Fulton's Own Poet Laureate

I’m not sure I would have ever discovered my interest in Fulton history if it weren’t for poetry. Though I never considered myself well-read when it came to poetry – I never found anything I could relate to in the classic poems of high school English – I did consider some of my favorite songs from the 1960s and ‘70s as poetic. Of course, singers like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Carole King and James Taylor had music to make their lyrics come to life, but they did help me see how words can stir our emotions.

I started writing poetry in the 1990s, which led to my first book of poems, Country Boy, a look back at my childhood growing up outside Fulton in farm country. That poetic collection led me to write a local history book, Of the Earth, which honors the muck farmers of Oswego County. These days I spend more time writing about local history than I do poetry, but it’s still true that nothing opens my heart like a poem.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find out that, at one time, Fulton had its own Poet Laureate, an honorary position normally granted by a country or region. While visiting the Fulton Historical Society’s Pratt House, its Manager and Executive Secretary, Sue Lane, shared some history about this Fultonian, who, in 1975, was named our city’s Poet Laureate. The honored individual was E. Clayton Hazelwood, and his life story has a sort of poetry all its own.

Born in Walpole, Massachusetts in 1903, Clayton Hazelwood’s challenging medical conditions during his youth most certainly opened the door to his love of poetry. While other children were outside playing sports and games, Clayton was bedridden with polio, a frightening and, at the time, incurable disease. While recuperating from his illness, Clayton developed an interest in reading and writing.

Eventually, through determination and improved treatments for polio, Clayton was able to lead a normal life. When he moved to Fulton in 1920, the teenager found work at Arrowhead Mills, where he met Ruth Bennett. The two were married in 1923, and while starting and providing for a family, Clayton continued to pursue his interest in literature and history, developing his talents as a poet.

Word spread of the new Fultonian’s poetic abilities, and in honor of the village of Fulton’s centennial in 1935 (not to be confused with the city of Fulton’s centennial in 2002), Clayton was asked to compose a poem. His thirteen-stanza tribute to the area was a history lesson in itself. It began with a nod to the Oswego River, describing its peaceful shores as the birthplace of Native American folklore. The poem introduces us to Chief Taounyawatha, who, according to legend, slayed an evil serpent that sometimes churned calm river waters. Clayton’s poetry also paid homage to French and English settlers who cleared the area for Fulton, delighting his readers with a poem so rich in history.

In 1936, Clayton published his first book of poems, “Poetry Portraits,” which he explained were based on his experiences in Fulton and the personalities of friends he’d made here. (Thank you to the Fulton Public Library for tracking down a copy of the book for me to review.) When he donated a copy of his second book of poems, “Secrets,” to our library, he inscribed it with this handwritten note: “To the Fulton Public Library. No matter where you travel, o’er the world both up and down, there is no place quite as beautiful, as the little old hometown.”

I wanted to find out more about our Poet Laureate and Sue Lane directed me to Donna Terranova, who had recently donated a collection of Clayton’s poems and other creative endeavors to the Pratt House. I learned that Donna’s mother, Joan (Thompson) Terranova, was also a poet; she’d contributed her writing to local papers from the 1940s through the early ‘80s. As a fellow poet, Joan had a special interest in Clayton Hazelwood.

“My mother followed Mr. Hazelwood’s career,” Donna explained. “His poetry was widely read in our area, including in our city’s Fulton Patriot. He also had a weekly poetry program on a Syracuse radio station.”

Donna then mentioned an interesting turn that Mr. Hazelwood’s career took: “At some point in his life, he started writing lyrics for country & western songs, some of which were recorded by Nashville singers. When he was accepted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Hazelwood left the Fulton area, eventually retiring in Florida. My mother and he kept in contact for many years.”

Toward the end of his life, Clayton was again challenged by a physical affliction. Over time, he lost his eyesight, but persisted with his writing, not only in correspondence with friends like Mrs. Terranova, but also his music lyrics and poetry. Many Fultonians never forgot Hazelwood’s contributions to our city and to the creative arts.  It was the bright memory of this man that convinced our city leaders that he should be honored.

In the 1975 proclamation naming Hazelwood Fulton’s Poet Laureate, read by then-mayor Percy Patrick, it was noted that “E. Clayton Hazelwood was one of those giving citizens, who despite his own personal adversity was able to communicate inner strength and hope to others through his poetry, his radio work, his songwriting, and books of verse.”

Though Mr. Hazelwood is no longer with us, in the wonderful way that words keep memories alive, a love for Fulton can be found  in his poetry. Though he never mentions his onetime hometown in the poem “Song of the Poet,” I believe he is describing Fulton with these words:

“Give me the light of the moon for my lamp;

Give me the ground for my chair;

Give me the lanes and the woods to tramp;

The flower-scented cool summer air.

 

Give me the love of old mother earth;

She’s ever so true and so kind.

Give me her rivers, her songbirds of mirth,

And leave all the false love behind.”

 In 1975, this headline appeared as a Fulton newspaper.

In 1975, this headline appeared as a Fulton newspaper.

A Memorable Fulton Doctor

You never know where surprising information about Fulton history might show up. It doesn’t always come by digging through piles of old newspapers or interviews with eyewitnesses. Sometimes it only takes a suggestion from a friend.

A few months ago, I got a call from a high school classmate, Tim Carroll, who said he had some paperwork about a prominent doctor from Fulton’s early 1900s. He wondered if I might be interested in reviewing it. When we met, Tim explained how he’d acquired the large box of newspaper articles, photos and personal correspondence. His mother, Natalie, was a next door neighbor and good friend with this doctor’s daughter, and when the woman passed away, Natalie helped close up her home.  While doing so, she found the box of paperwork, and from reviewing its contents, I have been able to learn about an extraordinary Fulton doctor: Albert Llewellyn Hall.

Dr. Hall was born in 1855 on a farm outside Central Square. He attended local schools and graduated from Cazenovia Seminary, which functioned like a prep school for high-schoolers. Later, Hall taught school for several years and then served as principal for Parish, Cleveland and Constantia schools. But his purposeful life was just beginning.

In 1874, Hall, who had a growing interest in the health field, won a Cornell University scholarship to study medicine there. Four years later, he continued his studies at Syracuse University, graduating in 1879. The new doctor opened a practice in Fair Haven, where he served 20 years as a general practitioner. By this time, Dr. Hall had developed a specific medical interest which would earn him a measure of fame.

Hall’s area of concentration, forensic ballistics, wasn’t something I was familiar with, but a quick Google search revealed the doctor’s specialty as the science of analyzing firearms used to harm or kill people. Much like actors on detective shows trying to crack cold cases, Hall became an expert in identifying firearms that factored into murder trials. A few of them sound like plots for those TV shows: the 1897 case of Charles Allen, charged with murdering two women in Sackets Harbor; and the 1898 trial of George H. Smith, charged with his wife’s murder in Churchville, New York.

During Hall’s groundbreaking work in forensics, he and his family moved to Fulton, where he began to turn his medical attention from brutal deaths to improved health. He became an active member of our community, including his offer to advise Fulton’s municipal leaders in their creation of a water purification system, an important matter for a new city in the early 1900s.

In May 1904, Dr. Hall earned his place in Fulton’s history by serving as the first doctor at our city’s new hospital. The medical facility, actually a house on West Fifth Street, was so new, in fact, that it was not yet fully furnished or officially “open for business.” Nonetheless, when its first patient arrived – a man who’d suffered a near fatal injury at a local mill – it was Dr. Hall who amputated the man’s arm, saving his life.

Twenty-five years later, Dr. Hall was still researching ways to ease pain and save lives. Local papers heralded his development of a less-complicated procedure for removing fish hooks from unlucky anglers, which doesn’t sound life-threatening until you consider how serious a bad infection was before the discovery of antibiotics. Hall developed his method while working on a Fulton boy, spraying the boy’s finger with ether to numb his pain, forcing the hook until the barb was in view, snipping it off and then pulling the remains of the hook back and out of the skin. The “operation” could be performed in a doctor’s office, eliminating the need for hospitalization to monitor for signs of infection.

All of Dr. Hall’s accomplishments are noteworthy, but there was one in particular that I found inspiring. While working to fight disease and illness, Hall was also professing theories for a long life. Among the paperwork I reviewed was this medical essay: “When Are We Old? When Should We Be Old?” An early Fulton newspaper, The Observer, covered his 1914 presentation of the paper to our city’s social club, Borrowed Time. The club, for men who’d lived “three score and ten years,” would have been particularly interested in Hall’s longevity theories.

In the early 1900s, while Hall was promoting his theories, the average human life spanned 55 years. At the time, there were about 5,000 known cases of a person living to be 100, which Hall considered “a remarkable fact.” He compared “the growing years” of a human (from birth until age 18) to the growing years of animals, some that lived five times as long as their growing years. If humans could be more like animals, Hall theorized, they would be able to live to age 125 or even 150.

Here’s how Hall justified his “prescription” for a long life: “By the close of the present century [the year 1999], man will not be regarded as being old at 70 years, but on the contrary, he will be active and energetic…He will conserve his energies, regulate his working hours, improve his living conditions and, above all, he will find time for a proper amount of recreation. He will live with the hope of being active at 80 years of age and not old until the century mark of his life has been reached.”

Dr. Hall’s predictions of a long life weren’t far off from the 2018 norms. Today, the average American female lives to age 81; males to age 77. The 5,000 centenarians who broke records in Hall’s day have grown in number to over 50,000. Though Hall himself only reached the age of 76 when died at his home in Fulton in 1931, his meaningful life, which was devoted to educating and healing people, is a feather in Fulton’s cap. The next time I reach a milestone birthday, I’ll take a moment to remember one of our city’s first doctors.

 Dr. Albert Llewellyn Hall, one of Fulton's first doctors, had an intriguing prescription for living a full life.

Dr. Albert Llewellyn Hall, one of Fulton's first doctors, had an intriguing prescription for living a full life.

It's A Sweet Memory

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the Fulton Library is collecting memories of the Dizzy Block, a section of our downtown where people once congregated to shop and socialize. We’re hoping to get enough stories to publish a book about the Dizzy Block’s popularity. We’ll start with the early 1900s, when horse-drawn carriages brought farm families into Fulton to stock up on supplies. We’ll also cover Fulton in the 1930s, when our city’s industries remained strong despite a countrywide Great Depression. We’ll even cover the late-1960s, when urban renewal changed the look, and many say the feel of our unique downtown.

For me, a baby boomer born in the mid-1950s, the Dizzy Block was a place to spend the few dollars I’d earned topping onions on my uncles’ farms or from tips I made on my Herald-American paper route. Maybe it was downstairs to the Montgomery Ward sports section or over to Woolworth’s for just about anything I thought I needed. (That store was the Wal-Mart of my youth.) I may have had serious purchases to make, like new pencils for school or food for my goldfish, but I always made sure to save a few coins for a stop at Foster’s.

Luckily, the library already has some stories about how special Foster’s was for many Fultonians. In 2014, when the library’s Memoir Project was gathering recollections about successful Fulton businesses, I was hoping we could track down some about the original Foster’s, a tiny establishment that sold everything from magazines to hunting equipment. Best of all, they served great ice cream.

It wasn’t just the hot fudge sundaes or milkshakes I wanted to remember about Foster’s. It was also the feel of walking in that store, which in my memory seemed no bigger than an extra-wide hallway. I couldn’t put into words what I was trying to recall, but luckily the library tracked down two people who could tell us exactly what being in Foster’s was like.

I’m talking about Will and Jim Chapman, whose father, William J. Chapman, ran Foster’s for many years. Their father has passed on now, but since the Chapman brothers spent much of their youth working and “hanging out” at “The Store,” as they called it, they agreed to pull together their memories of that establishment, including how they managed to offer customers so much in such a small space. Here are Will and Jim’s memories, which take us back to Foster’s in the 1960s:

“We can remember every inch of the first store at 122 Cayuga Street. (Foster’s moved to the opposite side of Cayuga after urban renewal.) As you entered the store, the comic book rack was to the left of the door. Behind the comics were magazine racks, an ice machine and then the counter and cash register on the right. Behind it was the ice cream freezer, where the cones were made and dispensed.  Next was the long counter on the right – we forget how many stools exactly, but are sure it sat 25 or so.  Behind that counter was the soda fountain equipment, starting with the Coke machine, then ice cream freezers with various syrups over the freezer doors. 

“We would make soft drinks from syrup and charged water. Cherry was the biggest seller, but others preferred vanilla.  It would be interesting to know how many Cokes and cherry Cokes got poured in those years.  Doctors sent their patients in to get pure Coke syrup to calm a bad stomach. Then came the Pepsi machine, and about halfway down the counter was the industrial-sized Bunn coffee machine, with a minimum of two urns working at all times.  As with the Cokes, we wonder how many cups of coffee were served. 

“Adjacent to the coffee machine was the hot dog steamer, with the lemonade or orange drink dispenser on the counter. Across from that, the toaster and then the same ice cream freezer and fountain mixes on the far end.  At the end of each of the fountain mixes was a container of Nestlé hot fudge.  The hot butterscotch and hot marshmallow would be located on the far end. 

“Just after the magazine and newspaper rack (We can still hear Dad saying to some lingerer at the magazine rack, ‘If you want to read, the library is on First Street!’), on the left was the cigar rack, followed by a candy rack, then a register and display cases filled with pipes, Zippo lighters, smoking paraphernalia and gift items, followed by another display case with sporting goods.  Behind the cigar rack and along the wall were cherry storage cabinets that stored extra cigarettes and cigars.

“Behind the display cases on pegboard walls were sporting goods.  This is before the big box stores put the little sporting goods retailers out of business.  Shakespeare fishing rods, reels, Wilson golf clubs, golf balls, bats, balls, ball gloves and even BB guns, 22 rifles or shotguns could be bought at Foster’s. At this register, many a hunting and fishing license was issued…”

If you’re like me, reading those memories by the Chapman brothers felt like I was walking through Foster’s. Thanks to Will and Jim Chapman, a favorite part of the Dizzy Block and of Fulton’s proud past is forever preserved.

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