It is not the 1980 Olympics ice rink that I wanted to see. All of us who know our Olympics history know that rink is where “The Miracle on Ice” was pulled off by the U.S. hockey team. What I wanted to see was the 1932 rink, the one where Sonja Henie was the star.
Henie was the dominant figure skater of her era. The gold she won in Lake Placid was sandwiched around similar feats in ’28 and ’36.
Few below a certain age will remember Henie, the Norwegian ice-skater, Nazi sympathizer and later movie star in the U.S.. Even I am too young to remember Henie on skates, but I did see a few of her movies. I am almost sure I saw “Countess of Monte Cristo” (1948). She also won gold in 1928 and 1936.
The 1932 rink where Henie performed and won her second gold medal for figure skating lives on. It is just south of downtown Placid and is under the same roof as the 1980 rink. Just a few hollow corridors away.
On the 9th, before leaving for Cooperstown via Albany, Nebra and I entered the old venue. Although it is now used by locals for various events, it is a dark setting, evoking the long-ago. What is 1932 and what has changed I was not sure. As seating goes, it is smaller for certain. I thought the scoreboard at the end of the area was likely unchanged. It has an olden metal cage guarding it. But the red seats, white benches, blue railings and trim and the scarred desk where the judges sat, I figure, is modern.
Anyway I liked it much more than the modern 1980 arena. The year ’32 was a more innocent time, America was caught in the Great Depression, Hitler had not yet assumed power in Germany and of course there was not so much Olympics commercialism as TV later demanded.
If you believe that certain events, intense moments in life, leave a spiritual presence long after they happen, you can sit there in the old stands and almost see the ghost of Henie leaping into a beautiful axel as the crowd cheered on.
Main Street in Lake Placid stretches along the western shore of a magnificent little lake. But that lake is not Lake Placid, as I thought. Lake Placid is on the north edge of downtown and strangely out of sight.
The lake that defines Lake Placid is Mirror Lake, and it was there, on the 8th, a bright Sunday afternoon, that Nebra and I strolled the lake’s perimeter, a distance of less than three miles.
On the 8th, we had driven the 10 miles east from Saranac Lake to Placid, checked in at the Marriott Courtyard on what we considered an excellent deal of $125 for the night, then walked into town, a mile uphill.
While Saranac Lake is small and low scale but, yes, friendly and with beautiful old homes, Lake Placid is more upscale, a vacation destination for the wealthy which is not us by any stretch. And of course Placid has the winter Olympic ties from the 1932 and 1980 Games.
Some in Saranac Lake, perhaps with jealousy, call their sister city in the Adirondacks “Fake Placid.”
Anyway, we did the walk around Mirror starting near the post office on the south and moving counter-clockwise. The lake reminds me of a sock dangling toward the floor.
One of the great aspects of doing Mirror is the number of mountain views on the south end. And every so often there is a square on the paved walkway “pointing” to a particular mountain in the distance. Sometimes you see the mountain, sometimes you don’t.
As we head north, the walkway pulls 50 yards or more from the lake, around cabins, houses, inns and restaurants at lake’s edge. Though the signs are still there, like “Mount Marcy,” the view is totally lost. Dense swaths of tall trees prevent the view. Still it is a beautiful walk with colorful flowers with glimpses of Mirror as background.
On the north end, we cut across the street and ambled over to Lake Placid, the lake. Talk about a misnomer. The waters of Placid were rough, a chill wind blowing. Uninteresting from this point by some boat-laden docks. It was eerie. It was Mirror Lake that seemed placid.
The walk covers only about three-fourths of the lake, then you have to complete the loop by sauntering through downtown shops with no view of Mirror at all.
But if you are in Placid, you have to do the loop, if nothing else but to say you did it.
It wasn’t until we reached the summit of Mount Baker on the 7th that thoughts of 9/11 came rushing back. Saturday afternoon, threat of rain, and there I was finally at the top of this small Adirondacks peak on the northeast corner of Saranac Lake. Huffing and puffing, I’ll admit to that.
There is a sweeping vista to the south from a gray-rock ledge, and I tarried there for a few minutes to look down on the lakes and the miles and miles of forested hills of the Adirondacks before going on up to the top which is closed in by trees. It was beautiful, and I was lucky to be there.
It was there, near the very top that I caught sight of it.
I saw the American flag first. It was tied to the bottom of a small pine. Then beneath it I saw the rest of it, a photo and a plastic card that read “Cpl. Kyle R. Schneider, Jan 8, 1988, June 30, 2011.” A nice-looking kid. I think it safe to say that it was a memorial to a fallen soldier. He was only 23, about the same age my grandson died, a victim of the war in Iraq.
Schneider, I read later, was a Marine. He was killed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, by an IED, an improvised explosive device. He was from Phoenix, northwest of Syracuse and had a girlfriend who lived in Texas. A big parade was held in his honor at nearby Baldwinsville.
These little memorials say much more to me than big ones for they are more personal, more heart-felt. Someone, a loved one no doubt, had an idea, took time to take a long road trip to Adirondak Park, pick a mountain, then climb up the rugged trail on the west to place the memorial there. It may not last as long as granite, but it was more powerful.
Seeing it, the anger swept over me again. Iraq, the unnecessary war created by the conniving Bush administration. WMD, my aching tuts. The war was not about 9/11. It was tragically about neo-con ideology, oil and empire.
I don’t blame George W. Bush so much. He was just a token President that the Republicans routinely toss into the ring. Like Reagan. A handsome face that will attract thoughtless votes so the real “brains,” the devils behind the throne, can latch onto power. Bush was only a puppet to the Vice President, Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and the heartless mind of advisor Karl Rove. There were others. They are war criminals, no less. So many soldiers, so many Iraqi civilians killed and maimed. And for what?
From what I read Corporal Schneider wanted to be a Marine. No one dragged him to war. Still, I am glad someone put his memorial where I could find it that afternoon. I never want to forget what an atrocity Iraq was, and its continuing aftermath.
It was on the sunny afternoon of the 6th that Nebra and I decided to hike up Mount Jo. It is a small mountain in the Adirondacks, only 2,876 feet in elevation, with a round-trip of less than two miles. Jo rests just southeast of Lake Placid, in the High Peaks area and is about half the height of nearby Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York at 5,344′. Still . . . .
Jo has a tragic story. It was originally called Bear Mountain. But in the 1870s, Adirondacks trailblazer Henry van Hoevenberg renamed it “Jo” after his fiance, Josephine Schofield, died shortly before their marriage. Or so one story goes. Another has her unhappy parents breaking up the affair.
The couple loved this area of the Adirondacks by Heart Lake and called it “the finest square mile in which to get closest to Nature.” In fact Sandra Weber wrote a book about the couple, “The Finest Square Mile: Mount Jo and Heart Lake,” which was published in 1998.
But I didn’t know the history when I suggested to Nebra we might give it try. We were staying in Saranac Lake at the time, and considered other destinations from the same trailhead. Marcy, Algonquin, Colden. But time was short, and Marcy, for instance, is a 15-mile trek up and back. So Jo it was.
The trouble with these mountains in the eastern part of the U.S. is that trail-makers don’t understand the concept of switchbacks. The trails go straight up. They are steep and if a boulder field gets in the way, like on Jo, you just go on a bee-line over them.
It was 2:30 when we started, a pleasant 58 F. I gave Nebra her choice of trails to Jo’s summit. The long trail or the short. When she chose “short” I winced, knowing it would be steeper than the long. And I was right. Not only was it steep. Huge boulders had rolled down near the stream we were following. Tree roots too. It was not your normal Arizona trail.
It took us 38 minutes to cover the trail of 9/10 of a mile and attain the relatively flat summit of gray rock. From there the highest peaks in the Adirondacks open up. Marcy dead ahead. Algonquin to the right. A worthy destination, Avalanche Pass, in the middle and beyond and out sight a lake that harbors the headwaters of the mighty Hudson River.
About a dozen other hikers were lounging on top. A party of young women sang “Happy Birthday” to someone they called up on a cellphone. A man arrived at the top with a black Lab and soon headed back down.
Another group milled around on the far side. One member, a young man, spread out a map on the rock trying to identify all the peaks. I don’t think he ever figured it out precisely. In the meantime, Nebra and I fell into a conversation with the others, and they proved what I’ve always felt. There is no more friendly people on earth than hikers, particularly in wildernesses like this.
We took the “long” route back. It was 2/10 of a mile longer than the “short” route but lacking the boulders. Had I to do it over, I would avoid the short route altogether, coming and going.
We stopped at a lookout over Heart Lake. Around the bend, I saw two people swimming and shuddered. The temps stood at 55.
It was nearing 6:30 when we reached the parking lot, not quite sunset. The day use fee of $5 had been well worth it.
I don’t know that I would call this “the finest square mile” but it was a pretty good one. And, if there is a better place than the summit of Mount Jo, come a month, to take in the autumn foliage, you’ll have to show me.
On the 8th, our last day in Saranac Lake, we drove up to the high ground in the north part of town to visit the so-called Stevenson Cottage. It was here the sickly Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped,” stayed in the winter of 1887-88, trying to regain his health.
He had just gotten off the boat in New York City with his wife, mother, step-son and a maid and had become more ill on the passage from England. They quickly dashed plans to head for the mountain air of Colorado Springs and pushed their way north to Saranac Lake by boating up the Hudson, then by train and stagecoach.
At the time, Saranac was noted for its healthy, cold clean air. What is Main Street today was lined in those days with “cure cottages,” treating TB and other diseases.
The Stevenson Cottage rests atop a grassy knoll off Stevenson Lane, about a half mile from downtown. We parked below and walked up the paved road to the house and twisted the doorbell which summoned the caretaker, a tall, unimposing man in his 50s with thinning auburn hair and a near look-alike for the late actor Brian Keith.
He looked like he had just awakened from a nice dream and seemed startled that anyone would want to visit the place, particularly on a Sunday morning before noon. On average, he said, only about 500 visitors a year come to the door and pay $5 apiece for a chance to touch greatness. The Cottage had been open since 9, but here at 11 we were the first visitors.
Do you know anything about Stevenson, the caretaker asked. We nodded, yes, and described a bit of what we knew.
“Then,” he said, “you know more than half the people in Saranac Lake.”
He has the title of “curator.” But he assured us he did come by the job on merit. The owner of the house, his father, asked him to watch over it. He said that was 33 years ago.
Stevenson paid the Baker family $50 a month for the rent of six rooms on the bottom floor. The rooms are small. Stevenson and his step-son, Samuel Lloyd Osbourne, wrote in the middle room by the fireplace. It was there, we were told, RLS wrote about a dozen essays and began his novel, “The Master of Ballantrae.”
The Cottage is so filled with material irrelevant to Stevenson’s stay in Saranac that you have to sort carefully and focus on that part of his life. Most interesting, I found, were copies of letters RLS’s mother, Margaret, wrote to friends. She went by “Maggie” and called her son, “Lou.”
The daily routine, she wrote, started with rising from bed about 6:30 in the morning and lighting the fire, “which warms the room very quickly.” Then Lou and Lloyd write until noon or so and have lunch a 12:30. At 2 o’clock two buggies arrive to take two of the guest our for drives. “Louis goes for walks, always along. He hates to meet anyone when he is out. After his walk, RLS goes to bed until supper at 6. After dinner, “we talk, read aloud and play at cards until ten when we are all ready for bed.”
In April, still cold in the Adirondacks, the Stevenson entourage decided suddenly to leave Saranac after six months.
It was a Friday morning and due to the onset of colds in the cottage and “the fox, goat and cabbage problem” worsened, “there was nothing for it but flight,” Margaret wrote. “That was decided by 9:30 and by 12:30 I had finished packing and eaten dinner, and we started. . . . [RLS] is looking wonderfully well, and fatter than he has done for long, so we have much reason to be thankful for what Saranac has done for us. It certainly is a wonderful place.”
In June of 1888, RLS took an assignment with McClure’s to travel the South Pacific and describe what he saw.
Stevenson lived another six years, dying in 1894 at age 44 in Samoa.
Some visitors have belittled the Stevenson Cottage in Saranac. While I found the place quaint and interesting, I doubt that I will ever go back. So we left for breakfast at the bustling Blue Moon Cafe downtown and never looked back.
On the 5th, we drove deep into the Adirondacks, sweeping through dense forests all the way to Saranac Lake from Canton via the research stop in Edwards. It was dark when we arrived at Gauthiers Saranac Lake Inn on the east edge of town, just off Highway 86 that leads to upscale Lake Placid 10 miles away.
Gauthiers, I soon discovered, was not thoroughly ready for the 21st Century. It’s great for anglers and paddlers. Not so great for writers with laptops.
Our room, No. 53, was adequate, I will say that much. Two queen beds, a small bathroom with shower and plenty of hot water, a small vanity area, an older model TV, two chairs, a chest of drawers and a cranky heater. And the grounds were kept quite nice there at the edge of the lake. I particularly liked the Adirondack Chair by the office that was decked out in red, white and blue. But it certainly wasn’t the Ritz. Nor, for that matter, the lovely White Pillars B&B of the previous night.
And, yes, there was Internet service. Slow, but service none the same. What was missing was something you seldom think about when making lodging reservations. My laptop needed a desk or table. Something that I could spread out my mouse pad, notes, computer and a lamp. Alas, the room had only two small tables. And one had no electrical outlet for a three-prong plug-in.
In the two days that followed at Gauthiers, I did write with the laptop. But with reluctance. Usually it rested on my quads while stretching out my legs in bed. I tried it on the bed itself once but the bounciness drove me nuts. Each time I tried was like pulling teeth. Using the touch pad was tricky. Sometimes the computer was so wobbly, I could not drop the cursor where I wanted and all sorts of crazy stuff came up on my screen. It was like writing with a stutter, nothing went smooth. In short, it was writing hell.
To make matters worse, the room had no coffee-maker. You had to walk 50 yards to the motel office and walk back to the room. On a few cold mornings, the coffee was cool by time I reached our room.
During this time, I told Nebra, everything I wrote stunk. I sulked and, despite a token effort not to bitch, I bitched a lot.
A few weeks ago, I wrote this. To write well, you have to be in sync with your pen or typewriter or computer. The lack of a table or desk prevented that. At least for me with my desire for a fast keyboard.
As my temper grew short, I remembered what has become a favorite quote of mine from D. H. Lawrence’s “Sea and Sardinia.” D. H. and wife Frieda left Sicily to travel north to the island of Sardinia for adventure. Things were tough on the island. And at one point, Frieda grew fed up with her husband’s carping. This is how I remember her response.
“Get over it, Lawrence,” she said, “It’s life!”
And so it is. And so it was at Gauthiers. That quote never fails to make me feel better.
It seemed a simple thing, finding some graves and the so-called Brodie mansion in the village of Edwards in upstate New York near Adirondack Park. After all, Edwards is a small place, very small. Census-takers in 2010 counted less than 500 people living there.
But it wasn’t simple.
Alexander Oswald Brodie attended West Point shortly after the Civil War and came west as a soldier to Arizona, first as an Indian fighter, then as chief engineer of a big dam that failed there in 1890 and finally as a Territorial governor, 1902-1905. He was born at Edwards in 1849, and his family is buried there. Brodie himself died in 1918 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Brodie had friends in high places. Friends like Teddy Roosevelt. The two fought together in the Spanish-American War as officers in the Rough Riders. It was Roosevelt, as President, who appointed Brodie governor.
My main objective was to find the original Brodie house. I had only a hand-drawn map by John Clark, the owner of the White Pillars B&B near Canton where Nebra and I had stayed the previous night. Pushed for time, I was unable to get a clear picture from deed books at the St. Lawrence County Courthouse in Canton. The map, drawn in black ink, showed the Brodie place west of town just past a cellphone tower with “a big pine tree in front.” Clark had also done research on Brodie and written about him.
I read elsewhere the graves were in Riverside Cemetery and the house was a half-mile west of the few stores that line Main Street.
Coming into Edwards from Canton via Trout Lake, we pulled to the curb downtown, and I walked across the lightly traveled street to confer with some locals. A young woman told me there were two cemeteries in town. One in that direction, and one in the other. Returning to the Hyundai Accent, I happened to see a street sign. “Church St.” it said. I knew Church as the street that ran by the cemetery I sought.
Riverside Cemetery rests about 50 yards from where we had stopped. It is small and wooded, with a swing-gate and metal fence around it. The Oswegatchie River sweeps by just downhill on the southwest. I knew in general the Brodie graves were in the middle somewhere. How hard could that be to find prominent members of the community?
Bright shafts of sunlight sneaked in through breaks in the trees, and we stepped across soggy ground, walking down one row, then turning back and walking another. Nebra walked the part by the river, and I started on the street side.
Some graves were very old, the markings worn away and mossy after almost two centuries of harsh Northlands weather. But there were also new graves, which I paid little attention too initially. After an hour, I was ready to give up. I thought we had covered it all.
On the way toward the gate, I happened to pass a tall monument, about 12 feet high. It had a new look to it. Perhaps that’s why I missed it before. Out of the corner of an eye, I caught the family name across the bottom. “Brodie” it read.
How often have I had that happen? At the last moment, the very thing I was looking for appears out of nowhere. It was like the gods are teasing me.
Anyway I was very happy. I shot numerous photos from this angle and that one while Nebra copied down information on the monument. Joseph Brodie and his wife, Margaret, were buried there as were Alexander’s two sisters, Harriet and Elizabeth, and a brother, Robert. Their deaths occurred between 1874 and 1921.
And surprise of surprises, Alex’s 2-year-old son, also Alexander Oswald Brodie, is there too. “The son of A.O. and M. C. H. Brodie.” The child died in 1894 as I believe his mother did. Somewhere in the West, I recall. Washington or Oregon. Brodie later remarried but had no more children, as far as I know.
The Brodie monument was obviously a newer one. Someone had come in and redone it, perhaps in the last 50 years, maybe less.
Finding the house was easier. We returned to Main Street and drove west around the curve, passed a high cellphone tower and came to a two-story, wood-frame house painted white. A huge pine tree stood in front. We drove by twice before stopping and taking a photo from the road.
I’m still not 100 percent certain this is the Brodie “mansion.” I will have to do more research.
As we drove east into Adirondack Park on Highway 3, I felt buoyant. Between the experience in Edwards and some leads picked up in Canton, I felt I was progressing toward a short and accurate bio of the former governor, information I can take home to Phoenix in 12 days.
Now, I thought, the work is over. The real vacation can begin.