Friday, April 16, 2010

Lake George: Guy Lombardo’s Speed Boat Racing Stunt

Gar Wood and George Reis excepted, Gold Cup racing produced no amateur racer more famous than Guy Lombardo, the director of the dance orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

In the spring of 1949, he paid a visit to Lake George, ostensibly to plan a record-breaking run from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing.

As it happened, the bandleader never did bring his his boat to Lake George. But never mind. The visit is one more chapter in the annals of boats and boating on Lake George.

Lombardo won the 1946 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River in his Tempo VI, a 1934 hull with an engine that still qualified for Gold Cup racing according to the rules established in 1920. Bolton summer resident Melvin Crook described Lombardo’s victory this way for Yachting magazine: “Lombardo finished by finding a good rhythm and conducted to a fine crescendo, rather like as if he were directing Ravel’s Bolero.” 1946, however, was the last year the old rules applied, and as a consequence, the boats were much faster in 1947 and 1948. Lombardo lost the Gold Cup races in 1947 and 1948, although, with a new engine, he broke a world speed record for the mile in Miami in 1948. Clearly, Lombardo was not ready to retire from racing. He hoped to break a speed record of 141.74 mph set by Sir Malcom Campbell in 1939, which his rival, racer Danny Foster, had tried and failed to do in 1946. To succeed, Lombardo needed a new boat, and a body of water suitable for record breaking speeds, or so he said.

Lombardo was performing with his orchestra in Glens Falls that month; one day, he brought two of his brothers and some members of his band and his racing crew to Lake George to see if it would be a good place to break Campbell’s records. After inspecting water conditions, docking facilities and a probable course (a 10-mile, straight course from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing), Lombardo reportedly pronounced conditions ideal.

Henry Kaiser, who had built hundreds of ships during World War II, was supposedly paying for a new boat capable of great speeds for Lombardo to use to set the new world record. She was to be built by Ventnor Boat Works in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which also built Lombardo’s Tempo VI. Kaiser, who had a summer home in Lake Placid, said that he wanted the record to be broken there. Lombardo claimed that if that was the case, he would bring Tempo VI to Lake George and, at the very least, break Gar Wood’s 1932 record of 124.915 miles per hour.

Lombardo, accompanied by Paul Lukaris and Harry Cohan, went by boat from Lake George Village to Bolton Landing, where they docked at George Reis’s boathouse and where Lombardo, it was reported “matched nautical knowledge and swapped boating information” with Reis.

The photographs taken that day are apparently all that the visit produced. Boat racer and builder Bill Morgan says that to the best of his knowledge, Lombardo never returned, and that he certainly never attempted to break a world’s record on Lake George.

Given the involvement of Paul Lukaris (who later promoted Diane Struble’s swim of Lake George), Harry Cohan (who would become New York’s boxing commissioner) and the Lake George Chamber of Commerce, one can’t help but assume that Lombardo’s visit to the lake that day and his claim that he was considering coming to the lake later in the year to set a world’s record were all part of a publicity stunt, useful for Lake George and for Lombardo himself, whose orchestra still had engagements in Glens Falls.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

Photo: Guy Lombardo with George Reis, inspecting El Lagarto.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.





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