This week, I learned things about upstate New York they didn’t teach in 4th grade at Broadway Elementary School. Let me explain. Growing up in Greenlawn, Long Island (New York), the topic of 4th grade history was New York State. Miss Whalen was a great teacher, but she couldn’t cover it all. For example, today as we drove past Lake Bonaparte, I learned it was named for Joseph Bonaparte the older brother of the Emperor Napolean, who at one point gave him the title of King of Naples and later, King of Spain. Well, that all fell apart when his little brother got tossed out of France.
About the same time, some wealthy French ex-pats tried to lure Joseph here to upstate New York, named a lake for the family and apparently developed a plan to spring Napolean from prison and smuggle him to freedom in upstate New York. I learned that later, Joseph bought some land in New Jersey with money he got from the sale of Spanish artwork he took from castles and monasteries. Sacre bleu! That would have re-written some history.
Our base in upstate New York was on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario near to where it empties into the St. Lawrence River. The campground, Long Point State Park, sits on the tip of what looks like an arm bent-at-the-elbow. In its embrace sits Chaumont Bay. To the west lay the immensity of Lake Ontario. We had heard what a force of nature this lake can be during a storm and we experienced one tiny example when, on the day we arrived, we traversed the peninsula on a narrow strip of roadway in T2. Gusty winds swirled around us and with the Lake directly on our right, we watched waves about three feet high crash against the rocky shore, splashing onto the roadway. Hmmm.
Thanks to my fourth grade history, I did learn that the War of 1812 was played out on this regional stage. That year, the United States had declared war on England after repeatedly experiencing the loss of trading vessels and crews at the hands of the English navy which was trying to disrupt U.S. trade on the seas and Great Lakes. England, already distracted by the long war with France, directed activities from Canada, sending over troops who crossed the St. Lawrence and sailed down the Lake to attack and eliminate the ship building facilities of the newly formed United States at a place called Sackets Harbor. Just a few miles south of our campground, Sackets Harbor sits in a protective cove on the Lake. The battle took place on a large, flat plain overlooking the harbor. The U.S. forces pushed back the assault eventually and saved the harbor and the two ships under construction there. The war ended as a stalemate because the English weren’t able to get the U.S. off the Great Lakes and the Americans couldn’t get a foothold in Canada. The borders established between the two countries after the American Revolution were once again endorsed, the aggressions subsided and the whole thing ended.
The entire concept of the Thousand Islands had escaped my then ten-year-old attention so with Peter’s love of geography and geology, I got to learn the lessons all over again. The Islands, like the Azores, are the tops of underwater landmasses that were reconfigured by uplifts and plate movement and the fine-tuning of the glaciers during the Ice Age. They sit in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and some are Canadian, some American. Wealthy residents looking to really impress in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, built mansions and compounds on some of them. We observed Boldt Castle, visible from Alexandria Bay, and its turrets and arches and multiple outbuildings. It huge footprint was apparently never occupied by its builder.
On a rainy day later in the week we drove up along the St. Lawrence on our way to the Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg. It was years after I had become an admirer of Remington’s epochal Western paintings and sculpture that I learned that he was actually born in Canton, New York and had lived in Ogdensburg before hitting the big time and moving to classier addresses on the east coast. After his early death (he died at the age of 48) his widow returned to Ogdensburg and the museum is based in the house that she had lived in until her death in 1918.
There were three surprising discoveries here. First, I noticed that there was a photo of his famous studio in the front hall. I knew that I had seen an installation of the studio with its trophy heads and Indian rugs, and beaded saddles and war bonnets and authentic buckskin clothing somewhere on our travels but couldn’t recall where. I asked one of the staff people and learned that the contents of the studio, which had been in Ogdensburg, was sold, along with some Remington bronzes and paintings, to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming when an earlier generation of Trustees needed to raise money for a new boiler to heat the museum in the long, cold winters of upstate New York. The Buffalo Bill has reconstructed the studio with the actual contents that had been once held at Ogdensburg. So it was Cody, Wyoming where we had seen the studio filled with items that Remington, who was known for his attention to detail and authenticity, has collected over the years and used for reference in his illustrations, paintings and sculpture.
The second surprising discovery was that the museum has some of the furnishing and paintings by other favorite artists of the time that the Remingtons collected. I find it fascinating to see what kind of work artists actually surround themselves with in the intimacy of their homes. The Tiffany lamps are stunning. Great surprise? The Remingtons had individual photographs taken of themselves one anniversary year and each presented the other with the elaborately framed black and white photographs, which hung in their bedroom. The photo of Eva Remington was on display here. In the portrait, which is taken from the shoulders up, she is looking to one side, her shoulders bared, her hair piled softly up on her head, as if just emerging from a warm bath. The lighting is soft and natural, light and intimate. It is lovely.
The third surprise was to learn that when casting bronzes using the lost wax method that Remington loved, he would occasionally alter details of the sculpture before re-casting. A raised arm was lowered, a horse’s tail was extended outward, a figures head was slightly cocked. Each casting then took on an original look specific to that edition thereby enhancing its collectability. Businessman and artist both at work here.
We ended our week here on a sunny and warm evening, dining outdoors with the soon-to-be-married daughter of our dear friends, and her fiancé. It was a relaxing time of fine food, good wine, and great conversation that underscore the precious nature of friendships like this one, now thirty years in the making. When I first met the soon-to-be-bride in 1986, she was riding in a backpack on one of her parent’s shoulders and not even one year old. We are going to miss their wedding in August since we expect to be back on the road west by then.
We are now merely a couple of weeks away from our reunions with our east coast family and friends. This year, we have logged over 20,000 miles in our Airstream. Quite an accomplishment for T2 on the first anniversary as our new home. Our pilgrimage to here continues as we find freshly cut lilacs along the way back east.
Peter and Liz continue their trip east, rounding out their first year anniversary in their Airstream.