One could make a strong case that ice has meant more the economic growth and vitality of Lake Placid than any other element. There is obvious use of ice in the arena’s three ice sheets and for the athletes that slide down the combined luge-bob-skeleton track out at Van Hovenberg. In a way, they are modest reminders of when ice was king in Lake Placid. I can remember the walls of ice lit with Christmas tree lights that were used to decorate the front of the Olympic Arena, volunteers grounding up ice and pouring it down the landing hill for the annual Fourth of July Ski Jump, and watching barrel jumpers fly through the air on Mirror Lake.
I remember the stories of when in many ways Lake Placid lake was busier in the winter than the summer with all the caretakers and their crews, using teams of horses, to cut and haul out ice to store for the summer use by the camps, hotels and homes. Yet, the scale of the use of ice was even more than I realized as I learned when I went to visit the exhibition: Ice at the Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society. The museum is filled with photos, personal stories and objects that underscore just how important ice was to the creation of Lake Placid as the capitol for winter sports in America and as a year-round destination. Who knew that women were first allowed to participant in a sanctioned international speed skating race in the United States at an event held here in 1921; one of a multitude of details on display.
Attending the Heritage Day festival at the museum was my second tour of the exhibit on Ice, organized by Parmelee Tolkan and Caperton Tissot, ably assisted by Town Historian Beverley Reid and Museum Director Jennifer Tufano.
“People are enthralled with this exhibit,” said Sally Warner. “I help out at the museum three days a week. Many of our visitors come for the train. I don’t think they have seen such an exhibit before. I remember the icehouse out at our farm, which we used to keep the milk cool, and all the sawdust they used as insulation. You had to clean it off the ice. I remember the ice walls in front of the Arena. Did you see the photo of my dad and read the quotes. I love the way they got people to reflect back on the experiences.”
“The ice exhibit is phenomenal,” said Sue Cameron, selling hotdogs for the Festival. “Parmelee did a great job.”
“The idea came from Caperton’s book,” said Parmelee Tolkan. “We divided the work in organizing the exhibit in two. She did all the industrial and early stuff and I did all the Lake Placid Club and sliding stuff, Bev and I worked on the skating and hockey, all the sports that took place on ice. My favorite part was Lorraine Bryant. Her father was Charles Jewtraw’s greatest competitor. If he didn’t win, Bryant did. Mary MacKenzie (former Town Historian) had in her files documents that said speed skating started on Mill Pond, but no documentation to back it up and this woman came in with photos – it was fabulous to have her come in with that.”
“The other thing I learned,” Tolkan added, “is that they were skating in three places, down here on Mirror Lake, and behind the Club. When they decided to consolidate the sites everything moved up town.”
“The idea for the exhibit was Parmelee’s brainstorm,” said Beverley Reid. “I just filled in all the information.”
“You did much more than that,” said Parmelee. “You helped tie it to contemporary times. You helped get all those great quotes.”
“I think of all the ice they cut out of the Cascade Lakes. All the camp men cut the ice at the same time. They all worked together. It was a huge operation,” said Reid.
Speaking of men, you might say that men were also on display as part of the Heritage Day as the Masons, which is a male-only fraternity, was having an open house across the street helping turn the Heritage Festival into a real block party – indeed it had people purchasing hotdogs to support the Museum from Sue Cameron and pulled pork from her husband Glen to support the Masons’ good work.
“What are the Masons?” I said to Glen as I plopped own on a bench to benefit from his cooking talents.
“It is not a secret organization, but an organization with secrets,” he said.
“Like a college fraternity,” said Jim Rogers.
“How long have you been a Mason?” I said to Jim.
“Ten years, my father was a Mason for 60 and grandfather for 75.”
“What took you so long to join?”
“For a long time it was wrong to ask someone if you wanted to become a Mason, now it is acceptable. What inspired me was when I saw Don Edgley’s license plate that read 2B1ASK1. I knew Don was a member and Horace Pratt was a member so I asked if I could join and that was that. One of the great joys is that there are no social or economic differences; Masons come from all walks of life. It is a great fellowship. I know that if I have a problem, that any Mason will try to help me anywhere in the world. Our mission is to be helpful to our fellow man. Eastern Star is the women’s organization.”
Jim gave me a whole lot more information that would be worthy of an article in and of itself. The exhibit on Ice itself could fill a full page of the News and more. In the meantime, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.