From the Director

Folklorists can offer important insights on
a community as tourism site. Drawing upon
knowledge gained through ethnographic
fieldwork, folklorists are able to provide
interpretive frameworks for a better understanding
of a community’s traditions and
cultural arts and may have a broader vantage
point on a community’s cultural assets.

From the Editor

The Spring–Summer
2011 issue of Voices
brings readers another
tasty mix of story, ethnography,
and analysis
of New York traditions,
upstate and downstate.
We open with SUNY–Oneonta English
professor Jonathan Sadow’s “Bagels and
Genres,” an insightful and witty musing on
what—in critical theory, as in life—makes a bagel a bagel, from Vegas to Montreal to
New York.


Summer really begins in the North Country on the Fourth of July. It ends on Labor Day. Cruel as that may seem to someone living south of here, most of us have learned to adapt….Summer is precious to us, so we cram lots of fun things into a few weeks. Some of the special things of summer for me are food treats we can’t get any other time of year. I’ll share some of my favorites.


“Unwittingly,” writes New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta, “I have turned into a student of light. The August light that envelops the beaten-down old streets of Red Hook, I have learned, is more melancholy than the morning light during lilac season in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The sun sparkling on the crown of the Chrysler building is whimsical, ‘like a woman dressed for a party at high noon.’”


We have been singing his songs for more than 150 years—“Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,”and “Old Folks at Home,” the one we called “Swanee”—with not much thought about who created them, for they seem to have sprung into life spontaneously, like folk songs. Those of us who thought we knew a thing or two about Stephen Collins Foster (1826–64) regarded him as a beautiful dreamer, an untutored country boy with a lucky gift for melody, an unworldy songster who permitted publishers to pirate his songs and others to take credit for their composition, a spendthrift alcoholic who died with thirty-eight cents to his name, a racist or at least a highly effective publicist for the South’s peculiar institution. All of these elements of the folk tradition prove upon examination to possess elements of truth without being true, and thus leave us no better prepared
to understand Foster’s life as an artist.

First Person

My name is Julissa Vale, a native New Yorker born of Puerto Rican emigrants. I do not remember a time in my life when the sound of music was not present. I was raised on Spanish ballads, salsa, and the Jíbaro music typical of rural Puerto Rico. During the holidays, bomba and plena were also played at home. The songs played in my household weren’t just from Puerto Rico, but from all over Latin America.


Over an average twelve-month period, the restaurant [Grand Central Oyster Bar] serves between fifty and seventy-five varieties of oysters. Each is somewhat different in appearance and taste, but nearly all are variants of the eastern oyster or Crassostrea virginica, the species native to the Atlantic and Gulf seaboards.

From the Waterfront

Since the nineteenth century, a tradition of sport fishing has existed alongside the centuries-old traditions of harvesting fish for subsistence and commercial purposes. Local commercial harvesters worked as fishing guides, earning extra income by taking paying guests—typically from New York City—to historically productive fishing areas on Long Island and in the Catskills, the Finger Lakes region, and the Adirondacks.

Good Spirits

It was late at night, and the ICU’s waiting
room looked dark and shadowy. On cots,
chairs, and couches slept other patients’
family members. One kind nurse handed
me two sheets; another gave me a list of
nearby restaurants. Someone who had
been resting in one of the chairs helped
me transform a small couch into a bed.

Still Going Strong

The earliest head coverings were probably
animal skins and were used primarily for
warmth, rather than style. Over the millennia,
however, women’s hats have reflected
contemporary fashions, as well as the hairdos
that were in vogue. During Greek and Roman
times, women’s headwear included headdresses
made of metal and ribbons intertwined in
elaborate coiffeurs. In more modern times,
women’s hats have gone in and out of style,
but there has always remained a niche for
milliners to create and modify women’s hats.


As Stephen Colbert says, “Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America’s obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car.” … As a folklorist, I’m often interested in the context of human events. Besides, the what that happened, I want to know about the who, where, when, why, and how. Large celebrations almost always include food. Thanksgiving is the one that’s about food and lots of it!


As folklorists and educators, we believe the qualitative experiences of individual students are at least as significant as the quantitative data. Working in classrooms with new immigrants, we often work with students who refuse to speak at school—they’re often called “selective mutes.” Arts education is a way to change those behaviors. In the arts, teaching artists like George [Zavala] use words and attach them to something the students are doing—when you say the word “red,” you paint with red. We often see kids start to speak very quickly.


The original American Hall of Fame was not
the baseball institution in Cooperstown, which
opened in 1939, but the Hall of Fame for Great
Americans, dedicated in 1901 on what was then
a Bronx campus of New York University. In its
early years this brainchild of NYU’s Chancellor
Henry Mitchell MacCracken was a sensation, engaging
the public and the press in spirited debate
about who merited inclusion.

Good Spirits

Studying the dangerous water spirits of European folklore makes me think about Niagara Falls, New York’s most famous waterfall. How much, if at all, do water spirits matter there? If we look at descriptions of the Falls in tourist brochures and online, we find legends of sudden death, with emphasis on Native American folklore. There are, of course, mentions of various people who foolishly went over the Falls in barrels and other doomed receptacles, but the most dramatic legends tell of Native American struggle and sacrifice.


My mother-in-law’s name was Fern. She set an example in her mastery of all the survival techniques that are necessary for living in the Adirondacks…She was particularly good at scrounging in the woods. She knew where all the berries were—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and even wild grapes. During apple season, she hiked around sampling all the wild apple trees to find the best ones…. At the same time, she kept a huge garden….The crowning glory of the tomato crop was her chili sauce, and she was pretty famous for it.