Kindness and respect: Are they lost forever?

Michelle Graham

Our world is changing at an alarming rate. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and the amount of negativity I see all around is absolutely alarming. The littlest things make us mad we lose our cool way too easy. We are looking for instant gratification in all things, at the restaurant, when we drive and even searching the world-wide web. The amount of yelling and screaming on television is sad. The news is almost always negative and condescending. Since when did we become so cold and callous and so self-absorbed? If we have a difference of opinion we cannot even have a conversation or discussion. We just yell and scream and throw a fit until we get our own way. I think there is a way to make things better and it will not happen over-night or in a month or a year but it can happen.

    Respect, if you want it than give people the respect they deserve. Start at home respect your parents, respect your teachers, respect the waitress and respect the teller at the bank. Say please and thank you. Kindness travels for miles, go out of your way to be kind to others. I send my girls off to school with a little saying each day it is simple “Be kind to yourself and be kind to others.” Practice small acts of kindness throughout your day, hold the door, buy a coffee for a friend you can even share your lunch and your time with others. None of us are perfect but I know for certain it is always the small things that we do for others that makes the biggest difference.

    Share your talent. We all have something to give. It is these times that teach us and our children the value of life. Teach your children the importance of volunteering. Do something with no intention of a reward. Give back to your community. It will make the place that you live BETTER. Volunteer opportunities are everywhere in our small town. How can you share your gifts, your time and your talent with others? Donate to organizations that make a difference in someone’s life. The donation does not have to be money, perhaps it is food for a food bank or a church. Help a neighbor with a project, perhaps offer to babysit for free. Offering a helping hand not a hand out has great value and rewards for both parties involved. It goes back to kindness, sprinkle it like confetti and it will certainly spread like wild fire.

    Perhaps this way of thinking is too singular too simple. If you think that one person or one act of kindness cannot change others think again. Think of the single mother who just needs a smile or an encouraging hello. Can you be the person to give her that? Or the busy person who has just dropped everything they have on the ground. Can you help them pick it up? Offer to help with no expectation of being rewarded. We can all do these small things. Let someone ahead of you in line just because. Be kind and do the right thing every chance you get. The rewards are endless. Be this example to others. Instead of picking a fight find a way to be the peace keeper. Instead of engaging in negative talk speak kindly about others and to others. It can be amazing the ripple effect this can have, but it has to start with you, the one and only you.

    I think of summer as this beautiful season of growth and transformation. Think of all the ways that you can impact others and ways to find personal growth for yourself. Kindness truly can start with you and the positive influence you can have on others can be transcending. Lead in life by example, find every way that you can to sprinkle love and friendship. It is with these acts that all the negativity in life can be lifted and then we can find our life renewed.

Connecting With Life Through NNY Rivers

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY LIVING
Ginger Anson and Reese Anson, 8, explore an area of the Black River in Glen Park where they’d often picnic, covered in water after rain and melting snow.

[Read more…]

Murder in the Adirondacks — Mysterious cold case remains

orrando

A posthumous portrait of Orrando P. Dexter by Charles Ayer Whipple, courtesy New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

The murder took place in the fall. The principal figures were an outsider and a local citizen. Relatives of the victim appealed for justice and posted a reward. The impartiality of police and judicial authorities was questioned. What little evidence could be found was circumstantial. The case became a media sensation. It remains unsolved.

Sound like the Oral “Nick” Hillary case, recently concluded with a “not guilty” judgment in St. Lawrence County? That’s only the latest inconclusive murder mystery in the north country. The incident I’ve described occurred in 1903 near St. Regis Falls, and today, 113 years later, no one knows who did the deed. Or no one is saying.

September 19 of that year dawned cold, gray and still across the northern Adirondacks. Just before noon, Orrando Perry Dexter left his 16-room mansion on the shore of what had been East Branch Pond until he renamed it Dexter Lake in honor of himself, hitched one of his fine horses to one of his fleet of carriages, and departed up the lane that would take him off his 7,000-acre estate and onto Blue Mountain Road. He was going, depending upon which rumor one chooses to believe, to the train station at Santa Clara to pick up some freight, or to the post office there, or to distant Nicholville to finalize a land transaction that would have put a local timber dealer out of business.

Whatever his designs, Dexter never made it. Before he reached the end of his private road, someone stepped out from behind a stack of cedar posts and shot him through the back. Orrando Dexter, age 48, Ivy Leaguer, lawyer and millionaire, tumbled from his carriage and lay dead in the dust.

Henry Dexter, Orrando’s father and the wealthy founder of the American News Company syndicate in New York City, promptly hired the best, determined to get to the bottom of his only child’s assassination: Pinkerton detectives scoured the area and cross-examined everyone they could corral. But solid evidence was scarce. The assailant left no tracks; the bullet was from the kind of gun everyone owned; everybody had a firm alibi. No indictment could be made.

The way some people saw it, no indictment would be made. “We all knew who killed Dexter and why, but never dared print it,” said a star reporter for William Randolph Hearst’s New York American newspaper. He claimed they were discouraged by the local district attorney, who allegedly told them “It was a popular murder, and we folks have got to live around here the rest of our lives.”

What made it “popular”? For one thing, Dexter had snapped up a lot of land that people around St. Regis Falls and Santa Clara had been used to logging, hunting and fishing, and peppered it with “No Trespassing” signs. He had boasted to local residents of his wealth and social superiority over them. He had ruined loggers by buying all the acreage surrounding theirs, isolating them on islands in a sea of his own holdings. He had posted waterways traditionally used for boating and log driving, an issue that remains contentious to this day in the Adirondacks. He’d even blown up one lumberman’s dam, asserting that it had caused the flooding of some of his property. Rumors circulated that he had forcibly impregnated one of his young servant girls, the daughter of a well-known local leader. In an era when “robber barons” from the big cities were accumulating huge tracts of land for their private enjoyment, revenge was in the air.

The media, which in 1903 meant newspapers, feasted on the social implications of the incident, reflecting the intensity of hard feelings between struggling natives and rich, imperious outsiders. One major New York City daily blared, “An Entire County, Police, People, Living in Terror, Says Millionaire Henry Dexter. Uncaught Slayer Roams Holding All in Fear – In Spite of the Fact That the Murderer of Orrando Dexter Is Known, He Goes at Liberty Up the State.” And that was just the headline.

The local press didn’t let such insults pass unnoticed, engaging the downstate giants in a war of words that at times threatened to gain more attention than the case itself. The St. Regis Falls Adirondack News (yes, like most small towns, St. Regis Falls had a newspaper back then) proclaimed that the copy urban correspondents had “concocted to make good reading for gullible city subscribers” was “a conglomeration of fabrications, mere rot.” The Malone Farmer — one of at least three newspapers in that county seat in those days — pontificated, “That there is ill feeling against rich men in the Adirondacks is ridiculous. There are many who think the [Adirondack] Park law is unjust, but landowners are safe.”

Evidently they were not safe, but in some circles suspicions — or was it relief? — grew that perhaps those who eliminated them were. Soon after the killing, the Franklin County sheriff reported through the press that he was “morally sure of his man.” A week later, the papers announced that an arrest was imminent. The next week, they carried brief notices about the affair, and that was the last they said about it. As Henry Dexter raged over his son’s “un-American” death and advertised a $5,000 reward for any scrap of information, the investigation withered like the leaves on that fall’s trees. The elder Dexter died unrequited in 1910, bequeathing $1.4 million to the conclusion of the case.

That never happened. Occasionally it has been resurrected, as someone has come forward with a far-fetched claim or the Dexter estate’s reward money has been publicized. But as an anonymous local resident told a national magazine writer in 1934, “It’ll take more Dexter money than there is to make anyone hereabouts tell what he knows.” Perhaps that sentiment applies to other unsolved North Country murders as well.

For more on Orrando Dexter’s murder, see “Who Killed Orrando P. Dexter?” Adirondack Life, May/June 1982, and Adirondack Outlaws: Bad Boys and Lawless Ladies, by Niki Kourofsky, Farcountry Press, 2015.

NEAL BURDICK lives in Canton. Retired as senior writer/editor at St. Lawrence University, he continues to teach a writing course there, and is a freelance writer, editor and anthologist with a special interest in his native north country. His column appears in every issue of NNY Living.

A few tips to stay in the holiday spirit this season

Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham

Alas, the holiday season is upon us, the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it? If you listen to television ads isn’t that what they claim? For some it’s a time of great stress and worry and it’s not the most wonderful time of year. But have no fear as a little connection to your mind, body and spirit may just help you survive the chaos of the season. It’s is a time to spread joy to others and bring joy and inner peace to yourself, as well.


Start the season off by being kind to yourself. Plan to have fun and a lot of it. Get together with friends and actually make time to celebrate the season and maybe even find time for a holiday drink, playing board games or just getting together for a wonderful holiday lunch and visit. A little holiday visit with good friends can truly make the holiday season that much more special.

Exercise and watch your waist line. Not only will exercise help keep the holiday pounds off, but it can actually help decrease stress. Eating well can also take you into January with no weight gain. Remember the average person gains 5 to 7 pounds through holiday season. Be mindful through the season and your body will be so grateful.

Start purchasing holiday gifts early. Better yet, make some of your gifts. You can find many great ideas on Pinterest. We all know the best gifts are homemade and come from the heart.

Take a time out. Practice peace of mind. Perhaps morning meditation or yoga can set your path for a peaceful day. Better yet, take some time to be lazy and read a good book or just find a moment of quiet.

Get organized in work and play. Don’t wait until the last minute to make a deadline or to check off all your holiday “to-do lists” done. Planning is a significant key to success; don’t wait until tomorrow to get things done today.

Bring joy to others. Visit an old friend or relative. Really visit, be present and put your phone or tablet away. Sometimes we are so connected to everyone else that we lose sight of what is right in front of us. Talk, visit and simply live in the moment.

Volunteer your time and talents. Where can you spread joy this holiday season? Wrap presents at the mall, shop for a shut-in or spend some time helping out at Watertown Urban Mission or other community organizations that need help. Volunteering is wonderful and truly makes you and others feel amazing.

Make a donation small or large to a worthy organization. Every little bit helps. Never underestimate the value of your monetary gift. Surprise the person behind you at the drive-through and pay for their order. Don’t walk by a Salvation Army Kettle without a little donation. My favorite is to give a gift card to a friend or co-worker without signing your name.

Be patient with others. Our lives are busy and rushed and we are not always as patient as we should be. Patience truly is a virtue. Stop rushing and enjoy these beautiful holiday moments. Relax and you will get through the line in a store or get to your destination. Smile along the way as it makes everyone feel better.

Practice the simple act of kindness in this crazy, ruthless world in all that you do. Everyone wants to react; take time to pause and just be kind. Just laugh when life throws you a curve ball. We truly need to laugh at life a little longer a little harder. Don’t be so serious. Relax and enjoy every single holiday moment and besides practicing kindness never hurt anyone. Don’t let the holiday season stress you out. Practice kindness in all things for yourself and others. Your mind, body and spirit will certainly thank you.

I wish you and your families a very happy holiday season and the healthiest of years ahead in 2017. Seize the opportunity to start anew and make it your best year yet.

Summer 2016: North Country Notes

A native voice and mentor to other writers is sadly lost

Like every region, the north country has produced its share of mold-breakers. Some, like F.W. Woolworth and Melvil Dewey in retailing and library classification, respectively, achieved wide renown. Others passed their time on this Earth in relative anonymity outside of small circles of the like-minded. [Read more…]

Summer 2016: Wellness

Tread lightly for summer fun

Take steps to ensure children are safe around water

Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham

Summer lends itself to fun in the sun and all things wonderful and warm. Boating, swimming and relaxing by the beach or a pool are special highlights that make lasting summer memories. The warm season in Northern New York is short so we pack a lot into a narrow window of time. [Read more…]

Spring 2016: North Country Notes

A woman of courage and conviction, ahead of her time

Catherine Keese went to prison in Dannemora. Several times. Voluntarily.  [Read more…]

Spring 2016: Wellness

Healthy eating now is your springboard for a life well lived

Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham

Pay attention parents, it’s about time we all wake up. The eating habits our children have developed need a little help. In some cases, they need a lot of help. Building healthy food habits today truly can last a lifetime.

Every single thing we consume really does matter. Simple daily changes can boost overall health for your family. Remember to make changes slowly and add one new health habit each and every week. Before too long, those small changes add up to big results. [Read more…]

Winter 2016: North Country Notes

Our north country is a ‘land of many borders’ within itself

“Border country.” I overheard this phrase once, a discernible fragment of conversation in a noisy restaurant. It’s another name for the north country. When we use it, we are probably thinking of our border with Canada. [Read more…]

Holiday 2015: North Country Notes

Over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving memories

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go / The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the bright and drifting snow-oh … ”

When I was growing up in the Champlain Valley, we did in fact go over the river (two, actually) and through the woods, as well as farm fields, to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, although, being an up-to-date 1950s family, we traveled by car, and snowdrifts that early in the winter were rare, at least at Thanksgiving. [Read more…]