by Charles Herr
The archived pages of the Lowville Journal Republican sometimes include reports of the sudden, unexpected death of a guide, resident or traveler in the Adirondacks, in early days known as the North Woods.
This article intends to continue the story of the deceased, to bring them to our consciousness for a brief moment of meditation for maybe a last time for some, and present them in honor of families who probably have never forgotten.
The dates refer to the published date, not the date of death.
Dec. 4, 1924. A party of hunters found a dead body on October 24 about two miles from the Blue Mountain House.
The victim, dead from gunshot wounds in the heart and chest, was later identified as Frank Bray, a guide from Gale, N.Y.
At the time of the article, the case was still being investigated because the hunting party who was last with Bray during their stay at the popular hostelry claimed no shots were fired during their hunt and they heard no shots.
The Blue Mountain House was also known as Merwins, sold to William Wessels in 1935.
In 1954, Wessels sold the property to the Adirondack Historical Association.
Part of the Blue Mountain House remains as an exhibit at the Adirondack Museum.
July 31, 1930. The story of how Earl Covey and other Big Moose residents built the Big Moose Community Chapel, its burning on the night of July 19, 1930 and its immediate rebuilding is a wonderful story of trial, Herculean efforts and victory.
For the people of Big Moose and the families involved, an additional tragedy occurred.
George Burdick, a proprietor for 40 years of a Big Moose Hotel, was among those questioned by the investigators of the fire, who apparently gave some the “third degree.”
According to the story, Burdick apparently was flustered and gave conflicting answers, but no connection of him to the fire was ever found or suspected by residents.
In the early morning following a night of questioning, Burdick couldn’t sleep, told his wife he couldn’t take the strain and that he was going to end it all. He left the house and in the back yard shot himself fatally with a shotgun.
Later a note Burdick addressed to the Big Moose Chapel committee stated that he hoped the investigation would continue and stressed he had no part in the fire.
Quite often this tragedy is absent from the stories about the triumphant rebuilding of the Chapel.
March 17, 1932. Henry Spencer, age 45, spent many summers at his camp on Spencer Point in Inlet. In addition to being a sportsman, he was a traveler and athletic coach.
He stayed at his camp this winter and worked on a book about baseball for boys.
On a Sunday, he and veteran guide Robert West started on the trail to Mitchell Pond, where the two planned to spend a few days at West’s camp, nine miles from Inlet.
Halfway to the camp, Spencer claimed fatigue and decided to sit and rest a while. West said he’d go directly to the camp and start a fire.
He advised Spencer to continue at a leisurely pace. He didn’t want Spencer to stop in the cold.
After waiting several hours without hearing from Spencer, he assumed Spencer lost interest in the outing and had returned to Inlet.
On Tuesday morning, West began his return to Inlet and found Spencer lying on the ground where he had last seen him and rushed on to Inlet authorities.
December 1932. William Sanders, a 69-year-old Inlet Guide, had a camp on Beaver Lake, now part of the Moose River Recreation Area.
He had just spent an overnight visit with Robert West, a trapper at Mitchell Pond and caretaker of the C. P. Chapin lands.
Upon finding Sanders missing from his Beaver Lake camp on a Monday, West contacted Chapin’s supervisor Gerald Kenwell and the two searched the area.
Three days later, they found a hat and Sanders’ overturned canoe frozen in the Moose River ice. Under the ice was Sanders’ body. They believed he was pushing the canoe over the Moose River’s caked ice when it broke, plunging Sanders into the river. Robert West was glad the year would soon be over.
Jan. 19, 1933. In Inlet, Harry Meneilly, age 24, and friend Roy Hulbert had been skating at the Inlet rink one evening and left to go home.
Hulbert went into his house near the one room schoolhouse and Meneilly proceeded to cross the Fifth Lake ice.
He started falling through and his cries alerted Floyd Puffer, the Inlet Supply Co. proprietor and other residents. They tried to talk Meneilly through his predicament though they couldn’t see him, telling him to hold on to the ice.
By the time they found a boat and started in his direction, they heard no more answers to their shouting.
Evidently the four feet of ice cold water and the additional four feet of mud drew him down.
His body had sunk in the mud and hampered the rescuers efforts in its raising.
Inlet residents will tell you that a deep layer of sawdust coats the bottom of Fifth Lake from the sawmills used by Fred Hess and the Fulton Chain Lumber Company.
There were, and are to this day, many other stories of death from drowning and hunting accidents, and just plain losing the gamble with the wilderness whether on land or water.
As you might expect, other people were either accidentally or deliberately part of the story. But these caught my attention and gave me pause to consider before they drifted again into history.
Note: These stories are from the back issues of the Lowville Journal Republican available at the website for the Northern New York Library Network; Utica Morning Herald from website Fultonhistory.com. Other sources include “The Story of A Wilderness” by Joseph Grady, “John Brown’s Tract” by Charles E. Snyder, Herkimer Historical Society, Donaldson’s “History of the Adirondacks” and “Moses Cohen: Peddler to Capitalist” by William Wessels.