Section: Inside Saratoga
guide and author Hollis Palmer leads tourists and readers
into the bloodier corners of Saratoga history
mid-morning on Saturday, Aug. 12, and relatively cool along
the edge of Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, but Dr. Hollis
Palmer is still a little overdressed. Along with his trademark
derby and a polished oak shillelagh, his outfit includes a
pinstriped tailored suit coat over a dark gray vest, both
wool, the height of 1880s fashion.
As people gather on the sidewalk across from the Batcheller
Mansion and pay a volunteer a fiver each for Palmer’s Merchants
and Mansions walking tour, he keeps up a cheerful banter full
of historical information. He promises the tour will stop
in shady spots whenever possible, and then grins a modest
grin and adds, “And anyone who wants a picture with the coat
in it better take it now, because it’s coming off soon.”
Although he seems a little bemused that people don’t recognize
him without the derby (often because they mistakenly assume
he’s bald under there), the former math teacher and principal
clearly has had no trouble adjusting to being one of Saratoga’s
Palmer didn’t start out his post-retirement career giving
tours. In fact, Derby Tours of Saratoga is only about a year
old, begun at the request of a tour operator who had run out
of the usual suspects to show a busload of Glens Falls visitors
around. They called Palmer because of his books.
In 1998, Palmer was just another person with an interest in
genealogy. But as he was investigating his family’s eight-generation
history in Saratoga County, he came upon a newspaper account
of a murder in Schuylerville in 1878. But this wasn’t just
any murder—it had been committed by one of the wealthiest
men in Saratoga County, a banker by the name of Billings.
He had shot his wife.
Palmer got so caught up in the accounts that he went looking
for a book on the trial, which had mesmerized the public in
a way that Palmer compares to the O.J. Simpson trial. He was
astounded that no such book existed, and determined to write
Spend Eternity Alone came out in 1999. Palmer self-published
it, and to promote it had his sister make him the top coat
and vest to wear at the book party.
Palmer had become hooked on the true-crime genre. To be specific,
on true crime in Saratoga County in the Victorian era. Sound
like a kind of narrow topic? Not to Palmer. Under the name
Deep Roots Publications he put out five more books in the
next six years, some encompassing several different cases.
“I like to say there was a wild West, and an even wilder East,”
he says, noting a bank robbery in Waterford where the robbers
made off with 10 times more than Jesse James got in all
In at least one case, Maggie’s Revenge, the story of
an unsolved murder of an Irish servant girl in Greenwich,
Palmer even thinks he knows who committed the crime. He named
the book after the uncanny ways in which the alleged perpetrators’
deaths mirrored aspects of their crime.
In fact, Palmer has spent a lot of time just learning the
details of Victorian history and culture—from the stock- market
crash of 1873 to the philandering habits of industrialists—so
he can put what he writes in the proper context. “At this
point nothing else attracts me,” he says. “We sometimes overly
glorify the Victorian era. I like it, but there was a whole
not-nice side of it. . . . It was very hard to get ahead.
If you could use the word ‘caste system’ without it being
as formal as it as in India, there was a caste system that
was extremely hard to break. A girl gets killed, the first
people who were called in [for questioning] were the Irish
guys. Now the only difference is we start with the family,
then go to [the bottom of] the social ladder. We go
to the family first, and we should. Things haven’t changed.
. . . There are very few random acts.”
There are some threads that link many of the cases Palmer
has written about—problems with mistresses, sexual assault,
and marital abuse come up time and again. In fact, Palmer’s
latest book, which hit the streets last week, is called Leave
It to the Ladies, and is all about crimes committed by
women. “Not to justify it,” says Palmer, but you have to understand
“four of these women were married off at 16, they were in
relationships they did not know how to get out of. . . . In
desperation, they struck out at their husbands.”
Does all this make him feel a little morbid? No, says Palmer.
“The word I think I would use is depressed. Depressed that
even today we haven’t found a way out of the problems. This
one woman was incredibly abused. She shot her husband. . .
. But she would cover for him. People would come to stop the
beatings, the one before she killed him even, and she’d protect
him. We have the exact same problems today.”
Of course, he also cheerfully notes that he did a book entirely
about women perpetrators because “I know my demographic, and
it’s women between the ages of 30 and 65.” (He says knowing
this is also part of what makes him qualify as his own press
now, rather than self-published, something he estimates generally
happens about the third book.)
Good business instincts aside, Palmer clearly loves history
and is enjoying his pursuit of it tremendously. With his next
book, due out this fall, and his tours, he is moving beyond
the true-crime genre and into storytelling about the families
who built the houses of Saratoga Springs. “A lot of cities
tear down old homes, convert them, allow them to fall by the
wayside,” he says. “I’m very proud of Saratoga.”
Not that this means he’s left the twisted stuff behind entirely.
“I never said they were happy stories,” he playfully chides
one of women on his tour who has made a face as he rattles
off a the details of a series of suicides. “Happy news doesn’t
make the newspapers.”
The tour on Aug. 12 covers a mixture of the mansions on lower
Circular Street and Union Avenue, and merchants’ homes along
Phila Street (Palmer also gives tours that are entirely either
mansions or merchants’ homes), and it stretches somewhat beyond
its scheduled 90 minutes, despite Palmer’s promise to get
people to the track on time. This might be partly due to the
slightly longer stop at the house where the owner is out watering
his pachysandra and tells us of finding old documents in the
attic and hosting a family reunion for the family who had
originally built the house. Or just the sheer volume of information
in Palmer’s head.
Along the way we learn of Dr. John Clarke, who in the mid-1800s
pressed for a law to reduce property taxes for those who planted
street trees outside their homes; drained the swamp that is
now Congress Park; and built a stately home with six pillars
in front shortly after a rival built a home across town with
We stand outside the house of Florence McQueen, who got sent
to a convent school in New York City for bad behavior, and
in her second year got on the train but didn’t arrive at school.
After ruling out foul play, her family began running newspaper
advertisements promising not to send her back to the school
if she’d come home. She did. Palmer had her grandson in school.
Later in the tour we see Florence’s grandfather’s house, now
under reconstruction. Daniel McQueen was vice president of
Schenectady Locomotive, later ALCO. It was a feud between
him and his business partner, the Ellis for whom Ellis Hospital
is named, that led to Edison and GE being invited to Schenectady.
Palmer likes to sketch the connections between the houses
as he walks you past, detailing families growing, shrinking,
intermarrying, wanting more space to house the inevitable
He easily amassed too much information for one book, so it’s
going to be a series; the first one will be about houses along
Broadway. He hopes to inspire others to delve similarly into
the histories of their cities. “I would really feel very good
if I know someone copied the book I’m doing in Saratoga,”
he says. “That would make me feel incredibly proud.”
Will the Hollis Palmer of 100 years from now be writing about
the Porco case? Absolutely, said Palmer, interviewed before
the verdict. “Whichever way it comes out, I hope somebody
does. [Events like that] take time to gel. We can’t judge
a president or someone [like that] until 10 years after they’re
He pauses. “It would be really neat to write about today as
if it were 50 years from now. But I’m not going to get into
More information about Deep Roots Publications, Derby Tours
of Saratoga and Hollis Palmer’s other speaking engagements
can be found at www.derbytoursofsaratoga.com.
MEALS (86 Congress St., Saratoga Springs, 583-8883). Sun-Thu:
Sinatra—An American Icon with Val Peters.
GAMING AND RACEWAY (342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs,
584-2110). Thu: Bluz House Rockers. Wed: the TrueTones
ON THE ROOF (815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-8080).
Fri: Doc Scanlon’s Rhythm Boys.
9 MAPLE AVENUE (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB).
Fri: Jonathan Lorentz Group. Sat: Jon LeRoy Trio.
ALLEY BAR (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Tue:
karaoke with Mark the Shark.
BILLIARDS (63 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs, 583-2503).
Fri: Ralph Renna’s Birthday Bash.
(Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060).
Thu: Jeff and Becky Walton. Fri: Rich Ortiz.
Sat: Pangaea. Sun: Nate.
BRINDISI’S RESTAURANT (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs,
587-6262). Thu, Sun: Al Bruno. Fri: Vivid. Sat:
the Heaters, Standing Room Only. Tue: Rich
Ortiz. Wed: Bobby Dick.
LENA (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu:
open mic (7 PM). Fri: Rosanne Raneri. Sat: Hilltown
Ramblers. Wed: Andrew Eckel.
CAFÉ (392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1106). Sat:
karaoke with A-Man Productions.
TAVERN (43 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 584-1338).
CLUB HOUSE (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686).
Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.
INN (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Wed:
the Heaters (6:30 PM). Thu: TS Ensemble (6:30
RISTORANTE AND OTTO LOUNGE (17 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs,
583-6955). Thu: Bobby Dick and the Sundowners. Fri:
Robonic Reggae Band. Sat: IMI. Mon: Pangaea.
CAROLINE STREET (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026).
All shows at 7 PM unless otherwise noted. Thu: Masters
of Nostalgia. Fri: Sarah Pedinotti.
(168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). All shows
at 6 PM. Thu-Wed: Roger Morris (7 PM). Thu: the
Refrigerators. Fri: the New York Players. Sat:
the Burners UK. Sun: Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse
Rockers. Mon: the Schmooze. Wed: Bluz House
NIGHT CLUB (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686).
Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.
Skull Session Six, StudioArts Entertainment, Saratoga
Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 8/24-26, 9:30
PM. $14, $10 students and seniors. 636-4674.
Healthy Living Dance Program, National Museum of Dance,
99 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Thu, 1-2 PM: a class designed
to promote the health of seniors. Free. Pre-registration encouraged.
Class, National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, 99 S.
Broadway, Saratoga Springs. With Garth Fagan dancers. 8/28,
4:30-6 PM. $15. Pre-registration required. 584-2225, ext.
Party, Saratoga Savoy Center of Dance, 7 Wells St., Saratoga
Springs. 8/26, 8-11 PM. Includes master class with Norberto
“El Pulpo” Esbres and Luiza Paes. $10. 587-5132.
62 Beekman Street Bistro Gallery, 62 Beekman St., Saratoga
Springs. 683-1631. Works by Zachary Lobdell. Through 8/31.
Beekman Street Fine Art Gallery, 62 Beekman St., Saratoga
Springs. 542-6688. The Summer Show 2006—Salem Art Works. Through
100, 468 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. Get
Your Beverages Here, a juried exhibition. Through 9/10.
at Wesley, 131 Lawrence St., Saratoga Springs. 587-3600.
Works by Barbara Riehle. Through 8/31.
Museum of Dance, 99 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-2225.
Eleanor Rigby’s Resurrection: Images Inspired by Music’s
Icons. Through 9/6. Also, Dance of the Iroquois,
an exhibit exploring the social traditions of the Native Iroquois;
also, Young Dancer, photographs by Mark Sadan; also
Memoirs of a Lake George Showboat Performer. Through
Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga
Springs. 584-0400. California Images: the Racing Photography
of Bill Mochon; also, Golden Memories; also, paintings
from the Charles H. Thieriot collection. Through 12/31.
New York State Military Museum, 61 Lake Ave., Saratoga
Springs. 581-5100. Worth a Thousand Muskets: Civil War
Field Artillery. Ongoing. Also, Battleground for Freedom:
New York during the Revolutionary War. Ongoing. Also,
To the Standard: Civil War Cavalry Flags from the NYS Battle
Flag Collection. Ongoing.
Saratoga Automobile Museum, 110 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga
Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 587-1935 ext. 20. John
Fitch: An American Racing Hero. Through 11/14. Also, East
of Detroit, and New York Racing exhibit. Ongoing.
Cardiology, 6 Care Lane, Saratoga Springs. 587-4101. Works
by Preston Babcock. Through 8/31.
County Arts Council, Members Exhibition Hall, 320 Broadway,
Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Works by Judy Drake. Through 8/31.
County Arts Council, Arts Center Gallery, 320 Broadway,
Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Saratoga: Inside Out, a
juried exhibition. Through 9/3.
Hospital Medical Library, 211 Church St., Saratoga Springs.
583-8301. Works by Viviana Puello. Through 8/31.
Springs Amtrak Train Station, Station Lane, Saratoga Springs.
Works by Marianne Szuberla. Through 8/31.
Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs.
584-7860. Works by Christina Sokolow. Through 8/31.
Traveler, 400 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 583-2929. Works
by Cynthia Whitman. Through 9/4.
Saratoga Visitors Center, 297 Broadway, Saratoga Springs.
587-3241. Works by Judy Rosell. Through 8/31.
College, Schick Art Gallery, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga
Springs. 580-5049. Misleading Trails. Through 9/22.
Tang Teaching Museum and Gallery, Skidmore College, 815
N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-8080. Opener 11: Nina
Katchadourian: All Forms of Attraction. Through 12/30.
Also, And Therefore I Am, an exhibit that questions
the nature of human consciousness. Through 9/10.
Center of Saratoga, 6 Care Lane, Saratoga Springs. 583-6821.
Works by Pam Malsan. Through 8/31.
Malta/Saratoga Farmers Market, Dave Meager Community Center,
Route 9, Malta. Tuesdays, 11 AM-2 PM.
Saratoga Farmers Market, High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue,
Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.
Glens Falls/Saratoga Farmers Market, Village Park, Spring
Street, S. Glens Falls. Mondays, 11 AM-2 PM.
Shots by Martin Benjamin
daily through Sept. 4, except Tuesdays
267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.
$3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats
are $6 and $7, respectively
$10 per car at the trackside and $5 across the street at the
Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.
Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.
Race Post Time is at 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 26,
when it’s at 12:30 PM).
Stakes Races the Travers Stakes (Aug. 26); the Woodward