Friday, April 27, 2012

Boom Town Plattsburgh

Dynamic businessman Wilson P. Foss (1856-1930).  
In his younger years he lived in Plattsburgh, NY 
where one of his companies was known 
for its considerable impacts on the area.

Have I ever mentioned the term "Plattsburgh smart" to you?

February 24th, 1886.  There was a problem at the Clinton Dynamite Company located two miles away from the village of Plattsburgh, NY.  Some nitroglycerine had frozen.  What to do, what to do?  Hey, why not use steam from a boiler to thaw it out?


January 11th, 1887.  A fire starts on the roof at Clinton Dynamite, probably caused by a defective chimney or furnace pipe.


April 10th, 1887.  A warm Easter Sunday, temps 70 degrees F or higher.  Some nitro is apparently left outside near a shiny tin surface.  Sunlight concentrates its rays on the tin and --


And since it's a holiday...

A stove was left burning inside a building where a small quantity of nitro -- just 600 pounds -- was stored.  The explosion outside sends hot coals flying.  Nine minutes later:


To build such a company so close to Plattsburgh makes one question the basic intelligence of the city leaders back in those days.  And to leave it operating, especially after the second incident...?  But when a local bigwig like the honorable Smith M. Weed is your business partner, why be smart?

The owner of the company, Wilson P. Foss, doesn't give up so easily.  After the second misadventure,  he announces he wants to relocate his dynamic enterprise on Crab Island in the middle of Lake Champlain.

A local newspaper, The Plattsburgh Republican, responds on the front page of its February 12th, 1887 edition with an editorial noting the various distances from Crab Island to certain points in the area of the village, e.g., from the island's nearest shore it's only two miles and seventh-eighths to the Court House.  Gee, why was the writer so worried?

During the Easter Sunday fireworks that would occur two months after this editorial is published, the explosion would be so tremendous that the stonework at St. John's Church would crack.  The blast would be felt in Burlington, Vermont, where its citizens would assume it was an earthquake.

As noted in The Plattsburgh Republican editorial, "Crab Island Too Close:"

"The simple statement of those measurements, taken from the United States Coast Survey chart ought to constitute sufficient objection against locating a dynamite factory upon this island which so completely commands the entrance and all approaches to Cumberland Bay and Plattsburgh harbor."

(A smart editor.  And I mean that sincerely.)

Fortunately no one was killed during the three incidents and four explosions.  In the first explosion one man ended up with his leg being amputated.  Foss was also seriously injured during the same mishap: he was thrown on to the ice of the Saranac River with wood particles and machinery, "stripped of all his clothing but his shoes."  It was also said that over 200 splinters had to be removed from the shockwave traveler's body.  (One report described the release of hot steam as "accidental."  If that's the case, why was the frozen nitro so close to the boiler?  Now where was OSHA?)

So Foss packed up his dynamite company -- the whole stick and caboodle -- and moved down to Haverstraw, NY.  Some locals, including newspaper editors, said good riddance.

Tragically on December 2nd, 1891 the Clinton Dynamite Works blew up again at its Haverstraw location.  This time four men were killed.  According to The Plattsburgh Sentinel (Jan. 1, 1892): "W.P. Foss, owner of the Clinton Dynamite Works, which exploded at Haverstraw a few weeks ago, gave a Christmas present of $1000 each to the four widows who lost their husbands in the disaster."

Such magnanimity might be the reason why Foss became mayor of Haverstraw from 1896 to 1903.  Or maybe its citizens were Plattsburgh smart.

Apparently Plattsburgh learned its lesson after the explosive days of the Clinton Dynamite Company.   After all, it wasn't crazy enough decades later to allow atomic weapons to be stored nearby, bombers with nukes flying overhead.

*   *   *


Portrait of Wilson P. Foss from Historical Society of the Nyacks Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 2, Spring 2009. The newsletter caption: Painting from Southeastern N. Y., A History of the Counties of Rockland etc., Lewis Historical Publishing, N. Y.

Background sources for this blast from the past were found through online searches.  Google provided some extra leads but most of the material was available at Northern NY Historical Newspapers under Clinton County Newspapers.

References to Foss's Feb. 24th, 1886 experience -- ending up with nothing but his shoes on after the explosion and that more than 200 splinters had to be removed from his body -- was found in a short bio in Amateur Billiard Championship of America: (Class A.) (1899), a public domain book scanned by Google.  Foss was quite the billiards player.  Apparently he enjoyed blasting balls instead of having his balls blasted.

I couldn't verify that Wilson P. Foss's middle name was Plosive.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will Anyone Be Reading This At A Public Library In The Year 2112?

PLATTSBURGH CITY – Wed., 4/25/12

What is the future of public libraries?

That was the question posed to the two candidates in the running for the director’s position at the Plattsburgh Public Library. When the candidates responded, the Cat in the Hat was looking over their shoulders.

The upstairs auditorium wasn’t available for the presentations – the recent Friends of the Library book sale hadn’t been taken down yet – so the candidates had to face the public in the children’s room located in the library basement.

From a photographic perspective this presented a challenge. While trying to visually document the events, this writog had to work around cut-outs of Dr. Seuss characters cavorting on the wall behind the speakers. Nearby, colorful cartoon dinosaurs paraded on the side of a bookshelf. Such is the situation sometimes with a small city library. Fortunately I found an adult-sized seat, avoiding the uncomfortable utilization of a kid-scaled wooden chair.

Each candidate had a separate public forum, the first on Monday, the second the next day.

First up was Colleen Pelletier who has worked at PPL for 22 years. Despite the unusual setting and the fact she was recovering from the flu, Colleen was able to make her presentation, talking about how libraries are changing for the future. As a reference librarian Colleen has seen the impact of computers and the Internet on how people access information. She stressed there is still a need for libraries to help people sort out the good info from the bad on the Net.

Candidate Colleen Pelletier speaks during a public forum 
about the future of public libraries.

Q&A followed her presentation and a blogger (ahem) in the audience mentioned that he couldn’t help but notice a certain object upstairs when entering the building.  It was a familiar sight: a waste paper basket serving as a bucket to catch once again water dripping from the ceiling.  (At least there was only one, not ten or more lined up to deal with a major leak.)

Colleen replied that she suspected the problem might be caused by the elevator shaft brickwork on the roof needing repair work.  She noted the leaks seemed to be the worse during nor’easter storms, so the water might be coming down through the shaft after being driven between the bricks.  She would have the brickwork repointed, sealing up the mortar, to see if that was the reason for the problem.

Hovering over Colleen’s head on the back wall was a bright yellow banner proclaiming Reading is Fun! And while that can be true, it’s also a fact that PPL has weathered through some un-fun times, especially at the end of last year when four staff positions were on the chopping block.

On Tuesday afternoon Paul Schaffer took to the podium. Apparently he didn’t find the forum’s setting distracting after working as a library director in a much smaller community.  He was professionally attired, a subdued suit-and-tie combination that must have made the Cat in the Hat insanely jealous.

Candidate Paul Schaffer shares his experiences 
as director of the Massena Public Library.

Paul talked about how he dealt with a tight budget while at the Massena Public Library. After retiring from that position in May last year, he decided that he was still interested in dealing with the challenges of running a public library.

During the Q&A a blogger (ahem) mentioned the chronic leaks that PPL has been dealing with for over a decade. Paul said he had a leak problem also with the library building in Massena. The first attempt to fix the problem didn’t work and the town was hesitant to spend any more money. But he convinced town officials that a different type of roof had to be installed, a permanent fix instead of taking stopgap measures.

I asked Paul for his take on changing PPL to a special district tax institution as a way to deal with shrinking governmental support. He replied that might work but there was also the option of becoming a school district library. The process to changing to that status, he added, wouldn’t take as long as the one for the special tax district.

Someone else asked Paul if he had dealt with unionized employees while serving as a library director. The question was obviously in reference to the PPL budget crisis last year and the controversy that arose with the Board of Trustees simply deciding to cut jobs instead of finding other alternatives. The positions were saved but through the efforts of city councilor Tim Carpenter, the library staff and its union.

Paul replied that the Massena Public Library wasn’t unionized during his directorship but he was aware of the issues regarding PPL staff and the library’s budget through online sources.

With the public forums completed, it’s now up to the PPL Board of Trustees to make a choice. The library still faces some serious issues besides the impact of game-changing technologies such as e-books and it’s important that the right person takes over. Director Stan Ransom retires next month and maybe a replacement will be picked before then.

After each presentation I spoke with other listeners get their reactions.

Unfortunately neither Thing 1 nor Thing 2 was available for comment.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Busy As A Bombus

Bombus ternarius?  Any apiarists out there who could help me with a positive ID?

(Click on each image for larger/sharper view.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Poetry On Track At ROTA

Poet Dr. Richard Schnell, partially illuminated by a digital projector 
showing an outline of his presentation.


Everyone was all aboard for an evening of train haiku presented by local poet Dr. Richard Schnell.

Schnell was the featured performer at Open Stage/Poetry Night, an event held twice a month at the ROTA Studios And Gallery, 19 Clinton Street.  He was accompanied by musical guests Catie and George Wurster (upright base and harmonica, respectively) who bridged poetry segments with instrumental trestles.

Schnell's presentation, "Trains and Haiku: Crosscurrents," included train haiku by various North American poets, each poem identified by rail line, including his own work describing Adirondack settings.  He noted that Jack Kerouac also wrote train haiku, sharing a few examples.

For more information about Open Stage Poetry Night and other events, contact ROTA via email at rotagallery(at)gmail(dot)com or by phone, (518) 314-9872.

The Wursters.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Plattsburgh Public Library Director Candidate Public Forums

Submitted by Jody Helfgott, PPL Lending/ILL Services Coordinator

The public is invited to two forums being held featuring candidates for the Plattsburgh Public Library Director Position. They will be speaking on The Future of Public Libraries followed by questions from the public. Both presentations will be held from 3pm - 4pm in the Children’s Library of the Plattsburgh Public Library. Colleen Pelletier’s presentation will be on Monday, 4/23/2012 and Paul Schaffer’s presentation will be on Tuesday, 4/24/2012.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I was bored while sitting at the counter at Smooth Moves...

(Click on image for larger, sharper view.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sneaky Sneakers

Talk about hidden messages...

Here are two items from Speakout, the Press-Republican's forum for comments from readers via email, that appeared together on March 25, 2012:

Why are there sneakers over power lines in Plattsburgh? Two answers possible: First, it's a prank. Or more often than not, it's a gang marking their spot where they do their illegal business. Yes, even Plattsburgh has a gang problem, although most people don't recognize it.


Sneakers on wires are to recognize gang activity in the area, supposedly. I once heard it was to signal to one gang that there was already a gang in this area.

So two pairs of sneakers on the same powerline: Turf war!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Your Bike, You Bloody Berk!

Tire Fire guitarist Julian Jaster seethes while being harassed 
by scrofulous suck Neil Jung (off-camera where he belongs).

Downtown Plattsburgh music venues should immediately ban the insulting entity called Neil Jung and Crazy Hoss.

The other night I attended a performance at a nightclub in the heart of the city.  I was trying to enjoy the melodic sounds of the boy band, Tire Fire, when Neil Jung kept harassing the young musicians by dancing around and mocking their brave efforts.  Neil made rude gestures and immature facial expressions directed at the lyrical lads.

The worse sin of all: the hyperactive hipster blocked some of my shots.  A complete camera hog.

"Worship me!  I'm uber-cool!"

When Neil Jung and his band performed their renditions were of retched quality.  My sincere advice: change your name to Real Dung and Crazy Horsesh*t.

Like they say, Neil should get on his bike -- with the seat removed.  He should take a hard ride down the most pothole-ridden street in town.

The RIAA should revoke Neil Jung's artistic license and ASCAP should censure him for conduct unbecoming to rock and roll.

Not impressed.  From what his ex-girlfriend told me, 
his name will never be Neil Hung.

(Story filed on April 11, not April 1.  Not time sensitive.)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter Ant

Evidence of the uneventfulness of the holiday for me.

While some observed the day with relatives like aunts...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

ROTA: The Greeter

ROTA: Stan Oliva

Songwriter Stan Oliva of Keene, NY performed some of his original compositions  Thursday evening (4/5/12) at the ROTA Studio and Gallery, 19 Clinton St., Plattsburgh City.  One of his works was based on events during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene last year, how people in his community came together to deal with the destruction.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Breeder Says Northern Puppies Business Transaction Problematic

Dog breeder Mary Kleber holds a photo of puppies 
she says she regrets selling through a Plattsburgh City pet shop.


"I don't want my puppies sick," Mary Kleber told me.

Heated controversy surrounding a Plattsburgh City pet shop continues with a morass of criticism, complaints, and counter-remarks.

As mentioned in a previous post Northern Puppies has been the focus of a public campaign to address what some perceive as serious issues with that business.   On one side is the owner of Northern Puppies, Tammy Staley, who says she cares about animals and that she's being unfairly treated by commenters online, especially at the Wake Up Northern Puppies! Facebook page.

On the other side are those who have dealt with the pet shop and have complaints about it.  One of these individuals, Mary Kleber (nee Loftus), contacted me via email to share her story about her problems with the shop.  The Plattsburgh City resident breeds Miniature Schnauzers and until recently she sold puppies through private sales.  During a sit-down interview conducted as a follow-up to her email, Kleber explained why she regretted entering into a business deal with the owner of Northern Puppies pet shop.

One of Kleber's friends had sold a dog to Northern Puppies and mentioned that things had gone well with the sale.  Kleber thought it would be easier to sell her last litter of Schnauzers through the same shop instead of pursuing individual sales.

She met with the owner of Northern Puppies, Tammy Staley.  Thinking Staley was a honest and trustworthy businessperson, Kleber says she entered into an oral agreement with Staley to sell four puppies on a consignment basis, $250 per pup.  Since it was on consignment, Kleber thought that she could take back her puppies at any time.

Unfortunately for Kleber, there is no written contract and that detail has made it hard for her to have two remaining puppies returned to her.  After a particular photo appeared on the Wake Up Northern Puppies! page, Kleber became worried about her pups.  The photo showed her puppies and others in a pen spotted with canine feces, left unattended overnight.  Kleber says that a serious infection, canine parvovirus, could spread under such conditions.  She had worked at another pet shop and was aware how unsanitary conditions could endanger puppies.

Kleber stated that she has only received two payments from Staley, the first in cash, the other by check.  Worried about her pups being infected with parvo, she wanted to take the last two back since she thought the agreement was on a consignment basis.

When the Northern Puppies owner wouldn't return the pups, Kleber said she contacted city police who visited the shop.  Kleber doesn't know what Staley said to the police or showed for proof but an officer told her that the owner stated all the pups had been paid in full.  She was advised to pursue the matter in small claims court.

Kleber said she prefers to have the puppies returned to her or at least to be paid the rest of the $1,000 for all four pups.  She added that she had problems with the NP owner regarding payment for the first couple of pups sold, having to press the matter of being paid.

I contacted Northern Puppies owner Tammy Staley via email and repeated the main points of Kleber's complaint, asking for Staley's response.

In her email reply Staley stated that she paid Kleber $250 when the four puppies were delivered to her shop.  Staley continued: "I then told her as they sold I would pay her unless other pups sold and in that case I would have the extra cash and pay her anyway cause I don't like owing any money."

Staley also wrote that Kleber picked up another $250 before St. Patrick's day.  According to Staley, Kleber said that she needed the money to drink because she [Kleber] was Irish and wanted to party.

In her email, Staley states: "Early last week I gave her the rest $500 which is a total of $1000. When she seen the pics [the Facebook photos of the dirty puppy pen] thought she could use that as an excuse to take them back."

Staley says that some people are so upset about the controversy surrounding her pet shop that they are quick to believe Kleber's story.  Staley says the whole complaint is "crap" and if she didn't have the proof that the puppies were paid for in full, then the police would have taken them.

During my interview Kleber told me that she was pursuing the matter through small claims court and had also filed a complaint via email to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

It was mentioned today on Facebook at both the Northern Puppies business page and the Wake Up Northern Puppies! group that someone from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets visited the shop yesterday and it passed inspection.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Northern Puppies: Facebook Furor And Mean Memes

Another critic of a local pet shop on the Facebook page,
Wake Up Northern Puppies!
(Click on image to enlarge.)


Ask one person about Northern Puppies and hear how it’s a bad pet shop, don’t go there.

Ask someone else about the same business and hear only good things about it and its owner, Tammy Staley.

So what’s the real story?

Hard to say.  I stopped by Northern Puppies today but the owner wasn’t in.  I left contact info with an employee and later emailed the owner to request an interview.  With the great controversy raging on, I can understand that it might take her a while to get back to me.

I was unaware of the uproar until someone without my permission added my name to a Facebook group called Wake Up Northern Puppies!. I haven’t deleted my name from the group because I want to track it as well as two other FB groups, the Northern Puppies business page and supporters of the shop, Support Northern Puppies.

Accusations and counter-charges are flying all over among the three groups.

Somewhere in this messy dog food fight might be the real story.

Wake Up Northern Puppies! was created to express concern about certain practices and issues with the NP pet shop.  While the original intent was good, the group has lost its focus with extremists posting comments more emotional than rational.

Maybe some of the incidents that commenters have reported did happen but anecdotes about unnamed parties who had problems with NP aren’t evidence.  Stories from a friend of a friend are only good for urban legends.  Saying something doesn’t make it true but with a medium like Facebook truthiness memes are easy to spread.

It seems that with WUNP! owner Staley can’t catch a break.  

Someone posted a photo of NP puppies in an enclosed common area spotted with canine feces.  Staley has said the photo was taken early in the morning when her shop first opened and that the area is promptly cleaned up at the beginning of each business day.

So one of the NP critics complains on WUNP! the shop is using too much bleach to clean the puppy pen and the poor animals are exposed to it all night.

Another critic complains that the puppies don’t get enough exercise.  So volunteers come in and walk the dogs outside.  This leads to more criticism.

One commenter observes: “I hope she is getting them their shots because bringing them outside without them can make them very sick.”

Another adds: “No kidding if there is any contamination in the soil around that place (parvo can live in the soil for years!) those puppies are screwed.”

That’s not to say that some WUNP! commenters don’t raise some valid points.  For example, responding to the issue of the puppy pen feces, Staley said on her business page that she wasn’t aware that the enclosed common area was a health risk.  She was making changes, planning to hire someone to stay at the shop overnight to keep the pen cleaned.  In the meantime, she would kennel the dogs at night, even though she didn’t like to do that, preferring to let them run free.

So mentioning that she would have someone stay overnight and clean the pen was an opportunity for another WUNP! critic to make a snide comment.  When someone said that the store didn’t look that busy on Sunday and apparently NP didn’t need the money, a commenter replied: “no, they were still tired after spending the night in the store watching the animals...LOL”

And on and on it goes.  It reminds me the heyday of CB radio when responsible people tried to carry on intelligent conversations but a few yahoos showed up and dominated the airwaves, making insulting remarks, provoking fights and carrying on heated verbal feuds.

There aren’t enough valid signals in the noise at the WUNP! group.  One person wrote that she was quitting because it was becoming immature and childish. She added: “I originally joined because I wanted to help turn what looks like a negative situation into a positive one, but instead has become more of a bash fest…”

And that’s unfortunate.  There could be real issues that have to be addressed with Northern Puppies but people who care are being turned off by the extremism of others.  I get the impression that a few WUNP! members hate pet shops in any form and no matter what the owner does they’ll never be happy. 

Wake Up Northern Puppies! got off on the wrong foot with some people by the way they ended up being group members.   Like me a lot of people were signed up by Facebook “friends” without any heads up.   At one point the total membership number for WUNP!  was impressive but meant nothing considering how many were involuntary members. 

If someone really has valid criticism about any local pet shop – and not some “a friend of a friend” dog crap – please contact me.  Show me the evidence.