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.
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.
Many magazines, including Life (“The Uranium Rush”) and Popular Mechanics (“The ’49 Uranium Rush”) featured stories on the phenomenon that was sweeping the country. The coincidence of timing — the 100th anniversary of the 1849 California gold rush — made for enticing newspaper headlines as well. » Continue Reading.
It’s hard not to think the above title is ridiculous. Believable possibilities would be iron, feldspar, talc, or garnet. But uranium? And on top of that, a rush? With the excitement of hopeful lottery players, folks in the past have swarmed the mountains and lowlands at word of supposed gold discoveries, or silver, or other metals, all of them precious in terms of financial value to the finder. But rushing to find radioactive materials — the stronger the better — in the Adirondacks? Really?
For the first four decades of the twentieth century, large mines at a few locations worldwide provided the bulk of uranium used in America. Discoveries of ore in Quebec and Ontario in the early 1900s caused speculation that deposits existed in the Adirondacks as well due to a shared geological history. In 1914, George Chadwick, professor of geology and mineralogy at St. Lawrence University, opined that “there’s no special reason” why radium-bearing rocks wouldn’t exist in the local mountains. Perhaps none had been found, he said, because no one had looked for them. » Continue Reading.
History credits the discovery of uranium to a German chemist, Martin Henrich Klaproth, in 1789. In 1896, just over a century later, a French chemist, Eugene-Melchior Peligot, discovered uranium’s radioactivity. Uranium ore, known as pitchblende, was revealed shortly after by Marie and Pierre Curie as the source of radium, which they mentioned as a possible future treatment for cancer.
Polish born Marie, (her name was Sklowdowska) was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the first person to win twice — in 1903, in physics, for her work on radiation, and in 1911, in chemistry, for discovering polonium and radium. Only she and Linus Pauling have won in two different fields. (She also developed the practical use for x-rays that dramatically enhanced patient care on the battlefields of World War I). » Continue Reading.
An oldies channel recently played an old favorite of mine from the past: “Signs,” which originated with a Canadian group in 1971, the Five Man Electrical Band. A line of the song called to mind a rather interesting hike from long ago. The second stanza begins with, “And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight,” a lyric reminiscent of certain signs that once caused me more than a little consternation.
In the late 1970s, while exploring the fringes of a unique natural area in Clinton County, I found myself on a very old, rocky, uneven road that crossed both state and private land. The owners of the private land, according to my map, had taken liberties with their property claims, planting some of their posted signs on state-owned land. » Continue Reading.
Word of the manhunt for Herbert Short had reached both Auburn and Dannemora prisons, and soon after, searchers were joined by a team of 20 corrections officers from Dannemora. For them the effort was deeply personal: they were, after all, desperately hoping to find their good friend alive and well.
But he had gone missing on November 5, and an estimated 100 searchers had found nothing after several days. On November 9, Tremaine Hughes, a pilot among the state troopers’ ranks, took to the air in what was described as the first aerial effort by the police on a missing-person mission. Heavy bags of clothes and food were sent aloft, to be dropped if Short were sighted. But the effort proved fruitless. Searchers on the ground said they could hear the plane at times, but the woods were so thick that, even without leaves on the trees, they couldn’t see Hughes circling above them. » Continue Reading.
In early November 1930, a hunting party in the Boreas River area split up to do what Adirondack hunters so often do: execute a deer drive. Among those taking part were Lew Buck, Leo Adams, Edward White, Murray Short, and Murray’s brother Herbert. Herb was a corrections officer who had recently been promoted and transferred to Auburn Prison from Clinton Prison in Dannemora. It was Dannemora that provided the link between him and the other men: Buck was the village’s former postmaster, White was a retired Clinton keeper, and his close friend Adams still worked there as a guard.
Concern mounted at day’s end when the men reassembled and Herbert was a no-show. But he was a very experienced woodsman, and the entire party was aware that a storm was moving into the area, so in that sense he was prepared for anything. His companions surmised he may have been turned around while trying to get back to camp before the snow fell. At that point, the explanations they considered carried reassurances that everything was OK, or soon would be. » Continue Reading.
If you followed the story of Samuel Coplon, Santa Claus of the Adirondacks, which appeared here during the past several weeks, you know he was a remarkably caring and giving man dedicated to making Christmas a special time for many needy children and adults in the Adirondacks.
For more than a quarter century, he bought numerous gifts and collected thousands more from friends and clients (Sam was a salesman representing several toy distributors), packed and shipped them to North Creek at his own expense, and traveled north to distribute them just before Christmas Day.
The story ended when Samuel, struggling with health issues in his late fifties, was forced to retire from the Santa Claus business, but left a wonderful legacy of charity and Christmas joy. Sam lived for another twelve years after the Christmas trips to the Adirondacks came to a halt in the 1930s. It’s sad but true that his life ended under unfortunate and undeserved circumstances. To a degree, his good name and reputation were tainted amid lurid national and international headlines related to the activities of one of his children. » Continue Reading.
In June 1932, Sam Coplon recognized a second opportunity to cheer Adirondack children. Adding something new to his repertoire, he visited the offices of the North Creek Enterprise, which had advertised his upcoming appearance to distribute cap guns to any and all boys ages 8 to 12, and gifts for girls as well. The noisy guns, which allowed children to join Fourth of July celebrations, were made by the firm he had long represented as a salesman, Riemann, Seabrey Company (the name by then changed from a hyphen to a comma). » Continue Reading.
In 1930, Sam Coplon, the Santa Claus of the Adirondacks, was doing well financially but was by no means wealthy. The house he owned in Brooklyn was worth the equivalent of $230k in 2017, and served as home to his wife Rebecca, son Bertram (13), and daughter Judith (8), along with Rebecca’s mother and sister.
As he did each year, Samuel gathered a huge collection of Christmas gifts that winter and personally bore the cost of shipping them to North Creek. In previous seasons, this constituted upwards of 30 large crates or containers, a number that would soon increase. His employer and several of their clients donated toys and games at Sam’s behest, adding to the joy of children in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
Things appeared to be going well for Sam Coplon, the Santa Claus of the Adirondacks, but major change was in the works. Samuel had begun working as an Albany city clerk, limiting his ability to oversee the two business locations in Warren County. After spending several weeks at Johnsburgh in early 1910, he announced a going-out-of-business sale, offering all the hardware and furniture in his stores along with his horse, rig, and everything else related to operations there. By year’s end, most of the stock was gone. At Christmas time, he loaded a sleigh with toys and other gift items for delivery to homes across the area in what would become an annual tradition.
Years later, he recalled fondly the warm feelings generated by giving openly to beloved friends and neighbors, recognizing that many families, some of them quite large, struggled financially, and that even small luxuries were rarities in their lives. His remedy was to provide toys and games as Christmas gifts to show that someone cared.
In January 1911, he offered special closeout deals to folks in the Johnsburgh area before shuttering both business locations. For the remainder of the year, he made visits of several days each to the homes of friends in Johnsburgh, Bakers Mills, and Garnet, tended to his summer home, and made the gift-giving rounds again at Christmas. » Continue Reading.
The collection of letters to Santa that appeared in this space last week epitomized life in the rural regions of northern New York a century ago. At Christmastime, children from families living a common, low-income existence asked Santa for the simplest of items: a pencil and notepad, candy and nuts, or clothing to keep them warm in the winter. Toys and playthings were often secondary requests if they appeared at all.
But the simple desires from long ago reflected something other than just poverty. A good number of rural folks were self-sufficient, and all family members, even young children, took part in the daily chores of life: working the fields and garden, milking cows, collecting eggs, adding logs to the fire, and so on. An early understanding of the effort behind daily sustenance was evident in children’s annual humble Christmas yearnings for pencils, books, and treats for the tummy, suggesting an appreciation for things in general, and gifts in particular.
Among those who came to the Adirondacks and developed a deep admiration for this rustic lifestyle was Samuel Coplon, who embraced the people, reciprocated their generosity, and in time became a nationally known hero of North Country Christmases, earning him the title Santa Claus of the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
Below are actual letters to Santa published in Adirondack regional newspapers a century ago, from 1914 through 1917. (None of the letters have appeared here in past collections.) Those years coincide with World War I, so there are a few references to the war, but for the most part, the letters are just plain entertaining. Some contain tinges of sadness, and they all reflect a simpler time among working-class communities, where gifts often consisted of items that in higher strata of society were common, everyday possessions.
For example, among the hundreds of letters reviewed, including 37 presented here, the most frequently requested Christmas gifts were candy, nuts, oranges, and warm items of clothing. » Continue Reading.
Frank “Pork” Lafave, whom accused murder John Kinney said actually committed the horrific murder of Adolphus Bouvia, testified that he had been in Chazy for two months, a fact confirmed by his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Eaton. In rebuttal, the defense called William Laforce, an inmate in the county jail. Laforce was facing two charges of horse theft, which may have reduced his credibility as a witness. He claimed that during Frank Lafave’s visit to the jail, Laforce had overheard him admitting the crime and promising revenge on John Kinney for being a snitch. According to Laforce, the comment was, “Kinney, I killed old Bouvia and gave you ninety dollars.” Then, on his way out, Lafave added, “John, you squealed on me, and I will get even with you yet.”
Another inmate, Robert Morrison, was re-called to the stand after testifying earlier about letters he had supposedly written on behalf of Kinney. The DA pressed Morrison to admit that he had been paid by the defense to testify. At that point, attorney John E. Judge took the stand briefly, explaining that, just six hours earlier (at 3 am), he had been dispatched to locate Morrison in Burke, a Franklin County village about forty-five miles west of Plattsburgh. Morrison was informed he would be paid fifty dollars by the county for appearing in court later that morning. » Continue Reading.
George Lashway, murder suspect John Kinney’s father-in-law, testified that John didn’t support his family adequately (he and his young wife had three children), so Lashway was obliged to take care of them. In deep poverty and with nowhere to go, the family had recently moved into George’s home.
Lashway then told about an unusual incident involving his son-in-law. Kinney had asked to be awakened at 3 am on Wednesday, December 29, so he could go to his home (near Bouvia’s) and start a fire in the fireplace. When George went out to feed the horses at 6:30 that morning, he encountered Kinney, who said he had fallen asleep for a few hours after starting the fire. That absence identified a window of opportunity for Kinney to have committed the crime. Lashway also identified the gun that Kinney had borrowed for so long from George Trudeau, and had returned on January 2. » Continue Reading.
A century ago, it was common during the Christmas holidays for North Country lumber camps to empty, at least briefly. In 1909, in far northeastern New York, the men of Altona in Clinton County enjoyed a welcome break after several weeks in the woods.
Near the settlement of Purdy’s Mills, the camp cook, Adolphus Bouvia, closed down operations on December 23. Widowed a year earlier, he planned to return home and spend time with family, friends, and neighbors, some of whom worked with him on the lumber jobs. » Continue Reading.
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