Tag Archives: Lawrence Gooley

New York’s Jehudi Ashmun, Founder of Liberia


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Thursday, April 21, marked the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War as we mark the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to recent world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history.

Jehudi Ashmun was born in Champlain, a small village in the northeastern corner of New York State, just a mile from the Canadian border. Early on, he proved capable of advanced learning, and after schooling in Champlain, he attended Middlebury College in Vermont at the age of 16, preparing for life as a Christian minister.

Ill health, a problem throughout his life, found Jehudi back home in Champlain during the War of 1812. On healthier days, despite his young age, he preached in the local church and organized a military company to protect the village from British attackers threatening from Canada.

After returning to schooling at Middlebury, he entered the University of Vermont. Graduating from UVM in August, 1816, Ashmun gave the salutatory address and presented “An English Oration upon the Philosophy of the Mind.”

Jehudi soon found employment as school principal and Professor of Classical Literature at the Maine Charity School, one of the first educational societies in the country. Guided by a strong Christian belief, he published extensively, including sermons, lectures, and essays.

Ashmun’s opinionated persona was not always well received, and six months after marrying Catherine Gray in October 1818, he resigned from the school and moved to Washington, D.C. There, he linked with the Episcopal Church for three years, studying religion, continuing to publish, and becoming alarmingly aware of the plight of slaves in nearby Virginia.

Christian doctrine deplored slavery, and the more Ashmun (a white northerner) learned, the more he felt compelled to act. He became an active participant in the American Colonization Society (ACS), a group that many supported with the best of intentions, but an organization that attracted a pro-slavery element as well.

To understand that dichotomy, it is necessary to at least somewhat grasp the situation in America around 1820. As a young nation proudly touting “all men are created equal,” the US was embarrassed by other countries pointing out in newspaper editorials the great hypocrisy of allowing slavery to exist for any reason within America’s borders.

By 1808, the importation of slaves had been strictly forbidden by federal law, but some southern states claimed the feds had overstepped their bounds. Still, a very powerful anti-slavery movement existed in America. The problem was—what constituted a solution?

Groups like the American Colonization Society faced an unusual number of arguments for and against their efforts. Many leaders, both black and white, believed all citizens should remain in the US and battle for full equal rights for all. Others, including many black leaders, felt that blacks would never be treated justly or be free of discrimination in America, and thus favored the establishment of a colony where they could flourish.

Some said that promoting colonization was simply a cover for the goal of ridding America of blacks. Others saw great promise in black colonists succeeding, and helping to spread the Christian faith across Africa. Many slave owners supported the society because they feared that freed blacks would urge those in slavery to rise together in rebellion. By sending them to colonies, the owners were removing rabble-rousers from their midst.

At the time, the idea of going to Africa did seem sensible to some blacks since that was their place of origin. However, by that time, many had been in America long enough to have children born here and had established roots. A great number preferred to stay in the US and face the devil they knew, rather than the uncertainties of life (the devil they didn’t know) in Africa.

At various times, plans were made for colonies in Canada, Mexico, Africa, the Caribbean, and in several Central American countries. Finally, a real effort to settle on Africa’s west coast was tried, but it failed. Another similar attempt was made within two years.

The second opportunity arose when the Georgia state legislature authorized its governor to sell about 40 slaves who had been brought to the state illegally. Money from the sale was destined for state coffers, but by law, before selling the slaves, the state had to allow anyone the opportunity to purchase freedom for the slaves or assume the expense of taking them to a colony.

In stepped the ACS, and it was 18 of those slaves who formed the bulk of the colonization effort in Africa. The leader of the expedition was Jehudi Ashmun, who avoided many debts by leaving the country, but whose devotion to the cause was beyond reproach. He also saw the opportunity to establish trade and perhaps find a way to pay his own financial commitments.

Throughout his life, Ashmun had been a deep thinker and an activist, but was frequently beset with periods of strong self-doubt. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine his thoughts when, arriving on Africa’s west coast on August 9, 1822, he found wretched living conditions and violent conflicts involving several regional tribes.

Adjacent to the British colony of Sierra Leone, he gained permission to land and establish a community. He managed interactions and informal agreements with several local tribes, but it soon became clear that they intended to set upon Ashmun’s group and destroy them.

Jehudi’s settlers were suffering badly from illness, and were certainly in no condition to defend themselves. Their position on the peninsula of Cape Montserado provided at least some natural protection, but their sickness was disabling, and the meager rations they shared were barely enough to sustain life. The future looked bleak for this fledgling enterprise.

Ashmun himself seemed near death at times, but feared more for his wife, who was dreadfully ill. She finally succumbed on September 15, barely a month after their arrival from America. Jehudi was devastated. There was great doubt that he could survive and carry on the mission.

Next week―the conclusion: A battle for the ages … twice! and one of the greatest all-time underdog stories.

Photos―Top: Jehudi Ashmun, native of Champlain, New York. Bottom: Ashmun’s Liberian settlement at Cape Montserado.

The Jehudi Ashmun story 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.

Plattsburgh’s Brush with the Titanic


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In the past 200 years, a few ships have borne the name Plattsburg. In the War of 1812, there was the unfinished vessel at Sackets Harbor, a project abandoned when the war ended. There was the rechristened troop transport that hauled thousands of troops home from the battlefields of World War I. There was the oil tanker that saw service in the Pacific theater during World War II. And there was the cruise boat that plied the waters of Lake Champlain in 2003–4. One of them played a role in the most famous maritime disaster of all time.

The unfinished ship at Sacket’s Harbor had been designated the USS Plattsburg. The oil tanker was the Plattsburg Socony, which survived a horrific fire in 1944. Thirty-three years later, after two more renamings, it split in two beneath 30-foot waves and sank off Gloucester. The cruise ship was the short-lived Spirit of Plattsburgh. But it is the USS Plattsburg from the First World War that holds a remarkable place among the best “what if” stories ever.

In early April 1917, just three days after the United States entered World War I, a merchant marine ship, the New York, struck a German mine near Liverpool, England. The damage required extensive repairs. A year later, the ship was chartered by the US Navy, converted into a troop transport, and newly christened the USS Plattsburg.

By the time the armistice was signed, ending the war in November 1918, the Plattsburg had made four trips to Europe within six months, carrying nearly 9,000 troops of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) to battle.

The transport assignment continued, and in the next nine months, the Plattsburg made seven additional trips, bringing more than 24,000 American troops home. A few months later, the ship was returned to her owners, reassuming the name SS New York. After performing commercial work for a few years, the ship was scrapped in 1923.

When the end came, the New York had been in service for 35 years. At its launch in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland, it was named S.S. City of New York. The SS indicated it was a “screw steamer,” a steamship propelled by rotating screw propellers (City of New York was one of the first to feature twin screws). After service under the British merchant flag, the ship was placed under the US registry as the New York, where it served in like manner for five more years.

In 1898, the US Navy chartered the New York, renaming it Harvard for service during the Spanish-American War. It served as a transport in the Caribbean, and once plucked more than 600 Spanish sailors from ships that were destroyed off Santiago, Cuba. When the war ended, the Harvard transported US troops back to the mainland, after which it was decommissioned and returned to her owners as the New York.

A few years later, the ship was rebuilt, and from 1903–1917, it was used for routine commercial activities around the world. In April 1912, the New York was at the crowded inland port of Southampton, England. It wasn’t the largest ship docked there, but at 585 feet long and 63 feet wide, it was substantial.

Towering above it at noon on the 10th of April was the Titanic. At 883 feet long, it was the largest man-made vessel ever built. This was launch day for the great ship, and thousands were on hand to observe history. The show nearly ended before it started.

No one could predict what would happen. After all, nobody on earth was familiar with operating a vessel of that size. Just ahead lay the Oceanic and the New York, and as the Titanic slowly passed them, an unexpected reaction occurred.

The Titanic’s more than 50,000-ton displacement of water caused a suction effect, and the New York, solidly moored, resisted. It rose on the Titanic’s wave, and as it dropped suddenly, the heavy mooring ropes began to snap, one by one, with a sound likened to gunshots. The New York was adrift, inexorably drawn towards the Titanic. A collision seemed inevitable.

Huge ships passing within 50 to 100 feet of each other might be considered a close call. In this case, desperate maneuvers by bridge personnel and tug operators saved the day (unfortunately). The gap between the two ships closed to only a few feet (some said it was two feet, and others said four). Had they collided, the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been postponed.

No one can say for sure what else might have happened, but a launch delay would have prevented the calamity that occurred a few days later, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within hours, claiming more than 1500 lives.

Photos: USS Plattsburg at Brest France 1918; L to R: The Oceanic, New York, and Titanic in Southampton harbor; the tug Vulcan struggles with the New York to avoid a collision; the New York (right) is drawn ever closer to the Titanic.

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 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Marjorie Harrison: North Country Golf Legend


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Seventy-five years ago, the Adirondacks were abuzz about a precocious athletic phenom, a plucky teenager who exhibited incredible abilities on the golf course. The best players across the region were impressed by this remarkable child who could compete with anyone on the toughest courses. In a man’s world, this youngster—a girl—could challenge the best of them.

Marjorie Harrison, daughter of Neil and Eva, was born in 1918 in the town of North Elba. Her dad earned a living as a golf-club maker, eventually moving to Ausable Forks to assume the position of club professional at the Indole Course.

Having first wielded a club at the age of three, young Marjorie began developing her golfing skills on the local links. In a shocking glimpse of future possibilities, she won the women’s cup at Indole in 1928 when she was just ten years old.

In 1932, the loss of her mom, Eva, to pneumonia, tested Margie’s inner strength, but that was something the young girl never lacked. With few team sporting possibilities available to girls, she excelled at horseback riding, skating, skiing, shooting, and, of course, golf, which are largely solo pursuits requiring heavy doses of self-reliance.

Neil soon began to eye the amateur golf tour as a challenge for his highly skilled daughter. In sports, the term amateur revealed nothing in regards to talent—it only meant that a competitor was unpaid, and thus pure (unsullied by the world of professional athletics).

At that time, there was no golf tour for women professionals. Nearly all the best players competed for cups, trophies, prestige, and for the sake of competition. Turning pro was rare. Only a few of the top women players were signed to represent major sporting goods companies. Once money was accepted, they forfeited all eligibility to compete in amateur events. Men lived in a different world, but for women, a professional golf tour was more than a decade away.

In August, 1933, Marjorie Harrison played in the state event at Bluff Point just south of Plattsburgh, where an international field offered stellar competition. She fairly burst onto the New York golfing scene, battling to the semifinal round, where a seasoned opponent awaited.

Incredibly, Margie went on to lead her semifinal match by one hole going to the 18th (nearly all tournaments featured head-to-head match play). There, she faltered, three-putting the final green to lose her advantage. But with steely resolve, Margie parred the single playoff hole for the win, sending her to the finals.

In the championship round she faced Mrs. Sylvia Voss, an outstanding golfer who promptly won the first three holes, putting Margie far behind. Bringing her power game to the fore, Harrison tied the match by the 14th and led by one at the 17th, but lost the last hole to finish in a tie. Just like in the semifinals, a playoff was necessary.

And, just like in the semifinals, Marjorie holed a par putt to win on the first playoff hole. She was barely 15 years old and had conquered some of the best golfers in an international tourney.

From Boston to Dallas to the West Coast, newspapers touted her great accomplishment. The New York Times wrote, “Swinging a wicked driver and with iron shots of unusual precision … Marjorie Harrison of Au Sable Forks won her first major golf tourney today.” She was also featured in The American Golfer magazine for the Bluff Point win.

In 1934, Marjorie, 16, made it once again to the finals at Bluff Point, where she was set to face Dorothy Campbell Hurd, a golfing legend. Hurd, 51, owned 749 victories, 11 national amateur titles, and once held the American, British, and Canadian titles at one time.

They played even through 16 holes, but Hurd pulled out the win on the final two greens. A gracious opponent and future member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Hurd was clearly impressed, saying, “With a little more experience, no woman golfer will be in the same class with Miss Harrison. She is a future champion that bears watching by the leading golfers.”

Hurd was right—there was much more to come, including several wins over the next few years. Margie finished near the top in virtually every tournament she entered. Some were very gutsy performances featuring remarkable comebacks, but most were head-to-head battles where mistakes seemed to have no effect on her. She was one tough competitor, always playing with grace, humility, and great determination.

In 1935, Marge finished second in the New York State Championships, and then reached the semifinals each of the next three years. Another major breakthrough came in July, 1937, when she shot a 37 on the final 18 holes at Rutland, Vermont (near her dad’s home area of Castleton) to win the Vermont state title. She was just a few months past her 19th birthday.

At Brattleboro in 1938, Marjorie successfully defended her Vermont title with a birdie on the 15th hole to clinch the win. Other highlights that year included shattering the course record at Bluff Point; winning at Lake Placid; and teaming up with the legendary Gene Sarazen in a remarkable comeback to win a benefit tourney.

For years, Marjorie was at the top of New York’s competitive golfing scene, which attracted some of the best players in the country. Despite the high level of play, it was considered an upset NOT to see her name in the semifinals of any tournament she entered. Whether in Quebec, Syracuse, the Berkshires, Briarcliff, or anywhere else she competed, the North Country’s ambassador of golf was respected and admired for her sportsmanship and fine play.

Many club titles were won and course records set by Marjorie, including at Bluff Point, Lake Placid, Albany, and Troy. She wowed the crowd at Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, battling fiercely to finish second in the Mason-Dixon tournament. Some golf writers pointed out that unlike athletes from warm-weather areas, Miss Harrison achieved great success despite playing only a few months of the year, and while attending high school and different colleges.

Though still a youngster, she returned to Ausable Forks in 1940 for a career review at a testimonial dinner—and for good reason. A few days earlier, at the age of 22, Marjorie had overwhelmed all comers and captured the New York State Women’s Golf Championship.

She maintained her winning ways, but during the World War II years, sports were sharply curtailed across the country to conserve fuel for the troops. Opportunities were meager, but Margie picked up two wins in 1944, followed by a stellar performance that led her once again to the finals of the New York State Championship Tournament.

Her talented opponent in the finals, Ruth Torgersen, was a very familiar combatant from many past matches. Torgersen, in fact, would go on to win a record seven NYS championships and be named New York’s Golfer of the Century.

On this day the two stars battled for 32 holes, at which point Marjorie held a three-hole lead. But on the 33rd, a stroke of bad luck left her ball balanced atop a bunker. Deemed an unplayable lie, it cost her the hole as Torgerson was quick to take advantage and cut the deficit to two.

Undaunted, Margie looked down the fairway of the 346-yard 16th hole and blasted a 200-yard drive. She nearly holed her second shot from 146 yards out, and then tapped in an easy putt for her second New York State title.

In that same year, the Women’s Professional Golf Association was formed, to be replaced six years later by the LPGA. Had she been born years later, there’s a good chance the girl from the Adirondacks would have won a good deal of prize money. For Marjorie Harrison, though, life took a different path.

After completing college, she had begun a career as a physical education teacher. In June, 1946, while still competing and winning, she married Bart O’Brien, himself a star golfer at Indole, the Ausable Forks course managed by her father, Neil.

For a while she competed as Marjorie Harrison O’Brien, but when Bart took a job teaching in the Oneida school system, they moved there and began raising a family. Semi-retired, Marge played occasionally in tournaments, but by 1954 she was busy raising three children, teaching, and becoming a very active participant in the community.

She began giving adult golf lessons, and children’s lessons soon followed. Bart became school principal, and together he and Marjorie maintained a high profile as community leaders. Honors were bestowed on both of them for their work in the school system, and in 1970 she was chosen as an honorary life member of the Oneida school district PTA.

In 1973, Marjorie was named Outstanding Citizen by the Oneida Rotary, and Bart was cited several times for his work on behalf of the organization. Through it all, they maintained close ties annually with family in the Ausable Forks area, where her dad, Neil, still held the position of golf pro at Indole through the mid-1960s.

Marjorie Harrison O’Brien passed away in 1999, and Bart died in 2004—two natives the North Country can truly be proud of.

Photo: Young Marjorie Harrison, golfer extraordinaire.

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 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

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.

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.

Canal Life: Near Tragedy on the George W. Lee


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In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River intersection: south led to Albany and New York City, and north was the path of the Champlain Canal, which ran from Waterford to Whitehall, at Lake Champlain’s southern tip. Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island.

At the mouth of the river was a dam, maintaining calm water so the boats could cross the river, and about 500 feet upstream from the dam was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank of the Mohawk to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, an angle much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge, over the dam, to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photos: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island; A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

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.

Lawrence Gooley: History and Rising Gas Prices


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On a gas pump near Plattsburgh a few days ago, the price for Regular Grade was just under $4.00 per gallon. As a follow-up, check this out: “The American Petroleum Institute’s weekly report says that despite a sharp increase in crude oil output … there have been extensive gasoline price advances.” And, regarding local prices, “… there has been a long agitation against what northern New York motorists have considered discrimination against the North Country.

“The committee appointed last Tuesday by the New York Development Association will investigate the reason for the difference in the price of gasoline in northern New York as compared with prices charged in Utica and Syracuse.” Here’s why you shouldn’t be encouraged by those quotes: though they sound current, they’re taken from the 1920s.

History can be fun, entertaining, and educational, but it can also provide guidelines to the future. And that’s where society tends to fail so often, a fault alluded to in the old proverb suggesting that those forgetting the past are doomed to repeat it. This price-of-gas situation has happened often in the past, and here we go again. Same problems, same rhetoric, same lack of results.

Average Americans have been sold the big lie over and over, and we keep coming back for more. If you recall: the fuel crises from now back through the 1980s; gas rationing in the 1970s (remember odd-and-even days, long lines at the pumps, and limited purchases?); and other similar periods, then tell me if this sounds familiar: “FTC hearings will be held on the unexplained rising price of gasoline, in compliance with a senate resolution.”

That quote is from 1916, and the price increase wasn’t “unexplained.” It was gouging by the oil companies during World War I. It was okay to screw the public, but not the feds. Within a year of when the US finally joined the war, Federal Fuel Administrator H. A. Garfield announced he was studying plans “to fix the price of gasoline for domestic customers, as well as for the government and Allies, at a lower figure than the present market price.”

In the years immediately following the war, gas prices doubled, and for good reason: the sales of cars skyrocket in the 1920s, and what better way for oil companies to take advantage than raise the price of fuel for those millions of new vehicles?

Of course, the same arguments you hear today were applied then: it’s not greed, it’s capitalism, and thus the market’s natural response to supply and demand forces. Greater demand supposedly drove prices higher, and the poor oil companies were “forced” to reap historic profits. Why, oh why, does that sound so familiar?

It continues nearly a century later … just look at Exxon and Chevron’s recent quarterly statements. Fighting back against these behemoths hasn’t been successful. The rising prices of the early 1920s prompted another federal investigation led by Senator LaFollette, who said, “Unless there is government intervention, the price of gasoline will be pushed beyond the reach of the ordinary automobile owner.” Again, of course, the findings were ignored.

There may be a good reason why nothing concrete resulted from all of the investigations. In 1919, Oregon became the first state to institute a gasoline tax intended to provide funding for the repair and maintenance of roadways. It looked like a great system, and the idea spread across the country. Governments soon corrupted the process, simply taxing gasoline as a revenue source.

It’s almost impossible to believe, but New York was one of the last two states to follow suit. (Here’s one thing to be proud of, though—New York has managed to regroup and pass every state in the tax category). In 1929, Governor Franklin Roosevelt signed a large farm-aid legislative package that included the Hewitt-Pratt bill, a clause that led him to threaten a veto.

Hewitt-Pratt contained this order: “Moneys paid into the state treasury pursuant to this subdivision [the gas tax] shall be appropriated and used for the maintenance and repair of the improved roads of the state, under the direction of the superintendent of public works.”

Well, sort of. The state imposed a two-cent gas tax, returning a percentage of the take to the individual counties based on road mileage, but depositing the remainder in the state treasury.

Raising the price of gas posed a concern in the 1930s, but not to worry. State Tax Commissioner Thomas Lynch said that there was “no assurance that the public would pay two cents more for gas.” Since it was taxed at the source (the distributors), Lynch said the oil companies would probably just absorb the cost. (A fine example of naiveté on its grandest scale.)

As for that new money in the treasury? In no time at all, politicians were appropriating gas-tax funds for a variety of non-road-related uses. Once the feeding frenzy began, it was all over. Requests to raise the gas tax soon became routine. After all, it was a state income bonanza.

Even a county as small as Clinton paid $293,000 in 1932, of which only $96,000 came back for highway use. By 1934, the gas tax itself amounted to 24 percent of the price. In 1934, the state took in $85 million from the gas tax, $50 million of which was diverted for non-highway use. (That very same issue arose recently with the loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge.)

It probably comes as no surprise that, in 1929, the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the states to treat gasoline as a public utility. Natural gas and electricity were somehow necessary, but gas was deemed a commodity that we could do with or without. And so Standard Oil (the father of virtually every major oil company) won the right to regulate itself.

Today’s ExxonMobil was formerly known as Standard Oil, and for them, it was business as usual—move into an area, depress prices by lowering its own price, put the competition out of business, and then raise prices at their whim. Walmart has been accused of employing the same tactics.

What were the results of the gas-price problems in the 1990s? The 1970s? The 1920s? All the same. Oil companies flourished, while consumers, victimized by high prices, explored electric cars, ethanol fuel, and sometimes just did without. The huge ethanol movement of a few years ago was hardly different from 1997 and 1927, mostly serving as a boon for farmers.

So, as prices rise and you begin to see articles and editorials complaining about the oil companies, and about the inexplicably higher cost of gas in the North Country, it may be a story, but it’s not news. There’s nothing new about it at all.

Photos: Future gas prices; 1929 advertisement for ethanol.

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.

Governor George Clinton and Pok-O-Rushmore?


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Untouched scenic vistas and natural landscapes are treasured in the Adirondacks. Seventy years ago, Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain, a popular landmark since admired by millions, was nearly transformed into something far different from its present appearance.

It all began in 1937 with the editor of the Essex County Republican -News, C. F. Peterson. Formerly a Port Henry newspaperman, active in multiple civic organizations, and clearly pro-development and pro-North Country, Peterson was a force to be reckoned with.

Just how influential was he? The Champlain Bridge that was recently blasted into oblivion probably should have been named the Carl F. Peterson Bridge. In fact, efforts were made to do exactly that. Peterson originated the bridge idea, and as Vermont and New York debated whether to locate it at Ticonderoga, Crown Point, or Rouses Point, it was Carl who put his all into promoting the Crown Point site.

When Peterson talked, people listened, and eight years later, when he urged the Essex County Board of Supervisors to action, they took him at his word. The 200th anniversary of the birth of New York State’s first governor, George Clinton, was approaching. To honor the occasion, Peterson pushed for an appropriately lasting memorial to an undeniably great American.

The board responded with a succinct message to state leaders: “The resolution requests the legislative body at Albany to name a commission for the observance next year, asking that the group should consider the feasibility of perpetuating the memory of Governor Clinton by the carving of his likeness on the side of Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain.”

Seeking support for his proposal, Peterson framed the idea in patriotic terms, and it worked like a charm. Among the first to jump on the bandwagon was Senator Benjamin Feinberg of Clinton County. (The library at Plattsburgh State—Feinberg Library—was named in his honor).

A man of great power and influence, Feinberg wrote this in a letter to Peterson: “Your suggestion … is a good one. Undoubtedly, some action will be taken by the legislature to fittingly observe this anniversary, and I shall be glad to aid in carrying out such a plan. The carving of the likeness of Governor Clinton on the side of Pok-O-Moonshine would not only be a great attraction to visitors, but would commemorate the birth of the first Governor of the state in a magnificent manner.”

With Feinberg on board, the idea gained momentum. The Essex County branch of the American Legion adopted a resolution in support of the memorial. The idea also received the unanimous backing of the Adirondack Resorts Association.

After all, it sounded like a great cause and a fine way to express patriotism. Widespread approval was expected, and it didn’t hurt that the idea coincided with the pending completion of a national monument—Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

An editorial by the Plattsburgh Daily Press added this supportive comment: “We can think of no son of the State who has deserved better from the hands of the people, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the legislature will show its recognition of this by providing for this statue on rugged old Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain.”

The gung-ho beginning preceded a period of thoughtful consideration. Then, dissent began to surface. In January 1938, a Ticonderoga organization passed their own resolution, stating in part: “… it is the considered opinion of the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club that the forests, streams, lakes, and mountains of Essex County constitute the county’s greatest asset … and that unnecessary artificial alteration of the natural state of these resources irreparably diminishes their value to our citizens. … Be it hereby resolved that the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club is unalterably opposed to the said requested legislation and to any attempt to alter or deface the natural beauty of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain …”

The letter was sent to several officials, including Governor Lehman and Senator Feinberg. The Kiwanis were soon joined by Ti’s Chamber of Commerce, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Keene Valley Garden Club. All supported the observance of Clinton’s birthday, but opposed the altering of Poko’s steep cliffs. One alternative proposal was a “super-improved highway through this region, to be known as the Governor Clinton Memorial Highway.”

Though many protests against the plan had surfaced, the danger to Pok-O-Moonshine was real. In March, among the final rush of bills passed by the legislature was the Feinberg-Leahy bill (by Feinberg and Assemblyman Thomas Leahy of Lake Placid). It called for a $5,000 funding package to prepare a celebration in Clinton’s memory.

With the state and the nation still struggling to recover from the Depression, many bills were vetoed, and that same fate befell Feinberg-Leahy. In April, Governor Lehman vetoed a second bill, “… designed to bring about the carving of a memorial to Governor George Clinton, the state’s first chief executive, on the face of Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain in Essex County.”
Supporters were disappointed, certain the carving would have been a great tourist attraction.

No one in opposition was suggesting Governor Clinton wasn’t worthy of such honor. He was widely revered as one of the state’s greatest citizens. After serving under his father in the French and Indian War, George Clinton practiced law and held various public offices. A staunch defender of the colonial cause for independence, he was selected as a member of the Second Continental Congress.

Clinton voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, but missed the signing, and for good reason, having been urgently dispatched to serve as brigadier-general of the militia by his good friend, George Washington (so good, Clinton named his children George and Martha).

Clinton saw action at White Plains and other locations. He eventually served as governor of New York for 18 consecutive years, and 22 years in all, the longest of any New York governors. He was vice-president under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, one of only two vice-presidents to serve under two different presidents. He also became the first vice-president to die in office, succumbing to a heart attack in 1812.

Perhaps the governor’s carved likeness would have been a great tourist attraction, but Poko today gets plenty of attention for other reasons: spectacular cliffs clearly visible from Interstate 87; peregrine falcon nests; the climbing trail leading to magnificent views; the preserved fire tower; and a reputation as one of the most popular rock-climbing sites in the Adirondacks.

Photos: The cliffs of Pok-O-Moonshine; NYS Governor George Clinton.

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.

Wind Power Has A Long History in America


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Scores of gigantic wind turbines in the Adirondacks’ northeastern and southwestern foothills are a startling site amidst historically bucolic scenery. The landscape appears “citified,” with structures nearly 40 stories high where the largest buildings rarely top 3 stories. It is a dramatic change, and a far cry from simpler days when family farms were prevalent. Few realize that in those “simpler days” of dairy farms, windmills were actually quite common across the region.

Of course, the windmills once dotting the North Country’s landscape were nothing like today’s behemoths, which stand nearly 400 feet high from the ground to the tip of a skyward-pointing blade. And, the windmills of old weren’t always efficient machines.

Wind technology took a tremendous leap forward in the 1850s thanks to Daniel Halladay, a Connecticut machinist. Halladay’s windmill not only pumped water, but automatically turned to face into the wind as it changed directions. Almost as important, he devised a way to control the speed of the blades (windmills are prone to destruction from within when operating at high rpm levels). Halladay established the US Wind Engine & Pump Company, setting up shop in Illinois. From the start, the business flourished.

Though his sales were focused on the country’s expansion westward, New York State was also experiencing dramatic growth, particularly in the remote northern Adirondack foothills, where pioneers faced a harsh climate and difficult living conditions. Halladay’s invention eventually helped turn some of those weather negatives into positives by taking advantage of wind patterns across upper New York State.

In 1874, the railroad was expanding north from Whitehall towards Plattsburgh. Since steam engines require water, the line generally followed the shore of Lake Champlain. Tanks were constructed along the route where the rails approached the lakeshore. Steam pumps or windmills were used to fill the feeder tanks, which had a capacity of 33,000 gallons each.

As settlers moved north on both sides of the Adirondacks, windmill technology crept northward with them. Farming was necessary for survival, and the enormous workload was eased by mechanical devices like windmills. The description of one man’s operation about 18 miles south of Lowville was typical of the times: “… a beautiful farm of 280 acres, milks 35 cows, and is a model farm. House, barns, windmill pump, all systematically arranged.”

In situations like that, windmills often filled tanks placed on the upper floor of a barn. The water was then gravity-fed to the livestock below and piped to other locations as needed. The machine was also used to grind various grains. Early models were mounted on wooden frames, but many fell victim to the very power they were trying to harness, toppling before raging windstorms. Eventually, steel frames supported most windmills.

Wind power wasn’t just for individual homes and farms. In July 1879, H. H. Babcock & Sons of Watertown was hired to install a windmill at 1000 Islands State Park. Water was drawn from the St. Lawrence River to large tanks near the dining hall, and from there was conducted to the various cottages by galvanized iron pipe.

And at Hermon, a contract for $6,595 was signed with Daniel Halladay’s company to install a new waterworks system. Included were a wooden tank of 50,000-gallon capacity, a windmill with a wheel diameter of 20 feet, and more than a mile of piping. The frost-proof tank was 24 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 3 inches thick. It sat on a trestle 20 feet high, while the windmill stood on a trestle 80 feet high.

Many hotels, including the Whitney House in Norwood and the Turin House in Turin, used windmills to power their water systems. At Chazy, windmills pumped water from the quarries; at Port Henry, they filled water tanks for the trains; and at Saranac Lake, they fed the water supply of the Adirondack Sanitarium.

In 1889, George Baltz of Watertown handled the Halladay display at the Jefferson County Fair, demonstrating that windmills furnished cheaper power than steam engines and could run a feed mill, a circular saw for cutting wood, or pump water.

Though Halladay’s products were widely known, he did have competitors. Some added their own modifications, and some were “copycats.” And they weren’t all products from afar. In 1882, an advertisement touted a windmill “warranted to take care of itself in high winds, equal to the best western mills, and is sold for half the money. It is manufactured at Potsdam.” It featured a self-regulator, and appeared to be based on Halladay’s own successful model.

In the late 1890s, most of the windmills in the Ticonderoga and Lake George area were products of the Perkins Windmill Company, which had already installed more than 50 units across the lake in Vermont. Though windmills in the Midwest were primarily for irrigation, most of those in the North Country supplied water to homes, businesses, and farm animals.

Wind power did face competition from other sources. Gasoline engines became more and more common, offering a reliable alternative. However, they were expensive, noisy, and costly to run. An operator had to be present to start and stop a gas engine, while windmills employed a system of floats to start and stop filling the tanks automatically. A once-a-week oiling was the only required maintenance. The biggest problem at the time was that gas engines ran when you wanted them to, but windmills depended on the weather.

The giant turbines we see in northern New York today are not a new idea. In a peek at the future, Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio demonstrated in 1888 the first use of a large windmill to generate electricity. As early as 1895, observers noted that windmills were “destined to be much used for storing electricity. We predict an immense future for the windmill industry.”

In 1910, a farm in America’s Midwest employed windmills to charge a bank of batteries. Wind power provided electricity to light the farm and operate the equipment. When the wind didn’t blow, the farm ran on battery power for a few days.

By 1925, wind turbines had been used to run refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and power tools. And in 1926, the NYS Fair urged farmers to purchase windmills, using a 12-foot-high model to show the benefits they might enjoy. It was an enticing glimpse at the potential of electricity. Ironically, the popularity of windmills soon became their undoing.

Though they were a wonderful source of cheap power, the main problem was intermittent operation. When the wind didn’t blow, the tools didn’t go. Battery storage systems were only good for brief periods, and people wanted power WHEN they wanted it. Soon, another overriding factor arose—the growing need for huge amounts of electricity.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, constantly flowing electricity was the goal, relegating wind power to the background of the energy battle. It was still used, and advancements were pursued, but success was limited. One notable effort was the huge Smith-Putnam windmill installed atop Grandpa’s Knob near Castleton and Rutland, Vermont, in 1941.

Though less than half the size of today’s models, it was still large, featuring a 16-ton, 175-foot steel rotor that turned at 28 RPM. Occasional use ended abruptly in 1945 when metal fatigue caused the blade to snap, hurling a huge section 1000 feet down the mountain.

In the North Country, windmills have returned after a long hiatus. They stand ten times taller than their predecessors (in 2012, the new ones will be 492 feet high), and now pump electricity instead of water. Where potato, hop, and dairy farms once dominated, the wind farms of today stand above all others.

Photos: Above, windmills 400 feet tall at Churubusco (and another under construction in the foreground). Middle Right: Typical use of windmill to fill railroad water tanks. Middle Left: Halladay windmills were offered by George Baltz of Watertown. Below, advertisement for Halladay’s company.

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.

Lawrence Gooley: Occupy Movement History Lessons


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Despite the wisdom of elders and some noted quotations (“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”), we are often caught up in another axiom that defines insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” It struck me recently that followers of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement should read pertinent history to avoid the results of the past when issues of the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent have surfaced.

As for the two opposing arguments, that the extreme wealth of the 1 percent should have limits, and that the 99ers are waging class warfare against our wealthiest citizens … timely, new, and forward-thinking, right? Think again.

If you enjoy history, you’ll probably enjoy this headline from 105 years ago, appearing in The New York Times of January 6, 1907: “The Country’s Wealth: Is 99 percent of it in the Hands of 1 percent of the People.” Similar stories appeared in many other publications.

What happened then is happening again today: supporters of the 99ers are speaking out on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, the underpaid, and the poor. The other position is defended by those who feed off the 1 percent (the “trickle-down theory”) and so must serve as their bullhorn.

And as usual, the 1 percent itself remains largely silent, content to have others speak for them. Depending on how it all plays out, they’ll be either less rich or more rich … but still rich.

Those siding with the 1 percent have declared the Occupy Wall Street movement as “class warfare against the wealthy.” Were they using a new catchphrase to encapsulate such a huge issue? Hardly. A catchphrase, yes, but new? Check out these three quotations.

Pro 99: “The cry of class warfare was raised against us by the government and wealthy classes as pure propaganda in the hope of enlisting sympathy of the public against labor.”

Pro the 1 percent (regarding tax loopholes for the wealthy): “… to collect the taxes, the administration now seeks to attack the rich and the thrifty. This becomes part and parcel of the class warfare which has been waged … to gain popular favor with the masses.”

And finally, pro 99, who are characterized by some media as lazy, shifty, and troublemakers: “A peculiarity of all professional agitators of class warfare in the United States is their personal aversion to toil. Many of them never did a day’s work at manual labor. They know no more about the working people of America than a pig knows about Christmas, yet profess to be the tireless champions of the working class … and have hit upon a plan for feathering their nests without ever laying an egg. They just cackle and collect.”

Those quotations are from 1920, 1937, and 1949, respectively, but they sound like excerpts from today’s 24/7 “news” broadcasts. The OWS folks might be well served by researching protests of years past to prepare for arguments made against the movement. We’ve been here before.

Perhaps by knowing the questions that have been asked so many times in the past, along with the answers that were given, there might be hope for a different outcome.

But for observers who look at history to see what has gone before us, it’s hard not to subscribe to another famous axiom: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” General translation: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Photo: NY Times headline, January 6, 1907.

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.

Barrage Balloons in the Adirondacks


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It’s the 1940s, and a world war is raging overseas. The fear of a homeland invasion is constant, and in communities across the nation, air wardens monitor the sky daily for enemy planes. The Adirondack Park seems like a safe haven, but just a few miles from its northwest corner, a military installation is suddenly called to action. A large aircraft has penetrated US air space, and ground damage is reported. Sheriff’s deputies, New York State police, military MPs, and foot troops spring into action.

It’s a great show of force, but it’s not enough. After several unsuccessful encounters with the vessel, reinforcements are needed. Corporal Boyd Montgomery of the 34th Armored Regiment is dispatched, speeding across the countryside in an army tank.

Power lines are downed by the aircraft, but Montgomery continues his pursuit. Two miles into the chase, he employs a bit of ingenuity to bring the craft down. It is soon nothing more than a flattened heap.

That’s how it happened in July 1943. It’s all true, but with a few details omitted. The craft that was spotted actually was huge (75 feet long) and it did come from a foreign land (Kingston, Ontario, Canada). The damage was no less real―a dangling cable tore down power lines between Evans Mills and Philadelphia in Jefferson County. Lawmen from several agencies did pursue the craft, but three times it slipped from their grasp.

The military installation was Pine Camp, later expanded and renamed Fort Drum. And it was an Army tank that provided the solution, driving atop the 1800-foot-long cable after a two-mile chase, forcing the vessel to the ground until nothing was left but a flattened balloon.

That’s right … a balloon. But this wasn’t just any balloon. A staple of defense systems around the world, this was a Barrage Balloon. If you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably seen them in photographs but didn’t realize what you were seeing at the time. Though they weren’t ever deployed in the Adirondacks, they did pay the area a few surprise visits during the war.

The primary use of Barrage Balloons was to prevent attacks by low-flying aircraft, and it was in WW II that they became ubiquitous. A heavy cable was used to tether the gas-filled balloons, and when hovering from a few hundred to 4,000 feet high, the effect was often deadly. Any dive-bombing aircraft had to avoid the cable tether, which could easily tear a wing off and cause the plane to crash. Besides negating low-level attacks, the balloons forced other planes to fly higher than intended on bombing runs, thus affecting their accuracy.

Many tethered balloons were flown simultaneously, and the result was multiplied when several additional cables were suspended from each balloon, providing a veritable curtain of protection from strafing aircraft. The Germans countered by equipping their planes with wing-mounted cable-cutting devices, and the British responded with explosive charges attached to many of the tethers, set to detonate on contact.

The balloons caught on in a big way in England and were often used effectively. During one of the two major German onslaughts on London during the war, 278 Flying Bombs were intercepted by the balloons, surely saving many lives.

In summer 1941, British officers warned America that Nazi planes could fly at 20,000 feet and reach the US mainland within 12 hours, with no defense system to greet them. Months before the United States entered WW II, the Navy established two Barrage Balloon squadrons with more than 150 balloons.

Intended to protect American fleet bases from air attacks, the balloon strategy was very popular for another reason: cost. Building a large coastal hangar for planes involved an expenditure of $600,000; a more secure underground facility carried a price tag of $3 million; but each barrage balloon cost only $9,500.

After the assault on Pearl Harbor, America employed an extensive balloon defense capability. Attacks were feared by the Germans on the East Coast and by the Japanese on the West Coast. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle were among the cities protected in part by Barrage Balloons, along with Norfolk, Pensacola, and New York City in the east. Vital facilities in the Great Lakes were also shielded.

Many North Country men were assigned to Barrage Balloon outfits, and it was anything but a cushy job. Since troops as well as installations needed protection, balloon men were often among the first ashore, as was the case in several beach landings in Italy and North Africa. And on D-Day, Barrage Balloons dotted the sky above the invasion fleet.

Back home in America, balloons occasionally broke free and floated towards the North Country, causing a bit of excitement. Sometimes rogue balloons escaped capture for extended periods (the Fort Drum balloon was loose for more than a week).

In March 1943, a hulking Barrage Balloon 65 feet long and 30 feet in diameter toured the Central Adirondacks, damaging power lines before snagging in a balsam tree a few miles south of Indian Lake, where a crew of men managed to deflate it.

To raise public awareness of the war effort and relieve anxiety about the occasional balloon escapee, the military dispatched a road crew in an army jeep with a smaller, 35-foot balloon strapped to the roof. In summer 1944, they visited Troy, New York. The craft was inflated and floated at 300 feet for an entire day while the men fielded questions. It was the same model as those used to defend the city of London and the beaches of Normandy.

Towards the end of the war, German capabilities of long-range attacks drastically reduced the effectiveness of the balloons, and in 1945, Britain ended their Barrage Balloon program, which at one time had upwards of 3,000 in use. The same was done with the US system, which once featured more than 400 balloons at home besides those deployed overseas.

Photos―Top: Barrage Balloon on the cover of LIFE magazine. Middle Right: The training facility on Parris Island, South Carolina (1943). Middle Left: Barrage Balloons above the Normandy shore (1944). Bottom: German plane equipped with a cable-cutting device.

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.

Franklin County’s Studley Hill: Waterloo of All Cars


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There are many well known automobile testing sites—Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and Colorado’s Pikes Peak come to mind—and some lesser knowns, like Michigan’s Packard Proving Grounds, built in the 1920s. Dozens of official and unofficial testing grounds have been used, and by now, you’ve probably guessed it. Yes … the Adirondacks once had their very own.

While it didn’t have a national profile, Franklin County’s Studley Hill was widely reputed as the most difficult road in the north—unevenly surfaced, extremely steep, and with several sharp curves. Because hill-climbing ability was primary in determining a car’s quality, events and competitions became important to manufacturers and very popular with the public.

Studley Hill is historically significant for many reasons, but the most unusual is the irresistible challenge it presented to some of the top car manufacturers of the early 20th century.

Well, the lure actually was resistible for a while, and for one good reason: fear of failure. Salesmen wished to brag that their product could achieve wonderful things that other cars couldn’t, but it was best to first try Studley on the sly. If you didn’t conquer the hill, you didn’t talk much about it. That made for a lot of quiet car salesmen in the North Country.

The automobile was still a new-fangled contraption that few people could afford, and folks traveling south from Malone on the Duane Road occasionally provided great amusement to those living on or near the hill. Some motored there for the challenge, and others came on joy rides, but from 1910 to around 1920, no one made it up Studley Hill’s steep northern slope. Only horse- or oxen-drawn vehicles could pull it off.

Tradition so often gives way to technology, and that’s what finally happened. Improvements in performance led to the inevitable, and in July, 1920, Studebaker dealer J. Franklin Sharp of Ogdensburg officially became the first to make the climb in an automobile. The real trick was to do it while keeping the car in high gear for the entire run.

It was said that Packards had climbed Studley in the past, and that may have been true. Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a year, and the Packard was a favorite of bootleggers. The Duane Road was a route they commonly used.

Sharp’s feat was easily achieved, but was not without drama. As one reporter put it, “The eyes of the motor world between Utica and the St. Lawrence River were turned this afternoon toward Studley Hill, the steepest grade in the northern country.” This was considered the first official test drive at Studley Hill, and looking at a map of the wilds south of Malone, one might argue that getting 159 people to such a remote location was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

The wagering (men will make a game out of anything and then bet on it) was described as heavy. On the very first attempt, Sharp’s Studebaker Big Six (named for its six cylinders) sped across the flat road to a running start of 55 mph. As quickly as it began the steep ascent, the speedometer plunged. All the while, spectators cheered wildly. Difficult curves slowed the car, but after about a mile, it crested the hill. The car’s lowest speed was said to have been 15 mph.

With Melville Corbett (Sharp’s garage foreman) behind the wheel, the trip was made in high gear four more times, carrying passengers that included Syracuse Post-Standard writers based in Malone and Saranac Lake.

Meanwhile, Frank Sharp wasn’t finished for the day, deciding to attempt the hill in a lighter model, the Studebaker Special Six. Much to the surprise of himself and everyone else, the car climbed ably to the top. It was a great endorsement of the Studebaker brand for dealers across the North Country when headline stories later told the tale.

Just as hiking down a mountain can sometimes be as difficult as climbing up, descending Studley Hill offered its own unique challenges. Many accidents there involving cars or horse-drawn vehicles prompted some unusual signage. Drivers approaching the steep descent to the north were cautioned by roadside warnings, the first of which offered the standard Drive Slow. A second suggested the harrowing drop that awaited: Keep Your Head.

A third and very large sign was unofficially posted by someone with a wonderful sense of humor. And who would dare question its effectiveness? In large, hand-written, red lettering, it said simply, Prepare to Meet Thy God.

In 1921 there were two successful assaults on the hill. A huge touring car, the Paige Lakewood 6-66 (11feet distance between the centers of the front and rear tires) accomplished the feat to great fanfare. (A Paige had won at Pikes Peak the previous year.)

Paige representatives from Malone and Rochester were on hand, proud to point out that, unlike the climb by Studebaker in 1920, their car did it without aerodynamics—the top and the windshield were up, and two passengers occupied the back seat. The wind drag and extra weight (the car alone weighed 3,500 lbs.) were handled on several successful attempts.

Six months later, an Olds Four climbed the grade in high gear. Successful tries were often touted by the manufacturer as some type of “first.” The Olds people said theirs was the first “closed car carrying three passengers” to climb the hill in high gear.

In 1922, a Durant Touring Car climbed Studley, “… the steepest and worst hill in the Adirondacks, and considerably harder to climb than the famous Spruce Hill at Elizabethtown on account of the abrupt incline and many turns.” Four men made the trip in what was claimed as the first ascent in high gear at all times under certain conditions (four passengers and much wind).

The driver claimed he was going so fast at the third curve, he was forced to brake hard. The car lost most of its momentum but still completed the run. Again, the story was used in newspapers to advertise the wonders of the Durant.

Technological changes led to even more impressive feats. In April, 1924, a Flint Six (made in Flint, Michigan by a Durant subsidiary) tackled what one writer called “the Waterloo of all cars.” This time there would be no running start. With the car parked at the base of the hill, high gear was engaged, and remained so throughout the climb. Despite sections of tire-sucking mud and slippery snow, the Flint crested Studley Hill without dropping below 15 mph.

Besides the sense of achievement, one other award awaited at the top—a view of the flats to the east, ringed by mountains and featuring several streams leading into the Salmon River. Among those waterways near the base of Studley Hill is Hatch Brook, one of my all-time favorite canoe trips. It twists and winds through the valley for miles, and I paddle until the shores actually brush against both sides of the canoe. The next time I go, I’ll be thinking back to those days of the automobile hill climbs, but content with plenty of peace and quiet.

Photos: Above, a Studebaker Big Six; Middle: The Packard Proving Ground, 1925, which did have a hill climb, but nothing the likes of which Studley Hill provided; Below, advertisement for Frank Sharp’s Studebaker dealership.

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.

Lawrence Gooley: Missing Aunt Mary


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It has been a year now since the death of a friend and her burial on the last day of 2010. The friend, Mary (Pippo) Barber of Whitehall, was nearly four decades my senior, but acted so young that she made me feel old. I first met her around ten years ago when she came 100+ miles north to Plattsburgh with a friend and stood with us in line for three hours at a job fair. She was there as moral support, talking and joking all day long. I had no idea she was 84 at the time. As I would learn, she never looked anywhere near her age.

My partner, Jill, is from Whitehall (at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, where the barge canal begins). It is through her that I met “Aunt Mary,” a very important person in Jill’s life. On every visit to Whitehall during the past decade, Aunt Mary was on our schedule of stops. She was always nice, friendly, inquisitive, and fun to chat with … just a classy lady.

Her memory was as sharp as anyone’s, and our interest in history often prompted us to steer the conversation in that direction. As many of you know (but many of us neglect), elderly citizens provide an invaluable connection to the past. When we republished Whitehall’s pictorial history book several years ago, it was Aunt Mary who readily answered dozens of questions, helping us correctly label many buildings when we prepared the captions.

At one point in our conversations over the years, she mentioned that a movie had once been filmed in Whitehall. That was news to me and Jill, and we had to wonder if maybe she had made a mistake. It would have been easy to believe that she was a little mixed up—after all, she was about 90 then, and nobody else had ever mentioned a movie. Still, we just couldn’t believe she was wrong.

Jill’s faith in Aunt Mary drove her to keep digging, and much to her surprise, delight, and amazement, it was true! After much time and considerable research, she was able to uncover the entire story, a tale that may have been lost except for the teamwork of Jill and Aunt Mary.

It strengthened the already solid bond between them, and it didn’t stop there. A poster re-creation of the original movie advertisement is now an exhibit in the Whitehall museum, donated by Jill in Aunt Mary’s name.

Aunt Mary’s passing was certainly a sad loss, but it offered a reminder of the wonderful people and great historical resources that are often neglected—our elderly, whether they are relatives, friends, or nursing home residents. If you have considered talking to any of them and asking all kinds of questions, do it. They’ll enjoy it, and so will you. Don’t put it off and eventually live with painful regret.

We still miss her, and I’m certainly glad we asked Aunt Mary all those questions over the years, learning about her life and Whitehall’s history. It was not only a smart thing to do. It was respectful, educational, and just plain fun.

Photo: Above, Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 1943; Below, Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 2005.

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.

Florence Bullard: Local Nurse, World War One Hero


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In one evacuated village, Florence Bullard’s (see Part 1 of the story) crew was forced to work from a hospital cellar, which she described as a cave. Under very harsh conditions, they treated the severely wounded soldiers who couldn’t be moved elsewhere. In a letter home, she noted, “I have not seen daylight for eight days now and the stench in this cave is pretty bad; no air, artificial light, and the cots so close together you can just get between them.

“The noise of the bursting shells is terrific at times. Side by side I have Americans, English, Scotch, Irish, and French, and apart in the corners are ‘Boche’ [a disparaging term applied to German soldiers]. They all have to watch each other die, side by side. I have had to write many sad letters to American mothers.”

A bit later she wrote, “I have been three weeks now in this cave. It’s a dark, damp, foul-smelling place, but there is help to give and one must not complain. But it is terribly depressing and, for the first time, I find myself in a bit of a nervous state. The roaring of the cannon and the constant whizzing through the air of these terrible ‘obus’ [shells launched by a howitzer-type cannon], with never a thing to change the tension, is wearing.”

Florence went on to describe a sad evening where a man had to have both legs and an arm amputated, and a woman suffered severe burns from a bombing attack. “… every inch of her body was like an apple that had been baked too hard, and the skin all separated from the apple. That was all I could compare it to. You can imagine that she suffered until midnight, and then she died. I do not know what is to become of everyone if this war does not end pretty soon.”

Three times Florence’s group was evacuated just ahead of approaching German troops. When a friend came to check on her just as they were fleeing 13 straight hours of bombardment, a shell landed nearby at the moment they were shaking hands. The windows were shattered by the explosion, throwing shards of glass at their feet. It was that close.

In her own words, she described the ferocity of the attack: “The first shell broke on us at one a.m. on Monday, the twenty-seventh. It was a veritable hell broken loose! I know of no language of mine that could describe it.

“All that day and the following, it never let up a minute. Our hospital was struck nine times, corridors caving in and pillars falling. We were told at noon to make all the preparations to leave at any minute, taking as little baggage as possible.”

Such was the Bullard family’s concern that her brother sent Florence the money for passage home. When it arrived, she reminded him of her duty, and that she could not abandon the men in need. Her superiors told her the same—Florence’s training, skill, and experience were critical to their success, and she was needed to remain at the front.

Bullard’s commanding officer stated it succinctly: “… the next four months will be very tragic ones for us all. We cannot spare you, for we cannot refill your place, and when you explain just that to your family, they will be the first to see it as we see it.”

In another letter, Florence described the eerie, moonlit march of American troops: “It seemed as if miles of them went by. The grim, silent soldiers, the poor hard-worked horses, all going steadily toward that terrible noise of the cannon.”

The next day, a great number of those very same men were treated by her medical unit. It began with nearly a thousand in the morning, and as the battle raged, Florence noted, “That went on all day and night, new ones arriving as fast as others were out. It was a busy place, our ambulance drivers driving up one right after the other, and all the time the steady stream of artillery going past, and more troops.”

When the surgeries finally abated, Bullard quickly assumed other duties: “… I simply ran from one patient to the other. My chief gave me permission to give hypodermics at my discretion, and oh, how we all did work to make them live! …It was gruesome—the dying, the moans, the constant “J’ai soif” [I’m thirsty]. I cannot talk much about it now—too fresh in my memory.”

The next day was more of the same, and with the German’s looming, evacuation was called for. Given the option, Florence and several doctors opted to stay behind despite warnings they might be captured. A tearful good-bye ensued, with their pending death a stark reality.

The soldiers’ desperate escape was described by Bullard in moving prose: “It was the saddest sight I have ever seen. The stretcher bearers carrying all that were unable to walk … and the new arrivals who had come in, getting to the train the best way they could. For instance, a man with his head or face wounded would carry on his back a man whose feet were wounded, and one whose arm was wounded might be leading one whose eyes were bandaged.”

As the last men boarded, a new order for mandatory evacuation was issued. Enemy troops were preparing to overrun the area. But for that circumstance, it may have been Florence Bullard’s last day on earth.

The details of such harrowing events were unknown to all except her war companions and those back home who received letters from Florence. But the French government had long been aware of her great contributions, which they acknowledged in September 1918 by conferring upon Florence the Croix de Guerre medal (the Cross of War).

The official citation read: “She has shown imperturbable sangfroid [composure] under the most violent bombardments during March and May. Despite her danger, she searched for and comforted and assisted the wounded. Her attitude was especially brilliant on July 31, when bombs burst near.”

Just two months later, the war ended, and Florence returned home. In February 1919, she was treated to a grand reception at Glens Falls, where she received a donation of $600. A good long rest was in her plans, but by May she was on the battlefront again, this time in the United States. The Red Cross of America sent Florence on tour to Redpath Chautauqua facilities and other venues to promote good health and sanitation practices.

The mission was to improve community health across the country, incorporating much that had been newly learned during the war. Besides treating so many wounded soldiers, the medical corps had tended to refugees suffering from malnutrition, starvation, and a host of diseases, many of them communicable.

Among the issues addressed by Florence were home cooking, household hygiene, caring for the sick at home, and the work of the public health nurse. She was widely lauded for her speaking appearances as well as for the wonderful services she had provided during the war.

By 1920, Florence was again working as a private nurse. She later turned to hospital work, eventually becoming assistant superintendent at Poughkeepsie’s Bowne Memorial Hospital in Dutchess County, New York.

Florence Bullard—North Country native, nurse extraordinaire, dedicated humanitarian, and a true American hero—died in 1967 at the age of 87.

Photos: Above, WW I improvised field hospital in France; Middle, WW I Howitzer; Below, WWI French Red Cross ambulance.

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.

World War One Nurse Florence Bullard


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In Adirondack history, like in most other parts of America, war heroes abound. Traditionally, they are men who have lost limbs, men who risked their lives to save others, and men who fought valiantly against incredible odds. Some died, while others survived, but for the most part, they shared one common thread: they were all men. But in my own humble estimation, one of the North Country’s greatest of all war heroes was a woman.

Florence Church Bullard, the female in question, was “from” two places. Known for most of her life as a Glens Falls girl, she was born in January 1880 in New Sweden, a small settlement in the town of Ausable.

By the time she was 20, Florence had become a schoolteacher in Glens Falls, where she boarded with several other teachers. Seeking something more from life, she enrolled in St. Mary’s Hospital, a training facility of the Mayo Brothers in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating, she worked as a private nurse for several years.

In December 1916, four months before the United States entered World War I, Florence left for the battlefields of Europe. As a Red Cross nurse, she served with the American Ambulance Corps at the hospital in Neuilly, France, caring for injured French soldiers. They often numbered in the thousands after major battles.

On April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered the war, but the first American troops didn’t arrive in Europe until the end of June. Florence had considered the possibility of returning home by fall of that year because of potential attacks on the home front by Germany or Mexico (yes, the threat was real).

But with the US joining the fray in Europe, Florence decided she could best serve the cause by tending to American foot soldiers, just as she had cared for French troops since her arrival.

Until the Americans landed, she continued serving in the French hospital and began writing a series of letters to family and friends in Glens Falls and Ausable. Those missives provide a first-hand look at the war that took place a century ago.

The US had strongly resisted involvement in the conflict, but when Congress voted to declare war, Florence described the immediate reaction in Europe. Her comments offer insight on America’s role as an emerging world power and how we were viewed by others back then.

“I have never known anything so inspiring as Paris has been since the news came that America had joined the Allies. Almost every building in Paris is flying the American flag. Never shall I forget last Saturday evening. I was invited to go to the opera … that great opera house had not an empty seat. It was filled with Russians, Belgians, British, and French, with a few Americans scattered here and there. Three-quarters of the huge audience was in uniform.

“Just before the curtain went up for the second act, the wonderful orchestra burst out into the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ In a flash, those thousands were on their feet as if they were one person. One could have heard a pin drop except for the music. The music was played perfectly and with such feeling. Afterwards, the applause was so tremendous that our national anthem was repeated.

“The tears sprang to my eyes and my heart seemed to be right in my throat. It seemed as if I must call right out to everyone, ‘I’m an American and that was my national anthem!’ I have never witnessed such a demonstration of patriotism in my life. The officers of every allied nation clad in their brilliant uniforms stood in deference to our country.”

The work she had done thus far received strong support from the folks back home. In a letter to her sister in Ausable, Florence wrote, “Try to know how much gratitude and appreciation I feel to you and all the people of Glens Falls who have given so generously of their time and money. It was such fun to help the committee open the boxes and to realize that the contents had all been arranged and made by people that I know personally.

“The committee remarked upon the splendid boxes with hinged covers and the manner in which they were packed. When the covers were lifted, the things looked as if they might have been packed in the next room and the last article just fitted into the box. I was just a little proud to have them see how things are done in Glens Falls. Again, my gratitude, which is so hard to express.”

Florence’s credentials as a Mayo nurse, her outstanding work ethic, and connections to some important doctors helped ease her transition into the American war machine. The French, understandably, were loathe to see her go, so highly valued was her service.

In a letter to Maude, her older sister, Florence expressed excitement at establishing the first triage unit for American troops at the front. They were expected to treat 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers every 24 hours. Upon evaluation, some would be patched up and moved on; some would be operated on immediately; and others would be cared for until they were well enough to be moved to safer surroundings.

Florence’s sensitive, caring nature was evident when she told of the very first young American to die in her care. “He was such a boy, and he told me much about himself. He said that when the war broke out, he wanted to enlist. But he was young, and his mother begged him not to, so he ran away. And here he was, wounded and suffering, and he knew he must die.

“All the time, that boy was crying for his mother … he was grieving over her. And so I did what I could to take her place. And during the hours of his delirium, he sometimes thought I was his mother, and for the moment, he was content.

“Every morning, that lad had to be taken to the operating room to have the fluid drawn from off his lungs because of the hemorrhage. When finally that last day the doctor came, he knew the boy’s time was short and he could not live, so he said he would not operate. But the boy begged so hard, he said it relieved him so, that we took him in.

“And then those great, confident eyes looked into mine and he said, ‘You won’t leave me mother, will you?’ And I said, ‘No, my son.’ But before that simple operation could be completed, that young life had passed out. And I am not ashamed to tell you that as I cut a curl of hair to send to his mother, my tears fell on that young boy’s face-—not for him, but for his mother.”

Working tirelessly dressing wounds and assisting the surgeons, Bullard displayed great capability and leadership. She was offered the position of hospital superintendent if she chose to leave the front. It was a tremendous opportunity, but one that Florence Bullard turned down. Rather than supervise and oversee, she preferred to provide care directly to those in need.

Next week: Part 2—Nurse Bullard under hellish bombing attack.

Photos: Above, Florence Church Bullard, nurse, hero; Middle, World War One Red Cross poster; Below WWI wounded soldier in France.

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.

An Early Schenectady Communications Experiment


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In late 1932, on a dark mountainside in the far southern Adirondacks, a group of scientists prepared for a groundbreaking effort in the world of communications. The plan was to conduct a long-distance, telephone-style conversation with their counterparts stationed 24 miles away on the roof of the General Electric Company in Schenectady. No wires were involved. The voices of those on GE’s rooftop would be carried by a searchlight beam aimed directly at a concave, 30-inch mirror on a hillside near Lake Desolation.

This particular effort was the brainchild of GE research engineer John Bellamy Taylor. It involved a unique process he called “narrowcasting” because the tight focus of the beam differed substantially from the growing technology known widely as “broadcasting.”

Earlier in the year, Taylor had likewise communicated from the navy blimp Los Angeles floating high above the GE buildings. The effect was accomplished by making a light source flicker in unison with voice fluctuations. A photoelectric cell received the flickers, or pulsations, and converted them to electrical impulses, which were then amplified by a loudspeaker. The term narrowcasting was apt—any interruption of the narrow light beam halted the transmission.

This new attempt in the Adirondacks challenged Taylor’s abilities, covering more than ten times the distance of the dirigible effort and spanning some rough terrain. While trying to place the mirror in the Lake Desolation area, engineering crews twice buried their vehicles in the mud. Another technology—the shortwave radio— was used to effect a rescue.

A second issue arose involving the visibility of the large light beam. From 24 miles away, the searchlight blended among the stars on the horizon. Instructions were radioed to blink the light, which immediately solved the problem. Further communications by radio allowed the proper alignment of the light and mirror. With everything in place, the big moment was at hand.

A member of the extensive media coverage took part in the experiment. As Taylor waited on the distant hillside, famed newspaper columnist Heywood Broun began to interview him from atop the GE roof in Schenectady: “Do you suppose it might be possible in 50 or 100 years to communicate with Mars over a light ray?” Taylor’s reply included a bit of humor. “It might be within the range of possibility, but one difficulty would be how to inform the Martians what apparatus to set up.”

While Broun’s voice rode the light beam, Taylor’s end of the conversation was sent by shortwave radio back to Broun at Schenectady, where it was received and then rebroadcast on AM radio stations. The two-way conversation was the first ever of its kind.

In an area where few people had ever used or even seen a telephone, locals were suddenly talking across a beam of light. Old trapper James Link of Lake Desolation shared that “it’s getting mighty cold up here,” and two young women also spoke with Broun. It was a public relations coup for GE, and a powerful advertisement for Taylor’s wonderful innovation. The experiment was a resounding success, followed soon by other intriguing demonstrations.

A few months later, an orchestra played before a sole microphone high in New York City’s Chrysler Building. Pointing a beam of light at a lens in the window of a broadcast studio half a mile away, Taylor transmitted the performance to an audience of shocked listeners. Stunning successes like that would influence all future communications efforts in a variety of fields.

Among his many achievements, John Bellamy Taylor is credited with being the first ever to make light audible and sound visible, and with developing the first portable radio. Just how important was his work? The effects his discoveries had on radio, television, telephone, and other technologies are immeasurable. Due to the work of Taylor, Thomas Edison, and their contemporaries, the world was forever changed.

Top Photo: John Bellamy Taylor in Popular Mechanics magazine, 1931; Middle, map of the historic “narrowcast” area; Below, Taylor’s New York City experiment transmitting music.

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.

Civil War: Lester Archer, 96th New York Infantry


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In this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, there is a North Country native who served with particular distinction in the 96th Infantry. The 96th, often referred to as the Plattsburgh Regiment (and sometimes Macomb’s Regiment), was recruited from villages across the region, spanning from Malone to Plattsburgh in the north, and south to Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, and Warrensburg.

Among those to join at Fort Edward was 23-year-old Lester Archer, a native of nearby Fort Ann. Lester enlisted as a corporal in December, 1861, and for three years served with hundreds of North Country boys and men who saw plenty of combat, primarily in Virginia.

In June, 1864, Archer was promoted to sergeant amidst General U. S. Grant’s heated campaign to take Richmond, a critical Confederate site. Guarding Richmond several miles to the south on the James River was Fort Harrison, a strategic rebel stronghold.

To divide Lee’s troops, a surprise attack was launched on Fort Harrison on September 29. The men of the 96th were among those who charged up the hill against withering fire, successfully driving off the fort’s defenders and assuming control. As the fort was being overtaken, a Union flag was planted by Sergeant Lester Archer, emphatically declaring victory.

Until Harrison fell, it was considered the strongest Confederate fort between Richmond and Petersburg, 25 miles south. Lee’s forces regrouped to launch several bloody efforts at recapturing the vital site, but the North stood their ground, protecting the prize.

Union General Burnham was killed in the battle, and in his honor, the site was temporarily renamed Fort Burnham. More than 800 soldiers were buried nearby at what is now known as Fort Harrison National Cemetery.

The 96th remained in the vicinity of Fort Harrison for three weeks, and in late October, an assault was launched against Fort Richmond at Five Oaks. The result was a bloody, hard-fought battle, with both sides claiming victory, but both suffering heavy casualties. Many North Country soldiers were killed or captured. Just three weeks after heroically planting the Union flag atop Fort Harrison, Sergeant Lester Archer was among those who perished at Five Oaks.

On April 6, 1865, Archer’s exceptional efforts were officially acknowledged. The highest US military decoration for valor was conferred upon him with these words: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to Sergeant Lester Archer, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 29 September 1864, while serving with Company E, 96th New York Infantry, in action at Fort Harrison, Virginia, for gallantry in placing the colors of his regiment on the fort.”

President Lincoln himself would die just nine days later.

Photo Top: Lester Archer.

Photo Bottom: Scene at Fort Harrison, Virginia 1864.

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.

Floyd Bennett: American Aviation Legend


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Among the rock-star personas of the Roaring Twenties were a number of aviators who captured the public’s imagination. Some were as popular and beloved as movie stars and famous athletes, and America followed their every move. It was a time of “firsts” in the world of aviation, led by names like Lindbergh, Byrd, and Post. Among their number was an unusually humble man, Floyd Bennett. He may have been the best of the lot.

A North Country native and legendary pilot, Bennett has been claimed at times by three different villages as their own. He was born in October 1890 at the southern tip of Lake George in Caldwell (which today is Lake George village). Most of his youth was spent living on the farm of his aunt and uncle in Warrensburg. He also worked for three years in Ticonderoga, where he made many friends. Throughout his life, Floyd maintained ties to all three villages.

In the early 1900s, cars and gasoline-powered engines represented the latest technology. Floyd’s strong interest led him to automobile school, after which he toiled as a mechanic in Ticonderoga for three years. When the United States entered World War I, Bennett, 27, enlisted in the Navy.

While becoming an aviation mechanic, Floyd discovered his aptitude for the pilot’s seat. He attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida, where one of his classmates was Richard E. Byrd, future legendary explorer. For several years, Bennett refined his flying skills, and in 1925, he was selected for duty in Greenland under Lieutenant Byrd.

Fraught with danger and the unknown, the mission sought to learn more about the vast unexplored area of the Arctic Circle. Bennett’s knowledge and hard work were critical to the success of the mission, and, as Byrd would later confirm, the pair almost certainly would have died but for Bennett’s bravery in a moment of crisis.

While flying over extremely rough territory, the plane’s oil gauge suddenly climbed. Had the pressure risen unchecked, an explosion was almost certain. Byrd looked at Bennett, seeking a course of action, and both then turned their attention to the terrain below.

Within seconds, reality set in—there was no possibility of landing. With that, Bennett climbed out onto the plane’s wing in frigid conditions and loosened the oil cap, relieving the pressure. He suffered frostbite in the process, but left no doubt in Byrd’s mind that, in selecting Bennett, he had made the right choice.

The two men became fast friends, and when the intrepid Byrd planned a historic flight to the North Pole, Bennett was asked to serve as both pilot and mechanic on the Josephine Ford. (Edsel Ford provided financial backing for the effort, and the plane was named after his daughter.) In 1926, Byrd and Bennett attained legendary status by completing the mission despite bad luck and perilous conditions. The flight rocketed them to superstardom.

Lauded as national heroes, they were suddenly in great demand, beginning with a tickertape parade in New York City. Byrd enjoyed the limelight, but also heaped praise on the unassuming Bennett, assuring all that the attempt would never have been made without his trusted partner. When Bennett visited Lake George, more than two thousand supporters gathered in the tiny village to welcome him. As part of the ceremony, letters of praise from Governor Smith and President Coolidge were read to the crowd.

Both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for any member of the armed services, and rarely bestowed for non-military accomplishments. They were also honored with gold medals from the National Geographic Society. Despite all the attention and lavish praise, Bennett remained unchanged, to the surprise of no one.

The next challenge for the team of Bennett and Byrd was the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, a trip they prepared for eagerly. But in a training crash, both men were hurt. Bennett’s injuries were serious, and before the pair could recover and continue the pursuit of their goal, Charles Lindbergh accomplished the historic feat. Once healed, the duo completed the flight to Europe six weeks later.

Seeking new horizons to conquer, aviation’s most famous team planned an expedition to the South Pole. Tremendous preparation was required, including testing of innovative equipment. On March 13, 1928, a curious crowd gathered on the shores of Lake Champlain near Ticonderoga. Airplanes were still a novelty then, and two craft were seen circling overhead. Finally, one of them put down on the slushy, ice-covered lake surface, skiing to a halt.

Out came local hero Floyd Bennett, quickly engulfed by a crowd of friends and well-wishers. While in Staten Island preparing for the South Pole flight, he needed to test new skis for landing capabilities in the snow. What better place to do it than among friends? After performing several test landings on Lake Champlain, Bennett stayed overnight in Ticonderoga. Whether at the Elks Club, a restaurant, or a local hotel, he and his companions were invariably treated like royalty. Bennett repeatedly expressed his thanks and appreciation for such a warm welcome.

A month later, while making further preparations for the next adventure, Floyd became ill with what was believed to be a cold. When word arrived that help was urgently needed on a rescue mission, the response was predictable. Ignoring his own health, Bennett immediately went to the assistance of a German and Irish team that had crossed the Atlantic but crashed their craft, the Bremen, on Greenly Island north of Newfoundland, Canada.

During the mission, Floyd developed a high fever but still tried to continue the rescue effort. His condition worsened, requiring hospitalization in Quebec City, where doctors found he was gravely ill with pneumonia. Richard Byrd and Floyd’s wife, Cora, who was also ill, flew north to be with him. Despite the best efforts of physicians, Bennett, just 38 years old, succumbed on April 25, 1928, barely a month after his uplifting visit to Ticonderoga.

Though Bennett died, the rescue mission he had begun proved successful. Across Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the United States, headlines mourned the loss of a hero who had given his life while trying to save others. Explorers, adventurers, and aviators praised Bennett as a man of grace, intelligence, bravery, and unfailing integrity.

Floyd Bennett was already considered a hero long before the rescue attempt. The selflessness he displayed further enhanced his image, and as the nation mourned, his greatness was honored with a heavily attended military funeral in Washington, followed by burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Among the pile of wreaths on his grave was one from President and Mrs. Coolidge.

After the loss of his partner and best friend, Richard Byrd’s craft for the ultimately successful flight to the South Pole was a tri-motor Ford renamed the Floyd Bennett. Both the man and the plane of the same name are an important part of American aviation history.

It was eventually calculated that the earlier flight to the North Pole may not have reached its destination, but the news did nothing to diminish Byrd and Bennett’s achievements. They received many honors for their spectacular adventures. On June 26, 1930, a dedication ceremony was held in Brooklyn for New York City’s first-ever municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field. It was regarded at the time as America’s finest airfield.

Many historic flights originated or ended at Floyd Bennett Field, including trips by such notables as Howard Hughes, Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, Douglas “Wrongway” Corrigan, and Amelia Earhart. It was also the busiest airfield in the United States during World War II, vital to the Allied victory. Floyd Bennett Field is now protected by the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

The beloved Bennett was also honored in several other venues. In the 1940s, a Navy Destroyer, the USS Bennett, was named in honor of his legacy as a flight pioneer. In the village of Warrensburg, New York, a memorial bandstand was erected in Bennett’s honor. Sixteen miles southeast of Warrensburg, and a few miles from Glens Falls, is Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport.

In a speech made after the North Pole flight, Richard Byrd said, “I would rather have had Floyd Bennett with me than any man I know of.” High praise indeed between heroes and friends. And not bad for a regular guy from Lake George, Warrensburg, and Ticonderoga.

Top Photo: The Josephine Ford.

Middle Photo: Floyd Bennett, right, receives medal from President Coolidge. Richard Byrd is to the President’s left.

Bottom Photo: Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport.

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.

World War One and Charles Dabney Baker


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War heroes come from all walks of life, and are deemed noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. In April 1918, during World War I, the North Country was justifiably proud of five lesser headlines in the New York Times beneath a bold proclamation: “Plattsburg Youth A Transport Hero.”

The story was particularly unusual for one main reason—though the youth was a lieutenant in the infantry, he and his foot-soldiers had performed heroic deeds with no land in any direction for perhaps 1000 miles.

Plattsburg (no “h” used in those days) was a principal military training facility, and many death announcements during the war ended with a single, telling entry: “He was a Plattsburg man.” In this case, the Plattsburg man in question, Charles Dabney Baker, was still very much alive and receiving praise from both sides of the Atlantic for astute leadership and remarkable calm during a crisis situation.

The odd circumstances surrounding Baker’s citation complemented his unusual path from childhood to the military. Historically, the vast majority of fighting men do not come from affluent backgrounds. Men of money and power have often been able to protect their children from serving. Poorer folks, on the other hand, often joined for the guaranteed income and the financial incentives dangled before them. A few thousand dollars was nothing to a person of wealth, but constituted a small fortune for someone in need.

Charles Baker was certainly part of an affluent family. He was born in Far Rockaway, Long Island in 1891, the son of a Wall Street banker. When he was but eight years old, the family household of four children was supported by a live-in staff that included two nurses, a waitress, a cook, and a chambermaid. A kitchen maid and a laundress were later added. Life was sweet.

Charles graduated from Princeton in 1913 and went to work for the Bankers’ Trust Company in New York City. It was an ongoing life of privilege, but after two years in the banking industry, he opted to join the military. Following a stint on the Mexican border, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then trained at Plattsburg as America finally entered the war in Europe.

For Baker, who was prepared for battle, disappointment ensued when his regiment was ordered to France without him. He was instead tasked with commanding a detachment of men assigned to care for 1600 mules and horses that were being shipped to Europe in support of the troops.

As the journey began, a series of problems developed, culminating in a crisis situation in the middle of the ocean. A powerful storm threatened the mission, with winds estimated at 80–90 miles an hour. The ship was badly tossed, and a coal port lid failed (it was said to have been the work of German spies who had loosened the bolts when the craft was docked).

As the ship began to flood, chaos and disaster loomed. Baker, the highest ranking officer aboard, took charge of his landlubber crew and whipped them into action. The partially flooded ship rocked violently, and its precious cargo suffered terribly. A sailor on board later reported that many of the horses and mules “were literally torn to pieces by the tossing and rolling. Their screams of agony were something awful to listen to.” A number of others drowned.

Under Baker’s orders, bailing crews were assigned, dead and living animals were tended to, and the remaining men battled to keep the ship afloat. Days later, they limped into port and assessed the damages. It was determined that 400 animals had been lost, but the remarkable response by Baker and his infantrymen resulted in the survival of 1200 others. A complete disaster had been averted, and after delivering their cargo, the 165th Infantry was soon on the front line in France.

The story of the ocean trip might have remained untold except for brief mention that appeared in some newspapers. Among those reading the report was a sailor who had shared the voyage. He contacted the newspapers, and soon the story was headline news, praising Baker and his soldiers for great bravery and heroism under extreme conditions.

While the story gathered momentum, Charles and his men were otherwise occupied, already engaging in trench warfare. Just a few weeks after joining the fight, the 165th was pinned down under withering bombardment by the Germans. As Baker encouraged his troops, a shell exploded nearby, puncturing his eardrum.

For three days the barrage continued. Against the advice of his men, Baker endured the pain, refusing to withdraw to seek treatment. He felt his troops were best served if he remained on duty with them.

In early May it was announced that the French government had conferred upon Baker the Croix de Guerre medal, accompanied by the following citation: “First Lieutenant Charles D. Baker showed presence of mind and bravery during a heavy bombardment of nine-inch shells. Went calmly to his post in the trenches despite a destructive fire, assuring the safety of his men and locating the enemy’s mortars which were firing on the positions.”

Baker was forced to spend time recovering in the hospital. Despite his adventures, the frequent praise, and the French medal, Baker was described as humble, unassuming, and much admired and respected by his men. Soon he was back on the battlefield, right in the thick of things.

In July 1918, less than six months after Baker’s arrival in Europe, the 165th was involved in heavy fighting on the Ourcq River about 75 miles northeast of Paris. The Germans had the better position, and Allied forces suffered very heavy casualties as machine gunners cut down hundreds of men. Some of the Allied commanders took to an old method of moving forward by sending only two or three men at a time, backed by intense cover fire. It was difficult and deadly work.

On July 29th, while involved in fierce fighting, Charles Baker was badly injured by machine-gun fire and was once again removed to a base hospital in France. Nearly six weeks later, on September 12, he succumbed to his wounds.

From the crisis on the high seas to his eventual death on the battlefield, barely eight months had passed. It was a tragedy that was repeated millions of times during the war. And in this case, it was duly noted: Baker was a Plattsburg man.

Photo: Charles Dabney Baker, 1913.

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.

What A Wonderful Life:Lowville’s Erwin Eugene Lanpher


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Research has taken me to more cemeteries than I can remember. Surrounded by hundreds of gravestones, I frequently remind myself that every person has a story. What often impresses me is that many people who are largely forgotten actually made a real difference in other people’s lives. Uncovering those stories from the past is humbling, carrying with it the realization that I’ll probably never approach the good works done by others.

Sometimes those good works seem to escape notice, and that was the sense that engulfed me as I read the obituary of Erwin Eugene Lanpher of Lowville. It reminded me of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, a regular guy who, as it turned out, was darn important to a lot of people.

Lanpher’s life seemed accomplished, but average—born in 1875; schooled at Lowville Academy, Union College, and Cornell; a year working as a government surveyor on the Panama Canal; working as an engineer for the Atlantic City water bureau; and a twenty-six-year career in the engineering department caring for Pittsburgh’s water system.

The Lanpher family was remarkable in at least one sense: Erwin’s great-great-grandfather moved from Rhode Island to Lowville in 1801, so they were among the earliest settlers of the region. Otherwise, Erwin appeared to have led the life of an average man who excelled at his job. In fact, Lanpher was revered in Pittsburgh for his long-term dedication to developing the city’s water system. In performing at such a high level, he affected the lives of thousands in a very positive way.

But Erwin Lanpher’s reach went far beyond developing an adequate system of delivering water to a city of over a half million people. Evidence reveals that the tremendous effect of his work is undeniable, yet incalculable. After all, who can measure the changes in the world from saving one life, let alone hundreds, or even thousands?

Lanpher was a stickler for quality. Besides designing an efficient system of distributing water to thousands of homes and businesses, he developed revolutionary methods of purification that drastically improved the process. The results were indisputable.

In 1904, at the age of 29, he began working on Pittsburgh’s water system. One of the main issues affecting water quality was the frequent turbidity of the Allegheny River, causing tons of mud to enter the city’s water system on a regular basis. Disease was a major consideration, and typhoid was a prime enemy, spread by ingesting contaminated water.

Erwin Lanpher attacked the problem, and in retrospect, his incredible value to society can be summed up in three simple lines. The third line reveals statistics from Lanpher’s tenure.
1873: Pittsburgh population—133,000. Deaths from typhoid fever, 191 (143.6 per 100,000).
1907: Pittsburgh population—535,000. Deaths from typhoid fever, 648 (125.2 per 100,000).
1927: Pittsburgh population—665,000. Deaths from typhoid fever, 12 (1.8 per 100,000).

Another important set of statistics addresses the overall illness rate. In 1907, the Pittsburgh area had 5,652 cases of typhoid fever; in 1927, the population had risen by 130,000, but the total cases of typhoid fever had declined to 78 due to Lanpher’s work. Many cities sought his guidance to duplicate the results and dramatically enhance the quality of life.

The numbers are astonishing. Imagine the huge negatives that were avoided—the physical pain, the financial cost to patients, the pressure on the health care system, and the grieving for the deceased—all of it diminished as a result of Lanpher’s efforts. A decline in deaths from 648 to 12 during a 20-year period, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives saved along the way. Amazing—and that’s just in one city.

Erwin died in 1930 at the age of 55. Seven months later, the city of Pittsburgh recognized and honored his legacy, unveiling a stone marker at one of the reservoirs he built and re-christening it the Lanpher Reservoir. Eighty years later, it still bears the same name.

Pittsburgh’s mayor and all the top city officials joined the Lanpher Memorial Committee for the ceremony, noting that, “… the city has published an official memorial book containing Mr. Lanpher’s speeches and public record. Mr. Lanpher was nationally known as a water works engineer and was consulted frequently by directors of water systems from all over the country.”

Now there’s a man who made a difference.

Photo Top: Erwin Eugene Lanpher.

Photo Bottom: Location of the Lanpher Reservoir in Pittsburgh.

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.