Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lake George Mirror: An Adirondack Insitution

The Lake George Mirror has finally found a spot on the web and has begun posting occasional selections from his archive. The paper, which holds the title of longest running resort newspaper in America, was founded in 1880 by Alfred Merrick (later Lake George’s oldest living resident). Originally the paper was published to serve the village of Lake George and had a temperance bent, a somewhat strange approach for a resort town.

Not long after founding the paper, Merrick gave it up for interest in a bowling alley, and it struggled until W.H. Tippetts came along. Tippets published the paper in order to promote Lake George as a summer resort. When he abandoned the Mirror in 1900 it was purchased by several local businessmen who turned it over to Edward Knight, editor of the Essex County News. The Knight family edited the paper into the 1960s.

A short history on the paper’s new website offers a glimpse of what the paper was like under the leadership of the Knight family:

While it chronicled the changes on Lake George – the rise and fall of the great resort hotels, the destruction of the mansions along Lake Shore Drive, and the proliferation of motels and tourist cabins – the Mirror itself changed little. For the families who returned each summer, the Mirror was the newspaper of record. It announced the arrivals and departures of their neighbors, publicized their activities, and performed all the offices of a country paper: heralding births, celebrating weddings, saying a few final words over the deceased in the editorial and obituary columns. The Mirror did not, however, neglect the year round residents – the homefolks. It championed projects that would enhance daily life in the villages and towns, such as the road over Tongue Mountain, the Million Dollar Beach and the expansion of Shepard Park. As long-time editor Art Knight recalled in 1970, “Many of the improvements we have advocated over the years have become realities and we like to think that perhaps in some small way we have been responsible for their ultimate adoption.”

Except on rare occasions, the Mirror had little interest in political controversy. It was, however, a fierce advocate for the protection of Lake George. During World War II, for instance, Art Knight editorialized: “There is one battle in which there can be no armistice …the battle of Lake George. The enemy are those thoughtless and selfish people who, with only their immediate profit in view, will take advantage of any laxity in our guards in order to save themselves a dollar.” Art Knight recognized that the lake’s shores would continue to be developed. But he also recognized that care would have to be taken if the development was to enhance and not detract from the lake’s beauty. “If we fail, then our detractions from the natural beauties… will earn for all of us the antipathy of future generations.”

Robert Hall took over the Lake George Mirror in the late 1950s. Hall had been a Washington and European correspondent for the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker and its Sunday edition editor. During a time when the FBI was conducting illegal operations against suspected leftist (including burglaries, opening mail, and illegal wiretaps) Hall grew tired of radical politics and moved his family to the Adirondacks where he eventually purchased the Warrensburg News, the Corinthian, the Indian Lake Bulletin and the Hamilton Country News. He established Adirondack Life magazine as a supplement to his his weekly papers in 1962.

In 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Hall to the Temporary Commission to Study the Future of the Adirondacks, whose recommendations led to the establishment of the APA. Hall later sold the Mirror, and his other weeklies, to Denton Publications and took a job as editor of the New York State’s Conservationist magazine.

The Mirror went from owner to owner until Tony Hall, Robert Hall’s son who was raised in Warrensburg, bought the paper with his wife Lisa in 1998. Of course regular readers of the Adirondack Almanack will also recognize Tony’s name on our list of contributors.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Who Are The 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History?

A recent discussion of leadership in the Adirondacks, got me thinking about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. I’d like to offer a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks, and I’d like your help.

Clearly they should reflect the environmental, cultural, and political history of the park, and they need not be residents of the region, provided their impact was significantly felt here. I’ve offered some suggestions after the jump, but I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions.

Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind, but what about Verplanck Colvin, or lumber barons James Caldwell and Daniel Finch? Does the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’ Paul Schaefer make the list? Clarence Petty? Father of NYS Forest Rangers William F. Fox? Or longtime environmental advocate John Sheehan? Should property rights advocates Carol LaGrasse or Fred Monroe be on the list? What about James Fenimore Cooper or transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Environmentalists George Perkins Marsh or Bob Marshall? What about great foresters like Bernhard Fernow or Gifford Pinchot? Ebenezer Emmons, the geologist who named the Adirondacks? Samuel de Champlain? William Johnson? William Gillbrand? John Thurman? Paul Smith? Isaac Jogues? Thomas C. Durant? William H. H. “Adirondack” Murray? Seneca Ray Stoddard? Arto Monaco? Nelson Rockefeller? Anne Labastille? Noah John Rondeau?

Feel free to add your suggestion, or argue for one of those above. We’ll produce a list of the ten most influential on January 18th.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior

A new book on Teddy Roosevelt by New York Times bestselling historian Douglas Brinkley is described by the publisher as “a sweeping historical narrative and eye-opening look at the pioneering environmental policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, avid bird-watcher, naturalist, and the founding father of America’s conservation movement.” For those interested in the Adirondack region, this new biography helps put TR’s Adirondack experiences into the lager context of wilderness protection and wildlife conservation history.

Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials for his look at the life of what he calls our “naturalist president.” Launching from conservation work as New York State Governor, TR set aside more than 230 million acres of American wild lands between 1901 and 1909, and helped popularize the conservation of wild places.

Brinkley’s new book singles out the influential contributions of James Audubon, Charles Darwin, and John Muir in shaping Roosevelt’s view of the natural world. Some of the most interesting parts of the book relate to TR’s relationship with Dr. C. Hart Merriam, who reviewed the future president’s The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in 1877; Merriam’s own The Mammals of the Adirondacks Region of Northeastern New York, published in 1884, was duly praised by TR.

Merriam and Roosevelt later worked successfully to reverse the declining Adirondack deer population (they brought whitetail from Maine), and to outlaw jack-lighting and hunting deer with dogs and so helped establish the principles of wildlife management by New York State.

During his political stepping-stone term as 33rd Governor of New York (1899-1900) TR made the forests of the state a focus of his policies. He pushed against “the depredations of man,” the recurrent forest fires, and worked to strengthen fish and game laws. Roosevelt provided stewardship of the state’s forests and the Adirondack Park in particular, that led to the most progressive conservation and wilderness protection laws in the country.

TR also worked to replace political hacks on the New York Fisheries, Game, and Forest Commission (forerunner of the DEC), according to Brinkley, and replaced them with highly trained “independent-minded biologists, zoologists, entomologists, foresters, sportsman hunters, algae specialists, trail guides, botanists, and activists for clean rivers.” To help pay the bill he pushed for higher taxes on corporations while also pursuing a progressive politics – what Brinkley calls “an activist reformist agenda.”

The book ranges with Roosevelt to Yellowstone, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Dakota Territory, and the Big Horn Mountains. It does capture Roosevelt’s time in the Adirondacks, but its’ strength is in putting that time into the larger context of Roosevelt’s life as a wilderness conservationist. For example, TR’s opposition to the Utica Electric Light Company’s Adirondack incursions is only mentioned in passing, though Brinkley’s treatment of the relationship between Gifford Pinchot and TR is more developed. An index entry – “Adirondack National Park” – is lightly misused bringing into concern how much Brinkley really appreciates the impact of Roosevelt’s Adirondack experiences (both in-country and in Albany) on his wilderness ethic.

All in all, however, Wilderness Warrior is a well written collection of the strands of Roosevelt’s conservationist ideas, woven into a readable narrative. Considering TR’s role in so many disciplines related to our forests, that’s no mean feat.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Commentary: Monetizing the Forest Preserve

Ever since 1894, when delegates to a New York State Constitutional Convention voted to keep the Adirondack Forest Preserve “forever wild,” conservationists have come up with any number of arguments in defense of wilderness. Some have been utilitarian, some populist, some historical, some spiritual. Those arguments have always been necessary, because the opponents of maintaining the Forest Preserve as lands forever wild have been many, and at times powerful.

In fact, one of the few valid reasons to oppose another constitutional convention is the political fragility of the state constitution’s Article XIV, the clause that prohibits the destruction of the Forest Preserve. The more astute politicians among the conservationists have always understood that it is the better part of prudence to avoid endorsing a single defense of wilderness, thereby retaining the support of proponents of all other possible arguments.

In part because of that catholic perspective, the Adirondack Park has been able to support “a multiplicity of visions,” as Dr. Ross Whaley, the co-editor of “The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park,” puts it. But new arguments in defense of wilderness can only buttress the cause, and here’s one that’s beginning to emerge: forests offset greenhouse gas emissions and thus play a valuable role in slowing climate change.

In a 2008 issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Society of Biological Sciences, researchers quantified the amount of carbon that Midwestern forests keep out of the atmosphere. They concluded that the forests could offset the greenhouse gas emissions of almost two thirds of nearby populations. While deciduous forests are very good at storing carbon, boreal forests are even better, says John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council, and, he adds, the Adirondack Park contains approximately 800,000 acres of those boreal forests. That’s reason enough for New Yorkers to support the preservation of even more land, if not by New York State, than by conservancies and land trusts.

But if the Adirondack Park has value as carbon storage, we asked Sheehan, could a price be attached to that value? Could the Adirondack Park, for instance, be awarded pollution credits that could be sold for the economic benefit of its residents? Here’s Sheehan’s response: “We are working with a few people right now to see what value could be placed on the global ecological benefits of lands on which we know the trees will continue to grow for centuries to come, that is to say, in the Forest Preserve and in wilderness lands on which New York State holds easements.”

As to whether the Adirondack Park could be awarded credits for storing carbon that would otherwise be sent into the atmosphere, Sheehan said, that’s conceivable. “We think we can seek and win federal credit for those Adirondack communities as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or in a carbon trading program adopted by Congress.”

While our thought was that any funds derived from the sale of credits should somehow be apportioned among local governments to offset property taxes or to create jobs, Sheehan said, “We think the state should direct the money it receives into the Environmental Protection Fund, and the communities could use the money for planning or for grants to residents and businesses for energy conservation.” But however the funds were used, local governments might now have some financial incentive to support (or at least not oppose too loudly) the preservation of the Adirondacks.

Of greater importance, understanding the role that the Adirondack Park plays in slowing climate change can only deepen our appreciation of these woods – and of those who fought to make and keep them forever wild.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror http://www.lakegeorgemirror.com


Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Holiday Tradition: The Annual Christmas Bird Count

The freshly fallen snow has gently coated (well at least for a few hours!) the Adirondack woodlands and fields around our neighborhood. Time to brush off the binoculars, grab the field guides, and find those mittens and wool tuque.

It’s Christmas Bird Count time! I thought I would give a few details about the history of this tradition dating back to 1900. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A New Franklin County History Blog

There’s a new blog from the Franklin County Historical & Museum Society. Executive Director Anne Werley Smallman has been making regular posts on county history and the collections of the society, which was founded in 1903 and is located in Malone. I asked Ms. Werley Smallman a few questions about the society and the new online presence:

AA: Could you tell me about yourself? How did you come to be the Executive Director of the Society?

AWS: Although I did not do most of my growing up in the North Country, I did graduate from Franklin Academy in Malone and subsequently married a Malone boy. We lived ‘away’ for a goodly while, but have been back for a little over five years now. I’m a museum professional by training and by wont, and have been the Executive Director of the Franklin County Historical Society since we returned. In fact, the position was one of the many catalysts for our return to the North Country. My husband and I are building a log home by hand, which makes us feel very superior – and poor.

AA: What is the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society all about?

AWS: The Society was initially founded in 1903, and was reinvigorated in the 1960s. It is housed in the 1864 House of History museum in Malone, with a recently renovated carriage house behind that which is now the Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Research.

The collections are comprehensive and specific to Franklin County history and we are bursting at the seams with everything from silver tea service to dental equipment to wooden water pipes. We attempt to collect equally from all parts of the county, but there was an unfortunate collecting bias toward the northern end for many years, most especially on Malone, and that is reflected in our overall collection. We have an annual (print) historical journal The Franklin Historical Review that has been published since 1964.

Fourth graders from all over Franklin County have been visiting the House of History for Museum Day tours and hands-on activities (like spinning and candle-dipping) for over 35 years. We currently have one half-time staff member (me) and a strong corps of volunteers (50+). The museum and Schryer center are open Tuesday and Thursday 1-4pm (and by appointment). The Society is funded by a combination of membership dues, federal and state grants, county funding, and private donations.

AA: What is your plan for the Society’s blog? How does it fit with your mission?

AWS: The blog attempts to mitigate our lack of extensive open hours and exhibit space and to provide a platform to showcase the collections of the Society by taking advantage of technology. I view the blog as a sort of ‘virtual exhibit’ — a way for the public to be able to peek into the historic collections of the museum and take away some Franklin County History in manageable bites. The collections are extensive and many wonderful items will likely not be put on exhibit soon; through the blog I hope to give access to the public to these items, at least virtually and in small measure.

Photo: The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s House of History, 51 Milwaukee Street, Malone.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tupper Lake History: Mostly Spruce and Hemlock

The long awaited reprint of Louis J. Simmons’s “Mostly Spruce and Hemlock” (previously only available in an expensive collectible first edition) is now available thanks to Andy Flynn of Saranac Lake’s Hungry Bear Publishing and the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library.

Louis Simmons, Editor of the Tupper Lake Free Press, published just 2,000 copies of Tupper Lake’s first comprehensive history in June 1976 and it went quickly out of print. Like the original, the new edition includes more than 140 photos (Simmons’s wife Grace was a longtime Tupper Lake librarian after whom the research room is now named).

There are more then 450 pages on the settlement of the village of Tupper Lake and the Town of Altamont (the name of the town was changed to Tupper Lake in 2004) including the local logging industry, railroads, churches, schools, hotels, the Sunmount facility, and local businesses such as the Oval Wood Dish Corporation. The new edition also includes a new index, compiled by Tupper Lake native Carol Payment Poole. Tupper Lake Free Press Publisher Dan McClelland wrote a new foreword for the 2009 edition.

Here’s a short bio of Simmons from the publisher:

Simmons used more than four decades of experience at the editorial helm of the Tupper Lake Free Press to write “Mostly Spruce and Hemlock.” A 1926 graduate of the Tupper Lake High School and 1930 graduate of Syracuse University, he was hired as the Tupper Lake Free Press editor in 1932. He retired as full-time editor in 1979 and continued writing and editing until his death on April 4, 1995. He was also the Tupper Lake historian for many years.


Monday, November 30, 2009

A Saranac Lake Christmas Story

On Sunday December 13 Historic Saranac Lake will present “A Franklin Manor Christmas,” a tea hosted by Ann Laemmle and author Paul Willcott at their home, a former cure cottage and monastery on Franklin Avenue in Saranac Lake. The house is the centerpiece of Paul’s book, A Franklin Manor Christmas.

This novella was published last year too close to Christmas to get the attention it deserves. So here goes: it’s an old-fashioned, tenderhearted, improbable and snowbound tale, everything a Christmas story should be. The book is also true to Saranac Lake and its people. Many of the characters are based on real folks who share some history with the erstwhile nunnery, having either lived there or attended Mass or helped the sisters maintain the rambly building on a prayer.

Paul Willcott is a wonderful writer, but even better than reading him is listening to him read from his own book in his honest Texas drawl. The Historic Saranac Lake gathering begins with mingling, from 3 to 5 p.m. Ann, the most gifted baker in town, will provide holiday cookies, tea biscuits, homemade marshmallows with hot chocolate, and teas. Then Paul will present a history of the house, followed by a reading from his story. The session ends with a carol or two around the tree.

Tickets are $25. A limited number are available. Call Historic Saranac Lake (518) 891-4606 to reserve.

The book and audiobook A Franklin Manor Christmas are available here and here or in local bookstores.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Adk Museum Announces 2010 Cabin Fever Sunday Programs

The Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake has announced its 2010 Cabin Fever Sunday schedule. Complete information about all of the Cabin Fever Sunday programs can be found on the Adirondack Museum’s web site at www.adirondackmuseum.org
.
In addition to the cabin fever programs, the museum will introduce a program in North Creek, on January 10th, entitled “North Creek Songs and Stories – Working for the Man.” The special presentation will feature folktales and music from the region’s mining and logging industries with Lee Knight and Christine Campeau.

Here’s what’s on the Cabin Fever Sunday schedule:

Jan. 17, “19th Century Magic and Beyond,” a magic show featuring Tom Verner

Feb. 14, “Passion in the Park,” Valentine’s Day presentation with Curator Hallie Bond

Feb. 28, “Rosin & Rhyme” with Bill Smith and Don Woodcock, at Saranac Village at Will Rogers

Mar. 14, “Epic Stories of the Iroquois,” by Darren Bonaparte

Mar. 28, “Moose on the Loose in the Adirondacks,” with Ed Reed

Apr. 11, “An Armchair Paddlers’ Guide to the Schroon River” by Mike Prescott

Photo: A vintage valentine from the collection of the Adirondack Museum.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

John Brown 150th Commemoration Event

Margaret Gibbs, Director of the Essex County Historical Society / Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown has sent along the following notice of the 150th Commemoration of John Brown scheduled for December 6th. Regular Adirondack Almanack readers know that I have been writing a series of posts on John Brown, his anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry Virginia, subsequent capture, trial, and execution. You can read the entire series here.

Here is the press release outlining the commemoration events:

On Sunday, December 6, 2009 the Adirondack History Center Museum is commemorating John Brown on the 150th anniversary of his death and the return of his body to Essex County. Events are scheduled in Westport and Elizabethtown in recognition of the role Essex County citizens played at the time of the return of John Brown’s body to his final resting place in North Elba. In the cause of abolition, John Brown raided the U. S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on the night of October 16, 1859. The raid resulted in the capture of John Brown and the deaths of his sons Oliver & Watson and his sons-in-law William and Dauphin Watson. John Brown was tried in Charles Town, Virginia on charges of treason and inciting slaves to rebellion and murder. He was found guilty and hanged on December 2, 1859.

John Brown’s body was transported from Harper’s Ferry to Vergennes, VT, accompanied by his widow, Mary Brown. From Vermont the body was taken across Lake Champlain by sail ferry to Barber’s Point in Westport, and the journey continued through the Town of Westport and on to Elizabethtown. The funeral cortege arrived in Elizabethtown at 6 o’clock on the evening of December 6th 1859. The body of John Brown was taken to the Essex County Court House and “watched” through the night by four local young men. Mary Brown and her companions spent the night across the street at the Mansion House, now known as the Deer’s Head Inn. On the morning of December 7th the party continued on to North Elba. The burial of John Brown was on December 8th attended by many residents of Essex County.

The commemorative program on December 6th begins at 1:00 pm at the Westport Heritage House with award-winning author Russell Banks reading from his national bestselling novel, Cloudsplitter, about John Brown, his character and his part in the abolitionist movement. The program continues with a lecture by Don Papson, John Brown and the Underground Railroad, on whether or not Brown sheltered runaway slaves at his North Elba farm. Don Papson is the founding President of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. The program continues in Elizabethtown at 3:30 pm at the United Church of Christ with The Language that Shaped the World, a tapestry of sounds, stories and characters portraying the human spirit and the fight for freedom. At 4:30 pm a procession follows John Brown’s coffin from the United Church of Christ to the Old Essex County Courthouse. At 5:00 pm the public may pay their respects at the Old Essex County Courthouse with the coffin lying in state. The program concludes at 5:30 PM with a reception held at the Deer’s Head Inn.

The cost for all events of the day including the Deer’s Head Inn reception is $40 ticket, or a $15 donation covers the programs at the Westport Heritage House and The Language that Shaped the World only. Reservations are requested. The procession and Courthouse are free and open to the public. The Westport Heritage House is located at 6459 Main Street, Westport, NY. The United Church of Christ, is located beside the museum on Court Street, Elizabethtown, NY. For more information, please contact the museum at 518-873-6466 or email [email protected]

The December 6th program is part of a series of events from December 4-8, 2009 presented for the John Brown Coming Home Commemoration through the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau. For a complete schedule of events go to www.johnbrowncominghome.com.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Noah Rondeau: A Day in His Woods

Many an article and book is available describing the life of Noah Rondeau and his hermitage. Interactions with the few hikers who ventured into his area portrayed a favorable gentleman who loved the company of some people as well as his solitude. Pictures are worth a thousand words and attach emotion to the text. A walk to the site of the former hermitage, however, allows a person an even deeper perspective and appreciation for the “Last Adirondack Hermit” and his way of life. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lecture: The Klan, Vigilantism in the Adirondacks

Writer and social historian Amy Godine will be giving a talk about vigilantes and the Ku Klux Klan on Sunday, November 22, at 3 p.m., at 511 Gallery on Main Street in Lake Placid. The lecture, entitled “Have You Seen That Vigilante Man?”, is being sponsored by The Lake Placid Institute.

Those interested in local history should be familiar with Godine’s work on social and ethnic history of the Adirondacks. Her stories, which have appeared a number of times in Adirondack Life magazine, take on the usually ignored aspects of Adirondack history. Spanish road workers, Italian miners, black homesteaders, Jewish peddlers and Chinese immigrants have all been brought to life through Godine’s meticulous research and writing. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

John Collins of Blue Mountain Lake to be Honored

Blue Mountain Lake resident John Collins will be honored for his achievements over the past forty years in education, community enhancement and wilderness protection in the Adirondack Park by Protect the Adirondacks! at the Forever Wild Dinner in Glens Falls on Saturday.

The organization will award Collins with its highest honor, the Howard Zahniser Adirondack Award.

For more than 10 years Collins served on the board of the Adirondack Park Agency, and helped to organize the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks in 1990; he was chairman of both institutions for a time. He also had a lengthy career on the staff and board of the Adirondack Museum, as a trustee of the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts, and chairman of the Town of Indian Lake Planning Board. Collins also taught 5th grade at Long Lake Elementary School for 26 years. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WWI Exhibit to Be Open Free on Veterans Day

Tomorrow, November 11, Historic Saranac Lake will open its exhibit on World War I in Saranac Lake to the public 2 – 4 p.m. to commemorate Veterans Day. The community is invited to a free viewing in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory at 89 Church Street. Light refreshments will be served.

Following is a press release from Historic Saranac Lake describing the origins of Veterans Day:

Veterans Day marks the date of the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany. On this date in 1918, WWI, the “War to end all wars” finally came to end. It was a war that took the lives of over 9 million military men, and left an indelible mark on the Village of Saranac Lake. Almost 300 residents of Saranac Lake served in some capacity in World War I.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words (quoted from the website of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs).

“Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

“Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday:

“Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

Photo: WWI officer John Baxter Black, provided to Historic Saranac Lake by his family.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

History Channel to Feature Saranac WWII Veteran

A History Channel documentary will feature an Adirondack veteran of World War Two: Archie Sweeney of Saranac Lake. The 10-hour series WWII in HD, which will air over over five consecutive nights from Sunday through Thursday, November 15-19 will be narrated by Gary Sinise.

Archie Sweeney was a resident of Saranac Lake Village (where one of his sisters still lives; another lives in Glens Falls), who came to the series late in production according to Larry Miller, who did research and character development for most of the men and women in the series. “I had finished preliminary work for six characters when I got a call from the producer who told me that they wanted a character who was killed early in the war, preferably in North Africa,” Miller told me. “That was going to be a problem for several reasons. Men who died early in the war had very little time to write letters or diaries so there would probably be very little material to work with. There would be no oral histories recorded and obviously no book written.”

What Miller hoped to find was a man who had surviving family members and who had saved information relating to his experiences. “Almost immediately, my thoughts turned to the Adirondacks,” Miller says. “My chances to find surviving relatives were better if I could find someone from a small town rather than, for example, Manhattan. These families were, at the time, less mobile than those from larger cities. A side benefit would be that I could work and be in the Adirondacks simultaneously.”

Miller began his search by reading the casualty lists published in the New York Times where he found three men from the Adirondack region who had been killed in action in North Africa. A search of their obituaries told Miller that two of the men were survived by only their parents – the third was Archie Sweeney, whose several siblings survived the war. “After several months of researching newspapers, public records, service records and interviewing his surviving relatives, I had gathered enough information about the young man to write a narrative of his short life and brave death,” Miller said.

Larry Miller sent the short biography he wrote about Archie Sweeney to the Almanack. Here it is in its entirety:

Corporal Archie Sweeney was twenty one years old when he graduated from Saranac Lake High School in Saranac Lake, New York. He was not their best student. Once he teasingly told his two little sisters that when you did well in high school they used the word “flunked”, so when he came home one day and told his mother that he had flunked math, the girls greeted him with hugs and congratulated him.

“Polite” was the term most often attached to his name. It helps to be polite when you share your living space with eight brothers and sisters. And it becomes a survival skill when you are separated from your family, Archie to one relative and his two younger sisters to another, because your mother has died and your father is too ill to care for you. (His mother died from cancer and his father has a broken neck that he sustained while digging trenches along the roadside. After his accident, he spent many months in a body case.)

At the time of her death, Archie was working two jobs and attending high school. He loved his days spent on his father’s farm in Lawrenceville, a tiny village in upstate New York almost as much as the times he and his brothers spent at their dad’s hunting camp Floodwood, a speck on the map located in the Adirondack Mountains, where they hunted and fished during the fall and winter when the farming was idle. It was during those frigid winters that his sisters remember Archie bundling them up, seating them in a sleigh, hitching the horse up and driving them to church.

When the war broke out, Archie was the first young man whose number was called in the draft lottery held in nearby Lake Placid. But Archie has enlisted the previous day. On New Years Day, 1941, he told his older brother that this was a good way to start the year. It was time to move on; to see what life had in store for him. Two days later he walked to Lake Placid a few miles away, to report for his physical.

He took a train, the first time he had ever been on one, to Fort Bragg, N.C. where his politeness was put to the test training with the 39th Infantry, 9th Division.

By the middle of March, he had been assigned to Company H and proudly sent his company photograph home. There he stood, right next to the company flag, all 5’ 11”, 145 pounds of him, standing ram-rod straight and looking quite serious.

Early that summer, Archie returned home and stayed at the farm. One of his sisters took a snapshot of him standing proudly in front of their barn. That evening, as she was preparing for bed, she saw Archie, standing as comfortably as if he had been sitting, watching as the sun set. “What are you looking at?” she asked. “I’m just looking. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this again.”

On 25 September 1942 the 39th, the Fighting Falcons, boarded 5 ships and sailed out of New York harbor. On the 6th of October 1942 and about 4,000 miles later, the convoy dropped anchor in Belfast Harbor. The 39th moved to Scotland and awaited the departure of the 47th and 60th Infantry Regiments from the US and their first D-Day.

The 9th Infantry Division saw its first combat in the North African invasion when its elements landed at Algeria in Ain-Taya 15 miles east of the city of Algeria on November 8, 1942. Moving swiftly the 39th defeated the Vichy-French troops and had the city surrounded.

The next three months were spent guarding communications lines along their front.

Company B picked up a new rifle platoon leader during this period, Lieutenant Charles Scheffel.

The war was not going well. The Germans were retreating but we couldn’t face Rommel’s tanks with our big guns. The units that tried that at Kasserine Pass suffered a devastating defeat.

The U.S. plan involved the U.S. 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions, to occupy the hills on opposite sides of the El Guettar Pass which would enable the armored troops to pass through the valley without being fired on from its flanks. This force attacked Hill 369 on the afternoon of 30 March but ran into mines and anti-tank fire, losing 5 tanks. The tanks were removed, and the 1st and 9th attacked again the next day at 06:00, moving up and taking several hundred prisoners. However an Italian counterattack drove them back from their newly gained positions, and by 12:45 they were back where they started with the loss of 9 tanks and 2 tank destroyers. A further attempt the next day on 1 April also failed, after barely getting started.

Captain Scheffel recalled that, “On March 27, 1943, my first wedding anniversary, I took out Ruth’s picture and wished I was back in Enid. I kept thinking what a shitty place to spend an anniversary. At least we weren’t fired on during the first night, and for that, I was grateful.”

On April 1, Archie was writing a letter home. “It’s very quite here this evening. I think the war may be coming to an end.” [see p 7 of my notes-when the skirmish occurred a few days later.]

His older brother, Harold, received a telegram on May 8th, 1943 informing him that Archie was “Missing in Action”. Two days later an Army chaplain arrived at his door to tell them that Archie had been killed the same evening he wrote his letter.

He was twenty five years old; the first Saranac Lake Village soldier to die in action.

Photo: Saranac Lake’s Archie Sweeney during World War Two. Photo provided.



Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!