A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

Bill Birns presents a weekly essay on history, geography, day-trips, arts and culture in the Catskill Mountain region.

A Catskill Catalog: July 16, 2008

I witnessed a skimmelton in 1971. Visiting in the home of friends who were a newly married couple late one evening, we were startled by a loud ruckus outside the house. We needn’t investigate long. A crowd of mostly young neighbors and friends had arrived outside with a tractor and wagon - or was it a pickup truck loaded with hay? They banged on the door and on the pots and pans they carried, invaded the house, and, in high spirits and with boundless good nature, “kidnapped” the newlyweds for a mock serenade, a hayride through the village accompanied by lots of noise and lots of razzing of the young couple. It was fun although as I remember, the couple was less than thrilled.

A Catskill Catalog: July 9, 2008

University of Cincinnati Professor David Stradling, his wife Jodie, and their two young daughters toured the Catskills a couple weeks ago. In many ways, the trip was a homecoming for the professor. His grandfather, Glentworth Haynes, grew up in Highmount. When Professor Stradling was little David Stradling visiting his grandparents in Kingston, his postal-worker grandfather told stories of his Catskill Mountain boyhood, taking the boy on numerous nostalgic road trips into the mountains. Professor Stradling grew up living outside the Catskills but feeling intimately connected to them.

A Catskill Catalog: July 2, 2008

I’ve only recently discovered James Oliver, but I like him. He’s the graduate of the State Normal School at Albany who came to teach in Roxbury in 1849 when both John Burroughs and Jay Gould were about 12. Think of the future naturalist and the future capitalist as seventh graders: little Johnny the reluctant uninterested underachiever, little Jay the brightest kid in the class. Mr. Oliver had a profound effect on both of them, drawing-out young Burroughs’ natural curiosity, and directing young Gould’s restless energy.

A Catskill Catalog: June 25, 2008

A friend of mine, native to the mountains, will, as we tour the hills together, frequently point to some stray roadside basketball court, one that’s weed-infested, seen-better-days, and say: “Played a lot of basketball there when we were kids.”

A Catskill Catalog: June 18, 2008

I confess to a weak spot for the Livingstons. Perhaps it’s my fondness for New Kingston, the historic little hamlet on the upper Plattekill, founded on land that Chancellor Robert Livingston donated to the victims of the British burning of Kingston in the Revolutionary War. It’s a great story.