Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Author Michael T. Keene to Host “Talking Hart Island” Podcast

August 29, 2019

Michael T. Keene is my kind of guy. He has written some really interesting, and macabre, books with titles like Question of Sanity: The True Story of Female Serial Killers in 19th Century New York and Mad House: The Hidden History of Insane Asylums in 19th Century New York. These are just a few of the truly fascinating books he has written, signed copies of which are available for sale in the Fairport Historical Museum gift shop.

Now Mike has branched out and will debut his new podcast on September 15, 2019. “Talking Hart Island” is a half hour weekly podcast that explores the history of Hart Island, America’s largest mass graveyard, which has been used as New York City’s potter’s field since 1869. It is estimated there are over 1,000,000 people buried there.

Talking Hart Island

Because of recent advances in DNA and fingerprint technology though, we now have learned who some of these previously forgotten and anonymous people were. The results are truly shocking.

“Talking Hart Island” will interview a special guest each week selected from an extraordinary assembly of scholars, authors, and scientists in the fields of history, law, medicine and the arts as we unravel a secret kept hidden for over 150 years.


Michael T. Keene’s “Talking Hart Island podcast goes live on September 15, 2019. Don’t miss it! It’s sure to be a spine-tingler.

Additional information about Mike, his books and his podcast can be found on his website,

Fostering a Love of History with Children

March 12, 2019

One of my favorite jobs as an historian is sharing local history with children. Throughout the months of April and May, Perinton Town Historian Bill Poray and I welcome over 550 fourth graders to the Fairport Museum. The children arrive from all the Fairport

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Brooks Hill Fourth Graders

elementary schools and from Thornell Road Elementary in Pittsford. Two classes visit the museum at a time. While one class is wonderfully engaged by Bill with a PowerPoint about local history, the other class is upstairs with me taking a tour of the museum and then doing a scavenger hunt. Halfway through the morning, I ring a vintage school bell, signaling “the old switcheroo”. The classes then switch places and we do it all over again.

The best compliment we receive is when those fourth graders return to the Fairport Museum a week or a month or six months later. Then they give their own version of a tour to their families. The kids that have that spark, a burgeoning love of history, are always visible during the tours. They are the ones asking questions and staring at the artifacts like most kids ogle an ice cream sundae. They want to learn more about the Fairport Museum and its operator, the Perinton Historical Society.

1982 Vicki & Lou Gehrig's locker049

Vicki Masters Profitt at Lou Gehrig’s locker in Cooperstown, NY

I recognize that look because I was one of those children. Fortunately, I had parents who fostered my love of history and supported my interests. After watching Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper, an incredible movie about baseball legend Lou Gehrig, my family traveled to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown so I could see his locker. Another family vacation brought us to Concord, Massachusetts, allowing me to visit author Louisa May Alcott’s family home, Orchard House.

In fact, my job as an historian is due to the fact that, in fifth grade, I checked out a book about the Civil War from the school library. The

McCook, Robert L photo

Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook

photographs of these soldiers who had lived so long ago fascinated me. One photo in particular caught my attention.  It showed Brigadier General Robert Latimer McCook of the 9th Ohio Infantry. I don’t know what spurred my interest in Robert specifically, but that was the beginning of my interest in the Civil War, which led to me researching Monroe County, New York, Civil War soldiers, which led to me being named Director of the Fairport Museum.

If you are a parent of a history-loving child, foster that love. Support that child. Encourage them to take historical books and biographies out of the library. Bring them to visit your local museum. Wonderful treasures fill the many museums in the Rochester vicinity. Visit the Fairport Museum, the Greece Historical Society and Museum, the Webster Museum, Historic Palmyra’s five museums and the Colby-Pulver House Museum on the west side. These are just a few of the many phenomenal museums in this area.

The Fairport Museum is open for the 2019 season Sundays and Tuesdays from 2-4pm and Saturdays 9am-1pm. Free admission and free parking. We hope to see you and your kids!

Illuminating Benedetto Ansuini

September 7, 2018

Ansuini, Benedetto 1942 photo from Certo 25 anniversaryOn June 13, 2017, Illuminated History held its sixth annual cemetery tour in which volunteer actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.  St. Mary’s Cemetery in the town of Perinton, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.  Benedetto Ansuini was portrayed by Doug Whitney.

Hello, friends.  My name is Benedetto Ansuini.  I came to Fairport from Italy when I was a young man.  Although I only had a second grade education, I was fortunate to get a job in the Certo factory here in the village. 

People have called me a hero.  I’m no hero.  I was just doing my job as a soldier.  When the Great War began, I left my new home to fight for the United States.  You see, I was with Company K of the 307th Infantry, 77th American Division.  Our group became known as the “Lost Battalion”, but that was just a phrase coined by a sharp-shooting reporter.  First of all, we knew where we were all the time.  We didn’t get lost. Second, we weren’t one battalion, we were two. 

So here’s what really happened.  After seven days of continuous fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the Argonne forest, about 600 of us were cut off behind enemy lines.  On October 2, 1918, we’d advanced into the forest under the belief that French forces were supporting our left flank and American units were supporting the right.  We moved beyond the rest of the Allied line not knowing that the French advance had been stalled, and found ourselves cut off from the Allies and surrounded by German forces.  After locating a good defensive position, we started digging in to an area that became known then, and ever after, as “The Pocket”.  On October 3, the Germans attacked us with trench mortars, machine gun fire and grenades. Sniper fire was ringing out all around us.  They even had a flame thrower decimating our ranks like a cookout on the 4th of July.  We suffered many hardships, as our food supply was low, fresh water was difficult to procure and ammunition was in short supply.  At times, we were bombarded with shells from our own artillery.  It was hell on earth.

To make matters worse, every runner dispatched to get help became lost or ran into German patrols and was killed or captured.  The only way we could communicate with headquarters was by carrier pigeons.  Each of the pigeons we sent out was shot down.  Finally, we were down to our final pigeon.  The pigeon’s name was Cher Ami.  He was dispatched with a canister on his right leg with a message from our commanding officer, Major Charles Whittlesey.  The message read: “Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.  For heaven’s sake stop it.”  Right after releasing Cher Ami, a shell exploded directly below the bird, killing five men and stunning the pigeon.  Despite being shot in the breast, blinded in one eye and losing a foot, Cher Ami got through the lines, flew 25 miles to headquarters in just 25 minutes and delivered Major Whittlesey’s message.  It took several more days before we were saved.

From October 2nd through October 8th, the Germans continued a relentless attack against us.  The attack wasn’t only physical, but mental.  A demand to surrender was received.  “The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop.”  You see, they wanted Major Whittlesey to give up, but he knew how important it was to the war effort to forge ahead.  Reporters say the Major’s response to the Germans was, “Go to hell!” but that was just to sell newspapers.  Major Whittlesey actually didn’t send a response.  He didn’t feel it was needed.  We had a job to do, and we were damn well going to do it.  All of us knew it.

Well, relief finally arrived at 15:00 hours on October 8, when the Allied reinforcements broke through the line.  They arrived in the nick of time.  We went in as a force of 600 men, but only 194 came out unscathed.  The rest were captured, missing, wounded or dead.  Among the dead were three out of the eight men in the group from Rochester.  Homer Rayson, from Pittsford, survived, only to die a hero 10 days later trying to obtain water for the regiment from a spring that was under heavy machine gun fire.  In fact, the guys from Pittsford named their American Legion Post the Rayson-Miller Post in part after Homer Rayson.

I continued serving with the military until May, 1919, when I was honorably discharged.  Life pretty much went on as if the war had never happened.  I came back to Fairport and married my sweetheart, Concetta Rinaldo, and went back to work at the Certo plant.

Concetta and I had two sons, both of whom were born in Fairport – Louis in 1921 and Salvatore in 1924.  Salvatore, who liked to be called Sam, was an all-star athlete and graduated from Fairport High in 1942.  Both boys served during World War II.  I’m proud of both of my boys.  They married and gave me wonderful grandchildren.

Another highlight in my life came in 1942, when I was brought to New York City and honored for working 25 years in the Certo division of General Foods.  I was awarded a gold lapel emblem, a $100 defense bond and an extra week’s paid vacation.  That was an honor, to be there with the other men who had worked for Certo for so long and to be recognized for it.  But, by far, the best part of the trip was when I was asked to speak about my experiences with the Lost Battalion in a radio broadcast to a nationwide audience.  That was really something. 

Lost battalion survivor Benedetto Ansuini died in 1971. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Perinton, New York.

(c) 2017 Vicki Masters Profitt

Illuminating Photographer Frank B. Clench

April 30, 2016

On June 17, 2014, Illuminated History held its third annual cemetery tour in which twelve actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum due to inclement weather.  Greenvale Rural Cemetery in the village of Fairport, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.  In this presentation, Frank B. Clench was portrayed by Charles Profitt.

I feel a photographer should be a man of the shadows, with the emphasis on the sitter of the portrait, not on the photographer himself.  My name is F. B. Clench, though you may call me Frank.  My life began in Canada in 1838, but my professional career as a photographer began upon my move to Lockport, New York, in 1863.  Let’s move from the shadows of my personal life into the spotlight of my professional life, shall we?

Frank B. Clench, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society

Frank B. Clench, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society

In Lockport, I opened my first photographic studio, and soon became known as one of Lockport’s finest regional photographers.  In fact, I commanded the highest sitting fee in Lockport – $6!   You see, it has always irked me that a good photographer could spend so much time with a patron and yet see very little profit.   I’ve learned that a too eager desire to please patrons leads them to bad habits.  These bad habits are conferred by one patron to another, and so our troubles increase.  To combat these bad habits, I have an ironclad rule of business, and it is thus: study the subject well in all the different views.  Make up your mind which is the best photograph and show only that photograph to the patron.  If the patron is unhappy, inform them they may have another sitting, for an additional fee.  And if they choose to order photographs made from more than one sitting, charge them accordingly.  I made a fine living abiding by these rules.  Why, there were some months of the year during my busy seasons when I earned over $400 per month.  With that considerable sum, and I was able to support myself and my wife, Mary, quite nicely.   I became known, not only for my cabinet cards, but also for my crayon portraits.

You may not be surprised to learn that I am the holder of no less than four patents.  Three of these patents have to do with photography and the other is a cuspidor.  As you can imagine, many of my gentlemen patrons to the photographic gallery indulge in chaw.  Since I detest cleaning the spittle from the cuspidor, I devised a removable saliva holder which serves to keep the gallery cleaner and the carpet safer from tobacco stains.

My pride and joy, however, was the invention and patenting of “the Plaque”.  What is the Plaque?  Well, it is a design that goes around the edges of a cabinet card.  I noticed that the same photographic card styles of years ago are still in vogue.  Why is it so few changes or novelties are introduced by photographers?  Every other line of business has its fashionable novelties.  We want more fashion, nicer settings for our work, and we don’t want it all in the frame.  We want the picture worth as much as the frame.  I have prepared myself to supply licenses for my patent, including presses, dies, and accessories, complete with full Instructions on how to make Plaques at reasonable rates.  I do not wish to sell exclusive licenses at present, believing all photographers should share the advantages of my patent.  For just $25, you can have the complete outfit.  The Plaque promises to be the next big thing in photography, mark my words.

I was always looking for a good business opportunity, and one soon presented itself.  After visiting friends in Fairport and finding the village to be charming, I moved here from Lockport in 1889.  I was fortunate to secure pleasant, commodious rooms in the Deal block, in which I occupied the entire second floor, the first floor being given over entirely to the newspaper.  It was the perfect location for my photographic studio, and my business increased dramatically.  However, the improvement to my bank account could not cure my wife.

She had been ill for quite some time and, in March 1896, my wife, Mary, passed on.  After a suitable period of mourning, I wed Mrs. Lucy Howard Burlingame Lewis the following March.  The fact that I was her third husband did not bother me.  Lucy and I shared a love of travel, and that is what prompted me to sell my photographic studio to William McQuivey in 1900 and remove to Georgia with Lucy.  However, I soon learned that retirement was not for me.  The next fourteen years were spent photographing patrons at my new home in Madison, Georgia, although Lucy and I often traveled back to visit our friends in Fairport.

After years of this travel back and forth, we realized how much we missed Fairport and, in July 1914, we returned to this village for good.  Sadly, I did not have much time to enjoy our return, as I died November 1st of the same year at age 76 after an illness of six weeks.  If you take anything away from our conversation this evening, remember this:  When you commence business be careful and make good rules, and then adhere strictly to them, for by deviating you will create bad habits.

Script by Vicki Masters Profitt

(c) 2014 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey

April 30, 2013

Downton Abbey is a phenomenon.  Is it because of the acting?  Perhaps.  What about the storylines?  Possibly.  Those are important factors into my decision to watch this PBS Masterpiece Classic penned by writer and creator Julian Fellowes.  However, the main reason I tune in is for the costumes.  Who can resist those fabulous hats, dashing tails and tophats and elegant evening gowns?  Admit it.  You’ve pictured yourself in at least one of those outfits. 

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey. Costumes courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

In my position as director of the Fairport Historical Museum in Fairport, New York, it is my job to draw attention to the wonderful resources the museum has to offer.  We have an excellent research facility for those genealogists itching to learn more about their Fairport ancestors.  Multiple files extol the beauty of the local architecture, and the displays will tell you everything you need to know about businesses and inventions that came from this area.  What people haven’t seen is a selection of the hundreds of costumes and accessories from the museum’s collection…until now.

On April 16, 2013, the Fairport Historical Museum welcomed costume consultant Mary-Ellen Perry to present a program about the new costume exhibit opening that night, Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey.  Ms. Perry’s credentials are impressive.  She holds a B.A. in Art from West Maryland College, and received her Masters in American Folk Culture from SUNY Oneonta.  After interning and working as curator at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, Ms. Perry became director at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York.  She served as guest curator at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut and followed that up as curator of clothing and art at Rochester’s own Strong Museum.  Impressive is an understatement.  You can imagine how thrilled I was when I approached Ms. Perry to speak at the Fairport Historical Museum and she graciously accepted.  She also took the time to come into the museum several times to discuss the eras and details of the costumes that were to be in the exhibit.  I have learned so much from her.

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey.  Costumes courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey. Costumes courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

After Ms. Perry’s wonderful presentation discussing fashions from the 1880s through the 1940s, the program attendees were offered the first glimpse of the exhibit which features costumes chosen to represent eight of the characters from Downton Abbey.  The gown representing the elegant Lady Grantham is an exquisite ivory tea gown dating to about 1913.  Lady Sybil’s white and blue day dress dates to the same period.  Lady Edith’s black silk crepe afternoon dress with a modesty panel springs us forward in time to the mid-1920s, while Lady Mary’s long black dinner dress with removable jacket seemed to be the hit of the show.  Matthew Crawley, Lady Rose MacClare and Mrs. Hughes are also embodied by appropriate attire.  Everyone’s favorite Dowager Countess is represented by an amazing black silk taffeta day dress.  The dress, circa early 1900s, sports a double row of buttons down the front and back and split sleeves of netting over silk.  Two additional gowns, two capes and a cloak round out the costumes.  The exhibit also features a selection of vintage hats, gloves, hair combs and hat pins, purses and shoes. 

Costumes and mannequins courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Costumes and mannequins courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Fashions Inspired by Downton Abbey runs through September 15, 2013 at the Fairport Historical Museum.  The museum, located at 18 Perrin Street, Fairport, New York 14450, is open Sundays and Tuesdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m., Thursday evenings from 7:00-9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00-11:00 a.m.  Admission is free, and there is free parking on the street and in the Village Landing parking lot directly across the street from the museum.  I invite you to come view these exquisite fashions from days gone by and to support the Perinton Historical Society, a not-for-profit volunteer organization which maintains the Fairport Historical Museum.  Please consider membership in the Perinton Historical Society in order to support our educational programs, special exhibits and operation of the Fairport Historical Museum.  For additional information about the PHS, please visit the website,

Pittsford Cemetery Tour – Saturday, May 21st at 10:00 a.m.

May 19, 2011

Join me and Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson on Saturday, May 21st, as we conduct our annual tour at Pittsford Cemetery.  Tour-goers will be regaled with stories of Pittsford’s early families and of the heroic men who participated in the Civil War.

Pittsford Cemetery has entrances on Washington Road, opposite Golf Avenue.  We will meet at the flagpole.  Please wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for rain.

Finding More Than Headstones on Find A Grave

February 15, 2011

Cheri Branca's Underground Railroad Quilt

Over a year ago, I became a contributor to Find A Grave.  For those of you unfamiliar with this website, Find A Grave is a forum in which volunteers from all over the world transcribe the headstones in their local cemeteries.  The transcriptions, and often photos of the headstones, are placed on Find A Grave where they are accessible to everyone. 

 This worthwhile endeavor serves many purposes, as it allows descendants to view the headstones of their ancestors that they may never have been able to find or to which they may have not been able to travel.  As an historian, one of the purposes I find most helpful is that the headstone photographs serve as a guide to the past.  As the years go by, headstones become eroded by sun, snow and wind.  The writing becomes faint.  Vandals do their dirty work by destroying headstone after headstone all over the world.  The information on Find A Grave preserves the history found on a headstone.

Underground Railroad Quilt Book

 After becoming a contributor, I began to see the names of other local people and the work they were doing on Find A Grave.  One contributor’s name, Cheri Branca, kept popping up.  We began corresponding by email and met in person last June when Cheri attended a tour I gave at Greenvale Cemetery. 

 Cheri began her work on Find A Grave at the urging of her cousin, who had set to work entering the names of his family members.  After finding some ancestors on Find A Grave that volunteers had already transcribed, Cheri “decided I should pay back that favor and do some volunteering and help out other people who can’t get to the cemeteries near me. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating and when I did an index to 3500 obituaries from the first 50 years of the Victor Herald in 1989, I tromped through almost all the local cemeteries trying to locate those people to add to the data”. 

 Cheri has been a Find A Grave contributor for nearly two years.  At this writing, she has transcribed and photographed over 3,100 graves with the help of her husband.  In addition to grave photos, Cheri takes the time to research the people whose headstones she memorializes on Find A Grave.  As she says, “I feel it is important to not only post the information and the photo, but to research all I can, so I can connect the families back together after all this time has passed. That means checking lots of sources, from the County websites, Rootsweb, the census records, family genealogies, anything I can find…and then I sift through it and try to get as accurate an outline as I can.”   Can you imagine the excitement of finding your ancestor’s memorial with these additional nuggets of information included?

A new side of Cheri recently emerged when she emailed me photos of some quilts she has created.  Who would have known that there were such things as Civil War quilts?  One of Cheri’s creations was for a friend who had a Civil War themed wedding.  Another was an “Underground Railroad” quilt.  Some people believe that slaves created a special code and pieced it into quilts in order to give directions to the Underground Railroad.  Many quilt historians have

Civil War Diary Quilt book

disputed this idea, but the lore has survived.  Additional information about the Underground Railroad Quilt Code can be found on Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman’s website, www. 

Find A Grave has been a real source of inspiration for me.  Not only has it given me the opportunity to preserve history by transcribing and photographing graves, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people such as Cheri Branca.  I’ve found more than headstones on Find A Grave.  I’ve also found friends.

Church Records: A Gift from Above, Part II

December 22, 2010

My visit to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church came about much the same way as had my visit to First Presbyterian.  During my research into the life of Henry L. Miller, who died in World War I at Belleau Wood, I found a newspaper article that mentioned Henry’s tie to St. Paul’s.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Pittsford, NY

Janet Harris, the secretary at St. Paul’s, graciously allowed me access to the Church’s record books.  St. Paul’s records are contained in three books which run chronologically.  Beginning with the oldest book, I worked forward in time.  Pittsford had, and still has, a large German population.  The majority of the records from the church’s inception in 1867 until about 1900 were written in old German script.  Unfortunately, I do not write or speak German.  Luckily, I was able to recognize many of the names I am researching – Mueller, Kossow, Lussow, Gerlach, among others.

It was interesting to note the differences between First Presbyterian and St. Paul’s in terms of how they kept their records.  First Presbyterian had many different notebooks which contain much information about its parishioners, including when new members joined and moved.  St. Paul’s had fewer random notes, but very good information about births, marriages and deaths.  The records of both churches have proven to be an invaluable tool to assist with my research.

I would highly recommend the perusal of church records to any historians and genealogists wishing to dig deeper for additional  information about their research subjects.  The records have been a source of new information on many families for which I previously had limited knowledge.

Many thanks to Janet Harris and Dick Crawford for their time and enthusiasm for my project.

Illuminated History is Now on Facebook

October 13, 2010

I just started an Illuminated History page on Facebook.  In addition to telling the stories of Rochester, New York area veterans, I’m inviting everyone to tell the stories of their soldiers.  Did you have an ancestor in the Civil War?  Was your uncle in the infantry during World War I?  How about a grandmother who served during World War II as a WAVE or Navy nurse?  Let’s hear their stories!

Search Facebook for Illuminated History today.!/pages/Illuminated-History/124574050931865

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