It’s that time of year again, when 420 events are in the news. The war on drugs that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s has been declared a failure by many officials, a sentiment echoed in recent years by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. But America’s war on drugs (if you don’t count Prohibition) began in the 1930s with the focus on marijuana.
The principal salvo in the new war was 1937’s Marihuana Transfer Tax Act, which placed strict controls on the growth and use of hemp. Many states adopted their own restrictive laws. At that time, the North Country was a pot-lover’s paradise―except that there weren’t that many pot lovers in the area to enjoy it.
With new rules in place, lawmen immediately began literally weeding out this nefarious plant that was destroying society (according to dubious … perhaps “doobie-ous” is more appropriate … testimony before Congress). Continue reading
For any readers or writers out there who have considered writing some type of history book, here’s some important information that comes from a piece I published elsewhere a year ago (and is presented here with a few modifications). It remains pertinent to the current state of publishing; applies to any region, city, or town where a “targetable” market exists; and begins with a question.
Would you rather have a book on the New York Times Best-Seller List, or a top seller in the Adirondack region? If you’re an aspiring author, I know, I know … stupid question. But humor me, and before you answer, let me further define the question in this fashion: your book appearing on the New York Times list was produced, marketed, and sold by one of the world’s largest publishing companies. Your regional book, on the other hand, was self-published, which means it was funded, marketed, and sold by you. Continue reading
Among the several dozen correctional institutions in New York State, Dannemora (officially Clinton Correctional Facility) is the largest maximum-security prison. It is located in northern Clinton County, where the cold winter weather led to a variety of nicknames incorporating the word “Siberia.” It is also known as home to the worst of the worst, housing many of our most dangerous criminals.
For more than 160 years, the North Country’s famous lockup has confined inmates guilty of the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, arson, assault, bank robbery, serial killing … and chicken theft.
Chicken theft? About now, you might find that cool Sesame Street song going through your head: “One of these things is not like the others ….” But any crime is serious, especially if you’re the victim, and the seriousness of stealing chickens was once elevated in stature for a few reasons. Continue reading
Among the interesting stories to review during this sesquicentennial of the Civil War are those of North Country families who paid an unusually high price. In covering such tragic tales, the principal difficulty lies in getting it right―no small task when the main event occurred 150 years ago. In many cases, we may never be sure exactly what happened, but the availability of digitized records has changed the game. The truth sometimes emerges to replace embellishments that appeared in the long-accepted, oft-repeated version of a story.
The Tupper family of Pierrepont in St. Lawrence County offers a fine example. There’s no question they suffered tragic losses during the Civil War, but parts of their story may well have been juiced up by reporters hoping to inspire deep empathy or poignancy. Continue reading
Described here is a real-life scenario that was once possible. The timeline might be tough to follow, but it’s early May, and we’re strolling down the main street of a North Country community, running several errands. First stop: the Peoples Bank, where we make a deposit and then exit at exactly 1:15 pm. Down the street, we stop at the Citizens Bank to open an account, but the sign on the door says they’re closed for lunch until 1 pm. Glancing inside the restaurant next door, we see several bank employees eating lunch beneath a wall clock that says 12:20 pm. Rather than wait, we move on.
Down the street, we pick up a few items at the US Brush Company, leaving there at 1:30 pm. Next stop: the post office, to buy some stamps. But the door is locked. On the knob hangs a sign stating that the clerks will return at 1 pm.
Off we go to the nearby grocery, picking up a few items and exiting the store at 1:40 pm. Just a few doors down, we stop at the Star Theater to pick up tickets for tonight’s play. But the ticket window hours are 1–4 pm, and the clock inside says 12:45 pm, so we move on to the Muslin Underwear Company and buy a new supply of unmentionables. Continue reading
Helen Redmond’s life was that of a star, playing Broadway and touring the country for five years in the role of prima donna, but she hadn’t forgotten her family. In 1900, Helen’s mother, three brothers, a sister, and a nephew shared a Manhattan address with her. All were employed except for mom (age 64 and retired) and the nephew, who was in school. It was a far cry from 20 years earlier, when the single mother of seven toiled as a hotel servant and cook in upstate Vermont.
Clinging to her roots, and to escape the constant limelight and media attention, Helen occasionally visited her hometown of Port Henry, sometimes spending entire summers there, accompanied by her mother. Continue reading
Show biz can be heady stuff, and some things never change. Quirky stories and celebrities’ habits have long been the subject of great attention. Helen Redmond was certainly not immune to it, and as always, the attention was a press agent’s dream. Nothing is or was ever too silly for stars to indulge in.
In 1899, the latest fad was to walk one’s pet in public, using a harness (some even included a bit). In Helen’s case, the harnesses were “made of the finest silver chains, with tiny bells jingling at every movement.” She hired a boy to care for her three famous pets.
And why would any of that seem eccentric or excessive? Because the pets were turtles. Continue reading
The Adirondacks have a rich history of mountain lore, guide stories, Great Camps, and Olympic glory. But our mountain history tends to overshadow elements of the past that can serve as great attractions for locals and tourists alike: fame and achievements by regional natives and residents in non-mountain endeavors. Among the dozens of examples: one of the most popular songs ever written was penned by a native of the North Creek-Wevertown area; and two world-champions―one a beloved cyclist, and the other among the greatest regional athletes ever―were both based in the Glens Falls area.
The unusual talents and accomplishments of locals is virtual gold for area museums, but so many of these stories are overlooked. Take for instance, Port Henry’s Helen Redmond. Though you’ve never heard of her, Helen’s talents were once celebrated from coast to coast. Continue reading
Much of the time spent honoring past members of the military is focused on heroes, or those who died in battle. It’s certainly appropriate, but often lost in the shuffle are individuals who survived unscathed after serving with great distinction. An excellent North Country example is Robert Haggart, who made a career of military service, was known nationally, commanded tens of thousands of men, and was responsible for training vast numbers of naval recruits.
Robert Stevenson Haggart was born in April 1891 to Benjamin and Annie (Russell) Haggart of Salem, New York, in Washington County. After finishing school at the age of 17, he received an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Continue reading
During this lengthy Civil War sesquicentennial. Folks whose roots lie in the North often take comfort and perhaps pride that their ancestors were on the right side of the conflict. Remarkably, “rightness” is still an issue in several former members of the Confederacy. But even if the South claims the issue was states’ rights, it was the right of a state to deprive certain humans of their own humanity. And if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. No amount of arguing will change that fact.
However, northern descendants may be a bit hasty in taking credit for the presumed correctness of their ancestors. While the record shows the country was split between North and South, we pay much less attention to the divisive effect the war had on individual towns and villages, even in the North Country. Continue reading
In 1905, more than 100 present and former staff members of The Sun celebrated Chester’s 25 years as managing editor. The New York Times reported, “Sun owner William M. Laffan … started a volley of cheering and applause by saying: ‘There was never a more valuable man in the newspaper business from my point of view than Mr. Lord.’ ”
He was beloved by those who worked with and for him, in part because of the atmosphere in the workplace. At The Sun, office politics was non-existent, and every section of the newspaper was considered equally important. Not so in the offices of Pulitzer and others, where internal competition was encouraged, leading to distrust and bad feelings among employees. Continue reading
Modern media includes television, radio, newspapers, and Internet sources, together bringing us news from local to international. But until about a century ago, newspapers did the job. By the mid-1800s, the process of delivering timely news to the nation’s dailies was achieved, courtesy of the telegraph. It wasn’t until the 1920s when other forms of media (radio and newsreels) began carving their own niche in reporting the news.
When newspapers ruled, editors wielded great power and thus bore great responsibility. Ethics were critical but weren’t always adhered to. It took men of courage to do what was right, and among the best of them was Chester Sanders Lord, a man with roots firmly embedded in northern New York State. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I wrote here about old-time weather forecaster Billy Spinner. As a follow-up on that theme, here is some interesting information on our own weather history from forty years ago, taken from one of my old journals. Continue reading
Today is Martin Luther King Day, and if you lived through the 1960s, you’ll never forget that turbulent decade. Even turbulent is putting it mildly: weekly classroom drills for nuclear attacks (Get under my desk? What the heck is this thing made of?); riots over race, poverty, the draft, and the Vietnam War; the assassinations of JFK, King, and Bobby Kennedy; and so much more. Continue reading
Spinner was known for his long-range predictions, but when he nailed the latest one―the mild winter he predicted came true, and six inches of snow fell in central New York in March 1937―he gained many new admirers.
On the heels of that success, Billy predicted that July would be hot and dry, and no rain would fall until the second Friday of the month. When a light rain fell early Saturday morning, he commented, “I was off just a couple of hours.” The summer played out as predicted, and his star continued to rise. Continue reading
Climate change; global warming; superstorms; extended droughts; the hottest year ever; December tornadoes; on and on it goes. Changes are happening everywhere. Below-zero temps four times before Christmas 2013. Now, a chill factor of 35 below—and 48 hours later, temps in the mid-30s and rain is expected. With all the usual craziness, we do benefit from modern forecasters using the most advanced technology to predict the weather, helping us to avoid any big surprises, or to at least prepare.
The same was true of weathermen seventy-five years ago: they did their best to predict what the weather would bring―days, weeks, and even months in advance. But they weren’t alone in doing so. Competing against them were country prognosticators who sometimes did better than the latest technology. Continue reading
During the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.
The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading
Among the finest Christmas seasons in America’s long history took place in 1945. We’re constantly bombarded with how special the holidays are, so it’s tough for any one year to stand out as extra special, but 1945 makes the list.
Events across the Adirondacks that year epitomized the nation’s attitude. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all about celebrating, even though the most destructive war in history had just ended a few months earlier. We often mumble mindlessly that we’re proud to be Americans. But the first post-World War II Christmas was the real deal, worthy of the word “pride.”
To set the scene, consider the events that had transpired at that time. After being mired for a decade in the worst financial collapse in our history (the Great Depression), Americans had begun preparing for what seemed inevitable: joining the war in Europe. And then, between the Pearl Harbor attack and the war’s end four years later, hundreds of North Country boys and men were killed in action. Thousands more were injured or missing. Continue reading
Twenty years ago, Dana Carvey’s character, “Grumpy Old Man,” was a popular recurring feature of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. He’d offer an assessment of current times compared to the so-called “good old days,” highlighting some barbaric practices of the past (exaggerated to great comedic effect) with the closing line, “And we liked it!”
I was reminded of that concept while perusing some shocking guidelines suggested in the early 1900s regarding the enjoyment of a safe Christmas season. Regional newspapers carried a list of suggestions for an enhanced experience … and I liked it! Continue reading
In the early morning hours of September 5, 1944, an Associated Press agent in Albany received information about an earthquake in northern New York. “Anybody killed?” he asked. When informed no one had been hurt, he showed little interest. Likewise, when the state geologist in Albany was notified that a whole lotta shakin’ was goin’ on, he said, “There is no need to be alarmed. It is improbable they [the quakes] will be anything but quite small.”
You win some, you lose some. In this case, both the reporter and geologist lost―big-time. They missed the call on what still stands as the most destructive earthquake in New York State history. Continue reading