A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: July 16, 2008

I witnessed a skimmelton in 1971. Visiting in the home of friends who were a newly married couple late one evening, we were startled by a loud ruckus outside the house. We needn’t investigate long. A crowd of mostly young neighbors and friends had arrived outside with a tractor and wagon - or was it a pickup truck loaded with hay? They banged on the door and on the pots and pans they carried, invaded the house, and, in high spirits and with boundless good nature, “kidnapped” the newlyweds for a mock serenade, a hayride through the village accompanied by lots of noise and lots of razzing of the young couple. It was fun although as I remember, the couple was less than thrilled.


A Catskill Catalog: July 9, 2008

University of Cincinnati Professor David Stradling, his wife Jodie, and their two young daughters toured the Catskills a couple weeks ago. In many ways, the trip was a homecoming for the professor. His grandfather, Glentworth Haynes, grew up in Highmount. When Professor Stradling was little David Stradling visiting his grandparents in Kingston, his postal-worker grandfather told stories of his Catskill Mountain boyhood, taking the boy on numerous nostalgic road trips into the mountains. Professor Stradling grew up living outside the Catskills but feeling intimately connected to them.


A Catskill Catalog: July 2, 2008

I’ve only recently discovered James Oliver, but I like him. He’s the graduate of the State Normal School at Albany who came to teach in Roxbury in 1849 when both John Burroughs and Jay Gould were about 12. Think of the future naturalist and the future capitalist as seventh graders: little Johnny the reluctant uninterested underachiever, little Jay the brightest kid in the class. Mr. Oliver had a profound effect on both of them, drawing-out young Burroughs’ natural curiosity, and directing young Gould’s restless energy.


A Catskill Catalog: June 25, 2008

A friend of mine, native to the mountains, will, as we tour the hills together, frequently point to some stray roadside basketball court, one that’s weed-infested, seen-better-days, and say: “Played a lot of basketball there when we were kids.”


A Catskill Catalog: June 18, 2008

I confess to a weak spot for the Livingstons. Perhaps it’s my fondness for New Kingston, the historic little hamlet on the upper Plattekill, founded on land that Chancellor Robert Livingston donated to the victims of the British burning of Kingston in the Revolutionary War. It’s a great story.


A Catskill Catalog: June 11, 2008

A county is an administrative subdivision of a sovereign jurisdiction. The theoretically sovereign state of New York has 62 of them. Six can lay claim to parts of the Catskills; Ulster, Greene, Delaware, Sullivan, Schoharie, Albany. Give or take Albany.


A Catskill Catalog: June 4, 2008

I discovered the Catskill Turnpike quite by accident. I had passed it countless times on the way to Oneonta, making a straight crossroad junction with Route 28 about eight miles north of Delhi at the top of Meredith Hill. For years, of course, there were no road signs, so when that seemingly anonymous crossroad finally did get identified with a green sign, and it turned out to be named Catskill Turnpike, it took a while for it to register.


A Catskill Catalog: May 28, 2008

When I was growing up in suburbia, Memorial Day was the first day of summer, the day the local pools opened, the day my job at the beach club started. Oh, we watched the President at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on TV, but mostly Memorial Day was hotdogs and hamburgers for the first time outside this season.
Moving to the mountains introduced me to Memorial Day.


A Catskill Catalog: May 21, 2008

Community Theater thrives in the Catskills these days. Margaretville’s Open Eye Theater is auditioning for a couple of summer productions in their new theater building, a converted church, first converted, years back, into a thermometer factory. For a couple of decades, the Shandaken Theatrical Society has provided an active theater program at their wonderful little Phoenicia theater. Seems odd that 30 years ago, we went to the movies in that same building.


A Catskill Catalog: May 14, 2008

Community theater thrives in the Catskills these days. Margaretville’s Open Eye Theater is auditioning for a couple of summer productions in their new theater building, a converted church, first converted, years back, into a thermometer factory. For a couple of decades, the Shandaken Theatrical Society has provided an active theater program at their wonderful little Phoenicia Theater.


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