From 2011 to 2013, I wrote my master’s degree thesis for the Cooperstown Graduate Program about “Pitt the Painter” and his role in showcasing the identity of Little Falls by means of his artwork. The project was largely based on oral histories told by those in town who remembered him since his death on September 4, 2007. While I spoke with several people, there were so many more I did not reach, as Pitt’s sphere of influence seemed immeasurable. The project went on, and it was apparent that these stories meshed together as modern-day folklore about talent, humor, addiction, and belonging.

Jan Holick taken at Caroga Lake Photo Booth.

When asked if I had any siblings, I often quipped, “My brother and I were only children.” While my first decade was spent in the peaceful and prosperous 1950s, his was spent just prior and during World War II. Recently my big brother, Jan Holick Sr., (born 1935, and graduated from Little Falls High School 1953,) sat down with me, (born 1951, and graduated 1969,) and shared his memories of a time I never knew except in history books. He was kind enough to open a window to his past, and this article invites you to share that view.

In February of 1935, while snow fell heavily over Herkimer County in upstate New York, a cable arrived at the home of The Honorable Homer P. Snyder on Ann Street in Little Falls. It announced the birth of H.P.’s first great grandchild. It read: “Mother and child doing fine. Father barely survived!” Thus, I arrived amidst tropical breezes in the city of Manila, on the island of Luzon, in the Philippines, set between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Manila: 8324 miles away from the city on the Mohawk River.

Personal and societal beliefs and principles certainly change with time. Sometimes people are shocked or amazed to hear stories of people or events from the past, yet these tales may not be so difficult to comprehend if we’re able to empathize, and put ourselves back into that situation and moment in history.

“Will Go Down in History: Historical Pageant and Lift Lock Celebration Greatest Ever Held in Mohawk Valley. July 4, 1916” The Little Falls Journal and Courier may be forgiven for the hyperbole of its banner headline and sub heading on July 4, 1916. The overflowing pride of the language reflects the premise and themes of The Little Falls Historical Pageant and Lift Lock Celebration. The civic pageants of the first twenty years of the 20th century were testaments to civic pride and patriotism, and Little Falls was no slacker.

The writing was on the wall. Since there was no way of getting out of debt, much of it a result of illegal activities, Hadley Jones had a choice of, most likely, going to prison or to flee from Little Falls to parts unknown. His choice was to get out of town fast, with as much as he could. The exit was well planned.

Everybody enjoys a “rag to riches“ story especially if it involves a local boy or girl. Think about John Riccardo. John was the son of hard-working Italian immigrant parents. His father had a shoe store on John Street in addition to working long hours in a local bicycle factory. John rose to become president and chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation.

While driving down Flint Avenue in my hometown of Little Falls the other day, I happened to look to my right and for no apparent reason, my mind flashed back to the 1950’s. I recalled in vivid detail searching for diamonds on a rocky hillside behind the Ave with my buddy Rog Kopp.

New York State historic marker nearby Yellow Church Cemetery.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So begins Thomas Paine’s December 23, 1776 epic treatise “The Sunshine Patriot,” written at perhaps the darkest point of the American Revolution, George Washington’s half-starving, dis-spirited troops were in their Valley Forge winter quarters.

With all the buzz about COVID-19 vaccines, it brought back memories of vaccines administered when I was in Vietnam in 1971-72. I was not a Medic but an intelligence officer stationed in a remote place named An Loc. Not far from the Cambodian border, 70 miles north of Saigon, straddling Route 13 (Thunder Road), I was one of 32 Americans in MACV advisor team 47, next to 2,000 ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam).