Born: August 14, 1917
Married: Margaret McLaughlin
Children: William Shakespeare ("Shakes") McLaughlin and Shannon McLaughlin Stratton
William McLaughlin was born in Saranac Lake on August 14, 1917, the son of Hugh and Hazel (English) McLaughlin. He attended local schools and went on to college, where he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to return to his hometown for treatment.
He was a popular photographer who specialized in newspaper images. He was employed by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise for many years. He was also a well regarded cartoonist, newspaper reporter and columnist. He was a familiar sight around town, with his tan trench coat and his camera. He covered many events locally, including the various board meetings, fires, and any event that was newsworthy.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise. January 13, 1986
Columnist Bill McLaughlin dies after long illness
SARANAC LAKE - Daily Enterprise columnist Bill McLaughlin, whose colorful accounts of village life captured readers' hearts and imaginations, died Sunday at his Franklin Avenue home after a lengthy, illness. He was 68 years old.
An inimitable wordsmith, McLaughlin chronicled his hometown and the mountains surrounding it for nearly four decades. He began his distinguished writing career with the Enterprise as a reporter in 1950, and wrote his last column for the paper on Nov. 16, 1985.
In between, he worked as a reporter-photographer for several newspapers including the Albany Times Union, Syracuse Herald American, Plattsburgh Press Republican and Lake Placid News.
His writing was seldom constrained by so-called journalistic objectivity. His fierce, parochial pride shone through virtually all of his stories, inevitably leading him away from the role of reporter to that of columnist.
He was a man of wit and words — seldom spoken but smartly written in a unique and slightly eccentric style that set him apart from-his peers. He leaned heavily on alliteration, shunned conventional clichés, and delighted in creating unusual catchphrases. To McLaughlin, the land he loved was never simply the Adirondacks, but "the land of mole and muskrat," or "the land of mustn't touch."
His writings reflected a mixture of cynicism, satire and sarcasm, as well as the distinctive narrative form he stamped on his re-recreations of colorful moments and characters from the village's past.
He was an all-around journalist, as capable at writing sports as news, and as competent with a camera as he was at the typewriter. He was also an accomplished cartoonist, accompanying many of his articles with caricatures or sketches to get the point across, invariably with a twist of humor to lighten the message.
Easily identified in his rumpled trenchcoat and loafers, McLaughlin was a familiar sight at area meetings and activities and was especially fond of attending and promoting local sports events. He is credited as a cofounder of the immensely popular Willard Hanmer Guideboat and Canoe races, the village's premier summertime sporting event.
Despite an open disdain of authority, his involvement with the community led him into local politics. He served on the village board as a Democratic trustee from 1976-1985, and was the founding chairman of the Saranac River Commission.
McLaughlin was as devoted to the past as he was to the future of his hometown. He wrote often of the village he knew as a youth, and never let a chance go by to remind readers of the exploits of the leading citizens and athletes of days gone by which he affectionately dubbed "the cobweb era."
He was especially, proud to write of the accomplishments of Saranac Lake's early athletes, many of whom were his classmates at Saranac Lake High School, from which he graduated in 1937. Recently, he was named first chairman of the committee overseeing the new Saranac Lake High School Hall of Fame, which he inspired with his hundreds of articles about his alma mater.
An above-average athlete himself, McLaughlin played varsity football and track in high school, although his tall, slim physique left him better equipped for the cinders than the gridiron.
After high school, he attended and graduated from the Wanakena Ranger School. He continued his education at Syracuse University and the University of Iowa, where he dabbled in writing and majored in art.
It was during this period that several significant changes occurred in his life. The first was the overnight transformation of his mop of straight hair into a tangle of curls, which won him mention in a, 1942 Ripley's Believe lt Or Not" cartoon.
It was also at this time that McLaughlin learned he was suffering from tuberculosis, prompting an immediate return to Saranac Lake where he spent several months taking the cure at Trudeau and in bed on the upper floor of the old St. Regis Hotel on Bloomingdale Avenue, which was run by his grandfather.
After recovering, he met Margaret Gage, a nurse, whom he married in 1947. The couple had two children, William Jr. and Shannon, both of whom live in Saranac Lake.
McLaughlin spent some of his happiest moments with friends and family at his tent platform camp on Long Pond, and never forgave the state for ordering the platforms vacated and removed in 1975. Some of his most vitriolic writings were directed at downstate politicians who urged the phasing-out of the tent platforms.
From the beginning, he was an outspoken critic of the state's restrictive Forest Preserve policies, and made the Adirondack Park Agency his favorite whipping post when writing about life inside the Blue Line in more recent years.
"Apathy is one of the chief enemies of the Adirondack citizen who makes his home within the park on a year round basis. The heavy downstate vote factor leaves him with little to fight with and he relies heavily on God and common sense to save him from the tentacles of the state octopus now encircling his home and his future," McLaughlin wrote shortly after the Park Agency's inception in the early 1970's.
He never gave in. In 1983, he added this observation about the natives' plight under Agency law: "We may be playing a losing game but we are playing it with a relish and a will to survive. We bear well the crushing mandates that have been heaped upon us in the same manner as the Forever Wild anvil was clamped to our unsuspecting shoulders back in the cobweb era."
In typical journalist's fashion, McLaughlin was always an observer and shunned the limelight himself. The one exception came in 1976 when he was honored as Saranac Lake's Citizen of the Year for his accomplishments and contributions to the community.
One of his greatest passions was flying, and he always jumped at the chance to grab a ride in a small plane or helicopter to see the mountains from above. He was particularly fond of helicopter rides. "I would recommend them to anyone," he wrote after his first trip in a chopper. "I like the helicopter ... I like the whole rosy world from above."
Articles written by Bill McLaughlin can be found on the following pages:
- Izzy Amell
- Alpine Hotel
- Charles Vosburgh
- Eddie Diamond
- Faye Dunaway
- Alfred Larsen
- Gibney's Market
- Forrest Morgan
- Eddie Norman
- Mark Twain Camp
- Silent Films
- William J. Wallace
The following interview is part of the Ree Rickard's oral history interviews conducted in 1987.
THE TRUDEAU PATIENT
Ill and semi-retired Bill McLaughlin kept his hand in the newspaper business by writing an illustrated column. The drooping shoulder was a souvenir of the thoracic surgery that was part of his combat with T.B.
He was a great storyteller with a lively imagination and wry sense of humor. In earlier years while swimming, he used to tell the young neighborhood children that the cruel scar on his back was the result of a shark bite.
I was born in Saranac Lake in 1917. After my parents broke up, I lived mostly with my grandfather. His name was John English. He owned the St. Regis, a local hotel. Now there was a lively place. A lot of interesting people came through the doors; Clyde Beatty stayed when the circus was in town, Paul Whitman, Tom Mix, a guy who used to come in with an anteater, Legs Diamond and some showgirls. It was a great education. Legs Diamond’s brother, Jack, cured there before he died. They were pretty close. I guess both boys prostituted their health by the way they were living.
I used to bellhop and tend bar. A lot of my friends worked in the cure cottages but that would have scared me.
After I graduated from Saranac Lake High School in ’34, I went off to Syracuse University to study game management and journalism. The next summer I worked on a forest preserve in Iowa. That’s where I got it. When I got back in Syracuse, I started coughing up blood while pole vaulting. The coach said not to worry that it was probably just pleurisy. I was running myself to the ground. By the time I came home for vacation, I was running a fever, still coughing up blood, and couldn’t eat. I spent two weeks in my room at the St. Regis, afraid to move less the blood would start again.
Then I went to Trudeau and had a great three or four years. I couldn’t say enough about Trudeau. I was sick enough that I never got out of Ludington Infirmary so I never knew what it was like to be in the cottages or that type of patient care. We probably had as much fun at Ludington, even without as much liberty. It was a fun place to be sick. The place was loaded with young people. We had twenty-five or thirty new student nurses every six weeks from Rochester, Albany, and New York, so there was a great social atmosphere. Romances were going all the time. Some of these girls had never before been away from home.
We had many strong characters. There were no duds. Our gang included a football player from Columbia, a lot of doctors who got sick, and a few artists. One of my friends worked for the advertising firm, Cunningham and Walsh, in New York City. He was always doing cartoons and painting pictures of the girls. There were beautiful women patients on the next floor up. Some from foreign countries. It was like a hotel, really, and we were allowed to visit on different floors. Downstairs there were a group of Dutch sailors who got lung trouble on the North Sea and were brought up here to be rehabilitated. They were allowed to have their own booze. Well we all were. Of course, we over did that. Finally they had to take it away. If you wanted to spend the afternoon downtown, you’d get a pass and call a taxi.
As soon as you got half way, well, they’d put you on exercise. They monitored you pretty closely ‘cause they didn’t want us to blow our chances. A lot of guys did.
My God, the first thing they did was build you up. Eggnogs with six eggs if you wanted. We all looked better than the people who came to visit us. Unless you had a big cavity that caused you to cough a lot, raising stuff, you wouldn’t know you had the disease. I never had any of that.
It was kind of a good disease to have especially if you were at Trudeau. I think we had the best deal.
People were afraid of tuberculosis. Some people’s families just about deserted them up here; didn’t want any part of them. That sort of lowered their morale and they went the other way. The rich were in apartments at the Santanoni in town. They had their own doctors and got the best but those people often weren’t too successful at getting well. Maybe they just weren’t used to following rules and so just said, “The hell with it.” Maybe there were just more isolated and didn’t have the gang to support them like those of us in a sanitarium.
WHAT WAS THE DOWNSIDE?
Some things about T.B. were very frightening. If you got it all over you couldn’t come back from that. There were many types of treatment that would scare you, too. One had a motor going under the bed pumping the fluid out of your lungs all of the time. Of course, if they decided to do surgery on you, it was no laughing matter. After you got built up again though, you had the energy and wanted to do more. That’s why they had to put you under lock and key sometimes. The only time I felt sick was when I was being operated on. That was a pretty traumatic thing. They cut out nine ribs. During the operation, they turn you over on one side and it spilled over, so my other lung got involved by accident, but that cleared right up.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE SURGERY?
I entered Trudeau in ’38 and got out once. Unfortunately, I started to misbehave again and went back. That’s when I had to have surgery because they said, “We’re wasting our time getting you on your feet. We’re going to cut the stuff right out of ya.” After that, of course, it was a whole new ball game but it didn’t slow me down.
HOW DID YOUR LIFE CHANGE AFTERWARDS?
I finally got out in ’44 and then went to work in the hotel. My people didn’t want me to do too much. They were afraid I’d break down again. That was the problem, because I had so much time on my hands. I’d drink almost around the clock. I didn’t have to worry about anything; wasn’t married and didn’t have to work. Got into a loose way of living. It’s a miracle I survived that.
During that period, I wrote a fund appeal letter to the editor of the local paper for the Quigley girl who was dying of cancer. The publisher liked it, came to see me, and hired me on the spot to work for the paper. Thought of getting into game management were dead then anyway. Not long afterward I married a nurse from Trudeau. Marriage is a very stabilizing influence. After that I settled down, or at least thought I did.
About ten years ago a military plane crashed on Wright Mountain. I was covering it for the paper. Young soldiers were climbing up to the wreck and I was going right by those guys. I thought, “What the hell goes on here? Here I’ve got one lung from a bout with T.B., spent three years in bed, and I’m passing the United States Army.” I went right to the top and stood in the wind. Working for the paper, you forget about personal comfort.
I kept one memento. At Ludington, I shared a room with a guy from South America. He had a snazzy red and black tie with little gold threads. I often admired it, so he said, “I’m never going to get out of here alive. When I’m dead, you can have the tie.” Well, he died during the night and they took his body out while I was sleeping. The next morning when I discovered he was gone, I looked in his closet for that tie. Sure enough, his suit and the tie were gone. I put one of my own ties under my arm, called a taxi, and went to the undertaker. I guess he had people from New York who were coming up to claim the body. There he was in the box, all dressed with the snazzy tie, waiting for his relatives. I just exchanged ties. I still wear it for special functions. God, my wife hates that tie.