"Legendary Locals of Greater Utica" is the new book from local author James Davis.  The book arrives in stores this Monday, October 14th, and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.  James Davis knows a lot about history.  He's been teaching history for fourteen years and is currently a teacher at Clinton High School.   This is his second book about Utica and I had a chance to ask him some questions about the book and what he's working on next.

James, what inspired you to write "Legendary Locals of Greater Utica?"

Since writing Utica:Then and Now with Joe Bottini, I have always been interested in writing another locally themed book.  I really enjoy writing from the perspective of what bearing history has on the here and now.

This book allowed me to delve into the lives of people that have lived here over the centuries in a way to set the heroes of yesteryear alongside the inspirational newsmakers of today.  For example, the book provides readers with a fresh portrait of the extended Proctor family and sets modern philanthropists, such as Gene Romano and Albert Mazloom alongside the Proctors, all toward what I hope illustrates a greater context of local philanthropy.

What was your biggest challenge writing "Legendary Locals of Greater Utica?"

The biggest challenge was keeping the momentum going in terms of completing all of my interviews before my deadline.  Often times, I would complete a biographical sketch, but still need to find a captivating picture, preferably one the public has never seen before.  Since this is an illustrated volume, it was stressful on occasion to bring the text and the images together.

Legendary Locals of Greater Utica by James Davis.
Photo courtesy of James Davis.

Tell me about your research methods for this book:

I knew going into this project that I did not want to just shut myself up in the library to do my work.  Luckily, given the current affairs aspect of the book, many of the folks I wished to feature in the book--including their families--were gracious enough to sit for interviews with me or my research assistant.  Plus, they offered photos from their personal collection to feature alongside the biographical sketches I hoped to craft.

I quickly came to realize that the first person interviews would truly set this volume apart from anything else that has been written about any of these important local figures.  Ultimately, I felt I walked away with this enormous gift: the accumulated life stories and wisdom of leaders such as Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling, pollster John Zogby, and legendary professor Eugene Paul Nasser.

Was there anyone who was especially helpful in writing this book?

Joe Bottini, my old friend and co-author on Utica: Then and Now, was the best research assistant I could have asked for on this project.  He really hustled to secure interviews and photos for me on days I was double and triple booked.  And he has been such an effective voice for civic engagement and educational reform over the years that it was helpful to have someone like Joe give folks a call and say "Hey, remember that former student of mine I wrote my first book with?  Can I run through some of his interview questions with you for his new book?

Ryan Orilio, who has become synonymous with modern photos of the city of Utica, helped me select the images for my book as well.  Also, I'm very grateful to the Utica Observer Dispatch and the Oneida County Historical Society in helping me secure tough images to find of local notables.  Most of all, thanks goes to my wife, who gave me the latitude to out of the house at random to conduct an interview or find a research source.

Legendary Locals of Greater Utica by James Davis.
Photo courtesy of James Davis.

 What is your next project along these lines going to be?

If I concentrate on a local history topic again, I will likely choose one of the legends in this book to delve into a bit further.  For example, Dean Phillip Bean at Haverford College, who grew up here, is writing a new book on Vice President James Sherman.

Sherman is a man many have forgotten grew up in Utica, attended Hamilton College and rose to the second highest office in the land.  I hope that people will enjoy my sketch of "Sunny Jim" in Legendary Locals of Greater Utica, and then seek out Professor Bean's book when it hits the shelves.  Perhaps in the future I'll be able to contribute a more comprehensive text on one of these locals as well.

Doesn't "Legendary Locals of Greater Utica" sound fascinating?  I'll be buying a copy next week and can't wait to read it from cover to cover.  Thanks James for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope this book flies off the shelves.


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