Today we are celebrating an important day in Saranac Lake history--June 17 is Philip "Bunk" Griffin's 80th birthday! Happy birthday to a Saranac Lake legend!
Here is one of our favorite photos of Bunk as Guest of Honor at our Roaring 20s Gala at the Hotel Saranac in 2018. Bunk, we appreciate your love of our local history. Thank you for your website and Facebook posts that help connect so many people to all of the fascinating events and characters in our past.
If you're not familiar with Bunk's Place, do yourself a favor and read some of the great stories recorded there!
Happy birthday, Bunk!
"Are you a Trotty Veck?" This was the question posed to readers of the first Trotty Veck Messages pamphlet, Good Cheer. These small booklets contained quotes, poetry, jokes, local sayings, and more intended to boost the spirits of their readers. Trotty Veck Messengers were described as people who, “having a wide vision and cheerful disposition themselves, have it in their hearts to give cheer and courage and inspiration to others.”
The publication was started in 1916 by two roommates at Trudeau Sanatorium, Seymour Eaton, Jr., and Charles “Beanie” Swasey Barnet. When the pair complained of feeling down, Eaton’s father, who was an authority on publishing and advertising, suggested they write inspirational messages to one another. They turned this advice into a lifelong career.
Barnet and Eaton based their outlook on the character of Trotty Veck, found in Charles Dickens’ short story, “The Chimes.” In the story, Trotty Veck delivered messages of good cheer to the townspeople, despite his own ill health. This philosophy, and the publication, were both great successes, and Eaton and Barnet sold four thousand copies in the first year alone.
Seymour Eaton sadly died of TB in 1918, but Beanie Barnet continued the publication, publishing at least one edition a year. Over the course of 50 years, Barnet published 55 editions of the Trotty Veck Messages, and sold four million copies that lifted spirits all across the world. The pamphlets were sent to U.S. Troops in both World Wars and the Korean War. The titles included Good Words, Joy, Chuckles, Real Riches, Your Best, Happy Hearts, and more. Barnet eventually opened an office in town and hired staff to support the publication.
Barnet kept a scrapbook of quotes from many sources (which can be found in the Adirondack Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library today). These sources ranged from Shakespeare to Seneca to Thomas Paine, to unknown jokesters and riddlers. The first issue included a quote from a famous Saranac Lake visitor, Robert Louis Stevenson; “Only to trust and do our best, and wear as smiling a face as may be for others and ourselves.”
The Messages were intended to be sent near and far, to fellow patients, their family members, and friends. They provided a way to connect and share joy, most often around the holidays with special “Christmas Greetings” wrappers. So many patients were facing an unknowable future, and finding a source of connection and optimism could literally be life-saving. Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau himself recognized the power of positive thinking and saw an optimistic outlook as an important component of the treatment offered to patients in Saranac Lake.
At the age of 54, Beanie Barnet married Elizabeth Widmer, a TB nurse, at William Morris’ Camp Intermission on Lake Colby. He lived out a long life in Saranac Lake. He died in 1977 at age 90. The optimism he instilled in others lives on.
In the midst of so much uncertainty and “social distance,” we recognize Barnet and Eaton’s wisdom in spreading a message of “Good Cheer” to your loved ones even while far away. We are happy to share that we have issued a reprint of the first issue of the Trotty Veck Messages. You can send a copy of Good Cheer to someone in need of “good tidings;” a friend, family member, or even yourself for just $5 (plus shipping) on our online store. We hope you’ll consider making a small matching donation to support our work in the name of your friend as well. We will also be sharing digital versions of the first ten editions of the Trotty Veck Messages on our website. We will share one a week, so be sure to check in at the end of each Letter from the Porch for the latest.
Today we ask—as Barnet and Eaton once did--Will you be a Trotty Veck?
Be of good cheer,
Historic Saranac Lake
Historic Saranac Lake
Purchase a reproduction copy of Good Cheer to send to a friend, family member, or someone in need of "good tidings!" Your purchase will support Historic Saranac Lake and send good cheer all across the country!
Images from the Historic Saranac Lake Collection.
As we return to sharing local history, we want to highlight some resources that HSL staff are using to inform our discussions and research on Black history in the Saranac Lake area. Sally Svenson's 2017 book, Blacks in the Adirondacks, highlights untold stories of Black individuals throughout the area, including TB Patients coming to Saranac Lake. Her book can be purchased from our museum store, or you can check your local library for a copy! The Adirondack Explorer reviewed Svenson's book in 2017, if you want to learn more.
Other resources for Black history in the region:
-Online exhibits/educational resources from the Adirondack History Museum, including "Dreaming of Timbuctoo" and "On the Trail of John Brown: What Mary Brown Saw"
-Fulton Fryar's Closet at Seagle Music Colony. The "closet" can be seen at the Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.
-North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association.
-John Brown Lives!
Is there a resource we missed? Let us know in the comments.
March is Women's History Month, and since today is International Women's Day, we want to kick off a month-long series highlighting women in Saranac Lake area history. Our community has so many amazing women in it - from those who were here to explore, those who came to cure, to those who were born and raised here! We want to share stories of women throughout our history, and connect with women in our community whose stories we haven't heard yet!
Do you have a favorite story of a woman in the Saranac Lake Central School District area (including Paul Smiths, Vermontville, Gabriels, etc.) that you want to share, or a woman you want to learn more about? Is there a woman in our community (including yourself!) that has stories to share with our Oral History Project? Comment on this post, or send us a message/email/phone call. We want to hear from you!
Stay tuned all month long here on the blog and across our social media streams to learn more!
This William Kollecker photograph is of the women's skating races at the Pontiac Skating Rink on January 30, 1913. [Historic Saranac Lake Collection, TCR #361]
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!