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, June 14, 2010

Exotic Wildlife: Gators in the Adirondacks

In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.

It was hard to tell which was less believable: that Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, and the legendary Betty White would sign on for such a project; that a movie based on such a far-fetched concept could make money; or that a member of the order Crocodilia could be found on any lake within 700 miles north of the Carolinas. If you’re a betting person, which is/are true?

The answers: Yes—Fonda, Pullman, and White (plus Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson) played the major roles in the movie. Yes, it earned money—nearly $32 million, enough to spawn Lake Placid 2 in 2007, and Lake Placid 3, scheduled for release on June 26, 2010. And yes, members of the order Crocodilia have lived recently in the north woods. All bets are winners!

The gator of Mirror Lake existed, appropriately enough, in the village of Lake Placid, and it scared the heck out of some very surprised tourists. I was once an avid fisherman, and before you take a fisherman’s word on something as ridiculous as this, it’s probably best to seek a higher authority, say, the New York Times. In 1903, they ran a story titled “Alligator in Lake Placid.”

That was two decades before “Lake Placid South” (Lake Placid, Florida) came into existence, so rest assured, the story applied to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. The tale in the Times began in early 1903 when the Stevens brothers, proprietors of the famed Stevens House, learned the answer to that age-old question, “What do you give someone who has everything?” The obvious answer: a reptile from the tropics, given to them as a gift by a friend who was returning from Florida.

A young alligator became the newest addition to the hotel’s amenities (deterrents?), housed temporarily in a bathtub. Around May, when ponds were open and the snow was melting, they made a decidedly non-tropical decision, releasing the gator into Mirror Lake. Frigid nights brought ice to the lake’s shallows, leaving only the slightest hope for the gator’s survival.

A few weeks later, on a warm, sunny day, appeared the oddest of sights at Mirror Lake—an alligator catching some rays on the beach. Because of its size, the gator posed little threat to humans, and the Stevens had a new attraction for patrons and curious northerners who, in the summer of ′03, hoped to glimpse the elusive newcomer.

Imagine the surprise of visitors a year later, innocently walking the shoreline of Mirror Lake in early summer, and stumbling upon an alligator! They reported their amazing find to management, who explained it was merely the Stevens’ family pet. (We can assume the Stevens housed it for the winter, but in warmer climes, gators can survive the cold in underground dens. Lake Placid’s temps would have provided a stern test of that system.)

Though the whole story seems like a once-in-a-lifetime tale, especially for those of us familiar with Adirondack wildlife, the Mirror Lake gator was not as unusual as you’d think. Similar incidents have occurred from Malone to Keeseville, and Ausable Forks to Ticonderoga. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became fashionable to have exotic pets, and many small alligators were among those carried home from Florida to the Adirondacks. Most of them were less than two feet long. Some escaped from their owners, while others were released into the wild.

It’s unclear what became of the survivors, like the Mirror Lake alligator or the many pets kept by private individuals. Or the one at the Lake Placid Club in 1933. That’s another story that defies belief. George Martin, the swimming instructor at the club, captured (with help) a seven-foot alligator from southern Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. They wrapped the reptile’s huge jaws in wire and prepared to take him north.

How do you transport a 7-foot alligator 1,000 miles? By George’s reckoning, you crate it, lay the crate on the car’s running board (most cars had them back then), lash the gator’s tail to the car’s rear fender, and hit the road. Though the wires around his jaws were snipped, the animal refused to eat, but they did make frequent stops at gas stations to water him down. He was christened “Mike,” and the club made plans for a facility where the animal could spend the winter. In the meantime, he was kept among Jacques Suzanne’s menagerie about a mile south of the village.

On a few occasions in the North Country, folks have unexpectedly stumbled upon alligators, and it’s hard to imagine the shock of the moment. Unfortunately, the reaction was uniform: kill it. A young boy from Malone, startled with his find (an 18-inch gator), dispatched it with a rock.

Another alligator’s death begs the question “Why?” The story was reported in the Wells area in late October 1957. Two bow hunters were hoping to bag a buck, but they spied a 32-inch alligator treading water near a beaver dam. One of the men put an arrow into the gator just behind the head, killing it. It was assumed to have been a released pet surviving on its own. No one knew how long it had been there, or if it had denned and somehow weathered the previous winter. (Not likely.)

Back in 1924, a young gator in Keeseville survived as a pet for three years until a couple of barn cats settled a longstanding feud, dragging it from its tank, killing it after an intense battle, and partially devouring the carcass before the owners drove them off.

But not all the alligators in the Adirondacks met tragic ends. Some were part of a traveling show associated with the Seminole Indians of Florida. Virtually every Florida carnival and sideshow featured alligator wrestlers, and among the best was George Storm. In the 1950s, a complete Seminole village was set up at Michael Covert’s hotel in Wilmington, and part of the daily show that summer was Storm performing his specialty.

Considering the unknown fate of Lake Placid’s alligators, their known proclivity for longevity, and the movies by the same name, it might be a good idea during the Ironman Triathlon to count swimmers going into Mirror Lake as well as those coming out. Just in case.

Photo Above: Poster from the first Lake Placid movie.

Photo Below: The Stevens House as it looked when it hosted the alligator.

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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fort Ti: Ticonderoga’s 1950s 3-D Movie World Premiere

The terms “North Country” and “world premiere” haven’t mingled very often, but May 8, 1953 was one notable exception. It all had to do with Fort Ti, but not the one we’re all familiar with. This was Fort Ti, the movie, and it was special for several reasons.

Since the earliest days of movie-making, film crews have used dozens of locations across the region, but this particular movie had a significant impact both locally and nationally. The fact that Ticonderoga hosted a world premiere is itself impressive. It carries added importance that the historic State Theatre hosted the event.

Ticonderoga’s Union Opera House had been a center of culture in the village for more than two decades, but when it burned in 1916, it was replaced with a theatre, The Playhouse. Culturally, the town didn’t miss a beat, as The Playhouse hosted violinists, pianists, lecturers, movies, bands, vaudeville shows, magicians, and myriad other performers for the next twenty years.

In 1937, owner Alfred Barton leased the building to a company that owned 140 theaters in the northeast. An intense remodeling ensued, and the changes were dramatic: a new domed ceiling; new lighting; drapes and curtains added to the stage; new plush carpeting; air conditioning; a large marquee sign; capacity expanded to 800; and newly upholstered and roomy seating, staggered for easy viewing from any location.

A month later, the building reopened as the State Theatre, receiving glowing reviews from all, and calling to mind one word: magnificent. A variety of events were held there, but it was primarily a movie theater, and when the time came to select a site for the premiere of Fort Ti, the State Theater was the obvious choice.

This wasn’t just any movie. Though most modern reviewers still give it two stars out of four, Fort Ti was important for another reason. Television was a new and growing medium, and its effects were felt throughout the movie industry. People were staying home evenings to watch TV, and something new was needed to bring viewers back to the theaters. In the 1950s, 3-D movies were the solution.

Fox, MGM, Paramount, and Warner Brothers all rushed to produce movies in 3-D format. Columbia employed the Natural Vision System, the same technology used by a few of its competitors. Fort Ti was to be Columbia’s showcase offering, and movie attendees had to wear polarized glasses to enjoy the intended effect. One lens was red and the other blue, and in general, the idea was to merge two visual impressions into one. The result? Objects looked like they were jumping out from the screen, right at the viewer.

The launch at the State Theater was accompanied by a pageant portraying events surrounding the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen on May 10, 1755. The premiere date of May 8 was chosen for its proximity to that anniversary. Media from the entertainment world were on hand, including representatives from magazines, newspaper, and radio. (What, no TV?)

After all the hype, it was time to watch the movie. Was all this 3-D stuff for real? Fort Ti producer Sam Katzman and director William Castle certainly thought so. In an unusual move, Columbia had employed Katzman for the project, a man who LIFE magazine called “the only independent producer whose films—though all despised by critics—have never lost money.” It didn’t matter much that he was often known as a “schlock” producer: for forty years, he made money for the studios, and that was what counted.

Since Katzman was the producer, what better choice could there have been than William Castle as director? Here was a man who made a career out of movie gimmickry, and 3-D certainly looked like a gimmick. As usual, Castle made it work to great effect. Reviewer Donald Kirkley said after watching Fort Ti, “Many times moviegoers were observed to duck as things seemed to come their way, breaking through the screen barrier.”

Others referred to it as “the throwingest picture yet,” a reference to the many objects sent flying towards viewers. How was it done so effectively? In his autobiography, Castle later revealed some of his secrets: “Every evening I took a large pot and practiced throwing things into it: knives, forks, spoons … anything I could lay my hands on. My wife thought I was crazy, but my aim was becoming perfect.”

Castle was clearly pleased with the results, adding, “I attended the preview of Fort Ti. The audience, with glasses perched on their noses, ducked constantly. Tomahawks, balls of fire, arrows, and cannonballs seemed to fly out of the screen. Smiling, I said to my wife, ‘I’m not a director—I’m a great pitcher.’ ”

The movie is only rated average, but “unrated” components conferred cult status on it. Though Ticonderoga is nearly on the East Coast, Fort Ti is generally categorized as a Western. Some movie historians include it on their lists of the most important Western films of all time, not for the story, but for the new 3-D format and the effect it had on viewers.

For the record, the film included many Hollywood embellishments, and dealt with a story of Rogers Rangers, Jeffrey Amherst, and several other players, with a romance built in, and plenty of fighting action (offering ample opportunities for throwing things at the audience). George Montgomery played the leading role as Captain Jed Horn, while young Joan Vohs (a former Rockette) played his love interest, Fortune Mallory. One other participant was Ben Astar, said to be one of Israel’s top actors, and fluent in twelve languages.

Was Fort Ti the best 3-D movie ever made? Hard to say. Was Fort Ti the best movie ever made in Ticonderoga? Not even close. But that’s a story for another day.

Photo Above: Fort Ti movie poster.

Photo Below: A sample dual-image clip used to create the 3-D effect in Fort Ti.

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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

1963: A North Country Racehorse Makes Good

In honor of the Belmont Stakes being run this weekend, here’s an item from 1963, when a horse whose name had North Country ties nearly won the coveted Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). Any idea what the horse’s name was?

The owner was John W. Galbreath, well known nationally, and a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. While his wealth was notable, it was in the world of sports that Galbreath earned his greatest fame. He owned baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946–1985 (one of his partners was Bing Crosby), winning the World Series in 1960, 1971, and 1979. He was also a graduate of Ohio State and a longtime supporter of the school’s athletic program, one of the most successful in the nation.

Like Donald Trump did in more recent times, Galbreath became fabulously wealthy as a real estate developer, owning major properties in Columbus, Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh. In 1986, the family fortune was estimated at $400 million.

Despite his substantial fame in baseball and real estate, Galbreath’s favorite subject was horseracing. Perhaps the name of his birthplace (in 1897) was a good omen for a future in the sport: he was born in Derby, Ohio.

Among other things, Galbreath’s great wealth allowed him to indulge his passion. He became involved in horse racing in the 1930s, eventually serving as chairman of Churchill Downs in Louisville (where the Kentucky Derby is run). Near Columbus, Ohio, he developed the famed Darby Dan Farm into a 4,000-acre spread, producing many outstanding racehorses.

He had never won the Kentucky Derby, a goal of all major owners, and in 1963, none of Galbreath’s horses seemed particularly promising. Then, shortly before the Derby, one of his colts captured three straight races, including the Blue Grass Stakes. Suddenly, anything was possible.

The horse’s name was Chateaugay, and despite the sudden success, most of the hype went to several other competitors prior to the Triple Crown races. Never Bend was the leading money-winner, and Candy Spots and No Robbery were the first undefeated horses to face off in the Derby in 88 years. In front of 120,000 fans at the Kentucky Derby, Galbreath’s favorite horse went off at 9-1 odds. There appeared to be little chance for success.

After running at mid-pack for much of the race, Chateaugay moved up to fourth. Near the final stretch, future-hall-of-fame-jockey Braulio Baeza steered his horse through an opening to the inside, where Chateaugay strode to the front, topping all the pre-race stars to win by 1¼ lengths.

In race number two, the Preakness, the same strategy was employed. This time, Chateaugay came roaring to the front but fell just short, finishing 3½ lengths behind winner Candy Spots. In the Belmont, the results were very similar to the Preakness, but this time, Chateaugay’s charge to the lead was successful, overtaking Candy Spots to win by 2½ lengths.

Only a close loss at the Preakness prevented Chateaugay from winning the Triple Crown, but Galbreath’s colt had proven nevertheless to be a great racehorse.

During this time, the excitement in the North Country was fairly palpable, especially in the town of Chateaugay (in the northeast corner of Franklin County). Many were fervent supporters of Galbreath and his horse, and the famed owner expressed his appreciation in a letter that appeared in local newspapers:

Dear Mr. Peacock:

It was certainly nice of you to write me a letter about Chateaugay winning the Kentucky Derby. Several people have asked me how we happened to name this horse as we did.

As you perhaps know, we have some interest in Lyon Mountain and Mineville, New York [the iron mines], and while I was up there several years ago, I saw the name Chateaugay. I made the remark at the time that I thought it was a pretty name for a town, and also thought it would be a good name for a horse.

Since Chateaugay’s older sister, Primonetta, was our best filly to date, we naturally hoped this colt would be a good one, and for that reason, we applied the name to him.

It has been very gratifying indeed to have so many nice letters from people of your town, and I hope you will thank the members of the Chamber of Commerce for their nice telegram which they sent under your name last week. I am going to have some pictures made just as soon as we receive the proofs, and I will eventually send you a picture which you can use for publishing in the paper.

Thank you again for your nice letter and wire.

Sincerely yours,

John W. Galbreath

In honor of the victory, Galbreath named one of Darby Dan’s buildings “Gay Chateau” (well before a new meaning entered the vernacular).

A few years after winning the Derby, Chateaugay was retired to stud service, first at Darby Dan Farm, and later in Japan after his sale to racing interests there. He died in 1985.

Galbreath died in 1988 at the age of 90. Besides a grand legacy in the sporting world, he left behind the John W. Galbreath Company, America’s third-largest real estate developer. A second Darby Dan horse, Proud Clarion, won the Derby in 1967, but it was Chateaugay who first made Galbreath’s long-held dream a reality.

Photo Above: Chateaugay after winning the Kentucky Derby.

Photo Below: Chateaugay after winning the Belmont Stakes.

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.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Governor George Clinton and Pok-O-Rushmore?

Untouched scenic vistas and natural landscapes are treasured in the Adirondacks. Seventy years ago, a popular landmark, since admired by millions, was nearly transformed into something far different from its present appearance.

It all began in 1937 with the editor of the Essex County Republican-News, C. F. Peterson. Formerly a Port Henry newspaperman, active in multiple civic organizations, and clearly pro-development and pro-North Country, Peterson was a force to be reckoned with.

Just how influential was he? The Champlain Bridge that was recently blasted into oblivion probably should have been named the Carl F. Peterson Bridge. In fact, efforts were made to do exactly that. Peterson originated the bridge idea, and as Vermont and New York debated whether to locate it at Ticonderoga, Crown Point, or Rouses Point, it was Peterson who put his all into promoting the Crown Point site.

Still not convinced? This should help. At the grand opening of the bridge in 1929, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned him to the reviewing stand and said, “Peterson, you have done a great work. I am proud of what you did and you have every reason to be very happy. This is your bridge because, without your zeal, it is very doubtful whether it would be here. You sold the bridge to New York State and Vermont, both of which should, and do, feel grateful.”

When Peterson talked, people listened, and eight years later, when he urged the Essex County Board of Supervisors to action, they took him at his word. The 200th anniversary of the birth of New York State’s first governor, George Clinton, was approaching. To honor the occasion, Peterson pushed for an appropriately lasting memorial to an undeniably great American.

The board responded with a succinct message to state leaders: “The resolution requests the legislative body at Albany to name a commission for the observance next year, asking that the group should consider the feasibility of perpetuating the memory of Governor Clinton by the carving of his likeness on the side of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain.”

Seeking support for his proposal, Peterson framed the idea in patriotic terms, and it worked like a charm. Among the first to jump on the bandwagon was Senator Benjamin Feinberg of Clinton County (the library at Plattsburgh State -— Feinberg Library -— was named in his honor).

A man of great power and influence, Feinberg wrote this in a letter to Peterson: “Your suggestion … is a good one. Undoubtedly, some action will be taken by the Legislature to fittingly observe this anniversary, and I shall be glad to aid in carrying out such a plan. The carving of the likeness of Governor Clinton on the side of Pok-o-Moonshine would not only be a great attraction to visitors, but would commemorate the birth of the first Governor of the state in a magnificent manner.”

With Feinberg on board, the idea gained momentum. Soon the Essex County branch of the American Legion adopted a resolution in support of the memorial. The idea also received the unanimous backing of the Adirondack Resorts Association.

After all, it sounded like a great cause and a fine way to express patriotism. Widespread approval was expected, and it didn’t hurt that the idea coincided with the pending completion of a national monument—the one on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

An editorial by the Plattsburgh Daily Press added this supportive comment: “We can think of no son of the State who has deserved better from the hands of the people, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Legislature will show its recognition of this by providing for this statue on rugged old Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain.”

The gung-ho beginning preceded a period of thoughtful consideration; then, dissent began to surface. In January 1938, a Ticonderoga organization passed their own resolution, stating in part: “ … it is the considered opinion of the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club that the forests, streams, lakes, and mountains of Essex County constitute the county’s greatest asset … and that unnecessary artificial alteration of the natural state of these resources irreparably diminishes their value to our citizens … Be it hereby resolved that the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club is unalterably opposed to the said requested legislation and to any attempt to alter or deface the natural beauty of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain…”

The letter was sent to several officials, including Governor Lehman and Senator Feinberg. The Kiwanis were soon joined by Ti’s Chamber of Commerce, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Keene Valley Garden Club. All supported the observance of Clinton’s birthday, but opposed the altering of Poko’s steep cliffs. One alternative proposal was a “super-improved highway through this region, to be known as the Governor Clinton Memorial Highway.”

Though many protests against the plan had surfaced, the danger to Pok-o-Moonshine was real. In March, among the final rush of bills passed by the legislature was the Feinberg-Leahy bill (by Feinberg and Assemblyman Thomas Leahy of Lake Placid). It called for a $5,000 funding package to prepare a celebration in Clinton’s memory.

With the state and the nation still struggling to recover from the Great Depression, many bills were vetoed, and that same fate befell Feinberg-Leahy. In April, Governor Lehman vetoed a second bill “designed to bring about the carving of a memorial to Governor George Clinton, the state’s first chief executive, on the face of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain in Essex County.” Supporters were disappointed, certain the carving would have been a great tourist attraction.

No one in opposition was suggesting Governor Clinton wasn’t worthy of such honor. He was widely revered as one of the state’s greatest citizens. After serving under his father in the French and Indian War, George Clinton practiced law and held various public offices. A staunch defender of the colonial cause for independence, he was selected as a member of the Second Continental Congress.

Clinton voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, but missed the signing, and for good reason, having been urgently dispatched to serve as brigadier-general of the militia by his good friend, George Washington (so good, he named his children George and Martha).

Clinton saw action at White Plains and other locations. He eventually served as governor of New York for 18 consecutive years, and 22 years in all, the longest of any New York governors. He was vice-president under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, one of only two vice-presidents to serve under two different presidents. He also became the first vice-president to die in office, succumbing to a heart attack in 1812.

Perhaps the governor’s carved likeness would have been a great tourist attraction, but Poko today gets plenty of attention for other reasons: spectacular cliffs clearly visible from Interstate 87; its peregrine falcon nests; the climbing trail leading to magnificent views; the preserved fire tower; and a reputation as one of the most popular rock-climbing sites in the Adirondacks.

Photo Above: The cliffs of Pok-O-Moonshine.

Photo Below: NYS Governor George Clinton.

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.

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