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.



Monday, June 27, 2011

Florence Bullard: Local Nurse, World War One Hero

In Adirondack history, like in most other parts of America, war heroes abound. Traditionally, they are men who have lost limbs, men who risked their lives to save others, and men who fought valiantly against incredible odds. Some died, while others survived, but for the most part, they shared one common thread: they were all men. But in my own humble estimation, one of the North Country’s greatest of all war heroes was a woman.

Florence Church Bullard, the female in question, was “from” two places. Known for most of her life as a Glens Falls girl, she was born in January 1880 in New Sweden, a small settlement in the Town of Ausable.

By the time she was 20, Florence had become a schoolteacher in Glens Falls, where she boarded with several other teachers. Seeking something more from life, she enrolled in St. Mary’s Hospital, a training facility of the Mayo Brothers in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating, she worked as a private nurse for several years.

In December 1916, four months before the United States entered World War I, Florence left for the battlefields of Europe. As a Red Cross nurse, she served with the American Ambulance Corps at the hospital in Neuilly, France, caring for injured French soldiers. They often numbered in the thousands after major battles.

On April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered the war, but the first American troops didn’t arrive in Europe until the end of June. Florence had considered the possibility of returning home by fall of that year because of potential attacks on the home front by Germany or Mexico (yes, the threat was real).

But with the US joining the fray in Europe, Florence decided she could best serve the cause by tending to American foot soldiers, just as she had cared for French troops since her arrival.

Until the Americans landed, she continued serving in the French hospital and began writing a series of letters to family and friends in Glens Falls and Ausable. Those missives provide a first-hand look at the war that took place a century ago.

The US had strongly resisted involvement in the conflict, but when Congress voted to declare war, Florence described the immediate reaction in Europe. Her comments offer insight on America’s role as an emerging world power and how we were viewed by others back then.

“I have never known anything so inspiring as Paris has been since the news came that America had joined the Allies. Almost every building in Paris is flying the American flag. Never shall I forget last Saturday evening. I was invited to go to the opera … that great opera house had not an empty seat. It was filled with Russians, Belgians, British, and French, with a few Americans scattered here and there. Three-quarters of the huge audience was in uniform.

“Just before the curtain went up for the second act, the wonderful orchestra burst out into the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ In a flash, those thousands were on their feet as if they were one person. One could have heard a pin drop except for the music. The music was played perfectly and with such feeling. Afterwards, the applause was so tremendous that our national anthem was repeated.

“The tears sprang to my eyes and my heart seemed to be right in my throat. It seemed as if I must call right out to everyone, ‘I’m an American and that was my national anthem!’ I have never witnessed such a demonstration of patriotism in my life. The officers of every allied nation clad in their brilliant uniforms stood in deference to our country.”

The work she had done thus far received strong support from the folks back home. In a letter to her sister in Ausable, Florence wrote, “Try to know how much gratitude and appreciation I feel to you and all the people of Glens Falls who have given so generously of their time and money. It was such fun to help the committee open the boxes and to realize that the contents had all been arranged and made by people that I know personally.

“The committee remarked upon the splendid boxes with hinged covers and the manner in which they were packed. When the covers were lifted, the things looked as if they might have been packed in the next room and the last article just fitted into the box. I was just a little proud to have them see how things are done in Glens Falls. Again, my gratitude, which is so hard to express.”

Florence’s credentials as a Mayo nurse, her outstanding work ethic, and connections to some important doctors helped ease her transition into the American war machine. The French, understandably, were loathe to see her go, so highly valued was her service.

In a letter to Maude, her older sister, Florence expressed excitement at establishing the first triage unit for American troops at the front. They were expected to treat 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers every 24 hours. Upon evaluation, some would be patched up and moved on; some would be operated on immediately; and others would be cared for until they were well enough to be moved to safer surroundings.

Florence’s sensitive, caring nature was evident when she told of the very first young American to die in her care. “He was such a boy, and he told me much about himself. He said that when the war broke out, he wanted to enlist. But he was young, and his mother begged him not to, so he ran away. And here he was, wounded and suffering, and he knew he must die.

“All the time, that boy was crying for his mother … he was grieving over her. And so I did what I could to take her place. And during the hours of his delirium, he sometimes thought I was his mother, and for the moment, he was content.

“Every morning, that lad had to be taken to the operating room to have the fluid drawn from off his lungs because of the hemorrhage. When finally that last day the doctor came, he knew the boy’s time was short and he could not live, so he said he would not operate. But the boy begged so hard, he said it relieved him so, that we took him in.

“And then those great, confident eyes looked into mine and he said, ‘You won’t leave me mother, will you?’ And I said, ‘No, my son.’ But before that simple operation could be completed, that young life had passed out. And I am not ashamed to tell you that as I cut a curl of hair to send to his mother, my tears fell on that young boy’s face-—not for him, but for his mother.”

Working tirelessly dressing wounds and assisting the surgeons, Bullard displayed great capability and leadership. She was offered the position of hospital superintendent if she chose to leave the front. It was a tremendous opportunity, but one that Florence Bullard turned down. Rather than supervise and oversee, she preferred to provide care directly to those in need.

Next week: Part 2—Nurse Bullard under hellish attack.

Photos:Above, Florence Church Bullard, nurse, hero; Middle, WW I Red Cross poster; Below, WW I soldier wounded in France.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Unlikely History of Pigeons in the Adirondacks

Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity.

The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.

Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.

The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.

Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.

In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.

According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.

This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.

Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.

In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.

Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.

That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “No person shall take or interfere with any… homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark.”

“Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles. They didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather. Many of the birds that landed in the North Country came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common.

In 1912, one Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.

In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.

And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.

Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.

In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.

During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.

Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.

Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon (broken leg) found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that broke the bird’s leg. It was suspected that the balloon had finally gone down over Lake Ontario.

One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.

Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachment—a piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.

Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”

In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.

It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoon—it was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.

Photo Top: Homing pigeon with message in tube.

Photo Middle: WW I military troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon.

Photo Bottom: Winged members of the military.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The North Country Tornado of 1856

A tornado in the northeastern states, as happened recently in Massachusetts, is a comparatively rare event, but it’s by no means anything new. Many similar storms in the past have wreaked devastation in New York and New England, but few have had the incredible impact of the tornado that struck northern Franklin County on June 30, 1856.

The storm system caused chaos across the North Country, and in lower Quebec and northern Vermont as well, but the villages of Burke and Chateaugay bore the brunt of the damage when a tornado touched down, causing destruction of historic proportions.

In the 1850s, northern Franklin County was mostly a vast, wooded wilderness. The arrival of the railroad had led to accelerated growth and the development of several population centers, including Burke and Chateaugay, just five miles apart in the county’s northeast corner.

Farming and lumbering were the chief occupations, and until sections of forest were cleared, most of the farms were located near the villages and along the Old Military Turnpike (modern-day Route 11). About the only way a storm’s effect could be truly devastating was for it to strike the population centers—and that’s exactly what happened.

Not that it would have made much difference, but this storm also had an extra element of surprise—it struck shortly before mid-morning. The great majority of tornadoes strike in the late afternoon after the sun has had plenty of time to heat things up.

Farmer Lucas Wyman of Constable watched as two dark, threatening cloud systems moved towards each other, one from the southwest and one from the northwest. He described their meeting as a thunderous collision, after which the storm began devouring everything in its path. Taking a northeastern track, it flattened trees and fences as it sped ominously towards Burke.

Arriving at the village, it tore the roofs off several buildings, sending their contents high in the air to parts unknown. As the storm raged, only pieces of some homes were left standing, and all barns, less sturdily built by nature, were leveled.

At the hamlet of Thayer’s Corners, the store of Daniel Mitchell was completely destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Jeremiah Thomas, father of two young children, had recently sold his farm and gone to work for Mitchell. Thomas became the storm’s only fatality.

The storm’s route from Burke to Chateaugay suffered near-universal destruction, with reports indicating that “… one hundred and eighty-five buildings, either unroofed, blown down, or moved from the foundations can be counted as you ride along the road.”

At Chateaugay, the twister still had more than enough energy to lay nearly the entire community to waste. One reporter stated it plainly: “The village of Chateaugay is a complete desolation. Not a building escaped injury, and a great number—we do not know how many—are completely destroyed. The scene is one which baffles description. Stores, churches, dwellings, barns, sheds, outbuildings, all present a sad spectacle —they are awfully shattered and broken to pieces.”

Perhaps as important were other losses—gardens and fruit trees destroyed; farm crops flattened; cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and chickens killed. With all fencing destroyed, any animals that did survive were left wandering the countryside.

Though only one person died, many suffered serious injuries. Dozens were struck by flying roof shingles and shards of glass. One survivor was said to have lost his scalp to airborne debris.

The power of the storm yielded the usual stories of extreme occurrences. Entire sections of forest were flattened. A stone schoolhouse, one of the more solid buildings, was demolished. A lumber yard was completely devoid of lumber, all of which had been lifted high in the air and strewn across nearby fields.

A railroad handcar, weighing about a ton, was destroyed when it was carried aloft and dropped into the nearby woods. The tornado’s power was such that rubble from Mitchell’s Store at Thayer’s Corners was later found ten miles east in the town of Clinton.

In the days following the catastrophe, a traveler from Springfield, Massachusetts (coincidentally the site of recent tornadic destruction in 2011) rode the train across northern New York. After encountering the Chateaugay area, his report on the damage was published in the Springfield Daily Journal, including the following excerpts.

“The railroad track for some thirty or forty miles lies directly in the path of the tornado, and I never saw such a scene of destruction before. … it is in fact quite impossible to picture the scene on paper as it really appears. The villages of Chateaugay and Burke have sustained such serious damage that long years will come and go before its traces can be effaced.

“… Acres of forest trees are upturned, broken, twisted, and shattered; fences are torn to pieces, and the fencing timber scattered miles away from whence it was taken; piles of lumber, with which that section abounds, are nowhere to be found; barns are entirely blown to pieces; dwelling houses blown down, unroofed, and shattered. The eye rests on nothing else but such sights as these for miles and miles.”

The storm system caused considerable damage elsewhere, but the extent of destruction along the eight-mile path through the towns of Burke and Chateaugay was of near-biblical proportions. In the final tally, 364 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Few North Country disasters can compare in scope and intensity with the tornado of 1856. For decades into the future it was used as a reference point for comparing other tragic events.

Photo Top: Tornado headlines, 1856.

Photo Middle: St. Lawrence County opportunistic ad after a tornado, 1914.

Photo Bottom: Hammond Insurance ad for routine needs, 1935.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 6, 2011

World War One Hero A ‘Plattsburg Man’

War heroes come from all walks of life, and are deemed noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. In April 1918, during World War I, the North Country was justifiably proud of five lesser headlines in the New York Times beneath a bold proclamation: “Plattsburg Youth A Transport Hero.”

The story was particularly unusual for one main reason—though the youth was a lieutenant in the infantry, he and his foot-soldiers had performed heroic deeds with no land in any direction for perhaps 1000 miles.

Plattsburg (no “h” used in those days) was a principal military training facility, and many death announcements during the war ended with a single, telling entry: “He was a Plattsburg man.” In this case the Plattsburg man in question, Charles Dabney Baker, was still very much alive and receiving praise from both sides of the Atlantic for astute leadership and remarkable calm during a crisis situation.

The odd circumstances surrounding Baker’s citation complemented his unusual path from childhood to the military. Historically, the vast majority of fighting men do not come from affluent backgrounds. Men of money and power have often been able to protect their children from serving. Poorer folks, on the other hand, often joined for the guaranteed income and the financial incentives dangled before them. A few thousand dollars was nothing to a person of wealth, but constituted a small fortune for someone in need.

Charles Baker was certainly part of an affluent family. He was born in Far Rockaway, Long Island in 1891, the son of a Wall Street banker. When he was but eight years old, the family household of four children was supported by a live-in staff that included two nurses, a waitress, a cook, and a chambermaid. A kitchen maid and a laundress were later added. Life was sweet.

Charles graduated from Princeton in 1913 and went to work for the Bankers’ Trust Company in New York City. It was an ongoing life of privilege, but after two years in the banking industry, he opted to join the military. Following a stint on the Mexican border, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then trained at Plattsburg as America finally entered the war in Europe.

For Baker, who was prepared for battle, disappointment ensued when his regiment was ordered to France without him. He was instead tasked with commanding a detachment of men assigned to care for 1600 mules and horses that were being shipped to Europe in support of the troops.

As the journey began, a series of problems developed, culminating in a crisis situation in the middle of the ocean. A powerful storm threatened the mission, with winds estimated at 80–90 miles an hour. The ship was badly tossed, and a coal port lid failed (it was believed to have been the work of German spies who had loosened the bolts when the craft was docked).

As the ship began to flood, chaos and disaster loomed. Baker, the highest ranking officer aboard, took charge of his landlubber crew and whipped them into action. The partially flooded ship rocked violently, and its precious cargo suffered terribly. A sailor on board later reported that many of the horses and mules “were literally torn to pieces by the tossing and rolling. Their screams of agony were something awful to listen to.” A number of others drowned.

Under Baker’s orders, bailing crews were assigned, dead and living animals were tended to, and the remaining men battled to keep the ship afloat. Days later, they limped into port and assessed the damages. It was determined that 400 animals had been lost, but the remarkable response by Baker and his infantrymen resulted in the survival of 1200 others. A complete disaster had been averted, and after delivering their cargo, the 165th Infantry was soon on the front line in France.

The story of the ocean trip might have remained untold except for brief mention that appeared in some newspapers. Among those reading the report was a sailor who had shared the voyage. He contacted the newspapers, and soon the story was headline news, praising Baker and his soldiers for great bravery and heroism under extreme conditions.

While the story gathered momentum, Charles and his men were otherwise occupied, already engaging in trench warfare. Just a few weeks after joining the fight, the 165th was pinned down under withering bombardment by the Germans. As Baker encouraged his troops, a shell exploded nearby, puncturing his eardrum.

For three days the barrage continued. Against the advice of his men, Baker endured the pain, refusing to withdraw to seek treatment. He felt his troops were best served if he remained on duty with them.

In early May it was announced that the French government had conferred upon Baker the Croix de Guerre medal, accompanied by the following citation: “First Lieutenant Charles D. Baker showed presence of mind and bravery during a heavy bombardment of nine-inch shells. Went calmly to his post in the trenches despite a destructive fire, assuring the safety of his men and locating the enemy’s mortars which were firing on the positions.”

Baker was forced to spend time recovering in the hospital. Despite his adventures, the frequent praise, and the French medal, Baker was described as humble, unassuming, and much admired and respected by his men. Soon he was back on the battlefield, right in the thick of things.

In July 1918, less than six months after Baker’s arrival in Europe, the 165th was involved in heavy fighting on the Ourcq River about 75 miles northeast of Paris. The Germans had the better position, and Allied forces suffered very heavy casualties as machine gunners cut down hundreds of men. Some of the Allied commanders took to an old method of moving forward by sending only two or three men at a time, backed by intense cover fire. It was difficult and deadly work.

On July 29th, while involved in fierce fighting, Charles Baker was badly injured by machine-gun fire and was once again removed to a base hospital in France. Nearly six weeks later, on September 12, he succumbed to his wounds.

From the crisis on the high seas to his eventual death on the battlefield, barely eight months had passed. It was a tragedy that was repeated millions of times during the war. And in this case, it was duly noted: Baker was a Plattsburg man.

Photo: Charles Dabney Baker, 1913.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Civil War in the North Country: Macomb’s Regiment

With the arrival of Memorial Day in this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, there is a North Country native who served with particular distinction in the 96th Infantry. The 96th, often referred to as the Plattsburgh Regiment (and sometimes Macomb’s Regiment), was recruited from villages across the region, spanning from Malone to Plattsburgh in the north, and south to Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, and Warrensburg.

Among those to join at Fort Edward was 23-year-old Lester Archer, a native of nearby Fort Ann. Lester enlisted as a corporal in December, 1861, and for three years served with hundreds of North Country boys and men who saw plenty of combat, primarily in Virginia.

In June, 1864, Archer was promoted to sergeant amidst General U. S. Grant’s heated campaign to take Richmond, a critical Confederate site. Guarding Richmond several miles to the south on the James River was Fort Harrison, a strategic rebel stronghold.

To divide Lee’s troops, a surprise attack was launched on Fort Harrison on September 29. The men of the 96th were among those who charged up the hill against withering fire, successfully driving off the fort’s defenders and assuming control. As the fort was being overtaken, a Union flag was planted by Sergeant Lester Archer, emphatically declaring victory.

Until Harrison fell, it was considered the strongest Confederate fort between Richmond and Petersburg, 25 miles south. Lee’s forces regrouped to launch several bloody efforts at recapturing the vital site, but the North stood their ground, protecting the prize.

Union General Burnham was killed in the battle, and in his honor, the site was temporarily renamed Fort Burnham. More than 800 soldiers were buried nearby at what is now known as Fort Harrison National Cemetery.

The 96th remained in the vicinity of Fort Harrison for three weeks, and in late October, an assault was launched against Fort Richmond at Five Oaks. The result was a bloody, hard-fought battle, with both sides claiming victory, but both suffering heavy casualties. Many North Country soldiers were killed or captured. Just three weeks after heroically planting the Union flag atop Fort Harrison, Sergeant Lester Archer was among those who perished at Five Oaks.

On April 6, 1865, Archer’s exceptional efforts were officially acknowledged. The highest US military decoration for valor was conferred upon him with these words: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to Sergeant Lester Archer, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 29 September 1864, while serving with Company E, 96th New York Infantry, in action at Fort Harrison, Virginia, for gallantry in placing the colors of his regiment on the fort.”

President Lincoln himself would die just nine days later.

Photos: Above, scene at Fort Harrison, Virginia, 1864; below, Lester Archer.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Missing NYC Sport: Adk Guides Take The Stand

Suspicious circumstances had developed surrounding the disappearance of respected New York City businessman John C. Austin in July 1891. Two insurance companies who held life policies on Austin were deeply interested in his possible whereabouts. Neither had bought the story that Austin had drowned near Coney Island, leaving three small children fatherless. They believed a boat had picked him up and that Austin was now living and hiding out in the Adirondacks.

Colonel Edward C. James, a nationally renowned, colorful attorney represented the insurance companies. His opening statement was a classic. After building to a crescendo, James presented his climactic claim: “Gentlemen of the jury, I will show you John C. Austin as he is today, alive and well.” With that, he unwrapped a heretofore mysterious package, revealing a nearly seven-foot-tall cut-out likeness of Austin, taken from a hunting photograph.

The courtroom was stunned, and for the entire trial, the jury and a packed house of spectators were constantly confronted with a powerfully connected message. Facing them from a corner was the huge likeness of the missing man in hunting regalia, while in the courtroom sat a grand selection of Adirondack woodsmen dressed similarly to Austin, awaiting their turn to testify.

The plaintiffs appeared to have a tough case to prove, but their attorneys approached the trial from an angle that would elicit much sympathy. Pointing to Austin’s three young children strategically placed in front of the jury box, they presented their opening line: “The only question you are called upon to decide is whether the father of these three little children was drowned on July 4, 1891.” The intent was obvious, but no less effective.

Colonel James enjoyed some remarkable moments, shocking the court with the revelation that Austin, widely believed to be very well off financially, was in fact virtually bankrupt. He owed over $2500 (about $62,000 today) on various bills. Since his disappearance, Austin’s home had been sold for substantially less than its mortgage value. Days before vanishing, he withdrew $150 from the business (equal to $3,700 today). And on July 3, he had cashed a $400 check (equal to $10,000), even though his account to cover it held only a $2 balance.

The $400 check (he vanished on July 4—it was written on July 3 but postdated for July 7) had been cashed by his brother-in-law (Carruthers), who was stiffed for the full amount. Colonel James pointed out that Austin, a supposed pillar of society, apparently wasn’t so averse to fraud after all, having knowingly committed it against his own relative. It was powerful stuff.

The keystone of James’ case in support of those suspicious elements was what the media described as the “mountain flavor” of the courtroom. The effect was enhanced by the fact that many of New York’s “well-to-do,” including a number of top attorneys, frequented the Adirondacks as a favored getaway. Their interest in the Austin case was further piqued by the opportunity to see and listen to “their” guides speaking in court. Thus, the serious legal battle did contain a sideshow element.

When the time came for the Adirondack guides to testify, the defense suffered a serious setback. James Ramsay of Lowville said he had known Austin for many years and had delivered him to Crystal Lake in Lewis County just a month after Austin’s disappearance from Manhattan Beach.

However, Ramsay recounted conversations they shared regarding Austin’s recently deceased wife and the status of his children. During intense cross-examination, the details he had provided were shredded due to inconsistencies. The plaintiffs’ attorney suggested that Ramsay’s statements bordered on perjury, delivering a strong blow to the defense case.

Other guides, however, acquitted themselves quite well before a thoroughly pleased audience, some of whom recognized the mountain men by sight. Certain testimony, like that of Charles Bartlett, helped undo the damage from a day earlier. Much was made in the media of the visitors from the mountains and their service in court (their rough appearance was also noted). Colonel James, himself a North Country native (from Ogdensburg), was appreciative of their efforts.

Bartlett was followed by a parade of fellow guides who insisted they knew Austin and had spent time with him. He was said to have stayed for a while at Eagle’s Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. Some described his behavior at the Algonquin Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, where he displayed outstanding skill on the billiard table. Austin was, in fact, known in New York City as an excellent pool player—one witness had played against him a day or so before he vanished.

Among those who took the stand were Eugene Allen, Edwin Hayes, Robert King, Walter Martin, and Ransom Manning, all described as guides in the Saranac Lake area. Others included Hiram Benham, James Butler, Thomas Haley, Charles Hall, and James Quirk, offering convincing proof that Austin had perpetrated a fraud and was moving about in the mountains, avoiding detection.

The men described encounters with Austin at several well-known establishments: the Ampersand Hotel, Hatch’s, the Prospect House, Miller’s Hotel, and Bart Moody’s. Many of the sightings were by multiple witnesses. One of the biggest problems for the company case was the outright honesty of the guides, who frequently used “I don’t remember” when asked about details from the events of the past few years. They were being truthful, but hearing that statement repeatedly from witnesses helped suggest the likelihood of faulty memories.

When testimony ended, Colonel James offered a fine summation supporting the statements from many people who had seen Austin since his supposed drowning. Trull, the lead attorney for the Austin family, enamored himself with the crowd, making light of the guides’ claims chiefly by attacking Ramsay, who had made conflicting statements. By targeting the guide with the weakest testimony, Trull hoped to dismiss them as a group. He smiled at the weak memories of some, and dismissed as untruthful those who recalled the past with remarkable clarity.

He also ridiculed the idea that a man in hiding could wear “ … leggins’, slouch hat, corduroy trousers, duck coat … what a likely yarn! Dressed in this conspicuous manner … and he wanted to hide!” Trull’s voice fairly dripped with smiling sarcasm.

The analogy was actually warped (though he would certainly stand out in New York City, no man who dressed like that in the mountains would be conspicuous), but the erroneous concept was lost on the jurors—city men who routinely dressed in suits.

In the end, the jury was out only 23 minutes, returning to declare Austin dead. There were several moments of complete silence following the announcement, as if everyone were stunned.

Then, punctuating the victory, Trull revealed the major role that sympathy had played in the case. Turning to the jurors, he said, “Gentlemen of the jury, on behalf of my clients, the three little orphan boys left alone and helpless by John C. Austin, I thank you.”

Excused by the judge, the jury filed out, stopping only to offer Trull an unusual comment that was in keeping with the prevailing air of sympathy: “We want to contribute our fees as jurymen to the unemployed poor, and want you to arrange the matter with the clerk for us.”

The companies later dropped a plan to appeal, instead deciding to cut their losses and pay the settlement. Thus ended the court case over the insurance claims. But as far as the companies were concerned, that’s all that was settled. They remained convinced that Austin had successfully duped everyone and was alive, well, and soon to be much better off financially.

When the Austin family received the death benefit checks, they were at the same time relieved and angry—relieved to collect the amount in full, but angry with the section of the check that said, “Pay to the executors of the estate of John C. Austin, deceased.” The insurance company had drawn a line through the word “deceased,” emphasizing their belief that he was still alive.

Though Austin had been pronounced dead, his story wasn’t. Reports came in of more sightings, and two agencies asked for a bounty in exchange for bringing him to New York.

Barely a month after the trial ended, headlines reported that Austin was under surveillance by a detective in Toronto. Subsequent articles addressed the issues of his status. Having been pronounced dead, was he now safe? Could a country extradite someone who had been pronounced dead? Could the other country accept extradition of a deceased person?

The questions were put to Colonel James, who commented on the jury’s decision: “They did not seem to appreciate the evidence that was presented, and with one fell swoop, they killed Austin and rendered his children orphans. It was sheer murder, but they thought they were right. You may have thought I was jesting when I said that the jury killed Austin. It is not that.

“Actually, Austin is not dead, as this revelation proves. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the report. He is judicially dead in this country. As long as he stays in Canada, he is alive, all right. As soon as he crosses the border into this country, he drops dead—theoretically.”

That’s the last anyone heard of John C. Austin.

Photo Top: Manhattan Beach Bath House on right.

Photo Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Adirondack Guides: The Missing NYC ‘Sport’

Adirondack guides from over a century ago are themselves part of the lore and history of the region. Their handling of city “sports,” coupled with their great abilities in the woods, provided the background for many a legendary tale. Guides were often strongly independent and shared a great affinity for the solitude of the deep woods. So what were nearly two dozen of these woodsmen doing in a New York City courtroom in the winter of 1893–1894?

They were present for the culmination of a terrific news story that had earned sustained coverage for more than two years. Dozens of American and Canadian newspapers followed the tale, which at times dominated the New York City media. A key component was its Adirondack connection.

The story centered on well-known businessman John C. “Jack” Austin, 38, of Brooklyn. Fit, trim, and very athletic, he participated regularly in team and individual sports. In industry, he was known to have enjoyed success, providing a comfortable, if not wealthy, existence for his family. Austin’s wife died in February, 1891, leaving him with three young children to raise, which he was doing with the aid of their very attentive housekeeper.

The afternoon of July 4, 1891, was like any other holiday in Austin’s life, with plans to attend the horse races or go swimming at Manhattan Beach. He kissed the children good-bye and went on his way, promising to take them that evening to the Independence Day fireworks.

Nearly nine hours later, the clerk at Manhattan Beach was performing the nightly check of the safe’s contents when he encountered an envelope bearing the name and street address of John Austin. For bathers visiting the beach, it was normal procedure to hire a bath room for changing clothes, and to deposit any valuables (wallet, cash, rings, watches) in envelopes provided by the facility. The owner received a numbered ticket which was later used to recover those goods.

After finding the envelope with Austin’s name on it, the clerk searched Room #391, where he found a coat, vest, shirt, hat, trousers, and underwear. In the pockets of the clothing were a case of business cards, a penknife, some keys, and some pencils.

Since it was nighttime and Austin’s personal belongings were still present, there was only one logical explanation: the owner likely had drowned. The clerk called for help, and in the presence of the bathing pavilion superintendent, the Manhattan Beach chief of police, and a fireman, the security envelope was opened.

Inside were items of varying value: a pocketbook containing a few dollars and some change; a ring with the letter S on it; and a lady’s gold watch and chain, studded with pearls.

The family was contacted and apprised of the situation. Joseph Austin (John’s brother), and Thomas Carruthers (John’s brother-in-law) positively identified the belongings as John’s, and a search was initiated. For two days, police and volunteers patrolled the water and the beaches, covering not only Manhattan Beach, but the nearby shores of Jamaica Bay, Plum Island, Rockaway, and Sheepshead Bay.

Veteran lawmen and experienced searchers knew what to do and where to look. Drownings were not uncommon off the shores of Coney Island, where tides and the prevailing winds routinely sent victim’s bodies to the shore sooner or later. Austin was presumed drowned, and alerts were issued to authorities on Staten Island as well as the New Jersey shore on the outside chance the body might surface there.

Over the course of ten days, nothing was found, which in itself stirred suspicions. Some suggested that a northwest wind had driven the body out to sea, but police and beach veterans knew better. Austin’s room, #391, had been rented at about 4:00 pm, and for several hours following, a strong flood tide had pushed inland. To a man, they recognized it as an unusual circumstance that Austin’s body had not washed ashore—if he had, in fact, drowned.

The family filed a claim with two insurance companies, where Austin’s coverage totaled $25,000 (equal to about $620,000 today). However, since no body had been recovered, one of the companies had already begun an investigation, despite the stellar public image of Austin as a respected, honest, hard-working family man. They wouldn’t be paying on the claim just yet.

A number of peculiarities, both large and small, were noted in the situation surrounding John Austin’s disappearance. He was known to be wearing a very valuable diamond ring, but only an inexpensive ring was found in the envelope.

The same was true of the lady’s watch that was found. Austin always wore his own watch, described as “a magnificent chronometer.” Friends and relatives said the valued watch was being repaired at a jeweler, but the insurance company discovered that the watch had been picked up on July 3, the day before he vanished. The jeweler’s shop was very near Austin’s office, but for some unknown reason, he sent a messenger boy with a check to pick up the watch.

It was also learned that John Austin patronized Manhattan Beach regularly and was well known to many of the workers—yet no one recalled seeing him on July 4. Further, on that day it was chilly and windy, reducing attendance to about 600 on a beach that often held many thousands of bathers. Despite the sparseness of the crowd, no employees could be found who had seen Austin.

Co-workers and partners confirmed that the missing man always carried plenty of cash, almost never less than $100. And yet the envelope of his belongings held just a few dollars.

He was also known to many as a very prolific and strong swimmer, often covering extreme distances. Drowning seemed an unlikely end for such a fit and able swimmer.

Another possibility was floated: perhaps Austin had been hiding out while an imposter went to the beach on his behalf, used the changing room, and deposited the valuables (which had since been deemed not so valuable after all). That would explain why (in an unusually sparse crowd) no attendants had seen Austin. Maybe he hadn’t been there at all.

Many more suspicious developments spurred further investigation, expanding far from the confines of New York City. Austin’s three orphaned children were now living with his sister, who was a resident of Montreal, Quebec.

It was learned that their missing father was one of a great many city dwellers who frequented the Adirondacks for hunting and fishing expeditions. Since the Adirondacks were little more than an hour south of Montreal, investigators kept digging.

It was then ascertained that John C. Austin was no stranger to the North Country. To be more specific, a number of those stalwarts of the north woods, the Adirondack guides, claimed to have not only seen Austin since his supposed drowning, but had guided him in several areas, including the Saranac Lake region.

New developments caused further consternation. Of the two insurance policies which together were equal to well over $600,000 (in 2011), one had been secured by Austin on July 1, just three days before he vanished. And, after procuring the new policy, he had asked a secretary in the insurance office if it took effect at that very moment. It did seem an unusual query. With confirmation, he requested that the policy be sent to him ASAP. It was mailed that afternoon.

A few witnesses eventually came forth, claiming they had seen a man disappear while swimming well offshore on July 4. Skeptical detectives suggested another scenario. Since Austin was widely known as a powerful swimmer, they believed he swam a few miles out, where he was picked up by a boat and secreted for a time at the home of his good friend, Henry LaMarche, south of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, not much more than ten miles from Manhattan Beach.

LaMarche denied it, but his gardener and other employees stated emphatically that they had seen Austin with LaMarche in the days following the supposed drowning.

Following up on Jack Austin’s great love of the north woods, detectives found many Adirondack guides who had known him over the years and claimed to have recently seen him and/or worked for him. One of them provided a photograph, said to have been taken recently. It showed Austin in full hunting gear.

Confident now that this was a scam, the insurance companies denied the family’s claims, which were made on behalf of the children. Both sides had taken a firm stand, and the matter of whether or not John C. Austin was alive or dead would be decided by the courts.

Thus, in December, 1893, about twenty Adirondack woodsmen found themselves en route to New York City for an extended stay, courtesy of the insurance companies. They were to testify about their interactions with Austin and the range of his movements.

Next week: From the big woods to the big city.

Photo Top: Manhattan Beach, circa 1900.

Photo Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Ausable Forks Golf Great Marjorie Harrison

Seventy-five years ago, the Adirondacks were abuzz about a precocious athletic phenom, a plucky teenager who exhibited incredible abilities on the golf course. The best players across the region were impressed by this remarkable child who could compete with anyone on the toughest courses. In a man’s world, this youngster—a girl—could challenge the best of them.

Marjorie Harrison, daughter of Neil and Eva, was born in 1918 in the town of North Elba. Her dad earned a living as a golf-club maker, eventually moving to Ausable Forks to assume the position of club professional at the Indole Course.

Having first wielded a club at the age of three, young Marjorie began developing her golfing skills on the local links. In a shocking glimpse of future possibilities, she won the women’s cup at Indole in 1928 when she was just ten years old.

In 1932, the loss of her mom, Eva, to pneumonia, tested Margie’s inner strength, but that was something the young girl never lacked. With few team sporting possibilities available to girls, she excelled at horseback riding, skating, skiing, shooting, and, of course, golf, which are largely solo pursuits requiring heavy doses of self-reliance.

Neil soon began to eye the amateur golf tour as a challenge for his highly skilled daughter. In sports, the term amateur revealed nothing in regards to talent—it only meant that a competitor was unpaid, and thus pure (unsullied by the world of professional athletics).

At that time, there was no golf tour for women professionals. Nearly all the best players competed for cups, trophies, prestige, and for the sake of competition. Turning pro was rare. Only a few of the top women players were signed to represent major sporting goods companies. Once money was accepted, they forfeited all eligibility to compete in amateur events. Men lived in a different world, but for women, a professional golf tour was more than a decade away.

In August, 1933, Marjorie Harrison played in the state event at Bluff Point just south of Plattsburgh, where an international field offered stellar competition. She fairly burst onto the New York golfing scene, battling to the semifinal round, where a seasoned opponent awaited.

Incredibly, Margie went on to lead her semifinal match by one hole going to the 18th (nearly all tournaments featured head-to-head match play). There, she faltered, three-putting the final green to lose her advantage. But with steely resolve, Margie parred the single playoff hole for the win, sending her to the finals.

In the championship round she faced Mrs. Sylvia Voss, an outstanding golfer who promptly won the first three holes, putting Margie far behind. Bringing her power game to the fore, Harrison tied the match by the 14th and led by one at the 17th, but lost the last hole to finish in a tie. Just like in the semifinals, a playoff was necessary.

And, just like in the semifinals, Marjorie holed a par putt to win on the first playoff hole. She was barely 15 years old and had conquered some of the best golfers in an international tourney.

From Boston to Dallas to the West Coast, newspapers touted her great accomplishment. The New York Times wrote, “Swinging a wicked driver and with iron shots of unusual precision … Marjorie Harrison of Au Sable Forks won her first major golf tourney today.” She was also featured in The American Golfer magazine for the Bluff Point win.

In 1934, Marjorie, 16, made it once again to the finals at Bluff Point, where she was set to face Dorothy Campbell Hurd, a golfing legend. Hurd, 51, owned 749 victories, 11 national amateur titles, and once held the American, British, and Canadian titles at one time.

They played even through 16 holes, but Hurd pulled out the win on the final two greens. A gracious opponent and future member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Hurd was clearly impressed, saying, “With a little more experience, no woman golfer will be in the same class with Miss Harrison. She is a future champion that bears watching by the leading golfers.”

Hurd was right—there was much more to come, including several wins over the next few years. Margie finished near the top in virtually every tournament she entered. Some were very gutsy performances featuring remarkable comebacks, but most were head-to-head battles where mistakes seemed to have no effect on her. She was one tough competitor, always playing with grace, humility, and great determination.

In 1935, Marge finished second in the New York State Championships, and then reached the semifinals each of the next three years. Another major breakthrough came in July, 1937, when she shot a 37 on the final 18 holes at Rutland, Vermont (near her dad’s home area of Castleton) to win the Vermont state title. She was just a few months past her 19th birthday.

At Brattleboro in 1938, Marjorie successfully defended her Vermont title with a birdie on the 15th hole to clinch the win. Other highlights that year included shattering the course record at Bluff Point; winning at Lake Placid; and teaming up with the legendary Gene Sarazen in a remarkable comeback to win a benefit tourney.

For years, Marjorie was at the top of New York’s competitive golfing scene, which attracted some of the best players in the country. Despite the high level of play, it was considered an upset NOT to see her name in the semifinals of any tournament she entered. Whether in Quebec, Syracuse, the Berkshires, Briarcliff, or anywhere else she competed, the North Country’s ambassador of golf was respected and admired for her sportsmanship and fine play.

Many club titles were won and course records set by Marjorie, including at Bluff Point, Lake Placid, Albany, and Troy. She wowed the crowd at Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, battling fiercely to finish second in the Mason-Dixon tournament. Some golf writers pointed out that unlike athletes from warm-weather areas, Miss Harrison achieved great success despite playing only a few months of the year, and while attending high school and different colleges.

Though still a youngster, she returned to Ausable Forks in 1940 for a career review at a testimonial dinner—and for good reason. A few days earlier, at the age of 22, Marjorie had overwhelmed all comers and captured the New York State Women’s Golf Championship.

She maintained her winning ways, but during the World War II years, sports were sharply curtailed across the country to conserve fuel for the troops. Opportunities were meager, but Margie picked up two wins in 1944, followed by a stellar performance that led her once again to the finals of the New York State Championship Tournament.

Her talented opponent in the finals, Ruth Torgersen, was a very familiar combatant from many past matches. Torgersen, in fact, would go on to win a record seven NYS championships and be named New York’s Golfer of the Century.

On this day the two stars battled for 32 holes, at which point Marjorie held a three-hole lead. But on the 33rd, a stroke of bad luck left her ball balanced atop a bunker. Deemed an unplayable lie, it cost her the hole as Torgerson was quick to take advantage and cut the deficit to two.

Undaunted, Margie looked down the fairway of the 346-yard 16th hole and blasted a 200-yard drive. She nearly holed her second shot from 146 yards out, and then tapped in an easy putt for her second New York State title.

In that same year, the Women’s Professional Golf Association was formed, to be replaced six years later by the LPGA. Had she been born years later, there’s a good chance the girl from the Adirondacks would have won a good deal of prize money. For Marjorie Harrison, though, life took a different path.

After completing college, she had begun a career as a physical education teacher. In June, 1946, while still competing and winning, she married Bart O’Brien, himself a star golfer at Indole, the Ausable Forks course managed by her father, Neil.

For a while she competed as Marjorie Harrison O’Brien, but when Bart took a job teaching in the Oneida school system, they moved there and began raising a family. Semi-retired, Marge played occasionally in tournaments, but by 1954 she was busy raising three children, teaching, and becoming a very active participant in the community.

She began giving adult golf lessons, and children’s lessons soon followed. Bart became school principal, and together he and Marjorie maintained a high profile as community leaders. Honors were bestowed on both of them for their work in the school system, and in 1970 she was chosen as an honorary life member of the Oneida school district PTA.

In 1973, Marjorie was named Outstanding Citizen by the Oneida Rotary, and Bart was cited several times for his work on behalf of the organization. Through it all, they maintained close ties annually with family in the Ausable Forks area, where her dad, Neil, still held the position of golf pro at Indole through the mid-1960s.

Marjorie Harrison O’Brien passed away in 1999, and Bart died in 2004—two natives the North Country can truly be proud of.

Photo: Young Marjorie Harrison, golfer extraordinaire.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Commentary: Gas Prices, History, and the Gas Tax

On a gas pump near Plattsburgh a few days ago, the price for Regular Grade was just under $4.20 per gallon. Check this out: “The American Petroleum Institute’s weekly report says that despite a sharp increase in crude oil output … there have been extensive gasoline price advances.” And, regarding local prices, “there has been a long agitation against what northern New York motorists have considered discrimination against the North Country.”

“The committee appointed last Tuesday by the New York Development Association will investigate the reason for the difference in the price of gasoline in northern New York as compared with prices charged in Utica and Syracuse.” Here’s why you SHOULDN’T be encouraged by those quotes: they’re taken from the 1920s.

History can be fun, entertaining, and educational, but it can also provide guidelines to the future. And that’s where society tends to fail so often, a fault alluded to in the old proverb suggesting that those forgetting the past are doomed to repeat it. This price-of-gas situation has happened often in the past, and here we go again. Same problems, same rhetoric, same lack of results.

Average Americans have been sold the big lie over and over, and we keep coming back for more. If you recall: the occasional fuel crises from now back through the 1980s; gas rationing in the 1970s (remember odd-and-even days, long lines at the pumps, and limited purchases?); and other similar periods, then tell me if this sounds familiar: “FTC hearings will be held on the unexplained rising price of gasoline, in compliance with a senate resolution.”

That quote is from 1916, and the price increase wasn’t “unexplained.” It was gouging by the oil companies during World War I. It was okay to screw the public, but not the feds. Within a year of when the US finally joined the fight, Federal Fuel Administrator H. A. Garfield announced he was studying plans “to fix the price of gasoline for domestic customers, as well as for the government and Allies, at a lower figure than the present market price.”

In the years immediately following the war, gas prices doubled, and for good reason: the sales of cars skyrocket in the 1920s, and what better way for oil companies to take advantage than raise the price of fuel for those millions of new vehicles?

Of course, the same arguments you hear today were applied then: it’s not greed, it’s capitalism and the market’s natural response to supply and demand forces. Greater demand supposedly drove prices higher, and the poor oil companies were forced to reap historic profits. Why, oh why, does that sound so familiar?

It continues nearly a century later … just look at Exxon and Chevron’s recent quarterly statements. Fighting back against these behemoths hasn’t been successful. The rising prices of the early 1920s prompted another federal investigation led by Senator LaFollette, who said, “Unless there is government intervention, the price of gasoline will be pushed beyond the reach of the ordinary automobile owner.” Again, of course, the findings were ignored.

There may be a good reason why nothing concrete resulted from all of the investigations. In 1919, Oregon became the first state to institute a gasoline tax intended to provide funding for the repair and maintenance of roadways. It looked like a great system, and the idea spread across the country. Governments soon corrupted the process, simply taxing gasoline as a revenue source.

It’s almost impossible to believe, but New York was one of the last two states to follow suit. (Here’s one thing to be proud of, though—we’ve managed to regroup and pass every state in the tax category). In 1929, Governor Franklin Roosevelt signed a large farm-aid legislative package that included the Hewitt-Pratt bill, a clause that led him to threaten a veto.

Hewitt-Pratt contained this order: “Moneys paid into the state treasury pursuant to this subdivision [the gas tax] shall be appropriated and used for the maintenance and repair of the improved roads of the state, under the direction of the superintendent of public works.”

Well, sort of. The state imposed a two-cent gas tax, returning a percentage of the take to the individual counties based on road mileage, and depositing the remainder in the state treasury.

Raising the price of gas posed a concern, but not to worry. State Tax Commissioner Thomas Lynch said that when the law kicked in on May 1, there was “no assurance that the public would pay two cents more for gas.” Since it was taxed at the source (the distributors), Lynch said the oil companies would probably just absorb the cost. Nostradamus had nothing to worry about.

As for that new money in the treasury? In no time at all, politicians were appropriating gas-tax funds for a variety of non-road-related uses. Once the feeding frenzy began, it was all over. Requests to raise the gas tax soon became routine. After all, it was a state income bonanza.

Even a county as small as Clinton paid $293,000 in 1932, of which only $96,000 came back for highway use. By 1934, the gas tax itself amounted to 24 percent of the price. In 1934, the state took in $85 million from the gas tax, $50 million of which was diverted for non-highway use. (That very same issue arose recently with the loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge.)

It probably comes as no surprise that, in 1929, the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the states to treat gasoline as a public utility. Natural gas and electricity were somehow necessary, but gas was deemed a commodity that we could do with or without. And so Standard Oil (the father of virtually every major oil company) won the right to regulate itself.

It was business as usual—move into an area, depress prices by lowering its own price, put the competition out of business, and then raise prices at their whim. Walmart has been accused of employing the same tactics. (Today’s ExxonMobil was formerly known as Standard Oil.)

What were the answers to the gas-price problems in the 1990s? The 1970s? The 1920s? All the same. Oil companies flourished while consumers, victimized by high prices, explored electric cars, ethanol fuel, and sometimes just did without. The huge ethanol movement of a few years ago was hardly different from 1997 and 1927, mostly serving as a boon for farmers.

So, as prices rise and you begin to see articles and editorials complaining about the oil companies, and about the inexplicably higher cost of gas in the North Country, it may be a story, but it’s not news. There’s nothing new about it.

Photo Top: Steep price for gas.

Photo Bottom: 1929 advertisement for ethanol.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Liberia Pioneer: Champlain’s Jehudi Ashmun

In 1822, three months after Champlain, New York native Jehudi Ashmun’s colony of freed slaves landed on Africa’s west coast, and two months after losing his wife, the group faced impending hostilities from surrounding tribes. The attack finally came on November 11th. Ashmun, a man of religious faith but deeply depressed at his wife’s death, was suddenly thrust into the position of impromptu military leader.

Approximately ten kings of local tribes sent 800 men to destroy the new settlement, which held only 35 residents, six of whom were younger than 16 years old. Many among them were very ill, leaving only about 20 fit enough to help defend the colony. By any measure, it was a slam dunk. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Local History: Liberian Pioneer Jehudi Ashmun

Thursday, April 21, marks the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War during this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to current world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Search for the ‘Missingest Man in New York’

After NYS Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater went missing in New York City in 1930, the search led to Plattsburgh and then to the Meridian Hotel, a few feet across the border from Champlain.

Nothing concrete was found in New York’s northeastern corner, but a few days later, Crater was sighted at Fourth Lake in the Old Forge area. He was also “positively” identified as one of two men seen at a Raquette Lake hunting lodge in late August. Two detectives followed that trail, while others were summoned to confirm a sighting at the Ausable Club near Keene Valley.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was announced that Crater had spent a couple of days at Hulett’s Landing on the eastern shore of Lake George, and then at Brant Lake. Police and detectives pursued every lead, while headlines told the story from New York to Texas to Seattle. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Local History: The Search for Judge Crater

Amelia Earhart. Pattie Hearst. Jimmie Hoffa. Famous vanishing acts that obsessed the public and saturated the media. In their time, they were big, but it’s doubtful they topped the notoriety of New York State’s most famous disappearance, that of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater. And some of his story played out across the Adirondacks and the North Country.

The tale has now faded, but in 75 years it spawned fiction and nonfiction books, countless thousands of newspaper articles, was satirized in Mad Magazine, and formed the plot for movies. It was used for laughs on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Golden Girls, and others. It fostered a guaranteed punch line for standup comics, and produced a common slang expression that appeared in some dictionaries.

The basic details of the story begin with Joseph Crater’s rapid rise in New York City politics. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he taught at Fordham and NYU and aligned himself with the Democratic Party, a move that significantly boosted his private law practice. The New York City wing of the party was widely known as Tammany Hall, where corruption ran rampant and payoffs were routine.

Crater worked within that system, and in 1930, at age 41, he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court, filling a vacancy. With a career that was flourishing, a dapper public persona, and plenty of power, prestige, and money, “Good-time Joe,” as he was known, had New York City and life itself by the tail.

After the June court session ended, he and wife Stella (she was still in her teens when he married her more than a decade earlier, after handling her divorce) headed for their retreat in Maine for some relaxation. On August 3, Crater received news of a problem in New York. He headed back to the city, leaving Stella with words to the effect, “I have to straighten those fellows out.”

The rest of the story has been repeated thousands of times. The main components are: he went to their apartment on Fifth Avenue; spent time at his courthouse office early on August 6; removed several files there and brought them back to the apartment; had his assistant cash several checks for him; and bought one ticket to see Dancing Partner on Broadway later in the evening.

He dined with attorney William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, and shortly after 9 p.m., they parted company. Crater was said to have hailed a cab, supposedly heading for Broadway—and was never heard from again. Nada. Zippo. Nothing.

Because of Joe’s frequent comings and goings, Stella was only mildly concerned with his absence at first. She grew nervous when he didn’t make it back for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances that Joe would eventually show up.

Finally, Stella hired a private detective, but just like the chauffeur’s efforts, it produced nothing of substance. Friends were confident he would soon be seen. Everything at the apartment seemed normal—travel bags, watch, clothing, and other personal effects were there—but no Joe.

An unofficial search ensued, but alarm really set in when court resumed on August 25 and he still hadn’t surfaced. For various reasons, no official report was made until September 3, a month after Stella had last seen him. An investigation began, and soon many lurid facts were revealed.

As it turned out, there had been plenty of women in Joe’s life, and he was deeply involved in the Tammany machine. It was noted that he had withdrawn $20,000 from the bank at about the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, in the ongoing political corruption probe, that was the figure named as the going price for judgeships and other positions.

Dozens of other ugly details were revealed as investigators kept digging. Meanwhile, there was one other important issue to deal with—where the heck was Justice Crater?

A month after his disappearance (but within a week of when the official search began), authorities had traced nearly every second of Joe’s trip to New York. After the dinner date, the trail went cold. The police inspector issued this statement: “We have no reason to believe he is alive, and no reason to believe he is dead. There is absolutely no new development in the case.”

At the time of that statement, a friend said that Crater had mentioned taking a trip to Canada (but gave no reason why). The focus of the continuous search was on far upstate New York. In fact, as far upstate as you can get. In northeastern Clinton County, Plattsburgh reporters were contacted by NYC police and urged to investigate rumors that Crater was in the vicinity.

At Champlain, north of Plattsburgh and less than a mile from the Canadian border, was a famed Prohibition hotspot, the Meridian Hotel. Just a few feet inside of Canada, it was a favored watering hole for thirsty Americans. Crater was reportedly seen at the Meridian, and, since he was a horse-racing enthusiast, it was assumed he had stopped at Saratoga on his way north.

Read Part 2: The search for Judge Crater spans the Adirondacks.

Photo Top: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5,000 is equal to $65,000 in 2011).

Photo Bottom: Judge Crater and wife, Stella, on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Warrensburg’s Own Dick Whitby, Notable Musician

Obituaries vary widely in their historical value. Sometimes they’re elaborate; at times they are understated; some leave out important facts; and some, well … some are just hard to explain. Like this one from March, 1952: “Richard A. Whitby, a native of Warrensburg, died on Wednesday of last week at his home in Albany. Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Kathryn M. Waring Whitby; two sisters, Mrs. Frank Chapman and Miss Kate Whitby of Yonkers.”

That notice appeared in his hometown newspaper. Accurate, no doubt, and surely succinct, but brevity isn’t always a good thing. In this case, the inattention to detail is stunning, and it’s quite a stretch from what’s true to what’s important. I’d like to take a crack at bridging that gap. Richard Augustus Whitby (not Richard E. or other variations that appear in many records) was born to Louisa and Richard James Whitby on January 22, 1879. The family’s background played an important role in Richard’s legacy. Once established, the Whitby surname remained prominent in the Warrensburg-Glens Falls area for decades.

In 1872, the Whitbys (they had two young sons) emigrated from Yeovil, England where Richard J. had operated a cloth manufacturing business employing 61 laborers. He pursued the same work in America, first at Leeds in Greene County and then at Salem in Washington County, finally settling in Warrensburg, where he was superintendent of the woolen mill.

Financially sound, Mr. Whitby was able to pursue his interests, which were family and music. He managed to combine the two in remarkable fashion, and mix work in as well. Each family member learned to play a musical instrument, and as they entered adulthood, each was employed in the family business. By 1899, son Percy was managing the mill with his father, while Eloise, Eustace (salesman), Kate (stitcher), and Richard (buttonhole maker) toiled for Whitby & Co.

As good as they were at making clothing, it was in the world of music that the family excelled. The Whitby dance band played countless gigs and was in great demand, but the family performed solos and joined other musical groups as well. In 1895, the GAR Band and the Citizens’ Band ended an ongoing competition by merging into the Warrensburg Military Band. Among the dozens of members were several Whitbys—Percy, clarinet and Musical Director; his father, Richard J., cornet; Eustace, saxophone; and young Richard A., baritone horn.

After a performance on baritone by Richard in 1893, one prescient local reviewer said Whitby’s effort “… would have done credit to a professional player.” Besides the baritone horn, Richard also played two related instruments, the euphonium and the trombone. By the mid-1890s, his euphonium solos were known far and wide, and highly praised.

During the next several years, he performed at dozens of graduations, church events, and the like, routinely accompanied by his mother, Louisa, on the piano. In the summer of 1895, Mr. and Mrs. Whitby and son Richard were the star attraction at the Leland House in Schroon Lake.

In 1896, the 17-year-old was hired by Scribner & Smith’s Circus to play slide trombone during the summer. In 1899 he signed with a traveling comedy and music act, followed by several years as trombonist for the Broad Street Theater in Richmond, Virginia.

Word of his ability spread, and in 1910, “Dick” Whitby was the trombone soloist for Carl Edouarde’s 60-piece band, a top act in Philadelphia and New York City. (Edouarde, who later composed film scores, conducted the music for Steamboat Willie, the first sound cartoon.)

In October, 1911, Whitby married Bertha B. Lancaster (yes, Bert Lancaster) of Peekskill, and the couple moved to New York City. All the while, Richard’s fame continued to grow.

Though he had made steady progress over the years, his rise now seemed meteoric. Outstanding performances in Edouarde’s band were soon followed by a stunning announcement in 1913: Richard had been offered the second chair in John Philip Sousa’s band, which for decades had featured some of the world’s finest musicians. Second chair meant the number two position, but Whitby was also promised first chair upon the lead trombone player’s imminent retirement.

It was a tremendous honor and highly regarded confirmation of his great talent, but there was a problem: Richard was still under contract to Carl Edouarde, who had no intentions of releasing him from a prominent run at New York’s Palace Theater.

He continued as lead trombonist for Edouarde’s concert band, and it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime had passed. But such was the talent of Richard Whitby that Sousa was willing to wait. When he became a free agent in 1915, Sousa signed Richard to an 8-month contract, beginning on April 1, 1915.

The timing was fortuitous. After three years of playing one main venue and going on only a short tour each season, Sousa’s band was suddenly once again a hot property. When Richard joined the orchestra, it was for an extraordinary tour reaching all the way to the West Coast.

San Francisco was hosting a major event, the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (the World’s Fair), celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal and the city’s own recovery from the horrific 1906 earthquake. Sousa’s band played on opening-day and performed for an extended run through May and June, allowing untold thousands to enjoy Whitby’s great solos.

The band might have played longer but for a telegram from New York, requesting their services for an upcoming extravaganza at the world’s largest theater, the Hippodrome.

Leaving San Francisco, the band toured the Northwest to great acclaim. Notable was a July concert before 17,000 attendees at a high school stadium in Tacoma, Washington. From there, the band toured through the Midwest and then played before large crowds in Pennsylvania, including a month at famous Willow Grove Park and two weeks at the Pittsburgh Exhibition, before finally arriving in New York.

Those were heady days for one of the world’s most famous bands, now performing at the 5,200 seat Hippodrome for an 8-month run. Critics raved, as did Theatre Magazine: “The astonished and delighted spectator feels like cheering all the way through the really wonderful program.” It was a smash success, but Whitby remained for only half the run (about 215 performances).

When his contract with Sousa expired at the end of the year, Richard returned to more familiar haunts. In 1916, he opened with a slide trombone solo for a Warrensburg concert by students of the famed Oscar Seagle. Whitby’s rendition of Patriot Polka was a tribute to his friend and former instructor, Arthur Pryor, author of the tune and acknowledged for decades as one of the world’s premiere trombonists.

Richard’s preference was to remain in the North Country, but no matter where he was, his talent and fame kept him in high demand. A renowned soloist who tested the limits of his instrument, Whitby starred for several years on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. The main venue he played there was the famed Steel Pier, which extends 1000 feet over the ocean and today sits directly across the Boardwalk from Trump’s Taj Mahal Resort and Casino.

He also did stints at New York’s Palace Theater, and in the 1920s was soloist with the Paramount Symphony Orchestra at the Paramount Theater.

When he was upstate, he played with Noller’s Band of Troy and the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. Whitby lived in Albany for many years, and through the 1930s and 1940s was one of the city’s and the region’s most sought-after musicians. He was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest trombone players in the country.

Obituaries normally mention one’s accomplishments, and when Richard Whitby died in 1952, his hometown obit noted only two events: “… native of Warrensburg … died … at his home in Albany.” It suggests an innocuous existence marked largely by his entrance into and exit from life. Being born and dying are surely significant, but as you can see, there was some other stuff in between.

Photo Top: The John Philip Sousa Band performing at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition (World’s Fair) in 1915.

Photo Middle: A euphonium, one of the instruments mastered by Richard A. Whitby.

Photo Bottom: The famed Steel Pier on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Horse Racing Legends: Eddie "Peg Leg" Jones

Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet have somehow managed to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process. For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.

When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.

The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.

That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.

By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.

At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey and Hagerstown, Maryland led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.

While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition. He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.

After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.

Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.

In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.

He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.

But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?

And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him. Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.

Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of the 1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).

Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.

Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.

In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall, 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.

On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. A razor lay nearby, and Eddie’s throat had been cut. More than $2,500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.

No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.

The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.

Photo Top: Saratoga Trotting Track.

Photo Bottom: Trotting scene from 1915.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


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