Author Archives: Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence P. Gooley

About Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley has authored 19 books and more than 150 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill Jones, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 69 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Emma Johnson: One Tough Pioneer Mom


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Heat and hard physical work can be a debilitating combination. Two of my experiences with them from the long-ago past were a challenge and a heck of a workout — under a blazing sun, doing the haying, and, my personal favorite, picking rocks. But the most exhausting of all was harder than both — digging graves with a shovel and pick during the hottest days of summer. I quickly understood why the veteran diggers joked that people who died during the summer were so inconsiderate.

Decades ago, while researching my first book, the details of another very hot and difficult job were revealed to me by a kind and accommodating woman named Emma Johnson, who was 85 years old at the time. The subject was a remarkable place in northern Clinton County known locally as the Altona Flat Rock. New York State’s Natural Heritage Program, established in 1985, defined the Altona Flat Rock as “sandstone pavement barrens,” a natural rarity. Continue reading

Ken Carter’s Plan To Jump A Car Over the St. Lawrence River


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Bizarre. That’s the best description of events forty years ago when the North Country found itself the focus of national attention. I’m accustomed to researching much further back in time to write stories, but this one is a doozy that younger folks probably never heard of and older folks might have forgotten by now. It took place back in the 1970s when daredevils were popular, led by Evel Knievel, who became more famous for his failures — crashes resulting in multiple bone fractures — than his successes, where he landed safely and was unhurt.

Most of us who witnessed Knievel’s career will remember one jump above all others — Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. He performed on motorcycles, so the rocket-shaped vehicle he used in Idaho was named the Skycyle X-2. Canada’s answer to Evel Knievel was Ken Carter, a.k.a. the Mad Canadian, Kamikaze Ken, or Crazy Ken. He performed many times in upstate New York. Continue reading

Q&A: Test Your Battle of Plattsburgh Knowledge


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The Battle of Plattsburgh celebration is upon us again, so there’s no better time than now for a little Q&A to test your knowledge (and you’ll learn stuff, too!) about a truly remarkable victory.

The focus here is on Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who was lauded nationally as a hero for his actions on Lake Champlain. On Plattsburgh’s museum campus (located on the former air base property), you’ll find the Battle of Plattsburgh Association’s War of 1812 Museum, and check out the schedule of events for the 2017 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration running from September 7–10. There’s something for everyone, with plenty of great family venues. Continue reading

A North Country Eel Story That Will Leave You Squirming


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When stuff doesn’t work, we either play Mr. Fixit or call someone. Whether it’s a job for your auto mechanic, furnace repair technician, or electrician, the expert usually has a good idea of what’s causing a particular problem. But sometimes malfunctions are real puzzlers.

From the 1870s well into the 1900s, mystery surrounded many incidents where faucets or pipes were opened but the water didn’t flow. When that happened, there were real consequences: a factory couldn’t operate or a school might close. For citizens lucky enough to have running water in their homes, it meant going without — or, if it were available, hauling water from community wells.

For a plumber, the natural assumption was that a clog was the culprit — a piece of clothing, a collection of sediment, or an accumulation of greasy materials. When nothing of the sort was found using the usual tools, a difficult search ensued — unless plumber was experienced. In that case, he might have suspected eels. Continue reading

Ken Carter’s Plan To Jump A Car Over the St. Lawrence River


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Bizarre. That’s the best description of events forty years ago when the North Country found itself the focus of national attention. I’m accustomed to researching much further back in time to write stories, but this one is a doozy that younger folks probably never heard of and older folks might have forgotten by now. It took place back in the 1970s when daredevils were popular, led by Evel Knievel, who became more famous for his failures — crashes resulting in multiple bone fractures — than his successes, where he landed safely and was unhurt.

Most of us who witnessed Knievel’s career will remember one jump above all others — Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. He performed on motorcycles, so the rocket-shaped vehicle he used in Idaho was named the Skycyle X-2. Canada’s answer to Evel Knievel was Ken Carter, a.k.a. the Mad Canadian, Kamikaze Ken, or Crazy Ken. He performed many times in upstate New York. Continue reading

Gerald Chapman: Clinton Prison Alum, America’s First ‘Super-Crook’


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Near the end of his twenty-two-year career, Gerald Chapman’s several reputations came together in headlines touting him as a Spectacular Mail Bandit, Jail Breaker, and Criminal Extraordinaire. But above all, he was most often referred to as a “super-crook,” placing him beyond the level of most American criminals, one whose exploits were followed closely by the public. A worldwide manhunt finally resulted in his capture in 1925, but a decade earlier, he had done hard time at Clinton Prison.

Chapman, whose real name was believed to be George Chartres, or Charters, first ran into trouble in New York in 1908 and served a three-year stint in Sing Sing. After release, he was again arrested for grand larceny, and in January 1912 returned to Sing Sing, this time for ten years. As a brilliant criminal, and a handful to keep track of in any prison, he was sent north to the state’s most secure facility, Clinton Prison at Dannemora, where he quickly assumed a gang leadership position. As the source of many problems for guards and administration, he was finally relegated to an isolation cell, which at Clinton offered a very stark existence. Continue reading

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian


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One of the most popular stars of vaudeville more than a century ago was a native of Lewis County who capitalized on peoples’ love of laughing at themselves. An eloquent speaker with perfect diction, he rose to fame portraying simple farm folks and other characters. It was humor based close to home, for he was born and raised in Turin, a township whose population today remains under 800. While traveling the United States, he returned frequently to visit friends and family, while also performing in the North Country.

He was known to all as Neil Litchfield, but some sleuthing was necessary initially to uncover his story, for he at times went by the names Allen and Cornelius (the latter of which “Neil” was extracted from). They all proved to be one and the same person — Cornelius Allen Litchfield. Continue reading

Captain Lewis: Horace Brown’s Great Brown Horse


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Horace Brown, perhaps the greatest horse trainer from the northern Adirondacks and foothills, attained fame and many trotting victories in America, Europe, and Russia. Of all his successes, none was more acclaimed than the marvelous season of 1882. Collectively, it was among the unlikeliest stories in sports, an early equivalent of the US hockey team’s stunning Olympic victory in 1980, when a group of fresh, largely untested amateurs came together and conquered the world’s best.

The 1882 story became legend and was often repeated, but the first couple of names involved aren’t absolutely certain. Bear with me briefly through the details, for the story will get better. By most accounts, the horse in question was bred by Jeff Brown of Dresden, on the western shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. In the vicinity of Dresden, he sold it to Richard Brown (and now the names are certain,) who sold it to Lawrence Bogert, who sold it to Stewart L. Purdy of the town of Benton. Continue reading

Neil Litchfield, Lewis County’s Master Comedian


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One of the most popular stars of vaudeville more than a century ago was a native of Lewis County who capitalized on peoples’ love of laughing at themselves. An eloquent speaker with perfect diction, he rose to fame portraying simple farm folks and other characters. It was humor based close to home, for he was born and raised in Turin, a township whose population today remains under 800. While traveling the United States, he returned frequently to visit friends and family, while also performing in the North Country.

He was known to all as Neil Litchfield, but some sleuthing was necessary initially to uncover his story, for he at times went by the names Allen and Cornelius (the latter of which “Neil” was extracted from). They all proved to be one and the same person — Cornelius Allen Litchfield.

He was born in April 1855, educated in Lewis County schools, and attended Cornell University in Ithaca, about 100 miles south of his hometown. College opened up a world of possibilities, and it was there that Neil discovered and developed a deep interest in elocution, defined as “the skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation.” This became his passion, and during his college years, particularly as a junior and senior, he conducted numerous public readings in northern and central New York. Continue reading

Horace Brown: Master Horseman of Northern NY


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One of my favorite people to visit when I was a child was my maternal grandfather, who owned a 100-acre farm in remote northwestern Clinton County. Ninety acres of the property were wooded (I loved exploring nature); he had cows, horses, and a dog (I loved animals); and he was an avid fisherman (I lived on the riverbank in Champlain and loved fishing). From my perspective, everything about my Grandpa Jim (Lagree) was cool (this was back in the ’60s, so “cool” is appropriate).

On the wall near his usual sitting area in the living room was a framed photo of a horse and sulky with the caption, “Dan Patch.” Since it was my grandfather’s picture, I knew it had to be something cool, and I was right. As he explained to me, Dan Patch was the greatest trotter ever. Trotting, as I learned, was once the most popular sport across Northern New York.

Within a general loop from Albany north to Glens Falls and Plattsburgh; west to Malone, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Watertown; south to Boonville; southeast back to Albany; and many stops in between, dozens of communities in the Adirondacks and foothills had trotting tracks of varying quality. Participants ranged from farmers to professional horsemen, all of them eager to put their horses’ abilities up against others for bragging rights, money prizes, and, of course, side bets. Continue reading