It's Tuberculosis Thursday, and this week we're highlighting a recent donation to the collection. This photo album was compiled by Eddy Whitby, who came to Saranac Lake to cure and ended up spending the rest of his life here! He went on to be a co-founder of Duryee Real Estate Co., was Village President (now known as mayor) in 1919, and served on the village board in 1927, among other civic accomplishments. His album shows photographs of his fellow patients "the Conklinites," his family, and life around Saranac Lake from 1901 until his death in 1927.
We're looking forward to exploring the rest of the album to learn about Eddy's life in Saranac Lake! Learn more about Eddy on our wiki, including a lesson on following driving laws!
Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR #636. Courtesy of Randall Baldwin.
By Phil “Bunk” Griffin for Historic Saranac Lake
Last week, local historian, Phil “Bunk” Griffin, introduced the tale of Pete Tanzini, one of Saranac Lake’s notorious rum runners. What follows is the second part of this fascinating story!
As prohibition continued and bootlegging took hold in the North Country, organized gangs soon demanded a share of the revenue. In return, they offered protection from competing criminal networks. Early in the game, a group out of Rochester had staked out much of the area business. The gang routinely patrolled the North Country and vigorously defended their claim. Any independent supplier entering their territory risked losing their loads, their money, and their lives. Independent rum-runners faced constant harassment from both the law and the outlaws. Examples of this dual threat are illustrated in two stories found in 1922 and 1923 editions of the Plattsburg Sentinel.
It was the summer of 1922, and two lawmen, State Trooper, Charlie Broadfield, and Franklin County Sheriff, Frank Steenburg, were searching for an escapee from the Franklin County Jail. They spotted Pete Tanzini's car coming across the border near Teboville. The car appeared to be carrying a heavy load. Inside were Pete Tanzini and his son-in-law, Tony Salvaggio. The remainder of the car space was filled with several burlap bags full of Canadian ale.
When Tanzini spotted the officials, he attempted to outrun them. Tony began tossing bottles of ale out the window in an effort to flatten the tires of the pursuers. The lawmen avoided the broken glass, and the high-speed chase continued for several miles, with the lawmen riding tight to their bumper. Pete's car was no match for the lawmen's vehicle, and he was eventually forced onto the bank of the Salmon River.
Captain Broadfield had brought along his 14-year-old Police Dog, Bobbie, to assist in tracking the jail escapee. When Pete and Tony began running, Charlie released the dog. Pete dove from the 30-foot-high ledge into the Salmon River. Bobbie followed suit, grabbed Pete's arm in his powerful jaws, and delivered the soggy captive to the waiting officers. He then found Tony and brought him back also. This was the first time in the history of North Country bootlegging that a dog had been used in the capture of rum-runners. Pete and Tony were arrested and paid a $600 fine. It was a small fee compared to the price Pete would pay to a group of outlaws a year later.
In the early hours of Saturday, June 9, 1923, Pete was taking his attractive 20-year-old girlfriend (soon to be second wife) Augusta "Gussy" Menzel to her home in Syracuse. Oscar Saunders, an ex-Saranac Lake cabbie, was driving Pete's Cole Eight. Gussy and her mother were in the front seat with Oscar. Pete was in the back, sleeping. It was around 1:00 AM and they were nearing New Russia.
The group was accosted by five men, who were parked on the side of the road in a big Wills Sainte Claire car. One of the men got out of the vehicle and signaled for Oscar to stop. The man was holding a .45 caliber pistol. When Oscar didn't stop, he fired five shots at the car. The first soft-nosed bullet flattened a rear tire and another splintered the spokes on a wheel. The last bullet passed through the back of the Cole Eight, pierced Pete's right kidney and lung and lodged in his chest.
The men, flashing what appeared to be fake badges, approached the stopped car, and said they were searching for illegal booze. When they saw that Pete was hit, they got back in their car. Oscar drove a short distance on the flat tire to New Russia. There, he pounded on the door of the home of Mr. and Mrs. H.O. Jacobi and asked to use their phone to call a doctor.
Pete was taken to the Champlain Valley Hospital in Plattsburgh. He wasn't expected to live, but several weeks later he was back in Saranac Lake, where he declared in a newspaper article: "I have made my last trip over the Adirondack Booze Trail." Was the "Will O' The Wisp" actually retiring from the bootlegging profession?
To find out, stay tuned next week for the final installment in Bunk Griffin’s story of Pete Tanzini!
Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878, so we're returning to our Tuberculosis Thursday posts by sharing this video from Curiously Adirondack and Josh Clement Productions.
Adelaide came to Saranac Lake to take the cure in 1913, and unfortunately died from her illness a year later.
Click above to listen to this reading of Adelaide's poem, "To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window."
Visit our wiki to learn more about Adelaide's life and contributions to poetry.
It's Mini Tour time! We're sharing a throwback video, "Unlocking the Wilderness," this week. This video, commissioned by HSL in 1988, explores the history of the industries developed from the natural resources of the Adirondacks.
Commissioned by Historic Saranac Lake in 1988. Directed and photographed by James Forsyth Bleecker. Written by Rachel Bliven. Remastered by Jim Griebsch in 2018. For more information please visit www.historicsaranaclake.org.
On January 29, 1919, the government enacted the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. This act created a lucrative, new, and illegal enterprise for the North Country. Saranac Lake, with its maze of back roads and its close proximity to the Canadian border, soon found itself playing a key role in the bootlegging game. The Volstead Act changed the lives of many Saranac Lakers, and was instrumental in ending some prematurely.
Saranac Lake's reputation as a center for the treatment of tuberculosis was growing, and its popularity as a tourist destination was already well established, but there were still many residents with thin wallets. The average annual wage for Americans in 1919 was $2,000, but most residents of this area earned far less. Prohibition would provide an opportunity to improve the cash flow for many locals.
While the bulk of the imported booze was destined for Albany, New York City, and other large cities, speakeasies were numerous in Saranac Lake, and they were well stocked with Canadian booze. Locals, tourists, TB patients, and gangsters like Legs Diamond intermingled. It was the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, and it was party time!
Men who were normally law-abiding citizens were drawn into this dangerous occupation in the hopes of making some quick cash. Area lawmen were soon pitted against a steady stream of fast-driving local runners. Stories have been passed down about the exploits of local bootleggers. Almost every family had at least one member in the business.
Bert LaFountain, a local bootlegging virtuoso, had a song called, "Bert LaFountain's Packard” written about him. A street in Gabriels bears his name. In spite of his occupation, Bert lived a long life and died of natural causes. One local bootlegger, however, is virtually forgotten, in spite of the fact that he is the subject of a pair of mysteries that have remained unsolved for over seven decades.
Pietro "Pete" Tanzini and his five brothers had come to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. Eventually they came to Saranac Lake, where they operated a construction company specializing in first class masonry. The brothers produced some beautiful stone work in Saranac Lake, including the early brick streets, which they laid around 1916. The brick was eventually covered with asphalt, but patches of the Tanzini brothers’ work occasionally show through the asphalt around town.
Four of Pete's brothers later settled in Binghamton. One brother, Jack, stayed in Saranac Lake and was associated with Rocco and Jimmie's American-Italian Garden Restaurant at 104 Broadway, which was frequently busted for selling illegal beverages. Pete decided to become a more active participant in the illegal booze trade.
Pete Tanzini was not only an expert stone mason; he was also an adept race car driver. He would utilize both of these skills in his bootlegging career. Because of his uncanny knack of avoiding their traps and disappearing quickly from sight, Pete became known by law enforcement agencies as the "Will O' The Wisp.” Pete's name was destined to become linked to North Country bootlegging and to the most perplexing unsolved mystery in the North Country.
Stay tuned next week for more about the mystery of Pete Tanzini!
This week's mini tour takes you behind the scenes with Chessie in one of our current temporary collections storage areas. We're going to be doing some major cataloging work in preparation to move our collections to the Trudeau Building over the next few years, funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Check it out for some highlights from our eclectic collections, including a guest appearance by the heaviest item in our collection!
Check out our collections page to learn more about how to access our collections, and find out about how to donate items.
Last week, we brought our “Letters from the Porch” series to a close. It was a fun way to stay in touch during quarantine times. Now we are starting a new weekly article series called “History Matters” that will present history on a wide range of topics relating to the rich history of the Saranac Lake region. The articles will run each week in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and we will share them here on our blog. We welcome your help with this project! Our good friend and local history expert, Phil “Bunk” Griffin has agreed to be a regular contributor, starting with an essay on bootlegging next week, so stay tuned…. We promise, you will learn something new each week!
The decade of the 1940s was a dramatic time in Saranac Lake. Emerging from the Great Depression, the TB economy was booming again as the world geared up for war. Saranac Lakers flocked to the Pontiac Theatre to watch motion pictures like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and It’s a Wonderful Life. The horrors of WWII came to an end in September of 1945, and it was time to celebrate. Big Band Dances were all the rage. New romances flourished while dancing the Lindy Hop.
The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra played in the Harrietstown Town Hall for the “Post Ball” in 1949. It was the climax of the four-day encampment of the New York Veterans of Foreign Wars. Eight hundred people danced until 1:30 a.m. The orchestra played a number of request selections and introduced "I've got that New Look" written by Ernie Burnett and Thomas Sheridan of Saranac Lake. As the dance concluded at 1:30, Mrs. Dorsey, mother of the two nationally known band leaders, was introduced to the dancers.
The Latin American Connection
Big band dances in Saranac Lake during the 1940s weren’t all swing music. There was quite a lot of Latin American music played too. Music from Cuba was all the rage, and thousands of people came to Saranac Lake from countries all over Latin America for the fresh air cure.
Many Spanish-speaking people in Saranac Lake were guests of Alfredo and Alicia Gonzalez. Alfredo Gonzalez was born Puerto Rico in 1903. He came to Saranac Lake with TB at age 17. Alicia was from Havana. The couple met and married in 1926. Together, they operated cure cottages in Saranac Lake for some forty years. Alfredo and Alicia established Saranac Lake as a destination for patients across Latin America. Walking through town, you would have heard Spanish being spoken at many cure cottages throughout the village.
Alfredo Gonzalez was active in the Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild, founded in 1935 to bring the benefits of occupational therapy to the community and to patients outside of the Trudeau Sanatorium. Mr. Gonzalez taught Spanish at the guild from 1941-45 and 1954-57. He helped to get a Time Magazine radio series called “Let us Learn Spanish” onto local radio station WNBZ. He also established an active Spanish Club which met for regular parties in the 40s and 50s at peoples’ homes and area sanatoria. Alfredo’s Spanish Club and classes laid the groundwork for some fabulous dances at the Hotel Saranac.
Dances at the Hotel Saranac
From 1942 to 1952, Alfredo Gonzalez organized a major annual fundraiser for the Guild, the Harvest Hop dance. For the 1942 Harvest Hop, the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. loaned a complete set of large flags from all 21 Latin American countries, which were used to decorate the hotel. The event included a pageant in which “21 beautiful girls” participated, each representing a different country. There was a Latin dance contest. Entertainment was provided by the band Señor Uvanni and his Caballeros, and the singer, Louisa Paván Hennessey.
In 1948, the annual dance was renamed the “Fiesta Hop.” The head of the Armed Forces of Venezuela, Mario Vargas, who was a patient at Gonzalez Cottage, served as honorary chairman of the dance. Old timers recalled Vargas’ uniform weighted down with medals. The general arranged for shipment by air from Venezuela of 100 native orchids for the female guests. The hotel was decorated with Latin American murals. Mr. and Mrs. PJ Seralles of the Don Q. Rum Company did a Samba exhibition. Alfredo's friends from the El Chico nightclub in New York City, Rosita Rios, and Benito Collada, were the star performers, along with the music of Raul Barragán and his five-piece orchestra.
The End of an Era
With the advent of the antibiotic treatment in Saranac Lake, the cure cottages emptied out, and suddenly very little Spanish was spoken in Saranac Lake. The big band dances at the Hotel Saranac became a thing of the past.
We were looking forward to bringing the decade to life again, with plans for a 1940s Big Band Gala at the hotel this summer. Like so many events, it has been postponed due to the virus. But we look forward to the day when we can put on our dancing shoes and dance the Lindy Hop and the Mambo again.
-Latin American Patients and family members at the Saranac Lake Union Depot. Alfredo Gonzalez is second from left. His wife Alicia is third from left. Courtesy of Joe Benero.
-Advertisement for Gonzalez Cottage, Journal of the Outdoor Life, Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
Mini tours (and Chessie) are back from vacation, and we're celebrating an important anniversary in the history of our country--the centennial of the 19th Amendment! We've got some exciting special temporary displays in the museum, but you can also learn about the amendment and its history and impact by visiting the links below from home. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope to see you soon!
-Women's Suffrage on our wiki
-Rightfully Hers Exhibit at the US National Archives
-Amended Podcast from Humanities New York
-Women's Suffrage exhibit at the Adirondack History Museum
During this quiet summer, one of the things we are missing is the theater. From Broadway in New York City to Pendragon in Saranac Lake, stages have gone dark. Actors are a lively, irrepressible bunch, and so it’s a testament to the seriousness of the situation that theaters are closed.
In interesting contrast, through the 1918 flu pandemic, Broadway did not shut down. A New York Times article this past July titled, “’Gotham Refuses to Get Scared’: In 1918, Theaters Stayed Open” described how, at the height of the flu epidemic, New York’s health commissioner declined to close performance spaces. Instead, he instituted public health measures such as staggering show times, eliminating standing room tickets, and mandating that anyone with a cough or sneeze be removed from theaters immediately.
The article described parallels to the current pandemic, and we Saranac Lakers would notice another connection. The lead photo from the 1918 Ziegfeld Follies included actors Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Eddie Cantor was one of the famous visitors to Saranac Lake. Although we have no record of Will Rogers ever coming here, his memory lives on in a beautiful local sanatorium named for him.
Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers were guided in their acting careers by one of Saranac Lake’s most famous TB patients and residents, William Morris. He founded the talent agency in 1898 that still carries his name. Morris came to Saranac Lake for his health in 1902, and by the 1920s, he was spending much of his time at his Camp Intermission on Lake Colby. He was one of many theater people, from ticket takers to vaudeville stars, who make up a vibrant part of Saranac Lake history.
While the show went on, TB was a common hazard of the job, and the theater community did not ignore the need for support. Empathy is an essential part of the job description for an actor, so it’s no surprise that many people in the entertainment business engage in helping others.
Impresario and theater owner Edward F. Albee led efforts to provide subsidized care to workers in vaudeville at three different cure cottages in the village. William Morris and his wife Emma established the Saranac Lake Day Nursery to provide childcare and nutrition to children in need. Morris brought to Saranac Lake some of the most famous entertainers of the time to raise funds for many causes. Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Harry Lauder performed for fundraisers to support the Day Nursery, the Jewish Community Center, the Methodist Church, and St. Bernard’s Church. Morris brought actress Olga Petrova to Saranac Lake to turn the first shovel of earth for a housing project on Lake Street.
William Morris helped found the National Vaudeville Artists Home in Saranac Lake in 1929. In 1936, following the tragic death of Will Rogers in a plane crash, the facility took the name Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. It was a fitting tribute to the great American humorist, actor and vaudevillian, known throughout America as the country’s “Ambassador of Good Will.” In service today as a beautifully restored retirement community, the building hosts a stage where TB patients once put on performances. The Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation in Los Angeles continues to support workers from the entertainment industry in need.
During the TB years, Saranac Lake children visited Will Rogers Hospital for holiday concerts. There, they serenaded the patients in the stairwell that wound up around the Will Rogers statue. Today, the tradition continues, when school children sing to elderly residents for the annual winter concert. For now the stage and stairwell are quiet, but actors are irrepressible. We can trust that someday soon, the show will go on again.
The Last Letter from the Porch
What started as weekly letters written from my porch during quarantine would now, 23 letters later, be more appropriately named “Letters from the Busy Museum.” There is much work to be done as we move forward with a major project to expand the museum, and it’s time to bring this series to an end. As they say, the show must go on!
Going forward, Historic Saranac Lake will continue to share a weekly column with our members and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. We welcome your help with this effort. Please get in touch to share what you know about the amazing history and architecture of the Saranac Lake region!
Thank you for helping to make history matter, and be well,
Historic Saranac Lake
-Advertisement in Moving Picture World, Nov. 1917. Public domain image.
-Dr. Edgar Mayer, actor Eddie Cantor, possibly Al Jolson, and theatrical agent William Morris.
Courtesy of Gail Brill.
-Saranac Lake High School chorus students pose with banner of Will Rogers in the stairwell at Saranac Lake Village at Will Rogers following last year’s winter concert.
Courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake.
Chessie has the week off, so we decided to give our mini tours a break too! We've had a lot of fun making all these socially distant videos for you, but it's not as easy as it looks! Sometimes we fumble our words, sometimes it's windy, and sometimes we just plain forget what to say. We hope you enjoy having a laugh with us, and check back in next week for more fact-filled videos about Saranac Lake history!
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!