While on assignment in Syracuse last week, I did what I always do: drive around to see the old neighborhood and my favorite places in and around town. I was born and raised in Syracuse but left after college, which I guess makes me partly responsible for the city's population decline over the past few decades.
Syracuse, like many northern cities, is a place of ethnic neighborhoods. The lines are much more blurred than they once were, but when you drive down a street and see a building with a sign like "Klub Polski" hanging out in front, you know you're not in the Italian section (as my grandmother used to say). According to my grandmother, who was born in 1887 and lived all of her 89 years there, the different ethnic groups pretty much got along but kept to their own kind, where they lived, worked and shopped.
Though she was of Dutch descent, the house my grandmother grew up in is located in Tipperary Hill, a neighborhood settled by the Irish, many from County Tipperary. They had originally come to build the Erie Canal in the early 1800s.
As Syracuse grew and made way for the ever-increasing number of automobiles, a traffic light was installed at the intersection of Milton Avenue and Tompkins Street in 1924, the center of Tipp Hill (as it is known by the locals.)
It is said that the fact that the red (British) was above the green (Irish) angered the locals enough that they felt compelled to throw rocks at the light, putting it out of commission. The city replaced the signal and again it was broken. This cycle of destruction and replacement went on for a while until the city realized that if there was going to be a light at this particular intersection, it was going to have to be one with the green on the top and the red on the bottom.
Today the light remains as it was, with the green on top. In 1997, the city demolished an old building at the intersection and created Tipperary Hill Memorial Park, where a statue was erected commemorating the ones who defied City Hall and won. The statue features an Irish family looking up at the light. The boy has a slingshot in his back pocket, just in case.
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