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Getting Played: Andrew Cuomo’s 400 ‘Special History Events’

From a press release issued on May 31, 2013:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that more than 400 special (emphasis added) events are planned for New York State’s Path Through History Weekends and Museum Week at venues throughout the state…. “Last year, we launched Path Through History to highlight the rich cultural history of New York and to boost tourism in our state,” Governor Cuomo said. “This weekend is the start of the Path Through History Weekends as well as Museum Week, which will offer some of the best opportunities for families, history buffs, and students to explore over 500 historic institutions and sites in communities all across the state. I encourage New Yorkers to take advantage of these events this summer.”

Aren’t you excited to know that more than 400 special events were planned for these two weekends and the following week in June? Aren’t you eager to see the results of the all the regional planning sessions and state leadership that has gone into creating the special events?

I know I was. But I confess that as a longtime watcher of the Hudson Valley Ramble and knowing that the same people are involved, I expected the same results: grassroots organizations doing what they do without any funding, assistance, or leadership from Albany, listing their events on a website, and the state taking credit for the attendance. Let’s look and the Path through History website and see if my fears were justified or if I am simply some small-minded whiner who deserves to be ignored as the Path project does.

According to the events calendar page for the Path through History weekends at there are 268 events listed. Perhaps the other events are for Museum Week. The website conveniently enables one to categorize the events by type with some events being coded as more than one type. By selecting the different types available the following results are produced. There are:

30 walks
29 lectures
29 open houses
91 guided tours

Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t these the exact types of activities which historic activities do throughout the summer including Museum Week and throughout the year if they are open year round? Is Path/Ramble saying these are special events? Is Path/Ramble trying to take credit for the routine events that historic organizations do? Even though it was not the catalyst for the events, didn’t help plan them, and didn’t help fund them?

In past years, New York State Heritage weekends were in May and NYS took credit for the walks, lectures, open houses, and guided tours which occurred on those weekends. Did organizations change the dates of their events from May to June to be listed on the website? Do organizations have events in both May and June? If Path/Ramble designated July 4 a History Day, would it take credit for the Macy’s fireworks, the local parades, and all the celebrations which occur then? The June weekends after Memorial Day when organizations are cranking up for the summer vacation period probably are a better time to maximize the listings than the week before Memorial Day. It’s also a great example of the power of New York State to play Simon Says with the history community: Do this on this date or be voted off the website!

If you think I am being bitter and small-minded, unnecessarily trashing the great work which is being done, let’s turn to some events which might qualify as special and not routine. For example, there are 9 festivals listed which would suggest something special and not done every weekend.  One listing is the 17th Annual Rhubarb Festival in Montgomery County; that’s certainly not a regular weekend event. Regular annual event, yes but every weekend, no. Do you think without the Path through History Weekend designation the 17th annual festival wouldn’t have been held?  How about the18th Century Spring & Garden Fair at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site which invites people to join them at their annual event? And that’s on a state site.

There are 91 events listed as special events which include some overlap with the 9 festivals. One prominent event is the 21st Annual Civil War Weekend in Peterboro. According to its website, not the State’s, “The Civil War Weekend is organized and operated completely by volunteers. All profits from the weekend are used to continue the work of preserving and restoring the historic sites in Peterboro.” I am sure they could have used some of that $60,000,000. But now it is a Path event so Path/Ramble can take credit for it with the media. Come to think of it, I was asked if I would promote it as well so I guess I can claim it as an IHARE event, too!

Some of the other special events are:

Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: “Visit America’s fifth oldest zoo! We’re open daily from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm with the last tickets sold at 4:00 pm”

NBT Bank of Johnson City Guided Tours which also is coded as a guided tour

Farm Lane Trail Hike: Take a hike with a Park Ranger on Farm Lane Trail, and learn all about how FDR used his land, and his love of trees. How often do you think the NPS offers this tour? Just when NYS tells it to?

Dedication of Historic Mentz Church Roadside Marker: Dedication of Historic Mentz Church and cemetery marker and annual meeting of the Montezuma Historical Society. While the meeting is annual, the dedication of the marker is not. Would the historic marker have been dedicated if the Path didn’t exist?

Rather than belabor the point that Path/Ramble functions more as a listing project, which is a perfectly valid and needed service, and not as a catalyst, organizer, planner, or funder of history-related activities, let me close with an event closer to home.

The Historical Society of Rockland County is conducting another bus tour. I receive emails from it about its trips on a regular basis. They routinely fill up. The latest one was on June 1 so it could be listed on the Path website. What did the Path through History project contribute to the initiation, planning, promoting, or funding of this bus trip to make it a success?

Why did our Governor take credit for with the media for all these events which happen all the time and to which he did not contribute anything? I prefer to believe that his desire to improve tourism especially upstate is sincere, that he is unaware of the facts on the ground, and that there is no one to tell him the truth either in the Path/Ramble bureaucracy or the weak divided history community or who can stand up to the Tourist-Industrial Complex.

According to an article October 9, 2012 in the New York Daily News with the long title “Unhappy with the state’s tourism performance, Gov. Cuomo has ordered a restructuring of the state’s efforts, with an eye toward attracting more visitors upstate” [story link]:

Cuomo, the aide said, wants a “more comprehensive effort” that could include ads, better coordination with tour operators, and close interactions with local economic development councils. The initiative will start with the hiring of a tourism and economic development expert and additional staff. Currently there are more than 20 people in the tourism division. An outsider will be hired to oversee the effort, the aide said….

“Right now everything is done with a very piecemeal approach; there’s not a lot of creative thinking,” the Cuomo aide said. While more money could flow to tourism, it won’t add to the overall budget, the Cuomo source said. “It’s just realigning priorities,” he said.

So besides the $60,000,000 there are the staff costs in the tourism department which is money taken from elsewhere…perhaps as the $60,000,000 was, perhaps as the money for the new signs was, perhaps as the money for the new website was. Imagine what could be done to support the history community if the Governor had chosen that path instead. All one can say is “Thank God the era of no creative thinking and the piecemeal approach is over and historic sites and tour operators are now working collaboratively.” The media have been played. So has the history community. So have the tax payers.

P.S. I was planning to do a post in response to several replies both private and public to my previous posts on the need for the history community to organize but Bruce Dearstyne beat me to it with his post “New York History Community: A Time for Action?” I plan on a “Kudos” post as a shout-out to some people and groups who are doing great work. It’s nice to write about something positive.

11 thoughts on “Getting Played: Andrew Cuomo’s 400 ‘Special History Events’

  1. Great article. another question: exactly where does the $60m go and who decides. It would be nice to promote NY’s historic wonderland but also nice to see more site restoration, archeology digs, reenactments and other accessible history projects made available to tourists and schools. Enough of the trips to the American Museum of Natural History where the joy of learning is drowned out by thousands of kids and teachers hollering at each other.

    1. Thank you. It is unclear exactly who makes the decisions. The executive board for the Path Project appears to have no decision-making authority and exists more for show. I doubt that even the acting director for the project has much if any say about the $60,000,000. Since the project is conceived primarily as a tourist business development project and not a history community infrastructure project, my guess is the Tourist Industrial Complex and Empire State Development are the ones making the decisions.

  2. I agree. And if you step back to last year, when the Path to History was begun, the way I understand it, site directors were called to Albany , thinking they would have input. Instead they were presented with a fait accompli- Someone in Andrew’s administration knew their sites better than they did, apparently.

    1. I attended the kickoff meeting last August in Albany. The history community was presented with a fait accompli. Albany picked people from the ten regions to designate the sites which would be showcased in their region. I do not know exactly how those 10 committees were selected. They met and relied on their knowledge of their own regions to pick the sites. To the best of my knowledge in general the historic sites themselves were not consulted and didn’t necessarily know they had been picked.

  3. Ok I want to list events concerning the bicentennial of the Village of Ossining, NY. In this regard, the Ossining Historical Society Museum has an upcoming tour of Dale Cemetery founded in 1851. This cemetery is on the NY State Register of Historic Places and is awaiting listing on the National Register. I looked at the various event categories on the Path Through History website but I don’t see one that describes local history tours like ours. Any suggestions? Also who precisely (person) is the administrator of Path Through History?

    1. There now are guidelines which have been issued by Path through History. I intended to address them in a future post. It is not clear if they apply only to the Path weekends or if Path/Ramble is seeking to encompass all history events all year in the entire state. The approval process goes through Empire State Development and not the Path. The project seems unable to decide if it intends to focus on the crown jewels of the state located along the Interstate where signs can be erected or if it is to serve the entire history community.

  4. What a production. The money went into a fancy smancy web site. I just love the Revolutionary War section of the website. They couldn’t even fit in all their own historic sites. We wonder why a good portion of NY’s important past is overlooked, its the clueless staffs. In my area alone they jump from West Point to Washington Hqts. in Newburgh totally skipping Fort Montgomery, the New Windsor Cantonment & Knoxs Hqts actual state historic sites and a whole assortment of small sites or locales in between. Where does the balance between history and the tourist dollar play out. Played we have been rickrolled.

    “Right now everything is done with a very piecemeal approach; there’s not a lot of creative thinking,” the Cuomo aide said. While more money could flow to tourism, it won’t add to the overall budget, the Cuomo source said. “It’s just realigning priorities,” he said.

    1. You are under the mistaken perception that the Path through History was intended to list all the historic sites related to the approved themes like the American Revolution. The Hudson Valley committee which selected the crown jewels of the region to be listed on Path evidently thought the sites you mentioned didn’t cut it including some of the NYS sites themselves. So if by some chance you were a tourist from England or California seeking to visit the historic sites in the Hudson Valley related to the American Revolution your itinerary would be incomplete.

  5. Peter – You’ve nailed the whole thing perfectly.
    Same old stuff that was going on anyway just relabeled.
    That is not to say that the added hype and publicity hasn’t motivated some to add something new to the menu….but it is what they would have done anyway at least this is what I see out here in central-western NY along the Erie Canal and here in Wayne County.
    There are always events and festivals planned for every weekend all summer long out here.
    It is really a wonderful opportunity for New Yorkers or travelers from across our nation.
    There simply is tons of great stuff to do every where in New York State.
    As you know, we have a family summer home in Columbia County and we’ve been there a few times already and there are super events happening every day.
    Having said all that, summer events is a totally different animal than presenting a unified approach to the presentation of New York History which is what I thought PTH was all about.
    So far, that concept or intiative is totally a “flat line” activity.

  6. I believe the people in charge of the PTH have decided to simply “re-brand” regularly occurring programs as “Path Through History” programs, thus making it appear as though a great deal of effort has been expended in executing the PTH initiative when in reality very little has been done at all. I have seen this happen before, when a nearby county “celebrated” the anniversary of its founding by simply designating numerous already-planned events (almost none of which were planned with this anniversary in mind and most of which were long-running annual events) as “celebrations” of the anniversary. Ads were placed in newspapers and a website was created but there was little if any substantive effort put into creating actual “special events” to celebrate this historic milestone. This is an easy way out for bureaucrats.

    After reading Peter Feinman’s piece above, I decided to investigate a bit. I went to the link for the “events calendar page” above and then used the map feature to find an historic site near my home. That site was the Mabee Farm, owned and operated by the Schenectady County Historical Society. Clicking on the link presented on the map resulted in a pop-up notice showing that for the PTH “week” the Mabee Farm featured a building tour at 10AM each day and an architecture exhibit.

    The first thing I did was to click on the link provided on this PTH page to take me directly to the Farm’s website. The result? I did not make it to the website. Instead, I received the dreaded “404” error and a dead end. When I looked at the web address in the link I immediately discovered that the the web address for the Farm on PTH’s website is incorrect: the word “mabee” in the address is spelled “mabe”. The result is that the link leads visitors to a dead-end error page. This is not very helpful and it makes me wonder how many other such PTH links are riddled with errors and dead ends.

    I used a search engine to find the correct web page for the Mabee Farm, where I was surprised to see no mention of either building tours or an architecture exhibit. I then spoke directly to the Farm staff, who told me that they did not know what the PTH page meant regarding building tours. The end of May and the beginning of June (the time period of the PTH events calendar) is when the Mabee Farm is very busy with the many school tours their educators provide. The school tours are regular, yearly events that began long before the PTH was conceived. The staff was also unaware of any architecture exhibit, except for the current exhibit illustrating the construction of Dutch Barns. This exhibit was also not planned with the PTH program in mind.

    The staff member I spoke with then went to the PTH website (the first link above, though the staff member did not navigate there from this page) and clicked on the “Events” button at the top of the page. The “events” for the Mabee Farm consisted of a listing of regularly scheduled programs with no connection to the PTH. The first program listed was for a class in the Historical Society’s volunteer training program. This is something in which a tourist could hardly have any interest. The other events listed consisted of the bluegrass concerts which have been held throughout the summer for several years at least, and which are not designed to execute the PTH goals. The staff member indicated pleasant surprise at discovering that the ONLY events listed on the PTH website were for either Fort Ti or the Mabee Farm. They can always use more visitors to the Farm, so perhaps that’s a silver lining. The staff member confirmed that they have never been contacted by anyone associated with the PTH initiative nor have they received so much as a penny in PTH funding.

    My investigation, while limited in scope, strongly supports Peter Feinman’s argument above. The PTH staff appear to be following a well-established pattern of operating in a vacuum and simply re-designating existing events as being part of their program, and advertising them as such, and then claiming that the PTH is a huge success because of all the special program which gives a false impression of the level of work performed by the PTH staff.

    Meanwhile, where was the $60 million spent? Watch Peter’s future columns, for I plan to do some more investigating and will report my findings in future Comment sections.

  7. Peter
    Very well said!!
    Dr. Larry A. Maxwell
    Patterson Town Historian
    President of the Hudson Valley Trust
    Director of the Living History Guild

    I was not conatced, nor was any of the 3 organizations I represent, who se purpose is to promote history.
    So what politican got fat on that $60 Million???

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