What got me thinking about this was a casual bit of storytelling in the office about my time as a bureau reporter in the late 1970s in Saranac Lake, N.Y., just 10 miles from Lake Placid.
It was an exciting time to be at that particular location, since I arrived in 1978, just two years before the Olympics would bring its remarkable traveling road show to that tiny Adirondack Village.
One of the people who played a huge role in bringing the Olympics to a town of about 3,000 year-round residents was Jack Shea, a double gold-medalist from the 1936 Olympics that had also been held at Lake Placid. When I got to know him, Shea was a supervisor for the Town of North Elba, which included Lake Placid, and I interviewed him numerous times in that role and in his capacity as vice chairman of the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Shea hardly needs any laudatory commentary from me; he was arguably one of the nicest, most decent and revered men who ever set foot in the Adirondacks, which is saying quite a bit.
But what prompted this meandering blog was a recollection of bobsledding, which was a somewhat different undertaking in the years before that historic Olympics in 1980. I used to occasionally hang out into the wee hours of the morning at a place called the Hitching Post (I hope I got that name right) that was on the Saranac Lake city limits on the road to Lake Placid.
It’s only mildly whimsical to suggest that various bobsledders “trained” there in their own odd fashion, which essentially meant honing daredevil skills to a degree probably unheard of in any other sport. The most famous figure of this colorful group was a legendary local folk hero named “Dew Drop” Morgan. (shown in a photo from All Points North Magazine)
There may be a Dew Drop Inn in every city of any appreciable size in America, but I can promise you they couldn’t match the one in Saranac Lake, if for no other reason than the presence of the decorated World War II and Korean War veteran himself.
I dropped in there from time to time from 1978-81, and I worked with his wife in a seedy, second-floor bureau office above a liquor store in downtown Saranac Lake, but I didn’t know him that well, so I’ll rely on a website, www.simonesez.com, for his bio:
“A bombardier in World War II and the Korean War, he was twice shot down behind enemy lines – the second time, he was rescued by Russians. Dew Drop’s bride made her wedding dress from the parachute that saved him the first time.”
I don’t recall Mrs. Morgan ever telling me that particular story, but I have no reason to doubt it. Dew Drop was the kind of guy Reader’s Digest had in mind when they solicit stories about “Unforgettable Characters.” In addition to the “Dew Drop Inn,” he owned a number of others, and tended bar at even more, including some of the elegant hotels in the Lake Placid environs. Along with his prominence in the local tavern industry, he was nearly as renown for a penchant for various games of chance, all of which gave him an almost bottomless well of material for his loquacious moments on either side of the bar.
He was raucous, larger than life and easily one of the most recognizable figures in the Olympic Region, as it was known.
Younger (than me) sports fans might be more familiar with one of the Morgan’s 13 children, John, a color commentator for bobsledding at a number of Olympics and world-class events, along with playing himself in the feature film “Cool Runnings,” the movie about the Jamaican bobsled team.
I’m not sure just what got me to reminiscing about Saranac Lake and the Olympics; it may have been as elemental as the thermometer, which registered 5 degrees when I ambled into the F+W offices this morning.