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August 10, 2001  (Battle Creek, Michigan) < Previous News  |  Next News >

 

 

Simmering in Upstate New York

I spent almost two weeks (12 days, in fact) getting caught up on things at Don and Debbie's house in Syracuse, then hopped in my truck and continued heading west.  If nothing else, I hoped to find some cooler weather.  During the two weeks that I stayed in Syracuse, the daily high temperature hovered consistently between 91 and 102 degrees, and it was as sticky as my grandmother's cinnamon buns.  In fact, after my experience in soupy Tennessee I was starting to refer to Syracuse as "Chattanooga North."  

 

Here's Buster Poindexter singing Hot, Hot, Hot.

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My first stop after leaving steamy Syracuse was in steamy Lyons, New York, a small town in the rolling hills south of Rochester.  Lyons is one of the oldest towns in upstate New York and, as I had learned a few months earlier, was where my great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Myers was born during the late 1700s, which was exactly why I was there.

 

If you've been following my website, you know that I spent some time during July in the Southeast retracing the steps of my great-great-grandfather Ransom Myers, who fought with the Union Army in the Civil War and lost his arm in 1863 (see Ransom Myers).  Solomon was Ransom's father and fought in the War of 1812.  Just after the war, at age 20, Solomon married a 13-year-old girl (dude!), farmed in Lyons for 16 years, then in 1830, moved the whole family west to Michigan, which was where I was heading later that day.  I'd never been to Lyons, so I wanted to spend some time there digging up information on Solomon, which I did, thanks to a local historian named Deborah.

 

As I left Lyons and continued my westerly drive across simmering upstate New York, I thought about how difficult Solomon's journey to Michigan must have been, especially compared to how easy my trip was.  I suppose that's one reason why families didn't move around too much back in those days.  That and no Happy Meals.

 

An hour later, as the thermometer topped 100 degrees, I stopped in Palmyra, New York, which was the home of Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, back in the early 1800s.  I was expecting to see throngs of visitors at this historic site, but the empty parking lot here made it clear that the Mormons are as unpopular in New York now as when Smith and his polygamist band were kicked out back in 1830.  Ironically, that was the same year that Solomon Myers and his family left this area for Michigan, but to my knowledge, there aren't any polygamists in my family.  Nope... just old guys who marry 13-year-old girls.

 

      

Above left:  My first stop after leaving Syracuse was here in Lyons, New York, about an hour away.  This is the original Erie Canal, finished in 1825.  The Erie Canal extended across upstate New York, linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River and New York City.  It made traveling and shipping between the Midwest and the East Coast much easier.  Not surprisingly, New York City's population exploded after the canal was completed.

Above center:  My great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon Myers, was born in Lyons in the 1790s.  In fact, his family was among the first settlers of upstate New York (think "Last of the Mohicans" and you'll get the idea).  I stopped in the Lyons Courthouse and discovered some old records about Solomon.  Many thanks to Deborah, the local historian.

Above right:  Hot, Hot, Hot.  The two weeks I spent in upstate New York were pretty sweltering.  It's 101 degrees here... and rising.  Driving through here without air-conditioning, like I did, isn't something I'd recommend.

 

       

Above left:  That afternoon, I stopped at a place called Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York.  According to the Mormons, this is were Mormon founder Joseph Smith received the Golden Tablets from the Angel Moroni, the son of the Prophet Mormon.  Smith later translated the Golden Tablets into the Book of Mormon.  However, when Smith started practicing polygamy, locals gave him the boot.

Above center:  Apparently, Mormonism still isn't very popular in upstate New York.  I was expecting to see a lot of people at this historic site, but not so. 

Above right:  Finally, some other folks showed up... and probably Mormon, judging from the size of the family.  This is supposedly where Joseph Smith received the Golden Tablets.  Frankly, I was starting to look for the Golden Arches.  For more of my opinions on Mormonism and to find out if they still practice polygamy, see my page on The Mormons.

 

Niagara Falls?  What Falls?

Sometimes the powers-that-be are set against us.  During my travels, I occasionally run into frustrating situations when it seems that an invisible hand prevents me from seeing or doing something.  Without getting too religious, I think someone watches over each of us and sends us subtle messages, and it's up to us to interpret those messages.  Over the years, I've learned to watch for these signals and respect them, instead of butting my head against the wall and trying to do something that, apparently, I'm just not supposed to do.  Apparently, I'm not supposed to see Niagara Falls.  

 

I've been to the falls twice in the last three years -- but I still haven't seen them.  Back in 1998, I was driving east across Ontario and was planning to see the falls for the first time before continuing on to Don and Debbie's house in Syracuse.  As I got off the freeway and started heading into town, though, my truck started lurching, so I got back on the freeway.  The lurching problem disappeared and I never had that problem again.  Of course, I didn't see the falls, either, though.

 

I thought about that 1998 episode during my recent visit to Niagara Falls, this time heading in the other direction.  As I approached the city of Niagara Falls, New York, I was absolutely determined to see the falls and had my AAA maps spread out on the front seat beside me.  

 

It looked very simple:  just stay on the Parkway until I got close to the falls, find a parking spot, then walk to the falls.  However, the next 60 minutes were a real nightmare.  First, on the American side, I wasn't sure that I was on the right road because there weren't any directional signs for several miles.  Suddenly I came to a traffic light and saw 30 signs pointing in all different directions.  Then I couldn't find a place to park.  After that, I got caught on a 10-mile long roadway with all exits (and turnarounds) coned off due to road construction, all the while driving 50 miles-an-hour away from the falls.  

 

Giving up on the American side, I decided to try the Canadian side.  I got turned around and found a bridge to the Canadian side, but the bridge was only for those people with frequent-crossing cards or something.  I finally found another bridge and crossed over into Canada but spent the next 30 minutes driving around the very congested city of Niagara Falls, Ontario unable to park anywhere.  After an hour, I stopped butting my head and decided that I'm just not meant to see the falls.  If someone has a picture of Niagara Falls, please send it to me.

 

       

Above left:  After leaving Palmyra, I spent over an hour driving around the cities of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario, looking for those stupid falls.  I never did see them.  As I drove out of town, of course, I felt like a total idiot.

Above center:  As I headed across Canada to Michigan that evening, I stopped in the small village of Putnam, Ontario.  If you've been following my website, you know that Israel Putnam (a general during the Revolutionary War) was supposedly one of my ancestors.  I stopped at the store here to find out what I could about the town name, Putnam. 

Above right:  With help from several friendly folks including the town librarian, shown here, I learned that I'm probably related to the Putnams of this town.  Actually, it was fortunate that I didn't spend any more time at Niagara Falls because I would've gotten to Putnam after the library closed.

 

Completing the Circle With Ransom

I drove across a small part of Canada that evening and entered Michigan after going through U.S. Customs in Port Huron, Michigan, and answering a total of two questions from a very bored Customs Agent: 

 

  Him:

Where are you from?

  Me:

Portland, Oregon.

  Him: 

How long did you spend in Canada?

  Me:

Four hours.

 

The next day, I drove a couple hours north to the small town of Mayville, Michigan, which was where my grandmother was born in 1892.  My grandmother moved to Seattle, Washington when she was young, eventually married my Grandfather Leu, raised a large family, then died two years before I was born.  I never knew her, but everyone in my family has told me what a wonderful and vivacious person she was.  Her grandfather was Ransom Myers, the one-armed Civil War sergeant whose trail I had followed across Mississippi and Tennessee a few months earlier (see News: June 30, 2001).

 

I've heard a lot of colorful stories over the years about my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers.  He was strict, religious, a devoted husband, a rigid disciplinarian, and had a strong sense of duty.  After losing his arm during the Civil War, Ransom volunteered again and became a courier with the 10th Michigan Cavalry in northeastern Tennessee.  When the war was over in the spring of 1865, the one-armed Ransom saddled up his horse and headed back to Michigan. 

 

According to a family story that's been passed down through the generations, when his wife Hannah saw Ransom riding up the lane towards their farmhouse in Michigan after the war, she ran out excitedly to greet him with her children, also excited to see their father, following close behind.  When Hannah approached Ransom, he kissed her and then, still on his horse, reached down with his one arm, scooped her up and put her on his horse, then they headed back to the house with Hannah riding side-saddle.

 

 

Above:  Ransom Myers, my one-armed great-great-grandfather, after the Civil War.

 

A few years after the war, Hannah bore a daughter named Minnie May, who would eventually become my great-grandmother.  I've heard that when Minnie May was young, she was pretty "high spirited," as they say, which I'm sure led to more than a few interesting encounters with her very strict father, who also happened to be a Minister, wouldn't cha know?

 

For example, it seems that when she was 16, Minnie was attracted to the son of a local farmer named Harrison Plane, who was also 16.  Not surprisingly, Ransom the Minister strongly disapproved of his daughter Minnie dating this Plane fellow, but despite his threats, Minnie and Harrison met at a dance one night.  Ransom found out about the whole affair, tracked her down, and told her to walk home.  Then, to top it off, during the entire walk home through the snow, Ransom walked right behind Minnie and cracked a whip!  What an image, huh -- this bearded one-armed man cracking a whip behind his daughter!  It's rather funny, actually (although I'm sure Minnie didn't think so at the time).

A short while later, the 16-year old Minnie decided that she'd had enough, so she and Harrison decided to elope and one night by the light of the silvery moon, Harrison put a ladder up to her window and helped her out.  She had to throw her luggage out the window, which ended up in a snow drift, but they scooped it out and rode off together.  Ransom didn't speak to his daughter Minnie for several months afterwards, but finally missed her too much (he apparently had a soft heart, too), so he forgave her and they made amends. 

 

Hannah died in 1896 and Ransom a year later.  Minnie and Harrison continued living in the Mayville area until 1900, when Harrison died, and that's when the heart-broken Minnie left on a train bound for Seattle with her 8-year old daughter, who would become my grandmother some day.

 

With all these vivid stories dancing in my head, I approached the small town of Mayville.  I knew that Ransom was buried around here somewhere, and after following his footsteps for a few weeks in the South, I was determined to find his grave.  And, as it turned out, with the help of the kindly Mayville librarian, I did just that.  I also discovered that Ransom's father, Solomon (the guy who married the 13-year-old in New York) was also buried in the same cemetery, along with Solomon's child bride, Charlotte, who lived until she was 80.  

 

After reading about Ransom and tracing his steps across the South, it was a fulfilling and humbling experience to visit his gravesite, along with those of his parents, bride, siblings, and children.  I knew that the next day in Bellingham, Washington, 2,000 miles away, my family was going to have their annual Family Reunion which I was going to miss for the first time in over a decade.  However, I had my own family reunion that afternoon in the cemetery, just as I had done at a cemetery in Massachusetts a few weeks earlier.  Once again, though, I seemed to be the only one talking.

 

       

Above left:  After driving across Canada for a few hours, I crossed back into the U.S. that night and wrote some e-mails in Port Huron, Michigan.  Yes, I do occasionally splurge for a motel... albeit, a cheap motel.

Above center:  Doc drives a Cadillac. 

Above right:  The next day it was on to Mayville, a small town near the "thumb" of Michigan.  My grandmother (my Dad's mother) was born here over a hundred years ago.  Although I had grown up in Michigan, this was the first time that I'd been to Mayville.

 

       

Above left:  After spending several hours in the Mayville library, I learned where my ancestors here were buried, including Solomon Myers and his son, Ransom.  Ransom was the one-armed Civil War sergeant who's trail I had followed across Mississippi and Tennessee earlier in my trip (see Ransom Myers).

Above center:  Paying my respects to Ransom Myers (right) and his wife, Hannah Chaplin Myers (left), in a cemetery near Mayville.  After following Ransom around the country for the past two months, I had now "completed the circle."  Earlier in my trip, I had learned about Hannah Chaplin's Puritan ancestors in Rowley, Massachusetts (see News: August 6, 2001)

Above right:  The graves of Ransom's parents, Solomon (right) and Charlotte Myers (center).  Solomon was the one from Lyons, New York, who fought in the War of 1812, hence the cannon in the background.

 

     1625_-_Me_With_Broken_Arm.jpg (62280 bytes)    

Above left:  After leaving Mayville, I stumbled across the town of Otter Lake, Michigan.  Ironically, this was the same day that my Dad and my brothers were hiking to another Otter Lake, that one in Washington's rugged Cascade Mountains 2,000 miles away.  Otter Lake (the one in Washington) is a running joke in our family.  Despite our best efforts, not one of us has been able to get there in 30 years.

Above center:  Here's what happened when I hiked to Otter Lake, Washington in 1997.  It's a very rough, 4-mile bushwhack to the lake.  The bushes whacked back, though, and I slipped and broke my arm (note the rather deformed wrist).  I hiked out and had a cast on for six weeks, and I vowed never to hike to Otter Lake again.

Above right:  As I later learned, my Dad and brothers didn't make it to Otter Lake, either.  But here's a picture of the one in Michigan.  Yep, I finally made it to Otter Lake!

 

 

 

Next News

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

 

 

Previous News

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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