The bits and pieces of Amsterdam’s past have been part of many of these history columns through the years.
My home town has been in the news lately because of the tragic deaths of so many fine young adults with ties to Amsterdam in the crash of a limousine in Schoharie that was taking them to a birthday party.
Although I don’t live in Amsterdam now, friendships, history work and volunteering frequently take me there. Since the tragedy, the remark has been made in the media that Amsterdam is a tight-knit community, a special place.
Amsterdam’s history reflects the American experience. Europeans encountered Native Americans here. Pioneers passed through in wagons and then on the Erie Canal and the railroads. The city’s ethnic groups clashed over the years but they’ve also worked side by side.
The carpet industry and other factories boomed. Anthropologist Susan Dauria said, “If you would go by any of the mills during the day, you could hear the looms. You could hear them smacking. It was like a heartbeat.”
Then the factories all but disappeared. But what memories — the camaraderie of the workers, playing the numbers, the boxing matches, the parades.
Some people say, “Amsterdam, how dismal.” Others are drawn here for work, convenience (right off the Thruway), for a sunny day by the river, a nice home on a hill, for “tranquilidad,” as Latinos say.
Amsterdam’s new pedestrian bridge has become a place to gather in good times and sad. High school sports teams are outstanding. The Marching Rams band is first rate. And if you want to quaff a beer and watch trains go by, grab a stool at Russo’s Tavern on West Main Street.
Amsterdam still has a sense of place. Composer Maria Riccio Bryce’s words are prominently featured on the new pedestrian bridge, “What once was home is home again.”
Since the horrific accident in Schoharie, I’ve been looking at the script of the WMHT television documentary that Steve Dunn and I produced about Amsterdam in the year 2000.
Ralph DiCaprio spoke about the city’s South Side, “It was like a little city by itself. What we used to do for entertainment in those days. The older folks — we had some that could play the banjo, some that could play the accordion. And at night when they got out of work we would all gather together. We’d enjoy ourselves.”
Rev. Walter Czechowicz, then pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, commented on how the ethnic groups stayed separate at first, “And if a Polish boy wanted to marry an Italian girl or some other nationality, the pastor would possibly ask him, ‘Don’t tell me you can’t find a nice Polish girl.’ ”
Ladan Alomar of Centro Civico commented, “The newcomers always face challenges. It doesn’t matter if they are Italian, Latino or Asian. And then after a while the newcomers are not newcomers any longer. And then another group is coming in.”
Carpet mill union leader Tony Murdico spoke about coming to America from Italy, “For me coming from another country and going to work in the mill, I thought the streets over here were paved with gold. Oh America, America. Especially New York state, because we came right into Amsterdam from Italy and we thought it was beautiful you know. We were picking olives in Italy to make a living and we came here and we thought it was a different world.”
When you get to know the people, they’ll help you get along, they’ll take care of you. Amsterdam will always be home to me. no matter where I live.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]