Albany's 400-year old history includes fascinating tales and interesting ties to many literary luminaries. It is often said that Albany is (and was!) a city of storytellers. Keep reading to discover a few authors from history with ties to Albany!
Click here for a blog post featuring contemporary writers with ties to Albany.
Photo of Herman Melville's childhood home (building on the left)
Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, grew up in the Albany area during the 1830s. He was baptized at the original First Dutch Reformed Church (located closer to State Street) and attended the Albany Academies. Unfortunately, Melville's father died when he was 12, so it is assumed that his time in Albany was not a happy one. But, his childhood home still stands today! It is a pink building in Clinton Square, located to the left of McGeary's Irish Pub. Today, the home overlooks I-787. When Meville was a boy, the home would have overlooked the shores of the Hudson River. Who knows? Maybe the Hudson River inspired some of Melville's future writings.
Photo of the Karner Blue Butterfly
Russian-born author Vladimir Nabokov has ties to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. The famous author of the controversial novel Lolita, classified the Karner Blue butterfly using a type specimen from the Albany Pine Bush in the 1940s. He identified this species of butterfly in the hamlet of Karner (now part of Colonie!). The Karner Blue butterfly is now an endangered species, but it can still be spotted fluttering among the lupines at the Albany Pine Bush today.
Photo of North Pearl Street
James Fenimore Cooper & his descendants
Novelist James Fenimore Cooper, most famously known for Last of the Mohicans, also has ties to Albany. His son, Paul, and his grandson, James, were both attorneys and partners in the law firm that eventually came to be called Cooper Erving & Savage. The law firm still exists today with an office on North Pearl Street in Albany! His grandson, James, authored a book about Otsego County called Legends and Traditions of a Northern County. His great-grandson Paul was also born in Albany in 1899 and was a children's book author.
Photo of Dorothy Lathrop's work at the Albany Institute of History & Art
Born in Albany in 1891, Dorothy Lathrop was a children's book illustrator and author. She illustrated more than 38 books and wrote nine children's books. Her work often featured animals, fantasy and fairy tales. In 1929, Lathrop illustrated Rachel Field's children's novel called Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. The book won the Newbery Medal, awarded by the American Library Association, for the best children's novel of the year! Many of Lathrop's drawings, watercolors, prints and paintings are in the Albany Institute of History & Art's collection. Her work is often featured in current museum exhibits, with her drawings most recently featured in 2018's "Birds & Beasts: The Scary, Magical, and Adorable Animals of the Albany Institute" exhibit.
Photo of Nine Pin Cider
While you would not have found Washington Irving strolling downtown Albany's streets, he did inspire the name of Albany's Nine Pin Cider. Irving's famous short story Rip Van Winkle is set in the nearby Catskill Mountains. The legendary tale tells the story of Rip Van Winkle wandering through the mountains and finding the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s sailors playing nine-pins, the Dutch form of bowling. After playing in the game and drinking their liquor, Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 20 years. He wakes up after the end of the American Revolution! This story crafted by Washington Irving inspired the name of New York's first farm cidery.
Photo of Albany Rural Cemetery
Henry James, author of The Portrait of a Lady, is often known as the father of the modern novel. Many of his family members including his brother are buried at Albany Rural Cemetery. While Henry James is not buried here in Albany, he did travel to the family plot to attend his cousin Mary Temple's funeral. Mary was orphaned by her parents' death, but beloved by Henry James. She was the inspiration for his character Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady, which is set partly in Albany. On the brownstone monument for Mary Temple, there is a small star beside her name to signify her importance to Henry James (who paid for the monument). This is the only sort of symbol like this on the carved stone markers and monuments in the cemetery!
To learn more about Albany authors, poets, illustrators and more, visit the Pruyn Collection in the Local History Room at the Albany Public Library at 161 Washington Avenue at Albany, NY 12210.