Monday, August 12, 2013

Historic Odds & Ends

Back in the 1970s, the Register-Star had a regular column called "Kramer's Corner," which had the secondary title "Odds and Ends." The column was often a kind of potpourri of loosely related historical tidbits. Such was the case with the offering for July 3, 1972, which includes these two intriguing items.
DID YOU KNOW THAT . . . The last execution in the Columbia County area took place in Hudson 90 years ago. About 15 years ago, the discovery of almost 100 human bones in the hills near Austerlitz revived memories of Oscar Beckwith[,] Simon Vandercook's murderer[,] who eventually was hanged for this crime in Hudson. Until about 10 years ago, there were at least two persons still living who remembered seeing Beckwith led up and down Warren St., by his jailer. A sign hung around his neck, read "Shake Hands With A Murderer For A Penny." The late Ernest Lasher, who lived to be almost 100 and who died several years ago, told me he had begged his father for 10 cents to give to Beckwith so that he could buy tobacco.
THE WARREN ST. BUILDING THAT houses The Register-Star was built as a jail in 1805. An old iron door to one of the cells, with a narrow slot in it through which the prisoners used to be fed is still on the premises. . . . 
NOT MANY PEOPLE are aware that one of Hudson's most famous landmarks, the fountain in the 8th St. Park [sic], would have long since been demolished had it not been for the generosity of Sam Finkelstein. In the mid-1950s, the base of the fountain became cracked and it was feared it might topple on youngsters playing there. The fountain was offered for sale to Mr. Finklestein, who had it removed from its base. He then told city authorities that if they would build a safe and study new base he would return it to the city, free. He did. That's why the fountain is still there to add pleasure to all who frequent the park.
The story of Oscar Beckwith is a grisly tale of murder and cannibalism which sounds more like something that might have happened in the Klondike than in Columbia County. In January 1882, Beckwith, who was mining for gold near Austerlitz, murdered a fellow prospector, Simon Vandercook. Beckwith cut his victim's body into little pieces and packed them in a pork barrel, but he kept out the heart and the liver, which he was reportedly eating when the posse arrived at the cabin that had been the scene of the crime. Surprisingly, Beckwith managed to escape on foot to Canada. It was three years before he was arrested, and another three years before he was tried and sentenced. 

You can read the whole story in the recollections of David C. Neefus, which appeared in the Chatham Courier for January 28, 1954. At the time of the hanging, on March 1, 1888, Neefus, then a young man of 24, worked for the Hudson Republican, and all of the newspaper staff got "free passes" to the spectacle from the county sheriff.

The story of the fountain's near demise in the mid-1950s is new to me. Sadly, thirty years after the fountain was saved by Sam Finklestein's largesse, the fountain was removed permanently and replaced by "Inspiration Fountain," the fountain we have now. 


  1. Hanged for his crimes in Hudson ....
    Do we know where ?

    1. According to the account in the Chatham Courier, the gallows were brought by train from New York City and erected just south of the courthouse, which in 1888 was located exactly where the courthouse is now.

  2. The grounds of the former Columbia County Courthouse in Claverack aka "The Old Court House" was also the sight of a hanging(s) years ago. One story is that a woman was executed there by hanging for the killing of a child or infant that she was the nanny for. The story continues to state that the infant's mother confessed to the crime on her death bed.

    Hudson's other fountain was located at Promenade Park. The St. Winefred statue has a circular pool base that contained water that flowed down the rocks under the statue. The top area of the rocks contained pipe(s) that emitted the circulating water.