Old-timers recall driving down North Geddes Street and marveling at the Heaphy Man.
The seven-foot-tall tin man stood watch for decades outside Jim Heaphy’s hardware store on Syracuse’s West End. Of course we called it a tin man, but it turns out to have been constructed of galvanized steel duct pipe. And indeed, certain steel vents and stove pipes are bent in a way that resembles human joints.
One of the oldest Irish families in Syracuse, the Heaphys have done business here for four generations. Tom Heaphy, a refugee from Ireland’s potato famine, came to Syracuse in the 1840s. His son, Dennis Heaphy, learned tinsmithing in the 1880s on the St. Lawrence Seaway before returning to Syracuse where he made splashguards for horse carriages. The family’s shop opened in the early-1890s and sold roofing and heating supplies. Its sidewalk tin man became a Central New York landmark.
You can still see the tin man, but before I tell you where, let me tell you about the 21st century’s Dennis Heaphy.
Statue of Liberty
“I’m the fourth generation of my family in this craft,” says Dennis Heaphy, son of Jim Heaphy who ran the shop at 133 North Geddes until 1998. “I’m carrying on the family business started in that small shop on the banks of the Erie Canal,” says the great grandson of the 19th century Dennis Heaphy.
Now 53, our Dennis started working in the business when he was 11 years old, making chimney caps, roofing metal, even zinc casket liners used to seal coffins. But at the end of the last century, Dennis sold the family shop. Instead he carries on the tinsmithing tradition at one of America’s most cherished historical monuments, the State of Liberty in New York harbor.
In 1999, Dennis and his brother and visited the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
“We were both raised in the tinsmithing business,” he remembered, “and here we are inside the statue looking up at all the intricacies of her robe. From a tinsmithing standpoint, it’s fascinating.”
Two months later, Heaphy, a talented actor and singer, had been hired by the folks at the Ellis Island museum to build and establish a theater there.
“The same people who oversee Ellis Island, oversee the statue,” Dennis observed. “So one day I asked, ‘What do I have to do to become the resident tin smith for the statue?’And I’m sure he’s going to laugh in my face. Two weeks later, he wants me to repair the windows in the crown.”
Immigrant experience enacted
For several years now, Dennis has been the primary tinsmith caring for the Statue of Liberty and he demonstrates the art of Repousse for the public daily at its base on Liberty Island. Repousse is the shaping or decorating of metal with patterns formed in relief by hammering and pressing on the reverse side.
And he continues his vibrant acting career with a fascinating one-man show which he’ll bring to Liverpool Public Library at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12. Admission is free; 457-0310; lpl.org.
The performance stars Dennis Heaphy as 19th century Russian an immigrant Boris Krasnikov who is being interviewed by an intake panel — where else? — at Ellis Island in New York City. It’s an impressive look into the immigrant experience that shapes so many Americans’ lives and legacies.
So where can you see the big, tin Heaphy Man?
Today, the metal man stands guard at the entrance of the Onondaga Historical Association’s museum gift shop at 321 Montgomery St., downtown.
Rest room renovation?
Why was master carpenter Joe Romano loitering in the ladies’ room at The Retreat in the wee hours last week?
Joe, who lives in Liverpool on Cypress Street, is a talented sculptor, but he certainly wasn’t seeking inspiration in the stalls.
My guess is that the rest room is being renovated, but while curiosity consumes me, I’ll wait for one of my lady friends to confirm the situation…
From Caz Lake to L’pool
New Star-Review ad representative Sandy Pisaneschi is replacing Joe Monkofsky, who has accepted a position in the underwriting department at WCNY-TV, set to move soon to its new location off South West Street, downtown.
Sandy will sell space to advertisers in Liverpool and North Syracuse after a stint in another lakeside suburb, classy Cazenovia. To reach Sandy, give her a jingle at 434-8889, ext. 316, or email her at sandyp@eaglenewsonline.