Monday, October 18, 2010

Commentary: No Elections for APA Commissioners

North Country Public Radio‘s Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann has apparently begun campaigning for the election of some Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioners. One of his first public forays into the debate came in August at the Adirondack Museum during a presentation he called “Adirondack 3.0” – billed as a lecture on the “reinvention of the Adirondacks.” His latest came on the NCPR blog in a piece entitled “Yes, some Adirondack Park Agency commissioners should be elected“. Read the whole piece; but here’s the gist of Brian Mann’s argument:

“A far better way to choose in-Park commissioners would be to hold direct, Park-wide elections, allowing Adirondackers to cast their own ballots and make their own picks.

Imagine for a moment the kind of democratic debate that would ensue. Locals would have a chance to discuss openly their concerns, their desires, and their ambitions for the Agency.

Supporters of strict environmental protection inside the blue line would be forced to find electable candidates, who can engage communities directly, reaching out and making their arguments.

They would have the chance to do some educating, but they might learn a few things themselves about local attitudes toward conservation and the outdoors.

Opponents of the APA’s broad mission, meanwhile, would be forced to go beyond ad hominem attacks and zingers.”

It’s hard for local media to not be part of a story. Any reporter worth their weight in salt knows that they frame the discussion of their story from the start. For example, Brian Mann isn’t calling for an expanded role for the APA, or for requiring those towns who still have no serious zoning and planning in place to enact them. What he is calling for are elections to decide the future of the Adirondack Park, America’s most important state park.

I suspect Mann’s arguments are authentic and genuine, but I think it’s the worst idea to come up the pike since David Paterson tried to stop paying local taxes on state land. It’s no surprise they share the same flaw – they seem to forget that the Adirondack Park isn’t a political entity with competing constituencies, it’s a unique natural place with a statewide, regional, and even national historical and cultural significance. Despite the occasional angry bumpersticker to the contrary, the Adirondacks is a park, and an important one.

That park, the country’s largest National Historic Landmark, is all of our responsibility to manage and maintain. Offering an opportunity for one special interest group to use their media and financial friends to get their candidate elected in an attempt to dominate decision-making at the Adirondack Park Agency threatens to destroy an already weak institution; the only institution holding official responsibility to protect the Adirondack Park – our last public wilderness in the east – from over-development.

Perhaps advocates of elections for APA commissioners don’t appreciate the two great forces at play in these mountains. On one side, the constant march of development that has left this small part of the Eastern United States a virtual oasis of woods in a sea of a suburbia of 100 million people. On the other side is the natural world itself, which for millennia had staved off the harshest scars of development by being remote and rugged.

The battle began to shift after the Civil War as we abandoned our fear of the woods and came to revere them. Travelers, once forced to travel on foot or by rough road, were soon arriving by steamboat and rail, and by the 1950s, some roads were choked with cars.

In the 1960s, the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) opened a pipeline for development to move north and the accompanying second home market spread a kind of dispersed suburbia into the heart of the Adirondacks.

It was in response to this turn in the long arc of Adirondack history that the Adirondack Park Agency was established in 1971. Its purpose was to limit the worst of the development excesses in the Adirondack Park – excesses that were just then beginning to take hold.

So by geography and history this place was marked-off and it now remains the only wilderness park there will ever be as the 100 million people that surround us continue to multiply.

It shouldn’t need to be said that we have a duty to the eastern half of America not to screw it up by turning it over to a regularly scheduled local media circus fueled by special interest money.

UPDATE: Brian Mann has a thoughtful response to this post over at The In Box.


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.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Champlain History Project Wins Prestigious Award

A partnership of state and non-profit entities has won an important award for its project to educate Vermonters about the history and archeology of the Lake Champlain area as part of the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial.

At its recent annual conference, the American Association for State and Local History awarded the Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery project a 2010 Leadership in History Award of Merit.

“This is a special honor, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to accept the award on behalf of the partnership,” said project director Elsa Gilbertson, Regional Historic Site Administrator for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, which collaborated with Vermont Public Television; the Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes; Broadwing Productions; and the University of Maine at Farmington Archaeological Research Center.

“I’m very proud of the Voyages project and pleased to see the work of so many people in Vermont being recognized at the national level,” said AASLH Council President David Donath, CEO of the Woodstock Foundation and member of the Vermont Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The two-and-a-half year project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as well as matching resources from the partnership, and used the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Lake Champlain as an opportunity to explore and bring to life the little known but internationally significant area and its peoples from 1609 to the 1760s.

“This project was a multi-disciplinary effort using archeology, historic research, film-making, museum and library outreach, and extensive local and regional participation,” said Giovanna Peebles, State Historic Preservation Officer and head of DHP. “I think it did a terrific job of portraying the Native American and other peoples and their contributions to regional and world history during this critical period in the Champlain Valley.”

It included:

* An archeological investigation with professional archeologists, educators, and volunteers at the DAR State Park in Addison to look for traces of the French colonial past;

* A Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery publication for the general public about this early history and archeological results;

* A one-hour documentary, Champlain: The Lake Between, by film maker Caro Thompson and Broadwing Productions with Vermont Public Television, which won a New England Emmy;

* Public programs and exhibits at the Chimney Point State Historic Site and Bixby Memorial Free Library;

* A special edition Champlain: The Lake Between, with “Classroom Connections” educational activities and resources distributed to schools in the Lake Champlain Basin of Vermont and New York;

* Educational kits and new books and other resources at the Bixby Memorial Free Library;

* A website with information about the project.

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 65th year, is the most prestigious recognition in the United States for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history,” said AASLH President Terry L. Davis.

DVDs of the Champlain: The Lake Between are available from Vermont Public Television by calling (802) 655-5307 and the special educational edition and the publication, Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery, are available from the Chimney Point State Historic Site.

Educational kits are available in the local area on loan from the Bixby Memorial Free Library. For more information, visit: www.historicvermont.org/imls/lakechamplainvoyageshomepage.html

“VPT is proud to be part the Voyages of Discovery project, making this valuable content available to classroom teachers, students and lifelong learners,” said Vermont Public Television president John King.

Vermont Public Television will re-air Champlain: The Lake Between on Monday, Oct. 18, at 10:30 p.m.


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Whiteface Mountain Cog Railway?

In 1935, after years of planning, debate, and construction, the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway was completed. It was named in honor of America’s veterans of the so-called “Great War” (World War I), and was expected to be a major tourist attraction.

Automobiles were becoming commonplace in the North Country at that time, and travelers to the region now had a thrilling view available to them at the press of a gas pedal. Seventy-five years later, it remains a spectacular drive and a great family excursion. But the macadam highway to the summit almost never came to be. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington nearly had a New York counterpart.
» Continue Reading.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Free Admission to Adirondack Museum For Locals

The Adirondack Museum is once again extending an invitation to year-round residents of the Adirondack Park to visit free of charge from October 1 – 18, 2010. Through this annual gift to close friends and neighbors, the museum welcomes visitors from all corners of the Adirondack Park. Proof of residency – such as a driver’s license, passport, or voter registration card – is required.

The museum is open daily, 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., through October 18, 2010. There is still plenty of time to enjoy the museum’s three special exhibits: “Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters,” “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions,” and “A ‘Wild, Unsettled Country’: Early Reflections of the Adirondacks.”

In addition to “Common Threads” visitors can see contemporary quilts on display in the “Great Adirondack Quilt Show” through October 18. The special show features nearly fifty quilts inspired by or used in the Adirondack Mountains.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fort Ticonderoga Hosts Garrison Ghost Tours

Discover the unexplained past at Fort Ticonderoga during evening Garrison Ghost Tours, Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 22 and 23 and Oct. 29 and 30. The lantern-lit tours, offered from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m., will highlight Fort Ticonderoga’s haunted history and recount stories featured on Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters.

Garrison Ghost Tours, led by costumed historic interpreters carrying lanterns, allow guests to enter areas of the Fort where unexplained events have occurred. The forty-five minute walking tour in and around the Fort offers historical context to the many ghostly stories that are part of Fort Ticonderoga’s epic history. The evening tours allow guests to experience the magic of Fort Ticonderoga at night. Guests can also take their own self-guided walk to the historic American Cemetery where a costumed interpreter will share the many stories related to its interesting past.

Fort Ticonderoga has a long and often violent history. Constructed in 1755, the Fort was the scene of the bloodiest day of battle in American history prior to the Civil War when on July 8, 1758 nearly 2,000 British and Provincial soldiers were killed or wounded during a day-long battle attempting to capture the Fort from the French army. During the American Revolution nearly twenty years later thousands of American soldiers died of sickness while defending the United States from British invasion from the north.

Tickets for the Garrison Ghost Tours are $10 each and reservations are required. Call 518-585-2821 for reservations. No exchanges and refunds allowed. The Garrison Ghost Tours are a rain or shine event. Beverages and concessions are available for purchase. Garrison Ghost Tour dinner packages are available through Best Western Ticonderoga Inn & Suites. Visit www.fort-ticonderoga.org for package details.

Photo: Twilight at Fort Ticonderoga


Friday, October 8, 2010

Preserving Arto Monaco’s Theme Park Legacy

While the child-sized buildings at Land of Make Believe may be deteriorating, the legacy of Arto Monaco, the visionary who created the theme park in 1954, will be preserved.

According to Laura Rice, a curator at the Adirondack Museum, hundreds of items documenting Monaco’s career as a toymaker and theme park designer and developer are in the process of being acquired by the Adirondack Museum.

To be housed in the Museum’s Collections Storage and Study Center, where the material will be catalogued and made accessible to scholars, the Monaco collection will ultimately be seen by the public, said Rice.

“We will definitely display items, but no exhibition has been scheduled,” she said adding that the collection consists of “a little bit of everything, from art work to the toys he created to souvenirs and the uniforms employees wore at Land of Make Believe.”

Born in Ausable Forks in 1913, Monaco designed not only the Land of Make Believe but Santa’s Workshop and Charley Wood’s Story Town and Gaslight Village.

A $50,000 grant from the Charles R. Wood Foundation helped the Arto Monaco Historical Society acquire the collection from Monaco’s family, said Anne Mackinnon, a founder of the society.

The Arto Monaco Historical Society, which was created after Monaco’s death in 2003 to preserve his legacy, arranged for the transfer of the collection to the Adirondack Museum, according to Mackinnon. “Arto had been talking to people at the Adirondack Museum before he died; he had identified it as wonderful repository for his legacy,” Mackinnon said.

According to Laura Rice, roadside attractions like the Land of Make Believe, Stanta’s Workshop and Story Town, “are now recognized as integral to the development of the Adirondack Park as a resort area in the 1950s.”

Rice added, “Museums are often a generation behind in recognizing the significance of a piece of popular culture; we now have enough distance to have a proper perspective.”

The Arto Monaco Historical Society also acquired the site of Land of Make Believe in Upper Jay and hopes to transform it into a park, said Mackinnon. While many of the buildings are beyond repair, the society hopes to preserve the park’s castle in some form, she said.

“The castle is not only iconic; castles played an enormous role in Arto’s imagination,” Mackinnon said. “One of the last sketches he made before he died was of one more castle.”

Photo: The Land of Makebelieve in 2006 before volunteers began work on the abandoned theme park.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Moose River Plains Primitive Rendezvous and Hunt

There’s a unique event happening this week about seven miles from the Limekiln Lake entrance in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest – a Primitive Rendezvous and Hunt, held each year by the New York State Muzzle-Loaders Association (NYSMLA). Now in its 19th year, the event features about 50 men, women, and children dressed in 1740 to 1840 attire and camping with period equipment. This year’s rendezvous will include tomahawk and knife throwing, Dutch oven cooking, tipi and canvass lodge living, an demonstrations of muzzle-loaders and other tools of the era. Visitors are welcome only on Sunday, October 10th, from 10 am to 5 pm.

The Muzzleloaders Association was founded in 1977 as an offshoot (no pun intended) of the Tryon County Militia, an American Revolution reenactment group. Since then, the association has been dedicated to “the continuing support of black powder events, people, and legislation.” The group includes over 40 affiliated clubs throughout the state.

This year’s Primitive Biathlon, usually held in March, was canceled, but the group hosted a number of major events including this week’s rendezvous and hunt, a Fall and Spring “Family Fun Shoot & Camp Out,” and the summer New York State Championship “Trophy Shoot.”

Photos: Above, an aerial view of the Moose River Plains Primitive Rendezvous and Hunt; below, a typical camp scene. Photos provided by NYSMA.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Franklin Historical Society to Feature Dutch Schultz

The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society invites its members and friends to the annual meeting of the Society on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at the First Congregational Church of Malone, corner of Clay and Main Streets. The annual meeting begins with a social hour at 5:30 pm, dish-to-pass supper at 6 pm, followed by the reports to the membership and culminating with a program on notorious beer baron Dutch Schultz. Please bring a dish to share and table service. Members are encouraged to make ‘old fashioned’ recipes and to bring copies of the recipe to share. There is no cost to attend, but membership dues for 2010 and 2011 are welcome.

The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, founded in 1903, is a membership organization dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and preserving the history of Franklin County, NY. The House of History museum is housed in an 1864 Italianate style building, most recently the home of the F. Roy and Elizabeth Crooks Kirk family. A museum since 1973, the House of History is home to the headquarters of the Franklin County Historical & Museum Society and its historic collections pertaining to the history of Franklin County. The recently renovated carriage house behind the museum is the beautiful Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Research, which opened in 2006. The Schryer Center contains archival materials and a library of family history information and is open to the public. FCHMS is supported by its members and donors and the generous support of Franklin County.

The House of History is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4pm through December 31, 2010; admission is $5/adults, $3/seniors, $2/children, and free for members. The Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Reseach is open for research Wednesday-Friday from 1-4 pm October 13-May 1, weather permitting. The fee to use the research library is $10/day and free to members.

Information about Franklin County History, the collections of the museum and links to interesting historical information can be found at the Historical Society’s website.

Please contact the Historical Society with questions at: 518-483-2750 or fchms@franklinhistory.org.

Photo: Gangster “Dutch” Schultz, the subject of the program at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s Annual Meeting.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let’s Eat: John Burnham Adk Mountain Creams

John Bird Burnham (1869-1939) visited the Adirondacks for the first time as a guest of the Rev. George DuBois family. It was during one of these visits to the family’s camp in St. Huberts that he fell in love with the Reverend’s daughter Henrietta. They were married by her father in the family chapel in 1891. That year, John Burnham joined the staff of Field and Stream, writing articles about game protection.

Burnham is best remembered as an ardent conservationist. In 1898, he purchased a home in Willsboro, New York, which he operated as the Highlands Game Preserve. He served as a member of the three-man commission that codified the state’s fish and games laws, and as the first President of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, Burnham was instrumental in the effort to ban hunting deer with dogs in the Adirondack Park. His friends and colleagues included Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. He is less well known for his career as an Essex, N. Y. candy maker. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Bryan O’Byrne: Plattsburgh Character Actor

In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing, and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966-67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.

O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields, and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photo Top: Bryan Jay O’Byrne.

Photo Middle: Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh.

Photo Bottom: Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

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.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adirondack Balloon Fest: Up, Up and Away in Queensbury

Advice for anyone who attends the Adirondack Balloon Festival next year: get there early.

Early, of course, is a painful thing when balloons are involved. They take off at dawn, mostly, which means waking up at 5 a.m. if you live an hour away, as I do. It’s even more painful if you get up early and don’t get any balloons. Thanks to high winds, three launches scheduled for Saturday morning and Friday and Saturday evenings had to be canceled. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Local Museums, History Scaled Back Over Economy

The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake has announced that it will close it’s satellite retail store in Lake Placid on October 30th. The store, which opened in 2003, was an initial step in the museum’s long-range plan to reach out to communities in the Adirondack Park. Lake Placid was considered by museum officials to be the best place to begin.

“The subsequent and continuing economic downturn have forced a strategic re-thinking of the museum’s plans,” Adirodnack Museum spokesperson Katherine Moore told the press in a recent announcement. “At the present time it is no longer feasible to operate two retail operations and maintain a growing online sales presence.” The museum will concentrate its efforts and financial resources on the Blue Mountain Lake campus Moore told the press.

It’s the second set-back for the Adirondack Museum in Lake Placid. In June of 2008, the museum ended its plan to erect a building on Main Street to house a new branch of the museum and its existing store. That decision was made “very reluctantly” museum officials said, citing a strained economic situation.

Last year, Adirondack Museum Marketing Director Susan Dineen told WNBZ that they were feeling the effects of the recession. “Like many large nonprofit institutions, our endowment has seen a downturn,” she told Chris Morris, “It’s unavoidable.” Dineen said today that the museum has not yet instituted a museum-wide hiring freeze or any layoffs. However, three employees at the Lake Placid store have been notified that their positions will be eliminated.

The Adirondack Museum’s economic travails are part of wider trend for local historical organizations. First Fort Ticonderoga faced financial ruin after Deborah Mars, a Ticonderoga native married to the billionaire co-owner of the Mars candy company Forrest Mars Jr., bailed on her long-time support for the fort just before completion of a new $23 million Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. The Mars paid for nearly all of the new building’s construction but left before it was finished leaving Fort Ti about two million dollars in debt.

Then there was the well-publicized New York State Historic Site closure debacle that threatened the John Brown Farm in Essex County and the Macomb Reservation State Park and Point Au Roche State Park, both in Clinton County.

The long-awaited preservation of Rogers Island in Fort Edward is on hold after preservation funds dried up in July. Earlier this month, Governor David Paterson vetoed a bill that would have funded the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of America’s Second War of Independence, the War of 1812.

The news about the Adirondack Museum’s retreat was not the only troubling local museum news this week. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) abandoned its plan to occupy a 7,000 square foot former generating plant on the Burlington waterfront. The LCMM had planned an installation of the museum’s collection of historic shipwrecks.

“The City of Burlington has done an outstanding job putting together a sound plan for redeveloping the Moran site, but the Maritime Museum has significant concerns about our ability to raise sufficient funds to participate in the project and the long-term financial sustainability of a future Moran maritime museum site. We felt our continued participation in the project, given our funding concerns, was not helpful to the City in meeting their overall goal of redeveloping the Moran site,” Art Cohn, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, announced.

Photo: The Adirondack Museum’s store on Main Street in Lake Placid. Photo courtesy Sarah and Marc Galvin, Owners of The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Thomas W. Symons: Father of Barge Canals (Part II)

The first 20 years of Keeseville’s Thomas Symons’ career were incredibly successful. The highlights from Part 1 of this story include: graduating number one in his West Point class; joining the historic Wheeler Expedition to several western territories; becoming the nation’s acknowledged expert on the Columbia River in the Northwest; negotiating with hostile Indians; and engineering the noted Columbia River jetty.

Add to that improving Washington, D.C.’s water, sewage, and pavement systems; developing river and harbor facilities in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington; improving the Mississippi River works; developments in Portland, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma; and surveying the US-Mexico border. The list sounds like a career review, but Thomas Symons was just getting started.

In 1895, he returned to the East, charged with planning and designing the river and harbor works at Buffalo. He was named engineer of the 10th Lighthouse District, which included Lakes Erie and Ontario, encompassing all the waterways and lighthouses from Detroit, Michigan to Ogdensburg, New York.

Among his remarkable projects was “a very exposed, elaborate lighthouse and fog signal” in Lake Erie, near Toledo. Grandest of all, however, was one of Thomas Symons’ signature accomplishments: planning and constructing the world’s longest breakwater (over four miles long). Built along the shores of Buffalo, it was a project that earned him considerable attention. Further improvements he brought to the city enhanced his reputation there.

Another major project talked about for years came to the forefront in the late 1890s—the possibility of a ship canal spanning New York State. The 54th Congress in 1897 commissioned a report, but the results disappointed the powerful committee chairman when Symons’ detailed analysis named a barge canal, not a ship canal, as the best option.

In 1898, New York’s new governor, Teddy Roosevelt, assigned Thomas to personally investigate and report on the state’s waterways, with emphasis on the feasibility of a barge canal to ensure it was the correct option. A concern on the federal level was national security, which was better served by Symons’ plan to run the canal across the state rather than through the St. Lawrence, to Montreal, down Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to New York City.

Thomas’ route across New York kept the structure entirely with America’s borders. (This and many other projects were requested by the War Department, which explains the security factor.) His additional work for Roosevelt reached the same conclusion, and after extended arguments in Congress, $100 million was appropriated for canal improvements. The decision was affirmation of Thomas’ judgment and the great respect in Congress for his engineering capabilities.

In 1902, the senate noted “the conspicuous services of Major Thomas W. Symons regarding the canal problems in New York,” and that he had “aided materially in its solution.” A senate resolution cited “his able, broad-minded, and public-spirited labors on behalf of the state.”

During the canal discussions, his life had taken an unusual turn. Teddy Roosevelt had won the presidency in 1902, and in early 1903, the decision was made to replace his top military aide. Keeseville’s Thomas Symons was going to the White House.

It was sad news for Buffalo, Thomas’ home for the past eight years. At a sendoff banquet, the praise for him was effusive. Among the acknowledgments was that his work in Buffalo’s harbor had brought millions of dollars of investments and widespread employment to the city. From a business and social perspective, one speaker professed the community’s “unbounded love, affection, and admiration.” The comments were followed by an extended ovation.

For a man of Symons’ stature, some of the new duties in Washington seemed a bit out of place. Officially, he was the officer in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds of the District of Columbia, a position for which he was obviously well suited. (And, the job was accompanied by a pay raise to the level of Colonel of Engineers.)

However, Thomas was also the president’s number one military aide, making him the Master of Ceremonies for all White House functions. Every appearance by Teddy Roosevelt was planned, coordinated, and executed by Symons, his close personal friend. Depending on whom the guests were, Thomas selected the décor, music, food, and entertainment.

He became the public face of all White House events. In reception lines, it was his duty to be at the president’s side. No matter what their stature, he greeted each guest as the line progressed, and in turn introduced each guest to Roosevelt. Everyone had to go through Roosevelt’s right-hand man before meeting the president (though he actually stood to the president’s left).

He also played a vital diplomatic role by mingling with the guests, ensuring all were seated and handled according to their importance, and allowing the President and First Lady to feel as secure as if they had planned each event themselves.

He was also the paymaster general of the White House, seeing to it that all funds appropriated for expenses were spent properly. The media regularly noted that, in Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Symons was the most conspicuous person except for the president himself.

With so many responsibilities, the job of top aide to the president seemed impossibly busy, which is why Roosevelt expanded the staff from one to nine aides, all of them placed under the charge of Symons, who could then delegate much of his authority.

The only sense of controversy to arise during Thomas’ career was related to the development of New York’s barge canal, and it had nothing to do with him personally. He was the designer of the proposed system, and many felt it was critical that he stay involved in the project. But the new duties in Washington kept him very busy. Because congress approved additional engineering employees to work under Symons, some felt it was wrong to allow Thomas to spend some of his time working on the canal project, away from his regular job.

Symons even agreed to forego the higher pay he received from the White House position in order to help with the canal. There was considerable resistance, but Roosevelt himself stepped forward, telling Congress that, as governor, he had hired Thomas Symons to closely examine New York’s waterways. Thus, there was no man better suited for overseeing the $100 million expenditure.

The legislators relented, and by authority of a special act of congress, Symons was allowed to work on the creation of New York’s barge canal system. After Roosevelt’s first term, Thomas left the White House and focused his efforts on the canal work.

In 1908, when the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps was retiring, Symons, by then a full colonel, was among the top candidates for the job. His strongest advocate was President Roosevelt, but, after 37 years of service, Thomas submitted his name to the retirement list.

He remained active in the work on New York’s canals, which he monitored closely, and despite suggestions of excessive costs, the project came in well below the original estimates. He also served on the Pennsylvania Canal Commission and continued working and advising on other engineering projects.

His role in the building of America is undeniable, from New York to Washington State, the border with Mexico, the Mississippi River, Washington, D.C., and so many other places. The world’s longest breakwater (at Buffalo) and New York’s barge canal system stand out as his major career accomplishments. And, Roosevelt’s first administration took him to the highest echelons of world power for four years. He shared the president’s gratitude and friendship.

Thomas Symons, trusted aide, the man Teddy Roosevelt called the “Father of Barge Canals,” died in 1920 at the age of 71. In 1943, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Oregon was named the SS Thomas W. Symons in his honor.

Photo Top: Colonel Thomas Williams Symons, engineer.

Photo Middle: 1904 map of Symons’ planned route for New York’s Barge Canal.

Photo Bottom: A portion of the breakwater in Buffalo harbor.

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.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dan Ladd’s Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks

Author and outdoor writer Dan Ladd of West Fort Ann, Washington County, has released an updated version of his seminal book Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks – A Guide to Deer Hunting in New York’s 6-Million-Acre Adirondack Park. This is the second printing of the book, which Ladd first self-published in 2008.

Adirondack deer hunters will want this book and I’m happy to recommend it. What you won’t find here are political statements about the expansion of the Forest Preserve, the advent of easements, and sharing the wilderness with paddlers, hikers and campers. Ladd seems to really understand the subtler history of game laws, environmental conservation, and the economics and politics of the Adirondacks as it relates to hunting. That makes this book a valuable tool for hunters (and non-hunters with an interest), and not the political polemic you might expect from some of the region’s other outdoor writers.

A chapter on the history of deer hunting in the Adirondacks is the definitive source on the subject bringing together decades of lessons from Forest, Fish and Game Commission reports with a legal history primer on the evolution of New York’s game laws. Additional chapters introduce the Adirondack region, detail land classifications, address current regulations, necessary equipment, lodging options, several chapters of tips from experienced Adirondack hunters, and a meaty inventory of state lands.

This second edition also includes the latest additions to state lands, including tracts of land along the Moose River near Old Forge and the Chazy Highlands Wild Forest in the extreme northern section of the Adirondack Park. Additional material has been added on the subjects of getting deer out of the backcountry, cooking venison and also information geared towards beginning hunters. The overall size of this edition has expanded from 168 pages to 192.

Dan Ladd is a freelance writer and regular outdoor columnist for The Chronicle in Glens Falls, The Plattsburgh Press-Republican, Outdoors Magazine and FishNY.com. He is also founder of the popular Adirondack deer hunting website ADKHunter.com. He is currently editing his second book, a collection of his newspaper columns expected to be available in November.

The new edition of Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks has a retail price of $20 and is available at local and retail outlets throughout the Adirondack region. More information is available at Ladd’s website, www.ADKHunter.com, where a mail order form can be downloaded. The book will also be distributed by North Country Books.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.



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