Beginning here is the story of an unknown but truly remarkable woman, an educator from Adirondack history. But first, some related information is helpful for perspective. For starters, here’s a sampling of complaints about our educational system: low graduation rates; undeserved diplomas; graduates lacking in real-world skills; students woefully unprepared for college; students without self-discipline, and more. Those are all issues today, but the very same items were also cited in 1970.
Since that time, our spending on education has risen by about 85 percent, but we’ve improved very little, still stymied by the same problems. In the meantime, we’ve fallen far behind many other countries, while still spouting that we’re the greatest country in the world. If we don’t find the answers soon, the hollow ring of that claim might well become deafening. Continue reading
Among the foreign issues America has dealt with many times is hostage taking. Kidnappers have claimed various motives, but it was frequently done to extort money in support of a cause. Extortion kidnappings have often involved seizing of American missionaries and threatening to kill them unless ransom was paid. More than a hundred years ago, there occurred what is referred to as “America’s First Modern Hostage Crisis,” which is actually the subtitle of a 2003 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Teresa Carpenter.
“The Miss Stone Affair” is the title, referring to Protestant missionary Ellen Maria Stone. A North Country man was a key player in her story, which riveted the nation for half a year. Continue reading
The emergency passport request of Robert and Margaret Perkins was granted, and a long, difficult journey began on the heels of what had been a very trying time. Besides the recent separation, their last year in Darmstadt had been spent in poverty-like conditions. Germany’s inflation rate had skyrocketed, driving up the price of everyday items. Robert and Margaret were forced to live on meager supplies and with little heat during the cold winter. They witnessed a food riot. All about them, men, even partially disabled, were conscripted into the military. Women were forced to fill the manual labor jobs normally held by men. And everywhere, soldiers marched off to war, spouting hatred for England and America, and confident of victory. Continue reading
After a month visiting with his mother in Lake George, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Perkins moved to New York City. In 1911, he was among the soloists in the first production of Quo Vadis? at the Metropolitan Opera. While working in the grand opera scene, he also studied with Sergei Klibansky, one of the world’s leading voice coaches. Perkins was among his many students who performed at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall. Continue reading
Imagine the drama of the moment: in a courtroom, Edward Perkins battling against the city of Beacon, New York, desperate to win on behalf of his poor family. The charge? They had been cold-heartedly evicted from their apartment by city officials, and for several chilly, rainy June days, he had searched for new housing.
Meanwhile, Edward’s wife and son suffered and his daughter fell ill, presumably from the terrible living conditions. The damages sought (in 1915) were $15,000 from the city, along with $30,000 from the police chief who had deposited all the family’s belongings on the sidewalk. The $45,000 total was equal to $1.1 million in 2015. Continue reading
His work with children’s hospitals convinced Colonel Walter Scott that there might be help for Jessica Ferguson despite her negative prognosis and seemingly hopeless situation.
New and exciting progress had been made, especially by Dr. Russell Hibbs of New York City, whose surgical innovations helped change the face of medicine. Hibbs was the first to perform a spinal fusion, and made great advances in treating tuberculosis of the spine and hip. Continue reading
Mirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the Northern New York’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.
The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her spine. In 1918, she lost the ability to walk. Doctors placed her in a cast that forced Jessica into a permanent reclining position. Continue reading
After he and Amos Whitney formed Pratt & Whitney in 1860, Francis Pratt served as president until 1898, while Whitney was the general superintendent.
Their personal and joint histories prior to forming the company are well documented in many sources. Comparison with other records suggests only one discrepancy, but to historians it’s a whopper. The issue: where was Francis Pratt born and who can claim him as their own? Continue reading
In the year 2000, five years after Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Pratt & Whitney signed a lease, moved in, and set up shop on the former base property. Many jobs and residents had been lost in the air-base shutdown, making Pratt & Whitney a valued anchor business in the recovery effort.
Their arrival might have been a homecoming of sorts with historical significance, but persistent misinformation carried forward for more than a century appears to have robbed the region of an important link to the past. Continue reading
Despite the complexities involved in completing the 1900 census, the only fraud exposed occurred in Maryland, where a male enumerator counted dead people as long as they had expired within the past year. Since other shady circumstances were involved, the man was arrested. Said Census Director William Merriam about the Maryland case: “I have been simply amazed at the irregularities we have discovered. It will be the policy of this office to punish every offender.” And he followed through.
When all the returns were in, statistics provided by Merriam’s team determined the policies and needs that Congress would be addressing. The more data they received, the more impressed they became. From such partisan bodies as the House and Senate, a consensus emerged: Director Merriam had performed brilliantly. Continue reading
The Cleveland Plain Dealer indeed dealt with it plainly: “It has been generally agreed that the conduct of the last census was a national scandal, and the president was determined that the present one should not be likewise if he could prevent it. The utter ignorance of many of the employees of the last census is even yet not properly appreciated by the country at large. Literally dozens of men and women carried on the rolls as high-grade clerks were not fit to sweep out an office—clerks who could neither spell, nor calculate, nor even write the English language with any degree of accuracy…. It was a shameful condition of affairs.”
Worse yet, a bureau of 70 clerks had been appointed to deal with the resulting mess, and their work was so incompetent that much of it had to be redone. President McKinley needed a director of the 1900 census who, said the Plain Dealer, “Would not have his work clogged by deadwood. He found just the man he wanted in [William] Merriam.” Continue reading
In November 1890, William Merriam ran again and won a second term as Minnesota’s governor, serving until January 1893.
Through the 1880s, as his status had grown from business and political successes, Merriam’s social position had elevated as well. Laura, already very well-connected, had become the leading socialite in Minnesota’s capital city. The Merriam mansion, next door to an even grander home owned by his father, John, became the hub of social activity. Extravagant parties were hosted frequently, and there was no more valued honor for visiting dignitaries than an invitation to the Merriam mansion. At three stories high, it held a vast library, artwork from the world’s masters, and featured multiple balconies, fireplaces, and porches. Continue reading
From humble North Country beginnings in a pioneer settlement, a local man rose to play an important government role on a national level. Work performed at the height of his career still affects every facet of our government today. It is also highly valued by researchers, genealogists, and historians as a great repository of important historical records.
William Rush Merriam was born in 1849 in the small community of Wadham’s Mills in Essex County, just a few miles northwest of Westport. Many members of the Merriam families in that vicinity played important roles in regional history. Continue reading
While researching in old newspapers, I often find entertainment in skimming the advertisements, some of which are clearly the forerunners of promotions in today’s media. Medicines and cure-alls distributed nationally were once regularly advertised in local newspapers, urging readers to try products that were available in nearby drugstores. One of the most common of these treatments was Cascarets, claiming to be different from Castor Oil and other meds that “irritate and lash the bowels into action, but do not thoroughly cleanse, freshen, and purify these drainage organs.” Continue reading
After a “Black List” of animals was promulgated by New York State officials and an all-out war against these “vermin” was launched in the early 20th century, a competition grew among fish and game clubs across the state. Some clubs were founded for the specific purpose of complying with the state’s plea for help in eradicating unwanted animals.
Many clubs held contests, applying point systems to each animal on the list and awarding prizes to the winners. “Contest” was in some cases a misnomer: in many cases, it was a year-round process punctuated by periodic awards. Continue reading
Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries – the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.
While some of the phrases used above – “official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement” – might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago. Continue reading
From a lifetime of experiences, and reading nature books since childhood, it’s true that I should know a little more about wildlife than the average Joe, but I lay no claim to being an expert. Learning something new is a principal reason for reading books, and of late, I’ve had occasion to indulge in several excellent Adirondack-related titles written between 1840 and 1920.
In one of them, a particular passage caused me to stop, backtrack, read it again, and then one more time in disbelief. Since other animal behavior described in the book held true, I supposed this one should as well, but I had reservations. Above all, one thing was certain: confirmation would be hilarious, at least to my thinking. The claim was that bald eagles snore. And not only that: they snore LOUDLY. Experienced guides and hunters claimed it to be true. Continue reading
In 1920, Charles Giblyn produced his first film for William Fox. (If the name sounds familiar, William founded Fox Film Corporation in 1915, the forerunner of today’s Fox TV and movie units.) The film, Tiger’s Cub, allowed Giblyn a homecoming of sorts. With his lead actress, Pearl White, who reportedly had the widest following of any star worldwide at the time, he came north for filming in Port Henry, about an hour south of Plattsburgh, where he once lived.
After producing a few more movies, Charles was sent to the West Coast on behalf of Fox, where he continued working. For a brief period, he assumed leadership of the Motion Picture Directors Association, but when Fox reassigned him to more movie projects back East, he surrendered the top spot with the MPDA and headed for New York. Continue reading
By 1911, Charles Giblyn, now 40, had been acting for more than 20 years and receiving many great reviews for his theater work. That he often stood out was reflected in comments like the following, taken from the pages of the Los Angeles Herald: “Not Yet, But Soon, currently at the Grand Opera House, has just one thing to commend it to theater-goers. This is the acting of Charles Giblyn as a dope fiend. Apart from Mr. Giblyn’s work, the piece is silly, stupid, and boresome.”
He had also managed several stock companies, and in recent years had directed many stage plays and vaudeville shows at LA’s Belasco and other theaters. The experience would serve him well as he plunged headfirst into a new show-business medium: the world of movies. Continue reading
During research, trivial bits of information often lead to the discovery (or uncovering) of stories that were either lost to time or were never told. For instance, did you know that a North Country man once directed Harrison Ford in a movie role as a young adventurer? Or that a coast-to-coast theater star hails from Watertown? Or that a man with regional roots patented a paper toilet-seat protector two decades before it was offered to the public? Or that a northern New York man was once a sensation after posing for a famous calendar? Or that an area resident was the go-to guy for the legendary titans of a very popular American industry? Continue reading