The 2016 Summer Olympics have ended, and as usual, they were quite the spectacle. Folks in the Adirondacks and North Country are perhaps bigger fans of the Winter Olympics, for obvious reasons: the games have been held twice at Lake Placid, and a number of area natives have attained lifelong dreams by earning a place on the podium. But a man born in this region achieved summer Olympic glory long ago, one of many highlights in a very accomplished life.
Karl Telford Frederick was born in 1881 in Chateaugay (northern Franklin County), where his father was a Presbyterian minister, which required a somewhat nomadic existence (five relocations in 14 years). Before Karl was three, the family moved to Essex on Lake Champlain, remaining there until 1888—not a long time, but sufficient to establish a lasting connection between him and the Adirondacks. Continue reading
Largely forgotten due to the passage of time, Fort Covington native William “Big Bill” Palmer is one of the most successful athletes ever born in the North Country. And yet the period during which he reached remarkable heights at two levels of the same sport lasted just over two years. Even more surprising is that he played on a team still recognized today as legendary in the world of college athletics.
Born in 1875 to William and Catherine Palmer on a Fort Covington farm in northern Franklin County, New York, Bill displayed unusual athletic ability at a young age. At fairs, Fourth of July celebrations, and Field Days, his name was always prominent among those participating in sporting events. Continue reading
A pair of North Country men, born just a few miles apart in Jefferson County, left New York in their adult years and settled about 65 miles apart in Illinois, where each left his lasting mark. Together, their names were also attached to an institution in Arkansas that lives on nearly a century and a half later.
John Budlong was born in February 1833 in Rodman, New York, about eight miles south of Watertown. The Budlong family has many historical connections dating back to the Revolutionary War. John attended several of the best schools in the region: the Rodman Seminary, the Jefferson County Institute at Watertown, the Adams Institute, and Falley Seminary at Fulton in Oswego County. At the age of 18 he began a wide-ranging teaching career, working in North Carolina, Texas, and Missouri before returning to Rodman, where he continued teaching and began studying law. Continue reading
Unequal pay for women ably performing the same jobs as men is unfair and idiotic. Why the sex of an employee reduces their pay should be a mystery to all, especially when most men can relate stories of male co-workers receiving equal pay despite being underperformers, shirkers, or just plain lazy. But the issue is nothing new. Faced with a need for self-supporting income in the 1870s, a northern New York woman didn’t wait for society to grant her equality. She instead chose her own path: going undercover in a man’s world. In doing so, she may have also found more happiness than anyone realized at the time. Continue reading
The one-year anniversary of the infamous Dannemora prison break recently passed, so here’s the story of an inmate linked to a pair of unusual breakouts, excerpted from my book, Escape from Dannemora.
Despite media stories claiming early on that Richard Matt and David Sweat were the first-ever escapees from Clinton Prison, some in the past did it in even more spectacular fashion, and overall, hundreds managed to escape under various circumstances. Among them was Jack Williams, a participant in two Clinton exits involving unusual components featured in no other Dannemora escapes. Continue reading
When presidential historians and scholars rate America’s greatest leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is among the few who nearly always appear among the top five, along with Washington and Lincoln. While others certainly served admirably, those three achieved elevated status by facing stern tests of leadership during great crises in our history: the battle for independence, the fight to preserve the Union, and in FDR’s case, both the Great Depression and World War II.
It’s less well known that Roosevelt very nearly didn’t serve as President due to assassination attempts prior to his first inauguration. One of those stories brought ignominious headlines to the North Country over a period of several months.
Roosevelt first won the presidency in November 1932. The 20th Amendment was ratified on January 23, 1933, officially establishing January 20 as the new inauguration date for all future presidents, and making FDR the last President to be inaugurated on March 4. He very nearly didn’t survive the waiting period. Continue reading
In the northeast corner of New York State, the first weekend in June features Museum Days, during which 16 facilities in Clinton County offer free admission. We were among many who appeared as special guests on both days, offering our books for sale and visiting with attendees, which meant talking a lot about “the good old days.” From that experience, I can assure everyone that a trip to the Babbie Rural & Farm Learning Museum in Peru, where we spent Saturday, is a great idea from several perspectives.
As a museum, it’s a real pleasure, and for children and adults alike, it’s fun and entertaining. But it occurred to me that it’s also a priceless gift to people in their sixties or older, and to the offspring of those folks who have heard stories about childhood chores, tools of yesteryear, and appliances that preceded modern devices. Continue reading
Fervent pleas for aid to missionaries around the world are common, and by no means a recent phenomenon. Take, for instance, the effort led by Episcopalian Bishop Richard H. Nelson in the Albany area in 1913. Said the Glens Falls Daily Times, “It is the intention of Bishop Nelson to organize a missionary league in the diocese for the purpose of raising sufficient money to carry on the work of building up parishes in the neglected sections.” Nelson displayed a map of those neglected sections, where, he said, “The condition is almost unbelievable.”
When I was much younger, one of the most beloved and respected teachers in our local school left to work in the missions in Africa. She described many of the same problems voiced by Nelson: poverty, illiteracy, poor spiritual condition, and a disturbing lack of morals. In both cases (Nelson’s and the teacher’s), the viewpoint was from a devout Christian perspective (our teacher was a Catholic nun). Continue reading
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it was realized that airmarks could be used by enemy planes, so the order was given to remove 2,500 airmarks that stood within 150 miles of the nation’s coasts. Six weeks later, those marks were obliterated, undoing six years of labor—but shortly after, the blanket order was modified. Why? The absence of airmarks was causing military pilot trainees to become lost. The new order allowed airmarks within 50 miles of flight training airfields.
The national program resumed after the war, with improved methods (including government-supplied plywood templates for lettering) and greater participation, but it’s truly remarkable that despite historic advances in communications and airplanes, the airmark system remained in use into the 1970s.
If you’re old enough to have flown locally back then, you might recall some North Country rooftop markings, some of which are listed below with their year of origin. Most were maintained until the system became outdated. Continue reading
We take navigation for granted today, what with Siri, GPS, radio communications, radar, and services like Google Maps. But imagine you were a pilot in upstate New York back in the 1920s, when aviation was first coming into its own. If you took to the air, as many citizens did, how would you avoid getting lost?
The answer quite often was — you probably wouldn’t, and with potentially fatal consequences. Many pilots died in crashes after running out of fuel while trying to find a destination. Continue reading