Monday, July 14, 2014

“Oops!” Moments From The North Country’s Past

1899 ABadPlaceToCutIceFRIt’s time for another installment of what I call “Oops Moments” from the North Country’s past—incidents that resulted in unforeseen consequences (but in many cases should have been foreseen). I enjoy collecting these because of the humor involved: most of them will either make us laugh or leave us shaking our heads in wonder.

The first takes us back to 1899 Ogdensburg and involves an important part of the region’s past: ice harvesting. In early February, it was noted that several parties had begun cutting ice from the St. Lawrence River in front of Spaulding Boat Works. Perhaps a little more thought should have gone into choosing where to cut, for it was also noted that the ice being harvested was not fit for use as drinking water. It came from “the direct line with sewer drain from the boat works, and is very likely filled with sewer contamination.” Hmm … could Ogdensburg be the originator of novelty ice cubes?

In 1904, Potsdam’s Redmond Barent was helping his friend catch a young, frisky horse that had proved difficult to corner in the pasture. Deciding a lasso was in order, Barent managed to toss it around the horse’s neck. Success! And now to reel him in … but “him” turned out to be Barent, who without giving it much thought, had anchored the lasso by wrapping the rope several times around his wrist. The horse broke into a run, and young Redmond, unable to let go, was dragged violently around the rough pasture at high speed, “severely lacerating his hand and arm before he could succeed in loosening it from the rope.” That’s one wrangler who had less horse sense than the horse itself.

At Rensselaer Falls in April 1908, the local mail carrier, a Mr. Daine, was making his rounds when a muskrat crossed the road in front of his rig. Pulling up, he jumped off and gave chase, in all likelihood hoping to secure the muskrat’s fur coat for some extra income.

As the animal reached the water’s edge, Daine gave a mighty kick that missed, causing him to land with a great splash in the icy cold water. Ironically, the large fur coat Daine was wearing could have been the death of him, but he managed to save himself and crawl ashore, waterlogged and humiliated. An impartial observer might have wondered which fur-bearer was the hunter and which was the prey.

And finally we have John Stark, a lineman for the Postal Telegraph & Cable Company. Although he was accustomed to working in high places, we can deduce from his story that Stark was more closely aligned with tree surgery than brain surgery. In 1922, while working high atop a telegraph pole near Moffitsville, Stark purposely cut a guy rope that was critical in maintaining the pole’s upright stance (that is, after all, a guy rope’s purpose).

While it sounds like something from a Harold Lloyd or a Charlie Chaplin movie, the result was all too real. After swaying to one side, the pole crashed to the ground, where Stark landed heavily and was presumed by observers to be dead. However, he survived the fall and was treated by a local doctor for serious injuries.

Had it happened today, he might have contended for honorable mention in the Darwin Awards.

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Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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