St. Peter, at 241 Broadway.
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