Massimo Lotruglio, a 2020 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School, went for a drive last week when he recognized something outside of the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center: a city-issued historical marker commemorating Saratogian Solomon Northup, the author of “Twelve Years A Slave.”
The plaque gives a description of Northup’s monumental book and history in the area, but Lotruglio, who learned of the local hero while in a high school, said there should be something more to honor him. About 1,400 others seem to agree.
Last Tuesday, Lotrugio started a Change.org petition, entitled “Let’s make a memorial [for] Solomon Northup in Saratoga Springs, NY.” In it, he details the Saratogian’s extensive history in the area as a fiddler before he was kidnapped by two men who sold him into slavery in 1841. After finding freedom in 1853, Northup went on to write “Twelve Years A Slave,” one of the most impactful books about slavery in American history. The book eventually led to the 2013 Oscar-winning film of the same name, a retelling of Northup’s ordeal. With all this history in the area, Lotrugio said he believes Northup should have a new monument or statue.
“It’s incredible how resilient he was,” Lotruglio said. “The fact that, for 12 years, he fought to free himself and regain what was rightfully his, that’s really impressive. Someone with this much history — nationally — doesn’t have much recognition in his hometown.”
City Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco put up Northup’s roadside marker in 2000 when he was the county supervisor, with the help of the then-city historian Holly Schwartz-Lawton. He said while the city will have to look into the financial logistics, he thinks a monument is a good idea.
“I’m impressed with the interest that has come about here,” Scirocco said. “I don’t know what exactly everybody has in mind. It’s going to be a situation where, financially, how is it going to work? But I’m certainly going to keep an open mind on the whole situation, because I was involved working with the city historian in the early ‘00s to get that sign up in front of the visitor’s center … It sounds appropriate. I’m not opposed to it, but I’ll need more information on it, that’s all.”
Scirocco said if plans for the memorial kick off following conversations and figuring out financial logistics — he mentioned a fundraiser — the city would have to pick a location and likely form some type of committee to decide the details.
“At some point, the City Council would have to get involved and someone would have to pitch it to the council,” Scirocco said.
Rachel Seligman, assistant director for curatorial affairs at Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum, learned of Northup in 1998 when a friend lent her his book. She said she “couldn’t put it down” and was surprised to learn he was from Saratoga. From there, she made an exhibition in 1999 exploring the work and a contemporary artist’s response to it. In 2011, she collaborated on a book about Northup’s life before and after thebook, with Clifford Brown and David Fiske. She later was part of the first Solomon Northup Day in 1999, which has now become a Saratoga tradition.
“I think it’s difficult to measure the impact that his story has had on the Saratoga community, but certainly his story is much, much more widely known now than it was in 1998-99 when we began, and the 2013 movie helped this,” Seligman said.
“Saratogians are proud of their connection to Northup and see his story of survival as very inspiring. It is now present in K-12 curriculum, and so younger generations are learning about his story in school, which is a significant improvement from when I went to high school here. But I also think there is more that can and should be done to educate the community and the region about Solomon Northup.”
On the Change.org posting, other Saratogians are calling Northup a “big part of the history of Saratoga.”
Lotruglio said, if all works out, Congress Park would be the “perfect” location for the monument.
“I’m just hoping we get some sort of statue or monument, especially considering he met the people who kidnapped him in Congress Park,” Lotruglio said. “That would be a perfect spot for it. I just want some sort of recognition for a man so remarkable.”
Seligman said she’s glad the college student is working toward something he believes in.
“I am heartened to see younger generations working to make change for the better in their communities,” Seligman said. “A public monument for Northup in this area would do a great deal to inform and educate people about this historical figure, and the events surrounding his kidnap, enslavement, and his return to this area after twelve years of enslavement.”
As for the city, Scirocco said he’s “looking forward to meeting” with Lotruglio.