Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Borscht Belt Artifacts: Relics From the Catskills Resort Age

Borscht Belt Artifacts: Relics From the Catskills Resort Age

Did you ever visit one of the famous Catskill Resort hotels of Sullivan or Ulster Counties? Do you remember the golf courses and swimming pools, well-manicured lawns, ballrooms, and theaters? Of course, we cannot also forget the famous or someday-to-be famous comedians and other performers who entertained the guests and the delicious food that has traveled around the world.

 

Photo credit: The Borscht Belt Museum www.borschtbeltmuseum.org

 

What began as a patchwork of Jewish-owned farms whose proprietors took in summertime boarders to make ends meet, grew into a sprawling constellation of all-inclusive resorts, hotels and more modest bungalow colonies. From the turn of the 20th century to the 1970s, more than 1,000 hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps and boarding houses dotted the Catskill Mountains of southern New York. The region came to be called the Jewish Alps or The Mountains, but another expression, the Borscht Belt was the name that became most common. The Borscht Belt and Catskill Resorts drew in thousands of visitors a year, so much so that entertainment became a vital draw. By the 1950s and 1960s, the Borscht Belt had become a key way station on the American pop culture circuit, often uttered in the same breath as Broadway and Las Vegas. Comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Sid Caesar, Joan Rivers and Jackie Mason cut their teeth in front of a tough Catskill audience. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, many of the hotels began to falter, and by the 1980s, all but a handful were gone. (1)

 

Alex Prizgintas with artifacts from the Borscht Belt

 

Come hear these memories with Alex Prizgintas at the Hendrick Hudson Library in Montrose, NY on Sunday, February 25th at 2:00 pm. A historian, musician, and lecturer who focuses on neglected history of the Catskills and Hudson Valley region, Alex serves as president of the Woodbury Historical Society in Orange County, New York and is an advisory board member of the Catskills Borscht Belt Museum. He has been published in works such as the Hudson River Valley Review, the New York Archives Magazine, and the Orange County Historical Society Journal. A preservationist, Alex stewards the Richard L. Benjamin Collection of Borscht Belt Tourism History, which contains hundreds of documents, postcards, and ephemera from the Borscht Belt era. Many of these items will be brought to the lecture for attendees to view live accompanying his PowerPoint program. Walk-ins are welcome but pre-registering to make sure you have a seat is recommended. To register visit the Hendrick Hudson Free Library calendar.

 


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About the Contributor
As a Peekskill native, Dave is thrilled to be working with the Peekskill Herald showcasing featured calendar events. A 1999 graduate of PHS, he remembers reading and enjoying the original weekly print edition of the Peekskill Herald every Thursday. He especially liked the political stories, local features and sports coverage when it was written by Peekskill Runner columnist Jack Burns who always managed to weave history into the running times. An avid hiker, he enjoys exploring the local trails as well as the concrete ones in his job as a conductor for Metro North Railroad. He’s a former teacher and co-founder of the Friends of the Peekskill Dog Park, where he frequently can be found with his Koda. He’s happy to be part of the Herald’s growth as the source of local news for Peekskill and looks forward to highlighting a few of many of the events and happenings in Peekskill and the surrounding communities. Reach Dave at [email protected]