Author Archive

The varied archaeological and historical services we provide as part of our Clients’ environmental permit processes aren’t always the usual. It would be so nice if all we had to do was walk into the local historical society and pull out the folder with all of the maps and records from the property under investigation then walk out into a freshly mown 500 acre lawn and dig and fill-in our test pits every fifty feet.

Unfortunately, archaeology in New York is more often a complicated process with conflicting requirements that have to be traversed in a timely manner. Field work has to be finished despite dreadful weather, rugged terrain, unhappy neighborhood dogs, and even escaped convicts. HAZEx Researchers have to work through piles of incomplete and badly cataloged collections avoiding recluse spiders within the ever shrinking office hours of underfunded state and local repositories.
Through all of the +100 HAZEx projects conducted over the past five years of operation in New York we have tried to keep our clients informed and satisfied. At the four-year-mark I decided to call or write all of our half dozen past clients and muscle up the courage to ask we had done. I asked about our Time Frame, Budgets, Communication Skill-set (written and spoken), and Results and I also asked for comments. I wanted some good criticism so that we could make them Happier with HAZEx 2009. I wanted to hear something positive that I might share with other great Engineering Firms considering using our services.
The results of my survey were helpful. We received feedback from all six Engineering firms with the following selection of comments from their project managers or engineers:
“Thanks Chris – Hope to work with you sometime soon”
“Nice work”
“I loved working with you and will do so again, next chance we get!”
“We appreciate your prompt, courteous and knowledgeable services”
Of the 30 questions answered all clients agreed that we met expectations and a whopping 90% agreed we had at least exceeded expectations. I felt pretty good.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses…I heard back from a Client that HAZEx needed to tighten our belts on some projects just like everyone else. So I went back to my younger days and took on more of the work that I had be sub-contracting (research, excavation, and report preparation) in order to save money for all us. Our budgets are now as streamlined as our schedules.
I also thought that new SHPO review guidelines for recorded sites were confusing my Clients so I put together an informal survey for fellow archaeologists and State Officials to see how we could get it right the first t ime. Now we have a tighter and more efficient HAZEx report. We are also holding a fire under our review agencies whenever HAZEx reports are sitting on their desks for more than 30 days.
Since I sent the survey out last Fall HAZEx has been committed to living up to the high regard we have been lucky enough to receive from our Great Clients.
So…
Maybe we’ll have to get a little frost, spider and dog bit.
Maybe we’ll have to crawl for ten minutes through buckthorn and snowdrifts to get to the next fifty foot mark.
Maybe we’ll have to eat more canned sardines and less lobster-roll while in the field.
And because of this I am confident that this year’s Client survey will be even better.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions please email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com or just use the blog.

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These summer nights are a perfect time for an outdoor horror film at the Finger Lakes Drive-in. Recent research for the Cayuga Waterfront Trail has unearthed a chilling treasure from Ithaca’s silent film era suitable for our summer nights.
Tompkins County is already famous as the last residence of Rod Serling, “Twilight Zone” creator and Ithaca College professor. Mr. Serling grew up in Elmira and lived with his family near Interlaken between 1970 until his death in 1975 during which time he taught film at the IC Department of Communication. He also displayed an interest in Ithaca’s silent films, even as his own psychological and haunting programs were creating television’s Golden Age. In 1975 he narrated the short IC film “They Made Movies in Ithaca”, telling the story of the Wharton Brothers.
The Wharton Motion Picture Studio was one of the first in the US operating from 1913 to 1919 and filming across Ithaca’s Stewart Park. The Wharton films featured directors who would go west to create “The Little Rascals” and “Tarzan” and stars such as Pearl White, Irene Castle, Oliver Hardy, and Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather).
The Whartons filmed dozens of dramas and comedies and one horror film “the Mysteries of Myra”. Myra was written by a famous psychic, Hereward Carrington, and billed as “science versus supernatural”. The serial film featured a strong heroine beset by dark occult forces including an animated golden statue called the “Thought Monster” and the hooded Grand Master of the Dark Order and his evil-handed followers.
Though the plot of Myra was more sensational than serious drama the film made a big contribution to the film industry. Myra introduced the science fiction film to audiences as well as special effect and mood lighting techniques. Double exposure of the film showed moving figures within a crystal ball and statues turning into dancing demons. Red tinting of the film created a ghastly mood for the ceremonial scenes of the “Black Order”.
Sadly, only the script and scattered images of the Ithaca-made Myra have survived. According to local historians the Ithaca City Fire-Marshall took the highly flammable nitrate film out of their new park’s Bathhouse Pavilion and rowed it out to the drop-off in Cayuga Lake and sunk it forever. The only scraps of film remaining are stored at the British Film Archive in London. However, promotional and other still photos of Myra are preserved by silent film aficionados like Terry Harbin and can be seen in the photo collection of the History Center.
Our research sparked our investigations of the former grounds of the studio crossed by the City’s new proposed Phase 3 of the trail. A quick look at the early 20th-century Sanborn Fire-Insurance Company Maps including Renwick Park (former name of Stewart Park) showed numerous screen stages, props sheds, and a remarkable ultra-fireproof film developing and cutting room encircling the primary studio. The studio was the former Renwick Amusement Park dance pavilion built at the turn-of-the-century and survives relatively intact today, including a few old lavaliere lights hanging from the ceiling, as a storage house and restrooms for the park. But a remarkable characteristic of the area is that it may be the one and only remaining major silent film studio left in the US that hasn’t been consumed by development. The park was purchased by the City in 1922 and many of the studio support structures were torn down to ground level to open up the park. But since that time little to no development has occurred across the grounds except for some parking lots and road improvements.

The question remains whether there are still traces of the studio below the green grass of Stewart Park and if so what incredible stories and treasures might they contain? There is amazing potential for sub-surface features of the Wharton Studio. Consider the possibility of a filled in or cemented over cellar within the former film-room filled with lost reels of our early American stars preserved like young Tutankhamen ready to be cast back into the public eye on the silver screen.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

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My first HAZEx BLOG is about my two favorite jobs. I thought this would make it less scary to start off my little series. It has always needled at me and many of my old archaeology buddies in CRM that most of the great little stories of history we uncover are lost in the state archives. We put together our reports and after months and sometimes years of field work and research we often only get to tell the stories to the occasional passing farmer or pod of kids.

Our 2007 and 2008 archaeological surveys for public housing and transportation got me immersed in the cattle barons of the North Country. Before that I had never pictured the open fields along the Saint Lawrence populated by cowboys and horse-traders. But when we tested the remaining outbuilding at the former Gifford Farm and the Wild Rose Thoroughbred Stables I got a different view of the former landscape of the now built-over City of Watertown. I also delved into the early film history of Ithaca (see this blog next week for more on that)

…and so last Summer I started writing scripts for small vignettes performing bits of local history. HAZEx partnered with a couple Ithaca-based non-profit Historical Groups (Historic Ithaca and the History Center) and HAZEx produced (with $150 from the History Center) and directed the Haunted History Tour of Ithaca, New York over seven nights in the Fall to a sold-out audience totaling over 400 folks.

It took a whole lot of help from other historians, a great cast of docents and actors and many other colorful characters such as Ithaca’s own experts on silent film (Terry Harbin) and swashbuckling (Ron & Yalena Lis). The tour had flying ghosts, screaming murderers, fallen children, and celluloid come-to-life and made the local historical society a nice addition to their coffers in a year when so many county historical societies were suffering.

This spring HAZEx became so busy with new projects stemming from the new Federally funded infra-structure that I had to let the societies continue the tours without me. But the plan is to continue writing scripts and telling the stories lost in our reports through outdoor theatre.

I am now working on a nautical tour through time across Cayuga Lake. There will be ship-wrecks, lost fiancés, bootleggers, and tinsel-makers in abundance. We were part of the third phase of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail and found some exciting new clues about some of these stories. Whether this research will continue and become part of the stories remains to be seen. I just hope it won’t mean HAZEx digging through icy soil yet again.

Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

Categories : Public Archaeology
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