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.

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.

Our Story Bridge:

On September 6, 2019, internationally acclaimed
author Russell Banks recorded his own true story about a singular afternoon he experienced 25 years ago in Keene, New York….This oral story, with its bullish, charming conclusion, is titled “Refugee Crisis in Keene” and can be heard among the many three-to-five-minute stories being recorded and collected as part of a grassroots oral history project, Adirondack Community: Capturing, Retaining, and Communicating the Stories of Who We Are (

The Poetry of Everyday Life

…clichés are also part of the poetry of
everyday life. When my close friend Carol
Reuben starts conversations with “What’s
the story, morning glory?” and ends them with
“Okey-dokey, artichokey,” she is not only using
rhymed clichés; she is expressing her characteristic
playfulness. Some people even use silly clichés to create others: Toodle-oo, Kangaroo; Take care, Polar Bear; Keep on Talking, Steven Hawking. When Lucas Dargan, my late father-in-law, said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt,” the time-worn phrase nevertheless captured his thoughtful, succinct, and sparing use of words. He had made it his own.

Empire State Legends

If you are wandering in Strykersville, Johnson City, Staatsburg, or dozens of other New York towns, you may be startled to see newer, ruby red markers. This is not a manufacturing error, but a cause for celebration: red signals the commemoration of local folklore. Over the past seven years, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation’s Legends & Lore® program has erected 73 such legend-centric signs across New York State, ranging from well-known community legends, like the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow and Champ the Lake Monster in Plattsburgh, to local oral traditions, like a cannon heist in Wilmington or a bear brawl in Queens.

May Baskets

Come springtime, generations of children in the greater Glens Falls area spent weeks making May Baskets to distribute to friends and neighbors on the first of May….The custom traveled to America, noted in the late 19th century by Lina and Adelia Beard in their 1887 book, The American Girls Handy Book: ‘A May-day custom, and a very pretty one, still survives among the children in our New England States. It is that of hanging upon the door-knobs of friends and neighbors pretty spring-offerings in the shapeof small baskets filled with flowers, wild ones, if they can be obtained; if not, the window-gardens at home are heavily taxed to supply the deficiency.’