Five places I would go.

I’ve taken you loyal, dedicated readers on a journey through my life. Every time I post something on this nearly three-year-long association with the Times Union, I’ve brought you closer to parts of my history – both good and bad, both uplifting and depressing.  It’s part of what I do.

But I thought for a while this morning, about where I would like to go if I had the opportunity.  Not to a state or a country, but to a faraway time.  Not to the future, the future hasn’t happened yet.  But to the past.

And the challenge would be – pick five historic time frames to visit.  Any five places.  One has to be personal.  Three of them have to be prior to your birth.  And one is a wild card, to be used in any situation.

The rules are simple.  I can’t go back and change time.  I can’t stop Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle any more than I can stop water from flowing through your fingers.  I can’t talk to anybody and have them talk back to me.  In this instance, I am just an observer.

So I looked back in time.  And I came up with a few choice moments in my life.

January 29, 1920. I’m at the Washington Avenue Armory, for a rip-roaring battle between the Albany Senators and the Troy Trojans, the two top professional basketball teams of their era.  There’s six thousand people wedged into the Armory, so much so that one of the temporary bleachers has collapsed, injuring several spectators.  At one point in time, Albany and Troy were part of the New York State League, one of the last basketball circuits to enclose the playing field in a wire-mesh cage.  I would have loved to have seen that game, and watch Albany’s basketball hall of famers “The Heavenly Twins” – Marty Friedman and Barney Sedran – defeat Troy and eventually take first place in the league standings.

August 8, 1947. Robert Ripley, the world traveler and “Believe It Or Not!” comic strip artist, has arrived in Albany aboard his Chinese junk Mon Lei.  He speaks at the Palace Theater and broadcasts his radio show from the Hudson River.  We all get excited whenever someone famous visits the Capital District – last year one would think the Capital District was comprised of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Gosling-ville.  But when Robert Ripley arrived in Albany, it was treated as Times Union front page news, with bulletins from page to page.

February 18, 1861. Perhaps it could be settled, once and for all, as to whether Abraham Lincoln, after winning election to the Presidency and arriving in Albany for a few speeches, might have taken in a performance at the New Gayety Theater in downtown Albany. The show that night was a play called The Apostate.  The performer on stage?  Some actor named John Wilkes Booth.

September 23, 1981. I want to sit in the highest seat at Bleecker Stadium, along the Clinton Avenue side of the facility.  From there, I could watch the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, destroy the local competition 41-0.  And on the other side of the fence, I could see the protestors and people of conscience decrying South Africa’s state-enforced human rights violations of apartheid and the jailing of political prisoners.

August 19, 1971. Another game at Bleecker Stadium, this time an Eastern League baseball contest between the Reading Phillies and the Pittsfield Senators in what was billed as a test for the Senators to relocate their games to Albany.  Bleecker was packed, and the crowd saw some young minor leaguer named Mike Schmidt hit two home runs that day.  Albany would get a few more “trial” games, but it wouldn’t receive its own Eastern League team until 1983.

I’ve gone back in time with each one of these events.  Many of them were part of writing projects for magazines and sports yearbooks, and you would be amazed at how much data you can pull from the microfilms at the Albany Public Library.   I thought about those days – back when I didn’t have an internet upon which to Google information.  Back when I could read those old microfilms and get distracted by the comic strips of 1962 or by an advertisement about what was on movie screens in Albany that week.  Back when the big building complex in the center of downtown Albany was called the South Mall.  Back when our area was known as “Metroland,” before the newspaper of the same name came into existence.

In a few months, I have the honor and privilege of being the keynote speaker at the Albany High School Class of 1962 50th reunion.  And if I’m going to be a proficient and knowledgeable speaker, to be able to relate memories and information about a time period prior to my birth, with references to Albany’s past cultural time…

I gotta get back to those microfilms again.

If nothing else, those microfilms are my own personal time travel device.