Cazenovia, N.Y. — A new Cazenovia-based book, “The Bear Tree and Other Stories from Cazenovia’s History,” retells area tales long-ago-told and now, never forgotten. It will soon be available this July for history buffs and curious locals alike. To promote their book and dive a little deeper, authors Erica Barnes and Jason Emerson have partnered with the Oneida Dispatch for a Q&A.
The book’s description applauds the two for digging past Cazenovia’s gilded historical layer — that of the rich, white, mansion owners and founders — and instead focusing on the village’s personal intrigue found in fascinating everyday characters, told through story passages, such as elephant and lion tamer Lucia Zora Card and World War I soldier Cecil Donovan, whose letters home vividly depicted the experience of war for those awaiting his return in Cazenovia.
“The Bear Tree” will be available this July and can be ordered from most major online bookstores, including Amazon.com, and can also be found via Syracuse University Press at press.syr.edu for pre-order.
The Q&A has been minimally edited for formatting and flow.
To many, Cazenovia is just another small town in Madison County. But what else should residents know? What significance have you found lying underneath in your studies?
Cazenovia has a rich history with relevance that reaches far beyond our community, and even beyond our region. We started this book to showcase the amazing and inspiring people and events throughout Cazenovia’s history — mainly to share with our fellow Cazenovia residents — but quickly discovered that the stories we were finding had a significance far beyond our town, many of them even stretching worldwide.
These include authors, activists, soldiers, and politicians who helped change the world — and they started their lives and/or careers in Cazenovia.
The significance to me is that you never know the incredible stories that live right in front of you, the inspiration you can find from your own hometown — and understanding the history of where you live gives you a greater connection, sense of pride, feeling of belonging to your community.
I completely agree with Jason and would add that the magic of a small town is its ability to conceal its own greatness. Cazenovians are justifiably proud of their hometown but may not be familiar with the long-ago personalities that shared their beautiful homes and walked their shady streets. To contemporaries, some of these people may have been considered just on the far-side of unique, like circus performers Jim Fitch and Lucia Zora Card or radical feminist Elizabeth Smith Miller. But with the benefit of hindsight, their accomplishments outshine the social conventions of their time.
What inspired you to discover and document a collection of works depicting a unique side of Cazenovia history?
Erica and I both love history and wrote about the history of Cazenovia while we worked on the Cazenovia Republican newspaper (I as the editor and she as the history columnist).
During our daily work, we just kept finding these impressive stories about everyday Cazenovians throughout history that made indelible marks, and yet they were not the community founders, so few people actually knew anything about them.
We wanted to bring these stories back to life in a book full of human interest narratives. All previous books of history about Cazenovia are about the community founders (rich white men) and their rich families, or about the village itself (streets, churches, schools, etc), but none are about the everyday people who lived here and their stories. We wanted to fill the gap with an engaging book that would resonant with everyone.
My Cazenovia friends could definitely answer this one for you. In my work with Jason on the Cazenovia Republican, I would find story after story that I couldn’t quite believe was true. I would spend additional hours researching the events surrounding my findings and would regale my colleagues with these incredible tales. At every event, acquaintances would request more stories about their beloved town. From time to time, I got the sense they didn’t believe me: so much has taken place in our bucolic village, it’s impressive!
Describe your personal connection to the village; in what way have you participated in Cazenovia’s history?
I have lived in Cazenovia for 13 years, and was editor of the Cazenovia Republican newspaper for seven years. In that capacity, I got to know basically everyone and everything that was happening in my community, which consistently deepened my love for this place.
I would like to believe that my tenure heading the newspaper had a significant impact on Cazenovia’s history — I hope the community news I wrote and published, the causes I espoused or opposed, the editorials I penned seeking to generate discussion and inspire action, helped make our community a better place.
I was also a member of the Cazenovia Lions Club for two years (I am no longer active in the organization since COVID hit last year), whose guiding principle of existence is to support and improve the community.
I was lucky enough to live in Cazenovia for seven years. While my time there was limited, my connection was strong from the first.
I began writing for the Cazenovia Republican shortly after moving there from Germany and was instantly impressed with the history and culture present in such a small town, especially after the grandeur of Europe. During my time there I served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Lorenzo organization, which was dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Cazenovia’s rich heritage. The Friends allowed me to directly participate in the continuance of a culture dedicated to reverence for the people who came before us who paved the way for Cazenovia’s current success.
Who’s the target audience for this book?
The target audience for our book is anyone who loves history. Obviously, we expect locals to be the most interested (not just Caz but all of CNY since our stories cover multiple towns), but our subject matter extends far beyond locals. General history buffs will be interested, as will people with more specialized interests such as presidential history (especially Washington, Lincoln, Cleveland, and Teddy Roosevelt), entertainment history (particularly circus history), women’s history, Black history, US wars (Revolutionary, Civil, WWI and WWII), NY state history, and more.
History buffs will definitely find something to enjoy in The Bear Tree; it’s packed with references to the great and the good. But anyone with a fascination for the American experience will enjoy it as well. Its appeal is bigger than Cazenovia, or even New York. It’s about the unique, astounding, and challenging history that’s present in every town in our great country. It will appeal to anyone who’s ever stopped to read the historical markers in their town, or who’s wondered who lived in that house on their block from the 1800s. I hope it will inspire others to start digging!
What’s your favorite passage from The Bear Tree and why?
That’s a tough one! I love every story in this book. If I have to choose, I would say the chapters on “The Sunken Canoe and the Legend of the Indian Lovers” and “A History of Heartbreak: Who Was ‘Crazy Luce’?” are my two favorites and both for the same reason. These two legends are the two most well-known in and about Cazenovia (Crazy Luce even has a William G. Pomeroy Foundation history marker at the south end of Cazenovia Lake), and yet the general knowledge of these stories is imperfect.
Both of these chapters trace the legends we know and then explore the tellings and retellings through history to discover what the true history of the people and events actually was. In both cases, they were quite different. They both also consider how and why the legends we know evolved from the raw truth of the actual stories, and whether it is the truth that matters or the legend that sprang from the truth.
Choosing a favorite passage is difficult in a book that was so fun to research and write. I was constantly telling Jason: “Look what I found, can you believe it?”
If pressed, I’d choose the chapter on “The Bravest Woman in the World: Zora Card.” Her story is straight out of Hollywood.
The daughter of a town alderman runs away to join the circus. Along the way, she’s accused of murder, becomes an elephant tamer, and is mauled by a tiger, among other adventures.
While perhaps not as sensational, the other chapters in the book are just as astounding. One of my other favorites concerns one the twentieth century’s most celebrated novels, The “Oxbow Incident,” which was written by a Cazenovia High School teacher. It typifies my belief that grand historical events aren’t just in the past; they’re happening around us every day with the people in our local communities.
Credit: Source link