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 23, 2011

Shingle Shanty Paddling Rights Case Update

The state’s effort to intervene in the trespassing case against Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown hurts private property owners, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued early last week.

“This case is asking the court to say, basically, ‘Have canoe, will travel,’” said Dennis Phillips, the Glens Falls attorney representing the Friends of Thayer Lake and the Brandreth Park Association. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Northern NY Agricultural Development Numbers

With $300,000 in funding now secure in the 2011-2012 New York State Budget, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) is moving ahead with 2011 on-farm research and outreach projects in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

A 2010 NNYADP Impact Statement provides a snapshot of the NNY region’s agricultural industry: approximately 4,200 farms, 1.11 million acres, a farm employee payroll of $52.9 million, Northern New York farm products’ market value more than $595 million. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Northeast National Pastel Exhibition Opens

The 7th Annual Northeast National Pastel Exhibition has opened at the new Arts Center / Old Forge and will be on through June 25th. The exhibition is considered a highlight of the Arts Center’s annual exhibition calendar, with thousands of visitors a year from the Northeast and beyond attending. The exhibition features works from some of the nation’s foremost pastel artists. More artists than ever have submitted work in the hopes of being selected this year.

108 works were chosen by pastelist Wende Caporale, this year’s juror of selection and author of several major publications on painting with pastels.

Admission to the Arts Centers exhibitions is $8/$4 members & groups of 6+/Children
under 12 free.

Illustration: “Rain Walker” by Sarah Pollock.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adirondack Arts in the Park Summer Event Calendar

The Adirondack Arts community has announced its 2011 summer season highlights, featuring Shakespeare in the Park, Saranac Lake Village Art Walks, free concert series and a new Adirondack art festival that celebrates the artistic history and community of the Adirondacks.

Arts in the Park – Summer 2011 highlights will include the inaugural Adirondack Arts Heritage Festival in Saranac Lake on June 26- July 4. For nine days, 35 uniquely Adirondack activities span a range of art forms, from fly fishing to historic Saranac Lake walks, to Cure Cottage lore. Join the Adirondack arts community in Saranac Lake for the first heritage celebration of the arts, culminating with a July 4th Parade of Boats on Lake Flower, concert and fireworks.

Free summer concert series kick off every summer in communities throughout the Adirondack Park. In June, Songs at Mirror Lake Music Series kicks off a summer of free musical performances in Mid’s Park on Main Street, Lake Placid. This free concert series runs every Tuesday through August. The Lake Placid Sinfonietta will also perform six free Wednesday night concerts in Mid’s Park July through August. Offering classical music fare, the Sinfonietta is the Orchestra of the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Lakes Summer Theatre Festival features 42 performances of six productions in 18 Adirondack towns. Based in Blue Mountain Lake, the theater troupe’s festival line-up includes: Romeo & Juliet, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Violet, The Conference of Birds, Movie Madness Cabaret and The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Live in Concert. For performance dates and locations, log onto AdirondackExperience.com for more information. At the Charles R. Wood Theater near Lake George, the Adirondack Theatre Festival will present The K of D, a ghost story and one-woman play, June 29-July 2.

A 4-year tradition will take place during the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council’s Annual Arts Festival June 11-12 in Glens Falls. This two-day festival features juried arts and craft shows, family activities, food and entertainment. For a complete list of summer concert series, arts festivals, workshops and museum exhibits.

You can search events, attractions and Adirondack vacation packages online.

Photo: Tara Bradway as Helena, Collin Ware as Demetrius in a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Hungry Will’s Variety Hour produced by The Adirondack Shakespeare Company in 2010.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

APA Honors Clarence Petty

The Adirondack Park Agency celebrated Arbor Day 2011 with a tree planting in honor of Clarence Petty. Petty was one of the first employees at the Adirondack Park Agency following a long career with the NYS Conservation Department. He served on the Pomeroy Commission (Inter-Legislative Committee on Natural Resources) and the Temporary Study Commission on the Adirondacks.

Mr. Petty had a profound impact on the Adirondack Park and is considered one of the most influential environmentalists of the 20th century. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Writers Workshop in Warrensburg

Willows Bistro and Fiction Among Friends will collaborate to present actress/director/teacher Filomena Riviello at a June 27th daylong workshop on the subject “Effective Public Reading: How to read your work so people think you are the best writer since Dickens.” Riviello, who worked in New York City as a professional actress and director for over 20 years, has directed shows at ACC and for Our Town Theatre Group, and popular workshop leader for the Warrensburgh Historical Society’s Graveyard Walks, selected the subtitle.

“A lot of people don’t know that it was through public readings that Charles Dickens managed to sell his novels in America, where there was not a large market for them. He made a book tour here, and people were so moved by his readings, they bought his books,” Riviello said.

Persis Granger of Fiction Among Friends, with the help of Bistro owner Debbie Swan, created the Second Thursday Readings at Willows Bistro in Warrensburg to provide aspiring writers a time and place to read short selections from their works for the public. “All of the writers have enjoyed the opportunity,” she said, “but many realized that there is a lot to know about reading effectively. Enter Filomena!”

The workshop will begin at 10 a.m. and run until about 4 p.m., and the $40 fee will include a pre-selected luncheon. Those wishing to attend should reserve a spot by contacting Granger at PersisGranger@aol.com or 623-9305 as soon as possible, as enrollment is limited to ensure lots of individualized instruction. Writers are invited to bring as many short (about three minute) writing selections as they hope to work on. To learn more, visit “Fiction Among Friends at Willows Bistro“.


Friday, May 20, 2011

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers a collection of the week’s top weblinks. You can find all our weekly web round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 6,000 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Lake George Water Tests Reduced Over Funding

The Darrin Fresh Water Institute’s (DFWI) annual program of testing waters near municipal beaches and town shorelines for coliform contamination will be less extensive this summer than in years past, according to Larry Eichler, a DFWI Research Scientist.

According to Eichler, The Fund for Lake George has withdrawn its financial support for the program.

While some municipalities may assume the costs of sampling waters near beaches, no organization has stepped forward to fund the monitoring of shorelines, Eichler said.

“The FUND for Lake George has contributed more than $300,000 in cost sharing for this program over the past 25 years,” said Eichler. “But while still supporting the efforts of this program, The Fund is unable to fund this program due to other committments.”

Those other commitments, explained Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, include exterminating invasive species like the Asian clam and financing the West Brook Conservation Initiative, which will protect the lake’s south basin from urban runoff.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to continue funding the program,” said Bauer. “While it’s time for The Fund to transition out of the program, the importance of monitoring public beaches should motivate local governments to adopt at least that part of the program.”

Bolton, Lake George Village, the Town of Lake George and Hague have agreed to consider adopting monitoring programs, said Eichler.

“Evaluation of bathing beach water quality provides a reminder that water quality is not guaranteed and that proper maintenance and surveillance of swimming areas remain critical,” said Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, the executive director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute.

According Larry Eichler, DFWI can test sampled waters for Total Coliform (TC), Fecal Coliform (FC), and Fecal Streptococcus (FS) for as little as $30 per week. The Towns would be responsible for the costs of collecting the water samples.

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation has tested the waters near state-owned beaches since the late 1980s, after the Million Dollar Beach was closed for three days in 1988 because of an excessive fecal coliform count.

The Darrin Fresh Water Institute has tested waters near municpal beaches every summer since 2002.

“The program was a low cost mechanism to provide assurances that the public beaches on Lake George posed no threats to the public,” said Larry Eichler.

“We continue to believe that this program provides a valuable service to the Lake George community through assurance of water quality at our public bathing beaches.”

Even before it began testing municipal beaches for coliform contamination, DWFI was sampling sites around Lake George for coliform bacteria, which are generally viewed as indicators of sewage leaks or other sources for nutrients, such as storm water.

“The Lake George Coliform Monitoring Program was designed to be a proactive water quality program,” said Eichler. “Prompt identification and remediation of wastewaters entering Lake George is one of the most efficient ways to protect water quality.”

Waters were evaluated at sites with chronically high levels of coliform bacteria or in areas where algae appeared, Eichler explained.

“We’re disappointed that The Fund could not continue to support the program, but we understand fiscal realities,” said Eichler.

Eichler said grants may permit the Darrin Fresh Water Institute to re-establish the colliform monitoring program in the future.

Photo: Darrin Fresh Water Institute

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.


Friday, May 20, 2011

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories

Each Friday morning Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers the previous week’s top stories. You can find all our weekly news round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 6,000 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


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