There is something about the Adirondack Mountains. Something that you can't quite put into words. Something that is a part of you even before you've experienced it for yourself. Regardless of season, regardless of weather, you cannot help but feel a kinship to the rocky mountain sentinels rising thousands of feet above sea level and to the people who have traveled these roads before you. When you look at the abundance around you, it is easy to forget that at one point the Adirondacks were in danger of being lost forever to deforestation, a testament to the resilience and spirit of our natural wonder and a monument to American idealism, to chasing the dream of a better world, to chasing the dream of Olympic greatness.
I have a particular fondness for history myself and a fondness for museums even more; and, Lake Placid is full of both history and someone seeking to preserve it. So when International Museum Day rolled around I found myself with the perfect opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite past times. Getting a bit of springtime fresh air and learning a little something about our charming mountain town!
I started out at John Brown Road:
John Brown's body lies a-moldering in the grave;
His soul's marching on!
- John Brown's Body
In 1849, a life-long abolitionist moved his family to North Elba, NY. His goal was to join and assist a new community of free black families, inexperienced in homesteading and facing difficulties in farming in the arduous Northern New York climate.
While the community would not succeed, John Brown's love of the Adirondacks would endure. Over the next ten years, Mr. Brown would visit the farm and his family while continuing his efforts to further his life's work throughout the country. He would leave his family and farm for the last time in June 1859, four months before he would lead a militia on a raid of the Harper's Ferry Armory in an effort to trigger a slave revolt and bring an end to slavery. The raid on Harper's Ferry would be unsuccessful; many members of the militia died during the fighting and John Brown was arrested, tried for treason, convicted, and executed in Charles Town, VA. Just days later he was buried on his family farm in North Elba, NY, which was declared a National Historic Site in 1998.
It is a modest location. The house is large but simple; the plaster walls the most extravagant luxury that I could see; a last temptation from a mother to her daughter to come visit (which reminds me that I really must call my parents). The simplicity seemed to hide a family of incredible complexity. I learned of a man who died for his beliefs and the cause of freedom, of his wife, who had the courage to join him in a harsh wilderness and stay after his death, and a tight-knit family who lived together in these few rooms and were tied together by many things, not the least of which were the beliefs that all were created equal. Today you can visit the John Brown Farm State Historic Site which provides a fascinating insight into the everyday life of a mid-nineteenth century family and the part it played in the advent of the Civil War. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for students, and seniors, groups, and children under 12 are free - with lovely trails and a wide picnic area, it is a great place to let the kids run around and play!
From there, it is a quick drive back to town, but don't come back too soon! Stay out for a while - there is much more to see. As you approach town from John Brown's farm, you'll approach Station Street, home of the Train Station and Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society. Rather than stay inside I decided to enjoy the sunshine and take the walking tour of Lake Placid - a great way to enjoy a little history and keep moving! The tour covers a couple of miles so you may want to keep that in mind if staying near your car is important.
My Tip to You: If you love architecture, don't miss my favorite building! The image above is of the Guild Building, the home of Forrest Guild's men store for many, many years. It has the most stunning patina and gorgeous bones!
After a bite to eat I ended up at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, located inside the Olympic Center and a stone's throw from the 1980 Olympic skating rink. Miracles have been known to happen on that rink.
When I first moved to the Adirondacks I was given one piece of advice, "embrace the cold". With snow, ice, and winter weather for six months of the year, ice skating and skiing have been a vital part of Lake Placid culture for as long as the Adirondack Park has been inhabited year-round. This would change during the winter of 1895 with the opening of the Lake Placid Club, the first winter resort in the United States.
It is with these chilly beginnings that the Lake Placid Olympic Museum starts, and its story is longer and more rich than I'd anticipated. It's the story of Jack Shea, a Lake Placid native and founder of a winter Olympic dynasty. It's the story of Sonja Henie who, inspired by a last-place performance in the 1924 Olympics would become one of the most celebrated figure skaters in history. It's the story of Eric Heiden, who, in 1980, became the most decorated speed-skater of any winter Olympics when he single-handedly won more gold medals than all but two nations. And yes, it is also the story of a team of young college-age students who would shock the world; recognized in an exhibit dedicated to the team, the coach, and the "Miracle on Ice", you can sit for a moment or the entire game and re-watch the greatest moment in sports history. Admission for the Olympic Museum is $7 for adults, $5 for juniors, and seniors, students, and children under 6 are free (admission is included in the purchase price of an Olympic Passport).
I was a bit tempted to sit and watch the game again. It is the kind of moment that truly lasts a lifetime. And like the Adirondacks themselves, it is the kind of moment that puts you in touch with who you are. Do you believe in miracles?