Cortland County’s First Murderess
We all know the story of Lizzy Borden, but have you heard the grizzly tale of Lydia Edwards, Cortland County’s first-ever murderess? Let me set the scene. It was 1845, a dreary April day in Virgil, New York. Mrs. Edwards had been sent out on an errand by her daughter, Lydia. Lydia’s father, Jonathon Edwards, stood shaving before the mirror with his straight razor. His daughter crept up behind him, ax in hand, striking him in the neck several times until he collapsed. Helpless, in a heap on the floor, Lydia then took the straight razor from his hands and slit his throat, ensuring his death. Filled with blood lust, Lydia lies in wait to murder her mother upon return.
Seeber Murder Mystery
‘Twas a cold November night, just days before Thanksgiving, the year is 1930. Carter Seeber pulled up his truck alongside his father’s feed store in downtown Marathon at 9:30 pm. He planned to use the nearby garage to overhaul his vehicle. As Carter walked passed the shuttered mill, he reported hearing voices, later stating he saw a face in the darkened office window. When he checked the back door and found it latched from the inside, Carter quickly ran off to summon the Sheriff from the theater, just a few doors down.
New York Central College Cemetery
While the tremendous history of New York Central College could never be forgotten, its tiny student cemetery nearly was. Little was known about smallpox in 1850. The faculty feared the illness might still pass through the soil, so the students of NY Central Collage were buried along the furthest reaches of campus, atop the crest of a hill, on the edge of a dark and tangled forest. Those who claimed this small cemetery as their final resting place often had no family nearby to tend to their graves. So, when the school closed a few years later, the buildings were sold and dismantled – the forest quietly and steadily spread over the tombs, hiding them from living memory.
The Truxton Tragedy
“Our usual quiet county has been the past week, the scene of the most brutal murder ever committed in the country, and shows a cruelty and total want of human feeling on the part of the criminal that has no parallel.” Cortland County Wig. Sept. 1852.
Amos Todd and his family were the first pioneers to settle in Cortland County. In 1800 they purchased lot 42, 238 acres of wild land in Homer. Through grit, heartache, and sheer determination, Amos Todd made this farmstead his home until the day of his death, on October 3, 1830.
Ronnie James Dio
What do opera, trumpets, and garden gnomes all have in common? They all helped shape local, legendary rocker Ronnie James Dio’s life. You may know Ronnie James Dio best for Black Sabbath, Elf, and Rainbow, but every story has its roots. Ronnie’s story starts in Cortland, NY, where he grew up listening to Italian opera and playing the trumpet in the high school band class. In 1957 he joined his first paying gig band, The Vegas Kings. Comprised of Cortland local boys Billy DeWolfe, Nick Pantas, Tom Rodgers, Jack Musci, and Dio, they rocked venues such as The Stone Lounge and The Night Owl.
Dr. James Henry Salisbury
Salisbury Steak is a health food?! According to Dr. James Henry Salisbury, it absolutely was! In 1860, serving as a volunteer during the Civil War, Dr. Salisbury found himself very concerned over the soldier’s digestive health. Apparently, the Union soldiers found themselves regularly suffering from bouts of gastroenteritis. Beyond being an embarrassing inconvenience, left untreated it left the soldiers weak and at risk of further illness or even death. Fascinated by the study of diet, chronic disease, and germs, Dr. Salisbury developed a theory.
The Leather Breeches Hermit
In July of 1872, Levi Rowley stood outside his tiny cabin, just across from Tinker Falls, splitting wood. “Leather Breeches,” as he was known, lived a life of subsistence, raising a few scrawny cattle, clothed in sleep skin, and generally considered a hermit by those who knew him. However, the whispers swirling about his reputation were not just in regard to his odd hermit ways. Rumor had it that Levi’s self-denying lifestyle had allowed him to mass a fair sum of money, a treasure of sorts, and it seemed his family thought said the money was either hidden in his cabin or buried on his property.
Tammy Wynette’s Sequined Dress
Walking the silent halls of the New York State County Music Hall of Fame, you may find yourself struck breathless by a long black dress. Covered in painstakingly hand-sewn sequins and tailored to fit every inch perfectly, Tammy Wynette’s evening gown is a thing of haunting beauty. Some might suggest that the dress itself might just be haunted. Tammy Wynette lived a life of glamour and heartache. It was during the area, in which she wore this stunning dress, that she suffered one of her greatest tragedies. A story that through the years had nearly been forgotten.
This unique structure has had many purposes over the years. Its walls hold strange secrets and wild stories. Its tin ceilings have reflected the warm light from a lamp repair shop. Before that, its handcrafted wainscoting held the savory smells of Tracy’s Restaurant & Bakery. But its best, most fantastic story, is the sound of galloping hooves and acrobat’s shouts echoing from its copula.
Sinfully Sweet Cafe
One of the most endearing recollections of Sig Sautelle takes place in one of downtown Homer’s former confectionary shops. In 1850, a young George heard the call to arms and bravely enlisted with the 18th New York Volunteers. Being just a tender lad of 14 years, he was given the title of drummer boy. While at camp, he made friends with a ventriloquist. In exchange for assisting him with odd jobs such as polishing the soldier’s boots, washing his uniform and writing letters, George was taught the tricks of the trade. Young George also learned to juggle and perform a few magic tricks, gladly putting on shows for the weary soldiers at camp. It seemed he was a born entertainer.
Homer Town Hall
A circus is only as good as its crew. Sig recognized this and treated his performers like family. His circus boasted a tremendous lineup, such as headliners William Irwin “The Most Marvelous Equilibrist that Lives” and his wife, Mademoiselle Irwin, “The Strongest Lady in the World.” Conora Berato, “The Sylph of the Floating Wire”, Sam Alix “The Wonderful Human Spider on the Swinging Perch,” and John Blendinger “The Champion Egyptian Fire Juggler” were also a part of the unit. When Sig decided to make Homer his winter home, he provided for his employees as well. Trading his hotel in DeRuyter for the Windsor in Homer (which he would go on to humorously rename the David Harum House), the circus families integrated into day-to-day life. Children raised on the trapeze or in clown acts attended the local schools alongside children whose summer activities were far less spectacular.
At its height, the Sig Sautelle Circus, that had once begun with just an old blind horse and a broken-down wagon, now boasted 225 employees, 14 cages of exotic animals (including tigers, lions, zebras and hyenas), 150 horses and ponies, and most notoriously, two African Elephants. It eventually required 44 train cars to transport this magical menagerie from town to town. Unfortunately, the circus isn’t all cotton candy and unicycles. Sometimes it’s murder and mayhem. Such is the unfortunate tale of Duke, Sig’s African Elephant.
The Gun Room
The Sig Sautelle Circus was a great many things, but more than anything, it was a love story. Like so many other love stories, theirs is bittersweet. George Satterlee (soon to be known as Sig Sautelle) married his great love, Ida Bella, in 1874. The love story would spin into an adventure tale as soon as they sealed the deal with a kiss. For two years, they traveled the eastern seaboard, performing a Punch & Judy Show routine at fairgrounds and halls. Their talents were quickly recognized, and they eventually joined Barnum and Bailey. After eight years on the road, they decided to create their own circus, The Sig Sautelle Circus, and took it on tour via tugboat.
Until the formation of the Water Witch Hose & Fire Company in 1854, citizens of Cortland had been forced to protect themselves, with nothing more than buckets, from the frightening infernos that often devoured their timber buildings, barns, and homes. The “Little Witch” as the new engine was christened, and its crew worked diligently to keep Cortland safe from flame. Alas, the tragic burning of the Eagle Hotel in 1862 proved that the little engine would require backup. In 1878, the Emerald Hose Company joined the team and quickly became the department’s gem. The Emerald Hose Co. would go on to win championships at both state and national fire competitions!
1889 Clap & Jones Fire Truck
The new-fangled steam pump fire engines were heralded to tame the rowdy firemen! Marathon’s competing fire companies at the time were certainly in need of some taming. In May of 1889, the Marathon Fire Department raised the funds to buy their very own Clap & Jones Steam Fire Engine. At one o’clock on a Friday afternoon, the fire crew rolled out the new-fangled steamer, with great pride, onto the bridge over the creek. There, after just 12 minutes of work and little comparable effort, the test fire was successfully extinguished. Galvanized, the crew moved the steamer to the Hulbert Block.
Cortland Clock Tower Fire
At 7:20 a.m., the Cortland Fire Department received the call; the historic Squire building was on fire. Built in 1883, the grand brick building had survived her share of destruction. Twice in the 1970s, flames attempted to devour its stately walls and failed. In 1958, an arsonist, endeavoring to divert attention from a nefarious plot to burn St. Mary’s Church, also attempted to burn down the Squires Building. Still, it remained a Cortland landmark for generations. Cortlandville, McGraw, Homer and Dryden fire departments, heeding the call, surrounded the three-story structure with massive extending ladders. Brave firefighters ran up flights of stairs, evacuating the 22 apartments within. In a desperate attempt to quell the flames, firefighters lined the roof of the Cortland Standard building across the street to better assess the situation.
The Arson Girl Of Cortland County
On a near barren little farm, atop of little “Second Hill,” a stone’s throw from Solon Pond, lived Irene Baker. One desolate road, often unpassable, through lonesome marshes, led to the meager home that Irene shared with her chronically ill mother, six siblings, and father.
Cortland Normal School
The Normal School of Cortland, just four days shy of its 50th anniversary, burned spectacularly and entirely to the ground. The behemoth of a brick building totaled in length 350 feet and was at its widest, 130 feet. Its four floors comprised nearly two acres of halls, classrooms, offices, and libraries. All of this was under the care of custodian Fred Seeber. Beginning his rounds at 5 a.m., Fred checked the boiler room; finding nothing amiss, he proceeded to walk the length of campus on his morning rounds. At no point was fire or smoke detected by Fred between five and six that morning.
Andrew Dickson White’s House
On October 16, 1869, William “Stub” Newell, had employed his brother-in-law Henry Nichols and his friend Gideon, who had lost his arm in the Civil war, to assist him in digging a well. The location of said well seemed, well, odd, as it is nowhere near the house or barn, but they persist in the grueling labor nonetheless.
David Hannum’s House
Word spread like wildfire, and the enterprising Stub quickly erected a tent and began charging a 50-cent admission. Meanwhile, a clever banker and notoriously scheming horse trader saw gargantuan dollar signs. Assembling a syndicate of five men, headed by himself, David Hannum, they purchased the two-thirds interest of the giant for $23,000, just ten days after its discovery. George Hull, Stub’s brother-in-law, held the last third interest.
Center For The Arts Of Homer
Not to be taken a fool, P.T. Barnum came to investigate the giant for himself. Upon witnessing 3,000 people paying to set eyes on the enormous oddity, Barnum offered Hannum a monumental sum. According to The Tully Times (1912), a whopping $150,000 to be exact. This is far more money than Hannum could ever expect to raise in a lifetime of touring the giant.
Homer Men & Boys
Both giants were presented and put under intense scrutiny. Hannum swore under oath that Barnum’s giant was a fake. Simultaneous, rumbling began back in Cardiff. Perhaps neither giant was real after all? Hull, hearing the rumblings, disavowed Hannum. Silent partner no more, he sang his sorted tail to the courts.
David Hannum’s Grave
On February 2, 1870, both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for terming Hannum’s fake giant a fake. Hannum, who had once told the Cortland Standard that “I am the father of the Cardiff Giant,” was now publicly seen as a fraud. Humiliated, he brought his giant home.
Former Gillette Factory
In 1905, the handsome young Chester Gillette found himself working in the stock room of his uncle’s factory. Even though his uncle Horace Gillette had expressly stated that Chester was not allowed to wander from the stock room for any reason, Chester found every excuse to do just that. The Gillette Skirt Factory floor was filled with lovely seamstresses, a temptation Chester found too titillating to resist. It was during one of these unapproved social liaisons that 25-year-old Chester discovered Grace “Billy” Brown in the receiving and stock rooms, cutting fine silk. Instantly, Chester found himself smitten with the demure, 5-foot, flaxen-haired beauty.
Cortland Normal School
As the heat of summer surrendered to the cool of September, Chester’s feelings toward Grace also began to cool. Always the lady’s man, Chester found himself dividing his attention between Grace and some of her co-workers. Cortland Normal School, where Chester had once been a student, had resumed its fall semester. The halls and walkways were filled with new, unassuming young ladies who were easily wooed by Chester’s coiffed hair and bedroom eyes. Nonetheless, despite the rumors, their faltering relationship persisted, for Grace was still deeply in love. In April of 1906, Grace was called back home, as her sister was due to have another baby. The joyous occasion was quickly soured when confirmation of Chester’s infidelities reached her ears.
Cortland Corset Building
To be an unwed mother in 1906 was a precarious position for a working-class girl. As soon as her predicament was publicly reviled, she would become a pariah, her child a bastard, even suffering under the threat of disownment from her family. In Grace’s mind, there existed only one clear solution. Chester would need to marry her. It was during these early months of her pregnancy that the letters, for the time being, ceased. No offer of marriage was ever given that spring. Although they were still regularly seen together during May and June, no hint of her pregnancy was detected.
The Glen Haven
While Grace suffered her panic in silence, Chester found himself celebrating Memorial Day at The Glen Haven. Though not with Grace. He instead spent the day with his friend William Short, his second cousin, Georgia Hoag and Iva Dufree, a seamstress from the Gillette Factory. Memorial Day was considered, at the time, the grand opening of the summer season. The south end of Skaneateles Lake would have been filled with all their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. For Chester to publicly present himself that weekend in such a splendid manner with another woman was devastating to Grace. From this moment forward, desperate darkness crept into Grace’s heart.
Little York Lake At Dwyer Memorial Park
Chester continued to string Grace along, dolling out just enough affection to convince Grace to keep their growing secret hidden. It wasn’t only Grace’s reputation on the line. Chester had big aspirations of promotions within his uncle’s business and was rumored to have his eye fixed up on a particular female socialite. He needed to calm Grace’s fears quickly. On a warm summer evening in mid-June, Chester rented a horse and buggy for a drive to Little York Lake. This was no small expense, the trolly just a fraction of the price, but Chester required privacy for this tete-a-tete. Despite Grace confiding in Chester that she could not swim, Chester went directly to Raymond’s Boat House.
Cortland Train Station
Learning of his cruel behavior, Grace sent a sting of scathing, rambling, and apologetic letters, sometimes threatening self-harm. Her emotions swung widely between pleading, jealously, regret, and affection. After phoning Chester at the factory in front of his coworkers, humiliated, Chester relented to meet Grace. While Grace made plans to run away with Chester for what she believed to be her elopement, Chester made far more sinister plans for Grace.
The Homeville Of David Harum
It’s the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year, and just days before one of its most celebrated. Patrick Quinlan, a local farmer, has just sold off the last of his Christmas turkeys to O.B. Andrews & Co., now the present location of The Homeville of David Harum.
Dasher’s Corner Pub
Patrick made his way to Doyle’s Pub (now Dasher’s Corner Pub), sporting a smile and a new haircut, looking especially good for his 64 years. After a pint of dark beer at the bar, he moseyed over to John Doyle’s office, where a cast of local laborers and farmers were discussing the current market value of cabbage. Patrick settled his 6-foot, 200-pound self into a chair and leaned into the small talk. Jovial, he boasted of his good fortunes. He had just received a tidy sum for his holiday birds.
Trudging up James Street, Patrick passed Shahan’s Blacksmith Shop (19 James Street), and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Station (now the Homer Village Police Office) immersed in the inky darkness, leaning towards home. It was his usual path from downtown to the farmhouse and would take him north on North West Street (NY-281) past the village limits and northwest on Clinton Avenue (NY-41) before heading south down Creal Road, a lonesome country lane. From here, his house was just a few minutes walk up the dead-end Bishop Road, where his 200-acre dairy farm looked out across the valley.
The Crime Scene
Early the following morning, Patrick’s unmarried son, Thomas, age 31, hitched up the wagon to bring the day’s milk to Homer. At the intersection of Bishop and Creal Road (just a one-minute walk east from the Fishing Area), he was startled to discover his father’s motionless body. According to his son’s witness, Patrick lay face down, with his head in his hands. Thomas immediately rolled him onto his back and discovered his father had lain in a pool of blood coming from his ears and nose and had a terribly blackened eye. To his relief, Thomas heard his father breathing loudly, like he was snoring, and assumed he had simply passed out drunk, hitting his head.
After a tense investigation, the identities of the two suspicious young men at Doyle’s Pub, on the night of the murder were discovered. John “Jack” McDonald, a 28-year-old moulder at Howe Ventilating Stove Co., and Louis Clark, a 25-year-old carriage painter for Cortland Wagon Co. Both were arrested and charged with murder. Twenty-four witnesses would take the stand in May of 1895. The men were tried at the Cortland Courthouse (now the Cortland Free Library).
The Homer Village Green
The next day the trail resumed with testimony from Fred Graham who confirmed that Jack was sharing a boarding room with him at Michael Murphy’s in Homer for several weeks, until December 31. He recounted, “Jack tried to climb over a wire fence behind the school on the Green. Got all tangled up and managed to cut his hand in the process. He was quite a sight.” As Fred went to bed most evenings at 7pm, he could not confirm what time Jack would have returned the night in question. (site of the barbed wire fence in question).
Bev & Co
William Jones, the barber who cut Patrick’s hair that fateful day, verified Patrick did indeed sit in his chair at 8pm. It was only for a quick 10-minute trim, and Patrick was clearly not inebriated at the time. Next to take the stand was Darius Ripley, the accused longtime friend. He testified to having seen Louis and Jack at The Brunswick (now apartments above Bev & Co.) around 8:45pm. Darius said the pair remained for approximately 5-10 minutes. He could not say as to whether they had a drink or if they left together. He said the only other person in the bar was employee, Mr. Kenfield.
1890 House Museum
Monday, September 12, 1910, Chester Wickwire stepped through the grand carriage house entrance for the last time. Chester Wickwire shared his elegant home with his wife, Ardell, and their two sons, Charles and Frederic. According to the Cortland Standard, it was not an especially remarkable day at the start. Mr. Wickwire had been in his usual health. He had been about his accustomed duties during the forenoon, partly at the wire mills and partly supervising some work at the new hospital on Homer Ave., which through his generosity and munificence is rapidly nearing completion.
Cortland Rural Cemetery
At 67 years of age, Chester was laid to rest in the family mausoleum with his son Raymond. Standing guard is a sculpture of young Raymond, playing with his prized yoyo, a child for all eternity. Chester’s loss was felt deeply for many years by the community and those who knew him.
They say that well-behaved women rarely make history. In Hannah’s case, it made for a marriage proposal. Early 19th-century lore speaks of a massive elm tree, nestled between the towns of Virgil and Cortland. It had been rumored to be filled with honey. One day two engineering pioneers took it upon themselves to fall it, in search of sweet gold. Alas, they turned up empty-handed, and all that was left to show for their efforts was a massive stump. So massive, it was said two horses could stand abreast on it. Naturally, it became a community meeting spot.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Amelia Jenks Bloomer famously said, “Let men be compelled to wear our dress for awhile and we should soon hear them advocating a change.” Born in 1818, in Homer NY, Amelia would go on to change the lives and dress code of women for generations. Feisty from the onset, she insisted the word “obey” be removed from her wedding vows, a then wildly radical act. Fast forward to 1848, when Amelia co-founded the nation’s first-ever newspaper for women and by women, The Lily. As The Lily blossomed into an unabashed women’s right paper, Amelia’s clothing taste also transformed.
The year is 1791, and the whole of what would become Cortland County was an entirely wild place. No human called this land home. Even the last remaining Native American tribes had moved on to less hostile lands long ago. It is in this year that Mrs. Rhoda Beebe would become the very definition of a pioneer. In the fall of 1791 Rhoda, her brother, Amos Todd, and her husband, Joseph Beebe paddled their way up the Tioughnioga River from Windsor to their newly purchased lot, in what would eventually become Homer.
From vaudeville to the iconic baker, “the second most recognizable woman in America,” Adelaide Fish Hawley Cumming, was born just around the corner in the sleepy town of Willet. Name not ringing a bell? Perhaps you’ll recognize her as the original Betty Crocker. Born in 1905, Adelaide Fish attended school in Cincinnatus, New York. A bright student with a cheery demeanor, it was clear from a young age Adelaide was going places. She graduated salutatorian of her 1922 class. Scholarship in hand, she pursued a degree in piano and voice from the Eastman’s School of music in Rochester.
The daughter of an abolitionist, Lydia Strowbridge was born into the fight for equal rights. Considered an invalid in her youth, she did not allow her ill health to prevent her from becoming a force of nature. Sporting her signature Freedom Dress, and long bloomers, Lydia attended Hygeio-Therapeutic Medical College of New York City becoming one of Cortland County’s earliest female physicians.