Historically, New York State has long been home to some of the nation’s toughest prisons. More than a century ago, having served 18 years at Sing Sing, 19 at Auburn, or 31 at Clinton marked any man as one tough son-of-a gun. So what could be said about a man who served all three of those sentences? The toughest SOB ever? Not even close. He was a hard case, no doubt, but in time, dedicated recidivism earned him media portrayals as quirky, unusual, and eventually somewhat endearing. It’s doubtful his victims felt that way, but it happens that some criminals gain personas making them far more acceptable than the average crook. Among those was upstate New » Continue Reading.
Banned Books Week, which ended a few days ago, is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association and a number of other organizations representing authors, publishers, journalists, teachers, and anti-censorship sentiments. While pondering the mindset that would limit what others can read, it occurred to me that some of my own books, and many others tied to the Adirondack region, have the potential to be challenged by those who do such things. Seems ludicrous, but it’s true.
The tendency is to dismiss book-banners as nutjobs or fanatics, but here’s the truth: for school libraries and public libraries, topping the list of ban seekers are parents, patrons, administrators, board members, teachers, and pressure groups, » Continue Reading.
Senators and congressmen reviewed the battle reports from the taking of New Orleans in early 1862 in order to prepare a special resolution honoring Captain Theodorus Bailey and Flag-officer David Farragut. Bailey almost certainly would rise to the top of the waiting list for promotion to rear admiral. However, according to author/Admiral David Porter, as the battle’s description was read aloud by Senator James Grimes and the nation’s legislators reacted with wild enthusiasm, a note was delivered to the speaker.
Reading it, he said, “Stop, we are moving too fast,” after which the note was passed around for all to read. The subject was quickly changed and the lawmakers began addressing unrelated issues, while » Continue Reading.
In the New York Times of February 11, 1877, appeared the obituary of a North Country native, Theodorus Bailey, who was born in Chateaugay in 1805 and moved to Plattsburgh with his family around 1811. The Battle of Plattsburgh took place three years later, on September 11, 1814. Although Theodorus was just nine years old, that historic event made quite an impression. His obituary, in fact, pointed out that Bailey “accepted as his pet hero Commodore Macdonough, the American commander in the battle,” and was thus inspired to seek a career in the navy.
It’s also interesting that among the War of 1812 battles that are considered pivotal, Plattsburgh has often been overlooked in » Continue Reading.
From Secretary of Navy William Jones on Oct. 3, 1814: “To view it in abstract, it is not surpassed by any naval victory on record. To appreciate its result, it is perhaps one of the most important events in the history of our country.”
According to Penn University historian John B. McMaster, it was “the greatest naval battle of the war,” and Thomas Macdonough was “the ablest sea-captain our country has produced.”
Like McMaster, author and historian Teddy Roosevelt called it “the greatest naval battle of the » Continue Reading.
Eighty-one years ago—on September 3, 1933—three Plattsburgh youths in their late teens, accompanied by a schoolteacher, climbed Wallface Mountain in the Adirondacks. Their purpose was not to ascend the infamous steep cliffs there, but instead to retrieve a length of rope valued at $40 (about $720 today) and deliver it to the Lake Placid Club. For such a mundane outing, the press coverage was extraordinary, extending to newspapers in many faraway locations. And therein lies a harrowing tale.
Five days earlier, those same boys had embarked on another trip to Wallface, reaching the base of the cliffs at Indian Pass early in the morning. The trio—Tyler Gray, 19, Robert Glenn, 17, and William LaDue, » Continue Reading.
To the dismay of Minerva’s high-profile educator, Ella Lynch, the struggle for quality American schooling continued through the 1920s, seemingly based on that wonderful definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. The newest plan to fix an admittedly broken system? Add another grade: kindergarten.
Concerned educators were baffled by the suggestion. Despite Ella’s proven system and successful organizations, the solution to a terrible public-school system was expansion of that very system? More of the same would surely do the trick?
While officials agreed that Lynch was correct about the value of teaching very young children, they decided that the disastrous school system was a better choice » Continue Reading.
In 1922, another of Ella Lynch’s titles was published: Bookless Lessons for the Teacher–Mother, offering more help to those parents wishing to effectively teach their children. On that front, big battles were brewing. Attempts were under way to legislate rural schools out of existence and force centralization.
Lynch said that because tax dollars were taken from the public, “It is right that the state should assist in educating children. It is not right that it should absolutely control that education in everything. It is not right that parents should be obliged to feed and clothe their children, and take care of them in sickness, and pay their doctor and dentist bills, and be » Continue Reading.
Ella Frances Lynch—well spoken, thoughtful, and passionate in defining the problems with America’s public school system—refused to back down from proposed reforms. She was right and she knew it. Newspapers featured Ella’s editorials regularly, but the biggest attention-getter was a series of articles she wrote for Ladies Home Journal beginning in 1912. The title: “Is the Public School a Failure? It Is; the Most Momentous Failure in Our American life Today.”
Said Lynch, “Can you imagine a more grossly stupid, a more genuinely asinine system tenaciously persisted in to the fearful detriment of over 17 million children, and at a cost to you of over $403 million each year—a system that not only » Continue Reading.
Beginning here is the story of an unknown but truly remarkable woman, an educator from Adirondack history. But first, some related information is helpful for perspective. For starters, here’s a sampling of complaints about our educational system: low graduation rates; undeserved diplomas; graduates lacking in real-world skills; students woefully unprepared for college; students without self-discipline, and more. Those are all issues today, but the very same items were also cited in 1970.
Since that time, our spending on education has risen by about 85 percent, but we’ve improved very little, still stymied by the same problems. In the meantime, we’ve fallen far behind many other countries, while still spouting that we’re the greatest country » Continue Reading.
About a month ago, I wrote here about the educational and entertainment value of live, online wildlife cams and included links to some of the better ones. After all the wonderful sights we’ve seen during the past three weeks, I felt compelled to address the subject once more by mentioning the tremendous opportunity offered by one particular set of cams. If you love the Adirondacks, you have at least a general interest in wildlife, so you’re bound to enjoy this.
Cam technology isn’t perfected yet (glitches include freezes, pixelation, and failures), but when things are working well, it’s often much like watching a live TV show. And as I noted, animals are often sitting » Continue Reading.
Among the foreign issues America has dealt with many times is hostage taking. Kidnappers claimed many reasons for the action, but it was frequently done to extort money in support of a cause. Extortion kidnappings have often involved seizing of American missionaries and threatening to kill them unless ransom was paid. More than a hundred years ago, there occurred what is referred to as “America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis,” which is actually the subtitle of a 2003 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Teresa Carpenter.
The Miss Stone Affair is the title, referring to Protestant missionary Ellen Maria Stone. A North Country man was a key player in her story, which riveted the nation for » Continue Reading.
It’s time for another installment of what I call “Oops Moments” from the North Country’s past—incidents that resulted in unforeseen consequences (but in many cases should have been foreseen). I enjoy collecting these because of the humor involved: most of them will either make us laugh or leave us shaking our heads in wonder.
The first takes us back to 1899 Ogdensburg and involves an important part of the region’s past: ice harvesting. In early February, it was noted that several parties had begun cutting ice from the St. Lawrence River in front of Spaulding Boat Works. Perhaps a little more thought should have gone into choosing where to cut, for » Continue Reading.
As a lifelong fan of wildlife observation, I’m living the dream thanks to modern technology. As a young child a half century ago, I would regularly peek in on the nests of robins and other birds to see what was going on. For hours on end, I’d observe the nests of sunfish, bass, and lampreys in the river that flowed along our yard. I’d capture crayfish, plus fingerlings of northern pike, muskie, and other native fish and raise them in an aquarium. The excitement of learning while observing was intoxicating.
In adulthood, I did more of the same, adding photography to the mix—not that the nature photographs were of great quality, but they did » Continue Reading.
His work with children’s hospitals convinced Colonel Walter Scott that there might be help for Jessica despite her negative prognosis and seemingly hopeless situation. New and exciting progress had been made, especially by Dr. Russell Hibbs of New York City, whose surgical innovations helped change the face of medicine. Hibbs was the first to perform a spinal fusion, and made great advances in treating tuberculosis of the spine and hip.
At the request of Ferguson’s physicians, Hibbs conducted an evaluation and surprised everyone with his conclusion. Jessica, he said, would benefit from a spinal operation, and might well walk normally following therapy. After all she had been through, the hopeful news was » Continue Reading.
Mirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past, it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the North Country’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.
The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her » Continue Reading.
The emergency passport request of Robert and Margaret Perkins was granted, and a long, difficult journey began on the heels of what had been a very trying time. Besides the recent separation, their last year in Darmstadt had been spent in poverty-like conditions. Germany’s inflation rate had skyrocketed, driving up the price of everyday items. Robert and Margaret were forced to live on meager supplies and with little heat during the cold winter. They witnessed a food riot. All about them, men, even partially disabled, were conscripted into the military. Women were forced to fill the manual labor jobs normally held by men. And everywhere, soldiers marched off to war, spouting hatred » Continue Reading.
After a month visiting with his mother in Lake George, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins moved to New York City. In 1911, he was among the soloists in the first production of Quo Vadis? at the Metropolitan Opera. While working in the grand opera scene, he also studied with Sergei Klibansky, one of the world’s leading voice coaches. Perkins was among his many students who performed at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall.
While performing nonstop for several years, Robert also studied under Bertha Frigau, a renowned language and singing instructor. American productions of foreign operas sometimes suffered through interpretation, falling short of the gold standard performed at leading venues in Germany, Italy, » Continue Reading.
Imagine the drama of the moment: in a courtroom, Edward Perkins battled against the city of Beacon, New York, desperate to win on behalf of his poor family. The charge? They had been cold-heartedly evicted from their apartment by city officials, and for several chilly, rainy June days, he had searched for new housing. Meanwhile, Edward’s wife and son suffered and his daughter fell ill, presumably from the terrible living conditions. The damages sought (in 1915) were $15,000 from the city, along with $30,000 from the police chief who had deposited all the family’s belongings on the sidewalk. The $45,000 total was equal to $1.1 million in 2014.
The squalor his family had » Continue Reading.
The company that my wife (Jill Jones) and I operate, Bloated Toe Enterprises, recently launched an extensive, time-consuming effort towards improving the lot of authors across the region. Note that there was no mention of “we.” Jill saw the need, had the know-how, planned the design, and wrote the programming code for our new venture, the North Country Authors website. There is no cost to anyone. Authors who supply basic information will be featured there, including photographs, biographies, books, news, and book-related events. The site will be kept up-to-date at all times.
The group North Country Authors was actually formed several years ago. Although we had a vision of where it » Continue Reading.