Tag Archives: Sports History

1930s Film: The Bowery, Social Sensibility and Change


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2099rCuriosity about Hollywood’s take on Steve Brodie’s claim that he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge on July 23, 1886 drew viewers to FX Movie Channel’s recent broadcast of the seldom-shown 1933 movie The Bowery.

Produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie also promised to show how the bare-knuckle boxer, John L. Sullivan, and the saloon-smashing reformer, Carrie Nation, fit into Brodie’s life. Continue reading

Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers


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1868 Peterboro Women's Baseball Game, Courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame LibraryAt least twenty-six newspaper articles published around the nation in 1868 reported the existence of women’s baseball clubs. Thanks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and an anonymous reporter, the baseball club in Peterboro was the best documented of the women’s teams in the 1860s. During a three week visit in August 1868 at the Peterboro home of her cousin, abolitionist Gerrit Smith, Stanton wrote three letters for her women’s rights publication The Revolution. Continue reading

Schenectady Baseball History: The Mohawk Giants


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MohawkGiantsTalk-007When you discuss Negro baseball, most people think of names like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.  These were some of the biggest stars in the professional Negro leagues.  However, this was not the only place where you could see Negro teams play.  Throughout the country there were independent teams, like the Mohawk Colored Giants.

The Giants got their start in 1913 under the organization of Bill Wernecke.  Although this was seasonal work for these ball players, they were full time paid players.  By offering full time jobs, Wernecke was able to lure players into Schenectady from all over the country.  The Giants would play their home games at the nicest ball field in Schenectady, Island Park.
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Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks


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The Adirondack region has long been a favorite of skiers, as its mountains and snow cover provided a perfect landscape for downhill ski areas to develop during the Great Depression, when New Yorkers looked for an affordable escape to beat the winter blues. Over the decades, ski areas expanded with new lifts, lodges and trails. Despite the popularity of the sport, many ski areas have disappeared, yet countless people still hold fond memories of them.

Ski historian Jeremy Davis, the founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP), has released a new book on the subject. Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks (History Press, 2012). A lost ski area is “a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important,” Davis told Adirondack Almanack‘s Jeff Farbaniec in an interview last year. Continue reading

Lake Placid Olympics 1932 Rink Renovation Underway


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Renovation to the facade of the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s 1932 rink is underway. The contractors, J.T. Erectors, are restoring the structure to its original appearance in the 1930’s. Some of the work includes the installation of windows that have been enclosed by brink since prior to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

The revitalization project is being financed through the remaining funds from a grant through Empire State Development, which funded the construction of the newly completed Conference Center at Lake Placid.

 When complete the 1932 facility, along with its conventional use for skating and hockey and akin to the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, will join the conference center to provide nearly 100,000 square feet of convention space. The fresh look will complement the conference center, which opened for business May 2011.

Part Two: The Homing Pigeon in NY History


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Homing pigeons have long been used for racing and for their unique ability to navigate, an asset once capitalized upon by the military. As noted in last week’s entry here, “Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.”
Domestically, homing pigeons were an accepted form of communications, and thus enjoyed legal protection. The public shared the responsibility of nurturing any pigeon found in distress, and if need be, contacting the owner via information from the bird’s leg band.
For more than a century, the pigeons were regularly encountered in the North Country. “Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles, and they didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather.
Many of the birds that landed in the Adirondack region came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common. In 1912, one such Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.
In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.
And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.
Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.
In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.
During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times, it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.
Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.
Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that had broken the bird’s leg. This led to the belief that the balloon had gone down over Lake Ontario.
One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.
Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachmenta piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.
Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”
In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later, it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.
It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoonit was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.
Photos: TopHoming pigeon with message in tube. BottomUS Naval Station pigeon houses (1925).

Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven 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 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

NY Sports History Lecture: The Schenectady Blue Jays


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Local baseball historian Frank Keetz will present a lecture entitled “The Schenectady Blue Jays, 1946-1957″ on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady.

The Schenectady Blue Jays baseball team, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, originated in 1946. The team played their home games at McNearney Stadium in Schenectady until disbanding in 1957. Frank Keetz, local baseball historian and author, will trace the history of the team and its impact in the area.

Keetz has written several publications about sports in the Schenectady area, including They, Too, Were ‘Boys of Summer:’ A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Eastern League 1951-1957, Class ‘C’ Baseball: A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Canadian-American League 1946-1950, and The Mohawk Colored Giants of Schenectady.

The cost of admission is $5.00, or free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, at 518-374-0263 or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Photo: Tommy Lasorda, member of the 1948 Schenectady Blue Jays team (courtesy ‘Cats Corner)

NY Harness Racing History: Eddie ‘Peg Leg’ Jones


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Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet somehow managing to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process.

For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.
When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.
The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.
That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.
By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.
At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada, as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey, and Hagerstown, Maryland, led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.
While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition.  He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.
After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well-attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.
Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec, to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.
In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.
He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.
But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?
And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him.  Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.
Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.
At the end of the1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).
Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.
Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.
In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.
On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. Eddie’s throat had been cut, and a razor lay nearby. More than $2500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.
 No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.
The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.
Photos: Top―Saratoga Trotting Track. Bottom―Trotting scene from 1915.

The Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones 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.

1963: A North Country Racehorse Makes Good


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With the Kentucky Derby fast approaching, here’s an item from 1963, when a horse whose name had North Country ties nearly won the coveted Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). The owner was John W. Galbreath, well known nationally and a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. While his wealth was notable, it was in the world of sports that Galbreath earned his greatest fame.

He owned baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946–1985 (one of his partners was Bing Crosby), winning the World Series in 1960, 1971, and 1979. He was also a graduate of Ohio State and a longtime supporter of the school’s athletic program, one of the most successful in the nation.

Galbreath became fabulously wealthy as a real estate developer, owning major properties in Columbus, Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh. In 1986, the family fortune was estimated at $400 million. Despite his substantial fame in baseball and real estate, Galbreath’s favorite subject was horseracing. Perhaps the name of his birthplace (in 1897) was a good omen for a future in the sport: he was born in Derby, Ohio.

Among other things, Galbreath’s great wealth allowed him to indulge his passion. He became involved in horse racing in the 1930s, eventually serving as chairman of Churchill Downs in Louisville (where the Kentucky Derby is run). Near Columbus, Ohio, he developed the famed Darby Dan Farm into a 4000-acre spread, producing many outstanding racehorses.

He had never won the Kentucky Derby, a goal of all major owners, and in 1963, none of Galbreath’s horses seemed particularly promising. Then, shortly before the Derby, one of his colts captured three straight races, including the Bluegrass Stakes. Suddenly, anything was possible.

The horse’s name was Chateaugay, and despite the sudden success, most of the media hype went to several other competitors prior to the Triple Crown races. Never Bend was the leading money-winner, and Candy Spots and No Robbery were the first undefeated horses to face off in the Derby in 88 years.

In front of 120,000 fans at the Kentucky Derby, Galbreath’s favorite horse went off at 9-1 odds. There appeared to be little chance for success. After running at mid-pack for much of the race, Chateaugay moved up to fourth. Near the final stretch, future-hall-of-fame-jockey Braulio Baeza steered his horse through an opening to the inside, and Chateaugay strode to the front, topping all the pre-race stars to win by 1¼ lengths.

In race number two, the Preakness, the same strategy was employed. This time, Chateaugay came roaring to the front but fell just short, finishing 3½ lengths behind winner Candy Spots. In the Belmont, the results were very similar to the Preakness, but this time, Chateaugay’s charge to the lead was successful, overtaking Candy Spots to win by 2½ lengths.

Only a close loss at the Preakness prevented Chateaugay from winning the Triple Crown, but Galbreath’s colt had proven nevertheless to be a great racehorse.

During this time, the excitement in the North Country was fairly palpable, especially in the town of Chateaugay (in the northeast corner of Franklin County). Many residents were fervent supporters of Galbreath and his horse, and the famed owner expressed his appreciation in a letter that appeared in local newspapers:

Dear Mr. Peacock:
It was certainly nice of you to write me a letter about Chateaugay winning the Kentucky Derby. Several people have asked me how we happened to name this horse as we did.

As you perhaps know, we have some interest in Lyon Mountain and Mineville, New York [the iron mines], and while I was up there several years ago, I saw the name Chateaugay. I made the remark at the time that I thought it was a pretty name for a town, and also thought it would be a good name for a horse.

Since Chateaugay’s older sister, Primonetta, was our best filly to date, we naturally hoped this colt would be a good one, and for that reason, we applied the name to him.

It has been very gratifying indeed to have so many nice letters from people of your town, and I hope you will thank the members of the Chamber of Commerce for their nice telegram which they sent under your name last week. I am going to have some pictures made just as soon as we receive the proofs, and I will eventually send you a picture which you can use for publishing in the paper.

Thank you again for your nice letter and wire.
Sincerely yours,
John W. Galbreath

In honor of the victory, Galbreath named one of Darby Dan’s buildings “Gay Chateau” (well before a new meaning for “gay” entered the vernacular).

A few years after winning the Derby, Chateaugay was retired to stud service, first at Darby Dan Farm, and later in Japan after his sale to racing interests there. He died in 1985.

Galbreath died in 1988 at the age of 90. Besides a grand legacy in the sporting world, he left behind the John W. Galbreath Company, America’s third-largest real estate developer. A second Darby Dan horse, Proud Clarion, won the Derby in 1967, but it was Chateaugay who first made Galbreath’s long-held dream a reality.

Photos: Top―Chateaugay after winning the Kentucky Derby (1963). Bottom―Chateaugay after winning the Belmont Stakes (1963).

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.

International Sliding Sports Museum Moves Forward


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Phase-one of the International Sliding Sports Museum at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, in Lake Placid, is scheduled to debut this summer. 2012 world bobsled champion Steven Holcomb (center) was presented with a copy of his “Legends of Mt. Van Hoevenberg” poster during a ceremony held last Wednesday, at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. The poster is part of the legends project, which was unveiled during the FIBT World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships, held in Lake Placid in February.

Billed as the first of its kind anywhere in the world, the museum will feature the history of the sports of bobsled, luge and skeleton and will also exhibits tracing the evolution of equipment and sections of past and present sliding tracks with a display explaining how those tracks were built. Plans are being developed for a historical walking tour of the 1932/1980 track and the new combined track with informational signage creating a self-guided exploration of the venue.

Organizers hope to build a comprehensive sliding display that will include historic race sleds, equipment, video, photographs, medals and trophies. Several of these items are already on display at the Olympic museum.

Photo: Steven Holcomb (center) with (L-R) Ted Blazer, ORDA president/CEO; Jack Favro, associate director of Lake Placid Olympic Training Center; Joe Lamb, community organizer; Craig Randall, Village of Lake Placid mayor; and Mary Lou Brown, chairman of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

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.

2012 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awardees Announced


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The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation has announced the recipients of its annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards, which honor distinguished Americans who trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, and the B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award recognizing individuals who themselves immigrated to America. The Awards will be presented on April 19th at a ceremony to be held in the historic Great Hall on Ellis Island. The 2012 honorees are:

Angela Lansbury – The B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award – Entertainment

This London-born actress, who returns to Broadway this year in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, began her ascendancy up the ranks of American entertainment ladder shortly after her family evacuated to New York City in 1940, just days before the London blitz. Her first of over 50 films, Gaslight, won her an Oscar nomination. Since then, she has been a star of film, stage and television for seven decades, garnering her five Tonys, six Golden Globes, three Oscar nominations, and over 15 Emmy nominations. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the dramatic arts. She is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. Lansbury became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951.

Richard Meier – Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – The Arts/Architecture

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Richard Meier is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles. His distinct minimalist style of has garnered him 10 honorary degrees, numerous design awards as well as the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1997. He has taught at many universities including Princeton, Harvard and UCLA. With current projects underway in Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and his hometown, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the American Academy in Rome. His maternal grandfather – a leather tannery owner – Joseph Kaltenbacher, emigrated from Germany through Ellis Island in 1896.

Anthony “Tony” La Russa, Jr. – Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – Sports

Tony La Russa was born in Tampa, Florida, where his paternal grandparents had settled after arriving from Sicily thru Ellis Island in 1906. As an infielder, La Russa began his career with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963. Turning to managing in 1979, he became one of the longest tenured managers in the history of Major League Baseball. He spent 32 years at the helm of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals, where he topped the Cards’ managerial win list with 1,408 victories. He ranks third in all-time major league wins by a manager, holding six league championships and three World Series titles, most recently with the Cardinals in 2011. A staunch advocate for animal rescue, La Russa, his wife Elaine and their daughters founded ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) in 1991, which aids homeless and abandoned animals and uses them to help people in need.

The ceremony will be hosted by journalist Meredith Vieira and will mark the 120th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island on New Year’s Day 1892. Until it closed in 1954, Ellis would process 17 million immigrants. Forty percent of Americans today can trace their roots to an ancestor who was among them.

Throughout its 10 year history, the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards have recognized more than 40 individuals, among them Dr. Madeleine Albright, Irving Berlin, Yogi Berra, Lee Iacocca, Jerry Seinfeld, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, Mary Higgins Clark, General Colin Powell, Martin Scorsese, and Bruce Springsteen.

More information can be found online.

St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon


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The St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon, organized by the Fort La Présentation Association and Forsyth’s Rifles and hosted by the Massena Rod & Gun Club, will be held March 3-4, 2012.

“In our primitive biathlon, competitors on snowshoes run or walk a measured course,” said Fred Hanss, an event organizer. “They must load and fire two shots from a muzzle-loading firearm at five targets set at well-spaced stations and throw an axe at the sixth station.”

Two of the three classes reflect the organizers’ mission to educate the public about the colonial and early American history of the St. Lawrence River Valley. In the first two classes, competitors using smoothbore muskets or rifles (flintlock or caplock) must cover the course on wooden snowshoes. In the third category, participants with in-line rifles may wear wooden or modern snowshoes.

The advance registration fee is $20. Registration on the day of the event is $25. After paying the initial registration fee, a re-entry fee of $5.00 will be charged each time that a participant runs the course.

Within the competitive classes, there are men’s, ladies’, and youth divisions. Awards will be presented to the top three participants in each division at a ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

“To add to the fun, a blanket shoot will be held and door prizes will be available Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Hanss said. “Net proceeds from the primitive biathlon will go to the Fort La Présentation Association for the construction of an Interpretive Center and the reconstruction of historic Fort de la Présentation on Ogdensburg’s Lighthouse Point.”

Participants are encouraged to wear historic clothes covering 1750 to 1812. Fort de la Présentation was one of a handful of French colonial forts in New York State. Forsyth’s Rifles from Ogdensburg re-enacts a U.S. Army regiment posted in Northern New York during the War of 1812. From the French and Indian War period, they portray a unit of French marines.
Registration form and rules are at www.fort1749.org.

Photo courtesy The Dalton gang Shooting Club of NH.

New Book: Sport of Kings, Kings of Crime


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A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a richly detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.

Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling.

As the sport became a national industry, the New York metropolitan area, along with the resort towns of Saratoga Springs (New York) and Long Branch (New Jersey), remained at the center of horse racing with the most outstanding race courses, the largest purses, and the finest thoroughbreds.

Riess narrates the history of horse racing, detailing how and why New York became the national capital of the sport from the mid-1860s until the early twentieth century. The sport’s survival depended upon the racetrack being the nexus between politicians and organized crime.

The powerful alliance between urban machine politics and track owners enabled racing in New York to flourish. Gambling, the heart of racing’s appeal, made the sport morally suspect. Yet democratic politicians protected the sport, helping to establish the State Racing Commission, the first state agency to regulate sport in the United States.

At the same time, racetracks became a key connection between the underworld and Tammany Hall, enabling illegal poolrooms and off-course bookies to operate. Organized crime worked in close cooperation with machine politicians and local police officers to protect these illegal operations.

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

Olympic Museum Changes Name to Reflect Collection


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What’s in a name? Take the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum as an example. When guests visit the museum, located in the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., they believe that they’ll only view and experience artifacts from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, but there’s so much more. Not only does the museum feature items from the two Games held in Lake Placid, displays also include pieces from every Olympic Winter Games dating back to 1924. That’s why the museum worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee to obtain International Olympic Committee (IOC) approval to change its name to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.



“Visitors to the museum often said the collection represented more than the two Games held in Lake Placid and we agree that the name should reflect that,” said New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) president/CEO Ted Blazer. “The museum’s collections have grown over the years to encompass representation from each of the Olympic Winter Games, as well as the Olympic Games. With that expansion we felt it was important that the name of the museum mirror the breadth of the museum.”

Established in 1994, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum is the only one of its kind in the United States. In fact, it holds the largest Winter Games collection outside of the IOC’s Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s also the only museum to have received the Olympic Cup, which is the oldest award given by the IOC.

“As the collections have grown and the presentations have become wider in scope, so has the need to change the name,” added museum director, Liz De Fazio. “As we move forward in getting this museum to be a full member of the IOC’s Olympic Museum Network, I feel this will bring us closer to that international look and feel.”

While touring the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, guests can view the first Olympic Winter Games medal ever won, a gold medal, earned by speedskater and Lake Placid native Charles Jewtraw during the 1924 Winter Games. Displays also feature athletes’ participation medals from every modern Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games, as well as Olympic Team clothing and competition gear from several Games, including the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The museum’s collection also includes costumes from Olympic figure skating legend Sonja Henie and several world cup and world championship trophies captured by U.S. bobsled and luge athletes, artifacts from the famed 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, as well as Olympic medals.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is located at the box office entrance of the Olympic Center at 2634 Main Street and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for juniors and seniors, while children six and under are free. For more information about the museum, log on to www.whiteface.com/museum.

New Yorker Named A National Sporting History Fellow


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The National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM) in Middleburg, Virginia, has announced seven John H. Daniels Fellows for 2011-2012 including one to Judith Martin Woodall, a New York City writer and former manager of Claremont Riding Academy, for
“Witching the World with Noble Horsemanship: Riding in New York City, 1770-2007.”

The fellows program began in 2007 in honor of sportsman and book collector, John H. Daniels (1921-2006), a longtime supporter of the National Sporting Library. Since 2007, the fellowship has supported thirty-eight researchers-in-residence at the NSLM from all regions of the United States and ten foreign countries.

The full list of winners includes:

Marcia Diane Brody, Middletown, MD, writer and breeder of Cleveland Bay horses, “Alexander Mackay-Smith: Pioneering the Future of the Cleveland Bay Horse in North America.”

Michael Del Vecchio, Egmondville, ON, Ph.D. candidate, Univ. of Western Ontario, “The Scientific Angler: A Conservation Identity Forged through the Market.”

Carolee Klimchock, Ph.D. candidate, Yale University, “The Theatrics of Coach Driving in Late 19th-Century America.”

Andrew G.F. Lemon, Victoria, Australia, author of the three volume History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing, “The Steeplechasing Mind.”

Earl Parker, Ph.D., Orange, Texas, writer, “The U.S. Remount Service: Stallions Distributed Across America.”

Corey Piper, Curatorial Assistant for the Mellon Collections, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, “The Cast and Characters of the British Sporting Ring,” a scholarly essay for “Catching Sight: The World of the British Sporting Print,” upcoming exhibition catalogue, VMFA.

Judith Martin Woodall, New York, New York, writer and former manager of Claremont Riding Academy, “Witching the World with Noble Horsemanship: Riding in New York City, 1770-2007.”

The National Sporting Library and Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the
literature, art, and culture of horse and field sports. Founded in 1954, the institution has over 17,000-books dating from the 16th-21st centuries. In the fall of 2011, the newly renovated and expanded historic building on the campus will open to house exhibits of American and European fine sporting art. Information is shared through exhibitions, lectures, seminars, publications, and special events. The NSLM is open to researchers and the general public. Admission is free.

Gerrit Smith Estate’s Family Day of Croquet


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Abolitionist Gerrit Smith liked to play croquet daily during the summer. In honor of Smith’s summer recreation, the Grounds Squad of the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark plans to hold its second Family Day of Croquet on Sunday, July 17 from 2 – 6 p.m. on the grounds of Smith’s 19th Century home. The event will be attended by local croquet enthusiasts and a group dressed in croquet outfits. Croquet can be played by amateurs of all ages, and is enjoying a national resurgence. The public is urged to join in reviving this tradition. Croquet attire of the 19th – 21st Century or all white outfits are encouraged but not required.

During the afternoon, croquet courts and equipment will be available. Three buildings on the Gerrit Smith Estate with Heritage New York State Underground Railroad exhibits and the Peterboro Mercantile will be open. The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will also be open from 1 – 5 p.m. The daily court fee is $2 per person. Gerrit Smith Estate tours cost $2 per person. Ice cream, beverages a 50-50 raffle, boxed lunches and baked goods will also be for sale.

Proceeds from the event support the preservation and promotion of the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark which is a site on both the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail and the National Park Service Network to Freedom. Family Day of Croquet is one of a series of programs provided by the Stewards for the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark during 2011 and partially supported by a PACE grant from the Central New York Community Foundation. For more information on the croquet event contact Lisa Louisa Bryant at 917-578-9674 or at lisalouisabryant@yahoo.com. For a complete listing of programs, contact www.sca-peterboro.com or mail@sca-peterboro.com

Lake Placid Olympic Musum Establishes Endowment


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In memory of longtime Winter Olympic supporter and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Organizing Committee member Philip G. Wolff, the Lake Placid 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum announces the kickoff of its first endowment fund campaign in a public ceremony, Thursday, June 30. With the completion of the campaign in 2013, the endowment fund, named in Mr. Wolff’s honor, is hoped to allow the Museum to increase its pace of collecting, strengthen its extensive collection, and bring more artifacts of the Winter Games back to the region where America’s Winter Olympic movement began.

“Over time, this endowment will allow the Museum to add to its collection with such items as Olympic torches from the 1952 Oslo (Norway) and 1960 Squaw Valley (Calif.) games, which Dad would have loved to have seen in his lifetime,” said David Wolff, Phil Wolff’s son and now a member of the Museum’s board.

“The endowment fund will also provide continuous support for the Museum to enhance and increase its educational programming for visiting families, adjust to fluctuations in giving, and reduce dependence on overstrained public and private funding sources,” added MaryLou Brown, Museum Board president.

Philip G. Wolff, who died in February, was a founder of the Lake Placid 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum and a member of the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympic bid committees. In 1978, he was appointed chief of staff of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, a position he held until its closure in 1987, volunteering his time during the last three years of that assignment. He also served as chief of the security committee for the 1980 Winter Games. Wolff was instrumental in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum, being awarded the 2005 Olympic Cup by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). More recently, Wolff played a key role in getting the Lake Placid 1932 and 1980 Olympic Bobsled Track named to the National Register of Historic Places. Wolff spoke at a ceremony to mark that designation, which was also attended by Gov. David Paterson (D-New York), in June of last year. At the time of his death, Wolff was the oldest living licensed bobsled driver in the U.S.

The campaign kickoff for the Philip G. Wolff endowment fund will take place at a celebration of Wolff’s life to be held June 30 from 3-4:30 p.m. at the new Olympic Conference Center in Lake Placid. His many friends are invited to attend to honor this man who gave so much to the Museum and to the local area.

The 1932 & 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum is an independent, not-for-profit corporation. Its mission is to collect and preserve artifacts and archival materials associated with Lake Placid’s winter sports and winter Olympic heritage; to interpret Lake Placid’s winter sports and winter Olympic heritage to the public; and to preserve and maintain the collection of artifacts and archives assembled by the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee.

The only official Olympic museum in the United States, Lake Placid’s 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum features the largest collection of winter Olympic artifacts outside the IOC’s museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. The collection includes the first Winter Olympic medal ever awarded – for the 500 meter speed skating competition – won by Lake Placid native Charles Jewtraw in the 1924 Games in Chamonix. His historic medal can be viewed with other items in the Museum collection, including equipment worn by 1980 U.S. Hockey Team goalie Jim Craig during the historic Miracle on Ice, parade clothing from the 1932 winter games, athletes participation medals and Olympic medals from every winter Olympics.

Miracle on Ice Stories Sought


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It’s been called the greatest sports moment of the century. The Miracle on Ice, Feb. 22, 1980, when the U.S hockey team, made up of 20 college kids, upset the Soviets 4-3 during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., on their way to winning the improbable gold medal. Now it’s your turn to tell your story—where you were during that historic day that united the nation? How did that win against the Soviets inspire you?

Do you have a story to tell about that day? If you do, submit your story to the United States’ goaltender Jim Craig, jimcraigbook@optonline.net, for your chance to tell your story in an upcoming book of the memories about that game with the Soviets.

What do you remember about the morale of the country at the time of the victory? Maybe you remember where you were and what you were doing. Or maybe this win served to inspire your life.

The two winning stories will receive a Miracle movie poster, personally signed by Craig. The deadline is May 31, 2011. By submitting your essay, you’re granting permission to publish your story.