Author Archives: Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence P. Gooley

About Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley has authored 16 books and more than 100 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 65 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Ageless Billy Spinner, Folk-Weather Specialist (Part 2)


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02 Spinner NYHSpinner 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

Ageless Billy Spinner, Folk-Weather Specialist


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01 Spinner NYHClimate 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

Plans For The United Nations in Northern New York


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Ogdensburg UN headline FRDuring 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

Remembering The Christmas of 1945


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1945 Ad Welcome Home VetsAmong 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

Unusual Christmas Safety Warnings from the Past


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1913 Christmas headline BRTwenty 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

New York State’s Most Destructive Earthquake


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Massena damageIn 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

The Battle of Plattsburgh and Pearl Harbor Connection


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USS Cassin Pearl HarborThe anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh passed recently (it was fought September 11, 1814), and this week, the anniversary of another famous American battle is noted: the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Within the military, both engagements are held in the highest regard as critical moments in American history, and oddly enough, the two have an unusual link of sorts.

I discovered this several years ago while working on one of my earlier publications, The Battle of Plattsburgh Question & Answer Book. What I found was not earth-shattering stuff, but instead more of an “I’ll be darned!” moment that happened during research. Continue reading

An Autobiography: Edward Livingston Trudeau


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BTE Trudeau CoverLast week I received a phone call from a well-known publisher in the Adirondacks. It was in reference to a beautifully written book that we here at Bloated Toe Publishing added to our “Preserving History” collection—public domain books that have long been unavailable in print format. This particular title was written more than a century ago. It was a discovery for me because I had never read it and had never seen it among the genres of history or medicine on area bookshelves.

In fact, I only came across it as part of our recent venture into reprints. As part of the process, I’m required to read through each one. That’s what led me to An Autobiography: Edward Livingston Trudeau. Continue reading

Nettie Fowler McCormick, Jefferson County Philanthropist


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Nettie Fowler McCormickIn 1835, in the small community of Brownville, a few miles west of Watertown, was born a young girl who would one day impact the lives of countless thousands. Nancy “Nettie” Fowler, the daughter of store owners Melzar and Clarissa (Spicer) Fowler, was the victim of tragic circumstances at an early age. In the year of Nettie’s birth, the family moved 13 miles northwest to Depauville. On a trip from there to Watertown, Melzar died after being kicked in the head by an unruly horse.

Nettie was less than a year old (her brother, Eldridge, was two). Clarissa ran the family business while raising two small children, but seven years later, she died as well. Nettie was raised in the home of her grandmother and uncle in Clayton, on the St. Lawrence River. The household’s strong Christian bent would have a lasting effect on her future. Continue reading

An Adirondack Mountain’s Brush With Hollywood Fame


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SealedValley coverNYHCatamount Mountain, the one rising from the shores of Taylor Pond north of Whiteface, has always been one of my favorite climbs.

Exposed rock can be so alluring, just one of the many elements that draws in people who love the outdoors. And Catamount has it all for the average hiker/climber―beautiful woods, a conical peak with great views, a dike to climb through, and lots of open, rocky expanses. Continue reading

Clinton County Election Fraud: A Short History


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18781115 Plattsburgh newspaper EDElection fraud! It makes headlines, and it has many faces. When I was a young boy growing up in Clinton County near the Canadian border, I overheard stories from adults talking about election fraud in nearby towns. With a wink, it was mentioned that so-and-so, an annual candidate, would once again be standing by the door at the polls all day long to greet the electorate―that’s just how dedicated he was to representing the interests of locals. He was, it was said, “greeting” them with $5 bills.

I never forgot the image that placed in my head―votes for sale at five bucks a pop. Years later, when I neared voting age, I assumed those stories were exaggerations, but as it turned out, they were right on the money (an excellent choice of terms, as we’ll see). Continue reading

‘Do it for the Children’: History’s Long Running Argument


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Headline Passing the Buck 3 x 1-JILLA popular way for politicians to demonstrate their altruistic intentions is to invoke “our children and our grandchildren.” The phrase should be worn out by now, but politicians see it differently: if it worked before, it’ll work again, no matter how long it’s been around. Their concern for the future is much more poignant and meaningful when it’s “for the kids.” The term is used so often, it should be considered child-phrase abuse.

It always sounds well intentioned to be against spending with impunity, but history suggests it’s merely the position of the party not currently in control of the nation’s purse strings. The party in power rarely expresses any worry about “our children and grandchildren.” Continue reading

Media History: The Homeliest Man in Watertown


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02NY Mi-o-na tabsWhen modern media is used to brand a product, it routinely addresses the subject matter directly, trying to draw attention immediately to the product. The advertisements found in old newspapers sometimes achieved the same goal in quite different fashion, using unusual or outrageous lines in large print to trick the reader. The blaring lead demands attention, and is followed quickly with odd or unexpected segues to information on a product.

Archived North Country newspapers contain plenty of examples of the old bait-and-switch, often executed with subtle humor. A number of stores advertised wallpaper by simply stating what was available, but a Watertown firm used the catch-line “Odd Things for Walls”. Continue reading

George Chahoon and the Richmond Disaster


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GeorgeChahoonGeorge Chahoon, a man who lived in the North Country for 60 years, mostly in Ausable Forks, was the focus of two of the most remarkable incidents in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.

When the South seceded, it had named Richmond, Virginia, as its capital city. During the post-war years, appointees chosen by the military were placed in power to guide the recovery. Then in 1868 George Chahoon, a native of Chenango County, but a Virginia resident for most of his 28 years, was installed as mayor of Richmond, replacing a popular leader who had served in the position for 15 years. Continue reading

Sculptor Pompe Coppini and Ethel Dale’s Legs


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Ethel Dale with sculptor 02It’s not often that a person is the focus of a sculptor’s attention. In the mid-1920s, a North Country woman found herself in just that position. The sculptor’s name was Pompeo Coppini, a noted artist who won several awards and whose works were featured from coast to coast. Many of his 128 principal creations are prominent in the state of Texas, including The Spirit of Sacrifice, the large monument at the Alamo honoring those who died within the fort’s walls. It has been viewed by millions.

Coppini sculpted many historical figures of great accomplishment, including Robert E. Lee, Woodrow Wilson, Stonewall Jackson, Sam Houston, and George Washington. Add to that list Mrs. Ethel Dale, chosen as a sculpture subject for her great achievement in the field of … well, doing nothing. Continue reading

Watertown’s Leonard Farwell: A Short Political History


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Leonard J Farwell 01A few weeks ago, I wrote here about Joel Aldrich Matteson, a Watertown native who became governor of Illinois―and among other things, established a level of corruption perhaps matched by recent governor/inmate Rod Blagojevich.

To balance the scale, here’s a look at another Watertown native who, during Matteson’s tenure, served as governor of Illinois’ neighbor to the north, Wisconsin. Though there was plenty of corruption in Wisconsin’s government during that time, the governor was not believed to be directly involved.

At worst, the wrongdoings of others may have soiled his good reputation, but he left plenty of accomplishments behind as well. He also became tied to a pair of signature events in American history. Continue reading

Early Audio Recording Pioneer George Cheney


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01 NipperLogo 1921 WikiWhat you see here is one of the most recognizable trademarks ever, a logo that has been used by many companies around the world. The dog in the image is not fictional. His name was Nipper, and a few years after his death, Nipper’s owner sold a modified painting of his dog to a recording company. The rest is history, and part of that history includes a heretofore unknown North Country native.

From humble beginnings, he became famous for his wide-ranging knowledge of recording and his ability to invent. Perhaps most important of all, he traveled the world and was the first person to record the music of a number of countries, saving it for posterity. Continue reading

New York’s Contribution to Illinois Political Corruption


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JA MattesonIf one were researching the careers of highly accomplished New York natives, you might encounter the glowing, capsulized review of Joel Aldrich Matteson’s life as offered on a website titled, “National Governors Association: The Collective Voice of the Nation’s Governors.” Matteson was born in Watertown, New York, in 1803. As the website notes, he “taught school in New York, and built railroads in the South.”

After moving to Illinois, he “established a career as a heavy contractor on the Illinois and Michigan Canal [the canal connection will be key to this story], and opened a successful woolen mill.”

After attaining financial success through business endeavors and the sale of land to the state, Matteson became an Illinois state senator in 1842. After a decade in the senate, he took office as governor in 1853. Continue reading

The Hindenburg’s Visit to Northern New York


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1 Hind over_Lakehurst 1936Many famous ships can be linked in one way or another to Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in northern Clinton County. There was the Philadelphia under Benedict Arnold’s command in the Battle of Valcour, and the Saratoga under Thomas Macdonough, hero of the Battle of Plattsburgh. There were steamers, like the Vermont, the Chateaugay, and the Ticonderoga. And as noted here in the past, Plattsburgh also owns an unusual link to the largest seagoing vessel of its time, the Titanic.

There is yet another tied not only to Plattsburgh, but to the entire Champlain Valley, and from Whitehall to Albany as well. And like the Titanic, its name became synonymous with disaster. Continue reading

Water Sports History: Auquaplaning in New York


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1 1914 Mag CoverWater-skiing was invented in Minnesota in 1922, coinciding generally with the surging popularity of motorboats; Wakeboarding, around 1980. But eight years before the birth of water-skiing, a sport strongly reminiscent of wakeboarding took the nation’s watery playgrounds by storm.

With hundreds of lakes and thousands of summer visitors wealthy enough to own motorboats, the Adirondack region did much to popularize the new sport.

Aquaplaning is sometimes cited as beginning around 1920, but it was a common component of boat shows in the US a decade earlier. In 1909 and 1910, participants attempted to ride a toboggan or an ironing-board-shaped plank, usually about five feet long and two feet wide, towed behind a boat. The boards often resembled the average house door. Continue reading