Saranac Lake has been a fascinating place for a long time. I never know when I'll run into a fun and interesting bit of trivia about its moments of fame. These interesting items can turn up anywhere along the town's history. Here's some from the first half of the twentieth century.
revolutionary mop patent
“Be it known that I, EDWARD DoBBINs, a citizen of the United States, residing at Saranac Lake, in the county of Franklin and State of New York, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Handles for Mops.”
This quote from US Patent #627746 (dated 1899) signals a whole new world for the moppers of floors. Mr. Dobbins had come up with a self wringing mop. While Mr. Dobbins seems equally thrilled by the ability of his invention to work with “mops, brushes and similar articles,” I am captivated by the then-new ability to squeeze the water out of the mop without having to wring it by hand.
We can clearly see how this 1899 design, which pushes a ring down the length of a string-type mop, is still operating over one hundred years later.
There is no record of Edward Dobbins continuing his invention career, though he was variously a railroad laborer, blacksmith, and builder and owner of the hotel known as the Dobbins House. He assayed the first ore on Mount Pisgah, attempting a gold rush.
But that's another story. Find out more Saranac Lake history.
the von Bernstorff scandal
One of the most distinctive and lovely of the Adirondack Great Camps is White Pine Camp. Its hostess was a former actress who was famous for her large and convivial parties, attended by celebrities, artists, show business personalities, and political figures. One of them was Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the United States.
Count von Bernstorff had married a New York heiress and was very fond of all things American. He was a common sight around Washington, DC, in the years leading up to the First World War, tooling around town in his open car while wearing a straw boater hat. He had high hopes for reconciling the United States and Germany, and thus, keeping the US out of the brewing world conflict. He was a guest at White Pine Camp in 1914.
Fate took a turn at the boathouse. There he was photographed with his arms around two young ladies while they were all in swimming attire. This photo fell into the hands of the British Secret Service, who distributed it to all the newspapers. The resulting uproar resulted in the Count's return to Germany... and possibly sealed the US entry into World War I.
I could not find the original photo, but this is a picture of two young ladies in the bathing suits of the time.
Scandalous! Read our blog post about White Pine Camp Tours.
I discovered this fun fact while visiting a local B&B. A famous movie star of the forties was a St. Bernard's School alumna!
Officially, Constance Frances Marie Ockelman became Veronica Lake because a Paramount producer thought it suited her blue eyes. But rumor has it that it might be her connection to Saranac Lake, where her stepfather was curing in the late 1920s.
Veronica Lake was known for her work in both comedies and film noir, often alongside leading man Alan Ladd. Her trademark was her famous peek-a-boo hairstyle which draped over her right eye. The style became so popular that she changed it as part of the war effort in World War II. Young ladies, seeking her "look," were blocking their vision and risking their long hair getting caught in the machinery. Not many people can say they had to change their hairstyle for public safety reasons.
Theater arts are still a big thing in Saranac Lake. See our upcoming live performances.
the Bartok bathtub
Music students come from all over the world to sit in Bartok’s bathtub.
In 1945, the last summer of his life, composer Bela Bartok lived in a little cabin in Saranac Lake. He loved it there, inscribing in its guest book: "Very happy indeed to stay in this wonderful quiet place." It was here that he composed his Third Piano Concerto and Viola Concerto.
It was a simple curing cabin, so it fell into disuse, and then, disrepair. So much so that it was cited for demolition in late 1995. Fortunately, a visiting Romanian pianist, Cristina Stanescu, led a successful quest to save the cabin. Fund drives included many summer concerts and a donation from the son of the composer. Today, it is shown by appointment or on tours, through Historic Saranac Lake.
It has become a place for pilgrimage by adoring fans of Bartok. Since so much of the little cabin had to be replaced, musicians took to having their picture taken in a place that had not changed since Bartok sat there: the bathtub.
Catch a historical tour by checking our events calendar.
premiere of The Silver Chalice
"The Silver Chalice" is a film famous for many reasons… most of them wrong.
It was a bestselling novel in 1953, about a silversmith who traveled Israel and the Roman Empire. He was creating a silver holder for the Holy Grail, carved with the faces of Jesus and his Twelve Apostles. The book held a lot of appeal for the movie industry; presold popularity, plenty of good roles, and a "sword and sandal" setting that was very popular at the time.
It was Paul Newman's first movie. He had made a splash that same year in the Broadway play "Picnic" and Hollywood was calling enough to melt his phone. So why would a New York-based actor who won acclaim for a gritty and realistic role choose a costume drama in an ancient setting? Under pressure from his agent to accept a film role before his phone cooled off, he was sent a copy of the book. He said, "I got talked into it. I knew that it was going to be a bomb.”
And it was. So bad it is now a famous bomb. It had its world premiere in Saranac Lake.
The studio had run a countrywide contest for the honor, granting a splashy launch for the film in the town who sold the most Christmas Seals (a fundraising stamp for tuberculosis research.) There was a gala premiere at the Pontiac Theatre. Stars Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli, Jack Palance, and director Victor Saville joined the Winter Carnival parade.
Paul Newman was notably absent. Before (see above photo of his wardrobe test), during (I've seen the movie, and there's hardly a frame where he looks happy, even when he's supposed to), and after (in 1966 the film was first broadcast on television, and Newman got an ad in Variety to make a world apology for his performance) this iconic actor regards his film debut as a career low.
While the Franz Waxman musical score was Academy Award nominated and remains critically celebrated to this day, the production design made the bold choice of going minimal and abstract with the sets, using suggestion instead of realism. While this works well onstage, it is not what the public expected in a Biblical epic. Paul Newman struggled with his naturalistic style when the role calls for a mannered, classical, acting approach. A stodgy script gives none of the actors a chance to shine.
The only award it won was a Golden Turkey Award, which is bestowed upon the worst films in history.
Be they fine or merely infamous, we love the arts in Saranac Lake! Browse through all our art venues.
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