NO MATTER HOW MUCH you think you know about the Adirondacks, there’s always more to be learned. The proof of that hypothesis lies in John Warren’s new book Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack, an eclectic collection of stories, observations, and odds and ends from his equally eclectic, always informative, and highly entertaining Adirondack Almanack website. In a nutshell, if you like the site you’ll like the book.
“These essays were meant to be glimpses of history, short pieces on context, not complete historical narratives,” says Warren in his preface. He admits that his “five-part history of snowmobiling in the Adirondacks” breaks the “short” rule. Fair enough. I said this book is eclectic.
As to context, Part I, “Adirondack Accidents, Danger and Disaster,” demonstrates what Warren means: a discussion of the October 2005 Ethan Allen cruise boat tragedy on Lake George, wherein twenty elderly tourists died, leads into a recounting of other fatal accidents on the lake, going back 150 years. This is followed in a similar vein by a rehearsal of mine accidents in the Adirondacks, prompted by a catastrophe in West Virginia. The point? These things are universal; they are not islands in time or space. People fall through the ice, hotels burn, swimmers drown, as succeeding chapters spell out. That’s part of reality in the Adirondacks.
By now you might be getting hints that this is not your typical history. It’s certainly not arranged chronologically; it’s mostly apolitical (though Warren does insert his opinions from time to time); and it’s not all peaches and cream and calendar-picture scenery. Chapters on the Ku Klux Klan and on anti-Semitism reveal a dark and uncomfortable side of the Adirondack story that needs to be aired. Warren describes cross burnings and “hunting accidents” in the Lake Placid area in the 1920s and probes the possibility of Essex County expulsions, although he balances this with accounts of caravans of African-Americans being welcomed to the site of John Brown’s grave in the same decade.
There’s natural history in these 128 pages too. “There is perhaps no wildlife question in the Adirondack region that raises so many anti-government/anti-DEC hackles as the question of whether there are mountain lions in them thar hills,” Warren begins one selection. Didn’t know a 1931 earthquake twisted a church spire in Warrensburg? It’s here. And if you want cocktail-party chatter material, check out Warren’s “Seven Natural Wonders of the Adirondacks.” For that matter, look at his “Seven Human-Made Wonders of the Adirondacks” and see if you agree. This thin volume is full of surprises and, with its short entries, a terrific addition to your bedside book stack.