Woodstock is the world’s most famous small town, forever associated with the 1960s counterculture and for more than 100 years a magnet for musicians, artists, writers and other creative types. A few noteworthy names and faces, such as Albert Grossman, grace the pages of Local Legends of Woodstock, a new book by town historian Richard Heppner and resident Janine Fallon-Mower, published this May by Arcadia Books. However, most of the 100-plus personages portrayed in the book, all of whom are deceased, are just plain folks – folks, however, who cared deeply about the town: people like Mescal Hornbeck, a nurse who as a senior citizen ran for the Town Board and volunteered for Meals on Wheels and many other local nonprofit organizations; or Bert VanKleeck, caretaker at Byrdcliffe for nearly 50 years; or Elbert Varney, the banker who provided mortgages and car loans to residents in the 1950s; or Clarence Snyder, alias Clancy the Cop. “Everyone remembers Clancy,” said Heppner.
The book “is full of individual stories of the people who came together over the years to build a community. I see it as more sociological than historical. It reminds me of the old Deanie’s restaurant, where you could go most every night and find a cross-section of the town, from people like Lee Marvin, who’s in the book, to the local plumber, who’s also in the book.”
The biggest challenge in writing this was narrowing down the subjects from a list of some 1,000 people, he added. The availability of a photo was part of the requirement, given the pictorial format of Arcadia Books. “Time was of the essence to locate the photographs,” said Fallon-Mower. “Everyone’s moved away or died, and pictures have been thrown out or are so far back in the closet they’re hard to find.”
Digging up images that showed a person well-known in the community in a different, more intimate context was part of the fun, she added. For example, Marge Harder, the town clerk and a Republican, “a very powerful, very knowledgeable person who was the go-to woman in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s,” is shown with her aunt, Florence Peper, at the stove in their kitchen. Clancy the Cop is depicted at the Library Fair. “It’s a casual shot and the only picture we have of him,” said Fallon-Mower.
She noted that the book includes some sad stories of people who died before their time, such as Robin DeLisio, an active proponent of planning and zoning, who died in a car crash in the 1980s, and Sam Shirah, an advocate for peace and the Constitution who was involved in the town’s 1976 bicentennial and was murdered by an irate husband. Fallon-Mower said that Heppner’s research uncovered Shirah’s hitherto-unknown involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Collectively, the book reflects the shifts in the community over time. “Woodstock has gone through several invasions: by artists, the Counterculture and second-homeowners,” said Heppner. “As new people come into town, the new stories blend with the old, changing the old people’s stories and lives. The community is a living thing. It’s a blend of people coming together,” surmounting political divisions, he said.
Both authors have previously written books, but this is their first collaboration. Heppner focused on researching the Historical Society archives, old newspapers, the Internet and other written sources, while Fallon-Mower mostly spoke to relatives, friends and other associates of the subjects. At their first book-signing earlier this month, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling people are getting, seeing the pictures of people they remember but had otherwise forgotten about,” said Fallon-Mower, who also works as a registered nurse. As a pictorial record, Local Legends of Woodstock beautifully complements the written histories of the town by Alf Evers and other historians, she added.
Richard Heppner and Janine Fallon-Mower will be doing a second book-signing for Local Legends of Woodstock (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) at the Golden Notebook on May 25 at 6 p.m. A selection of photographs from the book is on display at the Woodstock Historical Society, located on Lower Comeau Drive, which opens in June. Visit https://historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org for more information.
Local Legends of Woodstock book-signing, Saturday, May 25, 6 p.m., Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock; https://historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org.