A little more than 30 years ago, I worked for three years as the Saranac Lake bureau reporter for the Plattsburgh, N.Y., newspaper, which, as it turns out, gave me an extraordinary opportunity that I pretty thoroughly fumbled.
Saranac Lake was a famed spot in the Adirondack Mountains where tuberculosis patients went 100 years ago to live in “cure cottages” that seemingly helped in the fight against the dreaded disease. One of the most famous of these clientele was Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, who died in the tiny village in 1925.
What got me recalling all this was a Mathewson autographed copy of his book Pitching in a Pinch dated June 3, 1912, is among the headlined items in the June 10 SCP Auction. That gave me the opportunity to utilize some remarkable original artwork of Mathewson by Ron Stark (www.ronstarkstudios.com), which we planted on last week’s cover of Sports Collectors Digest alongside an image of the signed book that is being offered in the auction.
I took the job in Saranac Lake in the spring of 1978, and it didn’t take long to collide headfirst with Mathewson’s unique status in that wonderful, bucolic town. I am sure I already knew that he had died there, since I had read voraciously about baseball history even as a youngster, but his presence in the town even a half century after his passing was extraordinary.
I even banked at the very same Adirondack National Bank that he had used; you know, the bank that adorns those pricey personal checks that grace the major auctions from time to time.
Given its amazing history, which includes links to historical figures like Will Rogers, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, Albert Einstein, Al Jolson, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and President Calvin Coolidge, I guess you can understand why the village might have nearly 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m pretty sure that none of the three different apartments I lived in from 1978-81 are included in that august list.
Nudging up against the ghosts of historical figures was so commonplace there that I guess I must have gotten used to it, because I never did as much with the Mathewson connection as I could have. I was writing for the local residents, and the realization that the great hurler had once walked among them just wasn’t news by 1978.
About the only things I can recall doing were visiting the very same barbershop that Matty had utilized, and interviewing a couple of old geezers who remembered him. We also did a pretty cool illustration/editorial cartoon for the paper; I say “we,” because those illustrations were kind of a unique collaboration between myself and one of the villages most famous local characters, a longtime reporter, author and resident eccentric named Bill McLaughlin. It’s the only collaborative art I’ve ever done in my life, and we probably did a dozen or more over the years.
Even if it takes me all weekend, I am going to poke around in the O’Connell Archives and see if I can find the original artwork from that Mathewson piece. Assuming I do find it, I’ll share it in a future blog.
But that was about the extent of it, and in hindsight I feel like I should have been poking around trying to scarf up Matty artifacts. Still, I was/am a card guy, and it just wouldn’t have occurred to me to be chasing memorabilia at the time.
As I have frequently noted, there are very few guys who have been involved in the hobby as long as I have without having a lot of priceless treasures to show for it. Not complaining, just noting.
And besides, I’ve still got the cards, but no Mathewsons in there, either.