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, March 14, 2011

Notorious Outlaws Meet Boonville’s Jesse Knight

Among the North Country men who made their mark in the Old West was a native of Boonville, in the foothills of the southwestern Adirondacks. He became a success in business, politics, farming, and law, and played an important role in the development of a wild territory into our 44th state. But it was ties to some notorious characters that brought him a measure of fame.

Jesse Knight was born in Boonville on July 5, 1850, the son of Jesse and Henrietta Knight. His grandfather, Isaac, had settled in Oneida County in the early 1800s and raised a family, among them Jesse’s father. But young Jesse never knew his dad, who left that same year for California, and died of yellow fever on the Isthmus of Panama. (The isthmus was a newly created US Mail route to reach California and Oregon, and a popular path for pioneers headed West.)

Jesse attended schools in Lewis, Oneida, and Fulton counties, and at 17 went to live with an uncle in Minnesota for two years. He moved to Omaha, and then settled in the Wyoming Territory. Within a decade, Knight progressed from store clerk and postmaster to court clerk and attorney. At Evanston, near Wyoming’s southwest border, he ran a successful law practice and served as Territorial Auditor.

He also acted as a land sales agent for Union Pacific. Among the properties he sold was 1,906 acres on the Bear River … to one Jesse Knight.

In 1888 he was elected prosecuting attorney of Uinta County, and in 1890, when Wyoming attained statehood, he was voted a member of the state constitutional convention. He was also elected as judge of the Third Judicial District.

By this time, Knight was doing quite well financially and had added to his landholdings. On nearly 1400 acres along the Bear River and more than 800 acres of hills, the judge’s ranch had developed into an impressive enterprise. Within the fenced property, he grew high-quality hay (250 tons) and rye (50 tons), and raised herds of superior-grade cattle and horses.

Irrigation was a key element: two main ditches (one was 3 miles long, 20 feet wide, and 4 feet deep) supplied ample water. The Union Pacific rail line bisected the property, allowing Jesse’s products easy access to markets elsewhere.

Besides his showcase farming operation, Knight’s public career was also flourishing. In 1896, he suffered what appeared to be a setback, failing to win the Republican re-nomination for district judge. Unfazed, he ran as an Independent and won handily. A year later, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming to fill an unexpired term. In 1898, Knight was elected to a full 8-year term.

His business ventures were similarly successful. Besides the ranch, he owned part of a copper mine. He was also one of only two Americans working with several of Europe’s wealthiest men in developing oil wells in Wyoming. The consortium was valued at $10 million (equal to over a quarter billion in 2011). Jesse had a seat on the board of directors.

In 1902, his prominence was noted in the naming of the Knight Post Office, which served a community near Evanston for 19 years.

On April 9, 1905, though still a young man of only 55, Supreme Court Justice Jesse Knight died of pneumonia. He had accomplished a great deal for any man, let alone a poor, fatherless boy from the wilds of New York. His survivors included a wife and five children.

Among Knight’s legacy are connections to some of the West’s notorious characters. In his capacities as rancher, lawyer, prosecutor, and judge, he dealt with many violent, dangerous men over the years. According to biographers of “Big Nose” George Parrott, it was Judge Jesse Knight who sentenced Parrott to hang for the attempted robbery of a Union Pacific pay car and the subsequent killing of two lawmen who were pursuing him.

It was pretty much an average crime story until Parrott tried to escape from jail before Knight’s sentence could be carried out. The attempt prompted an angry mob to forcibly remove Big Nose from his cell and string him up from a telegraph pole. (But it wasn’t easy.)

John Osborne, one of the doctors who had possession of Parrott’s body, examined the brain for abnormalities. Further dissection of the body led to lasting fame for Parrott’s remains. The skull cap that had been removed was saved, and over the years it served as an ash tray, a pen holder, and a doorstop. A death mask of his face was also made. That aside, now it gets gruesome.

The body was flayed, and the skin was sent to a tannery, where it was made into a medical bag, a coin purse, and a pair of shoes, all of which were used by Osborne. The shoes were two-toned—the dark half came from the shoes Parrot wore during the hanging, and the lighter part was made from his own skin.

Doctor Osborne wore the shoes for years—even to the inaugural ball when he was elected governor of Wyoming! The rest of Parrott’s remains were placed in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution, and eventually buried. The barrel was uncovered in 1950, and it was found that the skull cap neatly fit the remains, proving it was Parrott’s body. Other tests later confirmed the results. The death mask and “skin shoes” are now on display in a museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.

In 1903, Supreme Court Justice Knight was involved in the famous case of Tom Horn, a former lawman and detective turned outlaw and hired gun. In a controversial trial, Horn was convicted and sentenced to hang for the killing of a 14-year-old boy. Justice Knight was among those who reviewed the appeal, which was denied. Horn was hanged in November, 1903.

The most famous character linked to Knight was Roy Parker, who was actually Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy. They met when Cassidy was arrested for horse theft, a case tried in “Knight court.” After delays, the trial was finally held in 1894. Cassidy was very popular, and many of his friends were in town with the intent of intervening on his behalf.

A verdict was reached, but Knight ordered it sealed, to be opened on the following Monday, by which time it was hoped many of the visitors would have left town. But Cassidy’s friends were loyal, and high anxiety reigned in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read. To counter the danger, the sheriff, several town officials, many private citizens, and the attorneys all came to court armed. Famously, Judge Jesse Knight carried a pistol, hidden beneath his robes.

The jury pronounced Cassidy guilty, recommending him to the mercy of the court. Knight sentenced him to two years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary at Laramie. A few months before his scheduled release, Cassidy’s sentence was commuted. The term imposed by Judge Knight was the only prison time Butch Cassidy ever served during his lengthy, notorious career.

Photo Top: Jesse Knight.

Photo Middle Right: Big Nose George Parrott.

Photo Middle Left: Shoes of George Parrott … literally.

Photo Bottom: Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.

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 7, 2011

Adirondack Labor: New York’s Anti-Loafing Law

It’s interesting (sometimes) to listen to the multitude of political pundits, politicians, and talking heads as they inform us what our “founding fathers” intended, and the rules, ethics, and morals this country was founded on. In reality, they are often telling us what they WANT the founding fathers to have believed. History tells us they are often far off the mark, but the lack of accuracy doesn’t deter them from saying it publicly anyway.

The often muddled view of history offered by some commentators is troubling, and is usually, of course, self-serving. But the modern media has proven one thing: if you say something often enough, whether it’s accurate or not, people (and maybe even the speaker) will begin to believe it.

When it’s intentional, that’s just plain wrong. History is important. It can offer valuable perspective on possible solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also tell us more about who we are, something that was brought to mind recently as I listened to a radio discussion about the current jobless rate.

The focus was on the nation’s high unemployment, which reminded me of how I annoyed my teachers long ago when that very same topic was discussed. Back then, we all learned how lucky we were not to live in other countries, an argument that was backed with plenty of scary facts.

For one thing, other countries allowed no choice when attacking certain problems. We were told that some countries didn’t even ALLOW unemployment. Idle men were conscripted into the military and/or put to work for the good of the nation. All male teenagers were required to begin military training. Those countries were said to be anti-freedom, but we had choices. That kind of thing couldn’t happen here.

And that was my cue to interrupt. I’ve always read a lot, and as a teenager, I was ready to challenge my teachers (and pretty much any authority). So, I thought I had a really good set of questions about those terrible practices, something I had learned on my own.

My teacher, a fervent military man who still seemed to be fighting World War II, was not amused when I said I knew of just such a place. I said that they made unemployment illegal and forced men to take jobs chosen for them by local authorities (unless the man chose one of his own). Each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.

Even worse, I added, the government passed another law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate, and here’s the kicker: without that certificate, young men were not allowed “to attend public or private school or obtain employment.”

Right away the other students began guessing. Russia? Germany under Hitler? Cuba? (Cuba did outlaw unemployment at that time.) Who would order its citizens in such fashion? My classmates knew it had to be someplace evil. After all, we were in the midst of the Cold War.

At that point, I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was staring at me with cold, beady eyes, waiting for me … no, daring me … to say it. So I said it. It wasn’t intended as a criticism. I was just happy to know the truth, excited that I had learned something unusual on my own, and couldn’t wait to share the surprise (that is, until his stare began).

“New York State and the Anti-Loafing Law,” and that’s about all I was allowed to say. The teacher immediately launched into an explanation. It was true, he said, but it was nothing like the situations in other countries. We did those things, but it was different.

And he was right, maybe. But what bothered me was how he seemed to take it personally, how insulted he was. It seemed to suggest that this was HIS country. It was, but it was my country, too, so I fought back. As I soon learned, you might have the truth, but might makes right.

The Anti-Loafing Law was passed in New York State in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey led the way, and we were next. I found it fascinating that in a democracy, the law could require all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”

If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man must work. It was the law.

“Useful” work had its implications as well. Already, by orders of the US General Provost, Enoch Crowder, men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, life guards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places. Men of that age were needed for war.

New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.”

Still not clear enough? Charles Whitman, governor of New York, chimed in: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” By signing the law after New Jersey passed theirs, Whitman had a handy reason: if we didn’t pass our own law, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight.

How would it sit with you today if you read this in your favorite online journal? “The State Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”

Governor Whitman admitted “there may be some question as to the constitutionality” of the law, but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did. Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.

Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they would comply with both the letter and the intent of the law.

On the surface, those laws look absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was, extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60. And some people retire today at 55!

Learning all of that was interesting, but sharing it in school was less than wise, at least in that particular classroom. After that, my so-called “history teacher” saw me as nothing but anti-American, and he made life miserable for me. He caused me to dread that class every day.

I argued that protesting and speaking out were critical to America—it’s how the country was formed. But it didn’t matter to him, and after that, I didn’t care. I lost all respect for him. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t just deal with the facts, and the truth. In my mind, that’s what every history teacher’s work should be based on.

I always hated those lame “George Washington cut down the cherry tree” stories. Making stuff up just means you have something to hide. Apparently they didn’t want us to know he owned slaves. As a teenager, I wanted the truth, and I could deal with it. It was far more interesting than some of the stuff they fed us.

Photo Top: NYS’s Compulsory Labor law.

Photo Middle: Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske.

Photo Bottom: NYS law ordering lawmen to search each community for able-bodied males.

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, February 28, 2011

Local History: A True Story of Sunken Treasure

Recent acts of piracy on the high seas brought to mind stories of what some call “the Golden Age of Pirates” (like Blackbeard, or Henry Morgan). That conjured images of sunken treasure, which in turn reminded me of what might well be the shallowest sunken treasure ever recovered. And wouldn’t you know it? It happened right here in the North Country.

It occurred at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, near Whitehall, already the site of many historic lake-related treasures. Arnold’s Valcour fleet was built there, and it’s also the final resting place of the ships that survived the Battle of Plattsburgh. Most of them eventually sank in East Bay, which is a vast marshy area surrounding the mouth of the Poultney River.

If you’ve never toured the lower part of Lake Champlain, you’re missing a great experience. Besides playing a critical role during centuries of regional history, the scenery is spectacular. South of Ticonderoga, the lake narrows into a 20-mile, river-like channel previously referred to as Wood Creek. It features cliffs, narrows, lush vegetation, and copious wildlife.

Just outside of Whitehall is South Bay, bound in places by high, steep, cliffs that once hosted a historic battle. It also hosts a healthy population of rattlesnakes. The long, high ridge to the west, from here to Ticonderoga, separates South Bay from Lake George. Of all the canoe trips I’ve taken, South Bay is one of the all-time best.

A little further east down the lake is a sharp bend known simply as the Elbow, a shortened form of Fiddler’s Elbow. It was here that a famed member of Roger’s Rangers, General Israel Putnam, led an attack against Marin’s forces in 1758. To the east, just past the Elbow, is the entrance to East Bay, less than a mile from downtown Whitehall, where Lock 12 provides access to the New York State Barge Canal. Like I said, this place is extremely rich in history.

The story of sunken treasure is tied to the possession of Fort Ticonderoga, about twenty miles north. In early July, 1777, General Arthur St. Clair was the US commander at Ticonderoga, but the American troops were far outmanned and outgunned by the forces of Sir Johnny Burgoyne, whose great show of strength prompted St. Clair’s decision to evacuate the fort.

Some of St. Clair’s men crossed Lake Champlain and retreated across Vermont territory. Others went south on the lake to Whitehall. Burgoyne pursued the latter group, taking control of Whitehall (known then as Skenesborough). As the patriots fled, they destroyed many boats and just about anything they couldn’t carry, lest it fall into enemy hands.

Burgoyne’s forces were involved in other battles before finally meeting defeat at Saratoga, but it’s his time at Whitehall that is a vital link to the treasure story. His men at Fort Ticonderoga and elsewhere frequently suffered the same problems as the Americans—exhaustion, hunger, and lack of pay. Many unpaid soldiers voiced their discontent, and mutiny could soon follow.

To alleviate the problem, British authorities in Quebec dispatched a sloop. Manned by a crew of ten, it carried sufficient gold to pay Burgoyne’s thousands of soldiers. After the long trip down Lake Champlain, the sloop reached Fort Ticonderoga, only to find that Burgoyne had traveled farther south. Captain Johnson (first name unknown), in charge of the gold-laden craft, decided to deliver his goods to Burgoyne at Whitehall.

Nearing the village, Johnson was informed that Burgoyne’s men had been victorious at Hubbardton, about 15 miles northeast of Whitehall. East Bay led directly towards Hubbardton, and about 8 miles upstream was a bridge the soldiers would cross as they made their way towards Albany. Johnson entered the bay, planning to intercept the troops at the bridge and give them the gold.

The sloop traveled as far as possible, anchoring just below Carver Falls, not far from the bridge. While waiting for Burgoyne’s men, the sloop came under attack by patriot forces, (possibly men retreating from the loss at Hubbardton). Captain Johnson scuttled his ship, but the men were killed trying to escape, and the Americans quickly left the area that would soon be crawling with British soldiers. The sloop lay on the river bottom.

Years later, it was learned that England’s military had offered a reward for the capture of Captain Johnson, for it was assumed he had made off with the booty, it having never been delivered.

Fast-forward 124 years to fall, 1901. Civil Engineer George B. West, who oversaw construction of the power dam at Carver Falls, learned that raging spring torrents had left part of a watercraft exposed in the riverbed below the falls. Aided by a crew of 30 men, he diverted the river temporarily to further explore the wreck and clear it from the channel. Using tools, and then a charge of dynamite, they managed to free the hull. Inside, they found various glass items, several muskets, and an interesting iron chest in the captain’s quarters.

Imagine the excitement of the moment, opening the lid to reveal 10,000 gold sovereigns, coins that today might fetch between $5 and $10 million!

As the spoils of a long-ago war, the coins were deposited in the Allen National Bank in nearby Fair Haven, Vermont. But ownership of the money was questioned by the New York Times, Boston newspapers, and many others across New England. Some said it should be returned to Great Britain as a gesture of good faith. Others said to keep it. After all, if the soldiers had recovered the gold when the boat sank, it surely wouldn’t have been returned to the Brits.

But it wasn’t that simple. The boat sank in 1777. Previous to that, the battle between New York and New Hampshire over land grants had led to the creation of the Republic of Vermont, located between the two litigants. Neither New York nor New Hampshire recognized Vermont independence, which led to an interesting scenario: in 1777, the site at Carver Falls could have been part of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, or British territory.

Further complicating matters, when statehood was finally settled (and before the gold was discovered), the NYS-Vermont border in that area was placed right down the center of the Poultney River. In the end, it is believed the money remained in Vermont coffers.

There is an interesting side story that was not included in published accounts about the recovered gold. It helps explain how the boat went undetected for more than a century. Above Carver Falls, seven years after the sloop sank, the river’s path was diverted, whether by natural means, man-made means, or a combination of the two. A supposed dispute over water rights may have played a role, or the river may have naturally chosen a new course through a widespread sandy area.

What’s most important is the result of the change in path. Up to 1783, East Bay was navigable by ships weighing up to 40 tons. The course diversion caused massive amounts of sand and sediment to wash over the falls, reducing the channel’s depth dramatically.

In subsequent years, though rumors of sunken treasure persisted, it hardly seemed plausible that a boat of any size could have made the journey to Carver Falls. Who could have known the river was once much deeper? It wasn’t until 124 years later that nature released a torrent strong enough to reveal the truth. And to clear the long-sullied name of Captain Johnson.

Photos: Top, map of key locations; below, sample of a British gold sovereign from the late 1700s.

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, February 21, 2011

Abe Lincoln’s Adirondack Avengers

Presidents’ Day brings to mind an interesting historical connection between some North Country men and the Abraham Lincoln story. On the downside, the men in question are linked to the aftermath of Lincoln’s death, a dark subject. On the upside, they played a positive role in the hunt for the president’s assassin. With admiration, they have been referred to as Lincoln’s Avengers.

Several men from Clinton, Essex, St. Lawrence, and Warren counties belonged to the Sixteenth New York Cavalry. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, the troop was among the military escort at the president’s funeral. An honor, surely, but not the event that would bring them a measure of fame.

In the days following the assassination, several search missions were conducted in Washington and elsewhere in the hopes of finding John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices. After several false alarms, important new information was uncovered, requiring a swift response.

On April 24, five days after Lincoln’s funeral, headquarters in Washington ordered Lieutenant Edward Doherty to gather twenty-five men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry and report to Colonel L. C. (Lafayette) Baker, Special Agent for the War Department. Among those to step forward and answer the call were ten men from the Adirondack region.

Doherty met with his captain and later reported: “He informed me that he had reliable information that the assassin Booth and his accomplice were somewhere between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He gave me several photographs of Booth and introduced me to Mr. Conger and Mr. Baker, and said they would accompany me.

“He directed me to scour the section of the country indicated thoroughly, to make my own disposition of the men in my command, to forage upon the country, giving receipts for what was taken from loyal parties.” In other words, move now. There was no time to prepare, so food and other needs would have to be secured from sympathetic US citizens, who would later be reimbursed.

For two days the troop pursued leads almost without pause, finally ending up at the now infamous Garrett farm in Caroline County, Virginia. Inside the barn was perhaps the most wanted man in American history, Booth, and one of his conspirators, David Herold.

The men of the Sixteenth surrounded the barn while negotiations and threats were passed back and forth between Booth and Lieutenant Doherty. Booth refused to leave the barn despite warnings he would be burned out. He even offered to shoot it out with Doherty’s men if they would pull back a certain distance from the barn.

Realizing he faced almost certain death, David Herold decided to surrender. After leaving the barn, he was tied to a tree and questioned. He verified for Doherty that it was indeed Booth inside the barn. The original plan, he said, was to kidnap Lincoln, but Booth instead killed him, and then threatened to do the same to Herold if he didn’t help Booth escape.

Doherty again turned his attention to the barn and its lone desperate occupant, who refused to come out. Finally, Everton Conger, one of Lafayette Baker’s detectives who accompanied the troop, set fire to the barn around 3 am. The idea was to force their quarry out, but things didn’t go as planned.

Due to the rapidly spreading blaze, Booth could be seen moving about inside the barn, and one of the men, Boston Corbett, decided to act. Claiming he could see that Booth was about to shoot at Doherty, Corbett fired. His shot hit Booth in the neck, coincidentally only an inch or two from where Booth’s own bullet had struck Lincoln.

Their captive was dragged from the barn, still alive, but he died about three hours later. Shortly after, his body and the prisoner, Herold, were taken to Washington. The most famous manhunt in American history was over.

Within several months, the men of the Sixteenth were discharged, carrying with them the pride (and the attending glory) for delivering what many felt was justice. Most of them returned to humble lives, sharing their story with family and friends over the years.

Six of the ten North Country men who participated lived at one time or another in the Saranac area. They had connections to many regional communities, having been born, lived in, or died in: Bangor, Beekmantown, Brushton, Cadyville, Chester (Chestertown), Elizabethtown, Minerva, Norfolk, Olmstedville, Plattsburgh, and Schuyler Falls.

As often happens, the spelling of names varies widely in census records, military records, and newspapers. This admired group of North Country heroes included: David Baker, William Byrne, Godfrey Phillip Hoyt, Martin Kelly, Oliver Lonkey (or Lompay), Franklin McDaniels (or Frank McDonald), John Millington, Emory Parady, Lewis Savage, and Abram Snay (Abraham, Senay, Genay).

In 1865, Congress voted reward money to those involved in the capture of many individuals. Among those so honored were the men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry, the envy of all others for killing the man who himself had murdered a legend.

Photo Top: Conspirators at the ends of their ropes. Hanging, from left to right: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt at Washington, DC, on July 7, 1865.

Photo Middle: Actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Photo Bottom: Congressional reward list for Lincoln’s Avengers.

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, February 14, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal

(Warning: If your partner reads this, expectations for today may rise.) Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you gotta love the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being what they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any further jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? That she was a horse thief. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen.

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she left the camp, stole a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though they must be tried separately, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

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, February 7, 2011

The Wreck of the George W. Lee

In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River leading south to Albany and New York City, but Frawley’s intended route was north. At this critical waterway intersection, the Champlain Canal led north from Waterford to Whitehall at Lake Champlain’s southern tip.

Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island. Just as there is today, at the mouth of the river was a dam, constructed by engineers to enable canal boats to cross the river. About 500 feet upstream was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, which was much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge over the dam to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photo Top: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island.

Photo Bottom: A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

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, January 31, 2011

Lafayette Spaulding:
Old Time North Country Music on Broadway

Ol’ time, foot-stompin’ fiddle music is a North Country staple, rooted in times past when people made their own fun. Its heyday was principally from the mid-1800s to the 1940s, finally giving way in the post-war years to the automobile and widespread availability of electricity. Sources of entertainment changed, but before that, the tradition of barn dances and the like was strong across the Adirondacks.

For the past seventy years or so, that tradition has been preserved by a number of outstanding musicians. Back in the 1950s and 60s, when some of the old tunes were rolled out, it brought back memories of Crown Point’s Lafayette Spaulding. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 24, 2011

North County Rock Eaters? Not Exactly

Just over a year ago, the North Country (specifically, Plattsburgh) was mentioned on Saturday Night Live to the great dismay of some, though it was hilarious to others (including me). In a skit, New York Governor David Paterson (Fred Armisen) tells how he’ll spend the remainder of his term: Here’s an excerpt: “Well, I’m going to do a farewell tour of upstate New York—hellholes like Plattsburgh and Peekskill. … I’m going to give those rock-eaters something to cheer about. Those freaks love me up there.”

The rock-eater comment was highlighted by the media, leading to all kinds of feedback, some of it very funny. Plattsburgh’s Mayor Donald Kasprzak weighed in with a video reply, as did Keeseville’s Speedy Arnold with a musical tribute. It was all in fun (laughing at yourself always is), but some folks up north and in Poughkeepsie were upset, feeling we were unfairly portrayed. And I have the proof to back them up. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Studley Hill Road: The Waterloo of All Cars

There are many well known automobile testing sites—Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and Colorado’s Pikes Peak come to mind—and some lesser knowns, like Michigan’s Packard Proving Grounds, built in the 1920s. Dozens of official and unofficial testing grounds have been used, and by now, you’ve probably guessed it. Yep … the Adirondacks once had their very own.

While it didn’t have a national profile, Franklin County’s Studley Hill was widely reputed as the most difficult road in the north—unevenly surfaced, extremely steep, and with several sharp curves. Because hill-climbing ability was primary in determining a car’s quality, events and competitions became important to manufacturers and very popular with the public.

Studley Hill is historically significant for many reasons, but the most unusual is the irresistible challenge it presented to some of the top car manufacturers of the early 20th century.

Well, the lure actually was resistible for a while, and for one good reason: fear of failure. Salesmen wished to brag that their product could achieve wonderful things that other cars couldn’t, but it was best to first try Studley on the sly. If you didn’t conquer the hill, you didn’t talk much about it. That made for a lot of quiet car salesmen in the North Country.

The automobile was still a new-fangled contraption that few people could afford, and folks traveling south from Malone on the Duane Road occasionally provided great amusement to those living on or near the hill. Some motored there for the challenge, and others came on joy rides, but from 1910 to around 1920, no one made it up Studley Hill’s steep northern slope. Only horse- or oxen-drawn vehicles could pull it off.

Tradition so often gives way to technology, and that’s what finally happened. Improvements in performance led to the inevitable, and in July, 1920, Studebaker dealer J. Franklin Sharp of Ogdensburg officially became the first to make the climb in an automobile. The real trick was to do it while keeping the car in high gear for the entire run.

It was said that Packards had climbed Studley in the past, and that may have been true. Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a year, and the Packard was a favorite of bootleggers. The Duane Road was a route they commonly used.

Sharp’s feat was easily achieved, but was not without drama. As one reporter put it, “The eyes of the motor world between Utica and the St. Lawrence River were turned this afternoon toward Studley Hill, the steepest grade in the northern country.” This was considered the first official test drive at Studley Hill, and looking at a map of the wilds south of Malone, one might argue that getting 159 people to such a remote location was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

The wagering (men will make a game out of anything and then bet on it) was described as heavy. On the very first attempt, Sharp’s Studebaker Big Six (named for its six cylinders) sped across the flat road to a running start of 55 mph. As quickly as it began the steep ascent, the speedometer plunged. All the while, spectators cheered wildly. Difficult curves slowed the car, but after about a mile, it crested the hill. The car’s lowest speed was said to have been 15 mph.

With Melville Corbett (Sharp’s garage foreman) behind the wheel, the trip was made in high gear four more times, carrying passengers that included Syracuse Post-Standard writers based in Malone and Saranac Lake.

Meanwhile, Frank Sharp wasn’t finished for the day, deciding to attempt the hill in a lighter model, the Studebaker Special Six. Much to the surprise of himself and everyone else, the car climbed ably to the top. It was a great endorsement of the Studebaker brand for dealers across the North Country when headline stories later told the tale.

Just as hiking down a mountain can sometimes be as difficult as climbing up, descending Studley Hill offered its own unique challenges. Many accidents there involving cars or horse-drawn vehicles prompted some unusual signage. Drivers approaching the steep descent to the north were cautioned by roadside warnings, the first of which offered the standard Drive Slow. A second suggested the harrowing drop that awaited: Keep Your Head.

A third and very large sign was unofficially posted by someone with a wonderful sense of humor. And who would dare question its effectiveness? In large, hand-written, red lettering, it said simply, Prepare to Meet Thy God.

In 1921 there were two successful assaults on the hill. A huge touring car, the Paige Lakewood 6-66 (11 feet distance between the centers of the front and rear tires) accomplished the feat to great fanfare. (A Paige had won at Pikes Peak the previous year.)

Paige representatives from Malone and Rochester were on hand, proud to point out that, unlike the climb by Studebaker in 1920, their car did it without aerodynamics—the top and the windshield were up, and two passengers occupied the back seat. The wind drag and extra weight (the car alone weighed 3,500 lbs.) were handled on several successful attempts.

Six months later, an Olds Four climbed the grade in high gear. Successful tries were often touted by the manufacturer as some type of “first.” The Olds people said theirs was the first “closed car carrying three passengers” to climb the hill in high gear.

In 1922, a Durant Touring Car climbed Studley, “ … the steepest and worst hill in the Adirondacks, and considerably harder to climb than the famous Spruce Hill at Elizabethtown on account of the abrupt incline and many turns.” Four men made the trip in what was claimed as the first ascent in high gear at all times under certain conditions (four passengers and much wind).

The driver claimed he was going so fast at the third curve, he was forced to brake hard. The car lost most of its momentum but still completed the run. Again, the story was used in newspapers to advertise the wonders of the Durant.

Technological changes led to even more impressive feats. In April, 1924, a Flint Six (made in Flint, Michigan by a Durant subsidiary) tackled what one writer called “the Waterloo of all cars.” This time there would be no running start. With the car parked at the base of the hill, high gear was engaged, and remained so throughout the climb. Despite sections of tire-sucking mud and slippery snow, the Flint crested Studley Hill without dropping below 15 mph.

Besides the sense of achievement, one other award awaited at the top—a view of the flats to the east, ringed by mountains and featuring several streams leading into the Salmon River. Among those waterways near the base of Studley Hill is Hatch Brook, one of my all-time favorite canoe trips. It twists and winds through the valley for miles, and I paddle upstream until the shores actually brush against both sides of the canoe. The next time I go, I’ll be thinking back to those days of the automobile hill climbs, but content with plenty of peace and quiet.

Photo Top: A Studebaker Big Six.

Photo Middle: Advertisement for Frank Sharp’s Studebaker dealership.

Photo Bottom: The Packard Proving Ground (1925), which did have a hill climb, but nothing the likes of which Studley Hill provided.

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, January 10, 2011

Whitehall Movie: The Girl on the Barge

As a follow-up to last week’s piece on the late Mary Barber (Aunt Mary), below is the story of the movie that was filmed long ago on the barge canal in Whitehall. It was researched and written by my partner, Jill McKee, and is now part of an exhibit in Whitehall’s Skenesborough Museum.

In 1929, Universal Pictures released a film called The Girl on the Barge. The movie was about Erie McCadden, the illiterate daughter of a crusty, alcoholic barge captain. Erie falls in love with Fogarty, the pilot of the tugboat that is towing her father’s barge from New York to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. Captain McCadden is not at all pleased when he discovers the romance, and his anger is escalated further by the fact that Fogarty is teaching Erie to read.

Happily, in the end the captain comes to his senses, likely due in no small part to Fogarty’s rescuing of McCadden’s barge when it is accidently set adrift. Erie marries her love and the two present McCadden with a grandson.

The Erie Canal proved too difficult a setting for the Universal production department to create on or near the studio’s lot. However, the Erie Canal itself was not deemed suitable either. At least that was the opinion of the movie’s director, Edward Sloman, who came to New York State with two veteran cameramen, Jack Voshell and Jackson Rose, to find the right filming location.

Such location trips were rare at that time in the movie industry, but Universal was willing to invest the added time and money necessary to film the movie in the correct setting. After scouting the entire modern, commercialized Erie Barge Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Sloman felt it would not be believable to audiences. “They would swear we faked it in California,” he said.

Enter a contractor from Waterford, NY, named John E. Matton. He believed the Champlain Canal was just what Universal was looking for. After seeing it, Sloman agreed and chose Whitehall as the filming location.

In May, 1928, Sloman and rest of the film’s cast and crew set up their headquarters at Glens Falls and took up temporary residence at the Queensbury Hotel in order to begin making the movie. The silent era was giving way to “talkies,” and The Girl on the Barge was a hybrid between the two—a silent film with talking sequences.

The film’s cast was made up of some notable stars. The title role of Erie was played by Sally O’Neil, who had found stardom in 1925 when she appeared along with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford in Sally, Irene, and Mary. Erie’s father, the barge captain, was played by Jean Hersholt, who appeared in 140 films from 1906–1955, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1945–1949.

Malcolm MacGregor (or McGregor), who appeared in over 50 films during his career, played Erie’s love interest, Fogarty. Erie’s sister, Superior McCadden, was played by Nancy Kelly, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, during which time she received nominations for an Emmy and an Oscar, and also won a Tony Award. Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hersholt have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The movie’s director, Edward Sloman, was no slouch either. He directed nearly 100 films and acted in over 30, with some producing and writing thrown in for good measure. The story on which the movie was based was originally written by Rupert Hughes for Cosmopolitan magazine. Mr. Hughes was a prolific writer who saw more than 50 of his stories and plays made into movies.

The entire episode apparently caused quite a stir in the Whitehall/Glens Falls area. Several Whitehall residents took part in various scenes in the movie, and a humorous incident at the Queensbury Hotel was reported in the Syracuse Herald on June 11, 1928.

It seems that Mr. Hersholt arrived at the hotel after a day of filming. He was still dressed as his drunken barge captain character and asked for his room number without giving his name. The desk clerk not so politely informed Mr. Hersholt that the hotel was filled with “those motion picture people,” and there were no rooms available. In order to gain access to his room, Mr. Hersholt had to call upon director Edward Sloman to vouch for him.

Universal had a three-tiered rating system for its motion picture productions at the time Girl on the Barge was filmed. Low-budget flicks were dubbed Red Feather, and mainstream productions were labeled as Bluebird. Girl on the Barge was categorized as one of Universal’s most prestigious films, called Jewel. Jewel productions were expected to draw the highest ticket sales.

The movie was released on February 3, 1929. Various newspaper ads and articles have been found showing the movie still playing in theatres around the country into the following fall. The movie also received many favorable reviews. The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, complimented the “realistic and picturesque scenes” of “the barge canals of Upper New York State” (May 20, 1929).

The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall, raved about Mr. Hersholt’s make-up and costume, and stated, “The scenes are admirably pictured.” The Sheboygan Press of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, called the film “an exceptional picture,” and went on to report, “The picture actually was photographed along the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State.”

Photo Top: Movie Poster now on exhibit in the Whitehall Museum.

Photo Middle: Sally O’Neil and Malcolm MacGregor in a scene near the canal.

Photo Bottom: Movie advertisement in the Ticonderoga Sentinel, 1929.

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, January 3, 2011

Lawrence P. Gooley: Missing Aunt Mary

The death of a friend, and her burial on the last day of 2010, leads me a brief departure from my usual posting here. The friend, Mary (Pippo) Barber of Whitehall, was nearly four decades my senior, but acted so young that she made me feel old. I first met her around ten years ago when she came 100+ miles north to Plattsburgh with a friend and then stood with us in line for three hours at a job fair. She was there as moral support, talking and joking all day long. I had no idea she was 84 at the time. As I would learn, she never looked anywhere near her age.

My partner, Jill, is from Whitehall (at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, where the barge canal begins). It is through her that I met “Aunt Mary,” a very important person in Jill’s life. On every visit to Whitehall during the past ten years, Aunt Mary was on our schedule of stops. She was always nice, friendly, inquisitive, and fun to chat with … just a classy lady.

Her memory was as sharp as anyone’s, and our interest in history often prompted us to steer the conversation in that direction. As many of you know (but many of us neglect), elderly citizens provide an invaluable connection to the past. When we republished Whitehall’s pictorial history book a few years ago, it was Aunt Mary who readily answered dozens of questions, helping us correctly define many buildings when we prepared the captions.

At one point in our conversations over the years, she mentioned that a movie had once been filmed in Whitehall. That was news to me and Jill, and we had to wonder if maybe she had made a mistake. It would have been easy to believe that she was a little mixed up—after all, she was about 90 then, and nobody else had ever mentioned a movie. Still, we just couldn’t believe she was wrong.

Jill’s faith in Aunt Mary drove her to keep digging, and much to her surprise, delight, and amazement, it was true! After much time and considerable research, she was able to uncover the entire story, a tale that may have been lost except for the teamwork of Jill and Aunt Mary.

It strengthened the already solid bond between them, and it didn’t stop there. A poster re-creation of the original movie advertisement is now an exhibit in the Whitehall museum, donated by Jill in Aunt Mary’s name.

Aunt Mary’s passing is certainly a sad loss, but it offers a reminder of the wonderful people and great historical resources that are often neglected—our elderly, whether they are relatives, friends, or nursing home residents. If you have considered talking to any of them and asking all kinds of questions, do it. They’ll enjoy it, and so will you. Don’t put it off and eventually live with painful regret.

I’m certainly glad we asked Aunt Mary all those questions over the years, learning about her life and Whitehall’s history. It was not only a smart thing to do. It was respectful, educational, and just plain fun.

Photo Top: Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 1943.

Photo Bottom: Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 2005.

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, December 27, 2010

What A Wonderful Life: Lowville’s Erwin Eugene Lanpher

Research has taken me to more cemeteries than I can remember. Surrounded by hundreds of gravestones, I frequently remind myself that every person has a story. What often impresses me is that many people who are largely forgotten actually made a real difference in other people’s lives. Uncovering those stories from the past is humbling, carrying with it the realization that I’ll probably never approach the good works done by others.

Sometimes those good works seem to escape notice, and that was the sense that engulfed me as I read the obituary of Erwin Eugene Lanpher of Lowville. It reminded me of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, a regular guy who, as it turned out, was darn important to a lot of people. » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Early 1900s Letters to Santa

Children’s Christmas wishes and expectations years ago were much different. I was so struck by this—the simplicity and innocence—while researching a recent book that I included a chapter entitled “Letters to Santa” (in History of Churubusco). The sample letters below were published in local newspapers from 1920–1940. They offer historical significance, portraying the sharp contrast to the modern holiday, where disproportionately expensive gifts have become the norm.

Like hundreds of other small villages and towns in the early twentieth century, Churubusco was a farming community. Families were often self-sufficient, and everyone, including small children, had daily chores. This fostered teamwork and family unity, and it gave children a firsthand understanding of the values of goods, services, and hard work. Those lessons were conveyed in their missives to Santa. And, some of the comments in the letters are just plain cute.

1923
Dear Santa,
This year, money being scarce, my wants are few. I want a doll, set of dishes, ribbon, candy, and nuts. Don’t forget my brothers and sisters.
Your girl,
Eva Lussier

Dear Santa Claus,
I want you to bring me a little serving set, ball, candy, nuts, and bananas. Never mind the sled this year because I am expecting one from my aunt. My Xmas tree will be in the parlor near the stove, so take your time and get good and warm before you leave.
Wishing you a merry Xmas, your little friend,
Louis Patnode

1925
Dear Santa Claus,
I would like you to bring me a little bedroom set, some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
Louise Recore

Dear Santa Claus,
I would like a flashlight, sled, gold watch, some candy, nuts, oranges, bananas, and peanuts. Please don’t forget my little brothers, Walter and Francis. Walter would like a little drum, mouth organ, candy, nuts, gum, and oranges. Francis would like a little wagon full of toys, and some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
John Brady

1938
Dear Santa,
For Christmas I want a bottle of perfume and a locket, a 59 cent box of paints that I saw in your sale catalogue, a pair of skates, a nice dress and candy and nuts. I am eleven years old and Santa I hope you have a very merry Xmas.
Your friend,
Anita Robare

Dear Santa,
I am writing a few lines to tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a toothbrush and there is a set of 12 different games in your Christmas catalogue for 98 cents. Some of the names of the games are bingo, checkers, and jacksticks. Please bring me this set. I hope you don’t forget my little sister and brothers.
Your friend,
Henrietta Matthews

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I would like these things: a pair of ski shoes, pair of fur bedroom slippers, a dump truck, and banjo. I will leave some crackers and milk on the breakfast table.
Your friend,
Ann Elderbaum

Dear Santa,
When you come around for Xmas, I would like to have you bring me a pair of skates and a woolen shirt. It’s all I want for Christmas for I thought that you are getting old and those chimneys will be hard to climb. You will have some bread and milk at Christmas Eve.
Yours truly,
Theodore Leclair

Dear Santa Claus,
I wish you would bring me a sled and a ring. I don’t want very much for I know you are getting old and I don’t want you to carry too much. You will find my stocking near the stove and on the kitchen table you will find some bread and milk. I want you to leave me some candy, especially peanut brittle. I am 12 years old.
Your friend,
Cecelia Louise Miller

Dear Santa,
I wish you would bring me a popgun, tractor, truck and an airplane. You will find a bowl of bread and milk near the Xmas tree. You will find my stocking near the stove. I am only seven years old.
Your friend,
Clayton Miller

My Dear Santa,
I am eleven years old, and I wish you would bring me a cowboy suit and a sweater. You will find my stocking near the stairway, and on the kitchen table you will find some corn meal mush.
Your little friend,
Herman Leclair

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I thought I would drop you a line and let you know what I want for Christmas. I would like a red sweater, western book, and a fur hood. I will leave you some bread, cake, peanuts, and milk. I don’t want very much because you are growing old and your bag will be too heavy. So I will close and hope to have all I want for Christmas.
Sincerely yours,
Rita Theresa Leclair

Dear Santa,
I would like a new pair of shoes for Christmas.
Ruth Demarse

Dear Santa,
I want a tractor and some colors for Christmas.
Henry Lagree

1939
Dear Santa,
I have been a very good girl this year. I thank you for the things that you brought me last year. For Christmas I would like a doll and a Chinese Checker game. I will leave a lunch for you on the table. I will clean our chimney so you can slide down it. I will hang our stockings near the Christmas tree. I would like to stay up and see you but I am afraid that I would not get any presents so I will go to bed. Well we will have to close.
Your friend,
Helen and Patty Smith

Dear Santa Claus,
I have been a good boy this year. I would like a car that pedals. If you couldn’t bring that, I would like something smaller. And don’t forget Carol my baby sister. And I would like some candy, gum, oranges, and nuts.
Your little friend,
Robert K. Smith

Dear Santa,
I have tried to be a good little girl this year. I am nine years old and in the fifth grade. I would like a pair of ice skates between my sister and I. And don’t forget my baby sister, because she wasn’t here last year and I through that maybe you would forget her. But I guess that you wouldn’t do that trick. And don’t forget the candy, nuts, oranges, and gum.
Your friend,
Helen L. Smith

Dear Santa,
I would like for Christmas a pencil box and drawing paper, candy, and nuts.
Your friend,
Beulah Perry

1940
Dear Santa Claus,
I want a train and candy.
Norman Lafave

Dear Santa,
I would like a box of colors, a teddy bear, candy and nuts.
Agnes Lagree

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a pair of shoes, dress, and Christmas candy and nuts.
Ruth Demarse

From Jill and me at Bloated Toe Publishing, Happy Holidays to all.

Photo: 1916 Christmas advertisement for a Malone store.

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 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Adirondack Celebrity: Centenarian Charles Jennette

In 1936, at a birthday party in the Adirondacks, the honoree said he would be married within two years. He died six years later, but in that short time he made headlines across the state and the country on several occasions. During that span, he received more than 100 letters and 9 personal visits from female suitors; became engaged; was dumped the day before the wedding; was the guest of honor at several dinners, birthday parties, and parades; regularly mowed his lawn with a scythe; joined a ski club; and received the Purple Heart for war injuries.

Those are interesting, but relatively normal life events. Unless, of course, at that party in 1936, the birthday boy was turning 99 years old. Review it all from that perspective, and now you’ve got something.

Meet Charles Jennette, for a time the most famous man in the Adirondacks. His greatest notoriety came in his 100th year when he became engaged to Ella Blanch Manning, a New York City woman who had attended his 99th birthday party several weeks earlier. Days before the wedding, the Albany headline read “100 Called Too Old to Marry; Man Will Take 3d Wife at 99.”

But just 24 hours before the wedding, and after a visit with her daughters, Ella changed her mind. Already a media sensation, and despite being left high and dry, Charles continued with his post-wedding plans of a boat ride and dinner, remaining hopeful of marriage in the near future. After many interviews, he was only too happy to return to an otherwise, quiet, humble life.

Jennette was born in Maine in 1837. The family moved to Canada when he was five, and returned to the US when the Civil War began. At Malone, Charles enlisted for three years with Company A, 95th NY Volunteers, but served only nine months. His time was cut short in 1865 when he was wounded in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (also known as Dabney’s Mills) in Virginia. He was still in the hospital when the war ended.

In 1866, he married Emily Proulx in Ottawa, a union that would endure for 57 years. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Charles tried to enlist at the age of 61 but was refused. He lived much of his life in the St. Regis Falls area as a lumberman, toiling in partnership for many years with his son, John.

They ended the business relationship in December 1915 when Charles was 78, and in the following year he built a cottage at Old Forge. In 1921, the 84-year-old was one of only 6 attendees at the final meeting of the Durkee Post GAR in St. Regis Falls. GAR represents Grand Army of the Republic, the title given to Union forces in the Civil War. Few veterans survived, so the local group was discontinued.

His wife, Emily, died in the mid-1920s. Charles soon began spending summers in Old Forge and winters in Ilion (near Herkimer), while making regular visits to family in Tupper Lake. He married for a second time (January 1935, in Montreal), but his new bride died just two months later.

He was generally known as a remarkable old-timer until fame arrived in 1936 when, at his 98th birthday party, Charles announced he expected to wed again before he reached 100 (because “over 100 is too old”). Several hundred people attended the festivities.

After addressing more than a hundred female suitors (ages 42 to 72), he made plans to marry Ella Manning. Instead, at 99, he became America’s most famous groom to be jilted at the altar.

After that, it seemed anything he did was remarkable, and at such an advanced age, it certainly was. In 1937 (age 100) he rode in a Memorial Day parade as guest of honor. Shortly after his 101st birthday, he attended the Gettysburg Annual GAR Convention 72 years after his combat days had ended.

In 1940, on his 103rd birthday, he used a scythe to mow the lawn, and otherwise continued his daily ritual—trekking nearly two miles to retrieve the mail, and taking time to read the daily newspapers (and he didn’t need glasses!). Yearly, he made maple syrup in the spring and tended a garden each summer.

In August 1940 at Oneida Square in Utica, Charles was honored in a ceremony at the Soldiers’ Monument, which was built in 1891 to memorialize the Utica men who “risked their lives to save the Union.” Seventy-five years after suffering wounds in battle, Charles Jennette became a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (formed during WW I).

At age 104, perhaps still holding a marriage possibility in the back of his mind, Charles became the first male allowed to join the Old Forge Sno-Flakes, an all-girls’ ski club. He soon expressed regret at not having taken up skiing “when I was young, say 70 or so.”

In mid-1942, in support of the WW II effort, a photo of Charles purchasing war bonds was widely distributed among newspapers. He continued to attend American Legion rallies and make other appearances. Finally, in December of that year, he passed away at the age of 105.

Photo Top: At age 99, Charles Jennette with his fiancé, Ella Manning.

Photo Bottom: One of many headlines generated by Jennette’s story.

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 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Adirondack Crime: In Dogged Pursuit of Justice

It had all the earmarks of a spectacular trial: bitterness between neighbors; a vicious, bloody assault; a fearless victim who nearly beat his attacker to death; two opponents of great wealth; and a pair of noted New York City attorneys handling the prosecution and defense. It was potentially a North Country showdown of mammoth proportions.

Court proceedings were held in the boathouse of Dr. Samuel B. Ward, a founder of the Upper Saranac Association. Ward was famous in his own right as past president of the NYS Medical Society; dean of Albany Medical College and a 40-year faculty member; and regular Adirondack fishing and hunting companion of President Grover Cleveland.

Judge Newell Lee of Santa Clara was saddled with handling court opponents who were famous, wealthy, and certainly accustomed to getting their way. The defendant, Emil Ernest Gabler, was heir to and CEO of the Gabler Piano Company, one of the top players in the industry for the past fifty years. The plaintiff was Mrs. Edgar Van Etten, whose husband was a vice-president of the New York Central, president of the Cuban Eastern Railway, and had partnered with John Jacob Astor and W. Seward Webb in other enterprises.

There was no shortage of cash among the participants, and each side hired some of the best legal representation available. Defending Gabler was New York City’s George K. Jack, who had spent many hours arguing cases before the NYS Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Prosecuting on behalf of Van Etten was Lamar Hardy, Corporate Counsel from New York City and a partner in the firm of Bothby, Baldwin, and Hardy.

The makeshift courtroom was filled with an unusual mix of spectators—chauffeurs, maids, groundskeepers, guides, tourists—and tongues wagged as the tale was told. Oddly enough, the only one absent from the proceedings was the attacker. By US law, that just didn’t seem right. After all, a defendant has the right to face his accuser.

But this was no ordinary case. Incredibly, the bloody attack had come from the side of the accuser, Van Etten, while it was the defendant, Gabler, who had been attacked. And, despite all those interesting details, the focus of all the attention was on the one non-attendee, the insidious attacker, identified as … a dog.

In 1911, Gabler and the Van Ettens were not-so-friendly neighbors among the luxurious camps along Hoel Pond near Upper Saranac Lake. For all their wealth, it apparently didn’t occur to them to build a fence. On October 4, Van Etten’s prize French bulldog entered the grounds of Gabler’s camp and attacked his dog.

The chauffeurs from both camps managed to separate the combatants, and Van Etten’s chauffeur retrieved the bulldog to return it to its owner. Gabler, without pause, grabbed the dog, which firmly latched on to his thumb and refused to let go. He reacted by beating the dog over the head.

When Mrs. Van Etten was told of the incident, she went to Gabler’s camp and reportedly said, “I hope you get hydrophobia.” She then filed a complaint with the SPCA, and Gabler was arrested for cruelty to animals.

A few days later the celebrated trial was held—a serious case among the wealthy, but conducted to the great bemusement of many spectators. The combatants doggedly argued over points of law as if it was a life-and-death homicide case. And the bitterness that had developed between the two families came out frequently during testimony, despite many admonitions from Judge Lee to do nothing more than stick to the issue at hand.

Among the evidence entered was the cudgel (a stick or club) used to hit the dog (it was charged that the dog was “cudgeled”); the dog’s collar; and the extent of Gabler’s hand injuries. An important witness for the defense was the fetching Mrs. Gabler, who testified for nearly an hour.

The prosecution was best served by Van Etten, who was on the verge of tears as she described her prize dog when she saw it, “ … unconscious, with his tongue black and protruding, his body apparently stiffened in death.” The dog did, in fact, survive, but did not appear in court because, as the dog’s attorney stated, “It was feared he might attack his old enemy, Mr. Gabler, in court.”

But Van Etten’s conduct otherwise did little to help her case, and she was soon in the judge’s doghouse. Her lawyer, Hardy, tried to keep her on a short leash, but to no avail. Displaying little regard for court etiquette, she constantly hounded the judge and witnesses, prompting constant warnings by Judge Lee and both attorneys to remain silent.

Finally, frustrated with the entire process and sensing she was about to lose, Van Etten put her tail between her legs and left the courtroom. She was still absent an hour later when Gabler was acquitted of “cruelly and maliciously beating a prize French brindle bulldog” (brindle refers to the lightly striped fur).

With great interest among the higher breeds of society, the full story was reported on the social pages of the New York Times. Despite all the wealth and fanfare, the case boiled down to common-sense justice voiced by Judge Lee, who said Gabler did, in fact, beat the dog, but only after he was bitten. The entire incident lasted 23 days, which translates to several months in dog years.

Photo Top: Mrs. Edgar Van Etten.

Photo Middle: Emil Ernest Gabler.

Photo Bottom: A French brindle bulldog.

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 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


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