After 10 years of planning, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has approved the Adirondack Park Trail Plan for the North Country National Scenic Trail (NC-NST), effective October 10.
The plan routes the projected 4,600-mile National Scenic Trail through the middle of the Adirondack Park. The NC-NST traverses the northern tier of the United States between Crown Point State Historic Site on Lake Champlain and Lake Sakakawea State Park on the Missouri River in North Dakota. About 2,700 miles of the trail have been completed so far. Within the Adirondack Park, the trail is expected to be about 158 miles long when complete, between Forestport in Oneida County and Crown Point. » Continue Reading.
Hamilton County is just one area in the Adirondacks making great strides in continuing to bring attention to the importance of water quality. Over 20 years ago Adirondack Waterfest was developed to provide water quality education by means of a fun, family-friendly event.
According to Elizabeth Mangle, District Manager for Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, the event moves each year between the seven county regions. Since Adirondack Waterfest started in Hamilton County, it will once again take place there in celebration of its 20th year. » Continue Reading.
Adirondack Waterfest will be held in Speculator on Friday, July 31 at the Village Park, from 10 am to 4 pm. The event features activities, exhibits, and demonstrations in a daylong celebration of water. Admission is free.
Twenty years ago, Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s first Adirondack Waterfest was held in Speculator on July 19, 1996. Each year, the event is hosted at different locations around the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.
The Herkimer County Legislature has named Friday “French Louie Day” in honor of the noted French-Canadian Adirondacker Louis Seymour. A celebration is planned for Saturday in the Town of Inlet.
Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Seymour, who made the wilderness between Inlet and Lake Pleasant his home from the 1860s until his death in Newton’s Corners (now Speculator) on February 27, 1915. Seymour’s name became legend after the 1952 biography Adirondack French Louie: Life in the North Woods by Utica author Harvey Dunham, which portrayed him as a man of hard work, determination and humor. » Continue Reading.
Long Lake is ready to celebrate the snowy season with its annual Winter Carnival this Saturday, January 17. The town will be flooded with royalty, bonfires and fireworks, with other events tucked in between. The Long Lake Winter Carnival also kicks off the first leg of the Adirondack Cardboard Sled Race.
According to Indian Lake’s Events Activities Coordinator Vonnie Liddle , the Adirondack Cardboard Sled Circuit is in its third year. Participates need to race in three out of the five local venues with a trophy going to the overall winner. The races are free to all and the sleds can be assembled ahead of time. Please check each venue for rules and regulations. » Continue Reading.
Since 2003, I have been battling purple loosestrife, an invasive plant that may be gorgeous but overruns wetlands, and outcompetes native plants that wildlife and waterfowl depend on for food, shelter, and nesting grounds. After 11 years of manual management, populations along the Route 8 and Route 30 corridors in Hamilton County have decreased. This is good news for native plants that fill in areas where invasive purple loosestrife used to grow.
This August I focused on rights-of-way along Routes 8 and 30 in the Town of Lake Pleasant and the Village of Speculator. I snipped each flower with garden clippers before plants went to seed for reproduction. All plant material was bagged and allowed to liquefy in the sun before being delivered to a transfer station.
It is exciting to fight invasive plants for over a decade and see promising results like this. Manual management is tedious, but persistent efforts have helped stop the spread of purple loosestrife and remove these invaders from the environment. » Continue Reading.
Like most people living and visiting the Adirondacks, my family has been waiting for the snow to stay. Ski resorts all over the Adirondack Park are celebrating this most recent storm, cushioning their base layer with natural snow. Our family enjoys skiing on a variety of terrain, but there is something wonderful about returning to those family hills where many of us were first introduced to the excitement of downhill skiing.
One such family mountain is Speculator’s Oak Mountain Ski Center. Now under new ownership, the O’Brien family has filled the Oak Mountain schedule with all sorts of exciting family-friendly events. According to Laura O’Brien, owner and VP of Sales and Marketing, Oak Mountain has just been enhanced and is still the same family ski resort where many visitors and locals have grown up skiing. » Continue Reading.
On Sunday, September 30, 2012, the Virginia Hosley Free Library in Wells, NY, will host a talk by Adirondack Almanack contributor Lawrence P. Gooley, author of Terror in the Adirondacks. The chilling true story of Robert F. Garrow started in the summer of 1973 when Garrow went on a murder spree that spread alarm and fear through the Southern Adirondacks.
is crimes and much of the longest manhunt in Adirondack history took place in and around Wells and Speculator. Hear the true story of Robert F. Garrow, from his unfortunate childhood, his crimes and capture, his escape from prison, to his manipulation of legal, medical, and corrections professionals. Gooley’s authoritative book is based on official records, court transcripts, prison records, and more than 800 newspaper and magazine articles. » Continue Reading.
Oak Mountain for sale! That’s one of many things we learned from Patrick, the bartender at the Inn at Speculator. An enthusiastic purveyor of information about the Inn at Speculator and the community in general, he could easily be mistaken as owner.
Conversations and gossip, both political and personal in nature, volleyed around the room as we spoke with Patrick. In response to our “nearby attractions” question, we were surprised when he mentioned skiing. That led into the story about the Town of Speculator temporarily taking on the foreclosed ski area at Oak Mountain. The owners of the Inn at Speculator for the past 30 or so years, Neil and Linda McGovern, proudly sponsor community events and host fundraisers throughout the year, including Friends of Oak Mountain benefits, an ice fishing tournament in February, fish and game club events, and the local snowmobile club. In keeping with a building from the mid 1900s, several rooms adjoin the bar area, adding more dining space away from the bar. A glass case in the front room displays gourmet dressings made there and books for sale on the history of the Inn. It appears to have once been a place to pay your tab on the way out, to get change for games or the jukebox, and may once have offered candy or souvenirs for sale. The décor is fairly nondescript, with well-worn hardwood floors, pine-paneled walls covered with photos, certificates, memorabilia, and lingering St. Patrick’s Day trimmings.
Although no children were on hand that day, there was an atmosphere of family entertainment in the past. The Inn at Speculator now entertains the adults with a pool table, foosball, electronic darts, Quick Draw, and an occasional solo musician or DJ. For the sports fan, there are three TVs in the bar area for keeping up with your favorite sport. Football, Nascar and March Madness basketball pools may help get the staff and patrons through the long winter months.
Liquor basics, a handful of draft beers, and 18-20 mostly domestic bottles provide adequate thirst-quenching options. Seasonal drinks of coffee varieties in winter and refreshing coolers in the summer are subject to the creativity of the bartender. Happy Hour includes $2.00 domestic drafts, Monday through Friday, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Open daily at 11:30 a.m., except Wednesdays, the pub room serves lunch and pub fare until the main dining area opens at 5:00 p.m. The inn is open year-round, but does occasionally close for a week in November and/or in April. Three rooms are available for lodging with special rate packages varying throughout the year. Dinner specials include the Friday Fish Fry, Prime Rib Saturdays, and a beef and burgundy buffet in the summer months.
The bar at the Inn at Speculator is patronized by locals, seasonal residents and tourists just passing through. Everyone seemed accepting of one another, whether known in the area or not. If you’re looking for a quaint, overpriced Adirondack country inn filled with antiques, bark furniture and faded sepia photographs, keep looking. Instead, you will discover a roadside rest more representative of today’s resident, the very essence of true Adirondackers, who struggle to make a living in an area that relies so heavily on tourism.
Here, icons of a playground for the affluent are replaced with countless images of friends and neighbors doing the things they enjoy like fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing and participating in their customary events, in a town they love and care about. Sit at the bar with the locals as they debate park politics and banter about the everyday. And listen. Learn something, if only what it’s like to live here. Add the Inn to your list of “must visit” venues to get a real Adirondack experience and, if you’re in the market to buy a ski area, go see Patrick at the bar.
Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog, or follow them on Facebook, and ADK46barfly on Twitter.
A spectacular 45 degree day and less than an hour from Warrensburg, our drive over Route 8, its bumps, heaves and moguls making a challenging run for the Highlander, led us to Melody Lodge, located on Page Hill off Route 30 in Speculator. As we pulled into the parking lot of the lodge, it was difficult to decide what to look at first: the incredible hilltop views, or the rustic grandeur of an authentic Adirondack lodge. We decided to take our time and do both. From the upper parking lot we observed another lower lot, snow-covered and partially filled with roughly a dozen snowmobiles, indicating easy access from the surrounding lakes. Beyond, a leafless view of Lake Pleasant. Looking to the right from there, a mountain stands firm. Further right, a view of Sacandaga Lake is visible in the distance. The barn red Melody Lodge, a rustic, two-story structure wrapped in a porch of stone columns, stands as the centerpiece in this picturesque frame. The columns of seemingly haphazard piles of stone authenticate the craftsmanship of earlier days. Piles of wood on the porch, growing thinner as winter wanes, promise warmth within. Several outdoor tables, partially covered in snow on the front lawn and white Adirondack chairs on the porch, remind us that spring and summer will come again and offer very different scenic views.
The promised warmth greets us as we enter the lobby, a cozy common room with several people gathered comfortably in front of the fireplace. To the left, partitioned by paneled glass walls and doors, is the dining room, expectantly awaiting the dinner bell. Another fireplace, of massive proportions in stone, is the focal point of the dining room. To our right, we are beckoned to another room where noises and voices indicate the possibility of a pub.
As we enter what Melody Lodge calls the Tap Room, a ten-point buck’s head on the wall and multi-level seating command our attention but are held at bay. The ceiling full of white earthenware mugs looms overhead, covering nearly the entire ceiling over the bar. With over 250 members in Melody Lodge’s Mug Club, no new members are being accepted at this time, conjuring up scenarios of Melody Lodge Mug Club mugs being bequeathed to next-of-kin upon a member’s death, bitterly fought over in a divorce settlement, or bringing in thousands of dollars at auction on EBay or Sotheby’s.
Though primarily a summer venue, Melody Lodge seems to do quite well in winter months. Twenty or so snowmobilers, savoring a rare weekend after a fresh snowfall, gathered in boisterous groups, eager to grab lunch and a drink before moving on to the next stop. A Tap Room menu is available for dining all day. The dinner menu is available in the bar after 5:00 p.m. when the dining room opens. Melody Lodge closes each year for the months of April and November. In light of this fact, the usually plentiful tap selections were sparse, in preparation for the semi-annual closing. The Tap Room and restaurant are open from 11:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday in winter; Wednesday through Monday in summer.
We had an opportunity to interview the owner, Julie, from whom we learned that Melody Lodge was originally built in 1912 as a singing school for girls. It was converted to a lodge along the way, and purchased by Julie’s parents in 1976. Julie and her husband, Kyle, took over the operation in 2006. The Lodge offers seven guest rooms, each uniquely named for a musical instrument, promising private baths for today’s standards. The constant smile on Julie’s face and her open friendliness as she imparted facts and history indicated pride and enjoyment in Melody Lodge.
The Melody Lodge is more a visitor’s venue than a hangout for locals, though the exchange of greetings between Pam the bartender and the coming and going customers made it clear that many patrons stop in regularly. The ample bar seats ten, with pub and dining tables in the immediate vicinity. A lower level features several varieties of table seating while a regulation shuffleboard table consumes one whole wall on the lower level. A curious square game board, scuffed and worn with obvious decades of enjoyment, hangs on the wall. Called ring toss, the objective is to get the ring, suspended from the ceiling with a length of string, onto a hook in the center of the game board. We couldn’t resist trying it out, though it was more difficult than it looked and we didn’t have time to keep practicing. Appreciating any novel amusement, Pam now plans to add ring toss to her home pub.
There are some venues that warrant a visit for no other reason than to see them for yourself, though we don’t usually know it until we do just that. Melody Lodge is just such a place, inviting and warm, without pretense, and well worth visiting.
Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog, or follow them on Facebook, and ADK46barfly on Twitter.
Through a technicality in a poorly written election law, B. Frank Kathan was renamed Sheriff of Hamilton County in 1901 despite having lost by forty votes. Jim Locke, initially declared the winner, had already moved into the jail. When the decision was reversed, he stayed put, and the county had two men who claimed to be sheriff. Kathan pursued court options, while Locke armed his men and refused to surrender the jailhouse.
At the time, Hamilton County had two prisoners—one held by Locke in the jail, and one held by Kathan in his home. Kathan angrily demanded the right to take office, but Locke remained entrenched, defying anyone to remove him from the building.
If pushed further by the courts, Locke promised to subpoena all the voters in the county to confirm the intent of each individual ballot. The expense to poor, huge, and sparsely populated Hamilton County would be enormous. On March 12, the judge issued a confusing order. He refused to impose punishment on Locke for taking over the jailhouse, but also ruled that Locke had no jurisdiction, no legal right to the office of sheriff, and no power to carry out civil or criminal processes.
Still locked out of the jail under threat of violence, Kathan established a second sheriff’s office and bided his time. With further court action pending, he finally made his move a few weeks later. There are two variations of what happened next, but the violent version was recounted in May when the case went before the state supreme court.
On April 1, Kathan and a few of his men went to Lake Pleasant and staked out the county jail. When darkness arrived, he attempted to enter the building. Surprised to find the outside door unlocked, he stepped inside and faced off against Al Dunham, the lone jailer present.
Kathan, described as “a large and powerful man,” dropped Dunham with one punch and commandeered the office. (A second version of the story was much more benign. It claimed Kathan found the jailhouse unoccupied and simply took over.)
Now Locke was himself locked out. He countered by establishing a sheriff’s office in William Osborne’s hotel at Speculator—and the battle of the dueling sheriffs continued.
One of the sheriff’s duties was contacting jurors on behalf of the county. When the juror list was presented to Kathan (since he was the most recent court-approved sheriff), Locke obtained a certified copy from the county clerk’s office.
Jurors on the list received official notices from both Kathan and Locke, and both men submitted billing to the county board of supervisors for their work. To clear up the mess, the board tried to declare Locke the official county sheriff, but that directly violated the judge’s earlier order.
In response, the judge issued a summons demanding an explanation as to why the board itself should not be cited for contempt of court. It seemed like nobody agreed on anything (sounds suspiciously like today’s political environment).
Locke then filed a proceeding that required Kathan to prove he was entitled to the office. The significance of that move wasn’t lost on Kathan: Locke indeed planned to subpoena all of the county’s voters to court where they could verify the intent of every single ballot cast.
Meanwhile, the state appellate court finally ruled on Kathan’s original filing and declared him the sheriff of Hamilton County. Locke, true to his word, remained in the courthouse and began sending subpoenas to hundreds of county residents.
However, just a few days after the appellate court’s ruling, an unexpected tragedy took much of the fight out of Jim Locke. His write-in candidacy had been initiated by William Osborne, and his sheriff’s office was in Osborne’s hotel. Will Osborne had a reputation as the most fearless man in Hamilton County, a title earned, in part, for suffering a head wound in an intense gun battle during which he shot and captured a very dangerous criminal.
In mid-August, Osborne had been injured in a baseball game. In September, during Locke’s struggle to remain as sheriff, came a stunning announcement—Osborne had died of his injuries. After burying his close friend, Locke resumed the fight, but soon decided on a compromise based on leverage he now held—more than half the county voters had already been subpoenaed.
To avoid the great expense of continued litigation, which one writer said “would have almost swamped the county treasury,” Locke demanded compensation for having served as sheriff for the year since he was elected. The agreement also said, “It is understood that, in withdrawing from the case, Locke was not a loser through any previous legal proceedings.”
It was a confusing decision, but the county and Kathan agreed to the terms. Locke’s office was disbanded and the deputies he had appointed were dismissed. It had been a long, tempestuous year, but Hamilton County finally had one official sheriff. And, hopefully, a new set of rules governing write-in votes.
Photo: A few of the many wild headlines generated by the sheriff controversy.
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 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
(Warning: If your partner reads this, expectations for today may rise.) Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin.
Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you gotta love the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness. At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.
In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.
For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.
Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!
Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being what they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any further jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.
It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)
After waiting more than a week, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? That she was a horse thief. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen.
Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she left the camp, stole a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.
It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.
The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.
Though they must be tried separately, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”
Now THAT’s commitment.
Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.
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.
A new book, Lake Pleasant and Speculator in the Adirondacks, by local authors Beverly Hoffman and Annie Weaver has been released by Arcadia Publishing. The numerous lakes and the forests of the southern Adirondacks provided an abundance of game, fish, and lumber for early settlers to the Lake Pleasant / Speculator area in the 1800s. Sportsmen from the city first came to Lake Pleasant and Speculator for invigorating camping trips and eventually brought the whole family to enjoy the wilderness. Two- and three-story hotels were built to accommodate the vacationing families. Individual cottages and rustic camps were built around Lake Pleasant, Sacandaga Lake, and Echo Lake, followed by children’s and church camps and state campgrounds, which swelled the seasonal population. Boxing and winter sports helped to make Speculator and Lake Pleasant a tourist haven.
Anne A. Weaver has been the Town of Lake Pleasant historian since 2005. She writes a weekly column, “Way Things Were,” for the Hamilton County Express. Beverly Hoffman has been the Village of Speculator historian since 2002. She is a descendant of many early area settlers and has lived in Speculator all of her life. Both authors helped to found the Historical Society of Lake Pleasant and Speculator, which provides artifacts for the town hall’s historical museum.
In late 1928, the life of an Adirondack guide came to an unfortunate, premature end. Like many of his brethren who died from accidental shootings over the years, the victim succumbed to a serious gunshot wound. But the demise of Eula Davis was no accident. Clearly, this was a case of murder, and the beginning of a twisted saga that kept all eyes glued on the Lake Pleasant region for some time.
The story began on November 30 when local handyman and guide Ernest Duane, 34, reported to police in Speculator that he had found Davis, 60 (also a handyman and guide), dead. The body was located in the Ernest Brooks cabin on Whitaker Lake, several miles northwest of Speculator village. Duane offered to accompany them to the site, but the lawmen opted to investigate on their own, a decision that would prove vital as the case developed. A sad scene awaited them. Davis’ corpse was frozen solid; apparently, he had died of exposure and/or loss of blood. A gaping bullet-wound in the lower back was the overriding cause, and Davis had not died easily. Unable to rise after being shot, he had dragged himself across the floor. His body was partially covered with a quilt, and a pillow had been drawn close to Eula’s head, signifying an attempt to keep warm and somewhat comfortable. He had used rags to form a rough tourniquet, and had broken a pencil tip while trying to write a note.
Further investigation revealed an empty wallet in Davis’ pocket, punctured by the fatal bullet.
Davis had many friends in Speculator, and they began searching for the killer while police worked to develop certain clues. Within a few days, they focused on one suspect: Ernest Duane.
An autopsy had uncovered bits of paper money embedded in the body, revealing that Davis’ wallet had not been empty prior to the shooting. Finding the damaged money would surely lead to the killer. But why would Duane kill a popular local man known to be his friend?
Davis, said to have guided for boxing champion Gene Tunney several months earlier, had done quite well financially. It was public knowledge that he had earned several hundred dollars, and had recently purchased winter provisions in town. Questioning of local merchants yielded critical information: in the past few days, someone else had been shopping. Among the legal tender used for payment was a $10 bill with two neat holes in it. The customer was Ernest Duane.
He was brought in for questioning, and after being confronted with evidence, Duane finally confessed to the crime. He offered a lengthy tale, including the decision to rob the old man, who was deaf. When Duane entered the cabin and saw Davis facing away from the door, he shot him in the back. He then took the old man’s wallet and headed for home. On the way, Duane said, he removed only one bill and then flung the wallet into the woods.
Since the empty wallet had already been found in Davis’ pocket, police knew Duane was lying. (He really didn’t seem to have much of a plan. Why admit the shooting but lie about the robbery?) At any rate, a search crew with rakes went to Whitaker Lake in hopes of finding the missing cash buried beneath new-fallen snow. They found nothing.
The next day, police returned to take evidence photographs of the crime scene—but it was gone! That’s right—the entire crime scene was no more. In one of those great Adirondack mysteries, the remote cabin had burned overnight. Arson by Duane’s sympathizers seemed the only plausible explanation.
A day later, Ernest told police where the money was hidden, admitting he had emptied the wallet and placed it back in the victim’s pocket. In Duane’s woodshed they located a roll of bills, pierced by what appeared to be bullet-holes. Employing a bit of trickery, they told him they hadn’t found the money, so Ernest provided written directions. The successful ruse created physical evidence that might later prove valuable.
Police also discovered that Duane owed $200 in fines for game law violations. With a motive and a confession, they now had what appeared to be an open-and-shut case.
But appearances can be deceiving. Still, Duane would go on trial, though under unusual circumstances. Neither the Hamilton County district attorney nor the county judge were lawyers. That unprecedented situation was addressed by Governor Al Smith, who appointed a special prosecutor and assigned a judge. In the meantime, Duane enjoyed cowboy novels in his cell and visits from his new bride, a 14-year-old that he married only a month before the Davis murder.
The prosecution played a powerful hand in the trial, led by impressive witnesses. Doctors dismissed Duane’s epilepsy as a non-factor, and Leonard Egelston, a police officer, introduced some surprising evidence. Early in the investigation, he had taken photographs inside and outside of the cabin. The apparent arson was, as it turned out, a futile attempt to destroy evidence.
The prosecution also offered Duane’s signed confession, along with the note directing officers to the hidden stash of bills. The note was presented as proof that Duane was sane and clear-headed enough after the murder to hide the stolen money and remember where it was hidden.
The defense focused on proving Duane’s supposed mental abnormalities, which they claimed had been exacerbated by the lonely life of a woodsman who often spent long months alone. It seemed like a weak argument at best, but then came the kicker: Duane’s epilepsy, seized upon by his attorneys in a strategy described as the “dream defense.”
Medical experts and Ernest’s brother, Joe, testified about his condition, bolstering claims that he had committed the crime, but had done so “in a fit of insanity.” Supporting the argument was his dismissal from military service during World War I due to a mental disorder (again, epilepsy).
Contrary to what had been earlier announced, Ernest finally took the stand in his own defense. Despite his detailed confession and the note leading officers to the stolen money, Ernest now claimed a seizure had enveloped him as he entered the clearing near the cabin that day, and it subsequently erased all memories of the next several hours. If he had killed Davis and stolen the money, he had no recollection of having done so. (Forty-five years later, serial killer Robert F. Garrow would make the same claim in the same courtroom for the same crime of murder.)
But there was more to Ernest’s story. Later that night, he suddenly awakened, believing he had shot and robbed Davis. Frantically, Duane jumped out of bed and searched his pockets for money. Finding nothing, he concluded it had been nothing more than a terrible nightmare, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, Ernest went out to cut some firewood. Reaching into his jacket pocket for a match, he instead found a wad of bills. With an earnestness befitting his given name, he told the court, “Then I knew that what I had dreamed was true.” During final summation, his attorney cited “the murder dream which turned out to be reality.”
The jury struggled, and early on, one member promised his vote for acquittal would never change. (So much for an open-and-shut case.) Eventually, they found Duane guilty. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Heffernan was reluctant to pronounce sentence, but he had no choice.
Through a breaking voice, and with tears flowing, he said, “I have but one duty to perform. I have wished it would never come to me, but Mr. Duane, you stand convicted of murder in the first degree, for which the punishment is death.” Seated nearby, the judge’s wife wept openly.
At 3 am, Ernest Duane was removed from his cell and sent off to Sing Sing to await execution. The odd hour was chosen to avoid an expected rescue attempt by Duane’s family and friends.
The defense appealed the verdict, causing an immediate stay of execution. When the appeal was denied, a new trial was sought, but that too was disallowed. Ernest was scheduled to die the week of January 15, 1930. Only one hope remained—commutation by the governor.
Just 24 hours before his execution time, word arrived that Governor Franklin Roosevelt had commuted Duane’s sentence to life in prison. Among other things, the governor felt that a person denied military service due to a mental disorder should not be put to death for that same disorder. When the message was relayed by his keepers, Ernest’s comment was a flippant, “Then I guess I’ll lose my chicken dinner,” the last meal he had requested. He was removed from death watch and assigned to work in the prison shoe factory.
Was it really an out-of-character, spur-of-the-moment decision for Ernest Duane to shoot and rob Davis? Perhaps not, if the “apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree” theory holds water. Duane’s father, with a wife and seven children at home, had once pursued and married the 15-year-old daughter of the man with whom he was boarding. That offense netted him five years in Dannemora Prison for bigamy. He later was convicted of game violations.
Ernest had been arrested for drunkenness, game violations, and had married a 14-year-old girl. His character witness and brother, Joseph Duane, had been arrested for car theft and fighting, and he and Ernest had been arrested together for operating a “Disorderly House” (their hotel was used for prostitution).
The Duanes earned plenty of notoriety in their time. With this writing, perhaps Eula (Ulysses) Davis will escape relative anonymity, having suffered a terrible, undeserved fate.
Photo Top: Map of the Speculator-Lake Pleasant-Whitaker Lake area.
Photo Right: L to R: Speculator today remains an outdoor playground.
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
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