It was pretty simple as far as platform camps went. In fact, we didn’t even sleep in it. We kept our food and supplies in it while we camped in a small clearing nearby, my three sisters in a canvas umbrella tent, my parents in a canvas lean-to tent, and my older brother and I in an army surplus pup tent.
It was the start of my love affair with the Adirondacks in general, and Saranac Lake in particular. We ended the trip by going shopping for school clothes at Leonards’, Everett’s, the National Army Store or one of the other clothing stores before we headed back to my hometown of Phelps, the sauerkraut capital of the world. Soon I was longing for my next visit to the North Country.
Whenever there was anything about Saranac Lake on the TV or in the news, I was thrilled. During the 1960s I regularly saw Texaco commercials featuring Lawless’s Texaco station, where the Verizon store is now. There was a series of ads featuring Texaco’s localized gasoline for the region’s climate, and one of the ads featured Phil Hyde and some great scenes of driving around town. (You can watch it at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4Lpskdk9zQ ) As a young teen I thought it was so cool.
In 1964 I had to leave Saranac Lake in mid-August to start high school football practice. It was my first year of playing any sports and I didn't know what I was getting into. I dutifully reported to my first practice Monday, August 24, and by the end of the first practice, I wondered if I had made a mistake thinking I could play football.
I awoke that Friday, my body aching all over, having exercised more than I ever had in my life. I stumbled downstairs for a hearty breakfast that would prepare me for that day’s practice. As they did every weekday, my parents had the Today Show turned on. When the local Syracuse news came on, I was shocked, not only to see Saranac Lake featured in the news, but my beloved Lower Saranac Lake. Not only Lower Saranac Lake, but the platform camp next to ours.
Our camp was on Gravelly Point. To the south was the Woodruffs’ camp, and to the north was the Cantwell’s camp, with their sailboat moored just offshore. One of the last platform camps to be built was constructed around 1962, between the Cantwell’s camp and ours. I never got to know the family that had the camp, and only knew the father was a pastor and he and his wife had four kids.
According to news reports the father, thirty-year-old William Schlunt, decided to take an early evening water ski. His wife was driving the boat with their 2- and 4-year-olds, while their 7- and 9-year-olds stayed on shore. As the pastor skied by the Cantwell’s camp, he apparently was blinded by the setting sun and skied into the stern of their sailboat, sustaining fatal injuries. Ed Duso of Crescent Bay Marina was nearby and assisted the pastor’s wife in performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and getting him to the marina where, despite the rescue squad’s attempts to save him, he was declared dead.
Seeing the news of the tragic accident on the television that Friday morning, I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for the pastor’s children having to witness it. Furthermore, I couldn’t imagine the Cantwell’s sailboat, a boat I had sailed on many times, was involved in such a tragedy.
I loved hearing news about Saranac Lake, but not THAT kind of news. Till then I never knew anyone that had died. I grew up in farm country. We had horses, cattle, and chickens that died. Plus, since my parents raised Newfoundland dogs, we had lots of dogs die too. I accepted animal death as a way of life. But not human death.
As a thirteen-year-old I learned a lesson that I was going to relearn way too often. You can’t have the joy of life without the pain of death.