Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gypsy Camps

North End legend says there was a gypsy camp on Washington Ave. in Rensselaer. Did we have had actual gypsies in New York? Akum Norder at All Over Albany found another site at an old schoolhouse in Hoosick, where gypsies camped as recently as 1965. So who were they?

The Romani ethnic group originated on the Indian subcontinent, leaving perhaps a millennium ago, and moving into Europe in medieval times. Romanies began immigrating to America in the colonial era, and a large-scale migration of the Romnaichal from Britain to the U.S. started in the 1860's. New England Magazine, May 1904 said there was a record of gypsies in New York as far back as 1850.

Image: Tents of a Gypsy Camp in Brooklyn (Library of Congress)

The Albany Evening Journal (AEJ) mentioned the Greenbush encampment several times between 1888 and 1915, in the "Neighborhood News" from Bath:

July 10, 1893: The gypsy encampment drew an extraordinary large crowd to the Manor grounds yesterday. The principal attraction yesterday was the queen of the camp, who was telling fortunes to all who wished a glance into the "future", for "the small sum of 15 cents." This seemed too high for the crowd, and it was finally reduced to 10 cents and the camp did a thriving business till long after dark. The camp will "pull stakes" this afternoon and start en route for the World's Fair.
July 31, 1893: The town bore a more quiet appearance yesterday than in any other Sunday in some time. The fact was due to the disappearance of the band of gypsies who had been encamped on the Manor grounds. Fond parents may now know when their daughters are out of an evening, that they are not at the gypsy encampment paying for a "glance into the future."

Most AEJ articles were stereotypical accounts of a gypsy getting arrested, or giving someone a bad deal in a horse trade (i.e., Sept. 7, 1905: "Foolish Man Loses Horse" and July 26, 1910: "Ballston Spa Boy Dickers With Gypsies to his Sorrow"). But a sympathetic article in 1888 described a visit to the Stanley gypsy encampment at Manning Blvd. and Washington Ave. in Albany. (This article will get its own post next week: Inside Albany's Gypsy Camp.)

On Oct. 10, 1910, AEJ reported that a band of several thousand members of the Stanley tribe, enroute to their winter headquarters in New Jersey, stopped at a gypsy camp in Colonie. In June 1912, a man backed his touring car down a 10 foot embankment after visiting the camp on Washington Ave. in Albany. (The gypsies were unable to pull the car back up with a team of draft horses.) Other gypsy camps were noted at the junctions of Colvin and Central Ave. in Albany, and on the Albany Road in Schenectady.

On Aug. 13, 1915, the AEJ mentions a gypsy camp at Hulett farm at Defreestville. By this time the Forbes Manor was no longer vacant, as it was in the 1890's, and the former gypsy camp site on Forbes Ave. (now upper Washington Ave.) was being turned into residential building sites for the booming new City of Rensselaer.

The article Gypsy Americans by Evan Heimlich is a good historical overview. The Romani people have faced centuries of oppression including ethnic cleansing by the Nazis and deportation from many countries (as recently as 2010 in France). Efforts to address ongoing discrimination are in progress, and April 8 was the International Day of Roma.

Next: Inside Albany's Gypsy Camp


Anonymous said...

My family lived in a house at the foot of Mann Avenue from 1955-1970. On the roof of the house was printed in large letters GYPSY CAMP FARM...never thought too much of it and now it all makes sense. Have a picture somewhere I can post. Pam Sourmail Alcombright

Anonymous said...

I was married to a gypsy who was a Stanley who told how her family had lived at the old school in Hoosic.I was also at a Gypsy gathering there with her in the early 70's