Fredonia documentary debuts

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford “Among the Hemlocks” director Roslin Smith speaks to the audience Thursday night after the debut of the 29-minute film featuring Fredonia stories brought to life by local re-enactors.

WESTFIELD – About 60 people braved a heavy snowfall to see the screening of “Among the Hemlocks,” director Roslin Smith, in the Octagon Gallery at Westfield’s Patterson Library Thursday.

They were treated to these historical tidbits, among others:

1. Barker Common only got its name in 1930, having previously been named after the Marquis de Lafayette, a Revolutionary War hero who later made a gala visit to Fredonia.

2. The property of Dr. Eber Pettit, at the corner of Madison and Chestnut streets, featured a barn that hid escaped slaves taking the “Underground Railroad” to freedom in Canada before the Civil War.

3. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which played a large role in the successful lobbying for the ban of alcohol we call Prohibition, was founded in Fredonia; its founder, Esther McNeill, has a drinking fountain honoring her in Barker Fountain on the corner of Main Street and Park Place.

Other stories familiar to those who know their Fredonia history included the sinking of the first gas well in the U.S. by William Hart; the Marx Brothers’ connection to Fredonia through the film “Duck Soup” that featured a fictional Freedonia; and the devastating Normal School fire at the site of today’s One Temple Square that killed six students and a janitor in December 1900.