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Tuesday
Feb242015

Who is she?

 

 

By Michelle Ann Kratts
Lewiston Public Library

I love when a mystery finds its way into the Lewiston Public Library…especially when she has a face.  It was about this time last year that Jeff Streb, Lewiston resident, asked if I would help him solve the mystery of his newly acquired painting.  He had picked it up at Nettie Stimson’s antique shop located at the old Campbell farm on Ridge Road.  Drawn to its dark elegance, he knew that there was something special about this nameless portrait. Before coming to the library he had already been to countless area historians but no one seemed to be able to pinpoint who the lady in the painting might be.   It was time that I had my chance to take a stab at it. 

I knew at once that Jeff is a natural born researcher.  He is extremely focused and organized.  Along with providing me a slideshow of pictures (which included the painting in question as well as other possibilities) he even wrote up a page of “basic facts”—or details and suppositions based upon the information that he was gathering during his investigation.  As for the history of the acquisition, Jeff was informed that the painting had “been acquired by the antique dealer in the mid 1980’s from Augustus Porter V as he was relocating (retiring) with his wife, Virginia (Curtis) from 210 N. 2nd Street in Lewiston to Sarasota, Florida.  Guss (as he was known) passed away in 2005 and Virginia in 2011, with no heirs.  Guss had a pair of portraits in addition to this single portrait and had inherited all three.  He knew who the couple was in the pair of portraits but he did not know the subject of the single portrait.”  And so begins our mystery…who is she?

Jeff has his heart set on discovering the personality behind the face and said that his ultimate goal is to bring her home—to wherever it is that she may belong.  Or, at least, he wants to leave her in a place where her memory will be honored and appreciated. 

Shortly after his initial (email) inquiry, Jeff brought this beautiful portrait into the library so that I could see it up-close.  I am not an art expert in any way, shape or form…but I was stunned by the richness of the colors, our lady’s demure and upturned smile, the dark plain clothing, her neatly pulled back hair, the delicate lace around her collar and cap.  As a librarian, of course, my eyes were drawn to the book that she held.  There are words printed on the book: Fanny Wilson.  Is this the title of the book?  The author?  Is this a clever way to showcase the lady’s name?  The artist’s name?  We are not sure at this time.

At first glance, I knew one thing…that this woman’s style was that of the 1840’s or 1850’s.  The severe middle part of the hair, the dark clothes.  She did not exemplify the capriciousness of dress more prevalent in the following decades.  I also imagined that the subject of this painting must be between the ages of twenty-five and forty.  Knowing a little about the history of where it had come from my heart raced…could it be??? Could this be a portrait of Lavinia Porter? 

As a volunteer at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, I am quite familiar with the Porter family and, especially, with Lavinia Porter.  I have learned all about her importance to our local history.  In fact, the land upon which the cemetery was built was donated to the association by Lavinia Porter.  There are no known images of Lavinia.  So many of us have hunted high and low.  I recently wrote a piece on the history of the cemetery for WNY Heritage Magazine and as Lavinia was a cornerstone of our story we tried to find something with her likeness…but to no avail.  We consulted with every expert in the area, with family…and nothing was ever located.  But could this finally be our elusive lady Lavinia?                                                          

Lavinia Porter (1810-1863) was the daughter of Augustus and Jane Porter.  Augustus was a land surveyor, a judge and an Assemblyman for the state of New York.  He is also noted as the founder of Niagara Falls.     Lavinia is considered a true pioneer of Niagara Falls.  She was born here on September 7, 1810 and during the War of 1812, though just a young child, braved the ordeal alongside her mother and her two older brothers.  When the war came to Niagara her mother fled with her children to Canandaigua by sleigh and they stayed there for the duration of the war.  They eventually returned although their house was completely destroyed.  They rebuilt the house in 1818 and it stood there until it was razed in 1933.  Lavinia never married.  In 1841, Mrs Porter died and left the care of the household to her daughter, Lavinia.  Lavinia was very sickly herself and was said to have had a cough which could not be cured.  She was called “the Lady of the Mansion.”  No one ever really knew the extent of her private charity work.  Her tombstone in Oakwood Cemetery reads:  First pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  Some of her charities involved the donation of a house (on Buffalo Avenue) to the First Presbyterian Church and the donation of land (on Portage Road) to Oakwood Cemetery. 

                                                       

Of course, no one is certain that this is a portrait of Lavinia Porter.  It just seems that she is a good candidate.  There are several reasons for this (which Jeff so succinctly points out in his “basic facts” outline).  First of all, the painting was in the household of Augustus Porter V.  So it is very likely that this portrait is of someone from his own family.  Augustus Porter V’s great grandfather, Albert Howell Porter, was Lavinia Porter’s brother.  Augustus Porter V’s grandparents (Albert Augustus Porter and Julia Granger Jeffrey Porter) were the last occupants of Judge Porter’s homestead before it was demolished in the early 1930’s, so it is possible the painting was removed from the home at that time and passed down that family’s line.  An old Niagara Falls Gazette article about Mrs. Augustus G. Porter (Augustus V’s mother) states the following:  “A lover of the fine arts, she is keenly appreciative of good books, good music, and the paintings that have been handed down to her, several having graced the drawing room of the old Porter homestead.” Also the face in the portrait certainly shows a likeness to the known images of Lavinia’s parents, Augustus and Jane Porter.  As Lavinia had no children, no heirs, it is very likely that any portrait of her would be passed on through her siblings’ family lines.  

                           

Jane Porter, Lavinia’s mother

Judge Augustus Porter, Lavinia’s father

There are a few other possibilities; other female members of the Porter family that may hold the key to this mystery.  Jeff has researched these women, as well.   There was Sarah G. Porter who married Judge Porter and Jane’s son, Augustus S. Porter.  She would have been 33-43 years old during the 1840’s.  She was also the great grandmother of Augustus Porter V (the person this painting was acquired from).  Another possibility is Jane S. Porter Townsend.  She was Judge Porter and Jane’s daughter who married Daniel Townsend.  She would have been 24-34 in the 1840’s.  Of course, there are numerous other women that could in fact be the woman in the painting.

And so we are calling out to the public, to the citizens of Niagara, to try and help us solve this history mystery.  The painting will be on display in the front lobby at the Lewiston Public Library for the month of March.  Come on over, look at her.  Tell us what you think.  Do you think that this is truly Lavinia?  Do you know more than what is written here?  Have you seen this painting as it hung in the house in Lewiston or in Niagara Falls? Please contact Michelle at the Lewiston Public Library for more details or to share your findings at mkratts@nioga.org or at 716-754-4720 ext. 228.  And please share this story and these photos with others, especially those who may have knowledge of this painting.      

Monday
Feb092015

Oakwood is 163 years old in February!

NIAGARA FALLS, NY (Oakwood Cemetery) - February 9, 1852 a meeting of subscribers to a new cemetery near Niagara Falls, NY was held to form a corporation.  The meeting held at the St. Lawrence Hotel was attended by some of Niagara's most prominent citizens.  Parkhurst Whitney (owner of the Cataract House and father of the "Three Sisters" as in Three Sister's Islands) was elected President.  J. F. Trott, (who later had the Vocational School named after him), was elected Secretary.  Peter A. Porter was also in attendance.  (He eventually became Colonel Porter and was shot and killed while leading his men in the battle at Cold Harbor during the Civil War).  

The men decided to take a vote on what they should name the new cemetery.  Some of the suggestions were: Oakwood, Oakgrove, Oakfield, Oakdale, Oakland, Oakvale, Hopefield, Hoperest, Hopes' Rest, Hope Wood, Woodfield, Woodlawn, and Greenwoods.  The vote was 20 for Oakwood and 1 for Oakgrove.  So the name was adopted.

Sunday
Feb012015

February is Black History Month!

NIAGARA FALLS, NY (Oakwood Cemetery) - In recognition of Black History Month, Oakwood Cemetery would like to honor R. Nathaniel Dett.  During his lifetime Mr. Dett was one of the most successful black composers.  While R. Nathaniel Dett is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, his father Robert T. Dett resides right here in Oakwood Cemetery.  The Dett family operated a tourist home in Niagara Falls, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

R. Nathaniel Dett's "Morning: Barcarolle" performed by Leon Bates. 

 

Ave Maria composed by R. Nathaniel Dett, sung by the Nathaniel Dett Chorale of Toronto, Ont.

We honor R. Nathaniel Dett's memory with one of his most famous compositions, "Juba Dance" performed by Richard Alston. 

Wednesday
Nov122014

Wreaths Across America 2014

 

Wreaths Across America - Remembrance Ceremony

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Noon Sharp

 

 

See photos of our past ceremonies

Thursday
Nov062014

C. A. Percy takes a Ride Through the Rapids and Whirlpool

courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library, Niagara Falls, ONTNIAGARA FALLS, NY  (Oakwood Cemetery) - Another Stunter connection to Oakwood has been discovered.  While doing photographic research for a family, Oakwood volunteer Giselle Ladouceur came across this article posted to findgrave.com by Ellen Herrman.  Thank you Giselle and Mrs. Herrman for your unique look into Niagara's History and Oakwood Cemetery.

 

NIAGARA FALLS GAZETTE,
WEEKLY EDITION 
NIAGARA FALLS, N. Y. 
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 31, 1887.

TRIP OF A LIFE BOAT

C. A. Percy takes a Ride Through the Rapids and Whirlpool

SOMETHING THAT MAY BE USEFUL.


From Monday's Daily Gazette (Aug. 29)

The subject of constructing a boat that would carry several passengers safely through the Whirlpool Rapids, or water equally as rough, is by no means a new one. A few years ago a man came here from Georgian Bay, bringing with him a finely constructed boat, but had not the courage to pilot it through the rapids, and so sent it down alone. It turned over several times but did very nicely until going out of the Whirlpool towards Lewiston, it struck some rocks and was dashed to pieces. It has remained for a citizen of Suspension Bridge to accomplish this feat successfully.

Charles Alexander Percy, a well known resident of Suspension Bridge, a wagon maker by trade, has been for the past two months spending all his spare hours building the boat. The work was done in the barn of Nicholas Eberhardt in the rear of the United States Hotel. The work was finished last week and early yesterday morning
the little craft was launched upon the bosom of Niagara at the old Maid of the Mist landing. The boat is  seventeen feet long and four feet ten inches wide, entirely covered with canvass, water proof. It has sixty-four ribs on the bottom, and has two air chambers, each six feet six inches long, with five stout ribs supporting the roof from the inside. It has also an open space in the middle four feet square, with a seat raised about two inches above the bottom, and in which a man can fasten himself with a belt around the waist if he wishes to travel on the outside. To this belt five straps are connected, each with a snap hook, with which they can be fastened to iron ring in the seat.  The belt also fastens with a snap hook. By means of this arrangement the occupant is free to ply a pair of oars with which the boat is equipped, and which, when not in use, are strapped to the sides. The oarlocks are made of the best Norway iron, and the ten foot oars are made of the toughest white ash.  Each of the air chambers is capable of holding two grown people, and can be closed so as to be impervious to water. Under the keel of the boat and running nearly its entire length, is a large plate of iron weighing about 240 pounds, and in addition to this weight are 12 bags of sand each weighing from twenty to twenty-five pounds, making it impossible for it to tip over, but in such an event the boat will instantly right itself every time. It is also so constructed that it will empty itself from the inside, having apertures in the sides of the four foot space between the air chambers, where no water can possibly remain. The whole weight of the
apparatus is over 900 pounds, and on twelve feet of it's length has eleven inch sweep.  Held by two strips of canvass a third oar is carried on the outside of the forward air chamber. Access is gained to each chamber by means of a small opening, about 9 x12 inches, and having a door to which is attached a cleat for the purpose of properly closing it during the trip. There are also plugs for closing a couple of air holes during the trip.

Attached to the stern by a rope about ten feet long is an iron weight of about thirty pounds. This Mr. Percy  explained it, was his intention to throw overboard as soon as he started on his journey, on the theory that there is in the river an upper and a lower current, the former being the most rapid. The use of this weight in the manner described would, he believed, prevent the boat from being whirled around in the rapids ahead.
No announcement having been made of the intended trip, but very few of the excursionists in town knew  anything of it, and but few saw it. The citizens of both villages were more or less interested in the boat, and many walked down the long hill to see it.  A brother of the builder spent a portion of the forenoon rowing around near the landing, showing how easily the boat could be handled.  Shortly after two o'clock, Percy strolled down to the landing, and began preparations for his trip by adjusting his ballast, etc.  Changing the clothes he wore down for a coarse and loose suit, he placed the extra suit in a valise and stowed it away in the
forward air chamber. At 3:15 he stepped aboard and shipping the oars pulled up the eddy towards the point and across the river to near the Canadian shore, where he retrapped the oars and flung the steering weight overboard, and with a wave of his hand to those on shore, he entered the stern air chamber, closed the door,  and the little craft was left to battle with the waves. The trip differed but very little from the passage of  several crafts heretofore sent down. Taking very nearly the center of the river, it was sometimes covered by the huge waves and again seen upon the crest of the highest. The drag seemed to have no effect, whatever, as the boat turned around several times, but did not turn over. The open space in the center was frequently filled with water, but as quickly emptied when the craft came to the top of the waves. Just before entering the Whirlpool the boat was thrown very near the American shore, into almost still water, and Percy thinking the Whirlpool was reached opened his air chamber and put out his head. Seeing his situation he quickly drew back closing the door just in time to save a drenching, as a huge breaker dashed over the boat.
At 8:40 o'clock the whirlpool basin was entered and the boat was carried across the surface safely, not being caught in the outer current or any of the frightful boils or swirls that mark that point. One minute later Percy came forth from his nest and found that he had at last reached comparatively quiet water. He once more shipped his oars snd pulled slowly along the Canadian shore, receiving and greeting hearty congratulations from those who were gathered there and to many of whom the sudden appearance of the life-boat and its occupant was a matter of "great surprise, as they had known nothing of Percy's intentions.  Beaching the foot of the incline plane at Colt's elevator, at 3:48, Percy succeeded in grasping a rope that was thrown to him by
a young man named William Barge, and at 8:49 he jumped ashore, none the worse for the memorable voyage he had made through the rapids. When he left his friends at the landing it was to go through Lewiston and his entering the boat again was accepted by some as an evidence of his intention to continue his journey. He took off his coat and unstrapped the oars, and his brother joined him in the boat. He pulled out a short distance and coming back said that the changing current would prevent his gaining the channel again in his present condition; he would be compelled to row across the whirlpool,and there would not be sufficient time to strap up the oars and enter the air chamber before striking the lower rapids. The Lewiston trip being abandoned he entered a carriage that was in waiting, returned to Suspension Bridge where he was warmly greeted by those who awaited his coming.  Questioned as to his experience during the trip, Percy said: "After I had gone into
the air chamber, when those first billows were struck, the sensation was like that experienced in riding into a heavy sea, and when I struck the breaker that rushes out from the shore near Brundage's incline railway the little boat keeled most fearfully. She did not rock much,but when she did rock, it was something awful. At one time she got a fearful slap from the waves,and I imagined that I was knocked about a hundred feet through the air, striking the water with such force that I felt certain a hole had been knocked in her side. There was some water in the air chamber when I started. We put it in to cool off the place. This was thrown over me and made me think that an accident had occurred. When the waves were crested I got it the worst. I did not mind
my experience in the whirlpool as I was not in the most violent part of it.  "I would not hesitate to repeat my trip every day. It amounts to nothing in such a boat as I have built, and is just as safe as though you were in a life-boat on an open sea during a storm."' Asked when he would make another trip, he said he didn't know whether he ever would again. He had not made this one for money, but simply as an experiment to test the quality and reliability of his little vessel with a view of modeling a life-boat from it which he would undertake to patent. " My desire," said he, " has been to devise a life boat that in a time of danger can be thrown overboard from the deck of a vessel or steamer without the use of davits, and that will right itself as soon as it strikes the
water."