Taking Off

by Annie Stoltie | October 2016

Illustration by Mark Wilson

When dreams are too big for the Blue Line

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. In her October 2018 Short Carries column, Editor Annie Stoltie explored how the small towns of the Adirondack Park often nurture big dreams that can only be realized elsewhere.

Last spring, during
the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry wedding extravaganza, some media outlets looking to translate the pomp and circumstance relied on the expertise of commentator Thomas J. Mace-Archer-Mills, Esq., chairman and founder of the royal-enthusiast British Monarchist Society. In bow tie, tweed cap or top hat—and with a meticulous British accent—Mace-Archer-Mills stressed the importance of British traditions and heritage. Which is why it was such a surprise when, after the festivities, he was outed for his former identity as Tommy Muscatello, an American from Bolton Landing, in the Adirondacks.

When asked about this, he told The Wall Street Journal that he “loved England as a boy.” Mace-Archer-Mills’s Bolton Central high-school music teacher was quoted as remembering him as a kid who had “plowed into Georgian-era history” and duplicated a British accent when he was cast as Mr. Sowerberry in the school’s production of the musical Oliver!

Growing up surrounded by the natural world has its advantages, but staying in the Adirondacks doesn’t necessarily help realize dreams.

Johnny Podres would never have hit the major leagues—pitching the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship, in 1955—if he’d not said goodbye to Witherbee, where his dad toiled in the iron mines. Computer programmer Raymond Tomlinson couldn’t have invented email and its “@” sign, in 1971, from his Vail Mills hometown in the southern Adirondack foothills. It was in a California lab, far from his childhood home in Indian Lake, where in 2015 physicist Joshua Smith helped detect waves of gravitational energy from two black holes merging—proving Albert Einstein’s theory and introducing a new type of astronomy. 

But for some Adirondack natives, like Mace-Archer-Mills, breaking through the Blue Line isn’t enough. Lizzy Grant, from Lake Placid, reinvented herself as Lana Del Rey, a sultry West Coast crooner with repeated Billboard hits and recent Grammy and Golden Globe nominations. And more than a century earlier, there was Julia Elizabeth Oliver, born in Johnsburg, the daughter of a lumberjack. Oliver traded a hardscrabble Adirondack life, emerging in the early 1900s as a model in Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and other magazines, and with a new name—Jeanne Robert Foster.

Foster pursued modeling, acting and journalism. With esteemed editor Albert Shaw, she worked on the Photographic History of the Civil War that featured images by Mathew Brady (another Johnsburg-born talent). She was literary editor of the American Review of Reviews, served as a World War I correspondent, published several acclaimed books of narrative verse, and hung out with Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Constantin Brancusi, John Quinn and John Butler Yeats.  

Foster’s fame soared when she moved away from the Adirondacks, though she returned again and again to visit her beloved Crane Mountain. Throughout her life, and most poignantly in Adirondack Portraits, a collection of her poems published posthumously, her childhood landscapes, both the social and physical, informed her greatest work. In “The Wilderness Is Strong,” she wrote: “Here in the wilderness folks will tell you / To be careful about the place you live / For there’s something in the mountains / And the hills that is stronger than people / And you will grow like the place where you live / The hands of the mountains reach out / With bindings that hold the heart forever.” 

School plays, Little League, science fairs, open-mic nights, star gazing—they’re all launchpads for our kids’ futures. Still, the Adirondacks is tangled in their DNA, its beauty and grit a fundamental part of them. You can’t help but hope that wherever they go, whatever they do, whoever they become, someday they’ll come back.    

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