Charles Jennette: Called Too Old to Marry

In 1936, at a birthday party in the Adirondacks, the honoree claimed he would be married within two years. He passed away six years later, but during that span, he received more than 100 letters and 9 personal visits from female suitors- became engaged- was dumped the day before the wedding- was the guest of honor at several dinners, birthday parties, and parades- regularly mowed his lawn with a scythe- joined a ski club- and received the Purple Heart for war injuries.

Nothing particularly unusual?unless, of course, at that party in 1936, the birthday boy was turning 99 years old. Review those events from that perspective, and now you’ve got something.

Meet Charles Jennette, for a time the most famous man in the Adirondacks. His greatest fame came in his 100th year, when he became engaged to Ella Blanch Manning, a New York City woman who had attended his 99th birthday party several weeks earlier. Days before the wedding, an Albany headline read “100 Called Too Old to Marry- Man Will Take 3d Wife at 99.”

But after a visit with her daughters, and just 24 hours before the wedding, Ella changed her mind. Already a media sensation (and despite being left high and dry), Charles continued with his post-wedding plans of a boat ride and dinner, remaining hopeful of marriage in the near future. After many interviews, he was only too happy to return to an otherwise quiet, humble life.

Jennette was born in Maine in 1837. The family moved to Canada when he was five, and returned to the US when the Civil War began. At Malone, Charles enlisted for three years with Company A, 95th NY Volunteers, but served only nine months. His time was cut short in 1865 when he was wounded in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (also known as Dabney’s Mills) in Virginia. He was still in the hospital when the war ended.

In 1866, he married Emily Proulx in Ottawa, a union that would endure for 57 years. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Charles tried to enlist at the age of 61, but was refused. He lived much of his life in the St. Regis Falls area as a lumberman, toiling in partnership for many years with his son, John.

They ended the business relationship in December 1915 when Charles was 78. In the following year, he built a cottage at Old Forge. In 1921, the 84-year-old was one of only six attendees at the final meeting of the Durkee Post GAR in St. Regis Falls. GAR represents Grand Army of the Republic, the title given to Union forces in the Civil War. Because few veterans remained, the local group was discontinued.

His wife (Emily) died in the mid-1920s. Charles began spending summers in Old Forge and winters in Ilion (near Herkimer). He also made regular visits to family in Tupper Lake. In 1935, he married for a second time (in Montreal), but his new bride died just two months later.

He was generally known as a remarkable old-timer, but fame arrived in 1936 when, at his 98th birthday party, Charles announced he expected to wed again before he reached 100 (because, he said, “over 100 is too old”). Several hundred people attended the festivities.

After addressing more than a hundred female suitors (ages 42 to 72), he made plans to marry Ella Manning. Instead, at 99, he became America’s most famous groom to be jilted at the altar.

After that, it seemed anything he did was remarkable, and at such an advanced age, it certainly was. In 1937 (age 100) he rode in a Memorial Day parade as guest of honor. Shortly after his 101st birthday, he attended the Gettysburg Annual GAR Convention, 72 years after his combat days had ended.

In 1940, on his 103rd birthday, he used a scythe to mow the lawn, and otherwise continued his daily ritual—trekking nearly two miles to retrieve the mail, and taking time to read the newspapers (and he didn’t need glasses!). He made maple syrup every spring and tended a garden each summer.

In August 1940, at Oneida Square in Utica, Charles was honored in a ceremony at the Soldiers’ Monument, which was built in 1891 to memorialize the Utica men who “risked their lives to save the Union.” Seventy-five years after suffering wounds in battle, Charles Jennette became a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (which had been formed during WW I).

At age 104, perhaps still holding a marriage possibility in the back of his mind, Charles became the first male allowed to join the Old Forge Sno-Flakes, an all-girls’ ski club. He soon expressed regret at not having taken up skiing “when I was young, say 70 or so.”

In mid-1942, in support of the WW II effort, a photo of Charles purchasing war bonds was widely distributed among newspapers. He continued to attend American Legion rallies and make other appearances. Finally, in December of that year, he passed away at the age of 105.

Photos: At age 99, Charles Jennette with his fiance, Ella Manning- one of many headlines generated by Jennette’s story.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Books: America in the Forties

In America in the Forties, Ronald Allen Goldberg is professor of history and chair of the History Department at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia, energetically argues that the decade of the 1940s was one of the most influential in American history, a period marked by war, sacrifice, and profound social changes.

With great detail, Goldberg traces the entire decade from the first stirrings of war in a nation consumed by the Great Depression through the conflicts with Europe and Japan, to the start of the Cold War and the dawn of the atomic age.

Richly drawn portraits of the period’s charismatic and often controversial leaders — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman — demonstrate their immense importance in shaping the era, and in turn, the course of American government, politics, and society.

Goldberg chronicles the US role during World War II and the early Cold War, showing how these military and diplomatic developments helped lay the foundation for the country’s current role in economic and military affairs worldwide.

Combining a readable narrative with analysis, America in the Forties is useful introduction to understanding a pivotal era.

Goldberg is also the author of America in the Twenties.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Barrage Balloons in the Adirondacks

It’s the 1940s, and a world war is raging overseas. The fear of a homeland invasion is constant, and in communities across the nation, air wardens monitor the sky daily for enemy planes. The Adirondack Park seems like a safe haven, but just a few miles from its northwest corner, a military installation is suddenly called to action. A large aircraft has penetrated US air space, and ground damage is reported. Sheriff’s deputies, New York State police, military MPs, and foot troops spring into action.

It’s a great show of force, but it’s not enough. After several unsuccessful encounters with the vessel, reinforcements are needed. Corporal Boyd Montgomery of the 34th Armored Regiment is dispatched, speeding across the countryside in an army tank.

Power lines are downed by the aircraft, but Montgomery continues his pursuit. Two miles into the chase, he employs a bit of ingenuity to bring the craft down. It is soon nothing more than a flattened heap.

That’s how it happened in July 1943. It’s all true, but with a few details omitted. The craft that was spotted actually was huge (75 feet long) and it did come from a foreign land (Kingston, Ontario, Canada). The damage was no less real?a dangling cable tore down power lines between Evans Mills and Philadelphia in Jefferson County. Lawmen from several agencies did pursue the craft, but three times it slipped from their grasp.

The military installation was Pine Camp, later expanded and renamed Fort Drum. And it was an Army tank that provided the solution, driving atop the 1800-foot-long cable after a two-mile chase, forcing the vessel to the ground until nothing was left but a flattened balloon.

That’s right … a balloon. But this wasn’t just any balloon. A staple of defense systems around the world, this was a Barrage Balloon. If you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably seen them in photographs but didn’t realize what you were seeing at the time. Though they weren’t ever deployed in the Adirondacks, they did pay the area a few surprise visits during the war.

The primary use of Barrage Balloons was to prevent attacks by low-flying aircraft, and it was in WW II that they became ubiquitous. A heavy cable was used to tether the gas-filled balloons, and when hovering from a few hundred to 4,000 feet high, the effect was often deadly. Any dive-bombing aircraft had to avoid the cable tether, which could easily tear a wing off and cause the plane to crash. Besides negating low-level attacks, the balloons forced other planes to fly higher than intended on bombing runs, thus affecting their accuracy.

Many tethered balloons were flown simultaneously, and the result was multiplied when several additional cables were suspended from each balloon, providing a veritable curtain of protection from strafing aircraft. The Germans countered by equipping their planes with wing-mounted cable-cutting devices, and the British responded with explosive charges attached to many of the tethers, set to detonate on contact.

The balloons caught on in a big way in England and were often used effectively. During one of the two major German onslaughts on London during the war, 278 Flying Bombs were intercepted by the balloons, surely saving many lives.

In summer 1941, British officers warned America that Nazi planes could fly at 20,000 feet and reach the US mainland within 12 hours, with no defense system to greet them. Months before the United States entered WW II, the Navy established two Barrage Balloon squadrons with more than 150 balloons.

Intended to protect American fleet bases from air attacks, the balloon strategy was very popular for another reason: cost. Building a large coastal hangar for planes involved an expenditure of $600,000- a more secure underground facility carried a price tag of $3 million- but each barrage balloon cost only $9,500.

After the assault on Pearl Harbor, America employed an extensive balloon defense capability. Attacks were feared by the Germans on the East Coast and by the Japanese on the West Coast. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle were among the cities protected in part by Barrage Balloons, along with Norfolk, Pensacola, and New York City in the east. Vital facilities in the Great Lakes were also shielded.

Many North Country men were assigned to Barrage Balloon outfits, and it was anything but a cushy job. Since troops as well as installations needed protection, balloon men were often among the first ashore, as was the case in several beach landings in Italy and North Africa. And on D-Day, Barrage Balloons dotted the sky above the invasion fleet.

Back home in America, balloons occasionally broke free and floated towards the North Country, causing a bit of excitement. Sometimes rogue balloons escaped capture for extended periods (the Fort Drum balloon was loose for more than a week).

In March 1943, a hulking Barrage Balloon 65 feet long and 30 feet in diameter toured the Central Adirondacks, damaging power lines before snagging in a balsam tree a few miles south of Indian Lake, where a crew of men managed to deflate it.

To raise public awareness of the war effort and relieve anxiety about the occasional balloon escapee, the military dispatched a road crew in an army jeep with a smaller, 35-foot balloon strapped to the roof. In summer 1944, they visited Troy, New York. The craft was inflated and floated at 300 feet for an entire day while the men fielded questions. It was the same model as those used to defend the city of London and the beaches of Normandy.

Towards the end of the war, German capabilities of long-range attacks drastically reduced the effectiveness of the balloons, and in 1945, Britain ended their Barrage Balloon program, which at one time had upwards of 3,000 in use. The same was done with the US system, which once featured more than 400 balloons at home besides those deployed overseas.

Photos?Top: Barrage Balloon on the cover of LIFE magazine. Middle Right: The training facility on Parris Island, South Carolina (1943). Middle Left: Barrage Balloons above the Normandy shore (1944). Bottom: German plane equipped with a cable-cutting device.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Franklin County War Hero Without a Gun

In the early 1900s, woodsman Oliver Lamora of Brandon, New York became somewhat of an Adirondack hero, earning coast-to-coast headlines with his ongoing battle against billionaire William Rockefeller. At the same time, just 20 miles north of Oliver’s homestead, a young man began a career destined to earn him international praise as a hero of two world wars—without ever hoisting a gun to his shoulder.

Darius Alton Davis was born in 1883 in Skerry, New York, and worked on the family farm about ten miles southwest of Malone in Franklin County. The Davis family was devoutly religious, following the lead of Darius’ father, Newton, who took an active role in the local church, Sunday school, and county Bible Society.

In 1903, Darius graduated from Franklin Academy in Malone. At the commencement, several students presented papers to the assembly. Darius chose as his subject David Livingstone, the legendary Scottish explorer and medical missionary. The audience heard details on Livingstone’s humble beginnings, hard work, civility, and desire to help others. What young Davis was presenting, in fact, was a blueprint for his own future.

Darius attended Syracuse University (1903–1907), where he studied theology and played a leadership role on campus. “Dri,” as he was known, was a top oarsman, guiding the crew team to many sensational victories, including one world-record effort that stood for five years.

In 1905, he was elected president of the university’s YMCA (recently renamed “the Y”), an event that would determine his life’s direction. Prior to graduation in 1907, Darius accepted a position as religious director for the YMCA in Washington, D.C. After marrying his college sweetheart, he worked three years in Washington while continuing his studies, attending four terms at the Silver Bay YMCA School on Lake George, New York.

His personality, intelligence, and work ethic made Darius a very capable leader, and in 1910, the International Committee of the YMCA assigned him to establish a presence in Constantinople, Turkey. From the position of general secretary of operations, Darius built a membership of nearly 600 in the first year.

In late 1912, the Balkan War broke out, and Davis assumed the organization of Red Cross aid. He also volunteered, serving for six months as an interpreter in a Turkish hospital. His selfless dedication to war victims did not go unnoticed. In appreciation, the Turkish sultan awarded him a medal, the prestigious Star of the Third Order of Medjidieh.

In 1915, within a year after World War I began, Darius was assigned to work with prisoners in France and Italy, both of which were unprepared for the mounting number of captured troops. The YMCA assumed the challenge of caring for the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of the men held captive. The organization’s efforts were based on Christian charity, but it mattered not what one’s beliefs were: the YMCA was simply there to help anyone.

Access to prison camps had been largely restricted, but Davis was a great negotiator and spokesman. Dealing with various government officials, he stressed the YMCA’s neutrality, which was a powerful argument.

The French were skeptical. They had recently developed a Foyer du Soldat (Soldiers’ Fireside) program featuring a series of buildings (small to large facilities, but often referred to as “huts”) where French soldiers could go to relax, read, snack, play games, and enjoy entertainment. Sensing an opportunity, Davis offered to support and expand the program while making it available to captives as well as troops. France’s war prisoner department finally relented.

They soon discovered the great value of Davis’ plan. Soldiers and prisoners alike were thrilled with the results, and within two years, 70 huts were established across the country. Eventually, more than 1500 were in place. In early 1917, when America entered the war, General Pershing requested that Davis provide the same program for the huge number of Allied troops destined for service in France. That meant quadrupling their efforts, which required enormous infrastructure.

Undaunted, Davis led the way, and within a year, the YMCA was operating what was once described as “the world’s largest grocery chain.” At a cost of over $50 million, it included more than 40 factories for producing cookies, candies, and other supplies, plus warehouses, banks, hotels, cafes, dorms, and garages for vehicle repair. Their own construction and repair departments built and maintained the facilities.

After the war, Davis was appointed the senior YMCA representative in Europe, and from that position, he organized YMCAs in several countries. In 1925, he became secretary of the National Council of Switzerland (a neutral country), and in 1931 was named associate general secretary of the World YMCA based in Geneva, a position he held as World War II began.

In that capacity, he worked with the War Prisoners’ Aid program, an advancement of the work he had done with prisoners during World War I. In late October 1940, Davis completed a three-week tour of POW camps in Germany. At the time, the YMCA was already providing recreational and educational services to millions of prisoners, but sought to do more.

Though many were well treated by their captors, they often lacked warm clothing, news from home, adequate food, and other daily needs. Books were one of the most desired and requested items in every camp. Many organizations (like the Red Cross) addressed that problem—the YMCA alone had distributed hundreds of thousands of books to prison camps across Europe.

Their aim was to provide the essentials to prisoners held in all countries, and Darius was relentless. By January 1941, negotiations had been conducted on behalf of an estimated 3 million POWs in Australia, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Palestine, Rumania, Sweden, and Switzerland. As the war continued, that number kept rising.

In a speech he gave in mid-1942, Davis spoke of the more than 6 million war prisoners they were helping to care for. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it gave the prisoners a voice and a connection to the outside world. It also allowed independent observation of the goings-on inside many prison camps, a comforting fact to both the prisoners and their families back home. One newspaper noted, “The YMCA already is conducting welfare work among the largest number of war prisoners in the history of mankind.”

After the war ended in 1945, Darius spent four years aiding refugees and citizens who had been displaced. In 1953, he was awarded the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his work with German POWs. Ten other European governments likewise honored Davis for his work on behalf of prisoners. The onetime farm boy from Skerry touched an untold number of lives. Darius Alton Davis died in 1970 at the age of 87.

Photo Top: Darius Alton Davis.

Photo Middle: A Foyer du Soldat in France, 1918.

Photo Bottom: An appreciative WW II prison camp poster.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner,
Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

World War II Veterans Sought to Share Stories

On Wednesday, December 7, 2011, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the Schenectady County Historical Society invites local World War II veterans to share memories of their wartime experiences with the public. This event will be structured as a roundtable, with veterans sharing their stories and audience members having an opportunity to ask questions.

Of the 16,112,566 Americans who served in the armed forces during WWII, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in November 2011 that only 1,711,000 nationwide are still living. This event provides us, as a community, with a valuable opportunity to honor and appreciate the WWII veterans that are still living among us.

In addition to the event on Wednesday, December 7, participating veterans are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Librarian Melissa Tacke for an individual oral history interview. One-on-one interviews allow time for veterans to tell their stories in greater detail and preserve veterans’ recollections for generations to come. Veterans may choose to come to the Schenectady County Historical Society for an interview, or an interviewer can arrange to interview the veteran at his or her home. An audio recording of the interview will become part of the Schenectady County Historical Society’s Grems-Doolittle Library collection of oral history interviews. Recordings of the interview will also be provided to the veteran and his or her family.

This event is free and open to the public- WWII veterans who would like to attend are encouraged to RSVP for this event. Veterans who cannot attend the December 7 event, but who are interested in participating in an oral history interview, are welcome to contact the Schenectady County Historical Society to schedule an oral history interview.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or librarian@schist.org. The Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

New Windsor Purple Heart Appreciation Day

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site will celebrate Purple Heart Appreciation Day this Saturday August 7, 2010 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at the New Windsor Cantonment.

228 years ago General George Washington’s orders created the Badge of Military Merit. It was to be a heart shaped piece of Purple cloth, given in recognition of a singular act of merit and was the inspiration for the modern Purple Heart. The award we now call the Purple Heart was created in 1932. Today’s program honors all who have earned the Purple Heart, and commemorates the history behind this award.


The day’s program will include a military time line of America’s soldiers from the 17th through 20th centuries and will also feature Veteran’s Administration and local veteran’s organizations to provide information to veteran’s of the services available to them.

Throughout the day 18th century children’s games will be available.

1:00 p.m: In the Temple of Virtue there will be a short lecture on the history of the Purple Heart

2:00 p.m.:A weapons firing demonstrations that will show weapons across time.

Admission is FREE

For more information please call 845-561-1765

The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Sites are located at 374 Temple Hill Road (Route 300) in the town of New Windsor, three miles south of I-84 exit 7B and I-87 exit 17. Parking, gift shop, and picnic grounds are located on site. Museum exhibits are open 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday &#8211 Saturday and from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sunday.

Civilian Conservation Corps Program, Reunions

On Friday, June 25th, 2010, the Schenectady County Historical Society will host a reunion of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) alumni, family, & friends, from 10:00 am to noon at 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY. Marty Podskoch, CCC researcher, will give a short presentation and will invite participants to share memories of the camps.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began on March 31, 1933 under President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to relieve the poverty and unemployment of the Depression. Camps were set up in many New York towns, state parks, & forests. Workers built trails, roads, campsites, dams, fire tower observer’s cabins & telephone lines- fought fires- stocked fish- and planted millions of trees. The CCC disbanded in 1942 due to the need for men in WW II.

A part of the history of the CCC was saved recently by the daughter of a man who was in one of the camps. She donated a CCC Schenectady District yearbook for 1937 to the Historical Society. The yearbook has a history of the District, along with photos of officers and the men at the camps. Many men from Schenectady were in Company 219 (Cherry Plain, NY)- and Company 222 (Middleburg, NY).

Marty Podskoch is a retired teacher and the author of five books: Fire Towers of the Catskills: Their History and Lore, two Adirondack fire tower books: Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts, and Northern Districts and two other books, Adirondack Stories: Historical Sketches and Adirondack Stories II: Historical Sketches from his weekly illustrated newspaper column.

Presently, Marty Podskoch is conducting research on the Civilian Conservation Camps in the Adirondacks and Connecticut. He is interested in meeting individuals who may have CCC stories to contribute to his next book. Marty Podskoch will have all of his books available after the presentation for sale and signing. For those unable to attend this reunion, Marty Podskoch has planned five other reunions:

June 22 6:30 pm Oneida Historical Society, 1608 Genesee St., Utica (315) 735-3642
June 23 6:30 pm Franklin Co. Hist. Society, 51 Milwaukee St. Malone (518) 483-2750
June 26 1 pm Fulton Co. Hist. Society, 237 Kingsboro Ave., Gloversville (518) 725-8314
June 27 2 pm Bolton Landing Hist. Society, Bolton Free Library (518) 644-2233

For more information on the reunion in Schenectady, contact Katherine Chansky,Librarian/Archivist, Grems-Doolittle Library at: (518) 374-0263, librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking.

If any one has information or pictures to share of relatives or friends who worked at one of the CCC camps, please contact, Katherine Chansky (518) 374-0263 at the Grems-Doolittle Library, or Marty Podskoch at: 36 Waterhole Rd., Colchester, CT 06415 or 860-267-2442, or podskoch@comcast.net

Local Radio Rewarded For Polish Legacy Piece

Buffalo radio station WBFO (88.7) has received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award by the Radio-Television News Directors Association for a story about the Polish Legacy Project (PLP), a group of people whose aim is to capture the stories of Polish survivors of World War Two while they are still alive. The piece aired last year just before the PLP’s Untold Stories Conference.

The story was produced by Joyce Kryszak. You can listen to the story and hear clips of interviews with Polish WWII survivors here.

World War II Ship USS Slater Seeks Guides

The USS Slater, located in the Hudson River north of the Port of Albany is preparing to begin their 13th season. Each year they hire 6-8 part-time tour guides who learn the history and technology of World War II with &#8220on-the-job&#8221 training from veterans, as well as from experts in historic ship preservation. Guides have an opportunity to improve their &#8220people&#8221 skills by interacting with a variety of age groups on a daily basis- the
hours are flexible.

For an application, contact Business Manager Rosehn Gipe at info@ussslater.org or by
phone at 518-431-1943.

Saratoga: World War Two Vets Recount Their Stories

The public is invited to a panel discussion this Sunday, December 6th, at 2:00 pm at the Saratoga Library (13650 Saratoga Avenue in Saratoga Springs). Saratoga Historical Foundation Historian Ray Cosyn will moderate as veterans from World War II recount their memories.

Participating in the panel will be George Cooper who flew P47’s in the European Theater with 77 missions- Herbert Kwart who flew a Flying Fortress as part of the 8th Air Force with 35 missions- Ed Pack, with the 59th Signal Battalion and later the 8th Corp part of those liberating the concentration camps- Bud Rideout, on of the Flying Tigers- and Mac McCaughey part of the 94th Division who landed on Omaha Beach.

Light refreshments will be served. The event is free to the public. The Saratoga History Museum is sponsoring the event.

Photo: USS Saratoga During World War Two. From the collections of the Library of Congress.