Posts Tagged ‘Political History’

Monday, March 12, 2012

Edward Babbage: The Story of a Phat Boy

This is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world (a Utah School District recently rejected the students’ choice of mascot―cougar―because it might be offensive to middle-aged women!), some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But if I can’t refer to him as fat, I couldn’t write this piece.

I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who ever met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.)

His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and eventually settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born in 1841, about 20 miles west of the city. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen.

By his early twenties, Edward had worked as a hotel porter, hotel manager, traveling salesman, museum manager, and glassblower (he was lead agent for a group of glassblowers performing at various venues). After the Civil War ended, he returned to Rochester. A number of veteran soldiers formed a minstrel troupe (again, politically incorrect), and Edward worked successfully as their road agent for three years.

When minstrel performer and organizer “Happy Cal” Wagner needed an agent, he dispatched a telegram to Rochester, but unaware of Edward’s first name, Wagner addressed it to “Phat Boy Babbage.” The nickname became Edward’s public identity, and for the next several years, he traveled across the country, representing various minstrel shows (including Wagner’s) and other performers.

Invariably, at the bottom of newspaper ads and posters touting his events appeared, “Phat Boy, Agent.” Everyone in the business knew him, and Edward became somewhat of a celebrity in his own right, courtesy of his large size, charming personality, handsome looks, and great sense of humor. He was always good for a laugh, and people gravitated to him. (If you caught it, that’s the sort of self-deprecating humor he employed.)

For more than a decade, he traveled to every state in the country (there were 37 at the time), and claimed to have visited every city or town of more than 5,000 residents. His travels included stops in northern New York and southern Quebec, and in the early 1870s, he recognized an opportunity for promotional work of a different sort.

The spectacular scenery of the Thousand Islands area was attracting thousands of travelers, and during the summer months, Edward began working as a tour guide on the water. It was there that he became a North Country legend.

Steamship companies sought his services, and Phat Boy himself became one of the area’s great attractions, holding court while seated in the bow of the boat, and always wearing his two signature items: a felt hat with a large brim, and a diamond pin on his chest. As individual islands were passed, he spouted (there’s another one) their history, interspersed with colorful stories and plenty of humor.

Edward became well-versed on the background of sites from the Great Lakes to Montreal, plus Boston, New York City, the Hudson River Valley, and Lake Champlain. He eventually put it in writing, and for more than a decade, a new version of his booklet appeared each year, with the title changed and the text modified.

One of the later editions was The Phat Boy’s 15 Years on the St. Lawrence River: The People I Have Met and the Things I Have Seen. For 25¢ each, Babbage sold thousands of copies to his followers. He addressed his great size in the text, warning others that being large wasn’t always so great, and that he often couldn’t fit into common spaces designed for average-sized people. As always, the passages were laced with humor.

He also told of encounters with famous people, many of whom had sought him out for his own fame as a guide. Among them were President Grant, George Pullman (of the luxurious Pullman rail cars), Mark Twain, Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first prime minister), and members of various royal families. Others too numerous to mention were captains of industry, including many who owned St. Lawrence River islands that were part of his tours.

For all the references to his weight over the years, Edward carried it well. Unlike in modern times, well beyond 300 pounds was substantial for his era. Yet the consensus held that Phat Boy’s great bulk was dwarfed by his bigger-than-life personality. He was invariably described as congenial, obliging, and very funny.

Which all combined to make him a hit on the St. Lawrence River boat tours. He worked hard to learn the region’s history, an effort reflected in another, more flattering, nickname: the Bureau of Information.

By 1890, more tours and stories were added to his repertoire. From his storytelling perch in the bow, he often referred to his weight as 333 pounds. His wife, also very large, had died a few years earlier, and their daughter was heavy as well. Edward’s twin brother, Dr. Edwin Babbage, was said to have lagged behind him, weighing around 300.

At Alexandria Bay’s Marsden House, on the evening of June 30, 1891, Edward didn’t feel well after a full day’s work and told hotel employees he was retiring to his second-floor room to rest. Though he whistled a tune while climbing the stairs, pain suddenly overtook him. He called out for someone to summon a doctor, and then fell at the head of the stairs, dead. He was 51.

Mourning ensued up and down the shores of the St. Lawrence, and the flags of several boats and islands were lowered to half staff in his honor. Edward’s guidebooks, maps, and some great memories eased the loss, but nothing could replace the man who had spent 18 years on a job he truly loved. Eight months later, his twin brother Edwin, who had been ill, died similarly, collapsing in the streets of Rochester.

Photo: Edward Frederick “Phat Boy” Babbage; advertisement with “Phat Boy, Agent.”

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Chazy Native Who Upturned Mormon Politics

During the ongoing battle for the Republican nomination, a candidate’s religion has sometimes surfaced as an issue. The intent was to scare voters and create a negative feeling about the candidate whenever the religion is mentioned. In this case, the candidate is Mitt Romney and the religion is Mormonism. It’s interesting that fear and loathing of Mormons coming to power is not a new thing. In the 19th century, when they dominated life in the Utah Territory for several decades prior to statehood, a fierce battle was waged between two religious factions.

Many factors came into play before things were resolved. In one of the climactic moments that helped eliminate a powerful theocracy, a North Country man ended the Mormon’s 43-year rule of their greatest bastion, Salt Lake City.

George Montgomery Scott was born in July 1835 in Chazy, New York. From northern Clinton County, he moved West during California’s gold rush. In San Francisco, he established a successful hardware business, supplying the tools of the trade to hundreds of miners.

In 1871, in pursuit of new opportunities, Scott moved to the Utah Territory, where many mines were in early development. Besides investing in the Crystal Gold and Silver Mining Company, he also established the very successful George M. Scott Hardware in Salt Lake City.

As a member of the Lily Park Stock Growers Association in Colorado, he frequently dabbled in horses and range stock. In one transaction alone, Scott purchased 60 railcars of cattle (over 1000 head). The man obviously had plenty of money. Known as one of Salt Lake City’s leading businessmen, he traveled in first-class accommodations to several states and territories on both business and pleasure trips.

The downside among all this financial success was Utah Territory’s political atmosphere. Non-Mormons had virtually no voice in government because Mormons (a very high percentage of the population) were strictly bound by church rules, which applied to their entire lives, not just their religious activities. They generally voted as a bloc, which gave them absolute control of government. And unlike federal law, they allowed suffrage, in effect doubling their voting power.

When the US expanded westward, winning the Mexican-American War added vast new territory to the nation. Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City grasped the opportunity to firmly establish a power base. Statehood was applied for under the name Deseret. Had they been successful, the newest American state (Deseret) would have encompassed modern-day Utah, most of Arizona and Nevada, plus parts of California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming. Officers were elected to represent Deseret, led by Governor Brigham Young.

At the federal level, the State of Deseret’s application was denied because of two main issues: the proposed size was too large, and the controversial policy of polygamy was incompatible with American law. Since Mormon rules governed people’s religious and civil life, Washington legislators were doubtful about their future adherence to the laws of the land. Technically, the denial came because the area fell short of one requirement for statehood, a minimum population of 60,000.

The application was modified in 1850 to embrace what became known as the Utah Territory, and with congressional and presidential approval, Brigham Young was appointed as governor.

During the next four decades, at least six applications for Utah statehood were denied. There were many impediments, but the territory had become a virtual theocratic state controlled by the Mormons. Added to that was the ultimate deal-breaker: polygamy. To the adherents of other religions, plural marriage made Mormons nothing more than heathens.

For decades, the struggle for control of the Utah Territory was much more a religious battle than a political one. Progress was slow, but the non-Mormons made inroads, supported by federal laws outlawing bigamy and the president’s official removal of Brigham Young as governor in 1857.

Young resisted the order and prepared for war when federal troops were dispatched (the standoff became known as the Utah War, although no battles were actually fought). It is testament to Mormon power that, despite the setbacks, they maintained control of the territory for three more decades.

One reason for that dominance was revealed by a simple head count. In 1870, Salt Lake City’s population was about 90 percent Mormon, a number that would gradually decline during the great western migration.

Religious differences are often the root causes of war, and in Utah, that’s what dominated politics. Unlike most of the nation, Utah had no Democratic or Republican parties. Instead, it was the Liberals (the anti-Mormons) versus the People’s Party (the Mormons).

The anti-Mormons made gains over the years, particularly in Tooele County, which became known as the Republic of Tooele when residents voted the Liberals into power for a five-year period. During that time, it created an odd situation. Tooele leaders, under the Liberal flag, instituted women’s suffrage.

While it may have worked well in Tooele County, the Territory’s Liberal Party was forced to oppose the measure. Independent women might vote their own minds, but the Mormons already practiced suffrage, which added to their power because the Mormons generally voted as a bloc.

Anti-Mormons gained small victories here and there, gaining a more solid footing. Dramatic changes in the character of the population aided their cause. By the late 1880s, it was estimated that Salt Lake Mormons had been reduced from 90 percent to about 50 percent of the city’s head count.

The bitter battle came to a head in the 1880s with the aggressive enforcement of new laws against polygamy. Within that atmosphere, the fight against religious rule was won in several more communities. While it may have had a political face, the conflict was between two sets of church beliefs.

The ultimate seat of Mormon power, Salt Lake City, had remained untouchable for four decades. What many saw as the death knell of Mormon political control came in 1890. The results were touted across the country as the most important election of the year. For the first time, Salt Lake City had elected a non-Mormon mayor.

The victor was George Montgomery Scott, born and raised in Clinton County, New York. It was a prodigious victory, creating hundreds of media headlines.

With Scott assuming control in what had long been the Mormon center of power, change came swiftly to both sides. Latter Day Saints President Wilford Woodruff soon issued the Woodruff Manifesto, forever revising church doctrine with the line, “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

With the grudging acceptance of federal marriage law by the official church, the crux of the problem was suddenly gone. The Mormons, always politically astute, disbanded the Peoples’ Party within a year and directed its followers to the nation’s two major national parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The Liberals were slower to move, but did the same two years later. Since that time, the Mormons have always held great sway in Utah politics, but well short of the control they once tried to parlay into a Vatican-like theocracy. No matter how great your god is, that’s a tough sell in a democracy.

The newly elected mayor of Salt Lake City was virulently anti-Mormon and a devout Episcopal, reflecting one facet of the religious war that shook the West. A number of issues ruled Utah’s early development, but a prominent theme was “my god is better than your god,” the basic foundation of so much strife in the world’s history. In Utah, the god issue came to a head over the concept of plural marriage.

George Montgomery Scott commanded center stage for only two years. The mayoral run was his only foray into politics in a career devoted principally to the world of business and community development. He was a commissioner of the 1883 World’s Fair, treasurer of the Utah Eastern Railroad, a founding member of the Utah Stock Exchange, and supported Episcopal hospitals and churches. His election victory, once the biggest news in the nation, is now a footnote in history

Due to illness and age, Scott sold his business interests in 1904 and retired to California. He died of pneumonia in San Mateo in 1915.

Photos: George Montgomery Scott; advertisement for hardware business.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Occupy Movement History Lessons

A major issue of the day is the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few. By its very nature, great wealth confers great power, and we all know what absolute power does. Today’s media bombards us with the fact that the concentration of wealth has skyrocketed in recent years, which once again reminds us, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” We’ve been here many, many times before.

Why are the “experts” not looking to the past? This concentration of wealth in America is not a recent, nor even a 20th-century, phenomenon. The following citations would fit perfectly on any CNN, Fox, or other broadcast, but their dates of origin might surprise you. (The headline above is from 1891.)

This first commentary sounds like it was voiced by an Occupy Wall Street spokesperson: “We want more light on these great social and economic questions. The people must be made to understand that when the property and wealth of a country is controlled by a small fraction of the people, popular self-government is no longer possible in that country. … When the time arrives in this free land when great wealth will be regarded as a paramount qualification for office, the end of American liberty is not far distant. We will then have a government of classes and oligarchies, in which the struggle for official position will not be between the rich and the poor … but between the wealthy classes alone, and in that struggle, caucuses and elections will be a farce, for the man with the largest bank account will be a predestined winner from the start. Capitalists themselves should be taught that … the preservation of the government … and the perpetuation of their own exertions … depend upon a happy, contented people, and that people are most happy and contented where the results of labor (wealth) are as evenly distributed as the circumstances and conditions of men will permit.” (1882)

Here are several others from different eras, but with similar concerns:

“And the constant tendency of the rich to use their wealth for the acquisition of influence and political power … of all the modern schemes of employing wealth, that of banking possesses the most attraction. Wealth … is in itself an element of power, and consequently an unequal distribution of property has a constant tendency to disturb that equality in the social condition of the community, which is the basis and support of equality of rights. But to incorporate wealth is to impart to it many attributes of power not belonging to it when … in the hands of individuals. … The large amount of wealth possessed by corporations is controlled by a few persons.” (1835)

“That the sub-Treasury scheme, now under consideration in the senate of the US, is calculated to create an alarming moneyed aristocracy, consisting of men in power … is not only opposed to the principles of a republican government, but is hostile to the interests of the people.” (1838)

“Sir, the shocking abuse of the banking which pervades the land … it is only by radical change of their conduct that they can ever regain the public confidence. … The honorable senator from Virginia … asks us to [again] place the public funds in them, after their recent breach of faith, their violation of all law, their outrages upon the monies of the nation, as well as upon the deposits of individuals, committed to their safekeeping. … They now look to a single and splendid government, founded in banks and other monied institutions …” (1838)

“The alarming tendency in this country is to the accumulation of capital in a few hands. The increase of wealth in the country is not over 5 percent per annum, while the interest in capital is nearly 10 percent. Consequently, the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer. … class against class, poor against rich, labor against capital. The interests of the two seem to be diverging more and more from year to year.” (1872)

“… the concentration of wealth represented by the gigantic moneyed corporations of the country, which seemed to grasp without resistance all power … and which threatened the destruction of the liberties and institutions of this country. … It controlled the press; it swallowed up legislative assemblies; it dictated its will and its purpose in public assemblies; and wherever it appeared, it seemed to be and indeed was without a rival in power, and without a limit in its purpose.” (1873)

“The great financial institutions of the country have been … largely allowed to direct the financial policy of the government. The strong arm of Wall Street has reached to Washington, and its heavy hand has been felt in our national councils. … wealth incalculable and ever increasing … placed in the hands of very few men … is not something wrong in that state of things which produces such unhappy results? … No wonder the workingmen of our country are in a state of unrest, and are groping around to find out how it is that when the land is filled with wealth, their lot is so cheerless and hard, and that such vast disparities in fortune exist …” (1886)

“The swift growth of large fortunes is the … cause of the impoverishment and the degradation of the masses. A great fortune is like a great snowball which boys roll down a hill on a mild day in winter, and which grows bigger and leaves bare a wider swath at every turn.” (1887)

“… the times which try men’s souls are here once more. European and American capitalists have bound the country in chains. The declaration of independence from British arrogance needs to be supplemented by a declaration of independence from the powers of concentrated wealth.” (1891)

“No manipulation of money can cure the evil of the concentration of wealth in a few hands, as it is not the cause. …After the Civil War, there were two millionaires in the US, and now there are 7000 such men, and one-half of the wealth of the people is in possession of 30,000 men.” [4% of the population] (1891)

William J. Stone, ex-governor of Missouri, commenting on the idle rich who possess wealth, but do no work and create no product: “When those who produce least, acquire most; when mere absorbers become the rulers; there is something essentially wrong in social and economic conditions. The enormous concentration of wealth which has taken place during the last thirty years has raised up a moneyed class in this country. …This is not only a moneyed class, but to a large extent, it is also a nonproductive class, for its wealth is represented mainly by investments in public and corporate securities in mortgages on real estate and manufacturing plants and in the stocks of banks and similar institutions. This colossal accumulation of wealth in a few hands is of itself a startling thing to contemplate. Patrick Henry, the great orator of the Revolution, once said, ‘We can only judge the future by the past.’ Look at the past. When the great empires fell, ownership of wealth had consolidated to a tiny fraction of the population. When Egypt fell, 2 percent of the population owned 97 percent of the wealth … in Persia, 1 percent … in Babylon, 2 percent … in Rome, a fraction of a percent owned all the known world.” (1898)

From the book Who Owns the United States by Sereno S. Pratt: “One twelfth of the estimated wealth of the United States is represented at the meeting of the board of directors of the US Steel Corporation when they are all present. The 24 directors are: Rockefeller, Morgan … They represent as influential directors more than 200 other companies. These companies operate nearly one-half of the railroad mileage of the US … plus Standard Oil, International Harvester, GE, Pullman, International Mercantile Marine, US Realty and Construction, American Linseed … the leading telegraph systems … banks, insurance companies, express companies …” (1903)

From the Foreword in Dynastic America and Those Who Control It by Henry H. Klein: This book proves that wealth is concentrated. History records that the decline of civilization in a nation begins with wealth concentration. Dynastic Europe is dead, but the dynasties in America flourish. Theirs is the power of life and death over the whole human race.” (1921)

If things are ever going to change, those who mobilize need to know what has gone before. Those in power know that change has been attempted many times. When they recognize history repeating itself, they need only guide the movement in the same direction from years past in order to maintain the status quo.

Photo Top: Newspaper headline, 1891.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, August 8, 2011

John Dunlap: America’s ‘Second Old Hickory’

Eccentrics—they’re part of virtually every community, and, in fact, are usually the people we remember best. The definition of eccentric—behavior that is peculiar, odd, or non-customary—certainly fit Watertown’s John L. Dunlap. Historians noted his “peculiar kinks of mind,” and referred to him as “a person of comic interest,” but they knew little of the man before he reached the age of 50. His peculiarities overshadowed an entertaining life filled with plenty of substance. And he just may have been pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.

Dunlap’s story began more than 200 years ago, rooted in the American Revolution. In 1774, his father (John) and grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Washington County, N.Y. In 1777–78 they fought in the War of Independence and saw plenty of action. According to a payroll attachment from his regiment, Dunlap served at Ticonderoga.

Years later, he became a Presbyterian pastor in Cambridge, N.Y., and in 1791 married Catherine Courtenius. It took time for the reverend to see the light about the rights of man—records indicate that he freed Nell, his slave, in September 1814, not long after several of his parishioners had liberated their own slaves.

Among the children born to John and Catherine Dunlap was John L., who arrived in the late 1790s. He was reared on stories of his dad and grand-dad battling for America’s freedom. While his father ministered to the spiritual needs of several Washington County communities for many decades, John L. became a doctor in 1826 and likewise tended to their physical needs for more than 20 years, serving in Cambridge, Salem, and Shushan.

Dunlap focused on two passions in life: his line of self-developed remedies for all sorts of illnesses, and a consuming interest in politics on both the state and national level. He pursued both with great vigor and developed a reputation as an orator in the Albany-Troy area.

On July 4, 1848, John delivered a stirring oration at the courthouse in Troy, an event so popular that reportedly “thousands were unable to find admission.” Repeat performances were so in demand that for the next two years he gave the same speech in Troy, Utica, and elsewhere, at the same time marketing and selling his various medicines. Dunlap’s Syrup was claimed to cure Consumption, Dyspepsia, Scrofula, Liver Complaints, and other ills.

Just as his father had left Washington County decades earlier to help establish churches in several central New York towns, Dunlap took his speech on the road to Schenectady, Utica, and other locales. Crowds gathered to hear his famous lecture and purchase his line of medicines.

He had sought public office in the past, but his increasingly high profile and passion for politics presented new opportunities. At the 1850 State Democratic Convention in Syracuse, Dunlap’s name was among those submitted as the party candidate for governor. Horatio Seymour eventually won the nomination.

Shortly after, Dunlap resettled in Watertown and announced his Independent candidacy as a Jefferson County representative. He was as outspoken as always—some viewed him as eccentric, while others saw in him a free thinker. Fearless in taking a stand, he called for the annexation of Cuba and Canada, and was a proponent of women’s rights.

Viewed from more recent times, some of those stances might sound a little off-the-wall, but there was actually nothing eccentric about the annexation issues. The Cuban idea was a prominent topic in 1850, and the annexation of Canada was based in America’s Articles of Confederation, which contained a specific clause allowing Canada to join the United States. And as far as women’s rights are concerned, he proved to be a man far ahead of his time.

In late 1851, Dunlap went on a speaking tour, including stops in Syracuse and Rochester, and announced his candidacy for President. The Syracuse Star said, “We suspect he is just as fit a man for president as Zachary Taylor was.”

From that point on, Dunlap was a perennial candidate for office, always running but never winning. In 1855–56, he announced for the US Senate; not gaining the nomination, he announced for the Presidency (he was promoted as the “Second Old Hickory of America”); and not winning that nomination, he announced for the governorship of New York. And he did all of that within a 12-month span.

All the while, Dunlap continued selling his medicines and seeing patients in his office at Watertown’s Hungerford Block. An 1856 advertisement noted: “His justly celebrated Cough and Lung Syrup, to cure asthma and bleeding of the lungs, surpasses all the preparations now in use in the United States.”

Another of his concoctions was advertised in verse:

“Let me advise you ’ere it be too late

And the grim foe, Consumption, seals your fate,

To get that remedy most sure and calm,

A bottle of Dr. Dunlap’s Healing Balm.”

His vegetable compounds were claimed as cures for dozens of ailments ranging from general weakness to eruptions of the skin to heart palpitations. There was no restraint in his advertisements, one of which placed him in particularly high company.

It read: “Christopher Columbus was raised up to discover a new world. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, captivated by her charms two Roman Generals, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony. Napoleon Bonaparte was raised up to conquer nearly all of Europe and put down the Inquisition in Spain. George Washington was raised up to be the deliverer of his country. Dr. John L. Dunlap of Watertown, N.Y. was raised up to make great and important discoveries in medicine, and to alleviate the sufferings and prolong the lives of thousands of human beings.”

In 1863, urged by New York’s 35th Regiment to run for President, Dunlap consented and was again promoted as the Second Old Hickory of America. He wanted Ulysses Grant as his running mate (Grant was busy at the time, leading the North in the Civil War), and he received impressive promises of political support at the Chicago convention.

A poll of passengers on a train running from Rochester to Syracuse yielded surprising results: For Abraham Lincoln, 50 votes; George B. McLellan, 61; John C. Fremont, 6; and Dr. John L. Dunlap, Watertown, 71.

History reveals that Lincoln did, in fact, triumph, but Dunlap didn’t lose for lack of trying. He secured the nomination of the Peoples’ Party at their convention in Columbus, Ohio, and none other than Ulysses S. Grant was selected as his vice-presidential running mate. Dunlap received congratulations from New York Governor Horatio Seymour for winning the nomination.

The widely distributed handbill (poster) for Dunlap/Grant used the slogan, “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry,” and promised, “Clear the track, the two Great War Horses of the North and West are coming! The one will suppress the rebellion with the sword, and the other will heal the nation with his medicines and his advice.”

Among Dunlap’s early campaign stops in the 1864 election were Troy, Albany, and Washington, D.C. He was handicapped by having to stump alone since Grant was still pursuing Lee on the battlefield. But as always, Dunlap gave it his best effort. Known as a fierce patriot and a man of the people, he was very popular at many stops.

Two years later, he sought the nomination for governor and also received 12 votes for representative in the 20th Congressional District—not a lot, but higher than four of his opponents.

In 1868, Dunlap again pursued the presidency, this time seeking General Philip Sheridan as his running mate. Had the effort been supported, he would have squared off against two familiar faces—his former running mate, Grant, was the Republican nominee, while his former opponent for governor, Horatio Seymour, won the Democratic nomination.

Shortly after President Grant’s inauguration, he received a special congratulatory gift: a case of medicines from Dr. John L. Dunlap. In a related story (from the Watertown Daily Times in the 1920s), the Scott family of Watertown claimed that Dunlap once sent a bottle of cough syrup via Judge Ross Scott to Secretary of State William Seward (in Auburn, NY).

Seward delivered the bottle to Lincoln, who reportedly said, “Tell Dr. Dunlap I’ve tried it on my buckwheat pancakes and it’s the best substitute for maple syrup I know of.”

Next week: Part 2 of the John Dunlap story.

Photo: Official handbill of the People’s Convention promoting the candidacy of Dunlap and Grant (1864).

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Search for the ‘Missingest Man in New York’

After NYS Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater went missing in New York City in 1930, the search led to Plattsburgh and then to the Meridian Hotel, a few feet across the border from Champlain.

Nothing concrete was found in New York’s northeastern corner, but a few days later, Crater was sighted at Fourth Lake in the Old Forge area. He was also “positively” identified as one of two men seen at a Raquette Lake hunting lodge in late August. Two detectives followed that trail, while others were summoned to confirm a sighting at the Ausable Club near Keene Valley.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was announced that Crater had spent a couple of days at Hulett’s Landing on the eastern shore of Lake George, and then at Brant Lake. Police and detectives pursued every lead, while headlines told the story from New York to Texas to Seattle. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Local History: The Search for Judge Crater

Amelia Earhart. Pattie Hearst. Jimmie Hoffa. Famous vanishing acts that obsessed the public and saturated the media. In their time, they were big, but it’s doubtful they topped the notoriety of New York State’s most famous disappearance, that of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater. And some of his story played out across the Adirondacks and the North Country.

The tale has now faded, but in 75 years it spawned fiction and nonfiction books, countless thousands of newspaper articles, was satirized in Mad Magazine, and formed the plot for movies. It was used for laughs on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Golden Girls, and others. It fostered a guaranteed punch line for standup comics, and produced a common slang expression that appeared in some dictionaries.

The basic details of the story begin with Joseph Crater’s rapid rise in New York City politics. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he taught at Fordham and NYU and aligned himself with the Democratic Party, a move that significantly boosted his private law practice. The New York City wing of the party was widely known as Tammany Hall, where corruption ran rampant and payoffs were routine.

Crater worked within that system, and in 1930, at age 41, he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court, filling a vacancy. With a career that was flourishing, a dapper public persona, and plenty of power, prestige, and money, “Good-time Joe,” as he was known, had New York City and life itself by the tail.

After the June court session ended, he and wife Stella (she was still in her teens when he married her more than a decade earlier, after handling her divorce) headed for their retreat in Maine for some relaxation. On August 3, Crater received news of a problem in New York. He headed back to the city, leaving Stella with words to the effect, “I have to straighten those fellows out.”

The rest of the story has been repeated thousands of times. The main components are: he went to their apartment on Fifth Avenue; spent time at his courthouse office early on August 6; removed several files there and brought them back to the apartment; had his assistant cash several checks for him; and bought one ticket to see Dancing Partner on Broadway later in the evening.

He dined with attorney William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, and shortly after 9 p.m., they parted company. Crater was said to have hailed a cab, supposedly heading for Broadway—and was never heard from again. Nada. Zippo. Nothing.

Because of Joe’s frequent comings and goings, Stella was only mildly concerned with his absence at first. She grew nervous when he didn’t make it back for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances that Joe would eventually show up.

Finally, Stella hired a private detective, but just like the chauffeur’s efforts, it produced nothing of substance. Friends were confident he would soon be seen. Everything at the apartment seemed normal—travel bags, watch, clothing, and other personal effects were there—but no Joe.

An unofficial search ensued, but alarm really set in when court resumed on August 25 and he still hadn’t surfaced. For various reasons, no official report was made until September 3, a month after Stella had last seen him. An investigation began, and soon many lurid facts were revealed.

As it turned out, there had been plenty of women in Joe’s life, and he was deeply involved in the Tammany machine. It was noted that he had withdrawn $20,000 from the bank at about the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, in the ongoing political corruption probe, that was the figure named as the going price for judgeships and other positions.

Dozens of other ugly details were revealed as investigators kept digging. Meanwhile, there was one other important issue to deal with—where the heck was Justice Crater?

A month after his disappearance (but within a week of when the official search began), authorities had traced nearly every second of Joe’s trip to New York. After the dinner date, the trail went cold. The police inspector issued this statement: “We have no reason to believe he is alive, and no reason to believe he is dead. There is absolutely no new development in the case.”

At the time of that statement, a friend said that Crater had mentioned taking a trip to Canada (but gave no reason why). The focus of the continuous search was on far upstate New York. In fact, as far upstate as you can get. In northeastern Clinton County, Plattsburgh reporters were contacted by NYC police and urged to investigate rumors that Crater was in the vicinity.

At Champlain, north of Plattsburgh and less than a mile from the Canadian border, was a famed Prohibition hotspot, the Meridian Hotel. Just a few feet inside of Canada, it was a favored watering hole for thirsty Americans. Crater was reportedly seen at the Meridian, and, since he was a horse-racing enthusiast, it was assumed he had stopped at Saratoga on his way north.

Read Part 2: The search for Judge Crater spans the Adirondacks.

Photo Top: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5,000 is equal to $65,000 in 2011).

Photo Bottom: Judge Crater and wife, Stella, on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Adirondack Labor: New York’s Anti-Loafing Law

It’s interesting (sometimes) to listen to the multitude of political pundits, politicians, and talking heads as they inform us what our “founding fathers” intended, and the rules, ethics, and morals this country was founded on. In reality, they are often telling us what they WANT the founding fathers to have believed. History tells us they are often far off the mark, but the lack of accuracy doesn’t deter them from saying it publicly anyway.

The often muddled view of history offered by some commentators is troubling, and is usually, of course, self-serving. But the modern media has proven one thing: if you say something often enough, whether it’s accurate or not, people (and maybe even the speaker) will begin to believe it.

When it’s intentional, that’s just plain wrong. History is important. It can offer valuable perspective on possible solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also tell us more about who we are, something that was brought to mind recently as I listened to a radio discussion about the current jobless rate.

The focus was on the nation’s high unemployment, which reminded me of how I annoyed my teachers long ago when that very same topic was discussed. Back then, we all learned how lucky we were not to live in other countries, an argument that was backed with plenty of scary facts.

For one thing, other countries allowed no choice when attacking certain problems. We were told that some countries didn’t even ALLOW unemployment. Idle men were conscripted into the military and/or put to work for the good of the nation. All male teenagers were required to begin military training. Those countries were said to be anti-freedom, but we had choices. That kind of thing couldn’t happen here.

And that was my cue to interrupt. I’ve always read a lot, and as a teenager, I was ready to challenge my teachers (and pretty much any authority). So, I thought I had a really good set of questions about those terrible practices, something I had learned on my own.

My teacher, a fervent military man who still seemed to be fighting World War II, was not amused when I said I knew of just such a place. I said that they made unemployment illegal and forced men to take jobs chosen for them by local authorities (unless the man chose one of his own). Each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.

Even worse, I added, the government passed another law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate, and here’s the kicker: without that certificate, young men were not allowed “to attend public or private school or obtain employment.”

Right away the other students began guessing. Russia? Germany under Hitler? Cuba? (Cuba did outlaw unemployment at that time.) Who would order its citizens in such fashion? My classmates knew it had to be someplace evil. After all, we were in the midst of the Cold War.

At that point, I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was staring at me with cold, beady eyes, waiting for me … no, daring me … to say it. So I said it. It wasn’t intended as a criticism. I was just happy to know the truth, excited that I had learned something unusual on my own, and couldn’t wait to share the surprise (that is, until his stare began).

“New York State and the Anti-Loafing Law,” and that’s about all I was allowed to say. The teacher immediately launched into an explanation. It was true, he said, but it was nothing like the situations in other countries. We did those things, but it was different.

And he was right, maybe. But what bothered me was how he seemed to take it personally, how insulted he was. It seemed to suggest that this was HIS country. It was, but it was my country, too, so I fought back. As I soon learned, you might have the truth, but might makes right.

The Anti-Loafing Law was passed in New York State in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey led the way, and we were next. I found it fascinating that in a democracy, the law could require all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”

If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man must work. It was the law.

“Useful” work had its implications as well. Already, by orders of the US General Provost, Enoch Crowder, men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, life guards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places. Men of that age were needed for war.

New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.”

Still not clear enough? Charles Whitman, governor of New York, chimed in: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” By signing the law after New Jersey passed theirs, Whitman had a handy reason: if we didn’t pass our own law, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight.

How would it sit with you today if you read this in your favorite online journal? “The State Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”

Governor Whitman admitted “there may be some question as to the constitutionality” of the law, but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did. Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.

Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they would comply with both the letter and the intent of the law.

On the surface, those laws look absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was, extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60. And some people retire today at 55!

Learning all of that was interesting, but sharing it in school was less than wise, at least in that particular classroom. After that, my so-called “history teacher” saw me as nothing but anti-American, and he made life miserable for me. He caused me to dread that class every day.

I argued that protesting and speaking out were critical to America—it’s how the country was formed. But it didn’t matter to him, and after that, I didn’t care. I lost all respect for him. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t just deal with the facts, and the truth. In my mind, that’s what every history teacher’s work should be based on.

I always hated those lame “George Washington cut down the cherry tree” stories. Making stuff up just means you have something to hide. Apparently they didn’t want us to know he owned slaves. As a teenager, I wanted the truth, and I could deal with it. It was far more interesting than some of the stuff they fed us.

Photo Top: NYS’s Compulsory Labor law.

Photo Middle: Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske.

Photo Bottom: NYS law ordering lawmen to search each community for able-bodied males.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeseville’s Thomas W. Symons, Part I

In 1847, Thomas Symons operated a book bindery in the village of Keeseville, offering ledgers, journals, receipt books, and similar products. Rebinding of materials was much in demand in those days, a service that helped expand his clientele. While Thomas, Sr., was successful in building a business, his son, Thomas, Jr., would play an important role in building a nation.

Thomas William Symons, Jr., was a Keeseville native, born there in 1849. When he was a few years old, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, where several members remained for the rest of their lives. His younger twin brothers, John and Samuel, operated Symons Brothers & Company, the second largest wholesale firm in the state. They became two of Michigan’s most prominent men in social, political, and business circles.

Thomas chose a different route, completing school and applying to the US Military Academy at West Point. After acceptance, he proved to be no ordinary student, graduating at the top of the Class of 1874. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, and served at Willett’s Point, about 50 miles south of West Point. After two years, he was ready for some field work, and his timing couldn’t have been better.

Symons was assigned to join the Wheeler Expedition under fellow West Point alum George Wheeler. The travels of explorers Lewis & Clark and Zeb Pike are better known, but the Wheeler Expedition is one of four that formed the nucleus of the US Geological Survey’s founding.

The engineers, Symons among them, not only explored, but recorded details of their findings. The land encompassing Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah was surveyed using triangulation, and more than 70 maps were created. Their studies on behalf of America’s government produced volumes on archaeology, astronomy, botany, geography, paleontology, and zoology. The possibilities of roads, railroads, agriculture, and settlement were addressed.

The experience Thomas gained during this work was invaluable. In 1878, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. In 1879, Symons was appointed Engineer Officer of the Department of the Columbia, and was promoted to captain in 1880. Similar to the work he had done under Wheeler, Thomas was now in charge of studying the area referred to as the “Inland Empire of the Pacific Northwest,” focusing on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries.

Much of the land was wilderness, and the job was not without danger. The American government was notorious for breaking treaties with Indians, and groups of surveyors in the region were driven off by angry natives who said they had never sold the rights to their land.

Symons was a surveyor, but he was also an officer of the military. Leading a company of the 21st Infantry from Portland, Oregon, in Washington, he faced off against 150 armed warriors. The situation was potentially disastrous, but Thomas listened to the concerns of the Indians, learning their histories and beliefs. Bloodshed was avoided as Symons skillfully negotiated a truce, allowing him to survey from the Snake River north to the Canadian border, unimpeded.

Much of the upper Columbia study was conducted in a small boat carrying Symons, two soldiers, and several Indians. His report provided details of the region’s geology and history, a review so thorough, it was published as a congressional document. Combined with his earlier surveys of Oregon, it made Symons the government’s number one man in the Northwest.

Whether or not his superiors agreed with him, Symons addressed the Indians’ issues in prominent magazine articles, sympathizing with their plight. Few knew the situation better than Thomas, and he freely expressed his opinions.

Besides exploring and mapping the Northwest, he chose locations for new army outposts, built roads, and carried out military duties. He also became a prominent citizen of Spokane, purchasing land from the Northern Pacific Railroad and erecting the Symons Building, a brick structure containing commercial outlets and housing units. (A third rendition of the Symons Block remains today an important historical building in downtown Spokane.)

Thomas’ proven abilities led to a number of important assignments. In 1882, he was placed on the Mississippi River Commission, taking charge of improvements on the waterway. In 1883, the Secretary of State asked Symons to lead the US side of the joint boundary commission redefining the border with Mexico. Surveying, checking and replacing border markers, and other work was conducted while averaging 30 miles per day on rough ground in intense heat. For his efforts, Thomas received formal thanks from the State Department.

He was then sent to Washington, D.C., where he worked for six years on city projects, principally the water supply, sewage system, and pavements. He also developed complete plans for a memorial bridge (honoring Lincoln and Grant) connecting Washington to Arlington, Virginia. (A modified version was built many years later.)

Symons’ next assignment took him back to familiar territory, the Northwest. Based in Portland, he was given charge of developing river and harbor facilities in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. He did primary engineering work on canals, including one in Seattle that remains a principal feature of the city, and planned the tideland areas for Ballard, Seattle, and Tacoma harbors. Seattle’s present railroad lines and manufacturing district were included in planning for the famed harbor facilities.

On the Pacific coast, Thomas’ work on the world-renowned jetty works at the mouth of the Columbia River was featured in Scientific American magazine. He also provided the War Department with surveys and estimates for harbor construction at Everett, Washington.

Next week: Even bigger and better things, including historic work in New York State.

Photo Top: Thomas Williams Symons, engineer.

Photo Bottom: Modern version of the Symons Block in Spokane, Washington.

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.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dave Gibson: Remembering Paul Schaefer

I was privileged to know Paul Schaefer for nearly a decade at the close of his life. He was my early mentor in all things Adirondack. In 1987 I was fortunate to have been selected executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the organization Paul served as a Vice-President. Each Friday I would try to stop by his house to learn more about his and Adirondack history. John Warren’s piece about the Moose River Plains suggests the great influence Paul had in preventing the Plains from being flooded by the proposed Higley and Panther Mountain dams.

Among the highlights in my career was seeing Paul presented with the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award in 1994 – just one of many recognitions he received in 65 years of tireless, leading work for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks.

For those who don’t know, Paul Schaefer’s coalitions not only preserved the Moose River Plains, but 30 other valleys from inundation by dams in the 1940s and 50s; saved the Upper Hudson River from four large dams in the 1960s, the largest of which would have flooded the valley all the way to Newcomb; and fought and achieved designated Wilderness and Wild, Scenic and Recreational River legislation in the 1970s, among many other achievements.

Paul Schaefer hunted white-tailed deer every fall in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area near his Adirondack cabin, a hunting club which he founded in 1931. He always credited the sportsmen and women of New York State, and their organized clubs united within the NYS Conservation Council, for providing legions of people who would stand up to save wild Adirondack habitat threatened by the dam builders, and to support wilderness preservation.

Joe Martens, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s Secretary for Energy and the Environment, called me one day in 1994 to give me advance notice that Paul Schaefer, then 85, would be receiving the Governor’s award, and asking for background. Joe knew Paul pretty well himself. It was decided to present the award as part of a well-attended conference we were sponsoring in honor of the Centennial of Article XIV of the NYS Constitution (known as the Forever Wild clause). The conference was to be held at the YMCA Silver Bay Conference Center on Lake George.

On the big day in early October, the conference was going full-tilt with speakers and panelists. Bob Bendick, then a DEC Deputy Commissioner, was in the middle of a presentation when we all heard the whop-whop-whop of a helicopter over by the lake. Everybody knew the Governor was arriving, and Bob understood it was pointless for him to continue. “I feel like the warm-up band to the Rolling Stones,” he told us, and everybody made for the doors. Out on the great lawn above Lake George stood the State chopper, blades still rotating. The Governor emerged with his small entourage and, surrounded, slowly made his way to Morse Hall where the award presentation would take place.

All were in their seats, chaos had given way to order, and introductions made. The mood was electric, the applause for the Governor resounding. His speech was pure Mario. Joe Martens had prepared him well. Departing frequently from his prepared remarks, the Governor humorously and eloquently painted a picture of Paul Schaefer and all he had contributed to the Adirondacks, to the wilderness of the great Empire State. The Governor also humorously reminded us that even those Republicans in the North Country who might be inclined to vote for him that fall would suffer a “palsy” when they reached for the Democratic lever.

When he was done, Cuomo asked Paul to join him on the podium to accept the award. All his life, Paul instinctively knew when to make a stand, and when to speak. A year earlier, in 1993, Paul rose to speak after Governor Cuomo during a bill signing ceremony on Lake Champlain. The audience had held its collective breath at this breach of protocol, but to Paul this was simply getting in critical points at the right moment – when they would be remembered.

Now, Paul took the stage to present Governor Cuomo with, of all things, a beaver gavel! Paul’s friend Ken Rimany had fashioned this for Paul, taking a beaver chew as the gavel’s head and fashioning it tightly onto a stick from a beaver dam, and then writing the words of Article 14 on the gavel’s head. Paul told the Governor how all his life he had admired the beaver, the state’s finest and sole wilderness engineer, and that only the beavers, meeting in secret, could have engineered this gavel for the Governor. Cuomo smiled but, not to be outdone, he responded “any beaver can make a beaver gavel, Paul, but only a Governor can present a Governor’s award.”

The exchange made, the Governor departed, leaving us to wonder about his political fate, and leaving Paul time to gather with some friends to tell tales and, as Paul was inclined to say, “add it all up.” It was Paul’s final award. He died on July 14, 1996 following surgery on a knee he had damaged decades earlier while investigating caves along the shores of the Upper Hudson River during his successful efforts to preserve the Hudson Gorge from flooding. He and his wife Carolyn are buried in the Keene Cemetery. His spirit has inspired all of us who knew him to continue his work and extend his legacy on behalf of the New York State Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.

Photo: New York Governor Mario Cuomo presents the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award to Paul Schaefer in 1994.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

State Politics and New York’s Beavers

Like the Adirondack forest itself, New York’s beaver population had been harvested almost to the point of extinction before Albany took steps to revive it. It’s especially apt, then, that the coalition of groups lobbying to rescue the state’s Environmental Protection Fund from the Governor’s budget cuts has chosen the beaver to be its “spokesman” for the cause.

The beaver, of course, is the official animal of New York State.

A few years ago, I wrote an editorial for the Lake George Mirror about the political history of the state’s official animal. (The level of malfeasance among local governments must have been at an all-time low that week.)

I reproduce it here:

When government throws money at a problem, on occasion results ensue. Just not the results government intended.

For the second spring in a row, the state Department of Environmental Conservation extended the trapping season for beavers. As farmers and homeowners know, New York has too many beavers. Less than a century ago, however, the beaver was virtually extinct in New York State, and the legislature voted to finance a program to repatriate them to the Adirondacks. Unlike programs to restock the elk and the moose, this one worked.

In the August 1904 issue of ‘Field & Stream,’ Harry V. Radford reported, “Another measure which the writer caused to be introduced in the last Legislature, and which has just become a law through the Governor’s approval, is what has been known as the Beaver Restoration Bill. It carries an appropriation of $500, with which the Forest Fish and Game Commission is authorized to purchase wild beaver and liberate them in the Adirondacks.”

Radford was the individual most responsible for a program begun three years earlier to restock the Adirondacks with moose. Shortly after his victory on behalf of the beaver, he disappeared, reportedly in the Arctic, killed by his eskimo guides.

The Beaver, however, thrived. In 1905, three pairs were liberated, two in Big Moose Lake, which they quickly abandoned for a river twenty miles to the northeast. That same year, the Fish and Game Commission reported that the remnants of an original colony had been discovered in the marshy waters northwest of Upper Saranac Lake. The combined population of natives and transplants was roughly Forty. By 1914, that population had grown to 1,500 or even 2,000. The 1914 Conservation Commission report trumpeted: “The Adirondacks today are again entitled to their old Iroquois name, for they are rapidly becoming the country of the Beaver.”

The beaver was so successful in re-establishing himself in New York State that in 1975 he became the official state animal. Oregon objected, asserting that it had already claimed the beaver for itself. The editor of The Conservationist Magazine tried to soothe bad tempers on both sides by saying “Thanks to conservation there are enough beavers to provide state mammals for both states.” More than enough, apparently.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror

Photo of beaver from Lake George Mirror files.


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, October 16, 2009

Origins of the Adirondack Park Agency: A Footnote

New York’s history of preserving wild, open spaces in the Adirondack Park while, at the same time, sustaining (or at least suffering) its small communities has become known as “an experiment,” a misleading term at best.

Now comes “The Great Experiment in Conservation; Voices from the Adirondack Park,” a collection of essays meant to extract transferable lessons from the Park’s history of mixing public and private uses. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Outstanding New Adirondack History Resource

The Library of Congress has launched the beta version of a new online searchable newspaper collection, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, in beta at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. The site currently contains newspapers from 1880 to 1910 (more are coming) plus a directory for newspapers published in the United States since 1690 (a look there turns up over 11,000 New York newspapers). Results from Essex County include 85 newspapers once published there.

Research Buzz has all the tips on searching, but suffice it to say that along with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online, Northern New York Library Network’s vast online collection of Northern New York newspapers, and the Digital Librarian’s Adirondack History Links, online Adirondack research just got a whole lot better. The Library of Congress site includes papers that have heretofore been unavailable for free. These include New York City / National papers The Evening World, Horace Greeley’s The New York Tribune, and the The Sun, plus other major dailies from across the nation.

The collection includes reports from Adirondack travelers, social notes from local resorts, and hundreds of advertisements like the one above by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad from 1908. Genealogists are going to find a lot of great stuff here, as well as political historians, and folks interested in the creation of the Adirondack Park, the 1903 and 1908 fires, and a lot more like a long report on the 1900 New York Sportsman Show, including the Adirondack Guide exhibit photo shown here.

Take a look at Adirondack Almanack’s Adirondack History Search Tools more more online sources of local history. All of our stories about history can be found here, and those interested in New York History should take a look at my “other project,” New York History.