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Children of Lucinda and Thomas E. Major
Sarto Cecil Major (1904-2001)

Sarto Cecil Major was the Onondaga County (NY) Sheriff from 1959-63. He died March 9, 2001, two days after his 97th birthday. He was named after the Italian cardinal who later became Pope Pius X.

He joined the sheriff’s department in 1929, during Prohibition. His early career included many raids on illegal liquor operations. Sarto himself never had a drink, says his nephew, Charlie Major, also of Skaneateles. Sarto became president of the St. Bridget's Temperance Society in Skaneateles Falls.

Charlie Major told the Syracuse newspapers that after the United States entered World War II in 1941, Sarto tried to enlist in the Navy, but was turned down because of his age. This didn’t discourage the 37-year-old. He drove to the draft board in Albany and asked if they could use a fingerprint expert.

“When they found that out," Charlie added, "they called the Pentagon, and they said, ‘How soon can he get down here?' Sarto never took basic training.”

After the war, Sarto returned to the sheriff's department. In 1959 Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed Sarto Major as Onondaga County Sheriff. Sarto was elected to the position the next year, but in 1963 lost his re-election bid to Democrat Patrick Corbett.

He was married to the former Jane Hourigan (1904-1989). They had no children. Notice in the obituary that follows that Sarto Major, at age 97, was engaged to be married again.

Syracuse Post-Standard, March 10, 2001
Sarto C. Major, 97, of 53 E. Lake Road,Skaneateles, died Friday at Community General Hospital.

Born in Skaneateles Falls, he was a life resident of Skaneateles. He was Onondaga County sheriff from 1959 to 1963 and a former deputy.

He was a communicant of St. Mary's of the Lake Church, president of the St. Bridget's Temperance Society, Skaneateles Falls, and a 50-year member of the Knights of Columbus.

A Navy veteran of World War II, he was past commander of Robert J. Hydon American Legion Post 239 and the 40&8 Club. His wife, the former Jane Hourigan, died in 1989.

Survivor: His fiancee, Irene Pogorzelski of Skaneateles; several nieces and nephews.

Services: 9 a.m. Monday at the family home, 53 E. Lake Road, Skaneateles, and 9:30 a.m. in St. Mary's of the Lake Church. Burial, St. Mary's Cemetery, Skaneateles.

 

Syracuse Herald-American, June 18, 1989
Jane Hourigan Major of 53 E. Lake St., Skaneateles, wife of Sarto C. Major, former sheriff of Onondaga County, died Saturday at Auburn Memorial Hospital.

Born in the town of Onondaga, Mrs. Major spent most of her life in Skaneateles. She and her husband celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1.

Mrs. Major was a school teacher for 45 years, teaching at the Baker School in Onondaga, Northrup Corners School in Skaneateles, Skaneateles Falls District 19 School and the Waterman School in Skaneateles.

During World War II, she held the vice-principleship at the Patrick Henry School in Arlington, Va.

Mrs. Major was a communicant of St. Mary's of the Lake Church in Skaneateles and a member of its religious organizations. She was a member of the Robert J. Hydon American Legion Post Ladies Auxiliary in Skaneateles.

Surviving, besides her husband, are a sister-in-law, Mary Hourigan of Navarino; three nieces, Rita Dauenhauer of Syracuse, Eileen Costello of Marcellus, and Kathleen Mitchell of Syracuse; and a nephew, Gerald Hourigan of Navarino.

Services will be 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary's of the Lake Church. Burial will be in St. Mary's Cemetery in Skaneateles.

 
More about Sarto Major

Skaneateles Press, December 27, 1928
Deputy Sheriff Sarto C. Major of Skaneateles Falls and Miss Jane Hourigan of Marcellus will be married January 1, 1929 at St. Francis Xavier Church.

The coming marriage was made known when fellow deputies presented an easy chair to Mr Major last week. He was flushed when he arose to thank his friends and said, “Boys, I guess I had better admit and tell you that the big event is coming off on New Year’s Day.”

Mr. Major is the son of Mr and Mrs. Thomas E. Major, and Miss Hourigan is the daughter of Mr and Mrs. William Hourigan of Marcellus.

 

Syracuse Journal, September 2, 1926
After a chase of more than 15 miles, during which he fired three shots, Deputy Sheriff Sarto Major finally overtook and arrested Raymond Oliver, 25, of West Onondaga Street, near Fairmount, last Wednesday night, bringing him to the courthouse jail, where he was held until Thursday morning. Oliver entered a plea of guilty to reckless driving when arraigned before Justice of the Peace Cottle of Hart Lot, and was fined $10.

Major reported that he had stopped another motorist to warn him against speeding, and was standing on the edge of the highway in Elbridge when Oliver, driving at high speed, brushed the deputy’s coat tails, narrowly missing knocking him down.

Major leaped into his car and gave chase, Oliver maintaining a speed of about 50 miles an hour and refusing to obey the deputy’s commands to halt. Major drew his gun, and during the chase fired three times at the tires of the fleeing car, but failed to score. A short distance east of Fairmount he succeeded in passing Oliver and caused him to stop.

Oliver said that he heard the shots, but believed them reports of a backfire in his own car, and declared he did not know he was being chased.

 

Syracuse Journal, October 31, 1927
Deputy Sheriff Sarto Major is seeking two hunters, one of whom he reported took a shot at him Sunday afternoon, after he saw them shoot a pheasant and had started across the fields to apprehend them.

Major was driving on the Marcellus-Otisco Road late in the afternoon when he heard a gun shot in a field nearby. He said he turned his head just in time to see a pheasant floundering on the ground and the to men run to the fallen bird and pick it up.

Major stopped the car, climbed through the fence and started after the hunters, who ran toward a shallow, wooded gully. Major said he called to them to stop, but they ignored his command and he started on a run after them.

as they reached the cover of the trees, one of the hunters raised his gun and fired at him, Major said.

The shot was a long one, more than 20 rods. The pellets rained bout in the stubble, none of them taking effect.

Major has been suffering from an infection in one foot for the past two weeks and was unable to do any sprinting. He circled the small patch of timber, but failed to sight the men again and a seartch of the roads in that vicinity for the balance of the afternoon proved fruitless. The deputy says that he believes he could identify the men if he sees them and declared that he will continue the search

 
That's dapper Sarto Major, right, in 1923 in Skaneateles. His brother, Floyd, left, is the fellow with a smirk and a cigar. Floyd was better known as "Blackie," a nickname derived from the color of his hair, which helped his parents tell Floyd from his red-haired twin brother, Lloyd, when the boys were infants. The two young men behind the Major brothers are unidentified. Photo courtesy of Charlie Major, a nephew.
 

Syracuse American, February 10, 1929
Another Skaneateles Falls mystery was cleared up and suspicion lifted from a half dozen residents of the vicinity, when Deputy Sheriff Sarto Major found the chicken thief that has been playing havoc with several flocks in the hamlet and nearby country.

For the past three weeks poultry owners have been missing chickens but efforts to obtain a clue had failed until Major caught a large police dog red-handed as he was leaving a chicken coop in the hamlet.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 31, 1929
Acting on complaint of Norman Hooper, Skaneateles Falls, that he had been robbed of an expensive gold watch at the home of a woman knwon as “Cateye Annie,” Tuesday night, Deputy Sarto Major conducted a single-handed raid on the place that resulted in recovery of the watch.

 

Binghamton Press, April 17, 1941
SYRACUSE, April 17 (AP) – Tracking a tractor is among the accomplishments of the Onondaga County sheriff’s office.

When a machine was missing from a farm where a sheriff’s sale was to take place, Deputy Sheriff Sarto Major was put on the job. He followed the trail from the farm, then along a road in his automobile.

He even trailed it by marks left on a concrete highway, and finally located it on a farm five miles away. The man in possession was told to take it back or go to jail. He returned it.

 

Syracuse Journal, May 25, 1938
Armed with an order of attachment and a sledge hammer, Deputy Sheriff Sarto Major, former champion hammer and weight thrower of Skaneateles High School, did a little business in the name of the law Tuesday afternoon when he battered down a door at the clothing factory of Abram Soffer, 402 South Franklin Street, to serve the order.

It was the second trip that the deputy and George A. Langan of Searl, McElroy & Searl, attorney for Bieber-Isaacs Corporation, who obtained the attachment order on a judgment of $27.50 in the forenoon, had made to the factory.

Major reported that the place was locked up, and that he was unable to find Soffer, who was reported to be in Brooklyn. Langan then went before Judge Frank P. Malpass and obtained the order to enter the place by force.

Unless Soffer makes an adjustment with the judgment holders, a sale of his assets under the bulk sales law, set down for Thursday at 50 Court Street, Brooklyn, will not take place. Creditors of Soffer were notified this week that the assets would be sold and that payments of 25 cents on the dollar would be made to them after the sale.

After battering down the door, Deputy Major attached everything in sight, which included 29 suits of clothes, six bolts of cloth, office furniture and equipment.

 

Skaneateles Press, September 4, 1942
Deputy Sheriff Sarto C. Major of East Lake Road enlisted in the United States Navy last Friday and was given a rating of yeoman, third class. He left Sunday for Washington and was to report Monday for duty at the Navy Yard.

Deputy Major, who has been on the sheriff’s staff the past 17 years, expects to be assigned eventually to the Navy’s identification bureau. His enlistment came as a surprise to most Skaneatelesans. He is married and was classified 3-A in the draft.

 

Marcellus Observer, March 16, 1994
About 100 relatives and friends helped Sarto C. Major celebrate his 90th birthday at St. Mary's-St. Bridget's Parish Center on Sunday, March 5.

Attorney Charles T. Major, Sarto's nephew, was the master of ceremonies. He recalled some amusing anecdotes in Sarto's life and also called upon a niece, Terry Major, and another nephew, James O'Shea, to share their memories of "Uncle Sarto" with the many guests.

Sarto Major (right) revealed some of the highlights of his 40 years as a law enforcement officer with the Sheriffs department of Onondaga County as well as his police work while in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

As a deputy, he served under six sheriffs before he was appointed the "top cop" (Sheriff) of Onondaga County by Governor Rockefeller in 1962: He was subsequently elected and remained in office until 1964.

Sheriff Major was married to Jane Hourigan on New Year's Day in 1929 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Marcellus.

Mrs. Major was a teacher in several local schools during her career including Waterman in the village of Skaneateles and principal of the old Skaneateles Falls school. During the war years, when Sarto was stationed in Washington, D. C., Jane was vice-principal of the Patrick Henry School in Arlington, Virginia. Jane Major died on June 17, 1989.

One thoughtful guest presented Sarto with an historic poster from his campaign days. Since Onondaga County is now looking for a new sheriff, the well-wishers suggested that he throw his hat in the ring. Sarto respectively declined but concluded the festive occasion with the announcement "If you are all here in ten years, you're invited to my centennial celebration."

 

Syracuse Post-Standard, January 13, 1998
By SUZANNE M. JACKSON
He was Onondaga County's 33rd sheriff and the first Irish Catholic elected to that position. Today, nearly 40 years since he took office, Sarto Cecil Major says he believes part of the reason he won is his name.

"A lot of people thought I was Italian," Major said last week during an interview in his Skaneateles home. "When I was born, my mother thought she'd make a priest out of me. There was a priest named Joseph [Giuseppe] Sarto, who was one of 10 children just like I was, and he became Pope Pius X [in 1903, the year before Major was born]. Everybody always thought I was Italian, and I'm an Irishman."

Major will be 94 on March 7. He has been retired from the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department for decades but still carries his gold badge in its leather case every day.

The blue and white sheriff's insignia that once adorned the side of his official car greets visitors on the back porch of his home at 53 East Lake Road. Three enormous scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings sit on a corner table in his living room; certificates and photographs spanning his 40-year law enforcement career adorn his walls.

"Everybody who's a cop loves the authority," Major said. "It was the only job I ever really had ... I've been shot at, beaten up and had a knife held to my throat. I've had quite a life."

The early years of his career were history in the making: the stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed, Al Capone's conviction, an end to Prohibition, the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

In his hometown, the new deputy spent a lot of time tracking down illegal liquor operations.

"We did a lot of raiding in those days, and we always carried a sledgehammer with us to break down the doors," Major said. "They'd be in there drinking the booze and we had to get the evidence quickly.

"I remember one night I went into a speakeasy joint in East Syracuse ... there was a lady dumping booze into the bathtub, and when I tried to get the stopper in so it wouldn't drain out, she clobbered me."

Sarto's political career ended in a scandal involving charges of failure to separate youth and adult prisoners in the county's overcrowded jails, although state Supreme Court Justice John S. Marsh eventually tossed out the case for "evidence clearly insufficient."

"It wasn't any scandal ... (Former sheriff Patrick) Corbett used that as a gimmick to beat me," Major said.

These days, Major lives quietly in the home he shared for almost 60 years with his wife, Jane, who died in 1989. His 100-pound German shepherd, Munchie, shares the home not far from the eastern shore of Skaneateles Lake.

Major attends Mass whenever possible at the nearby St. Mary's of the Lake Church, reads when his eyes aren't bothering him too much and enjoys going out to eat with Irene Pogorzelski, a friend to whom he's been engaged for three years. From afar, he keeps watch over the sheriff's department.

"I've gotta say they're doing good work," Major said. "Praise all these guys for me because I sure don't want them coming after me."

 

Syracuse Post-Standard, March 10, 2001
By JOHN MARIANI
Sarto C. Major, Onondaga County sheriff during the early 1960s and a member of Skaneateles' most prominent political family, died Friday at Community General Hospital. He turned 97 Wednesday.

"He was a great guy," said current Sheriff Kevin Walsh, who grew up in Skaneateles.

"I saw a man who was a law enforcement officer but was very strong in his faith, and could blend the two."

Walsh said Major had told him he was looking forward to joining the department's contingent in the St. Patrick's Day parade next week. Major traditionally rode in a sheriff's cruiser emblazoned with his name and identifying him as the county's 33rd sheriff.

Major was proudest of his law enforcement and military service, said his nephew, state Supreme Court Justice Charles Major.

Born in Skaneateles Falls in 1904, Major's parents named him after an Italian cardinal who later became Pope Pius X.

He joined the sheriff's department in 1926.

"It was the height of Prohibition," Charles Major said. "Because of Prohibition, he never had a drink in his life. He's still the president of the St. Bridget's Temperance Society."

Major tried to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected at first because of his age, Charles Major said.

"He drove down to the draft board in Albany and insisted he get in," Charles Major said. "He asked if they could use a fingerprint expert. When they found that out, they called the Pentagon, and they said, "How soon can he get down here?' He never took basic training."

After the war, Major returned to the department and was appointed sheriff in 1959 by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Major was elected in 1960.

Charles Major recalled his uncle's efforts to keep peace during bitter strikes at General Electric Co. and Carrier Corp.

"He knew he had to enforce the law," Charles Major said, "but he was always concerned about the family end. He had worked in the mills. He was always concerned about those poor people fighting to make a living, as he used to say."

In 1963, Major lost his re-election bid to Democrat Patrick Corbett after a grand jury investigation into the county jails.

Major continued to carry two badges, Walsh said. One was a gold sheriff's badge with a diamond in the middle. The other was an eight-pointed star with a shamrock in the center.

 
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