Throughout 2019, in celebration of Adirondack Life’s 50th anniversary, we’re sharing an article per week from our archives—one for each year since 1970. This intriguing tale from 1973 was written by Mary MacKenzie, the longtime Lake Placid historian who died in 2003.
Please note that we have not edited the wording of these decades-old articles, and they occasionally use language that is now considered dated or sometimes offensive (in this case, a word that was once commonly used to describe people of black African ancestry).
More than a century ago a mysterious affair was reported from Bog River Falls.
Bog River country is lonesome land. It lies south and west of Tupper Lake on the sunset side of the Adirondack Park, and only solitary fishermen and hunters speak its tongue.
Bog River itself is a solitary stream. Its two narrow branches, by turn savage and swift, deep and lazy, pass through pond after pond and twist like water snakes through the black bush. The famous old guide Harvey Moody pronounced this stream, along with Follensby and Little Wolf, “the confoundest crookedest consarns in the woods.” Yet the Bog does have its own peculiar charm. By a strange alchemy of color and light, every leaf, and tree, and stone ashore is mirrored in the dark stream with wonderful accuracy. The underwater landscape seems even sharper and more three-dimensional than the real thing.
Almost unknown today, this region was a favorite haunt of 19th century sportsmen. In the old days boats ascended three miles of the river to Little Tupper Lake, now in Whitney Park. Many a gentleman hunter patiently trekked the swampy, desolate terrain in order to reach the headwater, lily-padded Mud Lake, for there in large numbers lived the moose. It is said that moose were found there long after they were gone from every other part of the Great North Woods.
But if the river corkscrews through country rather dark and brooding and inhospitable, all that is forgotten when it finally empties itself over Bog River Falls into the head of Tupper Lake. There is no prettier sight in all the Adirondacks. Happy at last to shake off the gloomy forest, the river pours in lacy foam bells over a mossy, shelving ledge some thirty feet high, and swan dives into the beautiful lake below. The view from here is splendid—the lake, its bays and jutting points, quiet islands, a backdrop of misty mountains.
To this pristine spot shortly before 1855 came Franklin Jenkins, a pioneer of Lewis on the New York side of Lake Champlain, and a lumberman by trade. Franklin soon established a chopping and sawmill at Bog River Falls. It was the first lumbering operation in that wild, western extremity of the Adirondack Mountains and eight miles from the nearest neighbor. The artist-journalist William James Stillman, passing through in 1855, found two Jenkins clearings and a tidy little settlement of six buildings on the lakeshore.
Franklin literally grubbed his clearings out of primeval forest. Immense hemlocks inhabited the land, some of the oldest primitive wood then known. Ranging from 500 to 1000 years in age, they were trees already ancient when Columbus raised the standard of Spain on the beaches of the New World. Franklin hired five hands to help him clear his holdings, and soon the antique timber began to shudder and fall. At last the final giant, a hemlock 3 1/2 feet in diameter, came crashing down. Then came the difficult task of removing the stump and roots by the simple device of windlass and oxen.
It was during this operation that a startling find was made. As the roots tore through the forest floor, they carried with them an amazing object. There, hoisted from three feet below ground, cradled in the great roots of the hemlock, lay a porcelain vase of beautiful design. About 16 inches high and ornamented with vine, scroll, and flowers, it was as fresh in color and perfect in glazing as the day it left the potter’s hands.
There could be no doubt. The vase had rested there all the time the hemlock was growing, at least a thousand years and possibly centuries more. Suggesting Grecian, Roman, or Egyptian art at a time of great perfection, its workmanship and decorations marked it as the product of a highly sophisticated race.
The men stared and fell silent. Words come hard at such an awesome time. But soon a babble arose. What was to be done with the treasure? Who should possess it? Not one was ready to surrender his nine points of the law. The argument continued for days with none willing to yield. At length, as in most deadlocks, a bargain was struck that left no one satisfied and, in this case at least, triggered an act of vandalism almost unequalled.
The vase would be broken into as many pieces as there were men present.
And so the deed was done, the depredation complete, and six fragments of a priceless article of virtu parcelled out. Need it be said they have long since vanished along with the men? No one can be found now to write a postscript to the tale.
A Mediterranean vase? In the untrod wilds of the Adirondacks? Lost, left behind, buried with a corpse perhaps, a millennium back by outlanders from across the sea?
Wait. It is not impossible. Tupper Lake to Raquette River, Raquette River to the St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence to the sea: there is, after all, a water highway from Bog River Falls to the Atlantic. Add to this, old Viking shield and battle-ax remains have been unearthed in Ontario. Moreover, in recent years some rather persuasive evidence has been offered that even as long ago as the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, ancient sea kings freely roamed the world.
There are many archaeologists who believe that long before the Vikings reached America around 1000 A.D., Central and South America were often visited by races from across the Atlantic and Pacific. Professor Cyrus H. Gordon of Brandeis University, a daring historical detective of pre-Columbian influences and artifacts in the Americas, has exciting clues to offer. The ancients, he maintains, were well aware of a great land continent to the west. Navigators knew the new world in remote antiquity, notably the Phoenicians and Minoans, crack merchant mariners of their day. Professor Gordon has concluded that for thousands of years of prehistory men were in contact with other men at opposite ends of the earth.
Fascinating testimony is cited: Greek, Latin, and Egyptian words embedded in the languages of ancient Middle America; Japanese pottery from the island of Kyushu and dating back to 3200 B.C., in Ecuador; Mesoamerican ceramic sculpture before 300 A.D. portraying Mediterranean, Semitic and Negroid types; a Roman sculptured head of 200 A.D. excavated in a Mexican pyramid; a Canaanite rock inscription of 531 B.C. found in Brazil.
But he does not stop at Middle and South America. He offers, too, evidence of early visits to North America proper: Roman coins found in Tennessee; Hebrew coins in three places in Kentucky, all of the second century A.D.; a Hebrew-inscribed stone of 135 A.D. dug up at Bat Creek, Tennessee.
As to the vase at Bog River Falls, Professor Gordon comments: “I do not doubt for a moment the accuracy of the report, and I believe it is in every way possible that the vase was pre-Columbian—perhaps quite ancient. However, nothing useful can be done with such objects that have disappeared without accurate photographs or drawings. I would say the vase indicates that sooner or later other such discoveries will be made in your area.”
On the other side of the coin, there are many skeptics, among them Dr. Robert E. Funk, official New York State Archaeologist.
“There are of course many tales and rumors about artifacts of pre-Columbian origin in the new world,” says Dr. Funk. “These are almost entirely without foundation. The only possibly authentic Norse settlement ruins on this continent are those at L’ainse aux Meadow, Newfoundland. Indisputable Viking remains have been found on Greenland, dating to A.D. 1000.
“It is quite possible that mariners of older civilizations, such as the Phoenicians, Greeks and Egyptians, sometimes reached North America,” continues Dr. Funk, “but so far no authentic traces have been found. There are some archaeologists who believe they have evidence for influences from Southeast Asia on the Mayas of A.D. 700-1000 in Mexico and Honduras. The desire to believe in such ancient contacts in North America has led to very imaginative proposals by some writers.”
And thereby hangs the tale.