New reference book says it all about New York

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    SYRACUSE-"The Encyclopedia of New York" is the most comprehensive reference work on the Empire State in nearly 150 years, say its editors. Seven years in the making, the new compendium released Thursday by Syracuse University Press weighs in at 101/2 pounds, covering nearly 2,000 pages with more than 4,600 entries by 1,200 authors. But it's more than sheer numbers that make the encyclopedia impressive, said Peter Eisenstadt, the volume's editor-in-chief. "It's not just a jumble of two million or so facts." "It has context that helps the reader in understanding and interpreting all those facts. It is the best contemporary scholarship there is on New York state, on its variety, its complexity and its historical importance. It is a crucial reference for anyone interested in finding out more about New York state," he said. The book also is illustrated with 500 photographs and figures, 120 maps and 140 tables. The index alone takes up 150 pages. The $2.6 million writing project started in 1998, helped by grants of $650,000 from New York state and $640,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It "will serve as a permanent record of accomplishments and contributions and it will leave a legacy that our state and its people can take pride in," said state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who secured the state grant. The print run for the first edition is 30,000 copies and the list price is $95. A free copy of the encyclopedia will be distributed to each of the state's 1,085 public library districts, said Peter Webber, director of Syracuse University Press. Only about 10 states presently have contemporary state encyclopedias, with another dozen or so in progress, said Eisenstadt, who in 1995 helped produce an encyclopedia on New York City. The last comprehensive reference work on New York was the 1860 Gazetteer of New York State, said Eisenstadt. The entries chronicle the state's vast contributions to history and politics; its distinctive cultural traditions; and its heritage in religion, education, business and social reform, starting with A&P (the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co.) and ending with Zoroastrians. In between, it is packed with details, some more worthy of remembering than others: • New York is the only state touched by the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. • More than half the state's population is squeezed onto three islands that constitute less than 5 percent of the state's area. • Cream cheese (1872) and Velveeta (1920) were invented and first produced in Orange County. • In 1897, Pearl Wait of LeRoy (Genesee County) invented a flavored gelatin dessert called Jell-O. • In 38 presidential elections since 1836, Republican and Democratic contenders have each carried the state 19 times. • In 1871, Prof. C.C. Coe of Rome landed his hot air balloon in downtown Syracuse's Clinton Square • a scene likely witnessed by L. Frank Baum, who would later write about a similar episode in his classic, "The Wizard of Oz." • In 1884, former textile factory owner LaMarcus Thompson built the world's first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, at Coney Island. The ride traveled 600 feet and reached a height of 50 feet. • In 1929, the country's first nudist colony opened near Peekskill. On the Net: Syracuse University Press: