B is for Binghamton

Binghamton is a city located on the Southern Tier of New York State. It is the county seat of Broome County. It was named after a rich guy named William Bingham, how owned the land in the 1790s. Yet, the place has often been misspelled as Binghampton, as though it were part of the Hamptons of Long Island. Google “Binghampton” and you’ll find some references to Binghamptons in Illinois and Tennessee, among others, but also many erroneously referring to a place in in New York State, such as this one. The most egregious error I ever saw was on a road map book. The New York State map actually was accurate, but the Pennsylvania map – Binghamton is less than 20 miles from the PA border – spelled it Binghampton. It’s BINGHAMton, town of Bingham.

Why am I obsessing on this? Because it’s my hometown.

You can read about Binghamton in its Wikipedia posting, and it seems accurate as far as it goes. It is at the confluence of two rivers; I was almost arrested for swimming in one once, a long time ago. It WAS called the Parlor City, and I recall a Parlor City Shoe Store when I was lived there in the 1960s.

I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, or “The Ward”, a melting pot of largely people of southern and eastern European stock (Italian, Czech, Ukrainian, Russian, and especially Polish). I remember halupki and pierogies, plus the regional favorite, the spiedie.

Binghamton’s school district used to do something quite interesting when I was growing up. Instead of starting school only in September, kids could start in September or February. the kids that started in the winter had birthdays in December through March, generally. While my sisters (born in May and July) went to school in September, I started in February because my birthday was in March. Of course, our class sizer was smaller because it was taken from a different calendar pool. One of the things I recall is that, while we had the same teacher for kindergarten (Miss Cady) all year, we had eight different teachers for Grades 1 through 4. At least two of the teachers left because they were “in the family way”, as they used to call pregnancy.

What was particularly important in my growing up was that our school, Daniel S. Dickinson, was a K-9 school, with the younger kids on the lowest floor and the junior high kids on the third floor. There were 16 kids in my sixth grade class, nine (including me) who had gone to kindergarten together. Seventh grade meant an infusion from other elementary schools including the Catholic parochial school nearby. Yet by the end of ninth grade, we still only had 16 kids, including the same none from K. Dickinson was razed a couple decades ago for a housing development.

I went to Binghamton Central High School back in the day when there were two public schools, Central and North. The declining city population, from over 80,000 in 1950 to under 50,000 in 2000 meant that the blue and white of the Central HS Bulldogs and the red and blue of the North HS Indians gave way in 1982 to the red, white and blue of the Binghamton HS Patriots.

For many years, the area used to have a baseball team called the Triplets, named for Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott, though the latter two were actually villages rather than cities. It was never called, in my hearing/reading, Binghamton Triplets except in out-of-town box scores. It was primarily a farm team of the New York Yankees, though other teams had brief affiliations. Johnson Field, in Johnson City, was razed in the late 1960s that Route 17, the major east/west corridor from the northern suburbs of New York City to western New York State, could be rerouted through the area. Binghamton was without a minor league baseball team (or stadium for same) until the early 1990s, when the Binghamton Mets, a farm team of the New York Mets, came to town.

I recall vividly Christmas Eve 1971 when downtown Binghamton was bustling with activity at McLean’s and Fowler’s department stores, plus a variety of other shops. The decline in downtown was easily visible to anyone who had been there over time, with one department store, Boscov’s in the old Fowler’s building now a primary guardian against a massive collapse of the downtown business district.

I know it’s a story not unusual in the so-called Rust Belt of the Northeast and Midwest United States, where formerly thriving industrial towns are now struggling. I myself thought of Binghamton like the Simon & Garfunkel song My Little Town; Billy Joel’s Allentown also comes to mind. It is, though, http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/11/binghamton-revitalizing-around-livable-downtown/ trying to make a comeback.

Still, it was where I was rooted. It is a comfortable place to return from time to time. I mean, it’s the carousel capital of America; the one in Recreation Park inspired Rod Serling, who grew up in Binghamton in the late 1930s, to write an episode of his television series, the Twilight Zone in the 1960s. So it was with no small bit of surreal horror when I discovered on April 3 of this year, that my little town was the site of another case of mass violence. I don’t have much more to say on it than I said here, except to reiterate that it wasn’t just an assault on the city, but of the specific location, one with which I had more than passing familiarity.

Binghamton was incorporated as a village in 1834, so this year marks 175 years since that event, though it wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1867. I wish my hometown hope and healing.

The map is c. 1920. The high school noted was my high school, the cemetery south of Prospect Street is Spring Forest Cemetery, where my material grandmother and many of her relatives are buried, and very close to where she lived. I lived just off Front Street, north of the railroad tracks. The First Ward is north of the tracks and west of the north/south running Chenango River.

ROG

On a Carousel

Music playing in my head: The Hollies

I’m sure you ALL know that Binghamton, NY, my hometown, is “America’s Carousel Capital”. In the Binghamton area, there are six, count ’em, six, olde-fashioned merry-go-rounds. And the admission is FREE (or perhaps one piece of litter to place in a nearby trash can.) Travelers make a point to go to all half dozen. Bicyclers have been known to ride from park to park in order to ride all of them in one day; there’s about 20 miles of bike riding involved in that endeavor.

The New York State Museum in Albany also has a carousel. It’s a historic merry-go-round purchased over a quarter century ago, refurbished, and now made available to the general public. A $1 donation is requested.

Lydia has been on her first two merry-go-round rides in the past couple weeks in a period of three days. On a Saturday evening, we went to one of the Binghamton-area rides (actually in west Endicott). Unfortunately, it closed early, so it was the last ride of the evening. Actually, it was the last TWO rides, for the operator failed to turn on the music for what she announced was the last ride, so we got to go again.

Then on a Monday afternoon, we went to the fourth floor of the museum, and caught the last ride on THAT carousel.

We didn’t ride the horses (Lydia’s a bit young for that, we decided), but she loved the motion of the horses, and the colorful designs. She ESPECIALLY loved the music. That’s my girl.

“Round and round and round and round and round
And round and round and round with you.
Up, down, up, down, up, down too.”