New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Henry Johnson

Henry Johnson Boulevard, Henry Johnson Charter School, and this bust sculpted by
Vincent Forte, Sr., are a few examples of how the memory of decorated soldier Henry Johnson lives on in the city of Albany. Johnson was an infantry soldier who served during World War I, a time when African Americans were segregated into “colored” units. Serving with the French on the front line, Johnson’s actions in combat earned him France’s highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, and posthumously the U.S. Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002, and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor in 2015.

Born about 1892 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Johnson moved to Albany as a teenager and worked various jobs including railway porter at Albany's Union Station. At the onset of the United States’ involvement in World War I, in 1917, Johnson traveled to New York City to enlist in the United States Army. He was placed in the 15th New York Infantry Regiment, later the 369th Infantry Regiment, as part of the American Expeditionary Forces that consisted mostly of African American soldiers. They were known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” since most soldiers came from the Harlem section of New York City.

On May 15, 1918, Johnson was on sentry duty with another soldier when they were attacked by German forces. Johnson fought off nearly a dozen German soldiers and caused several casualties. When his fellow soldier was wounded, Johnson prevented his capture. With fighting reduced to hand-to-hand combat, Johnson was able to hold off the German advance and survive the battle, although he sustained multiple wounds. He returned to the U.S. with his regiment in 1919 but was unable to take up his position at Albany’s Union Station because of his wounds. Johnson died in July 1929 without U.S. recognition or a disability pension.

The plaster bust created by Capital Region sculptor Vince Forte, Sr. served as the model for a bronze bust installed and dedicated in Albany’s Washington Park in 1996.

Bust of Henry Johnson

Vince Forte, Sr. (1931–2003) | 1995

Medium: Plaster

Credit: Gift of Michelina T. Forte

Famous New York Soldiers Return Home, the 369th Infantry

Gelatin silver photographic print


Courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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