Almanack Contributor Lawrence P. Gooley

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.



Monday, October 22, 2018

Hudson River History: The 1903 Spier Falls Disaster (Conclusion)

In spring 1903, more than a thousand men were at work on the final stages of the Spier Falls hydropower project. A large number of skilled Italian masons and stoneworkers were housed in a shantytown on the Warren County (north) side of the river.

Most of the remaining work was on the Saratoga County (south) side, which they accessed by a temporary bridge. But the company feared that the high waters of springtime had made the bridge unsafe. To avert a potential catastrophe, they destroyed it with dynamite. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Spier Falls Disaster: An Adirondack Tragedy

Adirondack history is naturally rife with river-related stories—wildly successful fishing trips, damaging floods, wilderness exploration, and dam construction. Rivers were the lifeblood of development:  settlements sprang up along waterways, where partial diversion of streams provided the wheel-turning power necessary to many industries. But freshets were so common and destructive that dams were introduced as flood-control measures, and then for hydropower as the electrification of society unfolded.

Recognizing the great financial potential of providing electricity to industries and the masses, power companies sought to develop dozens of potential reservoir sites. Among the arguments they used to justify building dam after dam was public safety. Ironically, the construction of a hydro dam was marred by one of the worst tragedies in Adirondack history. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Most Negative Sales Pitch Ever

A little more than a century ago, a horrendous description of an Adirondack village appeared in newspapers, including the Mail and Express published in New York City. At issue was the placement of a yet-to-be-built tubercular sanitarium. Feelings ran so high at the time, you’d swear they were selecting the next Supreme Court justice. But taking sides is nothing new, as proved by use of the written word back then to describe one of the candidate locations. As you’ll see, it’s hard to believe they were talking about the same place. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

World War I: New Yorkers Get Behind the Liberty Ball

Endless commentary and opinions across various media reveal such modern political divisiveness that sometimes it makes you wonder: “Was it always like this?”

The answer is no: sometimes it was worse and sometimes it was better. Without going into detail, worse would be the Civil War, the Prohibition Era, two world wars, and the 1960s (daily televised scenes of police dogs and fire hoses used against civil rights and war protesters, daily gore and body counts from Vietnam, multiple assassinations). » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Orra Phelps: With Us on Every Trail

In the passages below, excerpted from a 1942 article appearing in a regional newspaper, there is a glaring error. Can you spot it?

“Dr. Orra A. Phelps, Fort Plain School Physician, was the principal speaker at the initial meeting of the Burroughs Nature Study Club…. He spoke on Guide to Adirondack Trails. In his talk, Dr. Phelps outlined various trails leading to the most picturesque spots in the upper Adirondacks from information gleaned first-hand by the speaker, who is an enthusiastic mountain climber.

“He called particular attention to Mt. Colden, located between Mt. Marcy and Mt. McIntyre, one of the few points, he said, that has been preserved in its original state and which he characterized as the heart of this wilderness of nature. Dr Phelps also described the scenic beauty discovered on a visit to the Ausable Club in the vicinity of Keene Valley. The speaker is chief author of the book, Guide to Adirondack Trails.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 17, 2018

A Perfect Storm of Bad Luck; One Tough Guy on Black Lake

A front-runner for 1930s “it seemed like a good idea at the time” award was 40-year-old Harry Baxter of Syracuse. In early September, he and his wife, Louisa, and one of their sons were camping at Black Lake in western St. Lawrence County. Thirty-six hours later he was in desperate straits, clinging to a small, rocky island and life itself.

Harry’s troubles resulted from a series of questionable choices. The first was fishing from a small boat in conditions that Baxter himself later described as heavy seas. The second was going alone, perhaps not the best idea, and the third was where he chose to fish — after all, alone and in stormy waters, where else to set up but near the center of the lake, which spans more than two miles at its widest point.

Because the water was quite rough, he anchored both ends of the boat, enabling him to stay in one spot to fish. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it also prevented the boat from moving with the water, thus making capsizing much more likely from wave action and water splashing into the boat. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Boy Who Sued Santa — And Won!

That’s no trick headline you see above. After an incident in the Adirondacks 65 years ago, Santa’s business operations in the mountains were taken to court — by a five-year-old plaintiff.

As you might imagine, there were proxies involved: Santa’s interests were represented by Santa’s Workshop, North Pole, N.Y. (in Wilmington), and young Michael of Saratoga Springs was spoken for by his parents. Attorneys handled the court proceedings on behalf of both parties.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Little Humor: Odd Accidents from the Past

Safety — on the job, in the home, on the highways — is serious business with the National Safety Council, but they’re not without a sense of humor. For decades at the end of each year, the organization published a collection of unusual accidents, once called Freak Squeakers, that could have been catastrophic, but by odd circumstance ended with relatively minor injuries, or none at all. From my collection of odds and ends, here are a few from the Adirondack region that fit the category, followed by a few more that the NSC shared more than 60 years ago. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 27, 2018

A Lake George Mystery (Conclusion)

No one knew for certain what had happened to Alma Gatti and Jerry Walker after their disappearance on Lake George in summer 1949. To a certain extent, dragging for the bodies was a crapshoot because no one knew for sure where the presumed accident had occurred. There were no reported sightings of them that day, and no way to determine how far their canoe had drifted before reaching the shore.

Within a few days, first one paddle and then another, both stamped as belonging to Lamb’s Boathouse, were found in the vicinity of Watch Point, indicating that searchers were dragging the area likeliest to yield results. A Conservation Department boat continued working a five-square-mile area between Watch Point and Shelving Rock. Meanwhile, four state police divers spent an entire day probing the depths, but came up empty. » Continue Reading.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Cold Water Shock: A Mysterious Lake George Tragedy

The combined stories of Alma Gatti and Jerry Walker reveal two offspring any parent would be proud to claim as their own. Their young lives were filled with activities and accomplishments, suggesting a promising future ahead.

Jerry (Cuthbert Orton Walker Jr.), an Arkansas native, spent most of his childhood in Little Rock. He attended the University of Washington in Seattle in the early 1940s, and roomed with three friends while working as a furniture-store clerk. Life was interrupted by World War II, and beginning as an army private barely a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he spent 30 months in Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East. His service ended in 1946 as a first lieutenant whose awards included the Philippines Liberation Medal and the Bronze Star. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Space Force History and the Plattsburgh Air Base

Whether you see a stable genius or a bumbling buffoon in the White House (there seems to be no middle ground), no one should credit him as a visionary for the idea of adding the Space Force as our nation’s fourth military branch. Security and defense officials discussed the idea openly in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. In fact, if a special committee and a certain famous senator had their way, the Space Force might well have had a base right here in the North Country.

After a February 1958 interview with author and scientist Willey Ley, the Canton (Ohio) Repository wrote: “He mentioned the separate service, or ‘U.S. Space Force’ idea proposed by Mr. [Werner] Von Braun, who feels that such a service could better obtain the cooperation required from the present army, navy, and air force.” Von Braun was referring to the intense competition among the branches to develop long-range missiles and take the technological lead in a future of rocket launches and space missions. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ruth Williams: A World War One Nurse Overseas

The word hero is often tossed around loosely, but when it comes to wounded soldiers, no one argues that it’s fitting — so what does it say about someone else when wounded soldiers call them heroes? Consider American women during World War I. Although many wanted to, they didn’t have to serve because of their sex, and could support the troops by important actions at home. But some chose to place themselves near the front lines, and with no weapons to defend themselves. Their only protection came from nebulous agreements by both sides not to bomb hospitals and care centers.

That’s what nurses did, risking their lives to comfort, save the lives of, or ease the deaths of, soldiers. Which explains why so many wounded men referred to nurses as the real heroes. A fine example of that circumstance, with an unusual twist or two, involved Ruth Williams of Ogdensburg. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Ketchup Murder Case

In late July 1934, the average life of Watertown’s Vincent Sparacino took a sudden, drastic turn, becoming anything but humdrum. Vincent was an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1906 when he was 16 years old. The family settled in Watertown and operated Sparacino & Company, a fruit wholesaler that later branched out into vegetables. By the late 1920s Vincent and his brother Tony were partners in the business with other family members. Vince was a hands-on guy, frequently driving a delivery truck to customer sites around the city.

On many days after finishing work and taking supper, he drove to a nearby grocery store, parked outside, sat in the front passenger seat, and played the car radio. His good friend of many years, Patsy Carbone, ran the store, and whenever there was free time, Patsy came out to visit. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Fire on the Altona Flat Rock: Déjà Vu

Recent news stories on both sides of Lake Champlain reported a huge, dark cloud of smoke rising above northern Clinton County. A section of the Altona Flat Rock was afire, and within a day, more than 300 acres were scorched.

Dry conditions across the North Country were cited as the reason it spread so quickly, but there were other factors I happen to be familiar with because the first book I wrote, back in 1980, was titled A History of the Altona Flat Rock. The area in question comprises fifteen square miles of uninhabited wildlands which, by nature, is a very dry environment. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

John Casilear’s Love Affair with Lake George (Conclusion)

After a stellar 30-year career as a professional engraver of bank notes, artwork, and other items, John Casilear had left the industry to become a fulltime painter, and a very good one — a creator of lovely, detailed landscapes epitomized by artists of the Hudson River School. Even as the popularity of that genre faded and the American art world followed new paths, he was still the frequent recipient of praise and admiration. General assessments of his artistic capabilities were positive, and even glowing.

“There are very few artists belonging to the American school of landscape painters who have achieved such widespread popularity as John W. Casilear…. Mr. Casilear is a great lover of pastoral scenes, and some of his most notable pictures of this character have been drawn from the neighborhood of Lake George, and the Genesee Valley…. His pictures when sent from the easel are as harmonious as a poem, and it is this perfect serenity in their handling which is so attractive to connoisseurs…. He is one of the most popular landscape painters of the day” (The Art Journal, 1876). » Continue Reading.