In late July 1934, the average life of Watertown’s Vincent Sparacino took a sudden, drastic turn, becoming anything but humdrum. Vincent was an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1906 when he was 16 years old. The family settled in Watertown and operated Sparacino & Company, a fruit wholesaler that later branched out into vegetables. By the late 1920s Vincent and his brother Tony were partners in the business with other family members. Vince was a hands-on guy, frequently driving a delivery truck to customer sites around the city.
On many days after finishing work and taking supper, he drove to a nearby grocery store, parked outside, sat in the front passenger seat, and played the car radio. His good friend of many years, Patsy Carbone, ran the store, and whenever there was free time, Patsy came out to visit. Continue reading
The word hero is often tossed around loosely, but when it comes to wounded soldiers, no one argues that it’s fitting — so what does it say about someone else when wounded soldiers call them heroes? Consider American women during World War I. Although many wanted to, they didn’t have to serve because of their sex, and could support the troops by important actions at home. But some chose to place themselves near the front lines, and with no weapons to defend themselves. Their only protection came from nebulous agreements by both sides not to bomb hospitals and care centers.
That’s what nurses did, risking their lives to comfort, save the lives of, or ease the deaths of, soldiers. Which explains why so many wounded men referred to nurses as the real heroes. A fine example of that circumstance, with an unusual twist or two, involved Ruth Williams of Ogdensburg. Continue reading
Artistry — in terms of painting, drawing, sketching, etc. — escapes me. While I admire and enjoy it, the combination of vision, creativity, and especially ability seems foreign, even though I lived with it while growing up. Through learning to read and constantly employing skills in that area, I gradually developed a certain comfort in the world of words, but none of it came to me magically, which is how I viewed the artistic capabilities of two of my siblings: without any lessons or instructions, they could just do it. Continue reading
This appears to be the easiest North Country riddle ever, but humor me and give it a try anyway. What is very tall, very hairy, probably didn’t smell very good, and set tongues wagging when it was seen in the northern Adirondacks several times in early 1933? Just to be safe, take a moment and think about it. Hey, you never know — it could be a trick question. But if you’re still stumped or not certain of your answer, here’s another clue that might prove the clincher: it was known for having very large (OK … BIG) feet.
If you answered anything other than Gil Reichert, you’ve been successfully misled. No apologies here, though, for the description above fits both Reichert and your likely choice (Bigfoot) to a T. Continue reading
As an author of many books and publisher (with my partner) of many others, it behooves me to keep up on the latest trends in the world of books.
This includes the ongoing question considered by many of my Adirondack friends and acquaintances who are authors: should I sell printed copies, or is it better to go digital with e-books? Or maybe a combination of the two? It’s an issue I’ve addressed here in years past, particularly in 2013 and 2014 when the e-book explosion rocked the industry, leading many experts and non-experts alike to conclude that the end for printed books was clearly in sight. Continue reading
An oldies channel recently played an old favorite of mine from the past: “Signs,” which originated with a Canadian group in 1971, the Five Man Electrical Band. A line of the song called to mind a rather interesting hike from long ago. The second stanza begins with, “And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight,” a lyric reminiscent of certain signs that once caused me more than a little consternation.
In the late 1970s, while exploring the fringes of a unique natural area in Clinton County, I found myself on a very old, rocky, uneven road that crossed both state and private land. The owners of the private land, according to my map, had taken liberties with their property claims, planting some of their posted signs on state-owned land. Continue reading
History credits the discovery of uranium to a German chemist, Martin Henrich Klaproth, in 1789. In 1896, just over a century later, a French chemist, Eugene-Melchior Peligot, discovered uranium’s radioactivity. Uranium ore, known as pitchblende, was revealed shortly after by Marie and Pierre Curie as the source of radium, which they mentioned as a possible future treatment for cancer.
Polish born Marie, (her name was Sklowdowska) was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the first person to win twice — in 1903, in physics, for her work on radiation, and in 1911, in chemistry, for discovering polonium and radium. Only she and Linus Pauling have won in two different fields. (She also developed the practical use for x-rays that dramatically enhanced patient care on the battlefields of World War I). Continue reading
In early November 1930, a hunting party in the Boreas River area split up to do what Adirondack hunters so often do: execute a deer drive. Among those taking part were Lew Buck, Leo Adams, Edward White, Murray Short, and Murray’s brother Herbert. Herb was a corrections officer who had recently been promoted and transferred to Auburn Prison from Clinton Prison in Dannemora. It was Dannemora that provided the link between him and the other men: Buck was the village’s former postmaster, White was a retired Clinton keeper, and his close friend Adams still worked there as a guard.
Concern mounted at day’s end when the men reassembled and Herbert was a no-show. But he was a very experienced woodsman, and the entire party was aware that a storm was moving into the area, so in that sense he was prepared for anything. His companions surmised he may have been turned around while trying to get back to camp before the snow fell. At that point, the explanations they considered carried reassurances that everything was OK, or soon would be. Continue reading
The collection of letters to Santa that appeared in this space last week epitomized life in the rural regions of northern New York a century ago. At Christmastime, children from families living a common, low-income existence asked Santa for the simplest of items: a pencil and notepad, candy and nuts, or clothing to keep them warm in the winter. Toys and playthings were often secondary requests if they appeared at all.
But the simple desires from long ago reflected something other than just poverty. A good number of rural folks were self-sufficient, and all family members, even young children, took part in the daily chores of life: working the fields and garden, milking cows, collecting eggs, adding logs to the fire, and so on. An early understanding of the effort behind daily sustenance was evident in children’s annual humble Christmas yearnings for pencils, books, and treats for the tummy, suggesting an appreciation for things in general, and gifts in particular.
Among those who came to the Adirondacks and developed a deep admiration for this rustic lifestyle was Samuel Coplon, who embraced the people, reciprocated their generosity, and in time became a nationally known hero of North Country Christmases, earning him the title Santa Claus of the Adirondacks. Continue reading
A century ago, it was common during the Christmas holidays for North Country lumber camps to empty, at least briefly. In 1909, in far northeastern New York, the men of Altona in Clinton County enjoyed a welcome break after several weeks in the woods.
Near the settlement of Purdy’s Mills, the camp cook, Adolphus Bouvia, closed down operations on December 23. Widowed a year earlier, he planned to return home and spend time with family, friends, and neighbors, some of whom worked with him on the lumber jobs. Continue reading