Today we were going to list the Ten Most Influential Adirondackers, based on input from you, the Almanack readers. We’ve decided to keep nominations open for one more week (please make your recommendations here). In the meantime, one of you suggested, “How about the Adirondacks’ ten biggest asshats? . . . [T]hat’s one discussion I’d like to read.” So, click through for a list of ten all-star Adirondack jerks and a-hats, in no particular order.
1. Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979): No, not for establishing the Adirondack Park Agency but for the excessive drug laws he instituted as governor. They created an unsustainable dependency in the Adirondack prison economy, which is now contracting. Can’t blame David Paterson for this one.
2. General James Abercromby (1706-1781), British commander-in-chief in the French and Indian War. His 1758 attack on the French near Fort Carillon (now Ticonderoga) was a fiasco. His troops outnumbered Montcalm’s 15,000 to 4,000, but Abercromby “led” from the rear, sending six waves of 2,000 men without cannon support to die on a tangle of sharpened trees the French felled as a barricade. Brigadier General George Augustus Viscount Howe—unlike Abercromby loved by the troops—was killed in a skirmish en route to the battle. “The death of one man was the ruin of fifteen thousand,” a historian later wrote.
3. Bass, or more accurately the conservation officials and fishermen who introduced smallmouths, largemouths and other nonnative game species to brook-trout waters: Despite mostly good intentions, this has done more than acid rain to turn Adirondack lakes into fish zoos. Smallmouths continue to expand their range (anyone stocking bass today should know better) and appear poised to inherit the freshwater.
4. Father Isaac Jogues (1607-1646): The man was an actual saint. But he also could not take a hint. He was the first European to see the Adirondack interior, dragged there in 1642 as a prisoner of the Mohawks. In his memoir Jogues admits to getting on the Indians’ nerves and being repeatedly reminded to stop calling their spirits demons. He is tortured, his fingertips are bitten off. The Jesuit missionary escapes and returns to France. Still, he thinks, They need me. He returns four years later, and the Mohawks club him to death.
5. Robert Moses (1888-1981). This guy. I heard he wanted to build a highway through Indian Pass. (Let me help those of you shining a light on lazy journalism: here’s some. I absolutely can’t remember where I heard this.) The then-state parks chief makes the list anyway for saying in 1961 that the Forest Preserve should be opened to any highway construction and that a wilderness designation for state lands would benefit only “imitation Indians and amateur mountaineers.” Plus he was a booster of the dumb Rooftop Highway.
6. Magua: James Fenimore Cooper’s two-faced Huron is fictional but still the scariest villain ever to slip silently through the Adirondack woods. Don’t let Magua take you on a hike.
7. Ned Buntline (1813-1886): poser, dime novelist, dog-killer. He shot Alvah Dunning’s dog as it stood between the Raquette Lake guide’s legs. The Elizabethtown Post wrote, “During ‘Ned Buntline’s’ brief sad and checkered career in the Adirondacks he made some friends and a good many enemies. He was a man of rough exterior and spasmodic changes. A man of education and training, one who had associated with those in the highest walks of life, he also associated with those whose only creed—total depravity—kept them down on the lowest possible level.” Did that mean he was a pedophile?
8. Orrando P. Dexter (d. 1903), a case study in how not to make friends: buy up 7,000 acres where locals like to hunt, post the land and treat your new neighbors like peasants. The identity of the New York City millionaire’s assassin has been a Santa Clara secret for 107 years.
9. Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635): Scholars believe that the French explorer was a misunderstood peace-seeker, but as the first white man to see the Adirondacks and then to unload his arquebus on the natives within minutes [correction: a day] of meeting them, de Champlain set a hostile tone.
10. Fred G. Sullivan (1945-1996): briefly a mentor and always a hero to me, Adirondack Fred was a very funny guy, best remembered for writing, directing and starring in the self-deprecating 1987 movie The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Fitness and Filmmaking. At his memorial service, Fred’s lifelong friend eulogized (paraphrasing): “Fred liked to say there are two kinds of a**holes in the world: those who know they are and those who don’t. Fred was an a**hole.”
Illustration: General James Abercromby