Posts Tagged ‘Historic Saranac Lake’

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Hugging Ice: Saranac Lake’s winter palace


This month, one block at a time, an ice palace emerged again on the shore of Lake Flower. If you had the chance to stop by, you may have felt its warm embrace.

The massive ice blocks of the palace remind me of the stone walls of Machu Picchu. Relying on a system of communal labor called mit’a, the Inca built enormous stone structures and highly engineered roads and bridges. Each citizen who could work was required to donate a number of days of their labor to cultivate crops and build public works. Historians of ancient Peru trace the ways the mit’a system forged a complex society. Working together, people developed friendships and bonds of reciprocity that served the common good throughout the year.

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Saturday, December 5, 2020

History Matters: Bartók’s Birds

“I have been so upset by world events that my mind has been almost completely paralyzed.”  — Béla Bartók

In the midst of the dark days of World War II, a frail man named Béla Bartók came to Saranac Lake for his health. Although he was one of the greatest composers in human history, many Saranac Lakers might have seen him as just another invalid, tiny and pale, wrapped in his dark cape against the cold Adirondack weather.
Bartók and his second wife Ditta fled their native Hungary eighty years ago, as fascism and antisemitism swept across Europe. He had dedicated his life not only to composing, but also collecting and arranging the folk music of Eastern Europe. Nazi Germany was threatening to erase the cultures of the Roma and other peasant peoples of the region. In the face of such terror, Bartók was depressed, impoverished, and sick with a form of leukemia that acted like tuberculosis. He and his wife moved from one cramped, loud, New York City apartment to another. He had ceased composing.

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

History Matters: Humble Spirits

October is a good month for a ghost story. So here is the tale of a humble spirit who for years haunted a cure cottage up on Charles Street in Saranac Lake.

I heard this story from Eileen Black, who has lived in the house for many years and raised her family there. A ghost visited their home several times a year for decades. He would show up at the back walkway, walking towards the house, glancing in the windows. Well-dressed, in an elegant, old fashioned coat and fedora, he looked a bit like Fred Astaire, so the family named him, “Fred.” Eileen, her husband, and children all got used to Fred sightings. He would appear and then be gone, before they could get a good look at him. Guests at the house would see him too. They were never afraid of him; he felt like a friend.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Little Boxes

What’s not to love about a house in a box? In the first part of the 20th century, thousands of Americans ordered their homes out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. The homes were shipped in railroad cars, all parts ready to assemble — little boxes, just like the Pete Seeger song.

Customers could choose from a wide variety of architectural styles and price points, from the tiny metal “Lustron” to the elegant “Alhambra.” Both styles can be found here in the village. An untold number of other Saranac Lake homes were built from kits.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

The Show Must Go On

During this quiet summer, one of the things we are missing is the theater. From Broadway in New York City to Pendragon in Saranac Lake, stages have gone dark. Actors are a lively, irrepressible bunch, and so it’s a testament to the seriousness of the situation that theaters are closed.

In interesting contrast, through the 1918 flu pandemic, Broadway did not shut down. A New York Times article this past July titled, “’Gotham Refuses to Get Scared’: In 1918, Theaters Stayed Open” described how, at the height of the flu epidemic, New York’s health commissioner declined to close performance spaces. Instead, he instituted public health measures such as staggering show times, eliminating standing room tickets, and mandating that anyone with a cough or sneeze be removed from theaters immediately.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Historic Saranac Lake presents a reading of “Safe Harbor”

Feisthamel-Edelberg Cure Cottage Photo Courtesy Historic Saranac Lake.Historic Saranac Lake will be hosting a reading of “Safe Harbor,” a play about Saranac Lake during the height of Tuberculosis. The play will be read starting at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 10, from a cure porch in the village to a small (socially distant) audience.

The play is about two residents of a small cure cottage in Saranac Lake, whose lives intersect due to tuberculosis. “Safe Harbor” illuminates the experiences of many who, after being made outcasts in their own homes, were able to reclaim their humanity from TB.

 

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Monday, September 7, 2020

Doctors in the Garden

In a time when compassion and logic often seem in short supply, many of us have a newfound appreciation for doctors and scientists. Saranac Lake’s history is full of professionals in medicine and science who had a passion for learning and an intense curiosity about the natural world.

Our own Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau was a naturalist at heart. He learned an interest in the natural world from his father James, who accompanied his friend John J. Audubon on scientific expeditions. When Edward fell sick with TB, he credited the peace he found in the Adirondack forest for his ability to fight the disease.

Later, that same appreciation for nature inspired Trudeau to pursue the scientific study of  tuberculosis. In 1882, Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the tuberculosis bacterium. Trudeau learned of his study and rushed to replicate Koch’s work, despite never having used a microscope himself. Motivated by his desire to find a cure and his own curiosity, Trudeau demonstrated incredible persistence in the face of adversity. He began his work in a remote, freezing village with no running water, electricity, or train service. As he stated in his autobiography, “One of my great problems was to keep my guinea-pigs alive in winter.” Trudeau worked with improvised laboratory equipment, and even when his first home and home laboratory burned down, he didn’t give up.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Letters and Lemonade

“I discovered that I wanted to stay in touch with a number of friends from my previous healthy existence, and I was soon writing to everyone within reach of the postal service … the mail delivery became the high spot of my day.” — Richard Ray, TB patient.

In times of trouble, some of the most essential workers are the people who deliver the mail. It can get lonely here in the Adirondacks, where there are more trees than people. Mail carriers keep us connected, and post offices in rural hamlets serve as social hubs.

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Historic Saranac Lake awarded IMLS Inspire! grant

Historic Saranac Lake (HSL) announced that it has been awarded an Inspire! Grant for Small Museums through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The $48,300 award will support HSL’s work to catalog and rehouse a portion of its image collections. The project will enable HSL to gain intellectual and physical control over its collection in preparation for a major expansion into the historic Trudeau Building adjacent to the museum. Over two years, HSL will create catalog records for photographs, postcards, and photo albums, and implement long-term archival storage. The project tackles a major next step identified in the museum’s recently completed Collections Preservation Plan, also funded by a grant from IMLS. 

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

The difficult side of sickness

The fresh air cure wasn’t all a bed of roses.

First-hand accounts left behind in letters, photographs, diaries, and memoirs paint a picture of life in Saranac Lake during the TB years. It’s an incomplete record that can lead us to believe curing was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

It takes energy, time, and a degree of mental and physical well being to leave behind a personal record. People who were very ill, illiterate, or struggling with poverty did not have the same opportunity to create, or later preserve, accounts of their experiences.

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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Historic Saranac Lake opens to the public with limited hours

Historic Saranac Lake’s Saranac Laboratory museum is re-open, operating under limited hours and strict guidelines in order to keep their patrons and their staff healthy. The museum is the first laboratory in the nation that was built for the study of tuberculosis, showcasing Saranac Lakes history as a community that built a bustling economy around the response to an infectious disease.

Museum staff expects that visitors will find Saranac Lakes history relevant once again in response to COVID-19. The museum is currently open on Thursdays through Saturdays from 10am or 5pm, and visitors are encouraged to check out historicsaranaclake.org for updates.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Running Together

A winning sports team, like a beautiful ice palace, grows out of a strong community. It’s no surprise that Saranac Lake has a long tradition of athletic achievements. From team sports like bobsledding, baseball, hockey, football, and curling to individual competitions like speed skating and barrel jumping, Saranac Lake history is full of athletic men and women who left their mark.

Today, Covid-19 is disrupting so many traditions, and sporting events are some of the hardest to give up. The cancellation of competitions is heartbreaking for athletes, and it’s hard for the spectators too. In small towns like Saranac Lake, sport brings generations together to enjoy a brief moment when all that matters is the kids on the field or the ice. No matter how fast or slow, each child shines for a moment. Over time, parents come to know each other’s children, and we cheer for their victories too.

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

In the midst of sickness, patients can create a rich inner life

One of my favorite stories in our local history is about a meteor shower over Mount Baker and a tuberculosis patient named Isabel Smith.

Ms. Smith spent 20 years of her life sick in bed at the Trudeau Sanatorium. She wrote a book about her experience titled Wish I Might. Her book touches upon so many aspects of the cure — the importance of routine, diet, friendships, “cousining,” the natural world, reading, and occupational therapy. So many threads of the story are there.

Most intriguing is Isabel’s description of how she changed as a person during her long illness. She endured disfiguring operations and the removal of ribs to deflate her lung. At times, her case seemed hopeless. As the reality of her sickness settled in, Isabel felt anger, sadness, loneliness, and fear. But one night, on her porch overlooking Mount Baker, she stayed up with her porch mate to watch the Leonid meteor shower. For hours, the young women watched the sky, feeling transported from their sick beds to connect with the vast universe. Suddenly, life was very much worth living.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hunting for Health

In recent months, as the coronavirus jumped from bats to people and spread around the globe, the world suddenly seems much smaller. The situation reminds us of our connectedness to the animal world and to each other. Such an awareness of nature is deeply rooted in the Adirondack traditions of hunting and fishing.

The practice of hunting in the Adirondacks stretches back thousands of years. For countless generations, Native American peoples lived in balance with the natural environment, taking only resources needed for survival, and making use of medicinal plants.

From the mid-1800s, growing numbers of tourists came to the Adirondacks to experience the wilderness. They relied on Adirondack guides’ deep knowledge of the woods and waters to explore the wilderness in comfort and safety.

 

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Love during a pandemic

“The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love.” — W. Somerset Maugham.

Before antibiotics, one of the most powerful medicines against tuberculosis was love. Happy patients tended to be more successful in overcoming the disease, so health care providers took every step to improve patients’ state of mind. Patients stayed busy with occupational therapy and social activities. Cure porches were oriented toward the best views to boost patients’ spirits with natural beauty. And then there was cousining — a term for informal romances that developed between patients.

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