Rob Howard Rarities

SCC Deckle Edge copy

Some time in the early 1980s, photographer Rob Howard received a call from Dick Schemeck, owner of the Hitching Post gift shop at the corner of Jordan & Genesee. Dick was placing an order for Skaneateles postcards in a day or two, but had no photos. This was not Rob’s usual subject matter, but Dick was a friend, and had a list of about a dozen subjects in the village that were postcard-worthy. The next day, Rob shot half of the sites on the list in the morning light, and then the other half in the late afternoon light. He recalls the oddest request was for a picture of the social hall at St. Mary’s of the Lake; Dick explained that visiting Catholics liked to send postcards to show where they’d gone to Mass while on the road. Little did Rob imagine that one day his cards would show up on eBay, and be sought after by collectors. Printing by Plastichrome, Boston; love the faux deckle-edge.


Rob Howard Sherwood Inn


Glen Haven Tinted

In August of 1913, Clara Specht, who loved to send postcards, sent this one of the Glen Haven Hotel to a friend in Los Angeles with the note: “This hotel has been sold and moved away and it was a pretty spot for Syracusans in summer.” The card itself was a “Quatro-Chrome” postcard, printed in Germany for the Wallace-Hahn drugstore in Skaneateles.

Not a Squirrel

Bear Den

John “Spikehorn” Meyer was a legend in his native Michigan, a character who kept bears and other wildlife in his roadside “bear den,” the only one in the U.S. where a tourist could shake hands with a bear, feed a bear, and be bitten by a bear, because Spikehorn did not go in for restraints or regulations of any kind.

In the summer of 1948, business brought Spikehorn to Skaneateles. Accounts vary, but it seems Spikehorn owned some land in Bear Swamp (of course) and had a buyer lined up. He also wanted to interest Adam Ballack, the owner of the Mandana Inn, in adding a bear pit to the restaurant, which he said would draw diners to the Inn as well as additional tourists to Skaneateles.

To that end, Spikehorn brought a bear, named Snooky, to Skaneateles, as kind of a display bear. Business did not go well; the land sale fell through and Ballack balked at paying for the bear. The Skaneateles Masons were having a carnival, but after considering the liabilities, passed on featuring Snooky as an attraction. It only remained for Snooky to be packed up and placed in a truck to be driven to the railroad station in Syracuse for the return journey to Michigan.

However, while saying his goodbyes, Snooky climbed a tree downtown outside Hall & Poole’s store at 9 East Genesee (today the home of The Elephant & the Dove) and refused to come back down. He would not come back down for his owner, or the police, or the firemen who were summoned to the scene. For thirty minutes, the Village hosted a bear in a tree on Genesee Street. From what I can gather, this had never happened before, or since.

But in the end, Snooky came back down, Spikehorn picked up his leash, and the disappointed pair left the Village, never to return.

The Bug

Time has passed, and I think I can talk about the bug now. It was Holy Week, 2010. When I was a member of the St. James’ parish, I sang in the choir. The choir sat in the front of the church, a few steps above the congregation and a step below the altar. Which is to say, we were very visible, so it was best that we behaved ourselves. Especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the two most solemn days, Christ on the eve of his execution, and Christ beaten, mocked, humiliated, then nailed to a cross between two thieves. Dark times.

And when the scripture was read describing these events, the lights were dimmed until the church was as dark as those nights, and all were still.

It was into this dark and stillness that the bug walked, out of the woodwork and into the darkened sanctuary. You might ask, “How could you see the bug if it was dark?” I’ll tell you how: This was a big bug. The church was built in 1873, and I have no doubt that he entered the walls during its construction, and has lived at St. James’ ever since, growing stout on a diet of God knows what. I’ve seen smaller mice. He had long, spindly legs, knees moving like scissors, and antennae that could have picked up the BBC World Service if he was interested in news from across the Atlantic.

He walked, in a business-like fashion, across the tile floor as if this was his route every evening. The basses seated at the altar-end of their row were the first to see him, as he emerged from the shadows; then the tenors, sopranos and altos. Under normal circumstances, such an appearance might occasion exclamations like “Holy Cow!” and “My goodness, what might that be?” Some brave soul, giving no thought to his or her shoe, might have sprung up to squash the thing.

But we were in church, in the front of the church, in white robes with black stoles, on the most Holy and somber day of the Christian calendar listening to scripture recounting Christ’s agony. All holding still just like Mom and Dad took great pains (usually our own) to teach us. And the bug kept walking. Phrases like “crushing mandible” and “venom with no antidote” flashed across our minds as we charted the bug’s progress.

For a time, the bug kept to a straight line, crossing the open portion of the floor between the facing rows of choristers, but then he took a slow left and disappeared behind the row of wide-eyed altos. I looked across at our choir director, who alone among us seemed unaware of the bug, and I thought that if the bug went up his trouser leg, we were going to hear something.

But the bug did not go up his trouser leg. After a minute or two of high suspense, he reappeared, having done no damage. Our relief, however, was short-lived. He was coming back our way. Across the floor. Perhaps mumbling or humming a bug tune in a register too high or low for our ears, acting as though he was all alone, making his accustomed rounds.

I did not want to be the one to startle him, and watched with fascination as my feet, apparently acting on their own, moved slowly to the left, away from the bug. He passed within a foot of my chair and back into the darkness. Turning in for the night.

When my respiration returned to normal, I picked up the thread of the service, noting that I had missed a bit during the bug’s tour. But, unharmed, I grew calm and came to feel better about the bug. This was, after all, a house he shared with God, and he’d clearly been in it much, much longer than I had.


Somehow this piece from Skaneateles & St. James’ (2014) failed to appear in the Skaneateles blog until now. I was reminded of it when I came across this illustration by Joseph Clement Coll, which aptly captured the bug’s likeness.


The Mailboat, 1943

I am delighted to have a guest post this morning from Nancy Arthur Hoskins of Eugene, Oregon. The Arthur family lived on West Genesee, across the street from the Krebs, from 1933 to 1944. Nancy is writing about her childhood in Skaneateles, and here shares the story of “The Arthur’s Skaneateles Mail Boat — The Chips.”

* * *

In the summer of 1942, my brother Edwin Arthur, called ‘Doc’ by his friends and ‘Sonny’ by his family, worked for the Stinsons on the mail boat run. The next year he bought his own boat in Watertown, N.Y. He had saved some money, and my father, Gilbert, helped him with the rest. The boat cost $500. It was a wooden canal boat—very narrow and thirty-six feet long.

Mr. Stinson helped Edwin obtain a pilot and engineer’s license and he was awarded the mail contract along with my mother, Dot (Ellen Dorothea). They ran the mailboat the summer of 1943. The run, up one side of the lake and down the other, was approximately forty miles, and ran five days a week from 10:00 to 4:30. At forty-five stops mail, groceries, and ice were delivered. A canopy for the pilot and postmistress, and bench seats for the passengers were added. The boat could carry fifteen passengers and was equipped with life jackets. My brother ran the boat. Mother took care of the mail, and took care of the passenger fares and their comfort.

All of my brothers and sisters remember stories about going around the lake on the mailboat. My brother recalls that there was no dock at one of the cabins, so a young man would swim out to retrieve the mail. My brother joined the Navy after the summer was over and served in the Pacific. In Singapore, he was surprised to run into the guy who swam out to get his mail. The two servicemen spent the night reminiscing about the halcyon days of summer in Skaneateles.

I was seven that summer and rode the mail boat almost every day. I will never forget the day that Mother tried to straddle the boat and a dock as the boat drifted away. Almost in slow motion Mother fell in the water!

Trying to keep an older boat engine running during the war years was a difficult task for a teenage pilot. On one mail run, after making an ingenious repair in the middle of the lake, we returned by moonlight. There were times when the mail had to be delivered by car — two cars actually! Mother would take one side of the lake and Sonny the other with me in the rumble seat. This meant going up and down every steep driveway to each summer home. Mother said it was, “Two if by land, one if by sea.”

Sundays were special for my family. We would take the boat to a different place on beautiful Skaneateles Lake to swim and picnic.

At the end of the summer of 1943 my brother joined the Navy and the boat was dry-docked for the duration at the end of the park next to the pier. The Chips was damaged and never ran again. Mailboats on the lake did not resume until after the war, but by then the Arthur family had moved to Washington state.

The Chips

Film was difficult to obtain during the war and the only surviving photograph of the boat is the one above that my brother carried in his wallet while he served in the Navy.

—  Nancy Arthur Hoskins 

A Mystery

Earlier this year, an antique dealer bought 200 real photo postcards at the estate sale of a postcard collector in Connecticut and began selling them on eBay. The photos were taken all across the U.S., as well as in Japan and Europe, probably by the same individual, between 1913 and 1928. Identifying notes were written on the borders of the postcards, and there was only one copy of each.

Several of the photos were taken during visits to Skaneateles, and it would appear that the photographer/visitor was a friend of Clarence Austin, who willed his farm to the Village for use as Austin Park. I would love to know more, but for now I have to be content with sharing photos that are one-of-a-kind images of Skaneateles.

10 Mile Point

EHA with Polly

Fire Engine

Village Inn

SCC Original

SCC 9th Green

Austin at SCC

SCC Porch View

Austin Tombstone

Creek Near Jordan

East Lake Road 2

Residence 1

Residence Beavers

Roosevelt Ink

Roseleigh 1

Roseleigh Grounds

Residence with Cow

The Clarence Mason Austin residence, and a cow, when it was located on the southwest corner of the Austin Farm, roughly the site of the old skating rink at Jordan and E. Austin. The house was moved to East Street in 1946.


Sophie in 1915, at the back door of the Clarence Austin house.

Ludington's Porch

Gen. Marshall Independence Ludington lived in this home between 1903 and 1919. It was formerly the home of William Marvin, Ludington’s father-in-law, and is today the Masonic Hall on Genesee Street.


Kyoto 1913

And perhaps the photographer himself, in Kyoto, Japan, in 1913.

A Welcome Awaits

Old Home Week 1

“My dear: So glad to have your dear letter this A.M. Shall write you soon. I’m so glad to make the extra tatting for you. Would not allow anyone else to do it for worlds. Shall begin on it very soon, gladly. Leave for a two days trip to Syracuse this P.M. Shall write you from there. Love, Ruby.”

— Postcard sent to Grace Brown Gladding of New Haven, Connecticut.