Hal Smith‘s heavy workload was more than paying the bills, and in 1952 he began building a home in the San Fernando Valley. Bit parts in so many TV shows led to appearances in multiple episodes of popular programs like Broken Arrow and Have Gun, Will Travel, and countless opportunities in the world of commercial advertising. For several years he was too busy to get away often, so in late 1959, instead of visiting his parents in Old Forge, he flew to Detroit to buy a new Dodge, drove to the Adirondacks, and brought them back to California for a six-month stay.
In early January 1938, Hal Smith, described as an “impersonator, vocalist, and musician,” left WIBX in Utica to sing, do impersonations, and perform production work for stations WGR, WKBW, and WEBR in Buffalo. Without missing a beat, he was soon serving as master of ceremonies at high-profile events, and leading a band known as Pop Martin and His Boys while hosting a radio show by the same name. He was also regularly featured on WEBR with well-known Buffalo singer Joan Hutton, on a pair of shows titled “Music is My Hobby” and “Linger Awhile.”
Despite doing well in Buffalo, Hal returned by mid-year to WIBX in Utica. One » Continue Reading.
For Hal Smith and his siblings, there always seemed to be a new act in the works. When she was 18, Hal’s sister Bernadeen presented the Follies of 1932 in the local opera house in January, a show that included the Smith children singing and dancing. In April of the same year, the PTA sponsored a circus act as a stage production, with dozens of cast members led by Hal Smith as ringmaster. In two different shows presented in June, including a band concert, he sang solos.
In September, at the beginning of the next school year, Bernadeen and Kathleen directed, acted, and danced in a four-act play. » Continue Reading.
For millions of people, holidays are all about going home, returning to one’s roots of family and friends. That concept was epitomized by a North Country man who attained great fame in Hollywood, but to his great credit never forgot the home folks — and to their credit, the home folks never forgot him. Whenever he returned to the North Country, or old friends visited him in California, there was always an exchange of love, admiration, and deep appreciation.
He was born in northern Michigan in 1916 as Harold John Smith, about as anonymous a name as one can imagine, and likely one that stirs no sense of recognition. » Continue Reading.
Children’s Christmas wishes and expectations years ago were much different from what they are today. I was so struck by this—the simplicity and innocence of children hoping to receive some sort of gift—that while researching a book back in 2010, I included a chapter entitled Letters to Santa (in History of Churubusco). The sample letters below are excerpted from that book, and were published in North Country newspapers between 1920 and 1940. They reveal a sharp contrast to the modern holiday, where expensive gifts have become the disproportionate norm.
Like hundreds of other small villages and towns in the early twentieth century, Churubusco (in northwest Clinton County) was a » Continue Reading.
A century ago, an emerging North Country artist made a name for herself in Jefferson County, but it was the many names she wore through seven decades that made her story so difficult to trace. She began life in North Dakota in 1883 as Phoebe Alice Weeks. During her marriage (around 1910) to Carl Warren, she was known as Phoebe W. Warren. During her second marriage, to Lewis Perry Hazlewood of Sackets Harbor in 1916, she was known as Phoebe Hazlewood (often misspelled as Hazelwood), but her middle name appeared variously as Alice, Weeks, and Warren, or the initials “A” or “W.” Decades later, there was a third marriage to » Continue Reading.
In January 1936, Dr. Charles Leete, a chief proponent of local history and a strong voice for protecting South Colton’s Sunday Rock from destruction, died. It was more than appropriate that he had been deeply involved in preserving the rock. Leete’s ancestors built much of the machinery used in area sawmills that processed the timber provided by the lumberjacks who were famously linked to Sunday Rock’s legend.
As famous as the big rock was regionally, it attained immortality of a sort in 1941 when Robert Ripley included it in his world-famous newspaper feature, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” A drawing of the landmark was accompanied by a full » Continue Reading.
Among the unusual landmarks in the Adirondacks is a massive roadside boulder in central St. Lawrence County, just three tenths of a mile west of the South Colton post office. Widely known as Sunday Rock, it is part of the legend and lore of the northwestern Adirondacks. My first visit to South Colton came several decades ago during a long road trip aimed at scouting out new places to hike and canoe. I was led there by a passage in a book titled, “Rocks and Routes of the North Country, New York,” by Dr. Bradford B. VanDiver, Professor of Geology at SUNY Potsdam when the book was released » Continue Reading.
Thanksgiving, with food a major holiday component, calls to mind a time of year that was once the subject of great anticipation: nutting season. I’m not old enough to have experienced it first-hand, although back in the 1980s I did explore many natural edibles. Among my favorites was beechnuts, which we harvested and used in chocolate-chip cookies. Outstanding!
But in days long ago, when many folks earned a subsistence living that utilized home-grown vegetables and wild foods, nutting season was an important time.
The colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.
But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack » Continue Reading.
Researching Dr. Bradford VanDiver’s life and telling his full story isn’t possible in this brief format, but if you read last week’s account, you’re at least privy to the amazing and varied highlights. There remains one stunning and frightening event that he failed to mention during published interviews about various achievements and key moments in his past.
While plumbing for details that might have occurred prior to his professional career, I encountered reference to VanDiver’s participation with the National Speleological Society in exploring several new caves in the Howe’s Cavern area of Schoharie County in 1948. Some of the underground sites there involved drops of more than 100 » Continue Reading.
Bradford B. VanDiver, president of the ADK Laurentian Chapter four decades ago, had a deep impact on my life, which is not surprising because he was a lifetime teacher. But the truth is, I never met him — at least not in person. His passion for many pursuits was first revealed to me through the pages of one of several books he authored. What I discovered was a native New Yorker and eventual North Country transplant who was truly a Renaissance Man.
At a young age, innate curiosity across many fields of science drove my quest to know more about animals, plants, rocks, and “bugs” that were routinely encountered » Continue Reading.
In keeping with some old-fashioned parlor games and modern trivia fun, here are 15 questions incorporating the names of some of the 100 highest mountains in the Adirondacks. See how well you do answering them off the top of your head, or use a mountain list here or here to help figure out the correct responses. Subtle clues are built into each description. After the final question, you’ll find the list of answers … so don’t ruin the fun by peeking!
Despite increasing opportunities in other entertainment media, most of Mary Boylan’s time was spent in New York City’s theater scene, where a rejection of Broadway’s commercialism was attractive to those deeply interested in art for the sake of art itself. Already there was an established Off-Broadway scene, but this was shunned as well. The year 1958 is cited as the birth of Off-Off-Broadway at a place in Greenwich Village known as Caffe Cino, where a plaque today honors the site’s significance. Among the established and most popular regulars there from the start was Mary Boylan, with Al Pacino listed as one » Continue Reading.
On the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City, Greenwich Village has long been home to progressive thinkers and artists of all types, as well as ground zero for several movements. In the 1950s and 60s, it was a mainstay of the nation’s bohemian culture, hosting beatniks, folk music originals, the strong counter-culture movement, and the Beat Generation, with such icons as Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Rod McKuen.
The coffeehouse scene flourished at that time, when a remarkable alternative to commercial theater was developed: Off-Off-Broadway, where productions ran the gamut from scripted to impromptu, and venues ranged from old warehouses to small » Continue Reading.