News of Otsego County

Neahwa Park

Let There Be Lights!

Let There Be Lights!

Against All Odds, Festival Takes Flight
Santa Claus is flanked by Oneonta First Lady Connie Herzig, left, and Festival of Lights organizer Carol Mandigo. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

As dusk settled over Neahwa Park, Carol Mandigo wasn’t sure what to expect when she flipped the switches to turn on the Festival of Lights.

What she saw were cars lined up as far as Main and River streets, waiting their turns to be driven around the 37 displays of holiday lights and decorations set up around the park.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mandigo said. “I had no idea it was going to be as popular as it was.”

Organizer Mandigo scrutinizes those pesky tripping circuits.

The event – it began last Friday, Dec. 18, and continues every night from dusk until 10 p.m. through Sunday, Jan. 3 – was a spin-off from the traditional First Night celebration, which, along with the Hometown Fourth of July, was cancelled due to COVID-19.

“Everyone on the board was really sad that we had to cancel,” she said. “We got together to decide if we should do something for New Year’s or just bag the whole year. No one would blame us if we didn’t put on an event.”

But Mandigo had seen the Lights on the Lake event in Liverpool, the Syracuse suburb, and although it cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to have it professionally put together, she pitched the board an idea: “What if we asked the community to put up displays?”

The board agreed, but she still wasn’t sure if the community at large would embrace the idea. “Then it would be lame, and that would be terrible for us,” she said.

She reached out to Ben Guenther at Five Star Subaru first to see if he would sponsor a display. “He was all about it,” she said. “And once I knew he was backing us, I knew we had something special.”

The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce sent out a call for displays in its newsletter, and soon, the emails started pouring in. “I was shocked,” she said. “I really thought we were going to have to do it all by ourselves.”

Several of the displays were dedicated to John Hayen, who in 2017 hung 23,500 lights in his home and yard on Tilly Avenue, surpassing the record set by Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” He passed away in November.

Bassett Healthcare employees’ display paid tribute to front-line workers, while the Brooks’ BBQ display featured Santa surrounded by chickens.

There were logistical challenges to overcome, including how to power each display without tripping circuits. “I’ve been living out in the cold from morning until night,” said Mandigo. “We had to figure out how to power everybody, how to run all these cords and how to protect the displays.”

And then came the snow.

Overnight snow on Thursday, Dec. 17, dumped 29 inches of powder on the city, burying all but the tallest displays. “People were worried that it wouldn’t work,” she said. “But no one ever said to postpone it.”

Instead, the groups came out to shovel out their displays. “It was a miracle,” she said. “We were still tripping circuits, but by 3:30 p.m. on Friday, we were ready to go.”

The event opened at dusk with entertainment, including Cosmic Karma Fire, Mike the Juggler and Santa Claus.

“Santa went to each car and asked the kids’ names and what they wanted for Christmas,” she said. “And the kids were so excited to see him.”

Even Mandigo donned a set of light-up wings to welcome visitors over the weekend. “I had so much fun seeing the kids faces light up,” she said. “That’s what First Night is all about.”

Festival of Lights Opens In Neahwa Park

Festival of Lights

Opens In Neahwa Park

Connie Herzig, left, and event organizer Carol Mandigo, right, wave to visitors alongside Santa Claus during the opening night of The Festival of Lights in Neahwa Park earlier this evening. Visitors can make their way through the park via car and enjoy plenty of colorful displays created by local businesses and organizations. The event, sponsored by First Night Oneonta, is open each day at sundown for the next three weeks.(Ian Austin/
Heavy Snow Won’t Dim Festival Of Lights

Heavy Snow Won’t Dim

Oneonta Festival Of Lights

John Becker clears snow from a Festival of Lights display he built for the Benson Agency this morning in Neahwa Park. Though yesterday’s snowstorm dumped 29″ of powder on Oneonta, First Night’s planned Festival of Lights is still scheduled to brighten the park, starting at sunset this evening. The drive-thru event will be held every evening through Sunday, Jan. 3. (Ian Austin/
Decorating Underway For Festival Of Lights

Ooh, Ah In Oneonta, Starting 12/18

Decorating Underway

For Festival Of Lights

Brook Moser, 10, and her brother Caleb, 5, joined the gang from Oneonta’s Keller Williams Realty this morning to decorate the front lawn of the city’s Department of Recreation office in Neahwa Park.  Mom Angela Moser, a KW real-estate agent, reports her children painted the figurines, which are new this year, in anticipation of the Festival of Lights, which is planned to light up the City of the Hills’ holiday skies from Friday, Dec. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 3.  Drive down to Neahwa and take a look.  Keller Williams’ Emilia Dolan, KW’s director of marketing and technology, said the office has been working with Festival Committee chairman Stan Fox in planning its display.  (Jim Kevlin/

Let’s Understand History, Not Censor It

Let’s Understand History,

Not Censor It

Are we seeing a trend here?

In June, one of Cooperstown Trustee MacGuire Benton’s constituents was walking his or her dog and noticed the word “Indian” on the historical marker at Council Rock.

Expressing his or her concern with the trustee, he raised the alarum at the June Village Board meeting, and a resolution was offered to remove the offending word from all public plaques in “America’s Most Perfect Village.”

It turned out, on minimal research, that many Native Americans like to be referred to as “Indians.”

(Maybe it’s a sly dig at the hapless Columbus, who mistakenly thought he’d arrived at the Asian subcontinent instead of tiny Santo Domingo.)

The village trustees, at their next meeting, pulled a Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Oh, never mind,” they said.

Fast-forward to the Oct. 13 Oneonta Common Council meeting.

Council member Luke Murphy reports he was approached by a constituent who had been walking
his or her dog, and reported with alarm that the 1912 marker in Neahwa Park commemorating the
Sullivan-Clinton Expedition includes the word “savagery.”

Murphy, who has a degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, was quoted as saying, sensibly, “My initial instinct was to remove the plaque, but that was a gut reaction. What I would like to do is to reach out to people on both sides … to see how do we address this, rather than just take it down.”

He approached the city’s Commission on Community Relations & Human Rights at its next meeting, and they told him, go for it. He is now sounding out Native Americans in the region to see what they think.

One local expert on that period – and there are several excellent ones in the county – said the councilman might want to reconsider his remarks: “Murphy said the opening clause assigns ‘savagery’ to the entire native population, declares there was no western civilization before Europeans arrived in America and falsely states there are no Haudenosaunee living in the region today.”

The words of the plaque don’t quite go that far. Go read it for yourself; it’s near the lower Main Street entrance to Neahwa Park.

You might argue the term, “savagery,” is descriptive, not pejorative, per se.

There was a lot of savagery around here in the 1700s – on the part of Colonists and Native Americans, too. Since New York State history is no longer taught in public schools, that’s probably too little understood. (Since only 1-2 percent of our national population has been fighting the wars-without-end in Iraq and Afghanistan, we probably lack a full appreciation of the savagery still being committed in our name today.)

Buzz Hesse, who explores “savagery” explicitly in a letter to the editor this week – proceed with caution; it’s not for the faint of heart – is another expert in the Revolutionary War period around here. (In 1968, as an archaeologist with the state Archaeologist’s

Office, he discovered an original Indian village in Unadilla, and documented it before it was destroyed.)
The Cherry Valley Massacre, on Nov. 11, 1778, was among the most notorious episodes of “savagery” in American, not just local, history.

On the other hand, by the time the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition was over, only a remnant of the mighty Iroquois remained, which took refuge under the walls of Fort Niagara, Upstate headquarters of their British allies.

There’s plenty of room for scholarly disputation about whys and wherefores.

Murphy himself has said the 1912 marker, donated to the fledgling City of Oneonta by the Daughters of the American Revolution, reflects a period of xenophobia, something worth exploring as we seek to understand our past – to better guide how we live in a diverse nation today and in the future.

Scholarly disputation, discussion and, perhaps, a new consensus:

That’s the way forward. As a trained historian, Murphy would be an ideal convener, (and this newspaper would be a willing sponsor).

These days, village boards and city councils tend to forget their origins. They were founded as “special assessment districts,” charged with paving streets, and providing public water, sewerage systems and other services that individual Cooperstonians and Oneontans couldn’t afford to do alone.

Deciding to censor plaques (and, later perhaps, monuments) is beyond their job descriptions. The 1912 DAR plaque provides an insight into a point in time, as in the future the “First American” mural on the Chestnut Street side of Oneonta’s Clinton Plaza will provide into the 20-aughts.

At most, Common Council – and the Cooperstown trustees and any local government – should declare a five-year moratorium on any action when these issues are brought before them. Public argumentation is hot right now. Let’s have a cooling-off period on these types of divisive action.

Who knows? In five years, or 10, there may be a new consensus, a willingness to look unstintingly at our common, all-encompassing history, and come to a new synthesis that allows Americans to again be proud of our national story and our national achievement, but in a spirit of acceptance of each other: our failings, yes, but our virtues, too.

Commission Backs Council Member’s Plan To Examine Offensive Plaque

‘We’ve Got Your Back,’ Murphy Told

Rights Commission Supports

Review Of ‘Savagery’ Plaque

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to


ONEONTA – The city’s Commission on Community Relations and Human Rights supported Council member Luke Murphy, First Ward, as he begins reaching out to groups about the plaque in Neahwa Park that refers to “Indian savagery

“I’m excited to say I have made contacts with the Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk nations,” he said at this evening’s commission meeting. “I also have reached out to the president of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I want to make sure I have complete engagement of all parties before we proceed.”

Councilman Questions Plaque Referring to ‘Savagery’ Of Iroquois

Councilman Questions

Monument Referring

To Iroquois ‘Savagery’

Murphy Said He Will Raise Issue

Today Before Rights Commission

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Council member Luke Murphy, First Ward, is facting-finding on what to do about this marker, in front of Oneonta Neahwa Park, which refers to the “savagery” of the Iroquois people.

ONEONTA –  After 118 years, Common Council member Luke Murphy, First Ward, is concerned about a marker in Neahwa Park referring to the “savagery” of the Iroquois pursued by the Clinton-Sullivan Expedition.


A neighbor of Murphy’s walking through Neahwa Park alerted the freshman council member to the plaque at the park’s River Street entrance, which says the 1779 expedition “destroyed the Indian savagery and opened the westward pathway of civilization.”

Race Day Goes Virtual, But Skies Remain Clear

27th Annual Pit Run On Through Oct. 31

Race Day Goes Virtual,

As Skies Remain Clear

Since the first race in 1994, it has never once rained on the day of the annual Pit Run, and that track record continued today as Mike Rubino, Bob Scanlon, Eric Michelitsch, and Nancy Scanlon joined Deb and Sid Parisian this morning in Neahwa Park to honor fallen Trooper Ricky J. Parisian at the traditional finish line for the annual PIT Run, which is being held virtually throughout October. A few racers did come down to the park to run the 5 and 10K courses, including family friend Don Guinta, who was “first” to cross the finish line with a time of 36:29. New this year is the 100K challenge, where runners and walkers can add up their daily totals to try and reach a 62 mile goal. Registrations are open through Oct. 15.  (Ian Austin/

Recovery Run Virtual This Year, But Family Still Gathers To Reflect

Recovery Run Virtual This Year,

But Family Gathers To Reflect

Cathy Rothenberger, left, runs with granddaughters Addison, front, and Piper, left, in Neahwa Park marking the start of the 2020 Rothenberger Road to Recovery Run, in memory of her son Lucas. The race, organized by Friends of Recovery of Delaware-Otsego has gone virtual this year, allowing people from across the country to compete for the highest cumulative distance now through September 30. Friends and family gathered for a small ceremony this morning in solidarity to share memories and show support for community members struggling with addiction. “If people have the opportunity to open up, it helps relieve some of the pain.” said Cathy Rothenberger, as she stood with husband Dale. “There are resources and committed members of this community who can help you. We are a society of helping people and I hop that people can take advantage of that.”(Ian Austin/

Juneteenth Attendees Encouraged To ‘Speak Out’ Against Injustice

Juneteenth Attendees Told

‘Speak Out’ Against Injustice

Michelle Osterhoudt, former Oneonta City teacher and Common Council member, told the crowd gathered in Neahwa Park that as recently as two weeks ago, she was called a racial slur while out in the city with her daughter. “When you see an act of hatred, you need to speak out,” she said. “Because when you don’t, you allow that injustice to happen.” Osterhoudt was on hand to speak as part of the Juneteenth celebration, which brought art, dance, music and speakers to the park to celebrate the anniversary of the final emancipation of slaves in Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. (Libby Cudmore/
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO: Celebrate Civil Rights, Learn How To Improve 06-19-20

First Juneteenth, Celebrate

155 Years Since End Of Slavery


CELEBRATE – 5 – 8 p.m. Celebrate our progress since the official end of slavery with food, music and art. Also, learn about all the work that still needs to be done. Please wear a mask & practice social distancing. Includes speakers at 6 with candlelight vigil at 7:45 p.m. Neahwa Park, Oneonta. Visit for info.

Up, Up And Away!

Up, Up And AWAY!

Balloon Fest Begins In Neahwa Park

Dave Markowitz, Town of Maryland, and Ben Wagoner, Bristol, sit inside the basket of the Wild Ride balloon surrounded by crew members Stephanie Douglas, Gofftown, Michael Butler, Cooperstown, Nick Scherer, Schenevus, and Beth McGown, Cooperstown,  as they illuminate the hot air balloon during tonight’s balloon glow in Neahwa Park. At right, Savannah Wilson, Morris, and Emily Leonard, Pittsfleld, enjoy one of the inflatable attractions from the New York Bounce House. The festivities continue Saturday with the second annuall Rothenberger Run, live music, face painting, vendors, hot air balloons and more. (Ian Austin/

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