Author William J. “Jay” O’Hern has once again shown himself to be a tireless researcher. While letters, journals and old newspapers and magazines are valuable to his work, Jay favors a more hands-on approach. A seasoned Adirondack adventurer himself, he has always preferred interviewing people with knowledge of his subjects. He likes to visit the places he writes about.
So it was that he and his wife Bette backpacked to the Cold River Valley for a trip that provides the framework for Adirondack Wilds: Exploring the Haunts of Noah John Rondeau (2014). Jay serves as a guide to who followed the same trails decades before.
An important destination was Cold River Hill, site of Noah John Rondeau’s hermit home, known as “Wig Wam City, Population 1.” Of course Rondeau was not your average hermit, in that he had many friends and gave a proper mayor’s welcome to pretty much anyone who stumbled into his “city.” Richard Smith did just that in 1934 when he was a teenager, fascinated with the idea of an independent life in the wilds.
Rondeau and Smith became fast friends, and Richard did come to live in the woods after he graduated from high school. He had his own place at Duck Hole, and stayed until he was drafted in 1946.
Jay O’Hern was lucky enough to interview Smith years later, after Rondeau’s death. Smith shared his thoughts and memorabilia about Noah and the adventures they shared. Jay and Richard Smith traveled to places in the Adirondacks that were of particular importance to Smith and Rondeau, providing O’Hern with what he calls “eyewitness research.”
Adirondack Wilds also includes reminiscences by Clarence Petty, Adolph Dittmar, Helen Colyer Menz, Mary Colyer Dittmar, Clarence and Stacia Whiteman, Charlie and Polly Russ, and many other old-time associates the author interviewed, people who mountain-hiked to the Cold River Town Hall.
Books noticed at Adirondack Almanack have been provided by their publishers.