'Living History' screening dedicated to actor George Hendricks

Margaretville — The popular “Living History Tour of Margaretville Cemetery” was so well attended on June 30 that the Historical Society of Middletown (HSM), which created the event, had it videotaped for future screenings, the first of which was held this Saturday, Oct. 6. Ironically those who gathered were also mourning one of the actors featured in the tour, George Hendricks, Jr., who portrayed his great-grandfather, George Hendricks. George Jr. died last week and was buried on Saturday, the day the video was screened.

We’re dedicating today’s screening to George,” said HSM President Diane Galusha, noting that Hendricks, “who was so devoted to his own ancestry, is now a part of that history.” Hendricks was a trustee of the Historical Society and active in many of its endeavors, particularly cemetery research and restoration. The first character encountered in the tour, the 19th century undertaker, Charles Gorsch, seemed to speak directly to that irony: “Memory, that is what this place is about . . . history and remembrance.”

In addition to Gorsch, who learned much about his fledging trade during horrific Civil War battles, were many characters that would resonate with anyone who has — or loves — history in this area. Dr. Orson Allaben, who, in addition to delivering many babies who would be named Orson, also named the village of Margaretville, got the village its first post office and served in the state senate. He was also not shy about his hatred of war, particularly the Civil War. Then there were Ward and Margaret DeSilva, who died in the flu epidemic of 1919 within two days of each other, leaving behind two small daughters (their descendents — including a granddaughter named after their daughter, Adele — travelled from Massachusetts to attend the June 30 tour.) The DeSilvas, forever a young married couple, recount “sugaring off parties,” the promise of a white pony to Adele that still torments her father, and together, pondering eternally whom, in their very extended family, would raise their girls.

Many characters
Other characters include the colorful outdoorsman Niles Fairbairn, who taught Helen Keller how to fly fish and trained young otters for a Walt Disney film (much to his wife’s consternation when the “actors” started rummaging among the pots and pans in the kitchen cabinets.) Then there’s Dr. Gordon Maurer, who with Clarke Sanford, opened the first hospital in town and died in a hunting accident when he was 39. Sanford was so distraught he had the young doctor’s entire obituary (which he wrote) engraved on his tombstone. Artists J. Francis and Adah Murphy talk about their diverse but mutually dedicated artistic careers.

Artistiic influence
In addition to living in the creative hive of the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan for decades, they also founded the artist’s colony we now call the Pakatakan. Then there’s the irascible Eratus Clute, one of the great steersmen who guided giant rafts of logs downriver to Trenton, NJ in treacherous conditions for more than three decades. The raftsmen, once paid for their cargo, would literally run the 250 miles home to the Catskills in about five days, so they could run rafts down the river again, while the spring waters were high.

And then there was George Hendricks the original, played by his great grandson, George Hendricks Jr., clearly not entirely well in this last performance, but also utterly convincing as his forebear, speaking in the sunset of both their lives. Hendricks let us know that wherever we see an apple tree that has been grafted and bares different types of apples, that it was most likely his work. He tells of his brothers’ roles in the Anti-Rent uprisings of the 1840s, and the happy serendipity that his own bride, Diana Kittle, was the great-grand daughter of a pioneering Kittle who accompanied his own Hendricks great grandfather, in the 1760s, to settle in this area before the Revolutionary War. “So you see, we have deep roots in this area,” said Hendricks, speaking from the perspective of at least five generations in the Catskills.

The place to be
The one thread that runs through the entire video, and its actors, is the choice, whether to stay here or to come here, that every single character has made. “We all choose to be here,” says Dr. Maurer, who discovered Margaretville on a tour of the Northeast, fresh out of medical school. Or the Murphys, who describe finding Arkville and being forever changed, as if they had discovered an artist’s paradise, or Niles Fairbairn, who says “You got everything you need right here.” 

Comic, tragic, nostalgic: the DVD of the cemetery tour captures it all, and was videographed by Nick Bibbo for HSM. Meticulously researched, scripted and directed, the DVDs are $8 each and can be pre-ordered from the Middletown Historical Society by e-mailing history@catskill.net or calling Galusha at 586-4973.