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, January 24, 2011

North County Rock Eaters? Not Exactly

Just over a year ago, the North Country (specifically, Plattsburgh) was mentioned on Saturday Night Live to the great dismay of some, though it was hilarious to others (including me). In a skit, New York Governor David Paterson (Fred Armisen) tells how he’ll spend the remainder of his term: Here’s an excerpt: “Well, I’m going to do a farewell tour of upstate New York—hellholes like Plattsburgh and Peekskill. … I’m going to give those rock-eaters something to cheer about. Those freaks love me up there.”

The rock-eater comment was highlighted by the media, leading to all kinds of feedback, some of it very funny. Plattsburgh’s Mayor Donald Kasprzak weighed in with a video reply, as did Keeseville’s Speedy Arnold with a musical tribute. It was all in fun (laughing at yourself always is), but some folks up north and in Poughkeepsie were upset, feeling we were unfairly portrayed. And I have the proof to back them up. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Studley Hill Road: The Waterloo of All Cars

There are many well known automobile testing sites—Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and Colorado’s Pikes Peak come to mind—and some lesser knowns, like Michigan’s Packard Proving Grounds, built in the 1920s. Dozens of official and unofficial testing grounds have been used, and by now, you’ve probably guessed it. Yep … the Adirondacks once had their very own.

While it didn’t have a national profile, Franklin County’s Studley Hill was widely reputed as the most difficult road in the north—unevenly surfaced, extremely steep, and with several sharp curves. Because hill-climbing ability was primary in determining a car’s quality, events and competitions became important to manufacturers and very popular with the public.

Studley Hill is historically significant for many reasons, but the most unusual is the irresistible challenge it presented to some of the top car manufacturers of the early 20th century.

Well, the lure actually was resistible for a while, and for one good reason: fear of failure. Salesmen wished to brag that their product could achieve wonderful things that other cars couldn’t, but it was best to first try Studley on the sly. If you didn’t conquer the hill, you didn’t talk much about it. That made for a lot of quiet car salesmen in the North Country.

The automobile was still a new-fangled contraption that few people could afford, and folks traveling south from Malone on the Duane Road occasionally provided great amusement to those living on or near the hill. Some motored there for the challenge, and others came on joy rides, but from 1910 to around 1920, no one made it up Studley Hill’s steep northern slope. Only horse- or oxen-drawn vehicles could pull it off.

Tradition so often gives way to technology, and that’s what finally happened. Improvements in performance led to the inevitable, and in July, 1920, Studebaker dealer J. Franklin Sharp of Ogdensburg officially became the first to make the climb in an automobile. The real trick was to do it while keeping the car in high gear for the entire run.

It was said that Packards had climbed Studley in the past, and that may have been true. Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a year, and the Packard was a favorite of bootleggers. The Duane Road was a route they commonly used.

Sharp’s feat was easily achieved, but was not without drama. As one reporter put it, “The eyes of the motor world between Utica and the St. Lawrence River were turned this afternoon toward Studley Hill, the steepest grade in the northern country.” This was considered the first official test drive at Studley Hill, and looking at a map of the wilds south of Malone, one might argue that getting 159 people to such a remote location was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

The wagering (men will make a game out of anything and then bet on it) was described as heavy. On the very first attempt, Sharp’s Studebaker Big Six (named for its six cylinders) sped across the flat road to a running start of 55 mph. As quickly as it began the steep ascent, the speedometer plunged. All the while, spectators cheered wildly. Difficult curves slowed the car, but after about a mile, it crested the hill. The car’s lowest speed was said to have been 15 mph.

With Melville Corbett (Sharp’s garage foreman) behind the wheel, the trip was made in high gear four more times, carrying passengers that included Syracuse Post-Standard writers based in Malone and Saranac Lake.

Meanwhile, Frank Sharp wasn’t finished for the day, deciding to attempt the hill in a lighter model, the Studebaker Special Six. Much to the surprise of himself and everyone else, the car climbed ably to the top. It was a great endorsement of the Studebaker brand for dealers across the North Country when headline stories later told the tale.

Just as hiking down a mountain can sometimes be as difficult as climbing up, descending Studley Hill offered its own unique challenges. Many accidents there involving cars or horse-drawn vehicles prompted some unusual signage. Drivers approaching the steep descent to the north were cautioned by roadside warnings, the first of which offered the standard Drive Slow. A second suggested the harrowing drop that awaited: Keep Your Head.

A third and very large sign was unofficially posted by someone with a wonderful sense of humor. And who would dare question its effectiveness? In large, hand-written, red lettering, it said simply, Prepare to Meet Thy God.

In 1921 there were two successful assaults on the hill. A huge touring car, the Paige Lakewood 6-66 (11 feet distance between the centers of the front and rear tires) accomplished the feat to great fanfare. (A Paige had won at Pikes Peak the previous year.)

Paige representatives from Malone and Rochester were on hand, proud to point out that, unlike the climb by Studebaker in 1920, their car did it without aerodynamics—the top and the windshield were up, and two passengers occupied the back seat. The wind drag and extra weight (the car alone weighed 3,500 lbs.) were handled on several successful attempts.

Six months later, an Olds Four climbed the grade in high gear. Successful tries were often touted by the manufacturer as some type of “first.” The Olds people said theirs was the first “closed car carrying three passengers” to climb the hill in high gear.

In 1922, a Durant Touring Car climbed Studley, “ … the steepest and worst hill in the Adirondacks, and considerably harder to climb than the famous Spruce Hill at Elizabethtown on account of the abrupt incline and many turns.” Four men made the trip in what was claimed as the first ascent in high gear at all times under certain conditions (four passengers and much wind).

The driver claimed he was going so fast at the third curve, he was forced to brake hard. The car lost most of its momentum but still completed the run. Again, the story was used in newspapers to advertise the wonders of the Durant.

Technological changes led to even more impressive feats. In April, 1924, a Flint Six (made in Flint, Michigan by a Durant subsidiary) tackled what one writer called “the Waterloo of all cars.” This time there would be no running start. With the car parked at the base of the hill, high gear was engaged, and remained so throughout the climb. Despite sections of tire-sucking mud and slippery snow, the Flint crested Studley Hill without dropping below 15 mph.

Besides the sense of achievement, one other award awaited at the top—a view of the flats to the east, ringed by mountains and featuring several streams leading into the Salmon River. Among those waterways near the base of Studley Hill is Hatch Brook, one of my all-time favorite canoe trips. It twists and winds through the valley for miles, and I paddle upstream until the shores actually brush against both sides of the canoe. The next time I go, I’ll be thinking back to those days of the automobile hill climbs, but content with plenty of peace and quiet.

Photo Top: A Studebaker Big Six.

Photo Middle: Advertisement for Frank Sharp’s Studebaker dealership.

Photo Bottom: The Packard Proving Ground (1925), which did have a hill climb, but nothing the likes of which Studley Hill provided.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Whitehall Movie: The Girl on the Barge

As a follow-up to last week’s piece on the late Mary Barber (Aunt Mary), below is the story of the movie that was filmed long ago on the barge canal in Whitehall. It was researched and written by my partner, Jill McKee, and is now part of an exhibit in Whitehall’s Skenesborough Museum.

In 1929, Universal Pictures released a film called The Girl on the Barge. The movie was about Erie McCadden, the illiterate daughter of a crusty, alcoholic barge captain. Erie falls in love with Fogarty, the pilot of the tugboat that is towing her father’s barge from New York to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. Captain McCadden is not at all pleased when he discovers the romance, and his anger is escalated further by the fact that Fogarty is teaching Erie to read.

Happily, in the end the captain comes to his senses, likely due in no small part to Fogarty’s rescuing of McCadden’s barge when it is accidently set adrift. Erie marries her love and the two present McCadden with a grandson.

The Erie Canal proved too difficult a setting for the Universal production department to create on or near the studio’s lot. However, the Erie Canal itself was not deemed suitable either. At least that was the opinion of the movie’s director, Edward Sloman, who came to New York State with two veteran cameramen, Jack Voshell and Jackson Rose, to find the right filming location.

Such location trips were rare at that time in the movie industry, but Universal was willing to invest the added time and money necessary to film the movie in the correct setting. After scouting the entire modern, commercialized Erie Barge Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Sloman felt it would not be believable to audiences. “They would swear we faked it in California,” he said.

Enter a contractor from Waterford, NY, named John E. Matton. He believed the Champlain Canal was just what Universal was looking for. After seeing it, Sloman agreed and chose Whitehall as the filming location.

In May, 1928, Sloman and rest of the film’s cast and crew set up their headquarters at Glens Falls and took up temporary residence at the Queensbury Hotel in order to begin making the movie. The silent era was giving way to “talkies,” and The Girl on the Barge was a hybrid between the two—a silent film with talking sequences.

The film’s cast was made up of some notable stars. The title role of Erie was played by Sally O’Neil, who had found stardom in 1925 when she appeared along with Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford in Sally, Irene, and Mary. Erie’s father, the barge captain, was played by Jean Hersholt, who appeared in 140 films from 1906–1955, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1945–1949.

Malcolm MacGregor (or McGregor), who appeared in over 50 films during his career, played Erie’s love interest, Fogarty. Erie’s sister, Superior McCadden, was played by Nancy Kelly, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, during which time she received nominations for an Emmy and an Oscar, and also won a Tony Award. Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hersholt have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The movie’s director, Edward Sloman, was no slouch either. He directed nearly 100 films and acted in over 30, with some producing and writing thrown in for good measure. The story on which the movie was based was originally written by Rupert Hughes for Cosmopolitan magazine. Mr. Hughes was a prolific writer who saw more than 50 of his stories and plays made into movies.

The entire episode apparently caused quite a stir in the Whitehall/Glens Falls area. Several Whitehall residents took part in various scenes in the movie, and a humorous incident at the Queensbury Hotel was reported in the Syracuse Herald on June 11, 1928.

It seems that Mr. Hersholt arrived at the hotel after a day of filming. He was still dressed as his drunken barge captain character and asked for his room number without giving his name. The desk clerk not so politely informed Mr. Hersholt that the hotel was filled with “those motion picture people,” and there were no rooms available. In order to gain access to his room, Mr. Hersholt had to call upon director Edward Sloman to vouch for him.

Universal had a three-tiered rating system for its motion picture productions at the time Girl on the Barge was filmed. Low-budget flicks were dubbed Red Feather, and mainstream productions were labeled as Bluebird. Girl on the Barge was categorized as one of Universal’s most prestigious films, called Jewel. Jewel productions were expected to draw the highest ticket sales.

The movie was released on February 3, 1929. Various newspaper ads and articles have been found showing the movie still playing in theatres around the country into the following fall. The movie also received many favorable reviews. The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, complimented the “realistic and picturesque scenes” of “the barge canals of Upper New York State” (May 20, 1929).

The New York Times reviewer, Mordaunt Hall, raved about Mr. Hersholt’s make-up and costume, and stated, “The scenes are admirably pictured.” The Sheboygan Press of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, called the film “an exceptional picture,” and went on to report, “The picture actually was photographed along the picturesque Champlain Ship Canal in Upper New York State.”

Photo Top: Movie Poster now on exhibit in the Whitehall Museum.

Photo Middle: Sally O’Neil and Malcolm MacGregor in a scene near the canal.

Photo Bottom: Movie advertisement in the Ticonderoga Sentinel, 1929.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Lawrence P. Gooley: Missing Aunt Mary

The death of a friend, and her burial on the last day of 2010, leads me a brief departure from my usual posting here. The friend, Mary (Pippo) Barber of Whitehall, was nearly four decades my senior, but acted so young that she made me feel old. I first met her around ten years ago when she came 100+ miles north to Plattsburgh with a friend and then stood with us in line for three hours at a job fair. She was there as moral support, talking and joking all day long. I had no idea she was 84 at the time. As I would learn, she never looked anywhere near her age.

My partner, Jill, is from Whitehall (at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, where the barge canal begins). It is through her that I met “Aunt Mary,” a very important person in Jill’s life. On every visit to Whitehall during the past ten years, Aunt Mary was on our schedule of stops. She was always nice, friendly, inquisitive, and fun to chat with … just a classy lady.

Her memory was as sharp as anyone’s, and our interest in history often prompted us to steer the conversation in that direction. As many of you know (but many of us neglect), elderly citizens provide an invaluable connection to the past. When we republished Whitehall’s pictorial history book a few years ago, it was Aunt Mary who readily answered dozens of questions, helping us correctly define many buildings when we prepared the captions.

At one point in our conversations over the years, she mentioned that a movie had once been filmed in Whitehall. That was news to me and Jill, and we had to wonder if maybe she had made a mistake. It would have been easy to believe that she was a little mixed up—after all, she was about 90 then, and nobody else had ever mentioned a movie. Still, we just couldn’t believe she was wrong.

Jill’s faith in Aunt Mary drove her to keep digging, and much to her surprise, delight, and amazement, it was true! After much time and considerable research, she was able to uncover the entire story, a tale that may have been lost except for the teamwork of Jill and Aunt Mary.

It strengthened the already solid bond between them, and it didn’t stop there. A poster re-creation of the original movie advertisement is now an exhibit in the Whitehall museum, donated by Jill in Aunt Mary’s name.

Aunt Mary’s passing is certainly a sad loss, but it offers a reminder of the wonderful people and great historical resources that are often neglected—our elderly, whether they are relatives, friends, or nursing home residents. If you have considered talking to any of them and asking all kinds of questions, do it. They’ll enjoy it, and so will you. Don’t put it off and eventually live with painful regret.

I’m certainly glad we asked Aunt Mary all those questions over the years, learning about her life and Whitehall’s history. It was not only a smart thing to do. It was respectful, educational, and just plain fun.

Photo Top: Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 1943.

Photo Bottom: Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 2005.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, December 27, 2010

What A Wonderful Life: Lowville’s Erwin Eugene Lanpher

Research has taken me to more cemeteries than I can remember. Surrounded by hundreds of gravestones, I frequently remind myself that every person has a story. What often impresses me is that many people who are largely forgotten actually made a real difference in other people’s lives. Uncovering those stories from the past is humbling, carrying with it the realization that I’ll probably never approach the good works done by others.

Sometimes those good works seem to escape notice, and that was the sense that engulfed me as I read the obituary of Erwin Eugene Lanpher of Lowville. It reminded me of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, a regular guy who, as it turned out, was darn important to a lot of people. » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Early 1900s Letters to Santa

Children’s Christmas wishes and expectations years ago were much different. I was so struck by this—the simplicity and innocence—while researching a recent book that I included a chapter entitled “Letters to Santa” (in History of Churubusco). The sample letters below were published in local newspapers from 1920–1940. They offer historical significance, portraying the sharp contrast to the modern holiday, where disproportionately expensive gifts have become the norm.

Like hundreds of other small villages and towns in the early twentieth century, Churubusco was a farming community. Families were often self-sufficient, and everyone, including small children, had daily chores. This fostered teamwork and family unity, and it gave children a firsthand understanding of the values of goods, services, and hard work. Those lessons were conveyed in their missives to Santa. And, some of the comments in the letters are just plain cute.

1923
Dear Santa,
This year, money being scarce, my wants are few. I want a doll, set of dishes, ribbon, candy, and nuts. Don’t forget my brothers and sisters.
Your girl,
Eva Lussier

Dear Santa Claus,
I want you to bring me a little serving set, ball, candy, nuts, and bananas. Never mind the sled this year because I am expecting one from my aunt. My Xmas tree will be in the parlor near the stove, so take your time and get good and warm before you leave.
Wishing you a merry Xmas, your little friend,
Louis Patnode

1925
Dear Santa Claus,
I would like you to bring me a little bedroom set, some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
Louise Recore

Dear Santa Claus,
I would like a flashlight, sled, gold watch, some candy, nuts, oranges, bananas, and peanuts. Please don’t forget my little brothers, Walter and Francis. Walter would like a little drum, mouth organ, candy, nuts, gum, and oranges. Francis would like a little wagon full of toys, and some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
John Brady

1938
Dear Santa,
For Christmas I want a bottle of perfume and a locket, a 59 cent box of paints that I saw in your sale catalogue, a pair of skates, a nice dress and candy and nuts. I am eleven years old and Santa I hope you have a very merry Xmas.
Your friend,
Anita Robare

Dear Santa,
I am writing a few lines to tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a toothbrush and there is a set of 12 different games in your Christmas catalogue for 98 cents. Some of the names of the games are bingo, checkers, and jacksticks. Please bring me this set. I hope you don’t forget my little sister and brothers.
Your friend,
Henrietta Matthews

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I would like these things: a pair of ski shoes, pair of fur bedroom slippers, a dump truck, and banjo. I will leave some crackers and milk on the breakfast table.
Your friend,
Ann Elderbaum

Dear Santa,
When you come around for Xmas, I would like to have you bring me a pair of skates and a woolen shirt. It’s all I want for Christmas for I thought that you are getting old and those chimneys will be hard to climb. You will have some bread and milk at Christmas Eve.
Yours truly,
Theodore Leclair

Dear Santa Claus,
I wish you would bring me a sled and a ring. I don’t want very much for I know you are getting old and I don’t want you to carry too much. You will find my stocking near the stove and on the kitchen table you will find some bread and milk. I want you to leave me some candy, especially peanut brittle. I am 12 years old.
Your friend,
Cecelia Louise Miller

Dear Santa,
I wish you would bring me a popgun, tractor, truck and an airplane. You will find a bowl of bread and milk near the Xmas tree. You will find my stocking near the stove. I am only seven years old.
Your friend,
Clayton Miller

My Dear Santa,
I am eleven years old, and I wish you would bring me a cowboy suit and a sweater. You will find my stocking near the stairway, and on the kitchen table you will find some corn meal mush.
Your little friend,
Herman Leclair

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I thought I would drop you a line and let you know what I want for Christmas. I would like a red sweater, western book, and a fur hood. I will leave you some bread, cake, peanuts, and milk. I don’t want very much because you are growing old and your bag will be too heavy. So I will close and hope to have all I want for Christmas.
Sincerely yours,
Rita Theresa Leclair

Dear Santa,
I would like a new pair of shoes for Christmas.
Ruth Demarse

Dear Santa,
I want a tractor and some colors for Christmas.
Henry Lagree

1939
Dear Santa,
I have been a very good girl this year. I thank you for the things that you brought me last year. For Christmas I would like a doll and a Chinese Checker game. I will leave a lunch for you on the table. I will clean our chimney so you can slide down it. I will hang our stockings near the Christmas tree. I would like to stay up and see you but I am afraid that I would not get any presents so I will go to bed. Well we will have to close.
Your friend,
Helen and Patty Smith

Dear Santa Claus,
I have been a good boy this year. I would like a car that pedals. If you couldn’t bring that, I would like something smaller. And don’t forget Carol my baby sister. And I would like some candy, gum, oranges, and nuts.
Your little friend,
Robert K. Smith

Dear Santa,
I have tried to be a good little girl this year. I am nine years old and in the fifth grade. I would like a pair of ice skates between my sister and I. And don’t forget my baby sister, because she wasn’t here last year and I through that maybe you would forget her. But I guess that you wouldn’t do that trick. And don’t forget the candy, nuts, oranges, and gum.
Your friend,
Helen L. Smith

Dear Santa,
I would like for Christmas a pencil box and drawing paper, candy, and nuts.
Your friend,
Beulah Perry

1940
Dear Santa Claus,
I want a train and candy.
Norman Lafave

Dear Santa,
I would like a box of colors, a teddy bear, candy and nuts.
Agnes Lagree

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a pair of shoes, dress, and Christmas candy and nuts.
Ruth Demarse

From Jill and me at Bloated Toe Publishing, Happy Holidays to all.

Photo: 1916 Christmas advertisement for a Malone store.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Adirondack Celebrity: Centenarian Charles Jennette

In 1936, at a birthday party in the Adirondacks, the honoree said he would be married within two years. He died six years later, but in that short time he made headlines across the state and the country on several occasions. During that span, he received more than 100 letters and 9 personal visits from female suitors; became engaged; was dumped the day before the wedding; was the guest of honor at several dinners, birthday parties, and parades; regularly mowed his lawn with a scythe; joined a ski club; and received the Purple Heart for war injuries.

Those are interesting, but relatively normal life events. Unless, of course, at that party in 1936, the birthday boy was turning 99 years old. Review it all from that perspective, and now you’ve got something.

Meet Charles Jennette, for a time the most famous man in the Adirondacks. His greatest notoriety came in his 100th year when he became engaged to Ella Blanch Manning, a New York City woman who had attended his 99th birthday party several weeks earlier. Days before the wedding, the Albany headline read “100 Called Too Old to Marry; Man Will Take 3d Wife at 99.”

But just 24 hours before the wedding, and after a visit with her daughters, Ella changed her mind. Already a media sensation, and despite being left high and dry, Charles continued with his post-wedding plans of a boat ride and dinner, remaining hopeful of marriage in the near future. After many interviews, he was only too happy to return to an otherwise, quiet, humble life.

Jennette was born in Maine in 1837. The family moved to Canada when he was five, and returned to the US when the Civil War began. At Malone, Charles enlisted for three years with Company A, 95th NY Volunteers, but served only nine months. His time was cut short in 1865 when he was wounded in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (also known as Dabney’s Mills) in Virginia. He was still in the hospital when the war ended.

In 1866, he married Emily Proulx in Ottawa, a union that would endure for 57 years. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Charles tried to enlist at the age of 61 but was refused. He lived much of his life in the St. Regis Falls area as a lumberman, toiling in partnership for many years with his son, John.

They ended the business relationship in December 1915 when Charles was 78, and in the following year he built a cottage at Old Forge. In 1921, the 84-year-old was one of only 6 attendees at the final meeting of the Durkee Post GAR in St. Regis Falls. GAR represents Grand Army of the Republic, the title given to Union forces in the Civil War. Few veterans survived, so the local group was discontinued.

His wife, Emily, died in the mid-1920s. Charles soon began spending summers in Old Forge and winters in Ilion (near Herkimer), while making regular visits to family in Tupper Lake. He married for a second time (January 1935, in Montreal), but his new bride died just two months later.

He was generally known as a remarkable old-timer until fame arrived in 1936 when, at his 98th birthday party, Charles announced he expected to wed again before he reached 100 (because “over 100 is too old”). Several hundred people attended the festivities.

After addressing more than a hundred female suitors (ages 42 to 72), he made plans to marry Ella Manning. Instead, at 99, he became America’s most famous groom to be jilted at the altar.

After that, it seemed anything he did was remarkable, and at such an advanced age, it certainly was. In 1937 (age 100) he rode in a Memorial Day parade as guest of honor. Shortly after his 101st birthday, he attended the Gettysburg Annual GAR Convention 72 years after his combat days had ended.

In 1940, on his 103rd birthday, he used a scythe to mow the lawn, and otherwise continued his daily ritual—trekking nearly two miles to retrieve the mail, and taking time to read the daily newspapers (and he didn’t need glasses!). Yearly, he made maple syrup in the spring and tended a garden each summer.

In August 1940 at Oneida Square in Utica, Charles was honored in a ceremony at the Soldiers’ Monument, which was built in 1891 to memorialize the Utica men who “risked their lives to save the Union.” Seventy-five years after suffering wounds in battle, Charles Jennette became a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (formed during WW I).

At age 104, perhaps still holding a marriage possibility in the back of his mind, Charles became the first male allowed to join the Old Forge Sno-Flakes, an all-girls’ ski club. He soon expressed regret at not having taken up skiing “when I was young, say 70 or so.”

In mid-1942, in support of the WW II effort, a photo of Charles purchasing war bonds was widely distributed among newspapers. He continued to attend American Legion rallies and make other appearances. Finally, in December of that year, he passed away at the age of 105.

Photo Top: At age 99, Charles Jennette with his fiancé, Ella Manning.

Photo Bottom: One of many headlines generated by Jennette’s story.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Adirondack Crime: In Dogged Pursuit of Justice

It had all the earmarks of a spectacular trial: bitterness between neighbors; a vicious, bloody assault; a fearless victim who nearly beat his attacker to death; two opponents of great wealth; and a pair of noted New York City attorneys handling the prosecution and defense. It was potentially a North Country showdown of mammoth proportions.

Court proceedings were held in the boathouse of Dr. Samuel B. Ward, a founder of the Upper Saranac Association. Ward was famous in his own right as past president of the NYS Medical Society; dean of Albany Medical College and a 40-year faculty member; and regular Adirondack fishing and hunting companion of President Grover Cleveland.

Judge Newell Lee of Santa Clara was saddled with handling court opponents who were famous, wealthy, and certainly accustomed to getting their way. The defendant, Emil Ernest Gabler, was heir to and CEO of the Gabler Piano Company, one of the top players in the industry for the past fifty years. The plaintiff was Mrs. Edgar Van Etten, whose husband was a vice-president of the New York Central, president of the Cuban Eastern Railway, and had partnered with John Jacob Astor and W. Seward Webb in other enterprises.

There was no shortage of cash among the participants, and each side hired some of the best legal representation available. Defending Gabler was New York City’s George K. Jack, who had spent many hours arguing cases before the NYS Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Prosecuting on behalf of Van Etten was Lamar Hardy, Corporate Counsel from New York City and a partner in the firm of Bothby, Baldwin, and Hardy.

The makeshift courtroom was filled with an unusual mix of spectators—chauffeurs, maids, groundskeepers, guides, tourists—and tongues wagged as the tale was told. Oddly enough, the only one absent from the proceedings was the attacker. By US law, that just didn’t seem right. After all, a defendant has the right to face his accuser.

But this was no ordinary case. Incredibly, the bloody attack had come from the side of the accuser, Van Etten, while it was the defendant, Gabler, who had been attacked. And, despite all those interesting details, the focus of all the attention was on the one non-attendee, the insidious attacker, identified as … a dog.

In 1911, Gabler and the Van Ettens were not-so-friendly neighbors among the luxurious camps along Hoel Pond near Upper Saranac Lake. For all their wealth, it apparently didn’t occur to them to build a fence. On October 4, Van Etten’s prize French bulldog entered the grounds of Gabler’s camp and attacked his dog.

The chauffeurs from both camps managed to separate the combatants, and Van Etten’s chauffeur retrieved the bulldog to return it to its owner. Gabler, without pause, grabbed the dog, which firmly latched on to his thumb and refused to let go. He reacted by beating the dog over the head.

When Mrs. Van Etten was told of the incident, she went to Gabler’s camp and reportedly said, “I hope you get hydrophobia.” She then filed a complaint with the SPCA, and Gabler was arrested for cruelty to animals.

A few days later the celebrated trial was held—a serious case among the wealthy, but conducted to the great bemusement of many spectators. The combatants doggedly argued over points of law as if it was a life-and-death homicide case. And the bitterness that had developed between the two families came out frequently during testimony, despite many admonitions from Judge Lee to do nothing more than stick to the issue at hand.

Among the evidence entered was the cudgel (a stick or club) used to hit the dog (it was charged that the dog was “cudgeled”); the dog’s collar; and the extent of Gabler’s hand injuries. An important witness for the defense was the fetching Mrs. Gabler, who testified for nearly an hour.

The prosecution was best served by Van Etten, who was on the verge of tears as she described her prize dog when she saw it, “ … unconscious, with his tongue black and protruding, his body apparently stiffened in death.” The dog did, in fact, survive, but did not appear in court because, as the dog’s attorney stated, “It was feared he might attack his old enemy, Mr. Gabler, in court.”

But Van Etten’s conduct otherwise did little to help her case, and she was soon in the judge’s doghouse. Her lawyer, Hardy, tried to keep her on a short leash, but to no avail. Displaying little regard for court etiquette, she constantly hounded the judge and witnesses, prompting constant warnings by Judge Lee and both attorneys to remain silent.

Finally, frustrated with the entire process and sensing she was about to lose, Van Etten put her tail between her legs and left the courtroom. She was still absent an hour later when Gabler was acquitted of “cruelly and maliciously beating a prize French brindle bulldog” (brindle refers to the lightly striped fur).

With great interest among the higher breeds of society, the full story was reported on the social pages of the New York Times. Despite all the wealth and fanfare, the case boiled down to common-sense justice voiced by Judge Lee, who said Gabler did, in fact, beat the dog, but only after he was bitten. The entire incident lasted 23 days, which translates to several months in dog years.

Photo Top: Mrs. Edgar Van Etten.

Photo Middle: Emil Ernest Gabler.

Photo Bottom: A French brindle bulldog.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, November 29, 2010

A Few More North Country Swindles

The Adirondacks have seen all kinds of swindles, past and present. The swindler, often referred to in the 1800s as a “Sharper,” routinely tried to obtain signatures under false pretenses. As noted in last week’s piece, trickery (and sometimes carbon paper) was used. The “personal signature” scam was again adjusted in 1892 to incorporate new and devious ideas.

Slick-talking Sharpers arranged all sorts of deals, and on the spot, they devised contracts that were read and signed. The contract paper was normal, but the Sharper used a double-fountain pen. The victim’s signature was recorded with permanent ink, but the contract was written with the other end of the pen, from a reservoir of “ink that faded away in a day or two.” Once the contract ink faded, the perp was left “with nothing but a signature over which he can write a note and easily turn it into cash.”

There was no Internet back then, but scammers of long ago still knew the value of reaching out to thousands of potential victims in the hopes of finding a few patsies. A scam that is still heavily used today via e-mail was prevalent in the 1890s. To reach large numbers of people, the scammers sent official-looking notices to post offices, asking them to post the letters for the public. The letters assured that several persons in the immediate area were entitled to large sums of money. To obtain it, all they had to do was send $25 “for preliminary expenses.”

The ploy always received many responses, even though $25 in the 1890s is equal to $600 in 2010. The lure of getting something for nothing, or a lot for comparatively little, was irresistible, just as it seems to be today. In 1893, that swindle was described by the Post Office Department as “constantly increasing in numbers of victims.” Most of us have received the same offer by snail mail or e-mail many times, and for one good reason: it still works.

Two other scams that regularly made the rounds in the Adirondacks caught my attention. In 1895 in the Potsdam area, trickery was employed by a liniment salesman. His concoction was said to cure hearing loss, and he gave wonderful demonstrations to prove it.

With great fanfare, a watch was placed close to a sufferer’s ear for several seconds and then removed, after which a quantity of liniment was applied and massaged into the ear and surrounding skin.

For some time, the swindler continued rubbing the oil in while touting the wonders of his product. Finally, the watch was once again introduced to the person’s ear, and the results were amazing. The ticking was much louder and clearer. Obviously, another cure!

That usually generated many sales, and as soon as the purchasing pace slowed, another person was selected for the cure. The key to success was having two watches—one with a faint tick, and one with a strong tick—and keeping them at the ready in the same pocket.

It was a terrible way to cheat people, but less distasteful than a scam that was popularized in 1901 in northern New York. Unscrupulous crooks paid close attention to the obituaries. Shortly after an individual died, close relatives were sent overpriced books, magazine subscriptions, or other items, along with a notice that the deceased had recently subscribed or ordered them. In most cases, the bereaved family made the inflated payments or paid for phony subscriptions without question.

Many of today’s scams were common well over a century ago, and some have hardly changed at all. There is one constant — plenty of rotten apples. It’s sad, disturbing, and amazing how hard some people will work to steal the results of other folks’ hard work.

Photo: 1882 advertisement touting the latest deafness cure.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, November 22, 2010

An E-mail Scam Rooted in the Past

Many of us have received e-mail scams from fake sources (bogus relatives, supposed political prisoners) promising great financial reward if we agree to help them recover their secreted fortune. I’ve received them from Ghana and Germany, and one came from the country of West Africa. Never heard of it? It was named in the e-mail message, and I know it’s real—in 2008, Paris Hilton said, “I love Africa in general. South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.”

The senders describe themselves as anything from an imprisoned citizen to a dethroned king, urgently seeking help. I received a cheap one recently, offering only about $600,000 if I sent my account info so that funds could be safely transferred. Most times, the teaser ranges from $10-$20 million. It’s likely that many people think this is “an Internet thing,” a product of modern mass communications, but the only thing new about it is the manner of delivery. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Woodstock of the North: The 1970 Churubusco Live-In

We’ve all heard of Woodstock at one time or another—that famous (or infamous) concert held in August 1969. It was scheduled at different venues, but the final location was actually in Bethel, New York, about 60 miles from Woodstock. For many who lived through three major homeland assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the racial riots of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock was an event representing peace, love, and freedom. It’s considered a defining moment of that generation, and a great memory for those who attended (estimated at 400,000).

Many subsequent concerts were planned, though most never came to fruition. What few people know is that one of the major follow-up concerts to Woodstock was scheduled for just nine months later, and the location was in the North Country, near a tiny community known as Churubusco. Signed to appear were many top acts of the day, including Chuck Berry, Steppenwolf, Bo Diddley, Grand Funk Railroad, Richie Havens, 3 Dog Night, Judy Collins, Sly and the Family Stone, B. B. King, and Canned Heat.

In spring 1970, a company called Fest-I-Rama announced that the three-day Churubusco Live-In would be held on Memorial Day weekend. Similar events were planned at the same venue for the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The complete story of the controversial event occupies a full chapter in my latest book, History of Churubusco. With subtitle, it’s History of Churubusco and the Town of Clinton, Clinton County, New York (to avoid confusion with well-known Churubuscos in Indiana and Mexico). The book is a new release available this week from Bloated Toe Publishing’s North Country Store.

Churubusco is a tiny, square-shaped settlement only a quarter-mile long on each side. It was named after a historic battle fought in 1847 during the US-Mexican War, and is located in the northwest corner of Clinton County. Amidst farmer’s fields and plenty of forest, the setting is remote, and that’s one of the reasons it was chosen to host a major rock concert. The entire town encompasses nearly 70 square miles, but is home to only around 700 residents.

The history of this tiny village and the agrarian town of Clinton is truly remarkable. One citizen became lieutenant governor of New York, served for years as a top state politician, and at one time was FDR’s closest advisor. Another was one of the founders of the city of Seattle and the state of Washington, and is highly honored there. And there were the famed “monks of Churubusco,” who actually have their own pope on the international stage. Many other very surprising details led me to the realization that the town’s amazing history should be recorded.

Among my favorite stories connected to Churubusco is the proposed rock concert. At the time the Live-In was announced, I was 16 years old and sometimes dreaded the trips (nearly every weekend) from Champlain to Churubusco to visit relatives. (My mom, now in her 90th year, was born there, and that’s where she and my dad, 86, met in the 1930s.)

There’s not much to do in Churubusco, and a day in the remote countryside was not exactly heaven for a teenager. But heaven arrived in early 1970. A huge rock concert, and with one of my favorite groups (Steppenwolf), was incredibly, impossibly, coming to Churubusco. Better than that, the venue was located across the road from my grandfather’s 100-acre farm. This was fantastic!

Well, fantastic for teenagers, maybe, but not so much for Churubusco or Clinton County. The call to arms went out, and that can just about be taken literally. During the battle to stop the event, attorney and local legend J. Byron O’Connell issued this statement: “That Live-In will turn into a lynch-in. People up here aren’t used to long hair. They don’t fool around with legal niceties, and they’re not going to put up with any nonsense from college kids. If they come up Rt. 189, they’re just liable to get shot.”

O’Connell was an outstanding trial attorney, and he was doing his best for his clients. He was bombastic at times, and that aggressive quote appeared in major newspapers in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. As Churubusco’s representative, he sought to derail the concert and preserve the hamlet’s quiet, rural life, while the promoters, Hal Abramson and Raymond Filiberti, fought back.

I wasn’t much interested in the adult perspective at the time. I had protested against the Vietnam War, and my draft time was rapidly approaching. If you were a male teenager in the 1960s, your future was on display nightly in national news reports on television, where body counts were offered like baseball’s daily box scores. Unless the war miraculously ended, it was only a matter of time before you went. If I could be sent off to kill people as soon as I graduated from high school, couldn’t I be allowed the privilege of enjoying myself first? I figured the Churubusco Live-In would at least give me that.

Still, there was that rational adult viewpoint. The feeling voiced most often was that all those hippies will be drug-crazed, and we don’t want them here. And, who would pay for everything? Extra police, medical facilities, food—the logistics seemed impossible even if someone did pay for them. Why did it seem impossible? It was fully expected that upwards of 200,000 fans would attend the Live-In, drawing from Montreal, Boston, New York City, and the other cities of New York State.

For three days of rock music, it wasn’t just Churubusco that would be bursting at the seams. A crowd of 200,000 would more than triple the entire county population virtually overnight. Battle lines were drawn, and the ensuing struggle lasted for weeks over whether or not the concert would be held. While the promoters and local authorities went back and forth, ticket sales continued and more bands were signed.

Thrown into the mix was a remarkable ordinance concocted by J. Byron O’Connell and Clinton town officials. When the ordinance was passed, it gained widespread attention for the unusual clauses it contained and the American liberties it surrendered, all in the name of stopping the concert.

It was a wild time. The subject dominated the news media in the region, and developments were followed by youth across the nation. If this was the second coming of Woodstock, nobody wanted to miss it, even those on the West Coast.

In the end, the adult viewpoint won, and the concert was canceled (along with subsequent Churubusco concerts). It may have been the right thing to do, but who knows? For three days of love, peace, and music (described by others as sex, drugs, and rock and roll), and a huge mess to clean up afterward, Churubusco might have become a must-see site for millions of baby boomers. Those tourist dollars sure would come in handy today.

(Note: Anyone in the Northern Tier is welcome to join us at Dick’s Country Store on Rt. 11, a few miles east of Chateaugay, on Friday, November 19, from 4-8 pm, for the official release of History of Churubusco. I’ll be on hand to sign copies and chat with visitors. My other books, including 3 reprints just received, will also be available. Among the reprints is Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow.)

Photo Top: 1970 Poster advertising the Churubusco Live-In.

Photo Middle: Map showing location of Churubusco.

Photo Bottom: Cover of History of Churubusco, with Live-In poster at center of collage.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Lawrence Gooley: Adirondack Toughness

I recently covered some pretty tough hombres from Lyon Mountain. Rugged folks, for sure, but by no means had they cornered the market on regional toughness. Here are a few of my favorite stories of Adirondack and North Country resilience.

In most jobs where dynamite was used (mining, farming, lumbering), it was kept frozen until needed, since freezing was said to render it inert. Thawing the explosives was extremely dangerous—accidents during the process were frequent, and often deadly. A “safest” method was prescribed by engineers (slow warming in a container that was placed in water), but many users had their own ideas on how it should be done.

In November 1901, Bill Casey of Elizabethtown was thawing dynamite to use for blasting boulders and stumps while building logging roads on Hurricane Mountain. Fire was his tool of choice for thawing, and the results were disastrous. From the ensuing explosion, Casey’s hat was blown into a tree; his clothes were shredded; his legs were lacerated; his face was burned and bruised; and he was temporarily blinded by the flash and deafened by the blast.

Then came the hard part. He was alone, and nearly a mile from the logging camp, so Casey started walking. When he encountered other men, they built a litter and began carrying him from the woods. The discomfort for both Casey and his rescuers must have been extreme. There were eighteen inches of snow in the woods, and when he couldn’t be carried, they had no choice but to drag him along on the litter.

When they finally reached the highway, they were still five miles from the village. A doctor tended to his wounds, and Casey was brought to his home in Elizabethtown where his wife and five children helped nurse him back to health.

Kudos also to Chasm Falls lumberman Wesley Wallace, who, in winter 1920, suffered a terrible accident while chopping wood. He started the day with ten toes, but finished with only six. Somehow, he survived extreme blood loss and found the strength to endure two days traveling by sleigh to the hospital in Malone, only to have the surgeons there amputate his mangled foot.

Whitehall’s John Whalen found reason to attempt suicide in 1920, and the aftermath was nothing short of remarkable. Three times he shot himself, including once in the head. Whalen then “calmly walked into the YMCA, told of what he had done, and asked to wash the blood from his face. He was absolutely cool about it as be announced that the ‘lump over his eye’ was the bullet that he had fired through the roof of his mouth.” He was taken to the hospital in Ticonderoga where it was reported he was expected to recover.

Indian Lake’s Frank Talbot was on a crew constructing a logging camp on West Canada Creek in June 1922, when a log rolled on top of him, causing a compound fracture of his right leg. Bad enough, sure, but the rescue was the kicker. According to the newspaper report, “His companions carried him on a stretcher 31 miles to Indian Lake, and from there he was taken to the Moses-Ludington hospital, arriving at four o’clock Sunday morning [the accident happened on Saturday morning]. The fracture was reduced and he is getting along nicely.”

Toughness wasn’t the sole purview of men. In December 1925, two women, one with a ten-month-old baby and the other with a nine-year-old son, left Santa Clara by car with the intent of reaching Lake Placid. They departed shortly before 9:00 pm, but on the lonely Santa Clara Road, the car malfunctioned. Since the odometer showed they had traveled about five miles, they began walking in the direction of Hogle’s Fox Farm, which they knew to be some distance ahead.

It was snowing heavily, and the trip turned into a major ordeal. They finally reached the farm, but there was no room for them, so they kept walking another quarter mile, where a Mrs. Selkirk took them in.

It was later determined that the car had broken down just two miles outside of Santa Clara. The assumption was that the tires spinning constantly in the wet snow (remember, this was 1925) had caused the odometer to rack up five miles of travel. This fooled the women into thinking they were much farther from the village, and thus going in the right direction.

From where the car was recovered, it was calculated that the women (and the nine-year-old boy) had walked on a wilderness road “eleven miles in snow nearly knee-deep, under a moon whose rays were obscured by falling snow, and carrying a ten-months old baby.”

Eleven miles in the snow wouldn’t be attempted today without the proper gear from head to toe, plus water and snacks. By that measure, their impromptu hike was pretty impressive. And they made it back to Lake Placid in time to spend Christmas Eve with family.

Photo Top: Headline from 1922.

Photo Bottom: Headline from 1926.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Adirondack Mining: George Davies’ Lyon Mountain Stories

Last week’s subject, iron miner George Davies (1892–1983) of Standish and Lyon Mountain, was a kindly gentleman with a powerful work ethic and a can-do, pioneer spirit. Interviews with him in 1981 were key to my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town (a convenient plug for the 4th printing, which will be available from Bloated Toe Publishing and The North Country Store in mid-November). Humble and matter of fact, he shared recollections from nearly 80 years earlier.

At one time, Lyon Mountain had a large Swedish population [there is still a section of town referred to as Sweden]. George recalled the great strength and toughness of one of their number who worked at the Standish furnace. “It’s quite a job carrying that pig iron, you know. It [the molten iron] ran down like water, and they had to let it cool, and then throw sand on it. They’d walk on there with wooden shoes with big thick soles and break the iron up with a bar. It’s a pretty hard job, I’ll tell you.

“They had a big Swede come here. He weighed about 225 or 230 when he came here. He used to break the iron. They’d go down to the trestle, and throw them over the trestle. They had a V-block down below, and when it hit that, it would break it right in two. They used to wear a hand leather so that the iron wouldn’t cut their hands up.

“That big Swede, he had what they call a ‘double pig.’ It was two of them together [130 pounds], and when he went to throw it, it caught in his hand leather and it pulled him right over. He struck headfirst into the pile of iron that was sticking up. Well, I came along there and I picked him out of the iron. ‘Aw,’ he said, ‘I guess I’m not hurt much,’ and he was rubbing his head.

“He just had a suit of overalls on and a shirt, and the blood was running out of his pants leg. I said ‘You’re hurt all right,’ and he rubbed the back of his head some more and said ‘I’m not hurt much.’ Well, I took him over to the office and they took him to Plattsburgh, and found out that his skull was fractured [a story I later verified in newspaper accounts].

“That fellow drank a couple of quarts of liquor a day, and you’d never have known he was drinking. He was about six feet six inches tall. He didn’t die from that accident. He was so strong. They used to load the iron by hand at what they called the wharf. It was piled up like cordwood, you know. He carried 106 tons of iron in one day, and he got six cents a ton for carrying it.

“His first name was Nels [Nelson Holt]. He only weighed about one hundred pounds when he died, and he was still carrying iron just before he died. He used to work in the cast house, and I’d see him go down to break a cast of maybe thirty or forty tons, red hot with sand on it.

“I’d see him take a half-pint of liquor and drink it right down. He’d go ahead and break the cast, and you’d never know he’d had a drink. He died because his liver went all to pieces from the liquor. He was a powerful man, but the liquor got the best of him.”

Sudden violence struck the mines almost on a daily basis. More than 160 miners died in mining accidents, but hundreds more suffered terrible, often crippling, injuries. Much of it was connected to workers’ ignorance of the dangers at hand. George: “There were several boarders in town. One time there were three Polish fellows boarding at one place, and they all got killed at the same time. [They died in 1930 in a massive dynamite explosion, one of the few accidents that was never solved.]

“Well, you know, those Polish people came here, and they didn’t know what the mines were in the first place. I remember one time, they used to put the powder [dynamite] together with the caps up on top and then send it down. They weren’t supposed to do it, but they did it anyhow. One fellow saw the stick of dynamite there. He held the stick in his hand and lit the fuse. Well, he didn’t have to let go of it, because when it went off, his hand went with it. It blew half of his hip off at the same time, just because he didn’t know any better.”

George described another accident that is still recalled by some in the village. “One fellow used to be a foreman, and he used to repair the train cars. One end of a car was all bent, and he wanted to straighten it up, so he said to a worker ‘Get a block, hold it against that spot, and I’ll bump it with the electric motor.’ The guy wouldn’t do it, so he went and got the block, and he got somebody to hold it. He was going to give it a hard bump with the motor.

“When he bumped it, the block came right inside the cab where he was working and took his leg right off. He did survive, and he got some money out of it, but he also got a wooden leg out of it. Cliff Cayea was the guy’s name. He’s lucky that he wasn’t killed. [Remarkably, Cayea was 62 years old when the accident occurred in late September 1966, less than a year before the mines closed for good.]

George and many others like him offered hours of candid recollections about life in the mines and in Lyon Mountain village, all of it important to regional history. Besides the books (including Out of the Darkness: In Memory of Lyon Mountain’s Iron Men) on the town’s amazing story, more can be learned by visiting the Lyon Mountain Mining & Railroad Museum. Housed in the former railroad depot building, it is operated by volunteers from June to early October. Look for it again in 2011. It’s well worth the trip.

Photo Top: The furnace at Standish (1930s).

Photo Middle: Rows of pig iron similar to those at Standish (Canadian archives photo taken at Midland, Ontario, 1900).

Photo Bottom: Lyon Mountain village in the 1940s, with company row-houses, main operations, and mountains of ore tailings.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Travails of Lyon Mountain Miner George Davies

The subject of tough ol’ Adirondackers came up recently when I was reworking material for the fourth printing of a book I did in 2004—Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town. The soul of that book is a series of interviews I conducted around 1980 with a number of folks who were in their 80s and 90s. George Davies (1892–1983) of Standish was among them.

George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.

When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs cradling a safety plaque.

In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as tape recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.

“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. The union was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]

“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.

“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].

“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.

The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”

His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.

“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”

Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.

Photo Top: George Davies.

Photo Middle: A Main Drift in the Lyon Mountain iron mines, 1933.

Photo Bottom: Aerial view of Lyon Mountain’s iron mining operations, with several piles of ore tailings.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, October 18, 2010

When Raptors Attack: Some North Country Stories

Unusual stories often catch my eye while researching topics of interest. A recent example drew me in—the long-ago story of a California baby left lying in the grass while, nearby, the mother performed gardening or other chores. An eagle swooped in and snatched up the baby, leading to a battle royale between the family and the eagle. There were several stories of that type, and it didn’t always end well for the baby.

I involuntarily maintain a healthy skepticism, but have to be careful about letting it completely take over. A little digging turned up a few interesting North Country tales of a similar bent. Some contain embellishments common to the writing style of the day, and others strain credulity, but several of them are likely based on real confrontations.

After all, odd things do happen. While sitting in my high school classroom many decades ago, right in the middle of Champlain village, I saw a hawk (a red-tail was my guess) plummet to the earth at great velocity, disappearing into the brush. My assumption was that the bird died on impact, but perhaps a minute or so later, it once more became airborne, a cat dangling from its talons as it flew in clear view past the large windows. If there hadn’t been other witnesses, I’m not sure anyone would have believed me.

Four of my own Adirondack experiences with large birds stand out in memory. While bushwhacking atop one of the inner ridges of Silver Lake Mountain (near Hawkeye), I was once dive-bombed by ravens for a half hour as I lay in the brush, amazed at how loud and relentless they were, and how close they came to me.

While canoeing in the middle of Franklin Falls Pond, I was similarly harassed by two bald eagles that repeatedly swooped overhead. A little scary, yes, but absolutely thrilling. Another time, an angry nesting goose disapproved of a canoe innocently passing by 100 feet away.

The fourth incident took place on a calm section of the Saranac River. It’s hard to believe that an eagle could be somewhat distracted, but that’s the only explanation I have for what occurred. Where the waterway was about thirty feet wide, the eagle flew several feet above the stream, coming directly towards the canoe. I expected it to turn away, but it seemed to be looking from side to side, unaware that I was directly in its path.

Within no more than twenty feet, it suddenly became aware of my presence and pulled up sharply, the “whooshing” sound from its wings loud in my ears. It was a large bird, but from such close range, it naturally appeared enormous. The entire incident lasted only about 20 or 30 seconds, but it will stay with me forever.

Taking all of that into consideration, I reviewed some interesting regional confrontations between humans and birds (veracity unverified).

In 1888, at Brier Hill (St. Lawrence County), a bald eagle was said to have attacked seven-year-old George Richards (he was actually ten). George used a stick to defend himself until older brother Berton, 20, drove the eagle off. Bert later baited a steel trap with newborn calves that had died. He succeeded in capturing the bird, which was held by the Richards family for display.

In 1893, a Bellmont (Franklin County) farmhand working for Frank Winkley was on horseback, rounding up the cows, when he was attacked by two eagles. He was knocked to the ground, where the birds continued the assault. The farm dog came to his aid, and he eventually managed to club one of the birds and capture it. According to the report, the golden eagle’s wingspan was seven feet. It was kept in Winkley’s barn as a curiosity.

Predatory raids on farm fowl were once common. A dramatic case was reported in Chaumont (northwest of Watertown) in 1903 on the farm of Charles Graham. A hen hawk (any hawk that preys on poultry) grabbed a large Plymouth Rock hen, but about 20 feet above the ground, the hen broke free and landed at Graham’s feet. The hawk followed, knocking the farmer down, gashing his face and neck and pecking at his eyes. Graham stood to defend himself, but the bird continued the attack. Finally, the farmer grabbed a shovel, and the hawk departed.

Also in 1903, John Sullivan of Jay (Essex County) was set upon by an eagle, finally driving it off after suffering lacerations to his face. In 1904 came a report from the Bowditch cottage on Upper Chateaugay Lake (Clinton County), where caretaker Frank Nicholson battled two eagles that attempted to make off with some chickens. One of the birds managed to sink its talons into Nicholson’s leg, but he eventually succeeded in “dispatching them.”

In 1905, near McKenzie Pond just east of Saranac Lake, Frank Perks and George Walton were walking in the woods when Perks struck a tree trunk with an axe he was carrying. Suddenly, “an immense eagle flew down from the tree and attacked Perks savagely.” With the help of Walton, Perks suffered no more than a torn hat before the eagle was driven off.

In 1909, a Pitcairn (St. Lawrence County, near Harrisville) farmer, Josiah Almtree, offered a dramatic tale of battling a powerful eagle that had lately been harassing his sheep. The victim this time was Almtree’s daughter, who was carried off but then dropped “unhurt on the roof of a little building near the barn.” Almtree managed a shot at the bird, which escaped. Of course, “unhurt” wasn’t possible, but I’ll beg the Fox News defense here … “We report, you decide.”

Most such stories are quite old, but a more recent one (though still over 50 years past) occurred in Ausable Forks in 1957. Young Jimmie Camire, while playing with friends, was attacked by a hawk. The bird grabbed his shoulder, but he broke free. Under renewed attack, Jimmie’s shouts brought his brother, Butch, and Jeff Hewston, to the rescue. They had been cutting small trees nearby, and used an axe to kill the hawk, which they said had a wingspan of 43 inches.

Not all regional fowl attacks came from above. In 1908, Gouverneur’s Louis Boulet, Sr., owned a particularly raucous Rhode Island Red, a breed that can be incredibly aggressive. (They’ve been known to kill snakes, cats, foxes, and small dogs.) The big rooster’s frequent attacks made it clear the farmer was not welcome in his own hen house. Egged on by frequent muggings and occasional blood loss, Boulet decided this chicken’s goose was cooked.

Healthy skepticism can be valuable, but before deciding how feasible some of those old stories might be, check out some “eagle attack” videos on YouTube. Be forewarned: several are graphic. Some are simply amazing, demonstrating the willingness of large birds to mix it up with creatures of all sizes, even striking a black bear in a tree.

Photo Top: An attack by a “domesticated” eagle.

Photo Middle: The Bald Eagle’s formidable beak.

Photo Bottom: Eagle talons.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Page 25 of 27« First...1020...2324252627