Stories Heat Up in Books by Local Authors

By the looks of this collection, it’s obvious that the diverse history and culture of the Finger Lakes Region inspires many stories. An Auburn murder case gone cold is the seed for fiction, while another case in Canandaigua, conveniently solved, is examined for fact. Central New York’s role in movie history is carefully documented, and the lyrical prose of a pioneering Cornell botanist is thoughtfully shared. ’Tis the season for reading, a time-out from other Finger Lakes cold-weather activities, so choose one or more of these titles, sit back and stay warm.

Clouds over the Finger Lakes
by Joan Cofrancesco
Paperback: $14.00

In September 1981, a young college student from Auburn, Julie Monson, was reported missing by her parents. Two years later, her body was found in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. The murder has remained Cayuga County’s most infamous unsolved death.

To author Joan Cofrancesco, the crime had special meaning because Auburn was her hometown. “It was a quiet little, town,”she says, remembering a poster featuring a photo of the missing girl. She did not know the young woman, but for a time the murder affected how people conducted their daily lives. Cofrancesco was prompted to use the crime as the basis for a mystery novel.

She changed the names of people and places, but all the principal characters are there, including the man convicted of the crime, who went to prison for seven years before his conviction was overturned and he was released. The fictionalized community is named Greenville and Montezuma becomes Meza Swamp. Even if the reader doesn’t know the background of the case, little silhouettes of crows separating the chapters offer a clue. (Auburn has been known to have a problem with a larger-than-desired crow population.)

The character of the female newspaper writer who uncovers the truth stands in for Cofrancesco, admits the writer. The novel reveals the real criminal, while in real life, Monson’s killer remains unidentified. “I solved the case through fiction,” says the author, who also hopes the murder is solved someday.

Cofrancesco is the author of 10 volumes of poetry and a children’s book. She tutors creative writing students at Empire State College.

The Lurking Devil of Murder: The Crandall Case
by Kevin Andrew Cotter
Pre-Emption Publishing
Paperback: $15.00

Kevin Cotter is a lifelong resident of Ontario County with a keen interest in local and American history. He is pastor of the Cheshire Community Church and previously authored An Experiment in Tolerance, The History of Christianity in Southern Canandaigua.

Cotter carried out exhaustive research of public records and historical archives surrounding the trial of Charlie Eighmey who was accused of murdering his employer, George Crandall, in 1874. No less than five different newspapers covered his trial. The author melded the testimonies of nearly 50 witnesses into a riveting tale of a notorious 19th century murder in rural Ontario County.

Cotter carefully reconstructs events surrounding the deadly assault in a potato field in 1874. Eighmey, a young man who had been a circus worker, did not leave the crime scene and pleaded self-defense from the outset. Crandall’s widow changed her story, calling into question her motives. The author uncovers the unusual relationships that existed between the principals: The investigating officer was the first cousin of the dead man, while Eighmey’s “shady” lawyer was also representing Crandall’s widow and the estate of the deceased. The author carefully cites his sources with endnotes, and includes many historic photographs and an index of family names.

In an epilogue, “The Dust Settles,” the author lets the reader in on the later lives of the key players in this fascinating tale of murder and justice. The book will play a part in the Ontario County Historical Society’s ongoing museum display: “Crime and Punishment in Ontario County, 1789 to 1930,” which opened in October.

Liberty Hyde Bailey: Essential Agrarian and Environmental Writings
Edited by Zachary Michael Jack
Cornell University Press
Cloth: $29.95

Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) was an American botanist and cofounder of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He taught at Cornell University where he was director of the College of Agriculture. He was active in New York’s Nature Study program which was an instrumental part of the movement that became 4-H.

Ten of Bailey’s most influential works written for general and scholarly readers alike have been compiled by Zachary Michael Jack in this new anthology. Bailey, writes Jack, “uniquely brings the worlds of nature, agriculture, environment, and education together in a singularly relevant package.”

Bailey’s Nature Study movement counteracted the idea that learning must be about remote things, and encouraged rural youth to accept the challenges of life around them. As the foremost agrarian of his era, he was picked by President Theodore Roosevelt 100 years ago to chair an investigation of rural life known as the Country Life Commission. Bailey’s influential ideas continue to have relevance to today.

His writings are thoughtful and lyrical: “I remember that I looked forward with pleasure to hoeing the corn,” he writes in 1927, “a labor that now arouses surprise. For one thing, it was escape from harder labors: and the long rows of corn invited me, with the burrows of moles and mice, the yellow birds that nested in trees in the growing summer, and the runnels that heavy rains had cut. The odors of the corn and the ground were wholesome and pleasant.”

Jack is assistant professor of English at North Central College and has authored or edited many books on agrarian, environmental and conservation themes.

Wineries of the Finger Lakes Region: The Heart of New York State
by Emerson Klees
Photos by The New York Wine Grape Foundation and The Finger Lakes Association
c. 2000; 2003; 2008
Friends of the Finger Lakes Publishing
Paperback: $17.95

Emerson Klees has penned numerous books on the Finger Lakes. Eight years ago, Klees featured 60 wineries in his first edition of this title. The new edition covers 100 wineries and wine trails reflecting the expansion of grape growing and wine production in the Finger Lakes region. The author organizes wineries by location, beginning with those west and north of the Finger Lakes. He keys each to a map spanning east just beyond Cayuga Lake.

A history of winemaking in the eastern U.S. and the Finger Lakes Region is covered, along with a glossary of grape and wine terms and biographies of the winemaking pioneers in the Finger Lakes. Information on grape varieties and the wines they produce make this well-illustrated and indexed volume a terrific resource.

Klees has been an amateur winemaker for 27 years and a vineyardist for 25. He shares new trends with readers, noting an “elevated willingness to grow varieties new to the region.” Anticipating more change, he also points to the fact that the Finger Lakes Region is attracting individuals from other areas who establish vineyards and start wineries here.

Images of Sports: Watkins Glen Racing
by Kirk W. House and Charles R. Mitchell
Arcadia Publishing
Paperback: $19.99

Marking the 60th anniversary of racing at Watkins Glen, authors Kirk House and Charles Mitchell have compiled 200 vintage photographs into a survey conveying the excitement of racing. The concept started as a race through the natural scenery around Watkins Glen after World War II when Americans were “rediscovering the joy of the open road.” It evolved into the modern closed track that today hosts NASCAR. The book’s images of racing through the streets in prewar vehicles will fascinate readers. Pioneer racers like Cameron Argetsinger, Briggs Cunningham, Bill Milliken, Sam Collier and John Fitch are among those featured.

Racing fans will be especially interested in this collection of images primarily from the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen. The selection of black and white photographs includes reproductions of a few paintings by Bob Gillespie, whose brightly colored originals are found, among other places, on exterior murals in Watkins Glen. Photos also cover all the key points of the original road course and the crowds in Watkins Glen.

Kirk House teaches history at Genesee Community College and is the former director of the Glenn Curtis Museum in Hammondsport. Charles Mitchell is curator of the Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society in Penn Yan. House and Mitchell have authored a dozen books with Arcadia Publishing, including another new title, Postcard History Series: Finger Lakes (2008).

Finger Lakes Splendor
by Derek Doeffinger and Gary Whelpley
McBooks Press Inc.
Hardcover: $16.95

The authors, former Eastman Kodak Company staff photographers, have masterfully captured many diverse vistas of the Finger Lakes. Some of the stunning views in this photo book are very familiar, such as the Trinity Episcopal Church on the bank of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal in Seneca Falls and the boathouses on the Canandaigua City Pier. Over the years, these subjects have been captured by artists and photographers attracted by their beauty and character.

Other locations for photographs, including that of an Amish farmer plowing his fields near Prattsburg, or a winding road traveled by a motorcyclist, may not be as easily recognized but are just as typical of the region. The book’s layout is a happy blend of scenery, people and landmarks seen through the lens of photographers who transform even the most mundane view into a vibrant and lush composition.

Many images are two-page spreads which offer expansive, panoramic views. The collection is a pleasing variety of changing seasons and subjects. Colorful row houses in Geneva, hot air balloons over Letchworth State Park, and fields of pumpkins give way to barns covered with snow and a solitary fisherman patiently waiting on a frozen lake during the depths of winter. The captions are brief and informative. The small, 7 by 5-inch size makes it an ideal keepsake.

Central New York & The Finger Lakes: Myths, Legends & Lore
by Melanie Zimmer
The History Press
Paperback: $19.99

Melanie Zimmer, a storyteller and puppeteer, has applied her narrative skills to recording a collection of over 30 intriguing regional tales. The selection begins with the creation myths of the Iroquois and ends with “The Guardian Angel,” a fascinating tale of how a priceless painting changed ownership. In a section on religious movements, Zimmer focuses on the founders of the Mormon Church and the Oneida Community.

Heroines like Harriet Tubman are found in the section, “Abolitionists, Underground Railroad Conductors and Suffragists” along with the story of the scythe tree, forever marked with the tools left behind by young men going off to war. Also included is the story about “Jerry,” a fugitive slave set free by thousands of abolitionists in Syracuse with the aid of a battering ram. Some familiar and others delightfully new, these stories will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The book’s other sections include: “Revolutionary War Period,” “The Erie Canal,” and the heading, “Leprechauns, Baseball, the Chocolate Train and a Stone Giant.”

“Seeking out a region’s folk tales and legends offers more than entertaining reading. It offers a piece of ourselves,” writes the author. “They express the mystery of our unique heritage.” Zimmer, a member of the New York Folklore Society, has previously written for encyclopedias and magazines.

Our Movie Houses: A History of Film & Cinematic Innovation in Central New York
by Norman O. Keim with David Marc
Syracuse University Press
Cloth: $24.95

In this title, author Norm Keim with David Marc revives the magic of the early years of the movies. The reader is invited along on a journey documenting the earliest cinematic innovations, beginning with Thomas Edison and George Eastman. The writers offer a comprehensive history of the movies when Syracuse and central New York played a pivotal role. The book documents how the upstate city was the site of the first projection of a moving image in 1896, only days before one was shown in Manhattan.

Here is a big thumbs-up for the compilation of theaters and a fascinating section on cinematic figures with links to central and Upstate New York. Famed actor Lionel Barrymore, who portrayed mean banker Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” got his start in the movies in Ithaca.

A valuable appendix identifying theater locations records their years of operation. Because theatres relied on music during the silent movie era, a listing of theatre organs and organ manufacturing companies is included. Major theater chains like Schine and Kallet, and even drive-in theatres, are identified.

Norman Keim was adjunct professor of film studies at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University from 1973 to 1985 and founder and director of the SU film studies center. David Marc is the communications manager for the publications office at SU.

by Laurel C. Wemett

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