SOMETIMES HISTORY DOES REPEAT ITSELF
By Fulton County Historian Peter Betz
As originally run in the February 2, 2009 “Windows to the Past” Column
for the Leader-Herald
As a child growing up in Amsterdam in
the late 1940's and early 50's, one of the annual events I most enjoyed
the Sportsmen’s Show,
sponsored by a highly-organized group of devoted outdoor sportsmen/volunteers
called the Amsterdam Fish & Game League.
Although I participated near the end of
these great shows - they were started at the Armory in 1933 - I retain
memory of some events.
An old Leader article, written after the conclusion of the 1948 Sportsmen's
Show, states the event "attracted tens of thousands of visitors".
This may have been an exaggeration, but at least 25,000 were recorded
as attending the eight day event, always held during the school system’s
Easter vacation in the Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School.
This building was a prefect location:
Easter vacation then was two-weeks. The shows usually ran a week,
but in 1948 - the
first show I remember – it
ran eight days. The League took over classrooms for the hunting, fishing
and sporting goods dealers, plus the auditorium and large gym, prefect
locations for the main activities. The older part of Junior High -
originally the first high school - became a makeshift dormitory for
participants from away. Old-time lumber camp cooks took over the cafeteria
to provide legendary breakfasts of eggs, bacon and 'flapjacks'. This
dedicated group of sportsmen and their Adirondack guests completely
transformed the school into a relocated piece of the Adirondacks. Somehow,
all traces were removed before school reopened.
This was a major event for Amsterdam and a major money-maker: it
not only filled Junior High, it filled the hotels: it brought income
to the bus and taxi lines. Bus companies from all over the state sent
What kind of activities went on, and why did the event draw such a
crowd? To begin with, in the 1930's and 40's, many pioneer Adirondack
hunters, fisherman, guides and just plain woods enthusiasts were still
alive and well. The volunteer promoters were also serious hunters and
fishermen with strong remembrances of youthful and adult hunting and
fishing excursions, people wishing to promote the Adirondacks and share
their legacies. The Adirondack name had a romantic cache in those days
of still-primitive roads, drafty hotels, great food and campfires,
trout-filled lakes and deer-filled woods, perhaps even more so than
now. Adirondack hunters, fishermen and loggers came to the show to
demonstrate skills, compete for prizes and hobnob, and the area public
paid to share the experience.
In the Junior High gym, a large pool was erected. In this pool, experienced
woodsmen competed in log rolling contests, canoe tipping and fly casting.
One year, a serious contingent of bearded Michigan log rollers showed
up and left most of their challengers all wet. Rings of decreasing
sizes were floated in the pool and anglers competed to demonstrate
their skills in casting lines dead center inside the rings with skilled,
overhand casts. Throwing axes overhand into a mark on the end of a
block of wood was also a contest activity, and the experienced loggers
who engaged in this were extremely accurate.
Sharp-shooting shows occurred. One year,
league members gave a theatrical show called “Trapper’s Justice” in which an area
marksman, W.H. Jacoby, hit the bulls eye on a playing card, held in
the air by another man. In 1937, the world’s largest snowshoe
was exhibited as an advertising stunt, courtesy of the Maine manufacturer
who then racked up a considerable number or orders for normal size
ones. Hope Falls brothers Leyman and Arnold Watson were frequent winners
in the log sawing contest and they weren’t using chain saws either.
Many Fulton and Hamilton country men entered these events and in 1946,
the New York State Lumberjack competitions were held there.
In the auditorium, activities ranged from
educational activities to simple entertainment. Conservationists
gave slide lectures
fishing and logging topics. Prizes were awarded there. Larrabee’s
Hardware, which included a large sporting goods department on nearby
Market Street, sponsored radio broadcasts over the then very new Johnstown
station WENT. Popular Grand Old Opry singers Lulu Belle and Scotty
performed in both day and evening shows and Minnie Pearl showed up
for several years. I remember her well because she apparently liked
children: between shows, she would come out into the hallway to talk
and kid around with us, which was nice, but I didn’t understand
why she wore a hat with the price tag still on it. I didn’t understand
until a few years later she was a comic: I thought she just forgot
to remove the tag.
I must have first witnessed the 1948 show.
I would only have been about six years old, but I clearly remember
the live black bears,
which records suggest were only there that year. I don’t remember
what these bears did, but a kid doesn’t forget when he sees real
bears for the first time. Would you? One of the big draws was the presence
of the Cold River Adirondack Hermit Noah Rondeau who was perfectly
willing to de-hermitize himself long enough to appear at sportsmen’s
shows. I remember that he set up a scene resembling his Adirondack
campsite, complete with a kettle of stew on a tripod, from which he
would offer samples to visitors. I once witnessed a conservation officer
insist on inspecting the contents of his stew pot for venison, an out-of-season
offence. Rondeau and the officer had a very heated exchange during
which Rondeau called for a member of the Sportsmen’s League for
help and threatened to dump the whole stew pot on the officer’s
feet. I don’t know how this was resolved: I ran.
Sportsmen’s shows were both educational and entertaining, and
they made money, as a result of which, professional entertainment companies
muscled in on the ‘game’. While all proceeds from Amsterdam
shows were donated to wildlife projects, these companies were in it
for profit. They put an end to the Amsterdam shows by complaining to
the N.Y. State Education Department that such events shouldn’t
be held in a public school. The state agreed, and since there was nowhere
else suitable, the concept died, until recently that is.
Now renamed the Adirondack Outdoorsman
Show and transferred to Fulton County, the concept is regenerated
Mike Hauser of Twin Cities Sports Promotions. Those interested in
next event may get a preview and information by visiting www.adkshow.com.
No, it’s not 1948 and I am no longer
six years old. Adirondack Noah Rondeau has gone to his reward, hopefully
no longer harassed by
game wardens interested in the contents of his stew pot. Mr. Hauser
and friends have very realistically regenerated the spirit and intent
of those old-time Adirondack shows. Even if no bears show up, I hope
to meet some of my readers there.