While staying at Camp Kirby on Raquette Lake last summer I picked up the two volume Notes Collected in the Adirondacks 1895-1896 and 1897-98 (North Country Books, 2010) by Dr. Arpad Geyza Gerster, and edited by Sidney S. Whelan Jr.
The book is a transcription of the diaries kept by Gerster, who had a summer home on Big Island on Raquette Lake.
Gerster was quite a character. Born in Hungary in 1848, he was a surgeon in the Austro-Hungarian Army before emigrating during the Panic of 1873. Working first for Manhattan’s German Hospital, he became a renowned surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital, taught at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and served as President of the American Surgical Association. Gerster was also an avid sportsman, a trustee of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, a lover of Italian opera, and an accomplished artist.
Most of Gerster’s diaries are poetic accounts of life on Raquette Lake, and the characters he encountered. He recorded his fishing and hunting trips and the local flora and fauna – “Man against the elements” was one of his favorite themes:
“What a pleasure to stride through the reaches of the forest, booming with the roar of the tempest through the treetops, or better yet, launch your boat, and buck your tossing way against black squall and numberless, unceasing files of oncoming, whitecapped seas.”
Gerster also described with flair the daily hum of activities at his camp and around Raquette Lake. One amusing event was the Inman family dynamiting a new well. The Inman’s eccentric camp is one that “do[es] not appeal to the instincts of acquisition.” On blasting the well, Gerster says: “It cost him so far $300, but they have no water yet, and all their roofs have holes knocked through them by the rock blasted out by dynamite, of which they have used 200 lbs.”
The two-volume collection was a delight to read; so much so, that I spent an evening on the dock racing the setting sun to finish.