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.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1757: What Adirondack History Might Have Been

“These are mere deserts on both sides of the river St. Lawrence, uninhabited by beast or bird on account of the severe colds which reign there.”—Samuel de Champlain.

“One cannot see a more savage country, and no part of the earth is more uninhabitable.” —Pierre Charlevoix, 1756. And about winters in the north: “It is then a melancholy thing not to be able to go out of doors, unless you are muffled up with furs like the bears…. What can anyone think, where the very bears dare not show their face to the weather for six months in the year!”

The last quotation (1767) is from John Mitchell, who cited the above comments by Charlevoix and Champlain in assessing New England, New York, and Quebec during discussions about the future of the American colonies. His writings at that time supported a solution Mitchell had proposed a decade earlier, one that would have drastically altered today’s map of the Americas and seriously revised the history of the Adirondack region. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Telephone Party Lines Were Once High Entertainment

History is often said to repeat itself, or to come full circle, but the same is seldom said about technology, which by its very nature constantly improves and leaves old ways behind. But as a follow-up to last week’s piece on heroic telephone operator Ida Blanchard, here’s a look at an old way of doing things that has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts, buttressed by the capabilities of modern telecommunications. We’re talking here about telephone party lines.

Yes, they’ve become a thing again, which should come as quite a surprise if you were lucky enough to experience the original. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ida Blanchard: Heroic Switchboard Operator

Fire! … Please send help — there’s been a car accident! … We found our son in the pool … please help us! … We need an ambulance … I think my husband’s having a heart attack! … My wife can’t breathe and she’s turning blue! Many of us have experienced terrifying moments like those at one time or another. In modern times, amazingly quick responses are the norm from fire and EMS personnel directed by information received at county emergency service centers.

Until several decades ago, those positions were nearly all filled by men. But for much of the twentieth century, most rural areas lacked coordination of services. A vital cog in emergency situations back then was the local switchboard operator, who was nearly always a woman. In almost every instance where policemen and/or firemen were needed, the telephone operator was key to obtaining a good outcome. She was the de facto emergency services coordinator of yesteryear.

Her importance during times of crisis was often overlooked, with most of the glory going to policemen and firemen capturing criminals, rescuing victims, and saving lives. But emergency personnel and telephone-company executives were aware of the vital role operators played on a daily basis. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some Local Media Was Reluctant to Support Women’s Rights

North Country newspapers, the only media during the 1800s, were slow to come around and at times downright resistant to women’s rights. Their job was to report the news, but in order to maintain readership, they also had to cater to their customers — like the old adage says, “give ’em what they want.”  That atmosphere made it difficult for new and progressive ideas, like women’s rights, to make headway.

The push for women’s rights exposed many inequities early on, but it was difficult to establish a foothold among other important stories of the day. The powerful anti-slavery movement of the 1800s presented an opportunity, for although women and slaves were at opposite ends of the spectrum in the popular imagination — women on a pedestal and slaves treated terribly — they sought many of te same goals: freedom to speak out on their own behalf, the right to vote, and equal pay for equal work. Women passionate about those subjects joined anti-slavery organizations to seek freedom and equal rights for all, regardless of race or sex. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

‘Bluestockings’ Once Battled for Women’s Rights

Women’s history month (March) is a reminder of the struggles they have endured for equality and fair treatment. Unity is important in any movement, but in the North Country, women were often on opposing sides in the battle for equal rights. The region’s rural nature had much to do with that division, as did the population’s roots: mountain folk, farmers, and miners were primarily immigrants (many via Quebec) from European countries that were overwhelmingly Catholic or Protestant.

Resistance to change was organized by branding the opposition as silly and simultaneously ungodly. For more than a century in the United States, those promoting women’s rights were labeled Bluestockings, a term that has been used both in a complimentary and a pejorative sense.

Its origins are nebulous, but it’s known that in the 1700s, Bluestockings in England were educated women unwilling to settle for being simply an adornment on a man’s arm. They learned languages, engaged in political discussions, and sought to better themselves by gaining certain rights previously enjoyed only by the privileged in society: men.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Adirondack Spruce Gum Was Once A Hot Commodity

All this talk from me during the last two weeks about spruce-related subjects (Sprucelets and spruce beer) is linked to past conversations with my mom, a native of Churubusco in northern Clinton County.

It’s officially known as the Town of Clinton, but to local folks, it’s just Busco — and about as country as it gets around here. Growing up there on a farm in the 1920s and ’30s, Mom partook in things that were once the norm, like drinking raw milk and chewing spruce gum. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spruce Beer: An Old Adirondack Favorite

In keeping with last week’s spruce theme — Sprucelets: An Original Adirondack Medicine — is a look at one of the most common drinks in early Adirondack history: spruce beer. Like the aforementioned Sprucelets, it was believed to be of medicinal value due in part to its vitamin C content. Several evergreens share those same properties, and their use dates back centuries.

In one of the earliest mentions of evergreens used as a health aid in North America, there remains disagreement as to which tree along the St. Lawrence River (at today’s Quebec City) was used by Jacques Cartier in 1536 to cure scurvy. His voyage journal says that after learning nearby natives were quite ill with an unknown disease, Cartier quarantined his men on their ships, which were frozen in the ice.

As he noted, the precaution didn’t work. “Not withstanding these defences, the disease begun inside our group, in an unknown manner, as some of us were getting weak, their legs were becoming big and swollen, the nerves as black as coal. The sailors were dotted with drops of blood, and then the disease went to their hips, thighs, shoulders, arms and neck. Their mouths were so infected and rotten that all the flesh fell to the level of the roots of the teeth which had fallen out.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sprucelets: An Original Adirondack Medicine

Cold and flu season once again has sufferers scrambling for any kind of relief from all sorts of medicines. A little over a century ago, right here on Northern New York store shelves, next to cough drops by national companies like Smith Brothers and Luden’s, was a local product made in Malone.

Sprucelets were created mainly from a raw material harvested in the Adirondacks: spruce gum. Like hops, blueberries, and maple syrup, the seasonal gathering and sale of spruce gum boosted the incomes of thousands of North Country folks seeking to make a dollar any way they could. Much of what they picked was sold to national gum companies, but some was used locally by entrepreneurs who established small factories and created many jobs.

Among these was the Symonds & Allison Company of Malone, founded there in 1897 by Charles Symonds and Aaron Allison when the latter purchased half-interest in Symonds Brothers, a convenience-store operation offering food, coffee, candy, and tobacco products. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Crown Point’s Overlooked Role in Freeing Boston, 1776

A few weeks ago in this space appeared the story of Gershom Beach’s remarkable 24-hour recruiting hike in Vermont, rounding up Green Mountain Boys to join their leader, Ethan Allen, in capturing Fort Ticonderoga on the New York side of Lake Champlain. In the end, their combined efforts played a critical role in George Washington’s American troops driving the British from Boston, for the armaments he used came from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Men serving under Colonel Henry Knox completed the delivery, carrying them south to Albany and east to Boston.

Typically shortchanged in that famous story is the fort at Crown Point, which was captured two days after Ticonderoga fell. Seth Warner, a name very familiar to historians in connection with other military campaigns, commanded the troops that executed the takeover, which met with little resistance. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ugly History of North Country Nationalism Offers Lessons For Today

Goodness has long been an admirable part of our identity as Americans. It is evident at the national level in our response when natural disasters strike here or abroad. Closer to home, we see it manifested daily in our own Adirondacks and foothills, where people donate, volunteer, and reach out to help others. Our foundation as small-town folk is one of welcoming, caring, sharing.

Along with that comes the knowledge that we’re also lucky to be Americans, lucky to not have been born in some other country where things are much different. Many of the lessons we learned in school were derived from the struggles of others in less fortunate circumstances.

We were taught to appreciate certain rights and freedoms, to speak out against perceived wrongs, to defend the less capable, and to question the directives of those in leadership positions. In some countries, those rights are viewed as privileges for the chosen few, or are not available at all. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Revolutionary War ‘Ride’ of Gershom Beach

Here’s the opening stanza from “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Less than a month later, at a different location but with the same cadence, Longfellow could have written: » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Billy Richards, ‘the Armless Wonder’: Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

While researching a pair of books on North Country iron mining, I unexpectedly became privy to tragedies that many families faced. Mining accidents were frequent and involved excessive violence, often resulting in death. Victims were sometimes pancaked — literally — by rock falls, and their remains were recovered with scraping tools. Others were blown to pieces by dynamite explosions, usually as the result of, in mining parlance, “hitting a missed hole.”

The “missed hole” nomenclature refers to unexploded dynamite charges accidentally detonated later by another miner when his drill made contact with the material or caused a spark. The resulting blast was often fatal, but not always. Those who survived were usually blinded, burned badly, or maimed in some fashion.

In 1878, in Crown Point’s iron mines at Hammondville, near Lake Champlain, a young laborer, Billy Richards, was tasked with holding a star drill (basically a hand-held chisel with a star point) against the ore face while his partner — his step-father, Richard George — struck it with a sledge hammer. Through this commonly used teamwork method, a cadence developed whereby the star drill was struck and the holder then turned it slightly before it was struck again. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hal Smith, Alias Otis Campbell, Massena’s Shining Star (conclusion)

In 1964, plans were made to celebrate the success of Massena’s nationally famous friend with a special event: Hal Smith Day. Virtually every business and every family in town became involved in the planning, with such crowds expected that tickets and reservations for many events were in hot demand.

Included in the festivities were a group breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a royal welcome that featured a crown made of (what else?) aluminum from the local plant; a visit to the hospital, where he entertained patients; an autograph session at a vacant store transformed by area merchants into a replica of the Mayberry jail; all-day limousine service; band music at several venues; the theater playing movies that Hal appeared in, and autographs for each attendee; a reunion with old schoolmates; induction as a member of the St. Regis Indians; and at the Highland Hotel that night, Hal appeared in the floor show. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Hal Smith, Massena’s Shining Star (Part 4)

Hal Smith‘s heavy workload was more than paying the bills, and in 1952 he began building a home in the San Fernando Valley. Bit parts in so many TV shows led to appearances in multiple episodes of popular programs like Broken Arrow and Have Gun, Will Travel, and countless opportunities in the world of commercial advertising. For several years he was too busy to get away often, so in late 1959, instead of visiting his parents in Old Forge, he flew to Detroit to buy a new Dodge, drove to the Adirondacks, and brought them back to California for a six-month stay. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hal Smith, Alias Otis Campbell, Massena’s Shining Star (Part 3)

In early January 1938, Hal Smith, described as an “impersonator, vocalist, and musician,” left WIBX in Utica to sing, do impersonations, and perform production work for stations WGR, WKBW, and WEBR in Buffalo. Without missing a beat, he was soon serving as master of ceremonies at high-profile events, and leading a band known as Pop Martin and His Boys while hosting a radio show by the same name. He was also regularly featured on WEBR with well-known Buffalo singer Joan Hutton, on a pair of shows titled “Music is My Hobby” and “Linger Awhile.”

Despite doing well in Buffalo, Hal returned by mid-year to WIBX in Utica. One reason for the move may have been his relationship with the station secretary there, Vivian Angstadt. In early August 1938 they applied for a marriage license, and were wed in Utica on the thirteenth. After a stay at Lake Placid while touring the Adirondacks, they returned to work at WIBX. » Continue Reading.


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