There are taller mountains in the Adirondacks, those that leave a middle aged hiker feeling the effects of time for days after the climb. There are mountains with names that inspire the imaginations of those who plan to add them to their list of alpine accomplishments, names like Hurricane, Skylight, or Giant. Every named peak in the Adirondacks carries a story, stories of local history, stories of New York’s early leaders, or stories of the early woodsmen that first fought their way to the top and placed the rocky summit on the map.
Goodman Mountain outside of Tupper Lake bears a different story with its name, and I was compelled to climb it not because of the bragging rights that come with success, and not because I wanted to test my endurance and the ability to push myself a little past my comfort zone. The 2,176 foot summit offers a very pleasant vista, but not a visit to the dwarf forest that circles the bald crest of many peaks, or the 360 degree view of endless woodlands and lakes that High Peaks regulars crave. I wanted to climb Goodman Mountain BECAUSE of the name, and to find out if I could find some connection with its namesake as I followed the narrow pathway to the top.
Andrew Goodman was born November 23, 1943, in New York City and lived with his family on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. From the time of his childhood he spent Summers at the family camp built by his grandfather Charles near Bog River Falls. Like many who spend time in the Adirondacks, Andrew bonded with the wildness of the place. Raised in an environment where social justice was a part of everyday conversation and consciousness, Andrew was compelled to take part in the Civil Rights Struggle taking place in the United States during the early 1960’s. His convictions and compassion led him to Meridian, Mississippi, where Andrew was murdered, along with fellow activists Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.
This horrific event took place June 21, 1964, a little less than a year before I was born. The simple fact that the dates of Andrew Goodman’s death and my birth do not overlap means, of course, that we were never in the Adirondack Park at the same time. We have never met and our paths have never crossed, yet upon my learning that a mountain in my beloved Adirondacks was re-named to honor a person who believed and acted as Andrew did, I knew immediately that I had to visit and climb that mountain.
My wife and hiking partner Karin and I set out on a warm, dry summer day. Pulling into the dusty parking lot just off of Rt. 30 a few miles south of Tupper Lake, we immediately noticed a well-illustrated and informative display next to the trail register. We took a few minutes to read the posters and signed in.
As we started up a gentle incline, entering the verdant forest and crossing a small brook, the story of Andrew’s short life and violent death reverberated in my mind. My troubled thoughts were tempered by the sights before us in the living forest, and the sound of the stiff warm breeze rushing through the canopy creating a soothing white noise. We soon turned to the left and ascended a beautifully laid stone staircase as the trail became steeper and began to wind through the forest.
The hike was not particularly difficult or strenuous, just enough vertical gain to get my heart rate elevated. We passed through stands of hardwoods and fragrant pines, occasionally looking down at the worn trail so as not to trip on a root or stone while lost in the beauty that surrounded us. We soon found ourselves passing through an opening in the forest as we reached the summit. A stunning panorama of pine topped peaks and distant lakes spread out before us, the whispering breeze swaying the treetops gently and drying the sweat of our effort.
I sat on a rock and soaked up the sun and the quiet of the moment, sipping from my water bottle and enjoying one of Karin’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A friendly black dog soon joined us, followed by a white haired gentleman who sat down nearby. I introduced myself, and explained that I was a writer working on a story about Goodman Mountain.
My new friend was willing to share his thoughts with me and we discussed the place and the meaning of it’s name. He told me that his name was Arnold Schultheis and that he lived in Tupper Lake. Arnold climbs Goodman Mountain almost every day, on snowshoes during the winter months. “I have a lot of back pain, so I have to keep moving,” Arnold said. I asked him if he knew of Andrew Goodman and how the mountain got its name. “I do know the story, and I know where the family property was located,” Arnold continued, “hearing about this tragedy made me very sad.”
Sad indeed…as Karin and Arnold and I sat on top of this small mountain on a beautiful summer’s day, surrounded by immense beauty and the peace of the Adirondacks, I couldn’t help but to think of the racial unrest in the news recently. On top of a mountain, up and away from the troubles of the world, it is easy to forget about the problems facing us when we hike back down and return to everyday life.
I always carry the hope within myself that we as a nation can finally find our collective way when it comes to relations between people with different skin colors. We can’t seem to get it. We can’t let go of the ridiculous notion that a person’s appearance defines them and that the division of one species, homo sapiens, into several races is of benefit to anyone or anything. We could not figure this out during Andrew Goodman’s brief life, which ended before mine began, and I fear that my life will end before this nonsense is left behind, a distant, embarrassing memory.
Changing the name of a mountain to honor someone like Andrew Goodman was a great idea. I am proud to live in a state where this could happen, and I hope that hikers visit this gentle peak and perhaps bring someone along that does not know the story of Andrew Goodman. I also hope that I live long enough to see Andrew’s dream become reality.
Illustration by Michael Johnson