Posts Tagged ‘Dannemora’

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dannemora Mountain and a Truckload of Carrots:Hills, Speed, and Pioneer Motorcycle, Indy Racer Ralph Hepburn

On a recent drive in Clinton County, I was reminded of a story told to me by my grandfather, James Lagree. Jim was a Churubusco farmer, but he also worked other jobs, including road construction. We both loved fishing, and in my pre-teen years, he took me to all his secret places, including Bradley Pond near Lyon Mountain. As it turned out, he had worked on construction of the Bradley Pond Road.

The conversation that day drifted to other roads, and that’s when he told me the story of a truck losing its brakes on Dannemora Mountain. It was hilarious the way he told it (he was great with jokes and embellishments), but I recently learned just how true the story was.

If you’ve ever driven east over the mountain, you’re familiar with one of the steepest roads and most dramatic speed changes in the Adirondacks. For the sake of all the strictly law-abiding drivers out there, yes, the change is technically no different from many others: a main highway (in this case, Rt. 374) enters a village, where the speed limit drops immediately to 30 mph.

But the difference is this: after a couple of curves during the brisk, mile-and-a-half descent, a final, steep, straight incline ends abruptly at the village limits. The road suddenly flattens, and perhaps not everyone has decelerated to 30 mph by that point. Add snow or ice, and you’ve got hellish road conditions.

But weather wasn’t a factor in two of the most famous incidents linked to that section of highway. One of them occurred in September 1930, when nationally renowned driver Ralph Hepburn visited the region.

Inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, Hepburn won motorcycling championships and set records during a superb career, and then turned to automobiles. Many more records fell to his skills, and fifteen times he competed in the Indianapolis 500, never winning, but finishing second twice.

As the automobile industry flourished, racing champions were hired to promote and demonstrate the capabilities of different brands. Hepburn was employed by Studebaker in that capacity, and while touring New York State in 1930, he briefly set up headquarters at the dealership in Plattsburgh.

His highest-profile publicity stunt locally was a speedy climb up Dannemora Mountain, accompanied by two newspapermen. Despite the curves, he reached the summit while maintaining the astonishing speed of 50 mph. That was more than eighty years ago, when cars were in their infancy, and I can guarantee, I’ve been stuck going up that grade behind cars that were going much slower.

And consider this: when Hepburn did it, the road surface was composed of dirt and gravel, hardly conducive to high speeds and good traction.

Hepburn made a second run that day, carrying six passengers (some of them on the running boards, which must have been quite the rush). Carrying nearly 1300 pounds, the Studebaker crested the mountain at 41 mph. It was typical of Hepburn’s flare for the dramatic.

After the Dannemora exhibition, he continued promoting and racing for many years. Hepburn died doing what he loved (he was killed during qualifying practice for the 1948 Indy 500, a race he is famed for having led in three different decades―1925, 1937, and 1946).

The second famous incident on that notorious section of Dannemora highway occurred in October 1939. It began when a produce truck, driven by William Coryea of Malone, suffered brake failure while heading down the mountain. The road had been rebuilt with concrete several years earlier, which meant better tire grip and a smoother ride. To a freewheeling vehicle without brakes, it also meant greater velocity.

When Coryea reached the base of the mountain road, his speed was estimated at 60 mph. With the weight of 150 bushels of carrots on board, the truck was sure to coast for some distance. Stopping it would not be easy.

Racing through the village could have been disastrous, and Coryea had little time to think. After about three-tenths of a mile, near the gates of Dannemora Prison, he solidly sideswiped a moving car, and then another, sending carrots flying into the streets.

But the truck slowed only a little, and people were in danger. Coryea then hit a bread truck and two more parked cars. Bread products and carrots scattered everywhere while vehicles bounced aside, but still the truck kept rolling.

Finally, it slowed enough for Coryea to whip sharply onto a side street, where he drove the truck into a brick wall at the back of Lafountain’s store. The reason, as he later told police, was to avoid hitting any more vehicles. It’s amazing that through it all, there were no injuries.

I don’t know if my grandfather actually witnessed the aftermath, and although he was quite the storyteller, it doesn’t seem like he embellished it much after all. The crushed cars, with food scattered everywhere, and nobody hurt, were actually elements of the true story. Unlike many other Dannemora accidents on that stretch of highway, it thankfully lacked tragedy, and has been looked back upon with at least some amusement.

Photos: Ralph Hepburn (courtesy wikipedia); the maps shows Rt. 374 entering at the upper right and plunging into the village on the far left. Clinton Prison is at the bottom left.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Remembering Murdered Game Warden William Jackson

The LaGoy brothers were rough. A neighbor near Severence, on the road between Schroon Lake Village and Paradox, once wrote a letter to a local newspaper asking for a telling retraction. “I was not lost,” D.S. Knox wrote. “My wife was much excited by the delay of about an hour of time over due, thinking as I have an organic heart trouble, caused to give her alarm, and not ever thinking of any of the LeGoy family causing any harm as neither of us believe that any of the LeGoy family ever would cause any personal harm without a provocation.” It was rather important to Knox to make it clear to the world, that even if his wife had been talking out of school, neither of them harbored any ill will toward the LaGoys.

There was probably good reason to write that letter. Three LaGoy brothers were then being held at the Elizabethtown Jail on suspicion of the axe murder of game warden William H. Jackson. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Saranac Lake: The Allen Mooney Murder, Part 2

Despite the physical evidence against Saranac’s Allen Mooney in the murders of Ellen Thomas and Viola Middleton, he could still hope for a lesser conviction, even manslaughter, due to extenuating circumstances. Epilepsy, a weakness for drink, extreme jealousy—the man was obviously beset by many problems. Not a saint by any stretch, but was he a wanton killer?

Unspoken, though, was another factor—Mooney’s extended family. His relatives from the Malone area, and south to Saranac Lake—the Merrills, Jocks, Stacys, and other Mooneys—shared quite the infamous reputation. In the decade surrounding Mooney’s trial, without citing particulars, they committed: assaults, burglaries, robberies, wife beatings, at least 3 murders (and a fourth suspected with arson), prostitution, incest, child abuse, family abandonment, and more.

This was no secret. Leading up to the trial, many of the family’s escapades had been highly publicized in recent years. It would be very difficult for jurors to ignore that reality. And, if Mooney should be considered insane because his aunt was insane (as the defense claimed), then maybe he was an incorrigible criminal like so many members of his extended family.

The courtroom was packed throughout the trial, and extensive testimony hinted that the jury might struggle to reach a verdict. During deliberations, the first vote was 7 for 1st-degree murder and 5 for 2nd-degree murder. With that much uncertainty, a consensus seemed unlikely. It looked like Mooney might be spending the rest of his life behind bars, but at least he’d be alive.

But early the next morning, almost before the court session began, it was suddenly over. The verdict was in: guilty of murder in the first degree. Mooney was told to stand, and the judge pronounced sentence: “That you be confined in Dannemora State Prison until the week beginning July 6, 1903, when, in compliance with the law, you shall suffer death by having a current of electricity pass through your body until you are pronounced dead.” Mooney, calm as ever, spoke only to thank the judge.

He was a condemned man with just six weeks left to live, but Mooney wasn’t the only one under pressure. Dannemora’s executioner felt the heat as well. He was scheduled to dispose of six prisoners during the week of July 6, including that infamous threesome, the Van Wormer brothers, who had brutally murdered their uncle and terrorized his family.

Joining them were William “Goat Hinch” O’Conner (committed murder during a robbery), and Kate Taylor, who was believed long abused by her husband (until she killed him, cut off his head, stuck it in an oven, tried to cut his leg off, burned the corpse, and fed the bones and ashes to the chickens). Allen Mooney was in fine company.

Appeals delayed his execution (and Taylor’s, too), subjecting Mooney to unexpected angst. Taylor, female, was held in a special cell, but Allen was with the others on Death Row. Described during his trial as “stolidly indifferent,” Mooney now sat nearby as, one by one, the Van Wormers were walked down the hallway to waiting death. Each said goodbye to Mooney. Reports of the boys’ final moments appeared beneath large, bold headlines in newspapers across the country. The last to go was the middle brother, and in memorable fashion:

“Burton’s departure from the death house made the most pathetic scene of all. Besides the aged priest, there was but one person in the world to whom he might say goodbye. That was Allen Mooney, the last occupant of the death cells, who sat in the corner of the front of his cell, sobbing like a child. As Burton stepped from his cell, he looked back toward Mooney’s cell, which was out of his view because of a great iron screen built for that purpose, and called: ‘Goodbye Mooney. I hope you don’t have to go like this.’ And then he marched to the death chair.”

The procession of priest, warden, and guards guided Van Wormer to the death room, where, for the first and last time, he met Robert Elliott, Dannemora’s chief executioner.

Mooney’s reprieve lasted five months, when the court of appeals affirmed his sentence. The execution was two months away, but within a month, reports surfaced that he wasn’t eating, and mostly languished in his cell, deteriorating physically. But after watching the Van Wormers, who converted to Catholicism and clung to crucifixes as they went to their deaths, Mooney took action. He summoned the Catholic priest and converted from the Baptist faith he had been born into (but apparently ignored), hurrying to achieve baptism and first communion by March.

Two months later, just as his cellmates had done, Mooney took Communion and clung tightly to a crucifix. On May 3, 1904, he walked his final steps to join Robert Elliott and the waiting chair. One electrode was attached to his head, and less than four minutes later, Mooney was gone.

To the relief of some, a subsequent autopsy revealed that his liver and kidneys were in good condition, dispelling the notion that physical infirmities in Mooney’s organs might have caused momentary insanity. He was the only inmate executed at the prison in 1904, and the only Franklin County resident to die in Dannemora’s electric chair.

Photo Top: Saranac Lake early street view.

Photo Middle: Court of Appeals document upholding Mooney’s conviction.

Photo Bottom: Sing Sing’s electric chair, same as the one in which Mooney died.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several 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.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dannemora Notes: The Clinton Prison

Dannemora Prison (known officially as the Clinton Correctional Facility and the only maximum security prison inside the Blue Line) is the third oldest state prison in New York, and the largest, holding about 3,000 prisoners. According to the Great Wiki, inmates there have included Tupac Shakur, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Beat poet Gregory Corso, mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, New York City Club Kid Michael Alig, Robert Chambers (the “preppy murderer”), Jesse Friedman (subject of the documentary Capturing the Friedmans), Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, Joel Rifkin, and a half dozen other serial killers. You can search for prisoners in Clinton, and New York’s other prisons here; there is a map of the state’s prison’s here. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

APA To Hold Public Hearings on Land Classification

The Adirondack Park Agency has scheduled five public hearings to hear comments on proposals to classify or reclassify about 31,500 acres. The acreage in question is located in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Oneida, St. Lawrence, and Warren counties. Included in the proposals is the 17,000 acre Chazy Highlands tract, located in the towns of Ellenberg, Dannemora and Saranac, in Clinton County, which is being recommended for Wild Forest classification. The Tahawus Tract, which includes Henderson Lake in the Town of Newcomb, is also being proposed for addition to the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

An inter-active map and detailed descriptions of the proposed classifications are available from the Adirondack Park Agency’s website at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/

The Public hearings will take place at the following locations and dates:

January 25, 2010, 7:00 pm

Newcomb Fire Hall
5635 Route 28N
Newcomb, NY

January 27, 2010, 7:00 pm

Park Avenue Building
183 Park Ave
Old Forge, NY

January 28, 2010, 7:00 pm

Saranac Town Hall, 3662 Route 3
Saranac, NY

February 2, 2010, 7:00 pm

St. Lawrence County Human Services Center
80 SH 310
Canton, NY

February 5, 2010, 1:00 pm

NYDEC, 625 Broadway
Albany, NY

The public is encouraged to attend the hearings and provide comment. The Agency will also accept written comments regarding the classification proposals until March 19, 2010.

Written comments should be submitted to:

Richard E. Weber
PO Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977

Fax to (518)891-3938
E-mail apa_slmp@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Photo: Location map for State lands under consideration. Courtesy the APA.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

APA Meeting: Wind, Snowmobiles, Cell Towers, DOT, Lows Lake

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 9 through Friday September 11 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook. Meeting topics (detailed below) will include: two new cellular towers in North Hudson; the expansion of Adventure Bound Camps; a new permit application for wind energy projects; the 2009 New York State Draft Energy Plan; an agreement on travel corridor management between the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the APA; DEC and APA guidance for snowmobile trail construction and maintenance; the classification proposals for land and water in the vicinity of Lows Lake and the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. The September meeting will be webcast live on the Agency’s homepage; meeting materials are available for download at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/Mailing/0909/index.htm » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Adirondack Museum Student Writing Competition

The Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York has introduced the Harry G. Remington Adirondack History Writing Competition. Open to students in grades 9 – 12 in school districts wholly or partially within the Adirondack Park, the competition offers awards for the three best essays about an historical person, place, document, organization, time period, business, event, or location relating to a community or communities within or bordering the Park. The first place winner will receive $500, the second place winner $300, and the third place $200.

Essays must be 1500 to 2500 words in length and be the original work of the entrant. Entries must be received by or on March 1, 2009. The essays will be judged on originality of idea, quality of research, and the use of a variety of resources such as books, maps, publications, documents, photographs, oral history interviews, artifacts, or other historical resources.

A panel consisting of two members of the Adirondack Museum’s professional staff and a history teacher from an eligible school will read and judge the essays. The winners of the essay competition will be announced on June 1, 2009. Awards will be presented at the student’s school graduation and at the Adirondack Museum’s annual Harold K. Hochschild Award ceremony in August 2009.

The Adirondack History Writing Competition is dedicated to the memory of Harry G. Remington whose love of the Adirondacks ran deep, nurtured by a lifetime of summers spent at his family camp in Franklin County. Remington’s belief that history matters came from his family’s own rich history. His grandfather, Ashbel Parmelee Fitch, was born in Mooers, N.Y. and became a prominent lawyer and New York City politician who once was challenged to a duel by an impulsive Theodore Roosevelt.

One of Fitch’s grandfathers, Reverend Ashbel Parmelee, was the minister at the First Congregational Church of Malone, N.Y. for thirty-six years, served as a chaplain in the war of 1812 and at Clinton Prison in Dannamora, N.Y. According to local lore, his home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Fitch’s other grandfather, Jabez Fitch Jr., was a licensed physician in Mooers who late in life became a physician at Clinton prison. Fitch’s cousin, Morton Parmelee, was a Franklin County lumberman who became an unlikely public advocate for sustainable forestry and the preservation of
Adirondack forests during the 1880s and 1890s.

For additional information about the Harry G. Remington Adirondack History Writing Competition, please contact Christine Campeau, School Program Coordinator and Museum Educator at ccampeau@adkmuseum.org.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region

Yesterday’s crash of a Greyhound bus near Elizabethtown reminds us of some of the tragic events that have occurred in the Adirondack region. Here is a list of the ten we believe were most tragic:

October 2, 2005 – Ethan Allen Sinking
Twenty-one people drown when the Lake George excursion boat Ethan Allen flips and sinks while turning against a wave.

1903 – Spier Falls Dam Ferry Capsizes
Sixteen men and a young boy were drowned when a ferry carrying workers capsized on the Hudson River near the Spier Falls Dam (then under construction) in Moreau between Lake Luzerne and Mount McGregor. The ferry was overloaded when high water made a temporary bridge too dangerous to use.

November 19, 1969 – Crash of Mohawk Airlines Flight 411
A twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport in NewYork to Glens Falls crashes on Pilot Knob killing all 14 onboard. The accident is blamed on downdrafts on the leeward side of of the mountain.

August 3, 1893 – Sinking of the Steamer Rachel
The Lake George excursion steamer Rachel, chartered by more than twenty guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House, is steered by an inexperienced Captain out of the channel and into an old dock south of the hotel. the old peir tears a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line and twelve were killed – many caught on the shade deck as the boat listed and almost immediately sinks.

July 30, 1856 – Burning of the John Jay
The 140-feet long Lake George steamer John Jay, loaded with 70 passengers, catches fire near the Garfield House about ten miles south of Ticonderoga on Lake George. Five die trying to swim to shore to escape the flames. The fire is blamed on an overburdened soot-clogged smokestack – the crew had kept a large hot fire in the boiler in order to make up lost time.

June 3, 1927 – Chazy Lake School Picnic Drownings
Five students, one quarter of the Dannemora High School senior class, drown when their rowboat is swamped in a squall on Chazy Lake during an interclass picnic. The only survivor is their teacher Emma Dunk, whose hand was caught in the boat keeping her above the cold water after she lost consciousness.

August 28, 2006 – Greyhound Interstate Bus Crash
Five passengers are killed when a Greyhound Bus Company’s bus No. 4014, traveling from New York City to Montreal, and making midafternoon stops in Albany and Saratoga Springs, overturns on the Northway (I-87) just before Exit 31 near Elizabethtown.

1995-2005 – Drownings at the Starbuckville Dam
A dangerous backflow whirlpool kills five swimmers at the Starbuckville Dam on the Schroon River over the course of ten years. The dam is finally rebuilt in 2005-2006.

August 12, 2003 – Split Rock Falls Drownings
Four teenagers, all ages 18 and 19, drowned at Split Rock Falls near Elizabethtown while on their day off from their jobs as camp counselors for a Minerva camp. When one fell into the water the other three tried to rescue him.

February and September 2004 – Border Patrol Checkpoint Accidents
In two separate accidents four are killed and more than 60 injured (four critically) when Canadian based buses fail to see a US Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 87 in Elizabethtown – poor signage is blamed.

We’d be interested in hearing about others.


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