Almanack Contributor Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 21 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, has been a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. They have published 75 titles and are now offering web design.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publisher’s Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stuntman Ken Carter’s Not So Grand Finale

The weather was clear and cool on Wednesday, September 26, 1979, the day of the big jump. Reporters, film crews, and spectators were on hand. Ken Carter showed up driving a red Chevrolet, certainly not his jump car, and obligingly drove up the ramp a couple of times so that photographers could get some good shots. He posed, looking out over the St. Lawrence for dramatic effect. A bit later, he walked partway up the ramp and made note of a “slight rise” in the middle that would have to be fixed before his rocket car could be used on it. Several thousand people remained on hand for ten hours, anxious to view what they considered a historic, and certainly wacky, event.

Late in the afternoon, the gate at the apex of the ramp was removed, divers were positioned in the middle of the river passage, and a film crew hovered aloft in a helicopter. Ontario police moved the crowd back to a safe position. To great effect, Carter’s rocket car rolled onto the newly paved runway (resurfaced because it had become overgrown with grass). » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greatest Stunt: Jumping A Car Across the St. Lawrence River

Although ticket refunds were offered, Ken Carter maintained that the 1976 attempt to jump the St. Lawrence River had been postponed, not canceled, and would likely take place in spring 1977 – which it didn’t. In June it was announced that the plan had been revived for September, but with a different car — a rocket-powered Lincoln Continental Mark IV, powerful and sturdy, but hardly an aerodynamic vehicle. Work resumed on the launch ramp in anticipation of a long-delayed but substantial payday.

Each week from July into September, newspaper articles touted the jump, adding to the growing frenzy and Knievel-like atmosphere. When questions were raised about potential issues with large freighters that daily plied the waters of the St. Lawrence, Carter assured everyone there would be no problem. But the truth was that he had no control over that aspect of the jump. St. Lawrence Seaway authorities announced that water traffic would continue as usual, and that “Carter will have to schedule his jump between the vessel movement.” To calm any doubts that might have surfaced, he confirmed at an Ottawa press conference that all systems were go. “The only thing that’s going to stop me this time is my death. If I die before the 25th, then I won’t be there.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Ken Carter’s Plan To Jump A Car Over the St. Lawrence River

Bizarre. That’s the best description of events forty years ago when the North Country found itself the focus of national attention. I’m accustomed to researching much further back in time to write stories, but this one is a doozy that younger folks probably never heard of and older folks might have forgotten by now. It took place back in the 1970s when daredevils were popular, led by Evel Knievel, who became more famous for his failures — crashes resulting in multiple bone fractures — than his successes, where he landed safely and was unhurt.

Most of us who witnessed Knievel’s career will remember one jump above all others — Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. He performed on motorcycles, so the rocket-shaped vehicle he used in Idaho was named the Skycyle X-2. Canada’s answer to Evel Knievel was Ken Carter, a.k.a. the Mad Canadian, Kamikaze Ken, or Crazy Ken. He performed many times in upstate New York. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A North Country Eel Story That Will Leave You Squirming

When stuff doesn’t work, we either play Mr. Fixit or call someone. Whether it’s a job for your auto mechanic, furnace repair technician, or electrician, the expert usually has a good idea of what’s causing a particular problem. But sometimes malfunctions are real puzzlers.

From the 1870s well into the 1900s, mystery surrounded many incidents where faucets or pipes were opened but the water didn’t flow. When that happened, there were real consequences: a factory couldn’t operate or a school might close. For citizens lucky enough to have running water in their homes, it meant going without — or, if it were available, hauling water from community wells.

For a plumber, the natural assumption was that a clog was the culprit — a piece of clothing, a collection of sediment, or an accumulation of greasy materials. When nothing of the sort was found using the usual tools, a difficult search ensued — unless plumber was experienced. In that case, he might have suspected eels. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 17, 2017

A Very Pleasant Evening At Lake Pleasant Public Library

The folks at Lake Pleasant, New York, certainly lived up to the town’s name on our recent visit. The occasion was an event this past Thursday evening, July 13, at the Lake Pleasant Public Library, where I was invited to present the program, “Tracking Robert Garrow, the Adirondack Serial Killer,” as part of the Library Reading Series. The library hosted us in partnership with the Adirondack Center for Writing, as part of a series sponsored by the Lake Placid Education Foundation, which provided funding that can be very important to presenters, particularly when travel and other expenses are involved. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Gerald Chapman: Clinton Prison Alum, America’s First ‘Super-Crook’

Near the end of his twenty-two-year career, Gerald Chapman’s several reputations came together in headlines touting him as a Spectacular Mail Bandit, Jail Breaker, and Criminal Extraordinaire. But above all, he was most often referred to as a “super-crook,” placing him beyond the level of most American criminals, one whose exploits were followed closely by the public. A worldwide manhunt finally resulted in his capture in 1925, but a decade earlier, he had done hard time at Clinton Prison.

Chapman, whose real name was believed to be George Chartres, or Charters, first ran into trouble in New York in 1908 and served a three-year stint in Sing Sing. After release, he was again arrested for grand larceny, and in January 1912 returned to Sing Sing, this time for ten years. As a brilliant criminal, and a handful to keep track of in any prison, he was sent north to the state’s most secure facility, Clinton Prison at Dannemora, where he quickly assumed a gang leadership position. As the source of many problems for guards and administration, he was finally relegated to an isolation cell, which at Clinton offered a very stark existence. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian (conclusion)

After prospering for eight months in England, the Litchfields returned to Newark, New Jersey, at the end of March 1905 for a brief respite before embarking on another season, one that was fully booked into 1906 at scores of stops from New York City to Colorado. Neil’s daughter, Abbie, was now 16 and had begun taking part in the act, which was modified with roles to utilize her talents. After several positive reviews, they began appearing in November as the Neil Litchfield Trio. Her first critical assessment under the new name said simply, “Miss Abbie Litchfield, as accompanist, could not be improved upon.”

A month later, their touring days nearly ended in Vermont, where they were directed at the last minute to take a different train for a better route to their next performance. The one they were initially scheduled to board crashed near Vergennes, killing three passengers, seriously injuring 14 more, and leaving a dozen others hurt.

By January 1907, the Litchfields had performed Down at Brook Farm more than 3,000 times in England, Canada, and the United States. Now working as a trio, they remained as busy as ever. Early in the year they toured northern New York, covering several towns along the St. Lawrence River. Heading southeast, they performed at Whitehall in Washington County before moving on to Vermont and the New England States. Later in the year, there were stops in the central and southern states, with 20 weeks booked in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas prior to a dozen more stops back in northern New York. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian (Part 3)

In early 1897, Neil and Stella Litchfield continued touring in the North Country, appearing at Canton, Chase Mills, Edwards, Lisbon Center, Oxbow, Massena, Morristown, Ogdensburg, Waddington, and other sites. For the next two years, they toured and performed while developing a new act for the future, a comedy sketch titled Down at Brook Farm. Ostensibly, it was loosely based on Brook Farm, a failed Utopian community founded in 1841 in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

The most popular characters Neil had portrayed during the past two decades — uneducated, pure-hearted rural folks — became the nucleus of the new act. Down at Brook Farm was inspired by the popularity of other plays and sketches with “uncle” characters in the title — usually Uncle Josh, at the time featured in shows as Uncle Josh Jenkins, Uncle Josh Simpkins, and Uncle Josh Weathersby. Neil himself gained great praise for portraying the lead role in Uncle Josh Spruceby, playing alongside Stella, who nabbed the second-leading role of Aunt Jerutha. Together they made the show a top hit while touring theaters and opera houses in New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Sometimes they covered a venue for three consecutive nights, and at other times appeared in three or four different towns or cities during the same week. It was an exhausting schedule but provided great publicity, and allowed time to refine the rural characters for the new act. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian (Part 2)

By 1893, Neil Litchfield and his wife Hattie had resumed touring with other companies that billed Neil as “The Man of Many Faces.” After spending the year with the Vivian De Monto Company, they joined the Reno and Ford Company for the first half of 1894. In August they began touring the eastern and midwestern states with the Prima Donna Company, during which time Neil began to stand out noticeably from his fellow performers. Reviews in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania agreed with the Syracuse Evening Herald’s assessment that, despite great work by the show’s star, Eva Mecusker, “The most enjoyable thing of the evening was the recitation work of Neil Litchfield, whose ability as a comedian is large and could be employed more than it is with advantage.” A reporter for the Youngstown Daily Telegram wrote, “Neil Litchfield, as the ruralist, was the star of the show. His work was clever, and the reception he got was deserved.”

Late in the year, he performed with James B. Mackie’s company, The Side Show, and received rave reviews. As a budding star, he no longer needed to jump at the next offer, and instead began advertising his services to the highest bidder. In 1895, Litchfield announced his availability in major trade magazines and the entertainment sections of New York City newspapers. That summer, he toured coast to coast with Heywood’s Celebrities company, which provided ample opportunity to test new characters and refine other bits. A few months later, he joined another group, the Alhambra Vaudevilles. As reported in the New York Dramatic Mirror, “Carter, the magician, and Neil Litchfield, the character impersonator, are the leading people in the company.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian

One of the most popular stars of vaudeville more than a century ago was a native of Lewis County who capitalized on peoples’ love of laughing at themselves. An eloquent speaker with perfect diction, he rose to fame portraying simple farm folks and other characters. It was humor based close to home, for he was born and raised in Turin, a township whose population today remains under 800. While traveling the United States, he returned frequently to visit friends and family, while also performing in the North Country.

He was known to all as Neil Litchfield, but some sleuthing was necessary initially to uncover his story, for he at times went by the names Allen and Cornelius (the latter of which “Neil” was extracted from). They all proved to be one and the same person — Cornelius Allen Litchfield.

He was born in April 1855, educated in Lewis County schools, and attended Cornell University in Ithaca, about 100 miles south of his hometown. College opened up a world of possibilities, and it was there that Neil discovered and developed a deep interest in elocution, defined as “the skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation.” This became his passion, and during his college years, particularly as a junior and senior, he conducted numerous public readings in northern and central New York. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Captain Lewis: Horace Brown’s Great Brown Horse

Horace Brown, perhaps the greatest horse trainer from the northern Adirondacks and foothills, attained fame and many trotting victories in America, Europe, and Russia. Of all his successes, none was more acclaimed than the marvelous season of 1882. Collectively, it was among the unlikeliest stories in sports, an early equivalent of the US hockey team’s stunning Olympic victory in 1980, when a group of fresh, largely untested amateurs came together and conquered the world’s best.

The 1882 story became legend and was often repeated, but the first couple of names involved aren’t absolutely certain. Bear with me briefly through the details, for the story will get better. By most accounts, the horse in question was bred by Jeff Brown of Dresden, on the western shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. In the vicinity of Dresden, he sold it to Richard Brown (and now the names are certain,) who sold it to Lawrence Bogert, who sold it to Stewart L. Purdy of the town of Benton. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Horace Brown, Master Horseman (Conclusion)

In 1894 Horace Brown relocated to Vienna and won his first race there. Riding fast mounts that he trained in a city stable, he continued claiming victories in important contests, and also won ten races in Germany. The following year was no different, as he captured many high-stakes races in Austria, France, and Germany. Of his ability to train horses and make them great, a writer for Spirit of the Times commented, “Horace Brown can get the speed out of a trotter as well as any, and better than many.”

By the end of September 1895, after heading the season’s winners list at Baden, Germany, and capturing big races at Vincennes and Neuilly in the suburbs of Paris, his contract with French owners expired. He was soon off to Russia, where he completed another very successful campaign.

In early 1896 he began training for Serge de Beauvais, another famous French horseman. After winning many races in the Paris area, Horace set up shop in Vienna, which became his adopted home. By year’s end, partly because of his winning efforts and stellar reputation as a trainer, the city became known in the media as the “foremost trotting center in Europe.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Horace Brown, Master Horseman (Part 2)

Due to his obvious talent and strong work ethic, Horace was beset with offers from many prominent owners. Before year’s end, he became the trainer and driver for Highland Stock Farm in Lee, Massachusetts, a prolific operation that raced successfully across New England. Wallace’s Monthly, a magazine that covered horse racing, freely praised the hiring in a piece reprinted from Horse and Stable magazine. “It is a fact that the trainer of a farm is secondary in importance only to its stallions and brood-mares…. Horace Brown deserves the credit of whatever renown has been brought to Hamlin Farm…. I found that good horses improved faster under his care than that of any man of whom I had knowledge…. Horace reduced the record of Belle Hamlin to 2:18¼ and won more money with her in a single season than the Village Farm had won in its existence up to that time…. The greatest feat of Horace’s life was, in my belief, the defeat at Cleveland, on July 28 and 29, 1886, of Manzanita, Spofford, Kitefoot, Longfellow Whip, Orange Boy, and Lowland Girl, in a five-heat race that occupied two days. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Horace Brown: Master Horseman of Northern NY

One of my favorite people to visit when I was a child was my maternal grandfather, who owned a 100-acre farm in remote northwestern Clinton County. Ninety acres of the property were wooded (I loved exploring nature); he had cows, horses, and a dog (I loved animals); and he was an avid fisherman (I lived on the riverbank in Champlain and loved fishing). From my perspective, everything about my Grandpa Jim (Lagree) was cool (this was back in the ’60s, so “cool” is appropriate).

On the wall near his usual sitting area in the living room was a framed photo of a horse and sulky with the caption, “Dan Patch.” Since it was my grandfather’s picture, I knew it had to be something cool, and I was right. As he explained to me, Dan Patch was the greatest trotter ever. Trotting, as I learned, was once the most popular sport across Northern New York.

Within a general loop from Albany north to Glens Falls and Plattsburgh; west to Malone, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Watertown; south to Boonville; southeast back to Albany; and many stops in between, dozens of communities in the Adirondacks and foothills had trotting tracks of varying quality. Participants ranged from farmers to professional horsemen, all of them eager to put their horses’ abilities up against others for bragging rights, money prizes, and, of course, side bets. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Adirondack Name Game: Grass or Grasse River?

My recent story on the Adirondack pearl fishery in the Russell area of St. Lawrence County elicited a comment stating that two names, Plumb Brook and Grass River, had been misspelled, and that the correct terms were Plum Brook and Grasse River.

Local names for topographical features often become distorted over time, especially when usage is passed on by word of mouth, but it’s important to know place-name origins. In many cases, there are records giving the officially recognized names of streams, populated places, mountains, and the like. » Continue Reading.


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