Tag Archives: Crime and Justice

Political History: A Hamilton County Write-in Campaign


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It’s relatively rare for a write-in candidate to win an election. A recent, high-profile example occurred in Alaska’s senate race when Lisa Murkowski bested Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate.

Miller took to the courts, claiming that misspellings of Murkowski’s name on many ballots disqualified those votes. The ridiculous charge—it’s an election, not a spelling contest—was dismissed. Otherwise, candidates with easy-to-spell names (like Miller, as opposed to Murkowski) would enjoy a considerable write-in advantage.

A precedent for that situation had long been established, but it wasn’t always followed. More than a century ago, an Adirondack election was decided based on the electorate’s inability to spell a candidate’s name and to record it with consistency. The result? Across the state, headlines of potential bloodshed made the news. It was a year before the issue was finally resolved.

It all began prior to the election of fall 1901 in Hamilton County, where the Republicans chose B. Frank Kathan as their candidate for sheriff. The Democrats offered no opposition, yet Kathan lost the election. Say what? Yep, it’s true. He lost, even with no opponent on the ballot.

Leading up to November, a few dedicated Democrats, including some deputy sheriffs (led by William Osborne), felt the party should have offered a candidate. They began urging voters to support a certain write-in candidate, the very popular Jim Locke.

By all accounts, it came as a total shock on Election Day when the ballots were examined and Jim Locke had triumphed by 40 votes (326–286). He was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election, verifying the outcome.

When Locke took over the office of sheriff, Kathan took off for court. Despite opposition, he obtained a show-cause order requiring the Board of Canvassers to recount the votes (Kathan’s claim was that some ballots were “defective”). The judge ordered that the votes be counted exactly as they were cast, and that presented a problem for James Nathan “Jim” Locke.

Though the voters’ intentions were clear, Locke’s name had been written in many forms. In some settlements he was known as Jim, and in others as Nat. On the ballots, there appeared Jim, James, James N., James Nathan, J. N., Nat, and other variations. The recount revealed new totals: Nat Locke–223; J. N. Locke–32; James N. Locke–24; and a number of other smaller groupings.

Since Frank Kathan had garnered 286 votes, he was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election. Hamilton County now had a new sheriff. Well … let me rephrase that. Hamilton County now had two sheriffs. Jim Locke had already taken up residency in the county jail at Lake Pleasant, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Suddenly, the county had a big problem, and the entire state was waiting to see how it would play out.

It wasn’t pretty. Locke soon made his position clear—he expected to remain sheriff. To that end, headlines from Albany to Buffalo proclaimed that the Hamilton County Jail was under siege, and that violence might well play a role in the outcome. As one article noted, “Kathan demanded possession of the keys to the jail, but Locke had three guards on duty, armed to the teeth with revolvers and Winchesters. Kathan’s demands were refused.”

Adding drama to the situation, it was noted that Arietta sharpshooter Jim Higgins was among those defending the jail. A set of Albany headlines in mid-February said it all: “Crack Shot Guards Jail at Lake Pleasant—Supreme Court Defied—May be Necessary to Call Out Troops to Oust Locke.”

With the state militia already mentioned, Kathan turned again to the courts. A few days later, Locke was ordered to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt of court.

Next week: 2nd of two parts: High drama and a jailhouse coup at Lake Pleasant.

Photo: At Lake Pleasant, old jail and courthouse on left, modern courthouse on right.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and dozens of 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.

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest


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The Stephen B. Luce Library at SUNY Maritime College, Bronx, NY, will host a guest lecture entitled  “Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York.” Author and historian Richard Zacks will tells the story of Roosevelt’s two-year campaign as a reformist New York City Police Commissioner on Thursday, September 18th at 1:30 pm.

Zacks grew up in New York City, wandering to Times Square when it was still evil. His mother sought to refine his manners with white-glove dance lessons at the Pierre Hotel but that effort failed miserably. As a teenager, he gambled on the horses, played blackjack in illegal Manhattan card parlors and bought his first drink at age fifteen at the Plaza Hotel.

Zacks also attended elite schools such as Horace Mann (’73), University of Michigan (’79) and Columbia Journalism School (’81). He majored in Classical Greek and studied Arabic, Italian and French. Zacks spent the decade of the 1980s as a journalist, writing a widely syndicated newspaper column, as well as freelance pieces for the likes of The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated. His book Pirate Hunter has sold more than 175,000 copies and TIME magazine chose it among the five best non-fiction books of the year.

Auburn Prison, Gillette Case Documentary, Lecture


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A North Woods Elegy: Incident at Big Moose Lake is a documentary feature film that explores one of the most famous American murder cases. Grace Brown, a pregnant young woman from upstate New York, was killed in the Adirondacks on July 11, 1906 [watch the trailer].

Her lover, Chester Gillette, was eventually tried and convicted of her murder. Gillette died in the Auburn Prison electric chair on March 30, 1908. The case became the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel, An American Tragedy.

A North Woods Elegy explores the fascination America had, and still has, with the case, encompassing issues of class, jurisprudence in America at the turn of the 20th century and ethics and sensationalism in news reporting.

The documentary film will be shown in Theater Mack at the Cayuga Museum, twice on Saturday, September 15, at 1:00 pm. and again at 4:00,. Derek Taylor, the film’s producer, director and editor, will answer questions after each screening.

At 3:00 p.m., there will be a lecture on “Gillette in Auburn” by Tompkins County Judge Jack Sherman, editor of The Prison Diaries and Letters of Chester Gillette. Gillette spent more than a year in Auburn Prison before his execution; his diary from that time is today in the collection of Hamilton College. Both the film screenings and the lecture are free and open to the public.

New Project: Virtual Center for Prison Memories


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The Prison Public Memory Project, focused on making prison history relevant as a guide to the future, today launched a website and blog (www.prisonpublicmemory.org) featuring its work in Hudson, NY a small town that is home to an historic prison and the site of the Project’s pilot effort.

Hudson Correctional Facility, a medium-­‐secure state prison for men that opened in 1976, was originally built in the 1800’s as the House of Refuge for Women, the first reformatory for women in New York (1887 – 1904), and then transformed into The New York State Training School for Girls (1904-­‐1975) where famed jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and other girls found to be delinquent by the courts were sent to be reformed.
Since 2011, Prison Public Memory Project founders and a growing team of contributors based in the Hudson Valley and around the state have been interviewing Hudson area residents including prison ‘alumni’; conducting research in local and state archives and libraries; and developing educational, interpretive and cultural activities to be offered in Hudson and on the website later this year and
next year.

Visitors to the website can view current photos of former prison workers and inmates and listen to audio clips from their oral histories; see old photographs and maps of the prison; and read prison documents and letters from the 19th and 20th centuries. Short articles tell about ordinary as well as extraordinary prison-­‐related events and people that influenced local, state, and national history. One section of
the website invites visitors to become history detectives helping the Project team answer questions and find evidence and visitors are encouraged to contribute in other ways.

Even before its public debut, the website-in-progress grabbed the attention of a few people who offered their own stories and questions and photos. One woman wrote in “My mother’s stories of the (NYS Training) school (for Girls) were brutal, I want to find out if I have another brother or sister. maybe someone has information to help me.” Another woman wrote ” i was sent too hudson in 1964. it wasnt a very nice place to be. but i made my bed so i had to lay in it… once you got use to being there it wasnt, a bad place… it made me a better person some of these young girls now should have a place like that it taught you respect for your self and others.”

Project founder/director Alison Cornyn anticipates more public input as the site is officially launched and word-of-­mouth spreads. “Prisons, especially old prisons like  the one in Hudson, have touched thousands of lives over the course of their history, in both profound and ordinary ways. Using history, art, dialogue and new communications technologies, The Project will craft safe spaces and new opportunities for people from all walks of life – including those who lived and worked inside the walls ‐ to connect with the past and each other and engage in conversation, learning, and visioning regarding the role of prisons in communities and in society today and in the future”, said Cornyn, a Brooklyn based
interdisciplinary artist and new media producer whose previous projects have garnered numerous awards.

Illustration: New York State Training School For Girls.

Lawrence Gooley: The Search For John C. Austin


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Suspicious circumstances had developed surrounding the disappearance of respected New York City businessman John C. Austin in July 1891. Two insurance companies who held life policies on Austin were deeply interested in his possible whereabouts. Neither had bought the story that Austin had drowned near Coney Island, leaving three small children fatherless. They believed a boat had picked him up and that Austin was now living and hiding out in the Adirondacks.
Colonel Edward C. James, a nationally renowned, colorful attorney represented the insurance companies. His opening statement was a classic. After building to a crescendo, James presented his climactic claim: “Gentlemen of the jury, I will show you John C. Austin as he is today, alive and well.” With that, he unwrapped a heretofore mysterious package, revealing a nearly seven-foot-tall cut-out likeness of Austin, taken from a hunting photograph.

 The courtroom was stunned, and for the entire trial, the jury and a packed house of spectators were constantly confronted with a powerfully connected message. Facing them from a corner was the huge likeness of the missing man in hunting regalia, while in the courtroom sat a grand selection of Adirondack woodsmen dressed similarly to Austin, awaiting their turn to testify.
The plaintiffs appeared to have a tough case to prove, but their attorneys approached the trial from an angle that would elicit much sympathy. Pointing to Austin’s three young children, strategically placed in front of the jury box, they presented their opening line: “The only question you are called upon to decide is whether the father of these three little children was drowned on July 4, 1891.” The intent was obvious, but no less effective.
Colonel James enjoyed some remarkable moments, shocking the court with the revelation that Austin, widely believed to be very well off financially, was in fact virtually bankrupt. He owed over $2500 (about $62,000 today) on various bills. Since his disappearance, Austin’s home had been sold for substantially less than its mortgage value. Days before vanishing, he had withdrawn $150 from the business (equal to $3,700 today). And on July 3, he had cashed a $400 check (equal to $10,000), even though his account to cover it held only a $2 balance.
The $400 check (he vanished on July 4; it was written on July 3 but postdated for July 7) had been cashed by his brother-in-law (Carruthers), who was stiffed for the full amount. Colonel James pointed out that Austin, a supposed pillar of society, apparently wasn’t so averse to fraud after all, having knowingly committed it against his own relative. It was powerful stuff.
The keystone of James’ case in support of those suspicious elements was what the media described as the “mountain flavor” of the courtroom. The effect was enhanced by the fact that many of New York’s “well-to-do,” including a number of top attorneys, frequented the Adirondacks as a favored getaway. Their interest in the Austin case was further piqued by the opportunity to see and listen to “their” guides speaking in court. Thus, the serious legal battle contained a sideshow element.
When the time came for the Adirondack guides to testify, the defense suffered a serious setback. James Ramsay of Lowville said he had known Austin for many years, and had delivered him to Crystal Lake in Lewis County just a month after Austin’s disappearance from Manhattan Beach.
However, Ramsay recounted conversations they shared regarding Austin’s recently deceased wife and the status of his children. During intense cross-examination, the details he had provided were shredded due to inconsistencies. The plaintiffs’ attorney suggested that Ramsay’s statements bordered on perjury, delivering a strong blow to the defense case.
Other guides, however, acquitted themselves quite well before a thoroughly pleased audience, some of whom recognized the mountain men by sight. Certain testimony, like that of Charles Bartlett, helped undo the damage from a day earlier. Much was made in the media of the visitors from the mountains and their service in court (their rough appearance was also noted). Colonel James, himself a North Country native (from Ogdensburg), was appreciative of their efforts.
Bartlett was followed by a parade of fellow guides who insisted they knew Austin and had spent time with him. He was said to have stayed for a while at Eagle’s Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. Some described his behavior at the Algonquin Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, where he displayed outstanding skill on the billiard table. Austin was, in fact, known in New York City as an excellent pool player—one witness had played against him a day or so before he vanished.
Among those who took the stand were Eugene Allen, Edwin Hayes, Robert King, Walter Martin, and Ransom Manning, all described as guides in the Saranac Lake area. Others included Hiram Benham, James Butler, Thomas Haley, Charles Hall, and James Quirk, offering convincing proof that Austin had perpetrated a fraud and was moving about in the mountains, avoiding detection.
The men described encounters with Austin at several well-known establishments: the Ampersand Hotel, Hatch’s, the Prospect House, Miller’s Hotel, and Bart Moody’s. Many of the sightings were by multiple witnesses. One of the biggest problems for the company case was the outright honesty of the guides, who frequently used “I don’t remember” when asked about details from the events of the past few years. They were being truthful, but hearing that statement repeatedly from witnesses helped suggest the likelihood of faulty memories.
When testimony ended, Colonel James offered a fine summation, supporting the statements from many people who had seen Austin since his supposed drowning. Trull, the lead attorney for the Austin family, enamored himself with the crowd, making light of the guides’ claims chiefly by attacking Ramsay, who had made conflicting statements. By targeting the guide with the weakest testimony, Trull hoped to dismiss them as a group. He smiled at the weak memories of some, and dismissed as untruthful those who recalled the past with remarkable clarity.
He also ridiculed the idea that a man in hiding could wear “ … leggins’, slouch hat, corduroy trousers, duck coat … what a likely yarn! Dressed in this conspicuous manner … and he wanted to hide!” Trull’s voice fairly dripped with smiling sarcasm.
The analogy was actually warped (though he would certainly stand out in New York City, no man who dressed like that in the mountains would be conspicuous), but the erroneous concept was lost on the jurors—city men who routinely dressed in suits.
In the end, the jury was out only 23 minutes, returning to declare Austin dead. There were several moments of complete silence following the announcement, as if everyone were stunned.
Then, punctuating the victory, Trull revealed the major role that sympathy had played in the case. Turning to the jurors, he said, “Gentlemen of the jury, on behalf of my clients, the three little orphan boys left alone and helpless by John C. Austin, I thank you.”
Excused by the judge, the jury filed out, stopping only to offer Trull an unusual comment that was in keeping with the prevailing air of sympathy: “We want to contribute our fees as jurymen to the unemployed poor, and want you to arrange the matter with the clerk for us.”
The companies later dropped a plan to appeal, instead deciding to cut their losses and pay the settlement. Thus ended the court case over the insurance claims. But as far as the companies were concerned, that’s all that was settled. They remained convinced that Austin had successfully duped everyone and was alive, well, and soon to be much better off financially.
When the Austin family received the death benefit checks, they were at the same time relieved and angry—relieved to collect the amount in full, but angry with the section of the check that said, “Pay to the executors of the estate of John C. Austin, deceased.” The insurance company had drawn a line through the word “deceased,” emphasizing their belief that he was still alive.
Though Austin had been pronounced dead, his story wasn’t. Reports came in of more sightings, and two agencies asked for a bounty in exchange for bringing him to New York.
Barely a month after the trial ended, headlines reported that Austin was under surveillance by a detective in Toronto. Subsequent articles addressed the issues of his status. Having been pronounced dead, was he now safe? Could a country extradite someone who had been declared dead? Could the other country accept extradition of a deceased person?
The questions were put to Colonel James, who commented on the jury’s decision: “They did not seem to appreciate the evidence that was presented, and with one fell swoop, they killed Austin and rendered his children orphans. It was sheer murder, but they thought they were right. You may have thought I was jesting when I said that the jury killed Austin. It is not that.
“Actually, Austin is not dead, as this revelation proves. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the report. He is judicially dead in this country. As long as he stays in Canada, he is alive, all right. As soon as he crosses the border into this country, he drops dead—theoretically.”
That’s the last anyone heard of John C. Austin.
Photos: Top―Manhattan Beach Bath House on right. Bottom: Headline from the Austin case.

The story of John Austin is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in
Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Adirondack Tales: John C. Austin, Alive Or Dead


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Adirondack guides from over a century ago are themselves part of the lore and history of the region. Their handling of city “sports,” coupled with their great abilities in the woods, provided the background for many a legendary tale. Guides were often strongly independent and shared a great affinity for the solitude of the deep woods. So what were nearly two dozen of these woodsmen doing in a New York City courtroom in the winter of 1893–94?
They were present for the culmination of a terrific news story that had earned sustained coverage for more than two years. Dozens of American and Canadian newspapers followed the tale, which at times dominated the New York City media. A key component was its Adirondack connection.
The story centered on well-known businessman John C. “Jack” Austin, 38, of Brooklyn. Fit, trim, and very athletic, he participated regularly in team and individual sports. In industry, he was known to have enjoyed success, providing a comfortable, if not wealthy, existence for his family. Austin’s wife died in February 1891, leaving him with three young children to raise, which he was doing with the aid of their very attentive housekeeper.
The afternoon of July 4, 1891, was like any other holiday in Austin’s life, with plans to attend the horse races or go swimming at Manhattan Beach. He kissed the children good-bye and went on his way, promising to take them that evening to the Independence Day fireworks.
Nearly nine hours later, the clerk at Manhattan Beach was performing the nightly check of the safe’s contents when he encountered an envelope bearing the name and street address of John Austin. For bathers visiting the beach, it was normal procedure to hire a bath room for changing clothes, and to deposit any valuables (wallet, cash, rings, watches) in envelopes provided by the facility. The owner received a numbered ticket which was later used to recover those goods.
After finding the envelope with Austin’s name on it, the clerk searched Room #391, where he found a coat, vest, shirt, hat, trousers, and underwear. In the pockets of the clothing were a case of business cards, a penknife, some keys, and some pencils.
Since it was nighttime and Austin’s personal belongings were still present, there was only one logical explanation: the owner likely had drowned. The clerk called for help, and in the presence of the bathing-pavilion superintendent, the Manhattan Beach chief of police, and a fireman, the security envelope was opened.
Inside were items of varying value: a pocketbook containing a few dollars and some change; a ring with the letter S on it; and a lady’s gold watch and chain, studded with pearls.
The family was contacted and apprised of the situation. Joseph Austin (John’s brother), and Thomas Carruthers (John’s brother-in-law) positively identified the belongings as John’s, and a search was initiated. For two days, police and volunteers patrolled the water and the beaches, covering not only Manhattan Beach, but the nearby shores of Jamaica Bay, Plum Island, Rockaway, and Sheepshead Bay.
Veteran lawmen and experienced searchers knew what to do and where to look. Drownings were not uncommon off the shores of Coney Island, where tides and the prevailing winds routinely sent victim’s bodies to the shore sooner or later. Austin was presumed drowned, and alerts were issued to authorities on Staten Island as well as the New Jersey shore on the outside chance the body might surface there.
Over the course of ten days, nothing was found, which in itself stirred suspicions. Some suggested that a northwest wind had driven the body out to sea, but police and beach veterans knew better. Austin’s room, #391, had been rented at about 4:00 pm, and for several hours following, a strong flood tide had pushed inland. To a man, they recognized it as an unusual circumstance that Austin’s body had not washed ashore—if he had, in fact, drowned.
The family filed a claim with two insurance companies, where Austin’s coverage totaled $25,000 (equal to about $620,000 today). However, since no body had been recovered, one of the companies had already begun an investigation, despite the stellar public image of Austin as a respected, honest, hard-working family man. They wouldn’t be paying on the claim just yet.
A number of peculiarities, both large and small, were noted in the situation surrounding John Austin’s disappearance. He was known to be wearing a very valuable diamond ring, but only an inexpensive ring was found in the envelope.
The same was true of the lady’s watch that was found. Austin always wore his own watch, described as “a magnificent chronometer.” Friends and relatives said the valued watch was being repaired at a jeweler, but the insurance company discovered that the watch had been picked up on July 3, the day before he vanished. The jeweler’s shop was very near Austin’s office, but for some unknown reason, he had sent a messenger boy with a check to pick up the watch.
It was also learned that John Austin patronized Manhattan Beach regularly and was well known to many of the workers—yet no one recalled seeing him on July 4. Further, on that day it was chilly and windy, reducing attendance to about 600 on a beach that often held many thousands of bathers. Despite the sparseness of the crowd, no employees could be found who had seen Austin.
Co-workers and partners confirmed that the missing man always carried plenty of cash, almost never less than $100. And yet the envelope of his belongings held just a few dollars.
He was also known to many as a very prolific and strong swimmer, often covering extreme distances. Drowning seemed an unlikely end for such a fit and able swimmer.
Another possibility was floated: perhaps Austin had been hiding out while an imposter went to the beach on his behalf, used the changing room, and deposited the valuables (which had since been deemed not so valuable after all). That would explain why (in an unusually sparse crowd) no attendants had seen Austin. Maybe he hadn’t been there at all.
Many more suspicious developments spurred further investigation, expanding far from the confines of New York City. Austin’s three orphaned children were now living with his sister, who was a resident of Montreal, Quebec.
It was learned that their missing father was one of a great many city dwellers who frequented the Adirondacks for hunting and fishing expeditions. Since the Adirondacks were little more than an hour south of Montreal, investigators kept digging.
It was then ascertained that John C. Austin was no stranger to the North Country. To be more specific, a number of those stalwarts of the north woods, the Adirondack guides, claimed to have not only seen Austin since his supposed drowning, but had guided him in several areas, including the Saranac Lake region.
New developments caused further consternation. Of the two insurance policies which together were equal to well over $600,000 (in 2012), one had been secured by Austin on July 1, just three days before he vanished. And, after procuring the new policy, he had asked a secretary in the insurance office if it took effect at that very moment. It did seem an unusual query. With confirmation, he requested that the policy be sent to him ASAP. It was mailed that afternoon.
A few witnesses eventually came forth, claiming they had seen a man disappear while swimming well offshore on July 4. Skeptical detectives suggested another scenario. Since Austin was widely known as a powerful swimmer, they believed he swam a few miles out, where he was picked up by a boat and secreted for a time at the home of his good friend, Henry LaMarche, south of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, not much more than ten miles from Manhattan Beach.
LaMarche denied it, but his gardener and other employees stated emphatically that they had seen Austin with LaMarche in the days following the supposed drowning.
Following up on Jack Austin’s great love of the north woods, detectives found many Adirondack guides who had known him over the years and claimed to have recently seen him and/or worked for him. One of them provided a photograph, said to have been taken recently. It showed Austin in full hunting gear.
Confident now that this was a scam, the insurance companies denied the family’s claims, which were made on behalf of the children. Both sides had taken a firm stand, and the matter of whether or not John C. Austin was alive or dead would be decided by the courts.
Thus, in December, 1893, about twenty Adirondack woodsmen found themselves en route to New York City for an extended stay, courtesy of the insurance companies. They were to testify about their interactions with Austin and the range of his movements.

Next week: The conclusion―Adirondack guides from the big woods make a big impression in the big city.
Photos: Top―Manhattan Beach, circa 1900. Bottom―Headline from the Austin case.

The story of John Austin is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in
Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Songs of War of 1812 POWs Highlighted at NY History Conference


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The annual NY State History conference, held this year at Niagara University, launched with a song from a POW imprisoned in Dartmoor, marking the conference theme on the War of 1812.

The British captured teen-aged Thomas B. Mott in 1813 and he struck back in song, satirizing his captors, decrying the harsh conditions and reign of lice, and stoutly defending presidents over kings. Continue reading

Lawrence Gooley: New York State’s Anti-Loafing Law


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History can offer valuable perspective on solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also just plain surprise us by telling us more about who we are. For instance, most of us would agree that America is all about civil rights and personal freedom, two guarantees that are considered sacred.

It would be difficult for us to imagine a situation where, even in times of war or unemployment, citizens would be forced to work, or where young people would be required to take part in military training. While such measures sound very foreign to a democracy, unemployment was once declared illegal in a very familiar place. Idle men were forced to take jobs selected for them by local lawmen, and each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.

The government also passed a law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate that was very important: without it, young men could not “attend public or private school or obtain employment.” That’s how it was written into the law.
What nation would order its citizens in such fashion? If we had to guess, most of us would name a communist country from the past, or a dictatorship in some far off land. Either could be right, but in this case, the country was much closer to home. In fact, that’s the answer: home.
The New York State Anti-Loafing Law was passed in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey passed their versions first, and we were next. The law required all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”
If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man had to work. It was the law.
The law’s description of “useful” work had its implications as well. By order of the federal government, American men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, lifeguards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places.”
Men of that age were needed for war. It’s interesting that those jobs, except for lifeguard at summer resorts, were generally filled by poorer folks who were serving the wealthy. Their work was considered plenty useful until war broke out. Suddenly, their jobs were declared “non-useful,” and many of them were consigned to the military.
New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new state law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text of the statute: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.” My innate cynicism notices no mention of hanging out (loitering) at gentlemen’s resorts, sporting clubs, and other places frequented by the idle rich.
Charles Whitman, governor of New York, added: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” Whitman had a good reason for signing the law shortly after New Jersey passed theirs: if he didn’t, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight. The governor ensured they would find no safe haven here.
The methods of enforcement were clearly spelled out: “The state Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”
That’s right … lawmen would track down the unemployed and assign them to a job. Even if a person had enough savings to survive for a few years, the law required everyone to work.
At the time, Governor Whitman admitted, “there may be some question as to the constitutionality of the law,” but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did.  Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.
Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they complied with both the letter and the intent of the law.
On the surface, those laws seem absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was a familiar one: extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws during the war. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60―teens to senior citizens!
In comparison, the wars of recent years have been viewed by the general population with complacency, and the suffering has largely been borne by military personnel and their families. Perhaps we would be less likely to enter such conflicts if, as in some past wars, every single citizen was impacted, and everyone had to sacrifice.

The story of New York State’s Anti-Loafing Law is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

New Book: The Mafia at War


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The Mafia at War: The Shocking True Story of America’s Wartime Pact with Organized Crime (2012, Skyhorse Publishing) is a dramatic account of how a criminal organization exploited the grim realities of war to revive its fortunes and dominate global crime. Anyone with a passion or interest in World War II or the history of organized crime in America will find it engrossing reading.

Using firsthand testimonies and declassified intelligence reports, author Tim Newark (the author of several crime and military history books) traces the relationship between the Mafia, Hitler, and Mussolini, and tells the remarkable story of Mafia—Allied collaboration during World War II. For The Mafia at War, Newark also carried out archival research in London, New York, Washington, and Sicily.

Newark shows how Jewish gangsters clashed with Nazis on the streets of New York City; how Mafiosi nearly issued contracts to kill top Nazis, including Hitler; how British “Bobbies” patrolled the then deadly streets of Palermo; and how Mafia-backed bandits conducted a guerilla war for Sicilian independence including General Eisenhower’s arming of the Mafia during the invasion of Sicily.

Author Tim Newark is also the author of Boardwalk Gangster: The Real Lucky Luciano; Empire of Crime: Organised Crime in the British Empire; and Highlander. He has also worked as a TV scriptwriter and historical consultant, resulting in seven TV documentary series for BBC Worldwide and the History Channel, including the thirteen-part TV series Hitler’s Bodyguard. He contributes book reviews to the Financial Times. Visit www.timnewark.com.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Book Features Confederates at Elmira Prison Camp


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Michel Fortlouis, a young Confederate soldier, weary of war, was captured by Union troops at Clinton, Louisiana, thirty miles from his home of New Roads. It was August 1864, in the last year of the Civil War. Corporal Fortlouis was shipped north to the Union Prison Camp at Elmira, New York, where he died of pneumonia within ten days of his arrival. More than 12,000 young Southern men passed through the camp. Many suffered the harsh winter. Nearly 3,000 died.

In their Honor – Soldiers of the Confederacy – The Elmira Prison Camp (2009, New York History Review) remembers these men and boys, and tells their stories. Research by author Diane Janowski, who lives in Elmira, brings an  awareness of the soldiers’ relationships – brothers, fathers and sons, cousins and friends. Descendants of the soldiers have contributed harrowing stories of survival or despair. They were captured together. Some made it home.

“This is a different kind of book about the Elmira Prison Camp,” Janowski says. “Many writers and scholars in recent years have done a fine job researching and publishing information about the prison camp’s horrors. I decided to ask the families of some of the prisoners. With 21st century technology I found some families that were willing to talk about this difficult subject.”

The book is not about war strategy, nor conditions inside the camp, the first 40 pages or so offers personal accounts of how the men and boys ended up in Elmira. The rest of In their Honor’s 218 pages  includes photos and diagrams of the camp and a complete revised list of the Confederate dead at Woodlawn National Cemetery.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

AJ Schenkman: Ulster County Jail Breaks


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The court house in Kingston is one of the many historic buildings in an area commonly referred to as the Stockade District or Uptown Kingston. This court house has stood at the present location in some form for centuries. It is not only linked to the founding of New York State in 1777, but also to Sojourner Truth. It was in this court house that she successfully sued for the return of her son Peter. Continue reading

John Brown Day Planned for May 5th


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Frederick Douglass’ great-great-great grandson Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., will give the keynote address at the annual John Brown Day celebration to be held on Saturday, May 5, at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, NY. Morris will talk about the friendship and enduring legacy of Douglass and fellow abolitionist John Brown.

The two men first met in Massachusetts in 1848, a decade after Douglass successfully escaped from slavery on a Maryland plantation and eleven years before Brown’s history-changing raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. By the time they met, Douglass had become one of the most eloquent and sought-after champions of freedom and equal suffrage for women and men, regardless of race.

Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Morris will also discuss the Foundation’s work today to create a modern Abolitionist Movement in schools all over the country through the vehicle of Service-Learning.

There are an estimated 27 million men, women and children held in some form of slavery in the world today, generating billions of dollars along the supply chain of labor and products that make much of our daily lives possible.

Joining Morris will be Renan Salgado, a Human Trafficking Specialist based in Rochester, who will shed light in his remarks about slavery and trafficking in New York State today. According to the U.S. State Department, there are approximately 17,500 people trafficked into the U.S. each year. Along with California, Texas, and Florida, New York ranks among the states with the greatest incidence of documented slavery in the country.

Young, award-winning orators from the Frederick Douglass Student Club in Rochester will recite from Douglass’ speeches and excerpts from Brown’s letters. The folk quartet The Wannabees and the hip-hop recording artist S.A.I. will also perform.

John Brown Day revives the tradition dating back to the 1930s of making a pilgrimage to remember and honor Brown by laying a wreath at his grave. Over the last 13 years, the grassroots freedom education project John Brown Lives! has worked to keep that tradition alive and relevant.

John Brown Day 2012 is free and open to the public and it is held outdoors. A brief reception will follow in the lower barn at the site. Donations will be appreciated.

For more information, contact Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives! at 518-962-4758 or mswan@capital.net.

Visit the John Brown Lives! Friends of Freedom on Facebook.

Lawrence Gooley Presenting Robert Garrow Lecture


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The next lecture in the Adirondack Museum’s 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday, “Tracking Robert Garrow” with author and New York History contributor Lawrence Gooley, will be held on Sunday, April 15, 2012.

In the summer of 1973, serial killer Robert F. Garrow went on a murderous rampage that changed the Adirondack region forever. However, there was much more to Garrow’s story than the murders. From his unfortunate childhood to escapes from the law, the longest manhunt in Adirondack history, and his manipulation of legal, medical and corrections professionals, hear the full story of Garrow’s life from author Lawrence Gooley. Due to graphic content, this program is suitable for adult audiences.

Lawrence P. Gooley is a proponent of the North Country, a lover of books, and a history enthusiast. He operates Bloated Toe Enterprises, an internet-based business that currently includes Bloated Toe Publishing and The North Country Store. Gooley has also organized a North Country Authors group to help raise the profile of area authors and their works. Gooley’s writings have appeared in various magazines and newspapers. He has contributed to other works, including a recent piece in an annual book series, the Franklin County Review, and has provided editing services for several other titles. He has also authored nine books including Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow.

This program will be held at the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts at Blue Mountain Lake, and will begin at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.

Searching for Justice Joseph Crater (Part 2)


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After NYS Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater went missing in New York City in 1930, the search led to Plattsburgh and then to the Meridian Hotel, a few feet across the border from Champlain.

Nothing concrete was found in New York’s northeastern corner, but a few days later, Crater was sighted at Fourth Lake in the Old Forge area. He was also “positively” identified as one of two men seen at a Raquette Lake hunting lodge in late August. Two detectives followed that trail, while others were summoned to confirm a sighting at the Ausable Club near Keene Valley.

As if that weren’t enough, it was announced that Crater had spent a couple of days at Hulett’s Landing on the eastern shore of Lake George, and then at Brant Lake. Police and detectives pursued every lead, while headlines told the story from New York to Texas to Seattle.

A sure sighting was confirmed by three employees of Tupper Lake’s Altamont Hotel. Investigators there pursued the trail to Cranberry Lake. Elsewhere, police spent two days searching every room of every cabin on Saratoga Lake. Later, the Altamont sighting turned out to be a businessman from Buffalo, and the Horicon (Brant Lake) report was proven bogus.

By mid-September, the search had gone nationwide, but most of the top investigators still believed Crater was roaming through the Adirondacks.

Five months after Crater vanished, the plot thickened. Returning to their Fifth Avenue apartment for the first time, Stella found hidden envelopes containing insurance policies, cash, stocks, bonds, uncashed checks, a list of people who owed money to her husband—and a long note, ending with what appeared to be, “I am weary. Love, Joe.”

Police insisted those materials were not present when they searched the apartment months earlier. As the mystery deepened, suspicions and theories abounded. Why would a popular judge simply disappear? Speculation raged as the hunt continued.

It all proved futile—Crater was nowhere to be found, and none of the sightings were positively substantiated. Within a year, the modern equivalent of $4 million had been spent, and leads had been followed in New York City, Maine, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.

At Crown Point on Lake Champlain, exactly a year after his disappearance, New York City investigators followed up on a report that an unidentified man, now said to be Crater, had died in a fall from the cliff at Big Hollow. Nothing conclusive was ever found.

Like the ubiquitous sightings of Elvis since his death, Crater was everywhere: hunting in the Adirondacks; lounging on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City; a patient in a Virginia sanatorium; prospecting in California; shaved by a barber in North Dakota; and found floating off the coast of New England. Eventually, he was seen in Europe, South America, and in all 50 states.

One caller from Montreal gave the hotel and room number where Crater could be found at that very moment. Authorities in Canada were notified. Rushing to the scene, they burst in to find a thoroughly embarrassed couple on their honeymoon. The prank caller must have been pleased.

Five years after Joseph’s disappearance, an inmate at Dannemora Prison claimed to have knowledge of Crater’s whereabouts, but would share the information only with Stella. She declined, based on the advice of the warden, who said it was nothing more than a scam to seek commutation of the prisoner’s sentence in return for his story.

For insurance purposes, Joseph Crater was declared legally dead in 1939, but the story had legs. The search went on and sightings continued for many decades. Those “I saw Judge Crater!” stories above are rooted among the 16,000 tips received through 1980, half a century after he vanished. He was long referred to as “the Most Missingest Man in New York.”

At the end of his act, Groucho Marx was said to have often commented, “I’m going to step out and look for Judge Crater.” Common for decades as a joke and in graffiti were lines like, “Judge Crater, call your office” and “Paging Judge Crater.” His name made it into the vernacular as well. For decades, the phrase “pulled a Crater” was an everyday expression referring to someone who suddenly disappeared or was being evasive.

His was a complex story with many possible endings: a new life, suicide, a mob hit, and death because of political problems, mistress troubles, or financial dealings. In August 2005, 75 years to the month after Crater disappeared, a new wrinkle surfaced with the death of 91-year-old Stella Ferrucci-Good in New York City.

Among her belongings in a safe-deposit box was a letter marked for opening only after her death. The letter said that over drinks long ago, her husband had heard the names of Crater’s killers. She named them (investigators have followed up with varying results), and said Crater was buried under the Boardwalk, beneath the current site of the New York Aquarium.

Perhaps he sleeps with the fishes after all.

Photos: Judge Joseph Force Crater; Dapper Judge Crater was always dressed to the nines.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of 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 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Search for NY Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater


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Amelia Earhart. Pattie Hearst. Jimmie Hoffa. Famous vanishing acts that obsessed the public and saturated the media. In their time, they were big, but it’s doubtful they topped the notoriety of New York State’s most famous disappearance, that of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater. And some of his story played out across the Adirondacks and the North Country.

The tale has now faded, but in 75 years it spawned fiction and nonfiction books, countless thousands of newspaper articles, was satirized in Mad Magazine, and formed the plot for movies. It was used for laughs on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Golden Girls, and others. It fostered a guaranteed punch line for standup comics, and produced a common slang expression that appeared in some dictionaries.
The basic details of the story begin with Joseph Crater’s rapid rise in New York City politics. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he taught at Fordham and NYU and aligned himself with the Democratic Party, a move that significantly boosted his private law practice. The New York City wing of the party was widely known as Tammany Hall, where corruption ran rampant and payoffs were routine.

Crater worked within that system, and in 1930, at age 41, he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court, filling a vacancy. With a career that was flourishing, a dapper public persona, and plenty of power, prestige, and money, “Good-time Joe,” as he was known, had New York City and life itself by the tail.

After the June court session ended, he and wife Stella (she was still in her teens when he married her more than a decade earlier, after handling her divorce) headed for their retreat in Maine for some relaxation. On August 3, Crater received news of a problem in New York. He headed back to the city, leaving Stella with words to the effect, “I have to straighten those fellows out.”

The rest of the story has been repeated thousands of times. The main components are: he went to their apartment on Fifth Avenue; spent time at his courthouse office early on August 6; removed several files there and brought them back to the apartment; had his assistant cash several checks for him; and bought one ticket to see Dancing Partner on Broadway later in the evening.

He dined with attorney William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, and shortly after 9 p.m., they parted company. Crater was said to have hailed a cab, supposedly heading for Broadway—and was never heard from again. Nada. Zippo. Nothing.

Because of Joe’s frequent comings and goings, Stella was only mildly concerned with his absence at first. She grew nervous when he didn’t make it back to Maine for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances from others that Joe would eventually show up.

Finally, Stella hired a private detective, but just like the chauffeur’s efforts, it produced nothing of substance. Friends remained confident he would soon be seen. Everything at the apartment seemed normal—travel bags, watch, clothing, and other personal effects were there—but no Joe.

An unofficial search ensued, but alarm really set in when court resumed on August 25 and he still hadn’t surfaced. For various reasons, no official report was made until September 3, a month after Stella had last seen him. An investigation began, and soon many lurid facts were revealed.

As it turned out, there had been plenty of women in Joe’s life, and he was deeply involved in the Tammany machine. It was known that Crater had withdrawn $20,000 from the bank at about the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, in the ongoing political corruption probe, that was the figure named as the going price for judgeships and other positions.

Dozens of other ugly details were revealed as investigators kept digging. Meanwhile, there was one other important issue to deal with—where the heck was Justice Crater?

A month after his disappearance (but within a week of when the official search began), authorities had traced nearly every second of Joe’s trip to New York. After the dinner date, the trail went cold. The police inspector issued this statement: “We have no reason to believe he is alive, and no reason to believe he is dead. There is absolutely no new development in the case.”

At the time of that statement, a friend said that Crater had mentioned taking a trip to Canada (but gave no reason why). The focus of the continuous search was on far upstate New York. In fact, as far upstate as you can get. In northeastern Clinton County, Plattsburgh reporters were contacted by New York City police and urged to investigate rumors that Crater was in the vicinity.

At Champlain, north of Plattsburgh and less than a mile from the Canadian border, was a famed Prohibition hotspot, the Meridian Hotel. Just a few feet inside of Canada, it was a favored watering hole for thirsty Americans. Crater was reportedly seen at the Meridian, and, since he was a horse-racing enthusiast, it was assumed he had stopped at Saratoga on his way north.

Next week, the conclusion: Like Elvis, Judge Crater is everywhere!

Photos: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5000 is equal to $65,000 in 2012); Judge Crater and wife Stella on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of 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 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

William Kennedy’s Prohibition Story:
An Interview with Exec Producer Dan Swinton


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The passage of the Volstead Act and prohibition against intoxicating liquor caused a profound change in American culture by breaking the traditional mold of heroes and anti-heroes. Popular media has romanticized the anti-hero “gangster” role, and some of the greatest actors of the movie-making era have portrayed names like Al Capone, “Bugs” Moran, “Bugsy” Siegal and “Machine Gun” Kelly on the silver screen. In many instances, thugs, authorities and officials become the puppets of the crime boss, or the authorities become as violent as the criminals do.
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Lawrence Gooley: The ‘Spanish Swindle’ Revisited


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Many of us have received e-mail scams from fake sources (bogus relatives, supposed political prisoners) promising great financial reward if we agree to help them recover a secreted fortune. I’ve received them from Ghana and Germany, and even one from the country of West Africa. Never heard of it? I can assure you it’s real—in 2008, world traveler Paris Hilton said “I love Africa in general. South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.”

The senders of these messages range from detained relatives and imprisoned citizens to dethroned kings, urgently seeking help. Most people think it’s “an Internet thing,” but the only thing new about it is the manner of delivery.

That particular scam has been around for more than a century. Known as the Spanish Swindle, it is believed to have originated in Spain’s infamous prisons during the late-nineteenth century. Inmates with far too much time on their hands took advantage of a corrupt system, developing many criminal strategies and exercising them to great effect.

The original Spanish Swindle hasn’t changed much, except that it was often a two-step process. The first was to hook the sucker with a plea for empathy and the promise of great wealth. When a nibble was received, the ante was raised with an urgent plea to help rescue the prisoner’s poor, innocent daughter from the clutches of some tyrant or lecher.

Just as is done with e-mail today, hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of such messages were sent at the same time by mail. In the Adirondacks, a few hotel owners were among those who received the letters, their addresses having been obtained from newspaper advertisements. The plea was appropriately modified— in the hopes of gaining sympathy, the sender claimed to have once been a hotel owner himself.

None of those in the Adirondacks who received the message were fooled by the scam attempt, but elsewhere, pharmacists, doctors, and others were victimized, much to their embarrassment. The Spanish Swindle became so successful that, in 1912, the US Official Postal Guide began including a complete description of the process in order to alert employees.

That’s not to say North Country folks are immune to trickery. All types of swindles have been attempted in the region, many of them successfully. A number of scams from long ago focused on obtaining a person’s signature. A sort of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) then took over: if your name was on a document, you were bound by its clauses. Even if a signature was obtained fraudulently, victims often paid to avoid court time and public embarrassment.

In 1888, teams of encyclopedia salesmen made the rounds in Franklin County, targeting schoolteachers. The first salesman gave his best pitch for a great new line of books, innocently asking the teacher to sign his log book to record the visit. A few days later, a second man delivered a full set of books, demanding payment from the surprised teacher, whose signed order was offered as proof of sale. (Sleight of hand and “bait and switch” were routine components of scams. Papers were subtly arranged to obtain signatures on documents hidden beneath.)

Sleight of hand was sometimes replaced by the latest technology. In 1889, swindlers focused on the devoutly religious, of which the North Country had many. An attractive female pleaded for donations of ten cents to aid overseas missionary work. Donors, asked to sign a sheet, were all too happy to have their names displayed on the list of generous givers.

But vanity came with a price. Beneath the sheet was “an ingenious copying paper which transcribed the name onto a promissory note.” In those days, a promissory note was as good as a check or a banknote. The notes were quickly cashed and the scammers moved on.

Photo: 1951 North Country headline noting the return of the Spanish Swindle.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of 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 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

The Hulett Hotel Fire on Lake George


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The rise of local and specialist history publishers such as Arcadia and History Press has been a boon to local history and an opportunity part-time writers and historians to have their work published outside the vanity press. One of those part-timers is George Kapusinski, long time denizen of Huletts Landing on Lake George and publisher of The Huletts Current blog. His second effort for History Press (his previous work Huletts Landing on Lake George was published by Arcadia) has just been published, and it’s a fascinating and well-written account of the devastating fire at the Hulett Hotel 1915. Even more revealing is the well-researched tale of the trial held in the aftermath of the fire.

Broken into 12 chapters, which include short, readable and informative sub-chapters, The Hulett Hotel Fire on Lake George (History Press, 2012) features a set of unique photos of the events surrounding the fire and the fire’s aftermath, only recently discovered taped to the back of an Abe Lincoln lithograph. But this is more than the tale of the fire and the rebuilt hotel’s preeminence among early 20th century Lake George resorts. After the hotel was rebuilt, a mysterious figure claimed that the hotel’s owner, William H. Wyatt, had paid him to start the fire. Kapusinski investigates the resultant arson trial in detail, including the burning of Wyatt’s former Glenwood Hotel just three years earlier at Lake Bomoseen.

In a wide ranging narrative, Kapusinski takes us into the time period, explores the places (including Wyatt’s Trojan Hotel in Troy where he was arrested), and explores the motives and character of the those involved. A great read.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Dannemora: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal


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Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin. Their love is one for the history books.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you have to admire the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up at the jail less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being as they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any more jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week for her sweetheart, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? Horse theft. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen!

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she had left the camp, stolen a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though separate trials were required, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of 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 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Black History Symposium to Examine Prison State


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The City College of New York Black Studies Program presents a symposium, “Confronting the Carceral State II: Activists, Scholars and the Exonerated Speak,” 1 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 14, in The Great Hall of Shepard Hall, 160 Convent Ave., New York City. The event, consisting of two panels of activists and scholars plus a book signing, is free and open to the public.

The symposium builds upon the work begun by “Confronting the Carceral State: Policing and Punishment in Modern U.S. History,” a symposium held in March 2010 at Rutgers University. “At that conference,” a press statement from the organizers said, “it was made abundantly clear that the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color was an issue that demanded not only study but action.”

“Confronting the Carceral State II” is intended to inform and inspire study and action. All are welcome to join the audience and engage the panelists and each other in the discussion. The event program follows:

1 – 2 p.m. Reception and book signing for participating authors.

2 – 4 p.m. Panel One: Historical Perspectives:

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, associate professor of African-American history, Fairfield University, moderator: “I Am Troy Davis: The Execution Narrative and the Politics of Race in 21st Century America.”

Dr. Donna Murch, associate professor of history, Rutgers University: “Towards a Social History of Crack: Drugs and Youth Culture in the Age of Reagan.”

Dr. Heather Thompson, associate professor of history, Temple University: “Ending Today’s Carceral Crisis: Lessons From History.”

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: “Occupied Blackness: Urban Policing and the Inevitability of Stop and Frisk.”

4 – 6 p.m. Panel Two: Activists and the Exonerated Speak:

Dr. Johanna Fernandez, assistant professor of Black and Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, moderator: “The New Phase in the Struggle to Release Mumia.”

Javier Cardona, arts & education director, Rehabilitation Through The Arts: “Doing Hope: Applying the Arts to Rehearse and Re-Create Life Within And Outside Prison.”

Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor of geography, CUNY Graduate Center: “The Popular Front Against Mass Incarceration: Movement, Perils, Prospects.”

King Downing, program analyst, American Friends Service Committee: “Doing Justice Work.”

Felix A. Navarro, Jr., Leaders Against Systemic Injustice (LASI), City College Student Organization: “Opening The Eyes Of The Youth.”

Vanessa Potkin, senior staff attorney, The Innocence Project: “Addressing Wrongful Convictions.”

Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, “Exonerees From The Central Park Jogger’s Case.”

6 – 7 p.m. Reception and book signing for participants.

For more information, contact Professor Venus Green, 212-650-8656, vgreen@ccny.cuny.edu. To RSVP, please call 212-650-8117.

Photo: The Vernon C. Bain prison barge operated by the City of New York. This medium and maximum security prison facility houses 800 prisoners. It was built in 1992 at a cost of $161 Million. Courtesy Travels of Tug 44.