To be sure, it doesn’t take a woman to trumpet Somers’ history. Being that March was Women’s History Month, however, we thought we at the Somers Historical Society would showcase three modern women who’ve put their indelible stamp on Somers history. They found Somers history intriguing, inspiring and compelling. Here, we highlight Somers natives Jo Pitkin and Erika Panzarino, as well as former residents Beverley Brigandi and Carrie Brown Rorer.
Both Jo and Beverley, authors who were inspired by the Somers Historical Society’s collections, have written books based on their research—much of which is based on the Zoological Institute, which was founded 181 years ago in the Elephant Hotel.
Jo wrote a book of poetry entitled “Cradle of the American Circus: Poems from Somers, N.Y.” It has been critically acclaimed since publication in 2012 by The History Press. As the name implies, it includes poetry, but also excerpts from essays presented at a circus symposium organized by the society in 1985, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the forming of the Zoological Institute. This year, Jo’s poetry will also be backdrop for an exhibition entitled “Inspirational Artifacts,” which opened April 17 in the Elephant Hotel on the third floor.
Beverley wrote an article entitled “The Names in the Ledger: Harlequins, Horses and Howdahs,” which appeared in a recent issue of The Westchester Historian, the scholarly quarterly published by the Westchester County Historical Society. The article is based upon a menagerie ledger from our collection from that era. She also wrote a historical romance under her pseudonym, Beverley Andi, entitled “Kicking Sawdust,” based on the same ledger.
According to Beverley, she was intrigued by the ledger and its crisp, legible, black ink, containing the names of 32 performers, listing their salary and weekly expenses.
Erika (Adelphi University, class of 2016), too, has literary pursuits. As a Historical Society volunteer for seven years, Erika has grown to love Caroline Wright Reis and wants to tell her story. She was recipient of an Honors Summer Research Fellowship from Adelphi for two consecutive summers to research and study the life of Mrs. Reis, the town of Somers’ largest benefactress, to date. She continues her work with the Somers Historical Society, studying primary source materials in the Wright Reis and Somers Historical Society collections for her project entitled “A Study of the Life and Significance of Caroline Wright Reis,” which, when completed, will take multiple formats and be a springboard for other projects—video, literary, digital—over the coming years.
Mrs. Reis’ story can now be seen online at the “Spark: Women on the Map” page at fieldtripper.com, a downloadable mobile app available on Google Play or the iTunes App Store, as well as on a YouTube video entitled “Ahead of Her Time: The Story of Caroline Wright Reis,” produced by Erika (youtube.com/watch?v=tmH-DzymTZU).
In April, Erika will be recognized by the Museum Association of New York as was one of 15 people to be recognized in its Award of Merit program during its annual meeting. The program acknowledges outstanding programs and individuals who have made the state’s museum community better and stronger. And if that wasn’t enough for a college student to undertake in her spare time, under her inspiration, the student historians created the “Adopt-An-Artifact” fund of Somers Historical Society, in part, to fund conservation of objects in the Wright Reis collections.
Grace Zimmermann is the vice president of the Somers Historical Society.