Uncle Sam Materials


Here is a pdf file  (7 mb!) of photos and other materials relating to the historical Uncle Sam, of Troy, NY, and Uncle Sam's Health Foods in Troy, NY.  I was inspired to collect this material because, in 2007, I was greatly enjoying the Australian comedy series on SBS-TV, "Salam Cafe."  This was an Islamic comedy show with a panel of some of the funniest comics in Australia.  One of them, Nazeem Hussain, known for his theatre review "Fear of a Brown Planet," had a character called "Uncle Sam."  Uncle Sam would go to various neighborhoods known for their anti-Islamic stance, and in the best Australian comedy style, ask embarassing questions of passers-by.  Here's a link to a YouTube clip of one of Hussain's funniest, where he campaigns for mayor of Camden, NSW, which coincidentally, is only about 45 minutes drive from where we live. 

I grew up in Waterford, NY, which is right next to Troy, NY, which has, among its local claims-to-fame, that it's the "home of Uncle Sam."  The story of Samuel Wilson, early 1800s local identity, his role as a supplier of meat to the Army in the War of 1812, and his subsequent transformation by cartoonist Thomas Nast into the familiar Uncle Sam figure is well known to any schoolchild who grew up in that area. 

On my trips back to Waterford, I would, of course, shop at the local health food shop, a extremely well-stocked and wonderful place called, naturally, "Uncle Sam's."  For a number of years now,  it's been owned by the Bari family, a very sweet family from Pakistan, and it's always been a delight on my return to see their latest offerings.  It occurred to me that if Nazeem Hussain ever came to the US, that he should naturally, come to Troy, NY, the home of his character's namesake, and then, of course, do an interview with the Baris inside Uncle Sam's.  In character, of course!

So I collected this material - including the box of Uncle Sam's cereal bought, where else? at Uncle Sam's, (it's wheat flakes and flax seeds - taste's nutty!) and was intending to send this material to Nazeem Hussain via the Salam Cafe website on my return to Australia.  But various personal circumstances got in the way, and it was over a year before I managed to get the material assembled, and by then, alas and alack!, Salam Cafe was cancelled and one could no longer contact them through their website.  I later heard from a friend in Melbourne who knows the Salam Cafe crew that they could have done another SBS season, but they all had too many other committments, and so, one of my favorite sources of boffo laughs was no more.    I suppose, if I looked hard enough on the net, I could find a contact for Nazeem Hussain, and let him know about this material, and I probably will, some day.  For now, though, I thought I'd just share the material, and this story, with anyone who visits this website.

And if you are in the Troy, NY area, and you're looking for great health foods and health products - do go to Uncle Sam's - downtown, on 4th Avenue, right across from the old Proctor's theater.  You'll be glad you did.

PS - For me, the very first photo in the pdf (taken by Catherine Schieve), of the Uncle Sam's Health Food sign, has a certain poignancy.  Behind the Uncle Sam's sign, is a sign for Aronson Furs, left over from a business of the (probably) early-mid- 20th century.  In the early 20th century, one migrant community - Jewish - had been trying to make it in the retail trade, selling furs.  In the latter 20th and early 21st century - another migrant community - Muslim - is trying to make it in the retail trade, selling health foods.  Here's the a history of migration in a single photograph, as one group after another comes to a new country, and tries to establish themselves in business. 

There's another nice coincidence for me in this photo, however.  Back in 1979, with Ron Robboy, I made a film called "Der Yiddisher Cowboy, A Film in English."  Eventually, I'll have a page on this website devoted to this film and its many ramifications.  One of the things we found out while making the film is that Bronco Billy Anderson, the first cowboy movie star, was actually Bronco Billy Aaronson.  The first movie cowboy, as Ron Robboy says in the film, was a Jewish cowboy.  And we could of course go on to discuss the entire Hollywood film industry as another example of migrant culture, but that's a topic, as they say, for another time.....

PS 2: For those who are interested in finding out more about the historical Uncle Sam, here are a few links, garnered at random.

An Uncle Sam biog

Wikipedia article with an actual photo of Samuel Wilson

And Wikipedia on the mythological, cartoon Uncle Sam