AMSTERDAM — Lifelong city resident and local history buff Jerry Snyder is familiar with many stories from Amsterdam’s past. Yet, he said the Historic Amsterdam League’s latest book contains a treasure trove of previously untold tales that even he was unfamiliar with.
“We try to find stories nobody else has told about Amsterdam,” Snyder said. “To find hidden corners to show people things they’ve never seen before.”
“Amsterdam’s Arts: Art Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life,” is the 10th book in HAL’s Amsterdam series on local history and the 11th book overall released by the non-profit.
Snyder pointed to the latest publication focusing on local people and their contributions to the cultural heritage of the city as somewhat of a departure from previous books.
Past offerings centered on physical aspects of different areas of the city and their history serving as a companion piece to the annual tours HAL provided before being sidelined by the pandemic.
“We present it in a way that makes it more interesting, it puts a different twist on history that makes you think about it. If you connect with something on a personal level, it makes it more real,” Snyder said. “Then it has a better chance of surviving.”
The goal of the non-profit has always been to raise awareness of the city’s history to aid in its preservation since it was founded by Snyder and City Historian Robert Von Hasseln with the support of other like-minded city dwellers in 2010.
After covering most of the city’s physical history, Snyder said the group was spurred on to explore its more creative side by HAL Secretary Barbara Persico who has a particular interest in the arts.
“I give her a lot of credit,” Snyder said of Persico, who did much of the writing and research for the book. Other contributors include Bob Cudmore, Dan Weaver, Jackie Murphy, Dave Brownell, Dave Northrup, Bert Nepaulsingh and Snyder.
Snyder, a retired engineer, admits his interest is more typically drawn to infrastructure and the physical world. Yet, he has been completely drawn into the city’s varied cultural background while working on the book.
While the book of course features an excerpt on Amsterdam native and Hollywood star of the Golden Age of film Kirk Douglas, it also features articles on a pair of nationally published cartoonists from the area, the local tradition of amateur theater, the Amsterdam childhood of silent film actress Raye Dean, the artistry of sign painter John Fraser Harvey and more.
The story of Lorraine Aubrey Madriska is a particular favorite of Snyder’s who remembers her as the piano player of the senior choir his grandmother belonged to. He had no idea Madriska got her start in music as an accompanist for silent films at the age of 15 in 1918. She continued for 11 years matching music to the screen until talkies took over.
In 1968, Madriska received a call out of the blue inviting her to audition to once again play the piano while accompanying silent films at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. She landed the job and after that performance began playing each year for the Burnt-Hills-Ballston Lake Film Festival.
Madriska was nationally recognized as one of the last surviving pianists of the silent film era when she died in 2000.
Another favorite of Snyder’s included in the book is the story of Anselm Heberer, an organist for St. Mary’s Church who opened a renowned school of music in the city after studying in Europe. The Amsterdam Conservatory of Music operated in Amsterdam from 1885 through 1916 and attracted aspiring musicians from throughout the state.
Snyder uncovered and wrote the story of the forgotten music school after spotting a sign for the conservatory on an old Amsterdam postcard and researching its origins. The conservatory that once stood on East Main Street was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the arterial.
Many of the tales included in the volume were the result of local history fans pulling the thread when their interest was piqued by a tidbit they spotted while researching some other aspect of the city’s past, Snyder said.
Uncovering these stories is part of the non-profit’s goal to entertain locals while reconnecting them with the city to encourage its future preservation so that its history and tradition do not slip further away in the future.
“If we don’t tell these stories now, they are going to be lost,” Snyder said.
There are still many tales waiting to be discovered and retold in the city, Snyder added, teasing that HAL has already come up with a unique angle for next year’s book and could easily revisit the local arts scene someday.
“We could probably do a second volume, there is no shortage of material,” Snyder said.
“Amsterdam’s Arts: Art Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life,” from the Historic Amsterdam League is on sale now. The book can be purchased by visiting the Walter Elwood Museum and Local Peddler and Bakery priced as marked. Or it can be purchased from HAL by mail for $14 with shipping and tax. For more information visit historicamsterdam.org
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.