SHS’s Morris’s meeting drew an enthusiastic crowd to remember the World Famous Morris's Grill:
It was standing room only at the Skaneateles Historical Society’s Creamery special event, “The Ghost of Morris’s Grill,” Tuesday Aug. 24.
Poet Mary Gardner was the evening’s emcee for this “Living History in the Round.” The genesis of the event was a second commemorative card that Gardner and designer Marian Settineri collaborated on about the late Morris’s. The SHS and the artists invited people in to share their memories of the former World Famous Grill.
Gardner introduced village historian Pat Blackler, who said she was ashamed to say that she has lived in Skaneateles for 45 years and had only been to Morris’s once.
“What I do best is history,” Blackler said beginning her talk rather than sharing her story of that “one visit” to Morris’s. (Her entire talk is available online at cnylink.com and will be printed in full in an upcoming edition of the Skaneateles Press.)
After a very detailed history of the site and its early inhabitants, Blackler said, “And that’s where you all come in, I can tell you about the site, the building and the business but the stories are yours, the people in this room.”
Thanks for the memorabilia
Emcee Gardner then took the floor thanking John Francis McCarthy for loaning the historical Society his photograph of the last customer to leave Morris’s; The Greenfield Family for loaning a Morris’s bar stool; she noted the desk on display from Hennessey’s; thanked Mary Ann Angelillo for video taping the evening; then she passed old photographs into the audience.
Someone, who was not physically able to attend, dropped off a note to Gardner which read, “Mike Elliot and Doug Boyle aren’t with us anymore. To my knowledge they could have told us the most.” The two gentlemen were longtime barmen in the village - both utilized Morris’s as their local.
White’s first nickel draft
Longtime resident Steve White stood up and said, “I had my first nickel draft at McLaren’s - 1955 - yeah, I was 14.” (Morris’s had been McLaren’s before Morris’s).
He added that he had been at the Lakeview House across the street before entering Morris’s. The Lakeview House was in the Keady building between the Old Key Bank building and Skaneateles Antiques on East Genesee Street.
White said one night while he was in McLaren’s, it got so busy that they threw bar stools out the window and then went out on the street and sat in those stools to enjoy their beers away from the maddening crowd.
He noted that hell really broke out when McLaren’s raised the price of a draft beer from 5 to 10 cents.
“The guys went bananas,” he said, “walked in and walked back out and went over to the Town House.”
He noted that in later years (when he grew up) his wife wouldn’t let him go into Morris’s until they had out of town guests who had heard about it and wanted to check it out.
The McLaren family
Barbara Harper said she used to go to McLaren’s because they were related to the McLaren’s. Rose McLaren was a Pitman from West Lake Road she said.
“Not that I hung out there,” she said, “ we went there because we were friendly with the family, instead we hung out at the Lakeview House.”
She also noted that the McLaren’s went to Morrisville and bought a bar after they sold, and tended bar there until they died.
A woman ran the Short Fat Man’s Race
Burt was the originator of the Short Fat Man’s Run. There was a woman, Pam Weber, in the SHS audience, who said she was the only woman who ran in Skaneateles’ version of the run. That was the beauty of the Short Fat Man’s Race, the rules were meant to be broken. She said, how many races could you bulk up with Hostess Twinkies for training?
Major and Murray
When Charlie Major stood up, Gardner said, “I understand you had one of the last drinks at Morris’s.”
“Nancy Murray dragged me down there,” Major said.
He explained how he really didn’t like McLaren’s because he played softball for the bar around the corner, McKeevers, which became the Town House (now Bijou Salon). So, they were huge rivals.
The great raid
Major said he would tell a story that he’d never told before because everyone other than himself has since passed away. It was when he was the town justice many years ago, he was asked by the Police Chief George Davis to issue a search warrant to raid an apartment above Morris’s, because they believed a renter was dealing illegal drugs out of his apartment and the bar, too. It was a special warrant to search just the apartment # named.
George Scrivens was sent around back to make sure there wasn’t an escape out the bathroom window, then George Davis, Bill Angyal and Carl Wellman went up the stairs, guns drawn with the warrant. Major said that Bill Angyal called at the door of the apartment from the hall that they were there with a warrant.
There was no response from inside the apartment, so Angyal decided to kick the door down, but instead, his foot went through the door getting stuck. Not to worry, because when they finally got his foot out of the door and their butts into the apartment, the only occupant was fast asleep on the couch. “An old fellow,” Major said, who appeared to be sleeping it off?
It turns out they had the wrong apartment #, humbled by the experience one of them said, “Let’s get out of here before the guy wakes up.”
Next, Sue Palen said she moved to Skaneateles in 1981, she had never been to Morris’s but her sons had, until a couple of years ago when someone from her water aerobics class suggested they should have a luncheon at Morris’s.
It turns out the lunch was terrific. There were 20 of them, so it was a little tight, but they really had a good time, “great food,” she said.
She never did get back, but has always been able to joke with her husband about it.
“When he says I’m uptight,” Sue said she counters with, “Well, who’s been to Morris’s?”
Ted Lavery illustrated one of Morris’s customers’ great activities, telling stories:
Lavery said, there was an Auburn Jeweler named Crossman who lived on West Lake. When he got into his 80s he started to get uptight. It turns out there was a young beauty in the village who liked to go to Clift Park and undo her straps while sunbathing.
Lavery was the village attorney at the time, about the third time Crossman called me to complain about this sunbather, I said “I’m not doing anything, this is the best thing going on in town!”
The beauty of Lavery’s story is that it wasn’t about Morris’s at all, but illustrates the type of stories that were told along the bar all the time.
Lavery then said that he had been in the service, but not in combat. One Veteran’s Day, he was walking by Morris’s when a couple of combat vets called him in and shared their experiences. One was Jerry Durr who lives down in Mottville.
Ingrid Houghton said she would like to speak to the more recent Morris’s. She moved here in 1998 after marrying George Houghton who was a friend of Burt’s. She said Burt’s wife Mary Jane, and Jay Eagan (a barkeep) immediately welcomed her to town.
It was the most wonderful experience, she said with the best of friends. She added that George would say he was going downtown for 10 minutes - and he wouldn’t be back for six hours - but she didn’t get mad because she knew he would have been running into people he knew and was having a good time.
Jane Hastedt from Navarino said her husband who has since passed away had been in a construction accident. When they were out in Colorado receiving treatment - a letter came from Willowdale Road. It turned out that it was a card from Gracie Maurillo. She said it really meant a lot to them that she had taken the time to send that note. Gracie was the longtime day bartender, who now works at the Red Rooster in the Falls (the former Rodak’s).
Shane Lipe, Burt’s son got up and thanked everyone for turning out for the event. He said. “He (my father) took that bar and ran with it.”
Gardner had wanted the evening to be a remembrance about Morris’s - and a celebration of its mark on the community. She didn’t want the evening to be centered on Morris’s controversial closing.
Shane tried to honor this sentiment, but he could only try so hard, touching on how the town has changed.
“He (Shane’s father) made this town through that bar, it kind of hurts me, the town is like falling apart. Lots of people have come in and have turned this town into what it’s not. The town has turned upside down,” Shane said, again thanking everyone for coming and remembering Morris’s, on behalf of himself and his stepmother and the people who worked at Morris’s.
A generous lot
Nancy Murray got up and said that Morris’s and the bikers that frequented the joint did more for the food pantry than any other organization in town.
Bill Leahy’s profile
Bill Leahy got up and said he had been a desk clerk at the Sherwood Inn for 15 years after he retired. In addition to his sweetie face (daughter) that lives in town, he has four sons that on occasion would frequent Morris’s. One night his son Tim came home and said he had witnessed a brawl where someone had received a broken nose (from a woman bruiser). Not wishing to have his own nose broken, father Leahy said he stayed away from Morris’s for years, until one of his regular customers at the Sherwood Inn (Mark Hess) talked him into stopping by one night. HE said it was really a good time and he remarked on the good food, too. He ended noting that Morris’s had enhanced his and his kid’s lives.
Feldmann and McCauley’s mock Viking funeral
Bill McCauley wasn’t present at the SHS but his ears were probably ringing as Curt Feldmann recounting the night they put the Clift Park outhouse (this is before the Gazebo had rest rooms) on the town’s swimming raft and set it to sail. He said it always amused him how it took such a huge staff to undo the prank of but two young men.
Editor’s note: But in reality, we are talking Bill McCauley - he’s about four guys rolled into one.
Dancing in the dark
Noelle Gettman said she had gone to Morris’s years before when it was open really late. Recently, she came back to the area, and upon one of her first visits she mistook the men’s room for the ladies room. And if you had ever been in Morris’s men’s room it had a rather large urinal. She was set straight pretty quickly. She noted how she loved that everything was slightly askew in Mo’s, like the pool table, and when they crammed bands in the corner and everyone was dancing, having a good time.
Bikers help poet
Cindy and Peter Kitt, a couple of the bikers, who helped Gardner on her poem’s motorcycle imagery, were also in the SHS audience. Cindy got up and said she knew she had arrived when she could back the bike her husband gave her into a spot in front of Morris’s. She said she really liked the happenstance of Morris’s crowd.
WA helped with the World Famous element
A woman who worked in the International Sales Office at Welch Allyn said that they had people come to visit Skaneateles from all over the world. They would be put up at a nice lodging and taken out for a good dinner – but somehow the talk in the morning was always about what a good time they had a Morris’s the last night.
The evening’s “Living History in the Round” ended with a theatrical reading of the poem from Gardner’s and Settineri’s commemorative card - “The Ghost of Morris’s Past.” Then people hung around and told a few more stories over punch and cookies.
The cards are available at the Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce, Creekside Books and Coffee, First National Gifts, Pomodoro II, the Skaneateles Historical Society and the Red Rooster Pub in the Falls (where Gardner went to research motorcycles).
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