In August 1939, tanks began rolling toward the border. That short sentence should call to mind the beginnings of World War II, as German tanks headed for Poland. The very same thing was happening here at the very same time: tanks preparing for war were rolling towards New York’s border in August 1939. It was the 66th Infantry’s tank battalion out of Fort Devens, Massachusetts, crossing the Crown Point Bridge from Vermont to Port Henry and heading north to the Plattsburgh area for war maneuvers. Included were more than a hundred trucks and motorcycles and thirty-seven tanks. » Continue Reading.
In the 1950s northern New Yorkers had war on their minds. Thousands of average citizens put television, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and Corvettes aside over concerns about World War III. Fresh on everyone’s minds was World War II, but the U.S. was right back into a mess in 1950 in Korea, where a three-year fight became one of the building blocks of the Cold War. On it’s ground floor were the everyday North Country folks who joined Operation Skywatch. » Continue Reading.
Plenty has been written about the loyalty of dogs and how they’ve saved or protected people—rescuing children in trouble, barking to rouse people during fires, or protecting their humans from wild animals, tame animals, or other humans. I’ve written on some of those themes here, and was once protected by my own faithful companion, who went above and beyond the call by fending off deer poachers coming after me with a cattle prod. Yikes! Perhaps a story for another time, but I have to say yet again … Good dog! » Continue Reading.
In the spirit of the September 10–13 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration (check out what you missed, and make plans to attend next year), here’s a little Q & A fun from the battle itself, the War of 1812, and Lake Champlain history.
The answers immediately follow each question, so if you enjoy testing yourself and/or others, don’t peek. And if you’re not familiar with the Battle of Plattsburgh, it’s a fantastic story of Americans triumphing against great odds in both a land and water battle. As much as anything else, the victory at Plattsburgh helped end the war. » Continue Reading.
Labor Day honors the labor movement and the contributions of America’s workers, concepts that have been driven home for me many times through interviews with old-timers who helped build this country. Typical among them was Floyd Bracey, a proud Lyon Mountain iron miner who passed away in 1993. Referring to my factory job back then as “work” seemed unfair after learning about Mr. Bracey’s daily routine of more than three decades.
What follows are excerpts from our conversation in 1980 at the Bracey home in Lyon Mountain, about ten minutes west of Dannemora. » Continue Reading.
The 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry represented Washington County, New York, in the Civil War. Final casualty totals were about 166 dead (69 on the battlefield) and 158 wounded. Among those were 16 killed and 16 wounded from the town of Whitehall. The dead represent 16 grieving families and great loss for the community, a theme replayed again and again across the country.
Among the key words defining America is union, as in the opening words of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union…,” and as in pledging “allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” Yes, it’s even in our name—not America, but the United States of America. » Continue Reading.
If you’re up for a few laughs, here are some more headlines taken from old North Country newspapers. See if you can figure out the real story behind each headline—and don’t be disappointed if you only go one-for-four.
The first one may have been an editor having a little fun with word play, but the headline in the Hammond Advertiser from spring 1944 does make sense in context. If you haven’t already guessed, the year provides a clue to the article topic. The answer: World War II was a time of shortages in America, and the article addressed limitations on the amount of gas available for pleasure craft in the Adirondack region. » Continue Reading.
Lodestone’s definition—magnetic, to attract strongly—helps clarify the meaning of the following famous quotation: “A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men.” Those are the words of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith. In more colloquial terms, here’s a very loose translation used by a movie star—Thumper in Walt Disney’s “Bambi”: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”
It suggests that people respond well to kind and friendly words, which is true. That’s the concept behind a movement launched long ago by a North Country man. In this era of routine public rudeness, lightly veiled slurs, and yelling opposing views at each other as a substitute for substantive discussion, maybe it’s time for the League of the Kindly Tongue to rise again.
Yes, the League of the Kindly Tongue was once a thing, born of excessive gossip, rumors, rudeness, and … well, you get the point. It’s hard to imagine such a pro-civility movement taking root, but it did in a very big way. » Continue Reading.
After attending local schools and working on the family farm, he found employment in the iron and lumber business. Higby then enrolled in the Essex County Academy at Westport and went on to graduate from the University of Vermont. After studying law, he began practicing in Elizabethtown in 1847. Three years later, nearing the age of 40, he felt the call of the West amid dreams of striking it rich in California’s gold mines. » Continue Reading.
Regional traditions, from Authors’ Night in Long Lake to small-town fairs and church dinners, are part of what makes rural life fun. There’s a financial component for sure, but such social gatherings capture a feeling of community that’s elusive in more populated areas. Eighty years ago, Elizabethtown in Essex County hosted the launch of a unique event that fit the mold perfectly: Dicker Days.
Town leaders actually turned down the idea, so it was hosted in Elizabethtown, but was the brainchild of Margaret Adams, whose persistence and resources made it a success. » Continue Reading.
The recent pursuit of prison escapees near Mountain View and Owl’s Head in northern Franklin County ignited for me a few memories from the area, both related to iron ore. Lyon Mountain, a few miles northeast of Standish, produced the world’s highest-grade iron ore for a century. Standish was home to the iron company’s blast furnace, and the village is linked to Mountain View by an unsurfaced, 11-mile stretch of the Wolf Pond Road.
When I interviewed old-timers back in the early 1980s for a couple of books about Lyon Mountain’s history, they told me of how the blast furnace stood out several decades earlier for residents of Franklin County, south of Malone, especially in the Mountain View area. Across the valley where the Salmon River flows parallel to the Wolf Pond Road, there was a nightly bright glow on the eastern horizon. At times the furnace, which ran 24/7, looked like a giant torch in the distance. The effect was powerful when nights were truly dark, before everyone decided that floodlights were a great idea. » Continue Reading.
A recent encounter with an old “friend” resulted in some surprising information, courtesy of my wife, Jill. A few TV buffs might recognize the name Arnold Winkler. Others might not know the name but will recall the character. Arnold was the spoiled friend of Opie Taylor (Ron Howard) on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and in a memorable episode, he provided Opie with some advice on how allowances work and how to negotiate. Some of the dialogue is great, and two scenes are excellent—Opie’s testing of Arnold’s methods, and the finale in the sheriff’s office.
Jill loves many of the old shows that have been revived on different channels. I’m much old … scratch that … let’s just say I’m enough older than her to have seen the shows when they originally aired. It’s common ground for the two of us to watch old shows together. At least in my opinion, they stand up quite well against any competition. While some provide escape, “The Andy Griffith Show,” believe it or not, depicts small-town life much as it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. » Continue Reading.
The recent annual Nathan’s Hot-Dog Eating Contest (really, it’s a sport?) reminded me of a few gluttons from my past – of the wildlife variety. The term is used loosely here to include some ambitious and/or instinctive eaters encountered during a lifetime of hiking and a lot of fishing in my younger days. Had cameras been pocket gadgets back then like they are today, some great illustrations would be accompanying this piece. At least a few would be of bullfrogs. » Continue Reading.
Last week’s recounting of North Country native George Kissell’s remarkable 69-year career in professional baseball touched only on some highlights.
Including all the details would surely require a hefty tome, but a look at one particular season provides insight on who he was and where his baseball wisdom was rooted. For that, there’s no better year than 1950.
Prior to that time, George, who hailed from the family farm in Evans Mills, northeast of Watertown, was an excellent athlete. At the age of sixteen, he was playing shortstop for a men’s team in the local Adirondack League, rapping out a double and triple in the team’s first playoff game. At seventeen, he led the Evans Mills High School basketball team as a guard. » Continue Reading.
George Kissell, a native of Evans Mills, about eight miles northeast of Watertown, is one of the most famous sports figures you’ve never heard of – unless maybe if you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Conversely, here are some baseball names you might be familiar with: Earl Weaver, Tony LaRussa, Steve Carlton, Joe Torre, Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Don Zimmer – and to go way back, let’s include Branch Rickey.
For a bit of perspective, listen to what they had to say about George Kissell (who is in no way related to the recent troubles in the Cardinals organization). Hall of Famer Earl Weaver called him one of the biggest influences on Weaver’s career. In Tony LaRussa’s first press conference after being voted into the Hall of Fame, Kissell was mentioned as a primary influence in his baseball life. Another Hall of Famer, Joe Torre, did the same, having noted earlier that, “Kissell taught me more baseball than anybody I’ve ever met in my life.” » Continue Reading.