‘The Big Chill’ 32 years ago today

Jim had a birthday recently. I don’t know if he turned 50 or if he worked at the Enterprise for 50 years, or maybe I was remembering that we worked together at the Enterprise in the ’50s. Whatever … Happy birthday, Jim, I just hope I look that good when I get to be your age. Ha ha …

The Enterprise headline Monday, Dec. 12, 1988, read: “The Big Chill! Tri-Lakes in a deep freeze.”

Tell me about climate change: Remember we had to walk 8 miles to school, uphill both ways; it was always 20 below zero with 2 feet of new snow every night.

Well anyway, it was something like that. Enterprise reporter Patrick Keyes had his hands full covering the cold story because he also had to report on a terrible house fire in Lake Clear that destroyed the home of James and Catherine Shene.

Coldest spot in the nation

“Brrrr! That’s all that needs to be said about the past two days, when temperatures dipped to 30 degrees below zero and brought people to the sudden realization that winter is here … and it may stay for awhile.

“Martin Donnelly at the Piedmont Commuter terminal at the Adirondack Airport in Lake Clear said the thermometer showed 28 degrees below zero early this morning.

“The reading made Saranac Lake the coldest spot in the nation. Contrast that with Sunday readings of 83 degrees in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida and it seems that sunshine and balmy breezes are millions of miles away.

“A reading of 24 below was recorded by Bob Kampf at his weather station in Ray Brook, and Sunmount Developmental Center in Tupper Lake recorded 23 below. Donnelly said the airport reading is the official National Weather Bureau statistic for this region. It is distributed to media around the nation, which explains why Saranac Lake is becoming the International Falls, Minnesota [competes with Saranac Lake for that dubious, coldest-in-the-nation honor] of the East. Today’s reading was mentioned on all the morning radio and television broadcasts.

“Sunday’s reading at the airport was a frigid three degrees below. The weather affected everything from the firemen battling the blaze in Lake Clear to spectators at an international ski jumping event in Lake Placid. Don Krone, ORDA spokesman, said the event drew 5,000 spectators the first day down to only ‘about 1,000 people the second day willing to stand out in the bitter cold.’

“While it was very cold, there were no reports of hypothermia at either the General Hospital or Placid Memorial Hospital. ‘We usually don’t get that kind of thing until the tourists come up (who) aren’t used to the cold temperatures,’ said Lisa Forrest, a spokeswoman for the General Hospital.

“Temperatures are supposed to dip to the minus 15 degree range tonight but forecasts call for a warming trend toward Tuesday.”

Hose nozzles freezing at the fire

“A local family was left homeless after a fire Sunday which had firefighters from two departments battling the blaze for nearly nine hours.

“Saranac Lake Fire Chief Don Duso said the call from the home of James and Catherine Shene came in about 7:34 a.m. The couple had smelled smoke during the night but did not see anything so they went back to sleep, Duso said. One of the family pets, a small poodle, eventually woke them up by barking loudly, alerting them to the blaze. …

“Extremely cold temperatures were a bigger problem Sunday than they had ever been before, Duso added.

“‘We had all kinds of freeze-up. We had to replace hoses, hold nozzles by the exhaust pipes … all kinds of problems.'”

There were no hydrants in the area, so after the pumper tanks were empty, they had to be filled from a nearby brook.

Five trucks and 27 men from the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene while a group of firemen and three trucks from the Paul Smith’s-Gabriels Department were also battling the blaze. The Lake Placid Fire Department spent the day at the Saranac Lake station providing mutual aid.

No cause of the fire had been determined, according to Duso.

“The fire started in the right side of the house as it appears from the road and had swept through the attic area by the time the firemen had arrived. It then spread quickly through the rest of the house.”

Total loss includes Christmas gifts

The house, located near McMaster Road, was described as a total loss, including Christmas gifts.

“The family sat in a van that Catherine’s son, Wayne Donaldson, had brought down to the scene, and watched the fire crews battle the blaze in the hopes of saving some of the building that had been their home for 36 years. Her daughter, Kim Fitzgerald, said that when her mother finally realized the home was a total loss, family members convinced her to go and get warm.

Kim said they were in need of everything, clothing or donations: “They basically need anything. … They don’t have jackets, shoes or anything more than what they were wearing.”

Firemen did not leave the scene until 4:30 Sunday afternoon.

Strange encounter of the 3rd page

Some higher power won’t let me leave Goodman Kelleher’s book. The contents of that book have provided the stories for the last four columns. Wait until you read this connection. Excerpt from the book:

“I heard of Miss Anna Ryan, who owned and operated a fashionable school for girls at Lake Placid in the fall, then at Miami Beach, Florida, after the Christmas holidays, using the same staff of teachers at both places. Following the end of the term in Florida the school returned to Lake Placid in the spring.

“Miss Ryan was stern and exacting when I was working at the school, but she took a liking to me and was most friendly. I stayed with her for five years, then one day made up my mind to go into business for myself at Lake Placid in spite of Miss Ryan’s advice to the contrary.”

I have no idea why, but I started browsing through a stack of my “files,” which is an awful abuse of that word, when a magazine, The Literary Digest of Sept. 1, 1923, pops into my hand. It was published by Funk & Wagnalls Company — Adam W. Wagnalls, president; Wilfred J. Funk, vice president, located at 354-360 Fourth Ave., New York City. And there on page 3 is the following advertisement:

Remember when Johnny Carson would play the role of the Mighty Carnac? He would come on the set dressed in a robe and a huge jeweled turban. Ed McMahon would hand Johnny a bunch of sealed envelopes and say, “The questions, Oh Mighty Carmac, have been scientifically sealed in a mayonnaise jar and kept on Funk & Wagnalls back porch since noon today”; then Johnny would hold the sealed envelopes against his forehead, give the answer, then open the envelope and read some hilarious question. Man, I loved that show.


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