Sunday, June 2, 2013

"As My Whimsy Takes Me"

Dorothy Sayers' fans will recognize the title of this post as the motto emblazoned on Lord Peter Wimsey's family coat of arms, along with the "three mice courant" and "a domestic cat crouched to spring." This post doesn't have anything to do with the nobleman turned amateur detective, but it does involve sleuthing.

Back in 1867, an allegation that there were no good houses for rent in Hudson inspired the Hudson Evening Register to publish a two-part article entitled "Private Residences" that inventoried the best and most elegant houses of Hudson. Curiously, all the houses featured were on Warren Street or on the streets south of Warren Street. This led me to wonder about the north side of the city. So, using my favorite research tool, Fulton History, I decided to learn what I could about the buildings that once stood and still stand along Columbia and State streets.   

My first discovery worthy of sharing was this advertisement, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register several times in late 1877 and early 1878--a decade after "Private Residences" was published.

Discovering the fate of this "nearly new and well constructed" double house required first figuring out where it was. The buildings on the east-west streets on the north side of the city were renumbered in 1889, as were the buildings on Warren Street and the streets to the south. This advertisement, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register on February 9, 1888, for the services of Madame F. C. DeStafford, provided the needed clue.

Madame DeStafford, "the most celebrated clairvoyant card reader in this country," resided at 314 State Street, "one door above Fifth street." Today, the double house that was originally numbered 314 and 316 has the numbers 508 and 510 and is part of Phil Gellert's "Northern Empire."

Here's another change from the way things once were in Hudson. Back in 1888, Madame DeStafford could advertise her services in the local newspaper and promise "unerring valuable advice" on "all the affairs of life." Eighty-five years later, in 1973, the Common Council adopted Chapter 188 of the city code, addressing itself to "Lewd and Offensive Behavior." Paragraph 27 of that chapter makes it illegal to "use or pretend to use or have any skill in physiognomy, palmistry or like crafty science, or pretend to tell destinies or fortunes."

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