Tuesday, March 30, 2010

19th Century Poetry Slam.

When Washington Irving was a young man in 1803, he traveled from Albany to the frontier hamlet of Ogdensburg. The journey was made to view land in which he planned to invest. To get to Ogdensburg on the shore of the St. Lawrence River was a trip of epic proportions.

Irving traveled with some fellow land speculators from Albany up the lightly settled Mohawk valley. They then traveled overland from near Utica to the headwaters of the Black River. Then they followed the Black River Valley north, as there was no road yet north of Rome. At the village of High Falls (now called Lyons Falls, N.Y.) he boarded a scow that carried him north with the river current. In two days he and his companions had traveled 42 miles, and disembarked at the hamlet of Long Falls (now called Carthage, N.Y.) Still 60 miles of travel from his destination, they sought lodging in the only Public House in the village.

To say that Irving was unimpressed with his accommodations on the frontier would be an understatement. He dubbed the Inn by the title, “The Temple of Dirt”. Upon leaving he scribbled this on the plaster over the fireplace mantle,
“Here Sovereign Dirt erects her Sable throne,
The house, the host, the hostess are all her own.”
Some years later, Judge William Cooper was also traveling through Long Falls, and stayed in the same Public House. Cooper was, himself, the namesake and founder of the town of Cooperstown, and no stranger to the conditions of the frontier. He penned a reply to Irving’s complaints on the same wall. He wrote,
“Learn hence, young man, and teach it to your sons,
The wisest way is to take it as it comes.”
There you have it, Northern New York’s first Poetry Slam! Washington Irving went on to become famous for his stories like Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Judge Cooper became a prosperous and influential figure in N.Y. His son James Fennimore Cooper would also become a famous author, known for his Leatherstocking Tales featuring adventures on the New York State frontier.


  1. Washington Irving was recruited by attorney Russell Van Ness to tutor his children at their home in Kinderhook, NY, in Columbia County. Van Ness was most famous as Aaron Burr's "second" at the duel with Alexander Hamilton. Irving became friends with the local school teacher, Jesse Merwin, who inspired the Ichabod Crane tale. Van Ness is most famous for his law pupil, Martin Van Buren.


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