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The Most Interesting Man In the Adirondacks

E.L. Trudeau in his laboratory. Historic Saranac Lake

He was educated at the Lycee Bonaparte, in Paris.

They say he weighed no more than a dried lambskin.

He went to the wilderness to die but lived another 42 years.

He once survived a blizzard by getting buried under snow.

He always got his buck.

He was Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848–1915), both a tuberculosis sufferer and healer, as well as first president of the village of Saranac Lake, where he established the first laboratory in the United States for the study of tuberculosis.

But try to stay with me; if you find TB history stultifying, there is more, much more, to this guy. And although he died nearly a century ago, a whole new generation of Adirondackers may soon get to know Trudeau, if Historic Saranac Lake succeeds in re-publishing An Autobiography, his own account of his extraordinary life.

Robert Louis Stevenson came to Saranac Lake for the fresh-air treatment Trudeau pioneered. Trudeau and Stevenson enjoyed verbal sparring, and although he was frail and egg-headed, Trudeau also enjoyed physical sparring, once flooring a boxing champ at Paul Smith’s hotel. Trudeau doctored New York City elite, but as physician in a transitioning lumber-mill settlement, he also cared for woods people and their cows, horses and dogs. Everyone liked him.

To read his honest book is to like him still. He wrote his story as he was dying. It’s not polished but his passions come through. “There are two places in the Adirondacks which have ever been constantly and intimately connected with all that has been best to me in life,” he wrote. “One, the old fox runway on the side of Pisgah Mountain, now the site of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium [which he founded], and the other the little churchyard near St. John’s in the Wilderness at Paul Smith’s [which he also established, and where three of his four children went young to their graves]. One has for over thirty years been associated with the most strenuous struggles and experiences of my working days, and about the other all the highest aspirations and the most tender memories of my life and of my dear ones gone before.” You become as swayed as the city socialites who opened their checkbooks so he could build institutions that are still important to the Adirondacks.

“I think the most important reason to republish the autobiography is to extend to new audiences the powerful example of the expansive, health-giving, humanity-loving, indomitable spirit of a remarkable man who took the hand that life dealt him and played the best possible game with it,” says Caroline Welsh, former director of the Adirondack Museum and project director for the book.

“Dr. Trudeau’s spirit of optimism and scientific inquiry persists today in Trudeau Institute’s quest after scientific progress … and in the caregiving legacy of Saranac Lake.”

There have been five previous editions of the book, the last one in 1951.

“This book is not easy to keep on my shelves,” says Tracy Santagate, owner of Books and Baskets in Saranac Lake. “One of the services I provide is to find older or first-edition copies for my customers. This is one book that is often requested but that I cannot always guarantee its availability, condition or consistency in price.” She thinks demand for a reissue would be strong.

The new edition would be different from past versions. Garry Trudeau, the doctor’s great-grandson and creator of Doonesbury, would write an introduction. To provide more context, Saranac Lake historian Mary Hotaling is drafting sidebars and incorporating historical photographs of the people and places Trudeau mentions.

“The text will mean so much more when we can look into the faces of those whom Dr. Trudeau writes about and imagine their lives, so far away yet so human and really so much like our own,” Hotaling says.

The book reaches beyond Saranac Lake, she points out, providing insights into 19th- and early 20th-century life, including impressions of the Civil War from Paris, medical education, America’s Cup racing, Gilded Age gentry and Adirondack hunting—Trudeau’s favorite pastime.

What Historic Saranac Lake needs now is a publisher, or about $85,000 to self-publish the book (another way the book would be different would be coffee-table format with high-quality printing for photographs). The organization’s goal is reissue in 2015, the volume’s 100th anniversary. To learn more contact Historic Saranac Lake.

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