Posted by: David Giacalone | August 8, 2011

granting Walter Wilie’s wish

– the last stanza of Walter Wilie’s Schenectady ballad etched in granite –

– Walter Wilie’s wish that his 1690 Ballad of the Stockade Massacre survive him was fulfilled last month, thanks to Doug Thorpe and Ammiel Alcalay, when they installed two granite slabs on a door at 109 S. Ferry St. containing and preserving the entire 20-stanza poem.  (Click on a photo for a larger version.)

  . . .

– it’s part of a complete restoration inside and out of the building:

. . .

– façade of 109 S. Ferry St. (Aug. 8, 2011) –

The story of Walter Wilie’s wish and the restoration of 109 S. Ferry St. can be found in today’s Schenectady Gazette (“Traditional methods makes old Stockade house new: Building nears poet’s verse”, by Gwen Gordansky, Aug. 8, 2011, p. B1; available online by subscription).  According to the Gazette, tradesman/carpenter Doug Thorpe has been working on the restoration of Prof. Alcalay’s building since 2009, with the goal “to accurately restore the house, not only cosmetically but structurally. This meant that they tried to only use period methods, techniques and as many authentic items as possible.”

  . . Doug Thorpe’s reflection in his special “gift” . 

As part of that process, Doug has done in depth research about the building and other aspects of the Stockade.  In that search, he discovered a “ballad” by Walter Wilie, written about the 1690 Stockade Massacre a few months after the event.  As a gift to Mr. Wilie, and the people of the Stockade, Doug commissioned the engraving of the ballad by Mike Volans on two slabs of black concrete that now hang on a “tombstone door” — its windows have an arch shaped like grave markers — at the south end of the building’s façade.

 A functioning door surely could not take the weight of the 1.5″ slabs, but this is a false door, covering an addition to the building that replaced an alleyway between 109 and 113 S. Ferry Street. See p. 5 of the October 2010 Stockade Spy.

  Despite four visits taking shots with my Canon, problems with reflections off black granite aborted my plan to present each stanza of the ballad at this weblog photographically, so that you could read the entire ballad, and “hear” Wilie’s authentic voice.  I hope this posting will inspire you to stroll over to see for yourself.

update (8 AM 09Aug2011): At Mr. Thorpe’s request, I’ve taken down the text of the ballad. Don Rittner has Wilie’s complete ballad at his weblog; see “Being in tune with Schenectady” (October 16, 2010). Our County historian says it is perhaps the oldest ballad about Schenectady, and:

“Local folk musician and songwriter George Ward put it to music and it appears on his album, Pea Soup and Port.  The ballad was originally published in “Annals And Occurrences of New York City And State in the Olden Time” by John F. Watson in 1846.”

Watson’s book can be found here; at p. 29, Watson calls Wilie’s poem a “curious memento of the calamity” and points out — before setting forth the stanzas — that “the writer designed that it might long survive him, and it is certainly curious, that his wish has been so well fulfilled.” (emphasis in original).  You can also find it in “History of the County of Schenectady, from 1662 to 1886” (1886), by George Rogers Howell, John H. Munsell.  At 27, the authors opine somewhat uncharitably that “The following ballad, though without much literary merit, has some value for the facts set forth therein.”


   . .

 Prof. Alcalay told me this morning that he really wants his project to have a low profile.  I apologize to him for my wanting to spread the word and the image of his impressive restoration of a building that was in terrible shape.  Thanks to Prof. Alcalay and to Doug Thorpe for their hard work and commitment.  Special thanks for reviving Walter Wilie’s wish, so we will not forget his contemporaneous account of agony and dismay over the bloodiest day in the history of our neighborhood and City.


  1. David, thank you for your wonderful account of the store front on S. Ferry St.

    • Connie, as always, your kind words are much appreciated. I’m looking forward to snapping a few pictures soon for the Outdoor Art Show and hope you’ll be pleased with those results, too.

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