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, October 17, 2017

A Fisher of Men and a Fish in the Water

A few weeks ago, the Adirondacks and North Country lost a native who led a unique life, a man who three years ago added “author” to his resume. Robert “Bob” Manning of Massena passed away on September 28 at the age of 81. My personal connection with him is a strange one indeed. We met back in 1966, but I hadn’t been in touch with him since 1969, so you might suppose that our phone conversation in 2014, when we became reacquainted, might have been a bit awkward.

It sure could have been, but not for the reason you might be thinking — that 45 years had passed. No, that wasn’t an issue at all, but these next few lines should help explain my use of the word “strange.” When I knew him back in the 1960s, he was a Catholic priest and one of my schoolteachers (nothing odd about that). He called in 2014 to ask if he and his wife could come and visit me (and there it is!). » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jack Lagree: Dannemora’s Bobsled Guru

Flush with success in the North Country Championships, taking first and second place, the Lagree Bobsled Club teams were off to St. Moritz, Switzerland, to practice and prepare for the upcoming world championships. In the end, the American squads were disappointed with their results in Europe, finishing fifteenth and twenty-third.

For Jack Lagree, it meant nothing more than getting back to work. He was already planning to prepare up to four sleds for the next Olympics. Despite growing competition from several large American corporations, the results coming out of Jack’s tiny garage were highly sought after by the best bobsledders in the country.

He made no secret of the process. Purchasing old sleds from Italy (machines that he claimed were the best in the world), he then stripped them down and rebuilt them based on his own designs and modifications. The results were indisputable. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Jack Lagree: Dannemora’s Bobsled Guru

Long before the 2015 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat, the word Dannemora instantly conjured images of the prison. While the high wall dominates the landscape, the village does have other historical connections, some of them in the world of sports, including one through the person of John “Jack” Lagree. Jack was a native of Churubusco, a tiny hamlet in northwestern Clinton County.

Blessed with engineering talent, mechanical skill, and a strong, traditional, North Country work ethic, he rose to national prominence in the world of bobsleigh competition (referred to hereafter by the more popular term, bobsled). » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Immigrants Are Our History: So What Do We Do Now?

Spending so much time conducting research in old books and newspapers, I’m often left shaking my head when today’s news headlines call to mind a favorite saying: “Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.” We use the concept all the time for personal decisions.

Before making a purchase — car, washing machine, cable package, cell phone — have you ever referred to a magazine like Consumer Reports, read online reviews, or asked a friend how their own choice worked out? If so, you checked with history to avoid making a poor choice. It’s a simple concept: learn a product’s history and you’re not doomed to repeat it. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Adirondack History: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity

While it’s not gallows humor by definition, finding laughter in stories related to death can be a difficult proposition. In this case, rest assured: there’s actually not much death involved, and if your funny bone is intact, what follows should tickle it at least a bit.

In mid-August 1904, a number of regional newspapers reported a drowning near Underwood at the west end of Raquette Pond in Tupper Lake. Witnesses who saw a man jump into the water near the bridge there narrowed the possibilities to two: that he jumped in to retrieve his hat when it was blown off by the wind, or he committed suicide. The one thing everyone agreed on was that the man had deliberately entered the water where the current was strong and the depth may have been twenty feet or more. His body was recovered after a brief search and delivered to the undertaker, where locals came to help identify the victim. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Test Your Battle of Plattsburgh Knowledge (Part 2)

September 11, 2017, marks the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. The official 2017 commemoration of the battle ended Sunday.  To mark the event, a quiz appeared here last week, mostly addressing Commodore Thomas Macdonough’s role in the victory on Lake Champlain.

There were two battles at Plattsburgh however, one on the bay and one on land. This week’s quiz covers the land battle and related subjects. See if you can answer a few, and learn a few fun facts in the bargain. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration Quiz

The Battle of Plattsburgh celebration is upon us again, so there’s no better time than now for a little Q&A to test your knowledge (and you’ll learn stuff, too!) about a truly remarkable victory.

The focus here is on Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who was lauded nationally as a hero for his actions on Lake Champlain. On Plattsburgh’s museum campus (located on the former air base property), you’ll find the Battle of Plattsburgh Association’s War of 1812 Museum, and check out the schedule of events for the 2017 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration running from September 7–10. There’s something for everyone, with plenty of great family venues. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Emma Johnson: One Tough Pioneer Mom

Heat and hard physical work can be a debilitating combination. Two of my experiences with them from the long-ago past were a challenge and a heck of a workout — under a blazing sun, doing the haying, and, my personal favorite, picking rocks. But the most exhausting of all was harder than both — digging graves with a shovel and pick during the hottest days of summer. I quickly understood why the veteran diggers joked that people who died during the summer were so inconsiderate.

Decades ago, while researching my first book, the details of another very hot and difficult job were revealed to me by a kind and accommodating woman named Emma Johnson, who was 85 years old at the time. The subject was a remarkable place in northern Clinton County known locally as the Altona Flat Rock. New York State’s Natural Heritage Program, established in 1985, defined the Altona Flat Rock as “sandstone pavement barrens,” a natural rarity. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 21, 2017

The North Country’s 1932 Solar Eclipse, And The Next One

The eclipse fever that has been sweeping the nation allows a glimpse of North Country life 85 years ago, when the path of totality clipped the region, allowing many upstate New York locations to experience 90 percent of the impact. It was a pretty exciting time, coming on the heels of the 1925 total solar eclipse in New York City. The Plattsburgh Sentinel reported on the viewing of that event at Saranac Lake.

“While not total, the eclipse was a magnificent spectacle, and during the greater portion, the sun was free of clouds. During the darkest period, snow fields and mountain ice caps were bathed in a violet light in which the shadows sharply were defined. The whole vast wilderness became a land of awesome beauty, with the snow and ice making a perfect background.”

In the Big Apple, the New York Stock Exchange and banks remained closed that day until after the eclipse. Many other cities did the same and launched special police patrols to prevent crimes that were normally committed under cover of darkness. » Continue Reading.


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.


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