Lincoln’s connections to Amsterdam
A new movie is focusing attention on Abraham Lincoln and his political skills after being elected to a second term.
Lincoln carried both the town of Amsterdam and Montgomery County in 1860. Lincoln trailed General George McClellan by 391 votes in Montgomery County in the 1864 election, although Lincoln did carry the town of Amsterdam by 131 votes that year.
Lincoln’s funeral train stopped in Amsterdam at 5:25 p.m. on April 26, 1865, on its way back to Illinois.
The Lincoln funeral train was tremendous publicity for embalming. Embalming had become popular in the Civil War as the way to preserve fallen soldiers who had to be transported hundreds of miles home.
Amsterdam woodworker Isaac S. Shuler started making coffins in 1862 and after the Civil War was the first to begin offering local undertaking services.
When Shuler died, his undertaking business was taken over by W. Max Reid. Reid was a business booster who helped found the Board of Trade. Reid is also remembered as a historian for his 1901 book, “The Mohawk Valley.” Awards from the Historic Amsterdam League are called “Maxies” in Reid’s honor.
Old Fort Johnson historic site is home to one of America’s oldest outdoor toilets. The elegant privy was built in the 1700s and was restored to its former glory several years ago.
Site manager Scott Haefner said the privy started to float during flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011, and then tipped on its side. Santos Construction of Amsterdam donated its services to lift the privy upright.
Haefner and Alessa Wylie of Old Fort Johnson said that in 2013 an effort will be made to clean the inside of the historic two-hole outhouse, which is caked with mud from the flood.
Many colonists and early American leaders used the privy, possibly including Aaron Burr — who considered buying the residence — and George Washington, who visited the Mohawk Valley at the close of the Revolutionary War.
Wheel of life
A few years before World War II, Mohawk Carpet Mills showed a flair for the dramatic and displayed artistic skill in making The Wheel of Life, perhaps the most spectacular carpet ever produced in Amsterdam. It took 16 weavers eight months to create the chenille carpet for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City.
Amsterdam memorabilia collector Tom Foster wonders whether the carpet was created primarily to show off the skills of the designers and factory hands in Amsterdam.
The carpet depicts graphic and colorful scenes showing the progress of man from birth through death. The center design containing six picture groups was 18 feet in diameter. The carpet was installed in 1938 and covered a mosaic depicting the same scenes designed by French art deco artist Louis Rigal.
The carpet weighed 850 pounds and was delivered to the hotel by a telephone pole trailer because of its size. It arrived in New York City in the early morning to avoid traffic.
The carpet was removed several years later, uncovering the hotel’s original Rigal mosaic. The mosaic is still there in the Waldorf Astoria’s Park Avenue lobby.
After it left the hotel, the carpet went on tour. A 1946 newspaper ad promoted that a Spokane, Wash., store was displaying the Wheel of Life. The ad said the carpet covered 333 square feet and used 15 million wool tufts in 69 colors.
Mohawk Mills displayed a large photo of the Wheel of Life at an industry convention in 1948 in Lake Placid. What happened to the carpet itself is not known. Today color prints of the Wheel of Life are offered for sale online.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.