Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Lost City

By Cornelia

We're going to spend Christmas in Syracuse with my husband's family this year. My novel A Field of Darkness is set there, in 1988. Madeline Dare, the protagonist, is hugely snarky about living in "The Salt City"--even more so than I was back in 1988, although I often derided the place, as my very patient in-laws would be all too quick to tell you.

The photograph above was taken in Syracuse around 1900, and is my favorite image of the city. One of the reasons I love it is that it bears testament to an aspect of that place which no longer exists--that being the Erie Canal running through downtown.

Madeline talks about it in Field:

I was late for work, stuck again at the five-way Erie Boulevard light. Most mornings I’d drum my fingers on the wheel and wonder why the hell they’d filled in the canal, still down there under the Boulevard’s wide stretch of asphalt. I’d inspect the once-proud buildings, spiky with imperial turrets and crenellations, and imagine how much better they’d have looked from the water, from a barge-deck’s slow glide behind a mule.... I crunched my eyes shut and tried to picture my favorite photograph of Syracuse. It was taken not far from the intersection at which I was stopped, a grainy old shot of ice skaters on the frozen canal. There were young boys in knickers and knit hats with pompoms, arms swinging as they raced through the crowd. A dancing woman in a picture hat. Spectators looking on from the streets above. The figures cast long Northeasterly shadows across the ice, so it must have been taken towards the end of that afternoon. It would have been cold, no doubt with the slicing wind I knew from having lived through two raw winters here, but still there’s a sense of possibility, of wonder.
You look at that crowd and you know they were aware of being spectacular--worth looking at, deserving of record.
There are other parts of the city that exist only in old photographs and postcards:

Like an illuminated amusement park called the White City

or very many people sailing for pleasure on Onondaga Lake, once a resort with steel piers for promenading on, and ferries from hotel to hotel,

but which hasn't been the focus of much recreation since these guys dumped something like 40,000 pounds of mercury into it.

You also won't see any streetcars, "down-city":

Or a steam train, for that matter:

But there are still wonderful buildings to see in Syracuse:

I'm especially fond of the Landmark Theatre--built as the Loews State in 1928,

which is a riot of "oriental" embellishment throughout.

Here is the upstairs lobby:

reached, of course, via the grand staircase:

And here's a view from the balcony seats of the stage itself:

I wish I'd seen the Elvis Costello show here... and I managed to miss New Year's Eve with Sun Ra for the entire time I lived there.

Another great building is the Niagara-Mohawk power building, known locally as Ni-Mo, which is just Deco up the wazoo and can also be lit in different colors for special occasions:

Here's a closeup of the figure above the entrance:

And this is my second-favorite image of Syracuse, just because to me it begs to be put on a pulp novel cover--Syracuse Noir, perhaps?:

Or maybe just Moon Over Syracuse...

And if you're in town, don't forget to pick up some wings at Sal's Birdland, "home of the sassy sauce..."

It is important to have your wings from Sal's with an appropriate beverage. If I remember correctly, these include:

Unfortanately, I'm not sure one can purchase Stegmaier's, these days:

But you can still get these, a tribute to the city's first industry:

I will definitely miss racking up Hank Williams songs on the jukebox
of the Crown Hotel, however--now apparently a ye olde Gaelic fern bar.

And I do wish it were still possible to travel to Syracuse like this:

Or this:

The moon is waxing toward her full and every heart beats for joy at the noble scene. How pleasant too, to see the brilliant lamps of numberless boats passing and repassing upon the smooth unruffled surface of the Canal, to hear the song of the jolly boatman or driver-boy, to see the boats sweeping by freighted with the riches of the West.
-- Jonathan Pearson, Diary, July 25, 1833


  1. Syracuse was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth, led by the oecist Archias, who called it Sirako, referring to a nearby swamp... Wait,wait....that's the other Syracuse.... I lost myself there with the title LOST CITY and all that talk about history.
    Sounds like you have canal knowledge of the place.

    Seriously,I DO really dig the nostalgic pictures/postcards........Cornelia,hope you have a very pleasant [and perhaps White] Christmas.

  2. Canal knowledge!

    And as for Sirako referring to a nearby swamp--a visitor to Syracuse, NY, in 1820 remarked that "he had seen six scattered tenements surrounded by a desolate, poverty-stricken, woody country, enough to make an owl weep to fly over it."

  3. You can't imagine how happy I was to see that first picture.

  4. Cornelia,

    What a beautiful tribute to this city, which seems far more lovely and interesting now.

    By the by, I was married in 1988.

    And is that Hank Williams Senior, or Junior? Your answer is very important.

  5. Karen, aren't you glad I left all the other architectural ones from my first draft out, though?

    And Julia, Hank SENIOR. OMG!!! And I totally hope you are not a JUNIOR fan. Especially because you and I were married in the same year...

  6. No, no. We can still be friends. :) I won't slam Hank Junior here, but Hank Senior is in a different league. I'm told, however, that Hank the 3rd looks and sounds a lot like his grandfather.

    Anyway. What month were you married? We were wed on May 29. I've never used the word "wed" before.

  7. Syracuse is obviously your muse, C. Hope it continues to inspire during your upcoming trip. Cheers to more Madeline adventures in the city with many nicknames.

  8. September 18th, Julia.

    (And I am so Jell-O brained with present shopping I had to go Google it, which is kind of scary

    In my defense, though, my aunt Julie's wedding was September 14th, my sister Freya's was September 19th... and....



    There's no excuse, is there? I thought it was husbands who were supposed to forget anniversaries? Do I need Geritol?

    Please don't answer that....)

  9. Patty, I'm just hoping to stay inside for the entire time, except for to and from the airport. My inlaws are all great, but it is going to be COLD.

  10. Pardon this interuption.............Patty, how'd the bake-a-thon go?? Make any blondies?

  11. No blondies, Jon, but I have fruitcakes...and Danish Christmas bread...and cookies...and...STOP ME BEFORE I BAKE AGAIN!!!!

    Cornelia, ye expert grammarian, when do you use blond vs. blonde? Jon is itching to know.

  12. As far as I know, blonde for women, blond for men. And I guess it would be blonde if you were modifying a feminine word in French, but I can't remember what goes with le or la these days. I do remember my mom's story about her eighth grade French teacher, who instructed all the kids at Greenvale that "'cravate' is feminine because ties hang around a man's neck like a woman does." So if you had a French tie, it would be blonde, I guess.

  13. you guys have got me on the floor laughing.....stop me before I _____ again!
    "Rest, rest oh perturbed spirit." Hamlet......speaking about your Danish Christmas Cake conquest.
    Guess I'm getting nutty as a fruitcake, too much Grey goose is cooked, and it's still 5 days 'til Christmas-----but as Capra reminds us all "It's a Wonderful Life."

  14. Cornelia, the pictures are lovely. Did I tell you when we were checking out NoveList in my Research Sources & Svcs class, I had them ask for "mystery novel, Syracuse" and you came up 2nd. With 5 stars, the max!!! But hey--you were always 5 stars from my pt. of view.

  15. And speaking of 5 stars, congrats on making Oline Cogdill's list of best debuts of 2006!

  16. Those pictures are really cool, C. I especially like that Metropolis-meets- Albert-Speer looking fella over the power building.

  17. Hey there Ari--is there another Syracuse mystery? I would love to read it. And thank you for looking me up in your class, that's way cool and I'm stoked about the stars.

    THANK YOU, Lois--I am still stunned and honored that Oline Cogdill listed me for the year. She is amazing.

    And JD, glad you like the statue dude. I think his official name is "The Spirit of Power" or something. I was trying to find photos of another 'Cuse sculpture, a bunch of white resin "people" standing around an abandoned New York Central Train platform alongside I-690, called "Waiting for a Night Train" by Duke Epolito, but I couldn't find any decent shots of it. Really cool, though...

  18. Now I want you to write a book called "White City."

    Have a great trip, Cornelia!

  19. Cornelia,

    Syracuse seems to have a beautiful soul, even with all of the trashy things that have happened to it over the decades. Thanks for sharing the beauty of it.

    Dang, Patty's caught the baking fever. Hope the fruitcakes came out okay...
    I've been making raisin bread this week - from the recipe in Nancy Atherton's mystery "Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin". Can you say YUMMY!!? It's a keeper - and I really like the stories. They're fun and funny. My current quote from her "Aunt Dimity: Snowbound" is "I'm not the perkiest elf on the block". And I'm not, after all of that baking and intensive computer tech thingies.

    And Cornelia, congratulations about being on the Cogdill list!! I thought your debut novel was pretty darn great too!


  20. Do I sense some need for atonement here? Not that there's anything wrong with that, it being the season and all...

    By the way, for anyone who is currently suffering from an attack of baking, weather and/or relatives, may I suggest this recipe I got in my DailyCandy newsletter today? I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds nice.
    Hot Chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps:
    one qt. milk, 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, 9 oz. peppermint schnapps, whipped cream and peppermint sticks for serving

  21. It sounds almost as good as the recipe for pumpkin pie smoothies that I found the other day, Daisy. :-D

    Whoo, yours sounds really rich. But an incident where my husband got sick once after having schapps (peach) has precluded us from imbibing that liqueur. Never mind, there's always Kalhua. :-D Or Baileys... Hmm, I think I'll go and check the booze cupboard...


  22. Great post, Miss C, and happy travels....


  23. I guess you could get approximately the same effect with Swiss Miss and peppermint extract, but that kind of seems like it would be defeating the purpose, doesn't it? The Kahlua sounds like an excellent idea, though.

    A pumpkin smoothie sounds tasty too, but how do you get it in the blender?


  24. Pumkin Pie Smoothie:

    Blend 1/2 cup of unsweetened canned pumpkin, 8 oz of skim milk or fat-free soy milk, a dash of pumpkin pie spice and honey to taste - blend until smooth.

    You probably add a little vanilla essence to sweeten a little more.

    Courtesy of Womans World magazine...


  25. YUM... I am a huge fan of all things pumpkin-flavored. Peppermint not so much anymore. I blame my mom for saying "it always just tastes like toothpaste, doesn't it?" when I ordered peppermint stick ice cream as a kid.

  26. Syracuse; no matter how far you wander, Syracuse will always remain your home.