Posts Tagged ‘Saranac Lake’

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.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sketchpad: Governor Cuomo in Lake Placid


Governor Andrew Cuomo came to the new Lake Placid Conference Center on Wednesday to promote three initiatives he wants the State Senate and Assembly to pass before the end of the legislative session.


Village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, fresh from Daffodil Festival, made a rare appearance in Lake Placid. The Governor notably referred to the Mayor as “my good friend.” Impressed by the abundance of meeting facilities available in the neighboring village, Mayor Rabideau returned home determined to bring the Olympics to Saranac Lake.


Mayor Rabideau handed off the introduction to “Lake Placid Supervisor Roby Politi.”
North Elba Supervisor Politi thanked Mayor Rabideau for “the sincere introduction,” receiving the biggest laugh of the afternoon.


The capacity crowd at the mint conference center gave Governor Cuomo a warm welcome. The governor’s PowerPoint presentation, refined over recent weeks at locations across the state, addressed the issues of a property tax cap (popular among realtors in the audience), government ethics reform, and gay marriage (popular among local event planners).


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adirondack Ice: Local Ice-Out Contests

For many, springtime (mud-season) looms as the longest and most trying of seasons. Skating, skiing, ice fishing and other winter sports are no longer possible; hiking trips await drier footing, paddling is on hold until the ice goes out. Adirondackers, often in some desperation, look for diversions to help them survive this interminable time of year.

With the arrival of March, temperatures start to swing wildly from 5º to 65º. Water drips, brooks babble and lake ice slowly dwindles away; not sinking as some would believe, but rather becoming porous and water filled until finally it melts completely and disappears. This happens bit by bit in different parts of lakes and over a period of many days. Ever resourceful, residents take advantage of this phenomenon to provide entertainment in the form of ice-out contests. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Chris Morris: Where Are All The Volunteers?

Earlier this month, volunteer fire departments across New York state took part in a unified recruitment effort, aimed at increasing ranks and attracting younger volunteers.

Hosted by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the Recruit NY effort was deemed a success.

I reported on the recruitment and retention issues that are, according to most fire departments, putting volunteer ranks at risk. You can listen to — or read — the story here. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities: Saranac Lake Daffest

There have been all sorts of numbers being bantered about regarding the number of daffodil bulbs planted for the 1st annual Daffest in Saranac Lake April 29- May 1, 2011. Organizer Cherrie Sayles knows for sure.

“Last fall volunteers and organizers planted 51,000 bulbs for the first Daffest,” says Sayles. ” There are a lot of numbers out there but we have a great start. Our goal is to plant a million bulbs.” » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Remembering Roger Tubby, Ambassador from the Adirondacks

Roger Tubby died twenty years ago, in January, 1991, at the age of eighty. In Saranac Lake, if not the entire Adirondack region, people should be celebrating the centennial of his birth. If anyone wonders why, I hope this tribute to Tubby which I wrote for the Lake George Mirror in 1998 will help.

The Harrietstown Cemetery near Saranac Lake is a sloping meadow overlooking the Whiteface and Sentinel Ranges. My wife’s great-grandparents, who farmed nearby, are buried here. As we walk among the rows of headstones, we come upon one which is, if anything, more modest than its austere neighbors. Engraved in the stone are these words: “Ad Astra per Aspera.” Reach for the stars. This is the grave of Roger Tubby.

“Ad Astra per Aspera” was Roger Tubby’s motto from youth onward. “At least I got close to some of the stars, earthbound, and even counseled one of them, President Kennedy, to reach for the moon, and beyond,” he once wrote to friends. Quite true, of course. He served, at various times and in a variety of capacities, Presidents Truman and Johnson, Governors Harriman and Carey, and candidate Adlai Stevenson, as well as John F. Kennedy,who appointed him U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations at Geneva. (And for years afterward it was the custom of his friends, if they happened to meet him if the street or in the hardware store, to call out, “Good morning, Mr. Ambassador!”)

Roger Tubby himself may have sometimes doubted that he reached the stars. As a young man, he wanted to be president, or at the very least a senator. But reach them he did, and not because he was an adviser to princes – powerful as that position may be. His greatest achievement may well have been his life in the north country. When he moved to Saranac Lake, he was aware that he was choosing not just a place to live but a way of life. As he himself once said, “I came up here because I wanted to live in an area, a society, where the individual still does have some personal responsibility and can still contribute to the community.”

I cannot claim to have known Roger Tubby well. He was a man of my parent’s generation, and their friend. Even as a teenager, however, I enjoyed talking to him, and because he enjoyed talking to younger people, he was a favorite of his friends’ children. Much of what I know about him comes from those conversations.

Roger Tubby, his wife Ann and their children moved to Saranac Lake from Washington in 1953. With the encouragement and perhaps at the suggestion of Adirondack writer William Chapman White, he and his friend Jim Loeb had just purchased the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Before that, Tubby had been President Truman’s Press Secretary. After Eisenhower’s inauguration, he accompanied Truman back to Missouri. The President asked him to stay on there as his aide. Tubby declined. “I wanted to be independent,” he said.

When Tubby and Loeb began publishing the Enterprise, the north country was in the midst of one of its frequent depressions. “I thought we needed to work with other communities to bring things around,” Tubby recalled. “It seemed to me that promotion had been carried out in such a piecemeal way – village by village, resort by resort.” With the help of people like Nate Proller of Warren County, Tubby established the Adirondack Park Association, known today as the Adirondack North Country Association, or ANCA – a fourteen-county association whose primary mission is to create jobs in the Adirondacks.

The Association supported the construction of Gore Mountain Ski Center, the Prospect Mountain Highway, and, most notably, the Adirondack Northway.

“I was accused of being on both sides of the fence, because on one hand, I wanted to keep suburban sprawl from entering the Adirondacks, and, on the other, I felt that the Northway would fulfill our industries’ need for better roads and open the area to year-round tourism,” said Tubby.

He was elected chairman of a state-wide committee appointed to secure passage of a constitutional amendment authorizing the state to build the highway across Forest Preserve lands. Had the referendum failed, the Northway would have been built east of Lake George and along the shore of Lake Champlain. Tubby’s experience as a newspaperman and a press officer was put to good use. He organized public hearings, developed an advertising campaign and sent out press releases; he mobilized the local chambers of commerce and calmed the fears of the conservationists, many of who were initially opposed to the Adirondack route. Due in no small part to Tubby’s efforts, the amendment was approved by a majority of New Yorkers.

Tubby once said, “If we can have a decent level of employment here, or in any small town, there are real living rewards.”

One of the rewards of living in a small town, Tubby discovered, was that being useful to his neighbors could be as gratifying as serving his nation. “There’s much joy in being engaged with all sorts of people on all sorts of projects: joy in being intrigued or challenged by new ventures,” he said. If the performance of civic duty turned out to be a pleasure, it was a noble pleasure.

In one of our last conversations, when I was in graduate school, a story about a long-time town supervisor led Mr. Tubby to recall an essay by G. K. Chesterton, from which I quote:

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community, we choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”

Roger Tubby may have found his greatest reward in the companions his small town chose for him. He knew the French-Canadian logger, the Calvinist farmer, the merchant, the town supervisors. He knew them, grew fond of them, and became their loyal friend.They returned the compliment.

The village of Saranac Lake has dedicated a park in Roger Tubby’s memory. At least his name will live on. I hope that his example will, too; for it teaches us that small town life, far from being a substitute for life in the capitals, is a life worth choosing for its own sake. Roger Tubby appears to have thought it the best life possible.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror or visit lakegeorgemirrormagazine.com

Photos: Tubby with President Harry Truman in 1952, when he was Truman’s press secretary; below, Tubby (left) with Adlai Stevenson in 1956.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Almanack Founder John Warren at Saranac Library

John Warren, founder and editor of Adirondack Almanack, will present a talk entitled “Adirondack Media: History and Future” this Thursday, March 3, at noon in the Cantwell Community Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library.

John will discuss the history of media in the Adirondacks, the current media environment and its possible future. A lively discussion is expected to follow. Bring a lunch; enjoy dessert and coffee provided by the Hospitality Committee. For more information, call 891-4190. The event is free and open to the public.

Over 25 years John’s work has ranged from traditional broadcast and print to new media. In addition to Adirondack Almanack, he is also the founding editor of New York History, the author of two books of regional history and a weekly contributor to North County Public Radio. John was the 2010 recipient of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Eleanor Brown Communications Award for “outstanding talent and journalistic achievement in building an online, independent news source about the Adirondacks.”

John has a Masters Degree in Public History, and holds credits on more than 100 hours of primetime television programming, including documentary projects that have aired on PBS, History Channel, A&E, Discovery, TLC, and Travel Channel. Since 2001 he has carried out documentary program development work for PBS affiliate Maryland Public Television.

He also manages an archival new media project for the New York State Writers Institute at the State University at Albany and teaches documentary studies and media production at Burlington College.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Almanack Welcomes Naturalist Tom Kalinowski

The Adirondack Almanack is pleased to welcome our newest natural history contributor Tom Kalinowski.

Tom is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for a variety of magazines and wrote a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News for nearly ten years. He has also written two books; An Adirondack Almanac, and Adirondack Nature Notes, both of which focus on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. Along with writing, he also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s work here at the Almanack will also include his more recent work in video. His first post will appear this morning.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Adirondack Carousel Hires Project Manager

The Adirondack Carousel Board of Directors has announced that Randy Cross has been hired as Project Manager to oversee construction of the Adirondack themed carousel, slated to open this year in the William Morris Park in Saranac Lake. Cross, who is a well known builder in the Saranac Lake area, was selected from a field of three qualified candidates.

“We have been very encouraged by the support of our donors, friends and neighbors, as well as the dedication of our volunteer Board and the State grants we secured. Our Board feels confident we will be able to break ground in early April, with a goal of opening sometime in July” said Marge Glowa, chair of the Carousel’s board.

The Adirondack themed Carousel hopes to employ as many local contractors as possible according to Glowa and is looking forward to advertising for bids as soon as final approvals are obtained from the Village and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “We will also be relying on many hands to help us build this one of a kind Carousel through in-kind donations of labor and materials”, she added.

The Carousel will be housed in its own Adirondack style pavilion with adjacent space for community workshops, exhibits and special events, including birthday parties, reunions and even weddings for up to 100 people. A new updated playground will also be added.

To view the Carousel’s progress and photos of the custom designed wildlife figures that have been hand carved and painted by volunteers, visit their website.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Long Time Saranac Lake Resident Phil Wolff Passes

Philip George Wolff, 95, a Saranac Lake resident and florist for decades and an Adirondacker well known for his public service and wry wit, died Thursday February 3, 2011, at his western home in San Diego.

Phil, as he was known to friends and several governors, was the oldest living licensed bobsled driver, the chief of staff of the 1980 Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, and the proud founder of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum. He achieved State Historical Site recognition in 2009 and National Historic Site recognition in 2010 for the 1932 Mt Van Hoevenburg Bobsled Run. Phil’s hand-restored 1921 Model T nicknamed “Jezebel” was donated to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.

Phil was a veteran of WW II, serving in the Army Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1945. At the end of the war, he was among the troops sent to occupy Japan, where he and several fellow soldiers on an assignment there just six days after the atomic bombings that ended the war saw a road sign for Nagasaki, and out of curiosity, detoured into the heart of the destroyed city and took photos of one another at ground zero. The adventure became one of the many stories of his incredible life that Phil loved to tell, showing the snapshots that proved it. He received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and other citations before returning to Saranac Lake and a reunion with his wife Elsie (Hughes) Wolff, who had built up their business during the war years and given birth to their first daughter, Cynthia, during his absence. Phil served an additional 17 years as an Army Reserve officer, starting an Army Reserve unit at Paul Smith’s College. He retired with the rank of Captain.

Born in Buffalo on October 19, 1915, he attended Cornell University where he was a member of the ski team and met his wife of 70 years. Another of his favorite stories was of the night he was playing bridge with classmates, discussing whom they were going to invite to an upcoming campus event. When a fellow card player said he was going to invite Elsie Hughes, Phil excused himself from the table the next time he was dummy, went to a phone and asked her himself.

Phil, who earned the money for college by selling furs he trapped on his way to and from high school, took a year off from college for his first job, that of designing and constructing Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park in 1937, before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture in 1938. Elsie gave him an ultimatum — he could be a farmer without her or a florist with her, and they were married in 1940, opening and operating a greenhouse in Ray Brook that year and a florist shop in Saranac Lake called Wolff Your Florist, which closed in 1981, having delivered thousands of distinctive white corsage boxes to young women over the decades.

Phil became an early 46er in 1940. He loved hiking the High Peaks (in moccasins) with his scouting friend Frosty Bradley. Adirondack Life magazine published his memoir of those trips and his meetings with hermit Noah Rondeau in the April/May, 2010 edition, making Phil, then 94, perhaps the oldest author to have an article published in the magazine, complete with photos he took of Rondeau. He was proud of his paycheck from the publication.

Phil was active in the community, serving as president of Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. He was a member of the Town Board of North Elba, Chairman of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, a member of the Northwood School Board of Directors, the Saranac Lake Golf Course Board of Directors, He also was the Treasurer of the Cornell Alumni Association Class of 1938 (until his death), and a founding member and treasurer of AdkAction.org, an Adirodack advocacy group founded in 2006 when he was in his early 90s. He was elected Town Justice of the Town of North Elba in 1960 and served for 16 years, performing many marriages including those of his children. He was seen during Winter Carnival over the years with other Rotarians as Miss Piggy, among other caricatures. In San Diego, California where he and Elsie took up winter residence in 1987, he enjoyed serving turkey to the “older folks,” most of whom were younger than he, at the Poway Rotary Thanksgiving Dinner for Senior Citizens.

Phil was an Eagle Scout and member of Troop 1 in Barker, NY, where he returned in 2010 to bestow the Eagle badge on their latest recipient in August, 2010. He founded the first Boy Scout Troop in Saranac Lake in 1939.

Phil was a member of the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympic bid committees. In 1978 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the 1980 Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, a position he held until the LPOOC’s closure in 1987, volunteering his time during the last three years of that assignment. He also served as chief of the Security Committee for the 1980 Games. One of his proudest accomplishments was being the founder and president of the 1932 and1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum, where he remained on the board until his death. He was inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2002.

Phil will be remembered by family and friends for his generosity and thoughtfulness, his ability to fix anything, his love of golf with his friends, the intricate ship models he constructed in bottles, his broad thinking about solutions for the Adirondacks he loved, his bad jokes, his love of his alma mater, his collection of Olympic and Adirondack books and memorabilia, and his love for his wife and family. His favorite saying was, “Isn’t it nice to have the WHOLE family together.”

Phil is survived by his wife Elsie, his children Cynthia of LaJolla, CA (Bill Copeland); David of Ridgefield, CT and Saranac Lake (Holly); and Steve of Poway, CA (Stephanie) as well as grandchildren Dj, Stephen, Alex, and Andrew.


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