This week's mini tour gives you a sneak peek at a special space in the Trudeau Building! Dr. Trudeau's sleeping porch will be part of the exhibit spaces when the building is reopened to the public. If you want more on the latest plans for the exhibits, visit our website.
By Amy Catania
Sears catalog kit house advertisement, 1936.
What’s not to love about a house in a box? In the first part of the 20th century, thousands of Americans ordered their homes out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. The homes were shipped in railroad cars, all parts ready to assemble — little boxes, just like the Pete Seeger song. Customers could choose from a wide variety of architectural styles and price points, from the tiny metal “Lustron” to the elegant “Alhambra.” Both styles can be found here in the village. An untold number of other Saranac Lake homes were built from kits.
When I first moved to Saranac Lake, my husband and I bought a little house over by the Petrova fields. Just down the street is Susan and Glenn Arnold’s Lustron and Lynn and Wayne Newman’s Strathmore. Around the corner, you can find Sandy Hildreth’s Strathmore, built in reverse. As I learned about the kit houses in the neighborhood, I became hopeful that our house was part of the club. The tell-tale archway to the living room, the funny slant to the chimney, the compact design — these were some of the details that gave me hope our house might be one of the chosen.
One day, looking through old Sears Catalogues, I found it! There, with arched doorway, slanted chimney, and matching floorpan, was... the Collingwood! — “an unusual bungalow, well suited for modern living conditions. The exterior is very practical and finds much favor on account of its simplicity…. Living out of doors, as most of us do in summer, the front porch will be appreciated. The windows are very well designed and attractively arranged.”
The Strathmore, arriving on the train in Saranac Lake, and pictured at right, mostly assembled. Photos provided by Martin Winderl, the stone mason who built the foundation.
In 1936, the Collingwood cost $1,497, which included “all material consisting of lumber, lath, millwork, flooring, shingles, building paper, hardware, metal and painting materials according to specifications.” Today, adjusting for inflation, this solid little house would cost just $29,037. The new owner would have only needed to hire Maddens to deliver the kit from the depot to the new lot, and to pay a trusty contractor like Mike Boon to pour the foundation and assemble the house.
Thrilled with my discovery, I went about the process of looking for proof that my home was indeed a Collingwood. Sadly, I was out of luck. Where “Sears” should have been stamped on hardware, there was nothing. Where the dimensions of a room should have been exactly as listed, they were slightly different. I came to the conclusion that my house was built on the plans of the Collingwood, but not from an actual kit. Apparently, this was a common practice. Sears plans were readily available, and builders often made use of them to build their own kit house replicas.
My house was not quite a kit house, but nevertheless, we loved that place — it’s tidy size, it’s sturdy plaster walls, it’s bright rooms. My research into the house’s past set the stage for many happy years in that house. We raised two boys there, and the years passed quickly, measured by the sports seasons on the fields next-door, from spring baseball to summer rugby to fall football. Over time, we came to feel like we belonged in Saranac Lake. In all those years of flying baseballs, only one window broke.
Eventually we outgrew our Collingwood wannabe, and we moved across town to one of Saranac Lake’s rambling cure cottages. Our “new” house is all porches and angles, with no clear history or floor plan. It’s full of mysterious drafty spots and attic spaces to nowhere. Unlike a kit house, a cure cottage’s history and architecture is messy, the way most life is.
We tend to want to see the world like a kit house. We want reality to come in little boxes – right or wrong, left or right, red or blue. When we take the time to dig underneath appearances and into the past, we find that things are almost always more complicated than they appear on the surface. We discover connections and imagine new possibilities. We can find common ground in a shared appreciation for our hometown.
Lynn Newman at her home, the Strathmore, September, 2020.
A few years ago, when we were trying to wrest this cure cottage out of foreclosure, my friend Anne Merkel got wind of our interest in the house. Her husband Dr. David Merkel grew up here, and she loved this old place. Every few weeks, Anne would call and gently encourage us. One winter, when we had about given up, Anne called and said, “I’ve been thinking about the Merkel house and how pretty it looks at Christmas. Do you know where you would put the Christmas tree?”
Yes, I knew exactly where the Christmas tree would go, and I knew then that we would keep trying to get the house. Not long later, we bought it in foreclosure, and we began the long process of slowly bringing the place back to life. Now, as the leaves begin to change color, we look forward to another Christmas in the old Merkel house, in the place we call home.
Actors reading the play, "Safe Harbor" from the porch of the Merkel cure cottage, September 2020. The play by Karen Lewis is set in Saranac Lake during the TB years.
Did you know that September is National Happy Cat Month? It's Tuberculosis Thursday, but we're not sure how happy the cat is in this photograph of Dr. Edward R. Baldwin, Mary Ives Baldwin, and an unidentified friend (and unidentified cat!). Dr. Baldwin came to Trudeau Sanatorium with TB in the mid-1900s, and eventually became a close personal friend and colleague of Dr. Trudeau. The Baldwins lived across the street from the Saranac Laboratory on Church Street, and Dr. Baldwin was eventually Director of the Laboratory.
We received an amazing gift of the Baldwin Family archives from Dr. Baldwin's great-granddaughter Barbara Baldwin Knapp in 2018, and we're enjoying learning more about their history and sharing it with you! Visit our wiki to learn more.
By Phil “Bunk” Griffin for Historic Saranac Lake
Following his brush with death (as recounted in last week’s article) Pete Tanzini appeared to have settled down. He married his second wife Gussy, and they settled into their new home at the end of Olive Street.
A couple of years later, however, Pete became the proud owner of a giant Wildcat still. This was said to be the biggest illegal still in New York State, originally costing $45,000. The still was previously owned by a Brooklyn bootleg gang, who had bought it piecemeal, assembled it and produced hundreds of gallons of booze a week. Eventually, the gang was snagged. The government confiscated the still, cut it into apparently useless scrap metal, and sold it to a junkyard.
A Rochester gang, operating as junk dealers, bought the "useless" scrap metal piece by piece with the intention of reconstructing it. Not wanting to provoke the Brooklyn gang, they sold the device to Pete for $7,000. It was quietly shipped to Saranac Lake and reassembled in a secret chamber that Pete had built into the cellar of his home on Olive Street.
The Brooklyn gang was run by Jack Moran, better known as Legs Diamond. Jack's brother, Eddie Moran, was curing in Saranac Lake, and Jack often came to visit him. Jack wanted to control distribution in the North Country, and he put the pressure on Pete. He said he would allow Pete to sell his goods in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Lyon Mountain, and other small outlets in the area. He was, however, warned not to do business in Lake Placid, Elizabethtown, Port Henry, and localities to the south. On at least one occasion, Pete had been seen by the Diamond gang in a taboo area.
Legs Diamond continued his threats toward Pete and began spreading lies that Pete's whiskey was watered down. A lesser man would have thrown in the towel at this point, but Pete, although just five feet tall, wasn't a man who could be pushed around. Pete set up a meeting with Legs at the Aratoga Inn, in Cairo New York, 25 miles south of Albany, to settle this problem. This was one of Legs' favorite hangouts. At the meeting, Pete verbally and physically put Legs down, a very dangerous move. Legs Diamond was later attacked by Dutch Schultz and his gunmen at the Aratoga Inn but was only wounded. Two innocent bystanders were killed in that attack.
On Wednesday, December 17, 1930, at 5:00 PM, Pete told his wife Gussy that he had a business meeting in town and left the house. He told her that he would stop at the store on his way home and pick up groceries. He went directly to the Club Restaurant on Main Street, Saranac Lake, and met with the owner, Al Chapple, and Jimmy Carolina, a local businessman, concerning a store they were planning on building in town.
The Club Restaurant was busy with its 5:00 o'clock dinner crowd, so Pete and Jimmy left the restaurant saying that they would return at 8:00 PM Pete was seen shortly after coming out of a grocery store carrying a package. He got into his dark green Buick bearing 1930 license plates numbered 9P-55-32 and drove away. A Saranac Lake salesman reported seeing Pete a short time later near Work's Corners, now better known as Donnelly's Corners. The man said that Pete was driving his Buick and was accompanied by two men who he didn't recognize. That was the last known sighting of Peter Tanzini.
On February 17, 1931, exactly two months after Pete's disappearance, Norman Demo was doing some work around the Tanzini house on Olive Street. He recalled at 1:45 PM hearing the phone ring and Gussy answering. He said he couldn't hear the conversation. Norman testified that he heard the doorbell a few minutes later and that Gussy went to the door. Another telephone call came just a few minutes later, Demo stated.
Just before 2:00 PM, Norman said he heard a shot and ran upstairs to investigate. According to Demo, Gussy was on the floor and a .22 caliber pistol was lying nearby. She had a bullet wound in her right temple. Police traced the phone calls to a local pay phone but had no clue as to who made them. Mrs. Tanzini, 29, had just recently made out her will with Justice Harold Main of Malone, who appeared at the house just moments later. Norman Demo and a cohort named Sonny Foster, took a one-way trip to Alaska shortly after the death of Gussy. Rumor had it that each had $5,000 in his possession.
Later, a search was made of the house, and the secret chamber in the cellar was discovered. Police also found two secret rooms in the attic containing thousands of counterfeit Canadian liquor labels and seals. The still was once more cut up and stored in Malone. An associated bottling plant on Keene Street was also raided at that time.
On December 18, 1931, almost exactly one year after Pete's mysterious disappearance, Legs Diamond was rubbed out by Dutch Schultz's gang at his hideout on Dove Street in Albany.
According to an article in the Lake Placid News of February 25, 1944, the Tanzini home was involved in a fire but was not badly damaged. Pete's beautiful stonework and the entrance to the once hidden room can still be seen behind the house on the end of Olive Street. Although no song was written about Pete and no street bears his name, this stonework still stands as a haunting memorial of the tragic tale of the "Will O' The Wisp" and Gussy.
-Pete Tanzini trimming the hedge at his home on Olive Street. Courtesy of Bunk Griffin.
-Augusta "Gussy" Menzel Tanzini, Courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake.
-Shirley Tanzini, daughter of Pete and Gussy Tanzini, demonstrates a hidden door built by Pete at William Morris' Camp Intermission. Courtesy of Bunk Griffin.
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.
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!