by Amy Catania
These days it seems like everyone wants to call the Adirondacks home. During the pandemic, closed-in city spaces have lost their allure. It’s a repeat of Saranac Lake’s tuberculosis years, when tens of thousands of people came here from around the world in search of the fresh air cure. When you want to avoid germs, a place with more trees than people is a good bet.
Adirondackers have a long love-hate relationship with outsiders. As the 20th century began and the TB industry picked up speed, strangers poured into the village. As much as TB represented a way to put food on the table, not all locals were thrilled with the changes newcomers brought. Guide and boatbuilder Fred Rice wrote a manuscript in 1952 decrying the development of the village as a health resort. During his father’s lifetime, as logging dried up, the business of wilderness tourism was flourishing. Mr. Rice argued this would have been the preferred pattern of development, “…persons not connected with the health interests have never felt particularly grateful to the doctors for changing the young pleasure resort into a health resort,” he wrote.
Fred Rice’s Saranac Lake of 1952 was coming to look a lot like it does today — a village paved for cars, strung with wires, teeming at times with city people. It’s easy to look back at the quieter times of the 1800s as the beginning of our history. We tend to think of young Fred Rice, his dad, and the tough old Adirondack guides like them, as the original Adirondackers. Such a view ignores the history of people who lived here for thousands of years.
Written accounts by early white settlers document the Adirondacks as a homeland and an important place of resource for many indigenous people. But as white people sank roots and claimed their future here, they re-wrote history to claim the past too. By 1921, historian Alfred Donaldson was writing that Indians just passed through the area. To the present day, a dearth of archeological studies has perpetuated the myth that Native Americans did not consider the Adirondacks home. At Historic Saranac Lake, we have often repeated this mistaken version of history.
Drive 15 minutes outside of the village, and you will find an amazing little museum that presents a much longer, more complete view of the past. Founded in 1954, Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center has been run by three generations of the Mohawk of Akwesasne Fadden family. There, you will discover that the Adirondacks were home to Algonquian-speaking and Iroquoian-speaking people since before 9000 BCE. The distinct culture of the Haudenosaunee formed within a vast territory that included much of New York State and the Adirondacks. Stories handed down across countless generations document the Adirondacks as a treasured homeland, a place of refuge, and a source of resources from fishing, hunting, trapping, mining, tapping trees, ice fishing, and the harvesting of medicinal plants.
At Historic Saranac Lake, we talk a lot about the last 150 years, but the human history of the Saranac Lake region goes back some 80 times farther! A fluted arrowhead found recently on St. Regis Lake is estimated to be some 13 thousand years old. At the top of the high peaks, Potsdam University Archaeologist Tim Messner found a piece of worked flint to make stone tools. People were here, calling this place home, hunting caribou across glaciers, before there were trees. It turns out, Fred Rice and his father were also interlopers, just a skip away in time from today’s city people looking for parking by Mount Baker.
Not only have we dismissed thousands of years of Native American history, we have ignored or diminished the presence of Native Americans in recent history to the present day. As the Adirondacks developed, Native Americans were forced to adapt as old livelihoods were no longer sustainable. Lumber operations, land takeovers by private owners and the state, and hunting for sport, all made for less game. Some Indians turned to guiding. They imparted their deep knowledge of the woods and waters to white settlers, making their survival possible. Native peoples survived as entrepreneurs, and in the towns and hamlets of the Adirondack Park, they have continued to maintain their cultural traditions.
As the weather warms, and local trails and lakes fill up with out-of-towners, we should keep in mind that few of us are rightful owners of these mountains. Native American people would wisely say that no one owns the land; at best we are merely stewards of this place we call home.
John Fadden, Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center
Iakonikonriiosta, the Akwesasne Cultural Center
Tim Messner, SUNY Potsdam
Jen Krester, the Wild Center
Humanities New York.
"Mohawk Presence in the Adirondacks" by John Fadden
“Hidden Heritage” by Curt Stager (Adirondack Life, June 2017)
Rural Indigenousness by Melisa Otis (Syracuse University Press, 2018)
“A History In Fragments” by Lynn Woods (Adirondack Life November/December 1994)
by Amy Catania
This month, one block at a time, an ice palace emerged again on the shore of Lake Flower. If you had the chance to stop by, you may have felt its warm embrace.
The massive ice blocks of the palace remind me of the stone walls of Machu Picchu. Relying on a system of communal labor called mit’a, the Inca built enormous stone structures and highly engineered roads and bridges. Each citizen who could work was required to donate a number of days of their labor to cultivate crops and build public works. Historians of ancient Peru trace the ways the mit’a system forged a complex society. Working together, people developed friendships and bonds of reciprocity that served the common good throughout the year.
Saranac Lake has its own form of mit’a. Winter Carnival brings together individuals from all walks of life, all ages, political persuasions, types of jobs, and personalities. Building an ice palace or a parade float isn’t always fun. We disagree about costumes, decorations, and dance moves. Like siblings we squabble, but we emerge on the other side laughing. Just like the blocks of the ice palace, one person at a time, carnival comes together. Eventually the palace melts down to a pile of rubble like an Incan ruin. But when it’s time to argue about an issue relating to the school district or village politics, having survived the dry run of carnival, we make it through together. A community net is forged. When your luck takes a turn, it is there to catch you.
At Winter Carnival time, I think of this illustration by Mildred McMaster Blanchet. Milly left behind beautiful artwork and lively poems that belie a life marked by its share of hardship. A trained artist who came to Saranac Lake with TB, she met her husband Dr. Sidney Blanchet when they were both patients at Trudeau. Dr. Blanchet served as Dr. E. L. Trudeau’s personal physician. He was well respected and deeply loved by his patients. Milly and Sidney settled in the village and had three children.
The community reached out to help the Blanchet family more than once. In the winter of 1933, the oldest Blanchet boys, Gray and David, fell through thin ice while skating on Lake Flower. The Ogdensburg Journal reported, “Their screams were heard by a group of boys on the shore. With presence of mind the youths quickly grabbed planks, and ropes at a nearby garage and rushed to the aid of the lads in the freezing water.” Thanks to the heroic efforts of young Saranac Lakers, including Charlie Keough and Paul Duprey, the boys survived.
Four years later, tragedy struck again and didn’t miss. During the Depression, many of Dr. Blanchet's patients could not pay for care. He often treated them for free, resulting in his own bankruptcy. Dr. Blanchet fell into a deep depression and tragically took his life. Milly must have felt the world crumble under her feet. But the community net reached out. She was offered a place to live at the Trudeau Sanatorium and hired as an occupational therapist at the workshop. She taught painting, knitting, crewel work, and hand embroidery. Piece by piece, Milly re-built her life by helping others.
Eventually, thanks in part to the heroic ice rescue of 1933, Milly became a proud grandmother of ten. She retired to a senior center in Massachusetts where she created a craft room for the residents. Her granddaughter Sylvia remembers, “The walls were lined with shelves of every kind of art supply. There was a great table in the center of the room that was always filled with busy, happy people when Grand Milly was in attendance. She would mentor whoever was in need of attention and encourage every project. I saw people hooking rugs, knitting, doing needle point, and painting among other things. It was as if the people in the room were her garden and everyone there would blossom through her kind and gentle presence.”
In Saranac Lake, the workshop that shaped Milly’s life still stands. For a brief time, an ice palace emerged on the shore of Lake Flower. Sadly, this year's palace was demolished early to avoid gatherings during the pandemic, but come back next winter for a warm hug.
by Amy Catania
Seeking some historical perspective on the current pandemic, Historic Saranac Lake recently hosted an imaginary panel discussion at St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery. Three generations of Doctors Trudeau shared their thoughts on change and continuity in science and public health.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
MODERATOR: In your lifetimes, each of you witnessed major advancements in the scientific understanding and medical treatment of infectious disease. Does it surprise you to see a new virus set the world back on its heels?
DOCTOR 2: Indeed, it is a shock. Today’s situation reminds me of the flu that I saw when I served on military base during the Great War. Basic nursing care and sanitary measures were our only weapons.
DOCTOR 1: In my time, huge advancements were made in science and medicine, so it is surprising to see the mess we are in with this new virus. 150 years ago, I came to Saranac Lake fighting "consumption," a disease that was killing 1 in 7 people in our country. We had no idea what caused it or how to cure it. Then, in 1882, Dr. Koch discovered the tubercle bacillus under the microscope in Germany. It seemed science would save the world from infectious disease.
DOCTOR 2: When the antibiotic treatment for TB was perfected in the 1950s, it was a miracle. Many of my patients who had been sick for years suddenly got out of bed and returned to the living.
DOCTOR 3: Thanks to groundbreaking advancements like antibiotics and the polio vaccine, there was great optimism. U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart announced in 1969 that the time had come to “close the book on infectious disease.”
DOCTOR 1: I can understand that perspective. “Optimism in Medicine” was the title of my last public speech!
MODERATOR: Yet tuberculosis continues as a major public health threat, even now. And here we are with a new virus wreaking havoc around the world. What went wrong?
DOCTOR 1: Looking back on my early struggles in the laboratory, I knew then that microbes are tricky little buggers. It is no wonder that they continue to outwit us.
DOCTOR 3: In the 1960s, Eastern Europe was experiencing a resurgence of TB. Some doctors from the Soviet Union visited Saranac Lake to learn about our old surgical methods for TB. It drove home for me that science isn’t a straight trajectory. Microorganisms keep evolving. Overused and misused, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. Some 1.5 million people are expected to die of TB in this new year! Scientific development of new antibiotics is woefully underfunded today.
DOCTOR 1: Research dollars flow to where there is money to be made, not necessarily where human health most needs the research. I founded my Saranac Laboratory in 1894 as purely a research laboratory, with no commercial side to it. Soon I realized the difficulty of that model.
DOCTOR 3: Still, I have such hope in science! In 1964, I opened the doors of the new Trudeau institute for the first time. I was so proud on that day, and I am thrilled to see Trudeau Institute still with us, carrying out important research. Science holds great promise. Just look at the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines!
DOCTOR 1: Today's vaccines are an achievement that I could have never imagined back in the early days when my microscope was lit by natural light. But it must be a two-pronged approach — science and public health.
MODERATOR: What do you think about the state of the public health system today?
DOCTOR 3: Under-resourced systems are straining to care for the sick, administer the vaccines, and prepare for the next disease. The lack of attention to public health is not new. In my time, as we came to rely more on pharmaceuticals, the holistic sanatorium model — buttressing the immune system with a long-term approach to wellness — fell by the wayside.
DOCTOR 2: I remember when the last patient left the sanatorium in 1954. It was a sad day for Saranac Lake, but a hopeful day for humanity. We thought then that the magic bullet of pharmaceuticals would simplify patient care and ultimately take the place of many prevention measures. It hasn’t been that easy.
DOCTOR 1: It’s been true for a long time — more lives are saved by public health measures than by medical care. Population density, poor sanitation, unventilated spaces, poverty, stress … all of these ills of the modern world contribute to infectious disease. (Yes, the late 1800s were “modern” to us then!) Addressing those conditions was (and is!) essential to improving human health. The world has taken shortcuts around simple public health measures. Coronavirus proves the danger of that approach.
DOCTOR 2: With each returning disease, like plague and Cholera, to new ones like HIV, Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19, public funding for emergency response and prevention surges, but then it declines again.
MODERATOR: Today's virus isn’t just hitting poor countries hard. Wealthy countries like the U.S. are struggling too. What’s going on?
DOCTOR 1: COVID-19 reveals that the same deep inequalities that bred the rise of TB in the 1800s are still with us.
DOCTOR 2: It’s a terrible tragedy. I read that on average, each victim of COVID-19 has lost 13 years of life. Blacks and Hispanics are more than twice as likely to die of the disease. But many turn a blind eye. Many people doubt science and medicine and distrust their fellow citizens. Political divisions, exacerbated by the pandemic, are threatening our democratic system.
DOCTOR 3: Disease doesn’t have to sow division. There is another path. Look how Saranac Lake came together as a community that cared for the sick with compassion.
DOCTOR 1: Empathy was at the heart of our work at Saranac, and the world needs more of it now. I never hired a nurse, orderly, or doctor who did not have that essential quality. I am proud of today’s heroes in medicine and science. Their courageous work during this difficult time reminds me of a favorite phrase, “To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.”
Sources and Acknowledgements
- Epidemics and Society by Frank Snowden, Yale University Press, 2019.
- Covid-19 age expectancy statistic: January 2021 "Harper’s Index," Harper's Magazine, Stephen Elledge, Harvard Medical School.
- Special thanks for input from Laura Ettinger, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at Clarkson University and Dr. Tony Holtzman, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University.
by Amy Catania
"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole.” — It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946
This is a good time of year to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Set in a fictional town in upstate New York called Bedford Falls, the movie tells the story of a man named George Bailey who discovers how much his life matters. The movie brings to mind the wonderful life of Saranac Laker, Alton “Tony” Anderson.
Tony Anderson fell ill with tuberculosis while working as a toolmaker in Southington, Connecticut. As a member of the Masons, he received financial help to come to Saranac Lake for treatment in 1919. “I came here to die,” Tony used to say.
Facing death, Tony received a gift, a chance to imagine the world without him. He made his home here and dedicated his life to giving back. He served as village mayor for nine terms. He worked as the volunteer ambulance driver and as a plane spotter on top of the Hotel Saranac during the war. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Elks Club, the Rotary, the Boat and Waterway Club, the hospital board, and the blood bank.
Mayor Anderson could always be seen around town, no matter the temperature, in his sport coat and tie, doing the informal business of holding the village together, one personal relationship at a time. He was a Republican in a time when political party didn’t matter much in small town politics. People voted for Tony time and again, because he was a good man who worked hard for the people of Saranac Lake. Mayor Anderson had a delightful, quiet sense of humor. He did the right thing without apology. If you needed something, he was there.
The gem of Tony’s eye was the beautiful Pontiac Theatre. The theater had the largest screen in upstate New York, an orchestral organ valued at $12,000, velvet curtains, and gorgeous chandeliers. It wasn’t just a theater; it was an experience. Famed theatrical agent William Morris, here with his own case of TB, brought some of the most famous talent of the day to perform benefit shows at the Pontiac.
Tony Anderson first worked as an usher in the balcony, which was reserved for TB patients. He went on to a long career as theater manager. Tony was always there at the door, warmly greeting each patron. After the Catholic Church burned, Tony opened the theater for Sunday services. Parishioners gave him the friendly appellation, “Father Anderson.” The business of managing the theater was hard work, and Tony liked to say that he “never missed a day and never saw a movie.” He kept a record of the date of each winter’s first snowfall on the doorframe of his little office under the theater stairs.
Each afternoon, Tony went home to his modest house on South Hope Street and sat on his porch in a cure chair. “Best seat in the house,” he called it. After his afternoon rest, he would go back to the theater for the shows. Tony’s wife Helen is remembered as a lovely person. She took care of the books at Newman and Holmes hardware store. They had two children, Charlene and Bailey.
Saranac Lake in the 1950s was a picture postcard of Bedford Falls. Everyone knew each other. Kids played together outside through all seasons. Downtown shops bustled year-round. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise was five times thicker than it is today. The theater, the radio station, civic organizations, and places of worship knitted the community together. Like the shadow of death cast by tuberculosis, the horrors of WWII inspired an appreciation for life and a sense of civic responsibility.
But forces were afoot that were beginning to devastate small towns around the country. Everywhere, industry and manufacturing were closing up shop. In Saranac Lake, the TB business came to an end. Jobs dried up and families left. Across America, suburban development was eroding downtown retail. Television offered solitary entertainment that took the place of public activities like going to the movies.
By the late 1960s, Tony Anderson’s beloved theater had fallen on hard times. The impeccably dressed ushers were gone, and, much to Tony’s chagrin, on Wednesday nights the Pontiac was showing titillating foreign films that reflected changing social mores. It seemed that only the bars were prospering. The town was on track to become like Pottersville, Bedford Falls’ evil twin in the movie. The forces that were changing the village were bigger than the efforts of the good men and women of Saranac Lake.
But things have a way of coming full circle. Many former TB patients credit their brush with death for shaping their sense of civic duty. As we emerge from a global pandemic, perhaps we have more than one Tony Anderson in the making. Good people and places are still with us. Cross the bridge by the Left Bank Cafe. Turn the corner, and walk past the Hotel Saranac, the museum, and the library. You just might see glimmers of Bedford Falls.
Sadly, some things are indeed lost forever. On December 19, 1978, a massive fire devastated the Pontiac Theatre. Three years after the fire, Saranac Lake’s longest serving mayor died at the age of 82. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise obituary stated, “Will Rogers said, 'I never met a man I couldn't like.' With apologies for the paraphrasing, we say, 'We never met anyone who didn't like Tony Anderson.’”
It’s true, no man is a failure who has friends. George Bailey and Tony Anderson had a lot of them, regular people who in small ways make up the wonderful life of a small town. George Bailey’s friends in Bedford Falls bring to mind the regular people of Saranac Lake who look out for each other — people like Ernie the taxi driver, Bert the policeman, Mary the devoted wife and mother, Mr. Gower the pharmacist, Martini the barkeep, Harry the war hero, the woman at the bank who asks for only $17.50, and Clarence the angel.
“Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Saranac Lake.
Special thanks to those who shared their memories for this story: Chris Brescia, Jan Dudones, Jim Griebsch, Bunk Griffin, Howard Riley, Jim and Keela Rogers, and our dear friend, Natalie Leduc, who, on December 8 came to the end of her truly wonderful life. We won’t be the same without her.
by Amy Catania
"I have been so upset by world events that my mind has been almost completely paralyzed.” — Béla Bartók
In the midst of the dark days of World War II, a frail man named Béla Bartók came to Saranac Lake for his health. Although he was one of the greatest composers in human history, many Saranac Lakers might have seen him as just another invalid, tiny and pale, wrapped in his dark cape against the cold Adirondack weather.
Bartók and his second wife Ditta fled their native Hungary eighty years ago, as fascism and antisemitism swept across Europe. He had dedicated his life not only to composing, but also collecting and arranging the folk music of Eastern Europe. Nazi Germany was threatening to erase the cultures of the Roma and other peasant peoples of the region. In the face of such terror, Bartók was depressed, impoverished, and sick with a form of leukemia that acted like tuberculosis. He and his wife moved from one cramped, loud, New York City apartment to another. He had ceased composing.
In the summer of 1943, the Bartóks found refuge in Saranac Lake. Here, wrote his son Peter, "he found the peace and tranquility suitable for composing…. My father was obviously contented; his surroundings were as spartan as the interior of a Hungarian peasant cottage -- a reminder of a world with such fond associations for him.”
Bartók spent three summers in Saranac Lake, where the quiet and natural environment inspired some of his greatest works — the Concerto for Orchestra, the Viola Concerto, and the Third Piano Concerto. In his music, he integrated peasant melodies of Eastern Europe with the birdsong of the Adirondacks. Here, under the cloud of terrible world events, he found a measure of hope.
The cabin off of Riverside Drive, where Bartók stayed the last summer of his life in 1945, was saved from demolition thanks to a Romanian pianist named Cristina Stanescu. She had come to Saranac Lake to perform with the Gregg Smith Singers one summer some thirty years ago. While staying at Fogarty’s Bed and Breakfast, she learned about the decrepit cabin down the street where Bartók once stayed. The composer was a hero to Cristina. When she was just six years old, her first teacher in Romania had taught her Bartók’s music even though it was banned under Communism. To Christina’s teacher, Bartók represented friendship among the peoples of Eastern Europe, and his modernist compositions had become a symbol in Europe of anti-fascist resistance.
Cristina Stanescu raised the alarm to save the cabin. Emily Fogarty, Mary Hotaling, George Pappastavrou, Lex Dashnaw, and Doug March took up the cause, and they worked with a team of volunteers and musicians to raise the funds to save the cabin. Today Historic Saranac Lake provides tours of the Bartók Cabin in the summers, and many interesting people from around the world visit each year.
One recent visitor to the cabin was Brian Ward. His grandmother, Corneila Hamvas, fled from the Nazis to the United States with her Jewish family. Back in Budapest, when Cornelia was seven years old, Béla Bartók taught her how to play the piano. This fall, standing in the humble cabin with Cornelia’s grandson, the past felt very close at hand. We listened for Bartók’s birds, calling in the woods.
“My own idea… is the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood in spite of wars and conflicts, I try -- to the best of my ability -- to serve this idea in my music; therefore, I don't reject any influence, be it Slovakian, Romanian, Arabic, or from any other source.” — Béla Bartók
by Sunita Halasz
While the coronavirus pandemic rages like a figurative wildfire all over the world in 2020, actual wildfires are setting horrific records out west this year. The combined acreage of burned area surpasses the size of the state of New Jersey. The loss is not just to forest land, but to homes and businesses, and in some cases whole communities have been apocalyptically reduced to ash.
It’s hard to imagine that similar widespread forest fires once burned the Adirondacks around the turn of the twentieth century. Flames spread throughout the Park, and ash from Adirondack fires fell as far away as Albany, and smoke was reported in New York City. Fires in 1903 and 1908 were particularly widespread in the North Country.
1903 was a dry year for the entire Northeast. In the Adirondacks, snowfall was less than average, and from April to June that year, only 0.2 in. of rain was recorded. In 1904, W. F. Fox wrote in “Forest Fires of 1903,” a bulletin of the NYS Forest, Fish, and Game Commission:
The line of the New York Central from Fulton Chain to Mountain View was bordered with smoke and flames, except on the eight-mile stretch through the private preserve of Dr. William Seward Webb, where a large number of patrols were employed at his expense to follow each train, night or day, and extinguish the locomotive sparks that fell along the road.
Many Adirondack fires were caused by live coals that escaped from unscreened locomotive stacks and fell on dry, vertical slash in the heavily logged forests along railroad lines, though Professor Emeritus of Paul Smith’s College, Dr. Michael Kudish, estimates that only about eleven percent of fires were caused by trains. More commonly, forest fires were caused by escaped campfires and brush-clearing fires, and the furnaces associated with mining operations in the Park. With the exception of mining furnaces, campfires and burning brush piles remain the top threat for wildfire in the Adirondacks today.
One of the largest acreages burned during the 1903 fire season was around Lake Placid in a fire started by high winds fueling a burning brush pile. That fire spread into the High Peaks and is the one that burned down Henry Van Hoevenburg’s Adirondack Lodge.
Mt. Baker in Saranac Lake burned in 1903 and again in 1908 when dry conditions and logging slash once again proliferated throughout the region. The 1908 fire spread east to McKenzie Mountain and threatened the village of Saranac Lake, as well, but it ultimately remained contained to the wilderness. In 1914, the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club ordered 15,000 Scots pine (also called Scotch pine) grown at the State Nursery at Saranac Inn, at a price of just $60 for the whole load, and the trees were planted by a volunteer force of local men and Saranac Lake High School boys.
A May 15, 1914 article in the Lake Placid News states, “It is not expected that the 15,000 trees will make much of an impression on the stony sides and summit of Baker...” The prediction was wrong! Those Scots pines are still very visible as a dark green patch in all seasons up on Baker Mountain today.
After fires burned over 400,000 acres in the Forest Preserve in 1903, and nearly 300,000 acres in 1908, strict laws were enacted that set up a patrol of railroad properties, forced railroads to use petroleum for steam locomotive fuel instead of coal or wood, punished those responsible for escaped fires, enabled the building of fire towers (the first fire tower built in the Adirondacks was on Mt. Morris in Tupper Lake in 1909), and gave executive power to the Governor to close the Forest Preserve to recreationists in times of high fire risk.
The widespread Adirondack fires in the early part of the twentieth century were an anomaly due to the convergence of several factors including climate and fuel loads. Fire in northeastern forests has been historically absent, as shown by fossil pollen and charcoal records which estimate a fire return frequency of many hundreds to thousands of years, due to swift leaf litter decomposition, low wind risk, widely and rapidly varying topography, and the fire-resistant nature of northern hardwoods. This doesn’t mean, however, that fires can’t happen here today. We must remain vigilant and follow local regulations about campfires, burning brush, proper disposal of cigarette butts, and so forth.
The first time I ever visited Vermontville it was to research the site of the 1991 fire near Kate Mountain Park that burned 300 acres. I was a graduate teaching assistant for an ecology course at Cornell University and, of all the places we could have visited in the state, we went to Vermontville because it was such an excellent opportunity to observe post-fire vegetation recovery. Now I live in Saranac Lake and coach our homeschool soccer team at Kate Mountain Park each fall, so I am watching the forest there grow a little taller each year and seeing the plants in the understory get a little more shaded out.
But like we are seeing out west, slight changes in climate, exacerbated by careless actions of humans, can have drastic damaging ripple effects that will be felt for decades.
-Ampersand Mountain fire tower, c. 1960. Photograph by Donald Gunn Ross, courtesy of Julie Ross.
-Mount Baker, undated. Library of Congress photo.
By Galen Halasz
Having lived in Saranac Lake my whole life, I must say that it is a cultivating environment for all pursuits. My views may be skewed by a heartfelt bias, but with such a history of doctors, Olympians, artists, actors, and writers being nurtured in this village, I can’t help feeling that one could be anything here.
I have wanted to be a writer for the past four years and so will visit the stories of notable authors who have stayed here in the past - most of them for the tuberculosis treatment we provided - and how their lives were influenced by this wonderful place, and, who, in return, made Saranac Lake even better.
Everyone has heard of Robert Louis Stevenson, creator of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and recovered at Baker Cottage for the winter of 1887-1888.
I run past Baker Cottage on my way around Moody Pond, and I have to assume that Stevenson was inspired by the gorgeous view he had and also by the community of authors that had grown here. One of his greatest connections was between himself and Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, the founder of the town, a pioneer in fighting tuberculosis, and himself an author who wrote an autobiography full of his adventures here. They sometimes had fights due to firmly held opinions, but in the end, they both had a common respect for one another’s achievements and an affinity for their natural surroundings. Community and nature allowed them to continue their work even as their disease ever weakened their lungs.
Another writer who sought the care of Dr. Trudeau, and another influenced by the wilderness, judging by his detailed Naturalistic writing, was Stephen Crane, author of Red Badge of Courage. Though he died at a sanatorium in Germany, his legacy remains connected to this village.
To continue the theme of writers who were connected to the wilderness, Martha Reben, with her books The Way of the Wilderness and The Healing Woods, loved the people and forests of the area when she was taking the cure. She went on adventures with local guide Fred Rice in these great woods that gave rise to her humorous and philosophical accounts.
Let me apologize for not mentioning Mark Twain until now, but yeah, he was here, and he rubbed shoulders with Fred Rice too. Twain stayed on Lower Saranac Lake and was interested in the guide boats that went up and down the waterway, which surely reminded him of his hometown, Hannibal, Missouri, the inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He discussed the design of these boats endlessly with Fred Rice, who was a guide boat craftsman.
Isabel Smith came here for the cure, but the beauty and nature that inspired her was largely unattainable, as she was more ill than the others I have mentioned. In spite of her sickness, she was compelled to write about scenery and kinship, and her book I Wish I Might makes anyone healthy who reads it cherish their freedom to be active and explore the world.
This little microcosm community works its way into the hearts of every resident and visitor and was and is the inspiration for more writers than I have talked about, and I can affirm that, to this day, the literary community flourishes in Saranac Lake. I see it in the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Poem Village, in the journalism of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and in the novels present-day Adirondack authors churn out almost too often to follow. I see our future writing community in the participants of the Young Playwright’s Festival that Pendragon Theater holds annually.
And whenever I so much as look out my village window, the inspiration I feel is electric. I see the forest, and I also feel the legacies of the writers who came before me everywhere I go; I feel how they must have felt.
Touring Pine Ridge Cemetery, racing through the woods at Paul Smith’s, walking into our Ice Palace, I imagine them, the authors of the past, imagine their first breath of our fresh air, and what their adventures and friendships and mishaps must have been like in the magnificent Adirondack wild.
By Phil “Bunk” Griffin
Larry Joseph Doyle was born July 31, 1886, in Caseyville, Illinois. He began playing for the New York Giants in 1907 at the age of 21. He was so nervous on the first day that he took the wrong ferry and was late for his premier pro game. Giants’ manager, John McGraw, who was known to be strict at times, took it in stride, and Larry, with his powerful hitting and solid defense, held a steady job for the next fourteen years.
The only change in his routine of tending second base with the Giants was when he went to the Chicago Cubs for a year and a half. That was from 1916 to 1917. He was MVP in 1912 and played a big part in the Giants winning of the pennant for three years in a row, from 1911 through 1913.
Larry developed tuberculosis in the 1920's. His best friend and fellow Giant, Christy Mathewson developed the disease also, and they both came to Saranac Lake to cure. Christy lived at his home on Park Avenue. Larry took up residency at Trudeau San, where American Management Association is now located, and lived there for many years.
Larry was, in fact, the last patient to leave the Trudeau San when it closed in 1954. That famous photo of him walking towards the gates of Trudeau, a suitcase in each hand and snow gusting all around him, was in every newspaper and magazine on the newsstands that week. I don't know if the media posed the photo or not, but it was effective. It got the point across that Trudeau San was closed for good and that the TB era was kaput. It was a sad day for both Larry and Saranac Lake.
I first became acquainted with Laughing Larry while I was working at the Dew Drop Inn, tossing pizzas. This was in the early 60's when baseball was still a game and not a big money industry. Larry enjoyed being with the other regulars and they, in turn, reveled in the time spent with him. His laughter was contagious and could make you forget any problems you might have at the time. He was quick with a quip and had amazing timing. Larry could have been a great comedian if he hadn't been so good at baseball. He constantly kept the crew at Dew Drop's laughing with his stories of bygone days of baseball. He came by his nickname quite naturally.
Every afternoon Laughing Larry could be found on the first barstool on the right, the one closest to the kitchen. If someone was occupying that stool when Larry entered, the offender would politely move down to the next available stool or, if there were none empty, belly up to the bar so that Larry could have his choice seat. I recall doing that myself on occasion. Larry was a gentleman, and he instilled that quality in all who surrounded him. Although he enjoyed a brew or two or three, I never saw him the least bit affected by them. As a young pizza cook who would get a buzz from one brew, I was both puzzled and amazed at that ability.
Larry had an operation on his eyes around 1961. I believe it was cataract surgery, and he had to wear thick, coke-bottle type glasses after that. He joked about them the same as he did about everything else. Sometimes, when we were all watching a ball game, he would become quiet, and I could see his eyes take on a strange, faraway look through those thick lenses. It was as if he were trying to project himself onto the ball field on the TV screen. I imagined that he was thinking, "It WAS great to be young and a Giant.” I never asked him what he was thinking during those moments of silence nor did anyone else. Everyone needs a personal moment once in a while.
As the next few years passed, Larry seemed to slow down and had a noticeably harder time getting around. The stairs were too steep, and he would come in the back door. His favorite seat was empty more frequently. Then, on March 1, 1974, at 88 years of age, Laughing Larry Doyle joined his teammates of summers past and left his old Dew Drop Inn cronies to spend their summer afternoons watching the ballgames without the pleasure of his laughter and company. Another era was over for Saranac Lake.
Larry was a true giant both in the ball park and on the barstool and we were fortunate to have known him.
By Amy Catania
October is a good month for a ghost story. So here is the tale of a humble spirit who for years haunted a cure cottage up on Charles Street.
I heard this story from Eileen Black, who has lived in the house for many years and raised her family there. A ghost visited their home several times a year for decades. He would show up at the back walkway, walking towards the house, glancing in the windows. Well-dressed, in an elegant, old fashioned coat and fedora, he looked a bit like Fred Astaire, so the family named him, “Fred.” Eileen, her husband, and children all got used to Fred sightings. He would appear and then be gone, before they could get a good look at him. Guests at the house would see him too. They were never afraid of him; he felt like a friend.
Fred’s visits went on for years until the time when the family decided to do a major renovation to the back area of the house. One day, when the construction was just about finished, Eileen looked out the back window to see Fred walking down the path, away from the house. He glanced over his shoulder, and he was gone. It was the only time they had ever seen him walking away, and it was the last time they would see him.
That is the whole story. It’s pretty short and not very scary, but it is a first-hand account from a family who lived in the company of a ghost. At 168 Charles Street, some part of the past lived side-by-side with the present.
We tend to believe that apparitions grow out of violent occurrences, and that they are people with unfinished business. I looked up Eileen’s house on our wiki site, and discovered that the first owner of the house, Arthur Strough, died in a tragic car accident. Arthur and his friend Joseph LaBeau died in April 1922 on Bloomingdale Road near the Trudeau Sanatorium. The vehicle went off the road, and Arthur burned to death under the car.
Perhaps Arthur’s painful and untimely death helps to explain the haunting of Charles Street. Yet here in this town where death was no stranger, you would think we would have more stories of hauntings. Any one of our old cure cottages could be haunted by people who died early deaths, but it seems they are mostly quiet.
Phantoms may be uncommon, but if you pay attention to the past, it will come alive. At the museum, our exhibit on the fresh air cure features personal stories of several TB patients. Their faces hang in the room on semi-transparent banners. One of our exhibit ghosts is Gloria Hazard. She came to Saranac Lake as a teenager, in search of a cure for TB. In an effort to save her from aggressive TB infection, her doctors resorted to thoracoplasty, a drastic operation where ribs were removed to permanently collapse the diseased lung. Gloria died of surgical complications on July 4, 1948, when she was only nineteen.
Until her death, from her bed at Trudeau, Gloria wrote letters home almost daily. Her niece visited the Saranac Laboratory Museum several years ago and shared the letters with us. When we listen to Gloria’s story, we learn lessons about sorrow, perseverance, and love. We might briefly grasp the reality that our time on earth is miraculous and fleeting.
We invite Gloria to haunt our museum as a simple act of human decency, to pay witness to a life that came before us. As we work to expand the museum into the Trudeau building, we are making room for more ghosts. Visitors will listen to stories of TB patients like Gloria, wilderness guides, shopkeepers, great camp builders, and Native Americans who made their homes here for thousands of years.
Here in Saranac Lake, we love our phantoms and the old buildings they call home. Some towns might have chosen to tear down the Trudeau house and put up a CVS. But instead, we are bringing the place back and finding our way forward together, by looking into the shadows and listening to our ghosts.
Listen to our museum “ghosts” on our website. Scroll down to track #7 to hear actress Donna Moschek read Gloria Hazard’s letter.
By Kayt Gochenaur
“Ample food is necessary to health.” This adage was a founding principle of the fresh air cure for tuberculosis. The fresh air cure had three tenets: fresh air, good food, and plenty of rest. Saranac Lake was famous for its clear mountain air, but we also knew a thing or two about food.
In the 1800s, tuberculosis was called consumption because it consumed the body fat. Patients were often underweight, without appetite, and flushed from a fever. Hope for recovery depended on eating from a well-filled dinner plate as much as on the lauded mountain air.
Early practitioners of the fresh air cure like Dr. Hermann Brehmer advocated treating TB with an abundant diet, a strong Hungarian wine, and cognac. When Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau founded the Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake, he built his own treatment philosophy on the successes of these doctors.
Different doctors and decades brought about new fads in the recommended diet for TB patients. Dr. Trudeau’s patients ate hearty food and cod-liver oil. Later, TB doctors favored dairy products for their high fat content and purported ease of digestion (my sympathy to those lactose intolerant patients). Dairy faded in popularity towards the end of the curing industry. Florence Mulhern, a Trudeau Sanatorium patient in the 1950s, said that dinners were always hot and hearty and the potatoes usually mashed.
Patients were expected to eat regardless of their appetite. Bill McLaughlin remembered this emphasis on food. As he stated in an oral history interview by Rhee Rickard, “My God, the first thing they did was build you up. Eggnogs with six eggs if you wanted. We all looked better than the people who came to visit us.” Preventing weight loss was so important that one TB patient had to eat a seven-ounce Hershey chocolate bar every day, ruining her love of chocolate.
Dr. Lawrason Brown of Trudeau Sanatorium encouraged patients to “Eat once for themselves, once for the germs, and once to gain weight… not only must three good meals but six glasses of milk and six raw eggs be swallowed every day.” If this surprises our modern sensibilities, remember that the link between bacteria and illness was new to Western medicine, and the heroin and opium used in TB treatments was probably more dangerous than the eggs
At a typical cure cottage, food preparation was a daunting task. An account from Kevin Healy describes Loretta McCabe’s daily work running a cure cottage. “[She] did all the cooking. My mother said that she dirtied every pot and utensil in the kitchen ... there was always a starch, a protein, a green vegetable, and an orange vegetable and then some sort of dessert. She paid attention to the color and every plate was made to look appetizing so that it would encourage the patients to eat.”
Contrary to Dr. Brehmer’s recommendation of wine and cognac, alcohol was forbidden at Trudeau Sanatorium. After prohibition this rule relaxed and, by the 1950s, patients at both Ray Brook and Trudeau were allowed their own alcohol. Some patients described a high prevalence of alcoholism at sanatoria, and the connection between tuberculosis and alcoholism is still being studied today.
The demand for fresh food and dairy gave rise to a thriving agricultural industry in Saranac Lake. With the refrigeration and shipping constraints of the day, much of the food for area patients was locally grown. Dairies like Crystal Spring (now called Donnelly’s) met the high demand for pasteurized milk, while sanatoria like Stony Wold on Lake Kushaqua, had their own farms and claimed to be self-sufficient.
Did all this food help patients? Vitamins A and D and high protein do promote healthy immune systems. Undernutrition is considered a risk factor for TB, and patients fighting off infection would have had a better chance at recovery if they maintained a healthy weight. As to the efficacy of Hungarian wine, raw eggs, cod liver oil, or chocolate--well, you’ll have to ask your doctor about that!
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