I have been part of two recent Adirondack events where one of the most popular activities was the commemorative pictorial post office cancellation. During the Lake Clear Depot Centennial and Adirondack Kids Day, people were lined up to have a piece of mail with first class postage canceled by means of a special rubber stamp. I’ve always been interested in stamp collecting, but had never heard about this phenomenon.
Special hand-stamped postal cancellations are created about 60 days before a specific event. The original artwork varies and usually honors a specific event such as the Great Camp Sagamore Centennial in 1997.
According to Blue Mountain Lake Postmaster Liz Forsell the possibility of having a “Zip Code meets Date” pictorial cancellation is quite rare. She was able to create two events for her post office, January 28, 2012 and the upcoming December 8, 2012, where the two dates both match Blue Mountain Lake’s zip code of 12812. » Continue Reading.
The Town of Webb Historical Association and Goodsell Museum, located at 2993 State Route 28 in Old Forge, Herkimer County, is currently featuring the exhibit “Floating Letters-The Town of Webb’s Mail Boats-Over 100 Years of Postal Tradition and Summer Fun” through the end of October.
The exhibit presents the history of the delivery of mail by boat in the Town of Webb on the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Big Moose Lake, Twitchell Lake, Rondaxe Lake, Silver Lake, and other locations from the early 1880s until the present. The exhibit includes photographs, certificates, ledgers and maps -as well as a wide assortment of custom leather & canvas/cloth mail pouches donated or on loan for the exhibit. Included in the exhibit is the story of the Railway Postal Office (RPO) – a unique contract issued to Dr. William Seward Webb & the Fulton Chain Navigation Co. in 1901 whereby an official postal clerk rode on the boats to cancel mail, sell stamps & money orders, and perform other postal duties.
Additional exhibits at the Goodsell Museum include those on Adirondack wildlife, the Goodsell Family (George Goodsell was the first ‘mayor’ of the Village of Old Forge in 1903) and the 90th Anniversary of the Thendara Golf Club. The next featured exhibition, on early medicine, will open December 1st. The Webb Historical Association maintains a regular exhibit on early local doctors which will help form the basis the of the new exhibit.
The Goodsell Museum is open year-round; there is no admission charge.
The museum is also participating in Old Forge’s “First Friday Art Walk” events by including special exhibits connecting art with historical themes. On July 1st from 5-8PM they will have one of Lottie Tuttle’s oil paintings on display. Lottie was one of the Adirondack’s first female guides, she and her husband invented the devil bug fishing lure that was manufactured in Old Forge and marketed across the United States in the early 1900’s.
On July 9th the Association will hold its 9th Annual Benefit Auction. Preview and registration starts at 1 pm, bidding at 2 pm with auctioneer June DeLair from Constableville Auction Hall. The auction is held under a tent on the Goodsell Museum grounds and will include antiques, collectibles, new and nearly new items donated from members and friends of the museum.
The Association also has other programs, workshops, and walking tours. More information can be found online or by contacting Gail Murray, Director, via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at Photo: The Steamboat Hunter – Captain Jonathan Meeker delivered mail to hotels and camps as early as 1883.
Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity.
The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s. They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.
Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.
The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.
Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.
In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.
According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.
This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.
Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.
In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.
Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.
That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “No person shall take or interfere with any… homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark.”
“Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles. They didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather. Many of the birds that landed in the North Country came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common.
In 1912, one Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.
In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.
And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.
Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.
In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.
During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).
During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.
Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.
Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.
Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon (broken leg) found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that broke the bird’s leg. It was suspected that the balloon had finally gone down over Lake Ontario.
One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.
Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachment—a piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.
Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”
In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.
It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoon—it was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.
Photo Top: Homing pigeon with message in tube.
Photo Middle: WW I military troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon.
Photo Bottom: Winged members of the military.
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.
American Lung Association Founder Honored with New U.S. Postage Stamp
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 12, 2008—As part of its Distinguished Americans series, the U.S. Postal Service released a new 76 cent stamp today that honors Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915), the founder and first president of the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, the precursor to the American Lung Association. Dr. Trudeau dedicated his life to researching and treating tuberculosis, a highly infectious disease that at one time killed one in seven people in the U.S.
Tuberculosis is also known as the White Plague or TB, and in the late 1800s, doctors did not know its cause, how to treat patients or prevent transmission of the disease. Dr. Trudeau himself contracted TB after caring for his ill brother, and moved to the Adirondacks, where he recovered. There he founded the first research laboratory dedicated to TB and helped patients recover with “open-air” treatments, promoting the treatment and containment of the disease through fresh air, rest, nourishment and a positive attitude. “Dr. Trudeau was a true pioneer who led a public health movement and remained focused on the ideal that we can overcome a disease through coordinated research, education and advocacy,” said Bernadette Toomey, President and CEO, American Lung Association.
Under Dr. Trudeau’s leadership, the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis spearheaded research, launched the first-ever public health campaigns to halt the spread of TB, and fought for the establishment of local public health departments. Ultimately, research breakthroughs led to the first effective drug treatment for TB in the mid-1950s, resulting in a dramatic change in our nation’s public health.
“America has many reasons to celebrate Dr. Trudeau and his contributions to our country,” said Toomey. “The American Lung Association continues to honor his legacy by investing in research on asthma, COPD, lung cancer, TB, and many more lung diseases.”
The stamp bearing Dr. Trudeau’s portrait is the U.S. Postal Service’s 11th issuance in the Distinguished Americans series; it will be a 76-cent stamp, priced for three-ounce First-Class Mail letters. Artist Mark Summers created the portrait on the stamp, based on a photograph of Dr. Trudeau provided by the American Lung Association.
About the American Lung Association: Beginning our second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Lung disease death rates continue to increase while other leading causes of death have declined. The American Lung Association funds vital research on the causes of and treatments for lung disease. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is “Improving life, one breath at a time.” For more information about the American Lung Association or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or log on to www.lungusa.org.
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