As a young man growing up in Saratoga Springs there were many fascinating stories of the “old days” in the city. I’m sure many stories were embellished and exaggerated as they were told generation after generation, but many are true. Here are a few.
Most people are able to tell the story of how the potato chip, originally called the Saratoga Chip, was invented in 1853 at Moon’s Lake House and that the Club Sandwich was invented at the Canfield Casino, originally called the Clubhouse. Along the same line I hope many people know that Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb was displayed in the courtyard of the Grand Union Hotel, in Saratoga for just the second time in history. The wired electric bulb was stretched about 9 feet above the dance floor in the courtyard and was lowered for inspection and amazement of the crowd during the orchestra’s breaks. In the same hotel, Otis installed one of his first elevators for use in this very popular hotel and to show America’s wealthy how wonderful this new invention really was at changing lives. The display of both inventions was calculated to increase interest as well as investments in two fledgling young companies during the fashionable summer season in Saratoga.
Thoroughbred horse racing has been a big part of Saratoga history since 1863. A big impact on future sporting events came after a race in 1919. The great horse Man O’ War lost his only career race to a long shot named Upset in the 1919 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. In the United States that year, the word upset meant a person was “angry.” After the famed Man O’ War lost to Upset, sports writers began to use the word upset to describe anytime an underdog beat a favored team. The writers even capitalized the word Upset in their reporting until about 1923. Today it is a widely used term and nearly forgotten how the term came from a horse race at Saratoga over 100 years ago.
Madame Eliza Jumel is a name nearly forgotten from the history of the city. She was born in Providence Rhode Island to an unwed prostitute and a sailor. Coming from this embarrassing social beginning she strived her entire life to be accepted by the upper crust of society. After marrying a well-respected and highly successful wine merchant Stephan Jumel, she was on her way to respectability. Unfortunately, her husband died from an accidental fall and left her wealthy but without the total respectability she sought. Later in life she married Aaron Burr who had the fame of being a former Vice-President but lacked fiscal responsibility and was always in debt. After a few months of marriage, the older Burr had spent large amounts of her money and she filed for divorce. In order to ensure success in the divorce proceedings, she hired a lawyer who was the son of Alexander Hamilton. Since Alexander Hamilton had been killed in a duel with Burr the younger Hamilton was motivated to ensure a favorable decision in the case, and he did. Eliza continued to live seasonally on Circular Street and continued her success in business and became the largest female land owner in the city in the mid 1800s.
Sometimes we almost forget that General George Washington visited the High Rock Spring in the summer of 1783. In 1783 the Revolutionary War was winding down and Washington was in Newburgh, New York awaiting word from the peace talks in Europe to formally end the war. As he sat in Newburgh, he remarked that he had never seen the northern battlefields of the war. Washington soon traveled to Schuylerville to visit the battlefields with General Phillip Schuyler. Upon arrival to the area Schuyler insisted that Washington and his delegation visit the famed High Rock Spring. When the delegation arrived at the spring and drank from it, Washington fell in love with the waters and the area. He quickly decided that he liked it enough to put in an offer to purchase the property and the spring. Unfortunately, the offer was refused by the land owner and Washington did not become a citizen of the early village of Saratoga Springs. An opportunity missed.
These are but a few of the many quick stories that tell the wonderful history of Saratoga Springs. There are more being made every day in this great city. Someday in the future a writer or historian might be telling stories that you may have been part of today.
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