Just over a year ago, the North Country (specifically, Plattsburgh) was mentioned on Saturday Night Live to the great dismay of some, though it was hilarious to others (including me). In a skit, New York Governor David Paterson (Fred Armisen) tells how he’ll spend the remainder of his term: Here’s an excerpt: “Well, I’m going to do a farewell tour of upstate New York—hellholes like Plattsburgh and Peekskill. … I’m going to give those rock-eaters something to cheer about. Those freaks love me up there.”
The rock-eater comment was highlighted by the media, leading to all kinds of feedback, some of it very funny. Plattsburgh’s Mayor Donald Kasprzak weighed in with a video reply, as did Keeseville’s Speedy Arnold with a musical tribute. It was all in fun (laughing at yourself always is), but some folks up north and in Poughkeepsie were upset, feeling we were unfairly portrayed. And I have the proof to back them up.
Let’s begin with a question. What do the following items have in common? Brass ring, buttonhook, dental drill, false teeth, iron nut, key, nail, needle, open safety pin, rusty screw, and whistle. All are pointed? Almost … but the brass ring, iron nut, and whistle don’t fit. All made of metal? Nope … false teeth. Common in most households? Hmm … not dental drill and buttonhook.
If you haven’t already guessed it, they are all items that, at one time or another, have been swallowed by North Country folks. Several, like safety pins (and yes, false teeth) have been swallowed in multiple instances. Conspicuous in its absence from the list is the common rock. No rocks, stones, or pebbles. So it’s clear—we are NOT rock-eaters.
I’ve seen people eat glass and plenty of other odd items, but it’s safe to say that the items on this list were all swallowed accidentally. In most cases, medical intervention was required, and in some, the ending wasn’t clear, though it was probably best left to the imagination.
In 1902, a Rensselaer Falls woman, whose false teeth plate was cracked, gave a sudden sneeze, sending part of the plate down her throat and into her stomach. It was painful for a while, but after two doctors examined her, they said it shouldn’t cause her any further trouble. (Are you, too, cringing at the images in your mind?)
In 1904, a man swallowed his false teeth during the night, nearly causing death by strangulation. Doctors at the hospital in Ogdensburg made an incision in his throat and successfully removed them. And in 1915, a Tupper Lake man had a similar experience, swallowing a false tooth along with its attached plate.
After visiting a doctor and a dentist, he too ended up at the Ogdensburg hospital for surgical intervention. Thankfully (or maybe not), the obstruction was instead removed by “natural means.” Personally, I don’t think there was anything natural about it, and I’m curious (or again, maybe not) to know if the tooth was returned to its former location.
In 1905, a Gloversville engineer was undergoing a dental procedure when the drill bit came loose and slid down the man’s throat before the dentist could grab it. A doctor proceeded to feed the man dough in the hopes it would cling to the drill bit and prevent any punctures of the intestines. (Now there’s something to ponder the next time you’re waiting for the Novocain to kick in.)
In 1930, a Franklin County jail inmate was picking his teeth with an open safety pin nearly two inches long and (get ready to squirm) somehow managed to swallow it. X-rays at the Alice Hyde Hospital confirmed that it was lodged, point-down, in his throat. Eventually he was taken to Syracuse, where a doctor sent a lighted tube down his throat and used a hook to slowly and painfully pull the pin out. Adding insult to injury, he got 3–6 years in Clinton Prison.
And there was the case of the Master’s Pedestal at Massena’s Masonic lodge in 1903. The Tyler (outer guard) locked the pedestal and put the key in his mouth, and, well, you can guess the rest. No word on who used the key next time around, but I’m guessing a pretty good story resulted from the recovery process.
And there you go. All that variety, but not a rock-eater in the bunch. Probably a tough story for them city folk to swallow.
Photo Top: X-ray of safety pin in throat (2010).
Photo Bottom: North Country snack tray (known to others as polished rocks).
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.