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Books about local history always make great gifts

John Conway
Posted 12/8/23

With another holiday season nearly here, it is time for this column’s annual reminder that books about Sullivan County’s rich and colorful history always make great gifts, but especially …

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Books about local history always make great gifts


With another holiday season nearly here, it is time for this column’s annual reminder that books about Sullivan County’s rich and colorful history always make great gifts, but especially this time of year.

And this year there are a few newly released titles that should be on every shopping list, along with a number of older stand-bys that belong on every history buff’s bookshelf.

On the topic of older books that everyone with an interest in the region’s history should own, it seems fitting to mention the passing earlier this year of Stephen M. Silverman, the author of one of those titles.

Silverman was a prolific writer, with more than a dozen titles to him name, two of which had connections to Sullivan County. His epic 2015 work, “The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America” remains one of the most important books about Sullivan County’s past, covering a broad array of subject matter from the D&H Canal to Murder, Inc. and the Borscht Belt. The photographs alone—each one handpicked by the author—make the book a must-have. Silverman’s co-author on that work, Raphael D. Silver, died before the book was finished.

Silverman’s massive 2019 book, “The Amusement Park: 900 Years of Thrills and Spills, and the Dreamers and Schemers Who Built Them” also had a bit of a Sullivan County connection, featuring a brief mention of the Monticello Amusement Park.

Stephen M. Silverman died in July in New York City. He was 71. His books are available on Amazon.

For the many readers with an unquenchable thirst for all things Borscht Belt, there are two new titles that should be added to your collections. Patti Posner’s “My View From the Mountains: A Catskill Memoir” was published in July, and is based on the author’s years growing up at the Brickman Hotel in Fallsburg. While it is ostensibly about the Brickman and its history, the story parallels that of dozens—perhaps even hundreds-- of other Sullivan County hotels of the era, including Grossinger’s. It’s a must-read.

Similarly, Bart A. Charlow’s recently released book, “A Catskill Carnival: My Borscht Belt Life Lived, Lost and Loved” is the story of a Fallsburg hotel—in this case, the Irvington—but it provides invaluable insights into the story of many of the Sullivan County hotels of the era through the eyes of an author who lived the stories he is telling.

Both books are available online.

It is impossible to think of Posner’s and Charlow’s books without being reminded of Allen Frishman’s two books, which did for bungalow colonies what the two more recent titles have done for hotels—provide an insider’s view.

Both the 2016 “Tales from a Catskill Mountain Plumber” and the 2023 “More Borscht From a Catskill Mountain Plumber” will leave you wanting more. The stories in the two books are all true, and while the first book is funny, the second is broader in scope but every bit as funny. If you grew up during the heyday of the Catskills, you’ll recognize many of the scenarios Frishman relates. If you didn’t, you’ll likely be amazed by the world he discloses. Either way, you will no doubt find yourself laughing with each turn of the page.

Frishman says of the sequel, “It’s said that everyone has a story to tell of their experiences here. During the last several years of doing book talks and presenting the Catskill Tchotchkes slide show, I began recording many of the amusing tales from people who visited, worked or lived here. There are 80 such tales, like ‘Jake the Snake,’ who was a local bookie, or Phyllis Asman’s mom Irene, owner of the Esther Manor. She could sell anything! But not to worry, since there are still some family favorites. For example, ‘The Honey Dipper or Fairy Tales for a Plumber’s Son.’”

Both books can be purchased on Amazon.

There are plenty of other local history books to look for, and many of the finest can be obtained at local stores, such as the Kristt Company in Monticello, Canal Towne Emporium in Wurtsboro, Time & the Valleys Museum in Grahamsville, and the Hurleyville General Store and the Sullivan County Historical Society Gift Shop in Hurleyville.

Look for titles such as Manville B. Wakefield’s “To the Mountains By Rail,” which was recently re-released in limited edition and is already nearly impossible to find, Ross Padluck’s “Catskill Resorts: Lost Architecture of Paradise,” Marisa Scheinfeld’s “The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland,” Lynda Lee Macken’s “Catskill Ghosts: History & Hauntings in the Catskill Mountain Region,” and this columnist’s “In Further Retrospect.” You’ll be glad you did, and those on the receiving end of your gift-giving will be even more so.

Happy Holidays!

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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