May 24, 2008
Homer brings to life characters of its past
School’s Living History Day portrays town’s historic figures
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Martin Sweeney, portraying President Lincoln’s secretary William F. Stoddard, speaks in front of a portrait of Lincoln painted Friday by Marathon art teacher David Quinlan at the high school’s Living History Day.
HOMER — Fourth-grader Gabrielle Contento listened eagerly as the characters of Francis Bicknell Carpenter and William Stoddard talked about themselves and other accomplished Homer natives.
“I think it’s cool because Homer has a lot of history,” Contento said after the presentation. “Some people met Lincoln, one guy made an important test, and one guy at a college decided people could be accepted no matter what their color was.”
Contento was referring to Carpenter and Stoddard, who worked for President Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Woolworth, who invented the Regents exam, and the Rev. John Keep, who in 1835 cast the deciding vote for Oberlin College to start allowing black students.
Contento and her classmates learned about Homer’s history from Homer Town Historian Martin Sweeney, dressed as Stoddard, and Homer Board of Education member David Quinlan, dressed as Carpenter, at Kenneth M. Eaton Living History Day on Friday at Homer High School.
Homer schools students and the public attended the annual Living History Day, which began last year.
“Living History Day started to invite folks who had anything to do with any kind of historical context,” said Homer High School art teacher Paul Andre, one of the event organizers.
The event is named after Eaton, the creator, and former owner and curator of the Homeville Museum in Homer, who died in February 2006.
A similar event, called Military History Day, took place at the high school from 2002 to 2005.
On Friday representatives from about 40 regional museums and historical societies, about a dozen historical impersonators and a handful of war veterans, artifact collectors and speakers, participated in the event. That included the Cortland County Historical Society, the Hathaway House in Solon and Cortlandville resident Dick Crozier, who portrayed Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The number of event participants doubled from last year to this year, Andre said.
“It’s really turned into something else,” he said.
Sweeney and Quinlan decided this year to portray Stoddard and Carpenter to promote an upcoming celebration of Stoddard, Carpenter and Lincoln planned for next May in Homer.
They talked about how Stoddard and Carpenter started in Homer, and went on to do big things. Stoddard went on to write an editorial supporting Lincoln for president, and to serve as Lincoln’s personal secretary.
One of his tasks was making copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Carpenter went on to paint the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” which now hangs in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capital over the west staircase.
He got the job largely due to Stoddard, who introduced him to Lincoln.
“What a partner,” Sweeney said about Carpenter, acting as Stoddard. “These two guys from Homer worked well together.”
Students and others listening to the presentation learned that the painting once hung on the third floor of the Barber Block Opera House building at South Main and Wall streets.
That was before the federal government agreed to take the painting.
Fourth-grader Madison Dimorier said it is interesting that the painting hung there for a short period of time. She has visited that space before.
In between presentations people chatted with Sweeney and Quinlan about Lincoln.
Newark Valley resident Tom Canfield showed them a ledger book once belonging to a man in Cortlandville in the mid-1800s.
The man, who has not been identified, described on a page of his ledger book that he had just bought two chairs and a love seat from the Lincoln family for his fiancée. Canfield, who collects historical artifacts, said the man dated the entry November 1866.
He said he believes the artifacts were from Abraham Lincoln’s family, but he will do more research to verify this.
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