SARANAC LAKE - This community is mourning the loss of Forrest "Dew Drop" Morgan, an iconic local figure who died on Saturday at the age of 90.
Morgan was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He was also a bobsled champion, a local business owner and the patriarch of a large extended family, which includes several sons and daughters who live in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
"I think it's pretty safe to say he touched a lot of people," said John Morgan, Dew Drop's oldest son.
Forrest 'Dew Drop' Morgan in June 2008
(Enterprise file photo — Emily Hunkler)
"It was his time," said Dermott Morgan, the youngest of Dew Drop's children. "He was ready to go. ... You just have to know that the last breath he took, he had a big smile on his face. We're not sad. We're very happy for Dew Drop. Not all of us will live that long. ... He had a pretty good life: He had a lot of sorrow; he had a lot of happiness. He lived a full life."
Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, in a statement issued Monday morning, called Morgan Saranac Lake's "greatest icon.
"No other person was so emblematic of Saranac Lake's zest for life, friendliness and loyalty," Rabideau said. "Dew Drop Morgan was indeed 'Mr. Saranac Lake.' On behalf of the village and the greater mournful community, I extend sorrow for this enormous loss to the Morgan family and our deepest condolences."
Rabideau said when he first moved to Saranac Lake, Morgan immediately treated him like family.
"Stories he always had - most of them true - and smiles aplenty," Rabideau said. "He was a character in the best sense of the word and he had character, the rock-solid kind that got him through a (World War II prisoner-of-war) camp and back home to raise a large and robust family and give so much life to Saranac Lake."
Forrest was born to Wilbur and Anna (Leonard) Morgan of Saranac Lake on Aug. 16, 1922. He attended St. Bernard's School and was given his famous nickname while a student at Saranac Lake High School. According to his obituary, which printed in Monday's Enterprise, Murph O'Donnell would tease him by saying, "You're as fresh as the dew on the grass."
Dew Drop also attended Tilton Prep School in New Hampshire and was drafted into the Air Force in December 1942. He served in World War II and was discharged three years later, only to be called back into service as a reservist during the Korean War.
On Sept. 13, 1944, during World War II, then-19-year-old Dew Drop and his crew were sent on a bombing mission in Poland. The target, according to a May 27, 2002, Enterprise article, was the Osweicim oil refineries. The crew completed the mission under heavy German fire, but on the return trip Russian troops mistook the B-24 Liberator for a German bomber and shot it down. Amazingly, the crew survived. They were then captured by Russian troops and taken to their headquarters, where Forrest had to convince them he wasn't German.
"The Morgan charm and his Adirondack accent convinced his captors he was pure Yankee, and arrangements were made to return him to his home base near Bari, Italy," Enterprise reporter Pete Connolly wrote in 2002.
It was originally reported in the U.S. that Germans had shot down Dew Drop's plane, and it would be several years until the truth was revealed. In a 2001 Enterprise story, Dew Drop explained that he was put under a gag order not to talk about the mistake.
"They told me not to say that the Russians shot me down," he said at the time. "They told me that we weren't to breathe nothing about that."
Beginning in 1945, Dew Drop carried the American flag in Saranac Lake's Memorial Day parade. The duty was passed down to him by a veteran of the Spanish-American War, who had carried it in the annual parade since 1899. Dew Drop carried the flag every year until 2008, when he passed the tradition on to Vietnam War veteran Raymond Boula.
"I've got a lot of memories with this (flag)," Dew Drop told the Enterprise in May 2008. "I only missed two years since 1945, and that was for the Korean War."
Dew Drop married Sheila O'Reilly on Sept. 12, 1946. One year later, they bought the Bridge Bar & Grill, located on Broadway in Saranac Lake, from Max Shapiro and changed the name to the Dew Drop Inn. In 1966, they opened the Dew Drop Up in Potsdam, and in 1967 they founded 13 Morgans in Plattsburgh. In the 1970s they had a Chinese restaurant within their Saranac Lake complex called Du Wok Inn.
The Morgans sold the Dew Drop Inn in 1977, bought it back in 1981 and finally sold it at auction in 1988. After failed runs for Harrietstown supervisor and councilman, Dew Drop became the official raconteur, or storyteller, of the Lake Placid Lodge until his retirement in 2008. He also bartended there.
Dew Drop was also known for his exploits on the bobsled track. His lifelong interest in bobsledding began at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, which he attended with his father at the age of nine. He became a national champion in 1959, and was a member of the Saranac Lake Bobsled Club and served on U.S. Bobsled's Board of Directors.
John, who works as a bobsled analyst for television, recalled that in the '60s and '70s, when European or Canadian bobsled teams came to town, his parents would host receptions either at the Dew Drop Inn or at their home.
"So we got to meet all of these people as kids, and that sort of engulfed us into the sport," John said. "What he did there was just establish a legacy of friendship into Europe. He wasn't the best bobsledder in the world, but he probably might have been the one that was most liked. Everybody had a story about him."
John said his father exemplified the "Greatest Generation" through his service in the military and his dedication to his family, friends and community.
Dew Drop may go down in history as one of the New York Yankees' biggest fans. The Enterprise archives are filled with stories about the "Yankee Dipper" - a take-off on the "Yankee Clipper" (Joe DiMaggio) a moniker that Dew Drop gained when he began walking a plank into the Saranac River whenever the Bronx Bombers lost the World Series.
"Right across the street from the Dew Drop Inn was another famous local legend, a Marine Corps World War II veteran named Chuckie Pandolph," Dermott said. "He had a tavern called Chuck's Place, and he also bobsledded. Dew Drop and him had a love-hate relationship. They were mostly best buddies, but they loved to compete, whether it was on the bob run or tavern-against-tavern.
"They had a bet," Dermott added. "One time, the Dodgers won in seven games. And it was that series, the bet they had: Dew Drop being a Yankee fan, Chuckie being a Dodgers fan, whoever lost the bet had to jump off the bridge on Broadway."
In a 1960 Enterprise column, published after the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Yankees in seven games, Bill McLaughlin quotes WNBZ radio personality Bob McGonegal as saying, "If ever a guy was a grateful loser, it was Dew Drop, who set up drinks on the house and acquitted himself as a real sportsman!"
Dew Drop didn't take the plunge after the 1960 World Series loss - the Enterprise headline reads, "Morgan Suffers Loss; Stays Dry" - but he did get carried out of his restaurant on a stretcher, with a "blue and white Yankee banner covering him like a shroud," McLaughlin wrote.
Another of Dew Drop's sons, Bryan, said his father took great pride in raising his family.
"When I was 10 or 11 years old, we had a beautiful camp out in Lake Clear that we spent our summers at," Bryan said. "I used to get up early and fish for trout. I'd catch trout for everyone to eat for breakfast. ... Mom would cook them. It always put a big old smile on my face that Dad was proud of me that I was going out early morning as a kid and catching all of these trout. That memory has always stood out."
Dew Drop was king of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in 1997; Sheila was Winter Carnival queen in 1984.
Dew Drop was preceded in death by two sons, James and Kevin, and his wife Sheila, who died in 1988. Calling hours will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake. A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at St. Bernard's Church.