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.

Rouses Point: Northern NY Crossroads


By on

1 Comment

Gene Tunney in Rouses Point 3WFew villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location.

As New York’s northeasternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic. Continue reading

Ticonderoga’s Bernard Frederick Champagne


By on

0 Comments

3 Bernard Champagne headline BRFBI agents described Ticonderoga’s Bernard Frederick Champagne as “a prolific impersonator,” but the true extent of his success is unknown. Because so much of his fakery escaped detection, it’s unclear how many identities Bernard actually assumed. One agent said he had “at least 50 aliases,” and at one point, there were 34 names documented. It was the list of professions, however, that really impressed them.

Among his successful impersonations were: a graduate of Columbia University; a doctor employed by the US Public Health Service; a secret service agent; an FBI agent; a member of the US diplomatic corps; and the nephew of noted politician Hamilton Fish, a ruse that allowed him to pass $600 worth of bogus checks ($8,300 in 2013). Continue reading

History’s Criminals: Ticonderoga’s Bernard Champagne


By on

1 Comment

2 Champagne Headline part 2 4WAfter impersonating Walter W. Baker, heir to the Baker chocolate fortune, and bilking his Richmond fiancée’s mother out of $15,000 in 1928 (equal to $197,000 in 2013), Ticonderoga’s Bernard Frederick Champagne was sentenced to ten years in a Virginia prison. He was paroled after serving more than six years, but the gates had hardly closed behind him when Champagne was at it again.

Shortly after his release, the US Department of Justice was tracking him across the North Country. As he had done for years in the past, Bernard managed to move quickly and stay a step ahead of his pursuers. Continue reading

Ticonderga Scoundrel: Bernard Champagne


By on

1 Comment

1 Walter_BakerFort Ticonderoga’s connection to the world of chocolate has been well documented over the years. Several additions and improvements were funded by Forrest Mars, Jr., husband of Deborah Adair Clark of Ticonderoga (they are now divorced). Forrest is worth approximately $10 billion as one of the heirs of the Mars candy company.

Eighty years ago, another famous name in chocolate—Baker—was bandied about in Ticonderoga, and it again involved mention of great wealth ($80 million at the time, equal to $1 billion in 2013). But for the village, the story left in its wake an embarrassment as bitter as the company’s most famous product (Baker’s bittersweet chocolate). Continue reading

Local History: North Country Survival Stories


By on

1 Comment

Headline Cow drags womanNo bones were broken. It’s a statement of relief that frequently appears in accident reports, emphasizing the fact that perhaps bones should have been broken, but due to amazing luck or some other reason, the victim survived perilous circumstances to emerge relatively unscathed. Stories of that type appear occasionally, and they’re always interesting.

It’s remarkable that in July 1895, three North Country survival stories appeared on a single newspaper page. Forget broken bones—it’s amazing that any of the victims lived to see another day. Yet among the three, there was only one broken bone. Continue reading

North Country History: Youthful Heroes


By on

0 Comments

Heroes Illustration 02 CRHeroes are defined in many ways—strong, brave, quick to act, selfless—and for the most part, we expect those traits to be found among the ranks of mature, responsible adults. But in 1927, in a span of less than thirty days, the North Country played host to two acts of heroism by local youths. Added together, the age of this remarkable pair of courageous children comes to just 19. Continue reading

Franklin County: The Trial of Allen Mooney


By on

0 Comments

Franklin County Bldgs 1907 04On May 12, 1903, Franklin County attorney Robert M. Moore was at wit’s end. After two years of haggling, all possibilities had been exhausted, and he knew his client was in serious trouble. There was nothing left but a claim of insanity. If that failed, a man was sure to die.

The client was Allen Mooney, and his crime in Saranac Lake became one of the most talked-about murders in North Country lore. It’s not a particularly complex tale, but its salacious and violent aspects guaranteed plenty of media coverage. Legally, it was pretty much a cut-and-dried case. Mooney admitted the shootings, and there was plenty of evidence against him. Continue reading

A Hamilton County Murder (Part 2)


By on

0 Comments

Though Ernest Duane had eventually admitted killing popular Lake Pleasant guide Eula Davis, there was no guarantee he would be found guilty in court. The defense focused on proving Duane’s supposed mental abnormalities, which they claimed had been exacerbated by the lonely life of a woodsman who often spent long months alone. It seemed a weak argument at best, but then came the kicker: Duane’s epilepsy, seized upon by his attorneys in a strategy described as the “dream defense.” Continue reading

A Backcountry Murder in Lake Pleasant


By on

0 Comments

In late 1928, the life of an Adirondack guide came to an unfortunate, premature end. Like many of his brethren who died from accidental shootings over the years, the victim succumbed to the effects of a serious gunshot wound. But the demise of Eula Davis was no accident. Clearly, this was a case of murder, and the beginning of a twisted saga that kept all eyes glued on the Lake Pleasant region for some time. Continue reading

Richard Whitby: Notable Upstate Musician


By on

0 Comments

Richard Whitby’s career in music had blossomed, and after years of hard work, he was offered Second Chair Trombone in John Philip Sousa’s band, and First Chair upon the lead trombonist’s imminent retirement. It was a tremendous honor, and highly regarded confirmation of his great talent, but there was a problem: Richard was still under contract to Carl Edouarde, who had no intentions of releasing him from a prominent run at New York’s Palace Theater. Continue reading

Warrensburg’s Dick Whitby, Notable Musician


By on

1 Comment

Obituaries vary widely in their historical value. Sometimes they’re elaborate; at times they are understated; some leave out important facts; and some, well … some are just hard to explain. Like this one from March 1952: “Richard A. Whitby, a native of Warrensburg, died on Wednesday of last week at his home in Albany. Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Kathryn M. Waring Whitby; two sisters, Mrs. Frank Chapman and Miss Kate Whitby of Yonkers.” Continue reading

The Churubusco Live-In: Clinton County’s ‘Woodstock’


By on

1 Comment

The Churubusco Live-In, planned as the 1970 sequel to the historic Woodstock concert of 1969, was in deep trouble. The town of Clinton, which included Churubusco, sought legal help to shut the event down. J. Byron O’Connell, an outstanding trial attorney, was bombastic at times, and his aggressive quotes [if long-haired people came to the village, “they’re just liable to get shot”] appeared in major newspapers in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. As Churubusco’s representative, he sought to derail the concert and preserve the hamlet’s quiet, rural life, while the promoters, Hal Abramson and Raymond Filiberti, fought back. Continue reading

The Churubusco Live-In: Clinton County’s ‘Woodstock’


By on

1 Comment

We’ve all heard of Woodstock at one time or another—that famous (or infamous) concert held in August 1969. It was scheduled at different venues, but the final location was actually in Bethel, New York, about 60 miles from Woodstock. For many who lived through three major homeland assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the racial riots of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock was an event representing peace, love, and freedom. It’s considered a defining moment of that generation, and a great memory for those who attended (estimated at 400,000). Continue reading

The Real Lake Placid: Alligators in Mirror Lake?


By on

0 Comments

In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.
Continue reading

Lyon Mountain Mines: George Davies of Clinton County


By on

0 Comments


George Davies of Standish in Clinton County was about as tough an Adirondacker as you’ll find anywhere. Standish was the sister community to Lyon Mountain during its century-long run of producing the world’s best iron ore. Davies (1892–1983) was among the many old-timers I interviewed around 1980 for my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town. He was kind, welcoming, and honest in describing events of long ago.

George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.

When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs while cradling a safety plaque.
In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.

“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. Unionization was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]

“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.

“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].

“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.

The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”

His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.

“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was  seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”

Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.

Photo: George Davies.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 32 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing

Thomas William Symons: ‘Father of Barge Canals’


By on

2 Comments

The first 20 years of Keeseville’s Thomas William Symons’ work as an engineer were incredibly successful. A list of his achievements reads like a career review, but he was just getting started. After a second stint in the Northwest, he returned to the east in 1895, charged with planning and designing the river and harbor works at Buffalo. He was named engineer of the 10th Lighthouse District, which included Lakes Erie and Ontario, encompassing all the waterways and lighthouses from Detroit, Michigan, to Ogdensburg, New York.

Among his remarkable projects was “a very exposed, elaborate lighthouse and fog signal” on Lake Erie, near Toledo. Grandest of all, however, was one of Thomas Symons’ signature accomplishments: planning and constructing the world’s longest breakwater (over four miles long). Built along the shores of Buffalo, it was a project that earned him considerable attention. Further improvements he brought to the city enhanced his reputation there.

Another major project talked about for years came to the forefront in the late 1890s—the possibility of a ship canal spanning New York State. The 54th Congress in 1897 commissioned a report, but the results disappointed the powerful committee chairman when Symons’ detailed analysis named a barge canal, not a ship canal, as the best option.

In 1898, New York’s new governor, Teddy Roosevelt, assigned Thomas to personally investigate and report on the state’s waterways, with emphasis on the feasibility of a barge canal to ensure it was the correct option. A concern on the federal level was national security, which was better served by Symons’ plan to run the canal across the state rather than through the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, up Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to New York City.

Thomas’ route across New York kept the structure entirely with America’s borders. (This and many other projects were requested by the War Department, which explains the security factor.) His additional work for Roosevelt reached the same conclusion, and after extended arguments in Congress, $100 million was appropriated for canal improvements. The decision was affirmation of Thomas’ judgment and the great respect in Congress for his engineering capabilities.

In 1902, the senate noted “the conspicuous services of Major Thomas W. Symons regarding the canal problems in New York,” and that he had “aided materially in its solution.” A senate resolution cited “his able, broad-minded, and public-spirited labors on behalf of the state.”

During the canal discussions, his life had taken an unusual turn. Teddy Roosevelt had won the presidency in 1902, and in early 1903, the decision was made to replace his top military aide. Keeseville’s Thomas Symons was going to the White House.

It was sad news for Buffalo, Thomas’ home for the past eight years. At a sendoff banquet, the praise for him was effusive. Among the acknowledgments was that his work in Buffalo’s harbor had brought millions of dollars of investments and widespread employment to the city. From a business and social perspective, one speaker professed the community’s “unbounded love, affection, and admiration.” The comments were followed by an extended ovation.

For a man of Symons’ stature, some of the new duties in Washington seemed a bit out of place. Officially, he was the officer in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds of the District of Columbia, a position for which he was obviously well suited. (And, the job was accompanied by a pay raise to the level of Colonel of Engineers.)

However, Thomas was also the president’s number one military aide, making him the Master of Ceremonies for all White House functions. Every appearance by Teddy Roosevelt was planned, coordinated, and executed by Symons, his close personal friend. Depending on whom the guests were, Thomas selected the décor, music, food, and entertainment.

He became the public face of all White House events. In reception lines, it was his duty to be at the president’s side. No matter what their stature, he greeted each guest as the line progressed, and in turn introduced each guest to Roosevelt. Everyone had to go through Roosevelt’s right-hand man before meeting the president (though he actually stood to the president’s left).

He also played a vital diplomatic role by mingling with the guests, ensuring all were seated and handled according to their importance, and allowing the President and First Lady to feel as secure as if they had planned each event themselves.

He was also the paymaster general of the White House, seeing to it that all funds appropriated for expenses were spent properly. The media regularly noted that in Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Symons was the most conspicuous person except for the president himself.

With so many responsibilities, the job of top aide to the president seemed impossibly busy, which is why Roosevelt expanded the staff from one to nine aides, all of them placed under the charge of Symons, who could then delegate much of his authority.

The only sense of controversy to arise during Thomas’ career was related to the development of New York’s barge canal, and it had nothing to do with him personally. He was the designer of the proposed system, and many felt it was critical that he stay involved in the project. But the new duties in Washington kept him very busy. Because Congress approved additional engineering employees to work under Symons, some felt it was wrong to allow Thomas to spend some of his time working on the canal project, away from his regular job.

Symons even agreed to forego the higher pay he received from the White House position in order to help with the canal. There was considerable resistance, but Roosevelt himself stepped forward, telling Congress that as governor, he had hired Thomas Symons to closely examine New York’s waterways. Thus, there was no man better suited for overseeing the $100 million expenditure.

The legislators relented, and by authority of a special act of Congress, Symons was allowed to work on the creation of New York’s barge canal system. After Roosevelt’s first term, Thomas left the White House and focused his efforts on the canal work.

In 1908, when the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps was retiring, Symons, by then a full colonel, was among the top candidates for the job. His strongest advocate was President Roosevelt, but after 37 years of service, Thomas submitted his name to the retirement list.

He remained active in the work on New York’s canals, which he monitored closely, and despite suggestions of excessive costs, the project came in well below the original estimates. He also served on the Pennsylvania Canal Commission and continued working and advising on other engineering projects.

His role in the building of America is undeniable, from New York to Washington State; the border with Mexico; the Mississippi River; Washington, D.C.; and so many other places. The world’s longest breakwater (at Buffalo) and New York’s barge canal system stand out as his major career accomplishments. And Roosevelt’s first administration took him to the highest echelons of world power for four years. He shared the president’s gratitude and friendship.

Thomas Symons, trusted aide, the man Teddy Roosevelt called the “Father of Barge Canals,” died in 1920 at the age of 71. In 1943, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Oregon was named the SS Thomas W. Symons in his honor.

Photos: Colonel Thomas Williams Symons, civil engineer; a portion of the breakwater in Buffalo harbor.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.