Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 2, 1987

ANTI-SEMITISM: a darker chapter in history of our Adirondack region

Louis Marshall's petition to strip Melvil Dewey of State Librarian post


Although anti-Semitism never ran rampant in Adirondack history several of the early hotels were guilty of banning Jewish people from their establishments. Certain public houses slipped coyly couched phrases in their advertisements with such suggestive wording as "socially undesirable" or "racial objection" while others openly stated "Jewish persons need not apply." These sordid policies could have represented a personal prejudice on the part of a proprietor or, in some cases, simply used as a sly inducement to attract the large majority of gentile clientele by promising prospects of exclusiveness. A pasted-in note on the inside back cover of an un-dated pamphlet published by the Stevens House of Lake Placid stated that because of business pressure, being applied by their regular patrons, Jews would not be welcome.

The most flagrant and long lasting case of anti-Semitism, however, belonged to Melvil Dewey's Lake Placid Club. The Club's Handbook for 1901, under the heading of Objectionable Guests, clearly states "No person is admitted as a member or guest whom there is any reasonable social, moral, race or physical objection." In actual practice this rule was intended to exclude Jews from company premises, and further states that "the rule will be enforced whatever the cost or annoyance."

Their own "Great Camps"

Some of the more wealthy Jewish people by passed this type of discrimination; they simply built their own "Great Camps" along the shores of our Adirondack lakes. On Upper Saranac Lake, for example, there existed Mitchell Levy's "Pine Brook Camp" on Gilpin Bay, Adolph Lewisohn's "Prospect Point," Otto Kahn's "Bull Point," Jules Bache's "Wenonah Lodge," and Isaac Seligman's "Fish Rock." On Lower Saranac Lake there was "Knollwood Club" founded by Louis Marshall, a wealthy lawyer from New York City, together with Daniel Guggenheim, Elias Ashiel, George Blumenthal, Abram Stein, and Max Nathan. Six rustic camps were built, one for each family, while a communal casino and boathouse served the entire group. Across Fish Creek from Knollwood was the camp of Edmond Guggenheim and, needless to say, all of these people contributed a welcome bit of prosperity for Saranac Lake.

Not congenial to Dewey

In 1895 Melvil Dewey arrived in Lake Placid and purchased five acres of land on the east shore of Mirror Lake Hotel had searched all over the United States for a suitable climate to alleviate both his hay fever and his wife's rose-cold symptoms. The location not only offered relief for both ailments but also furnished the picturesque setting for a particular project which Dewey had been contemplating for some time. He planned to build a resort complex to attract the elite intelligentsia and "by cooperation to secure among congenial people and beautiful natural surroundings all the advantages of an ideal vacation home." It was apparent from the start that those of Jewish faith were not considered to be among those "congenial people" since they were refused admission to the premises.

Just a "club"

To ward off public outcry for this bit of bigotry Dewey stated that his establishment was a club and not a hotel.

This was, of course, the same Melvil Dewey of library fame who invented the Dewey-decimal system for book classifications and founded the American Library Association. At Albany he was appointed New York State Librarian and this action was unacceptable to many prominent Jewish State residents. After all, their tax dollars were contributing to the salary of a person who blatantly indulged in anti-Semitism at his Lake Placid Club. Louis Marshall, at Knollwood, decided it was time to act.

Marshall acts

To Breck Turner, of "With Pipe and Book" at Lake Placid, goes a vote of thanks for unearthing a rare pamphlet describing the petition which Marshall, and others, submitted to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York asking for Dewey's dismissal on grounds of racial discrimination. Marshall was a highly respected member of the Jewish community and, during the early 1900's, was the president of the American Jewish Committee.

Constitutional lawyer

He practiced law very successfully in New York City where he gained wide acclaim in the field of constitutional law as well as an indefatigable defender of civil rights. His case against Dewey cited the objection that any public official of the State owes his duties to the entire population and that he has absolutely no right to issue and broadcast propaganda that makes the Jew an outcast and a pariah. In documenting his evidence Marshall quotes a circular printed by the Lake Placid Company as follows:

"No one will be received as a member or guest against whom there is physical, moral, social or race objection, or who would be unwelcome to even a small minority. This excludes absolutely all consumptives or other invalids, whose presence might injure health or modify others' freedom or enjoyment. This invariable rule is rigidly enforced. It is found impracticable to make exceptions for Jews or others excluded, even though of unusual personal qualifications."

Marshall mentions the fact that some 750,000 Jewish residents of the State contribute their quota to the support of the State institutions as well as taking pride in the State and its government. They devote their energies and their intellect to the development of resources and industries while, at the same time, promote education, the arts, sciences and literature.

Grievous offense

To Marshall it is a grievous offense that these good citizens should be singled out for crude and demeaning discrimination through acts of anti-Semitism, especially by a State official. Summarizing the objections, Marshall presents his reasons for asking for the dismissal of Dewey in a closing paragraph. "So far as we are concerned, Mr. Dewey may, as the president and a stockholder of the Lake Placid company, adopt whatever policy he desires; but he must not at the same time remain the State Librarian or permit his subordinates in his private enterprise to give character to it, as they have done, by adverting to the fact that Mr. Melvil Dewey, the president of the company, is librarian of the State of New York." The petition is dated Dec. 20th, 1904 and is signed by the following:

Dewey begins his rebuttal by stating, "In the petition for my removal because Jews are excluded from Lake Placid Club, the allegations that are serious are based on misapprehension of facts. The allegations that are true are not serious." He continues by saying that he, personally, is not anti-Jewish and his company is not a hotel, as club-printed matter proves this beyond all doubt "except that the clubhouse is a large building resembling a summer hotel."

Continuing an effort to convince one and all that he holds no anti-Semitic bias he reminds his critics that he has Jewish personnel on his Albany staff but, of course, under the rules, they could not expect to engage rooms at the Club. To further exonerate himself from any personal blame for the rule banning Jews, Dewey pleads that he has absolutely no control over the council of members which august body has the final word on all admissions. It does, however, seem a bit ludicrous that he would deny being the true major-domo of the establishment which he founded. Certainly everyone in the area knew that Melvil Dewey WAS the Lake Placid Club and that the Lake Placid Club WAS Melvil Dewey.

Rebuked by Regents

The outcome of the controversy might be called a draw. Although the petition failed to get Dewey dismissed, he was rebuked by the State Board of Regents for "indirect responsibility for discrimination against Jews at the Lake Placid Club, in which he is interested. The Jews are too important an element nowadays to be discriminated against by anybody who holds a public position." If this admonition appears to have been a mere slap on the wrist, it was actually a severe blow to Dewey's prestige.

Despite the bitterness which pervaded the issue, all those of Jewish faith did not seem to be overly intimidated by Club bigotry. Jules Bache, the international banker at Camp Wenonah, had two spirited daughters who took great delight in circumventing the Club rules. Signing in at the golf house they would use easily recognizable Irish surnames and then laughingly tell their friends how they had played the ultra exclusive golf course at the famous den of discrimination, the Lake Placid Club. One of the girls later married General Pershing's son so it may be safe to assume that she had no further use for a fictitious name.

Jews have great influence

In retrospect the Adirondacks have profited considerably over the years through Jewish participation in public betterments. Two of the most outstanding contributors in this category had much in common. The fathers of Louis Marshall and Harold K. Hochschild were both immigrants of German-Jewish extraction and the two sons played significant roles in Adirondack history. Marshall was the legal eagle behind the scenes during the creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885 and, one year earlier, was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention which passed the proposal of Article VII Section 7, better known as the "forever wild" clause. For many years he remained the watch dog over the strict compliance of this law until his death in 1929.

Two of his sons, Bob and George, continued their father's interest in the Adirondacks and, together with their guide Herb Clark, became the first of the Forty-sixers. Some 40 years after Marshall's death Harold K. Hochschild was appointed by Governor Rockefeller to become the Chairman of the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks. He also served as senior advisor to the Adirondack Council where his sagacious opinions were sought after until his death in 1981 Hochschild will be long, and favorably, remembered for having been the founder and chief benefactor of the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mt. Lake.

Today the former Guggenheim camp serves the youth of the area with a summer program conducted by the Catholic Diocese for all denominations. Knollwood Club is still going strong while the former Lake Placid Club is defunct and wallowing in a limbo of litigation. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for all of us.

New York Times, October 19, 1890




Saranac Lake, Franklin County, N. Y., Oct. 17.—The Adirondack region as a Winter resort is an idea with which many people are not yet familiar. Yet that is the hue which this particular part of them is just now taking on. The Summer visitors are gone, the hunting season is nearly over, the forests are rapidly losing their Autumn foliage which has made them surpassingly beautiful, yet this village is not deserted. On the contrary, it is more full of people than in Summer—fuller, perhaps, than it ever was before. Several new houses to accommodate Winter visitors have been built this season, yet the demand for accommodation appears fully up to the supply.

The habits of Winter visitors are already apparent. Indeed, they are not very different from the habits of Summer visitors, yet they would cause surprise, if not amazement, in almost any other town. The rule for those seeking relief from lung trouble—and it is such persons who chiefly come here in Winter—is to live out of doors. Some of the day may be spent walking and some riding, but few are able either to ride or walk all the time every day, hence they must sit on piazzas. Nearly every house here is built with a broad piazza, and many of these piazzas are regularly occupied. There has been no day yet this Fall, though snow was seen on the higher mountains Sept. 25, when faithful seekers after health have not sat six or eight hours in the open air.

The cold has not yet been the most serious obstacle to such life. The damp, raw days of October have been the trying ones, and of course there will be worse ones in November. But the health-seeker nevertheless finds his best good in staying out every day. The best medical authority here even says that he can see little effect on patients from weather. They do as well in weeks of rain as when the days are continuously bright, provided they stay out. Nothing is so much feared as the warmth of Summer, which enervates the body and deteriorates the tissue.

Those who have spent Winters here say there is no day so cold that some persons do not sit on their piazzas. When it is known that the mercury in the thermometers sometimes touches 40° below zero, and that for many days in succession it never rises above the zero point, such sitting out may well seem amazing. But the result or it has been so often proved to be good that it is no longer regarded as an experiment. The cold air is at once a disinfectant and a stimulant. Of course all persons who brave very cold weather must be warmly clothed, and this is especially true of feeble persons. Woolen underwear and wraps, fur coats and cloaks, lap robots, soapstones, and even thick fur-lined bags, after the fashion of the sleeping bags of the arctic explorers, are in request. It is not more, but rather less, difficult so to bundle up as to sit in comfort on a piazza on a cold day than to dress so as to ride in a sleigh in comfort. The piazza may seem bleak and freezing cold, but it is still more sheltered than the open road in a sleigh. True, there be no such exhilaration in sitting on the piazza as there often is in the sleigh, but when one is struggling for life he does not wait for that. If he could only be out in the air when it exhilarated him he would not be out enough to cure his disease.

It is a common belief that what people with poor lungs especially need is exercise in the open air. Such persons should, it is believed, exercise as much each day as they can stand, and if possible do a little more to-day than yesterday. But exorcise up to the point of weariness is not favored here. The open air alone, aided by a generous and wholesome diet, is relied upon to work cures. Exercise, and a good deal too much of it, has often been a potent factor in producing the disease.

The fact that Saranac Lake is the chief point in the mountains as a Winter resort gives it an importance it would not have otherwise. This distinction is generally admitted to be largely due to a justly famous physician. Dr. E. L. Trudeau, who lives here because his health compels him to, and who has made himself an authority on lung diseases and founded a sanitarium. The other Summer places in the mountains rival, and some of them are held to exceed, this in attractiveness. Paul Smith's and the St. Regis Lakes have the most famous camping grounds. Saranac Inn and Lake Placid are places of wonderful beauty. The Keene Valley offers grand mountain scenery, and several other points are highly commended. But the lower Saranac Lake is not entirely unworthy the distinction given it. It is a beautiful sheet of water, dotted with numerous islands, and well situated for health and pleasure.

All these points are being considered anew in view of the report that a new hotel, much finer than any now in the mountains, is about to he built here. This report, which seems to be authentic, though the chief mover in the enterprise is not now in the mountains, will doubtless interest many New-Yorkers. It is to the effect that Mr. Nathan Straus, of the firm of R. H. Macy & Co., New-York, who owns a handsome cottage and grounds here, has bought of the Mutual Life Insurance Company 10,000 acres of land in this vicinity, and, in company with Isidor Straus, Max Nathan, Mayor Hugh J. Grant, and others, will spend $1,000,000 in building a hotel and cottages. The price paid for the land is said to be about $40,000. A sawmill on the lake has already been leased for five years, in which the lumber will be a awn for the buildings.

The insurance company which sells this land came into possession of a vast tract of country up here a few years ago through the foreclosure of a mortgage. At the time of the foreclosure it is said that the company would have been very glad to have taken the face of the mortgage ($80,000) for the land, but the rise in values since that time has enabled it to a good deal more than double its money. The people interested in making the Adirondacks a State park should be interested in this fact.

Although the hotels on the lower Saranac have been very prosperous this year and have been unable to accommodate all the people who came, it is not the demand for hotel room wholly that has influenced Mr. Straus in his enterprise. It is understood that he has been a good deal incensed because the present hotels have practically refused to receive Jews as guests. This refusal has been a matter of more or less public talk for some time. The excuse given by the landlords is the usual one—that Jewish guests monopolize the piazzas and tennis courts, and other guests do not like to associate with them. Of course, the question touches the landlord's pocket or ho would not consider it seriously. He finds it to his advantage not to have Jewish guests and so turns them away.

In this condition of affairs Mr. Straus is said to have declared that he would build a finer hotel than any of these, where Jews should be welcomed. It is not expected that the new hotel will be exclusively for Jews, though all the persons interested in it except Mayor Grant are understood to be Hebrews. The management is to be somewhat more generous and cosmopolitan than that of the Christian hotel keepers.

The season for deer hunting closes on Monday, the 20th inst. A good many deer have been shot this year, including some of the largest ones ever seen here. Their size has been unusually large, perhaps owing to the mildness and openness of last winter.