Always in a Rage

One of the more colorful visitors to Roosevelt Hall was Ernest J. King who in July of 1935 spent a weekend as the guest of Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. King was the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and already known as one of the more outspoken officers in the U.S. Navy.

Just three years earlier he had attended the Naval War College, and in his thesis noted that America’s weakness was representative democracy:

“It is traditional and habitual for us to be inadequately prepared. This is the combined result of a number factors, the character of which is only indicated: democracy, which tends to make everyone believe that he knows it all; the preponderance (inherent in democracy) of people whose real interest is in their own welfare as individuals; the glorification of our own victories in war and the corresponding ignorance of our defeats (and disgraces) and of their basic causes; the inability of the average individual (the man in the street) to understand the cause and effect not only in foreign but domestic affairs, as well as his lack of interest in such matters. Added to these elements is the manner in which our representative (republican) form of government has developed as to put a premium on mediocrity and to emphasize the defects of the electorate already mentioned.”

In 1938, he underscored his opinion by staging a successful simulated naval air raid on Pearl Harbor, showing that the base was dangerously vulnerable to aerial attack. He wasn’t taken seriously.

As WWII approached, King was appointed as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and promoted to admiral in February 1941. On December 30, 1941, three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he became Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.

Following Japan’s defeat at the Battle of Midway, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. The campaign was ultimately successful, and for the first time the Japanese lost ground. Throughout the war, King was widely respected for his ability, and heartily disliked. Historian John Ray Skates wrote, “Only British Field Marshal Montgomery may have had more enemies. King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers.”

Franklin Roosevelt described him as a man who “shaves every morning with a blow torch.”

King’s view of press relations was simple. He said, “Don’t tell them anything. When it’s over, tell them who won.”

One of his daughters said, “He is the most even-tempered person in the United States Navy. He is always in a rage.”

One hopes that the beautiful vistas and calming influence of the lake made him an enjoyable guest during his 1935 visit to Skaneateles.


Above, U.S. Naval Commanders in the Marianas Campaign, South Pacific. L. to R.: Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy; Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Sherwood Inn, 1922

Sherwood Menu 1922

I know what you’re thinking: Budweiser in 1922? During Prohibition? Well, there are two possibilities. Although Anheuser-Busch was mainly producing Bevo as its near beer, they did produce a Budweiser near beer. (And it was Kin Hubbard who said that the man who named it “near beer” was a poor judge of distance.) But there was also a Budweiser near beer produced by the DuBois Brewing Company of DuBois, Pennsylvania, which sold in Erie, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Whichever Budweiser it was, we can be sure it was a pallid brew.

Uplifting Entertainments

The autumn of 1912, the First Baptist Church of Skaneateles announced a program of entertainments to be provided by stars of the Chatauqua and Lyceum circuits, sort of an educational and uplifting version of vaudeville.

University 2

In October, Carmen’s Italian Orchestra was scheduled, but due to the unavailability of the group’s director they were replaced by “The University Girls,” six “cultured young ladies” who promised “a program given with all the snap, fire and interest of college life, and yet every phase of which reflects years of study with the great masters of music in America.” Their evening of orchestra numbers, vocal quartets and “novelty features” was well received.


In November, the Baptists hosted Mr. & Mrs. Rowand, who were unique on the lecture circuit. While Orie Rowand delivered a humorous talk that cloaked an important message, Pearl Rowand sketched rapidly in color, “revealing to the eye those things which cannot be told in words.” The Rowands’ mainstays were “Between Dark and Dawn” and “Blowing Bubbles,” but the newspaper didn’t say which one was delivered in Skaneateles.Burton

In December, the Rev. Reuben E. Burton of Syracuse lectured on “The Tragedy and Comedy of War,” drawing upon his personal experiences as a Union soldier and prisoner of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In Trumansburg, which also hosted Burton, it was said that, “The speaker was greeted by a large audience, which he held until the last moment by his eloquent and forcible word portrayal of war scenes and incidents.”

In January of 1913, the Washington Brothers’ Alabama Jubilee Quartet, “young and cultured colored gentlemen,” performed “always popular and acceptable songs,” including old plantation melodies, camp meeting shouts, log cabin ditties, popular ballads and operatic jewels, interspersed with readings from the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar.


In February, the church pulled out all the stops with William Sterling Battis of Chicago, “The Dickens Man,” who portrayed characters from the works of Charles Dickens, transforming himself from Uriah Heep to Little Nell (!) to Scrooge to Sydney Carton in full view of the audience, using only a few props, some makeup, and costume pieces. Of all the artists who appeared in the series, Battis had the most lasting fame, helped by recordings on the Victor label of “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (recitation with bugle), a dramatization of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” and readings from Mark Twain. I can find no local review of the performance, but I’m sure it would have been a smash hit during Dickens Christmas.

And so the 1912-1913 season of programs drew to a close.

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My thanks to the University of Iowa Libraries whose lyceum literature collection made much of this possible.


Doctor Prescribes Petroleum

Stephen Smith

“At the annual meeting of the Skaneateles Village Improvement Association held on Saturday, Dr. Stephen Smith of New York addressed the meeting, giving an instructive talk touching upon many things of interest to the residents of Skaneateles. One thing particularly was to sprinkle the streets with petroleum, especially Main street, where the cars make so much dust rushing the way they do at such a rapid rate. They make it almost impossible for housekeepers on that street to keep their or doors open, without the dust pouring into the house.”

Syracuse Herald, August, 1907

Stephen Smith (1823-1922) was born in Skaneateles and went on to become a surgeon and a champion of public health, leading the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Health in New York City in 1866. He wrote of the conditions that prompted his crusade:

“Nuisances dangerous to life and detrimental to health existed everywhere. Large areas were undrained, giving rise to miasmatic fevers in the Autumn. The cobble-stone paved streets were lined and littered with garbage. Small butcher shops were in every section, requiring herds of cattle, sheep and hogs to be driven through the streets; the scavenger’s cart, loaded with filth, filled the night airs with suffocating odors; the river front was lined with fat melting and other offensive industries. Life in the streets, now made perilous by the automobile, was then even more endangered by stray cattle made furious by the hooting, chasing mob.”

Smith died just a few months short of his 100th birthday and left a cleaner world behind him; he is buried in Lake View Cemetery.

The View from Utica, 1872

“A Beautiful Village.” Skaneateles, Aug. 26, 1872. To the Editor of the Utica Observer:

“Two hour’s ride on the Central road and half an hour on the Skaneateles up-hill road in an elegant coach, from Skaneateles Junction, landed your correspondent in one of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL little villages in the State. Skaneateles, Onondaga county, has in its own right a population of 1,400 souls. The village is most delightfully nestled around the foot of that bewitching little sheet of water known as SKANEATELES LAKE, which is about eighteen miles long and wide enough to be extremely pretty. A brief ramble about the village disclosed the fact that much wealth is at the command of the residents of the village. There are very many beautiful residences and elegantly laid out grounds scattered about on prominent points, each commanding unsurpassed views of the lake and surrounding scenery.

“A little steamer on the lake conveys excursionists to its head, where about the village of Glen Haven numerous camping parties resort. A party of excursionists, including one of Utica’s prettiest and most charming daughters, spent last week in that vicinity, and enjoyed a merry time. The aforesaid lady advises all delicate young ladies from Utica with failing appetites to make the same trip. One week will tinge their cheeks with a permanent and healthful bronze, and give them a most ravenous appetite.

“The village of Skaneateles and the country surrounding is quite A RESORT FOR SYRACUSANS on account of its convenient location. At the Packwood House [today’s Sherwood Inn], a remarkably comfortable, fresh and home-like hotel, kept by a most deserving man, John Packwood, I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. and Mrs. Riley Miller and family of Syracuse, formerly of Utica. Mrs. Miller and family have been enjoying the healthful atmosphere of this little gem of a place for several weeks. Mr. M., who is a successful wholesale clothing dealer in Syracuse*, runs up every other evening to enjoy the pleasures of the season.

“Speaking of this pleasant family, strange to say, reminds me of TWO AMUSING INCIDENTS of the campaign.** Politics run high in small towns like this, and the contest thus far has been quite exciting. The village was formerly Republican, but your correspondent was assured that enough Liberal Republicans had espoused the People’s cause to secure a handsome majority for Horace Greeley. Last Friday evening the Democrats and Liberal Republicans united in raising a handsome pole, which was to bear the stars and stripes with the names of the People’s candidates attached. The pole was nearly in position when one of the guy-ropes broke and the pole fell and was sadly demoralized. Whereat the collar-wearers of the Grant faction rejoiced and were glad, and they CHUCKLED with remarkable vigor.

“The Greeley men immediately went to work preparing another pole… On Saturday evening the followers at the Office-Holders’ party had a mongrel stick in readiness. It was hickory at the base with a splice on the top jointed by a framework about the center. This frame looked substantial enough on the outside, which was painted, but, like the party it intended to serve, it was rotten at the core. Messrs. [David J.] Mitchell, (he of the McCarty murder trial in Utica***) and [William J.] Wallace****, of Syracuse, were inflated with eloquence for the occasion. When this rotten Grant pole was nearly in position the treacherous splice gave way and down came the stick, breaking into splinters.

“A NARROW ESCAPE. Mrs. Miller and a party of friends were riding towards the Packwood House at the time of the smash, and the inmates of the carriage only barely escaped being directly under the falling timber. When they arrived at the hotel the discharge of a cannon startled their spirited horses, but fortunately they were controlled in time to prevent injury to the ladies.

“Messrs. Mitchell and Wallace did not succeed in extracting any good moral from the rotten Grant and [Henry] Wilson stick or its untimely downfall. The Greeley men ‘smole’ [obsolete past tense of ‘smile’] several audible smiles, but the Grant faction was sick at heart and disgusted. They won’t attempt to raise another pole in that vicinity.

“A FLYING TRIP to this charming spot like that made by your correspondent was only a temptation for a longer stay. Those who by any chance happen to pass this way should not fail to run up from the Junction, and they will be well repaid for their time and trouble. Your correspondent was most hospitably entertained during his stay by Elias Thorne, Esq., and his excellent family, of the Society of Friends. Mr. Thorne is well and favorably known in Utica, where he has been engaged in extensive wool operations with prominent manufacturers. His house is most beautifully located in a commanding position by the lake-side*****, where all the rare scenery of the country can be thoroughly enjoyed. In November, Mr. Thorne and family leave for San Jose, California, where they will spend six or eight months. With pleasant remembrances of a kindly welcome from stranger friends, I am, Yours, EFLAN.”


* Riley V. Miller was a principal in the firm of Kent & Miller; he was also an attorney and the president of the Commercial Travelers’ Association in Syracuse.

** In the presidential election of 1872, Ulysses S. Grant won a second term, despite a split within the Republican Party that saw Liberal Republicans supporting Horace Greeley of the Democratic Party. Grant’s victory was fortunate, as Greeley died three weeks after the election.

*** Josephine McCarty was tried for murder in Utica in 1872 and successfully defended by David J. Mitchell of Syracuse, said to be one of the best lawyers in the state. In this case, he persuaded the jury that because the man who died was not the man McCarty intended to shoot (but rather a friend seated next to him on the street car), it could not have been premeditated murder. (After the verdict, Mrs. McCarty was arrested in the courtroom and charged with the attempted murder of her intended victim.) While it may not seem relevant to the present piece, I cannot deny you the newspaper’s appraisal of Mrs. McCarty’s career. “Let it suffice to say that it began with being false to a worthy husband twenty-two years ago, after a married life of less than six years; that it went on with larcenies, wantoness, swindles and various impositions upon the public and individuals; hunting up wealthy men in different States and blackmailing them as the alleged father of her illegitimate children, meantime seeking new adventures and abandoning herself to various pleasures, prosecuting sundry schemes and gratifying her own lusts in men’s apparel; following for years the horrid calling of abortionist, and closing finally the revolting record of twenty-two years duration, at the age of forty-eight, with murder.”

**** William Wallace served as Mayor of Syracuse in 1873, and was appointed as a judge of the U.S. District Court by President Grant in 1874.

***** Elias Thorne (1811-1896) lived at what is today 50 West Lake Street; he was a successful farmer (his farm was known as Thorne Hill) and a nationally known dealer in wool; he was also one of the first directors of the Bank of Skaneateles.

The Daring Post Office Robbery

PO Robbery Headline

In the early morning hours of February 27, 1897, two men quietly pried the locks off a window and crawled into the village post office on Genesee Street. While one set to work with a chisel on all the drawers and boxes, the other applied himself to drilling a hole in the top of the safe in postmaster J.Horatio Earll’s office. When done, he dropped in a stick of dynamite.

The explosion blew the door off the safe, shattered every window in the post office, and alerted the village’s night watchman, Oliver Edwards, who was on his rounds at the livery stable of Charles DeWitt behind the Packwood House (today’s Sherwood Inn). As Edwards came running across the bridge over the outlet, a man with a gun stepped out of the shadows and said, “Halt, and throw up your hands.”

Edwards, who had a gun of his own, chose to throw lead instead, and emptied his 7-shot revolver in the direction of the shadowy figure, who responded in kind. However, neither man managed to hit the other. At that point the gunman’s companions sprinted from the post office and all three ran off up Jordan Street with $259 in stamps and cash, $160 in money orders and $126.90 in checks. Apparently the robbers had a buggy waiting at a discreet distance, and vanished before anyone could apprehend them, leaving behind only two chisels, a drill bit and a real mess at the post office.

In the light of day, it was suggested they were the same three men who had robbed the Rose Hill post office two weeks before. In that case, the night watchman saw a man near the post office at 2 a.m., and when he asked him what his business might be, was told “to shut up or he would get a bullet through him.” The men escaped on horseback.

There was, in fact, nothing novel about the Skaneateles robbery. In 1897, the U.S. Post Office reported 1,573 post office robberies, and by 1909 the annual total was almost 2,000.

In nearby Cayuga, between 1904 and 1910, the post office safe was blown open seven times. The local chief of police noted, “It’s getting to be an annual affair.” In 1910, there was one change to the pattern: The thieves fled in an automobile.

In March of 1914, the postmaster of Mottville was robbed for a third time, but this time, his safe was not blown up. Although required by law to put his stamps in a safe, he left them out in the open. The postmaster had already paid for two destroyed safes out of his own pocket, and figured it was cheaper just to pay for the stamps.

Twelve villages along the route of the Long Island Railroad claimed to hold the state record; all of their post offices were hit in 1907. The post office safe in Mineola was blown up at the same time each year for four years running. Villagers in the “safe-blowing belt” became so accustomed to explosions that they would remark, “It’s only the post office being blown up again.”

Men like Edward Wilson, a.k.a. “Canton Eddie,” made post office safes a career. Between 1894 and 1917, Eddie blew up post office safes – 30 in one year alone – in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Quebec. In 1908, busted for a post office robbery in Port Byron, Eddie did four years in Auburn Prison. (It did not help his case when a witness identified the clothes Eddie wore for the court appearance as having been stolen from his store.) A thoroughly professional thief, Eddie had learned how to make his own nitroglycerin by boiling stolen dynamite, and would dampen the sound of his safe explosions with stolen blankets.

Today, collectors of postcards recognize post office robberies as a distinct category, just like train wrecks, fires and earthquakes. Alas, I have yet to find a postcard of the Skaneateles blast of 1897.

post-office-robbed-wiPlainfield, Wisconsin

po-safe-robbery-fillmore-nyFillmore, N.Y.

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My thanks to, the New York Times online and Google for numerous news accounts.

Eva Fay in Skaneateles


The story began in the 1850s with Ann Heathman of Ohio, an 11-year-old girl cast upon the world by an impoverished father, then by a jealous foster mother. Finding shelter with a family of spiritualists, the girl saw an opportunity and began to exhibit abilities as a spirit medium. She was discovered and taken under the wing of Henry Melville Cummings, a spiritualist and con man who tutored the blue-eyed blonde and monetized her skills under the name of Anna Eva Fay. (Henry, who changed his name often, began going by Fay in order to trade upon the name of William Fay who worked with the Davenport brothers, popular spiritualist magicians.)

Henry and Anna Eva Fay lived as brother and sister, or man and wife, depending upon the local circumstances, and in 1877 their variable union was blessed with a son, John Truesdale Fay. Much of Anna’s early work involved séances with small groups and spirit readings in hotel rooms. Detective Allan Pinkerton described her as “a woman possessing a terribly fascinating power and capable of any devilish human accomplishment.” Once, after failing to con a wealthy man via spiritualism, she simply put a derringer to his forehead and took all his money.

In 1894, when spiritualism wore thin, Henry put Anna on the vaudeville stage and she was an instant hit, filling theater seats across the nation as “the indescribable phenomenon” and “the modern oracle of Delphi [who] lays bare life’s mysteries.”


Her first act involved a “locked cabinet” illusion, with Anna bound with ropes, the knots sealed with wax, while spirits she summoned played instruments. It wasn’t much, but it gave her assistants time to go into the audience to prepare for the second act. Members of the audience were given a pad and pencil and asked to write down questions, then tear off the slip of paper with the question and hold it tightly in their hand. Only the blank notepads were returned to the stage.

Anna was blindfolded, seated in a chair, and passed into a state of “somnolency.” Suddenly she would call out the name of a person in the audience, point to them, repeat their exact question and follow with an answer. At the end of the act, she would swoon into the arms of an assistant, exhausted by her feats of “thought transference.”

Anna’s methods were exposed on occasion, by other illusionists or disgruntled former employees. Her mind-reading bit was lifted from magician S.S. Baldwin, “The White Mahatma,” but audiences didn’t care. They loved the show and people came back two and three times to see it, not caring how she knew the question, but just wanting to hear her answer.

The one who knew the most about the inner workings of her act was her son John, who had grown up behind the curtain. John was not the most principled of sons, and after he met and married Eva Norman Dean in 1898, they quickly ripped off Anna’s act and went on tour as “The Marvelous Fays.”

Eva Fay, easily confused with Anna Eva Fay (and that was the point) performed the same act only with an Egyptian theme, and an even stronger dose of drama. One observer described her entrance:

“Clad in a long, flowing robe of glittering gold, her russet-brown hair bearing a head-piece of ancient Egypt, her bare feet sandaled, her bare arms encircled with quaintly carved bracelets of gold, her hands toying with a long, flexible silver snake in the head of which glistens an emerald of deepest green; her face oval and dark, lighted by deep-set eyes that glow and burn; lips that turn upwards to the corners to relieve the somberness of a thoughtful countenance, Eva Fay, tall and generously proportioned, suggests the seeress of older times whom philosophers and poets rhapsodize.

 “When she slowly ascends the few steps leading to her high-back chair, the front of which is a great tiger skin, there is a silence that can be felt throughout the huge auditorium. She drops a handful of pungent incense into the two great Egyptian braziers that flank her chair. As the odour is wafted out over the footlights, the feeling of suspense has settled down upon the audience. She blindfolds herself. She is alone on the stage.”

John and Eva, “the High Priestess of Thaumaturgy,” raked in the money, between $700 and $1,000 a week. Anna Eva Fay was rich, and now John and Eva Fay were getting rich, too. But mind-reading on the road can be tiring, and so in June of 1905, John and Eva Fay took a break and came to Skaneateles, renting the house of Norman J. Shepard on Hannum Street. Shepard summered with his family in the Thousand Islands, running a boat rental business, and so his house — just behind today’s Hannum House, then the home of Norman J. Shepard’s father, Norman O. Shepard — was available to summer residents.

Hannum House Matt 2

The homes of Norman J. Shepard (left) and Norman O. Shepard (right) in 1908

Sadly for me, there is no record of Eva Fay performing wonders or summoning spirits, or of strange lights in the windows.

Three years later, after a successful run in Oakland, California, the Fays rested up again, at that city’s Hotel St. Mark, before going to Denver as part of a 40-week tour that was bringing them $1,000 a week. But for John, at least, the Mile High City was not to be.

After dinner, alone in a room, John shot himself in the face and died instantly. The initial reports said it must have been suicide, but there was a more reasonable explanation. In spite of a morbid fear of death, John got a thrill from handling loaded pistols. He’d once put a bullet into a wall at his mother’s house. The evidence on this night pointed to a clumsy accident.

But, it wouldn’t be right to end without giving one more version of the events. It has been said that Eva Fay had a “spirit rapping hand,” designed by the legendary Martinka magic shop, that enabled a spirit who was invoked during séances to answer questions with soft, tapping noises. And the particular spirit that communicated through Eva’s hand had become jealous of John. When his body was found, the spirit hand was on the floor next to the gun. Perhaps John just wanted to see what kind of shot the hand was.

Eva Fay

After a brief interval, Eva returned to the stage to complete the tour.

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Theatrical poster of Eva Fay from the Courier Lithograph Company of Buffalo, N.Y., circa 1910.