Adirondack Murder Mystery Inspires Song


Murder in the first degree, shouted The New York Times headline. The sensational case of 125 years ago had its roots in the Adirondacks, when a widow from Rhode Island met a sympathetic physician at an inn in Blue Mountain Lake. She died after drinking whiskey laced with arsenic, a gift sent to her in Denver, Colorado, along with an enigmatic, unsigned note.

The Boston Herald covered the trial too, with salacious details suggesting that Mrs. Barnaby had other lovers besides Dr. Graves. More was at stake than affairs of the heart, though, since Barnaby’s heir stood to inherit a lot of money.

The mystery is at the heart of a new song by Back Porch Society, a band based in Keene Valley. They will release a new CD, “Northern Gothic” on Saturday, February 28, at Smoke Signals, in Lake Placid.

The band’s Russ Cook describes his connection with the story. “In 1890 Dr. Graves and Mrs. Barnaby spent a good part of the summer at the LaPrairie House, which is now the Blue Mountain Inn. Their relationship was entwined with a contentious will and various local people. While on trial, Dr. Graves claimed it was Mrs. Bennett, of Blue Mountain Lake, who sent the bottle as she had caught Mrs. Barnaby and her husband, Ed, in an icehouse ‘ghastly drunk rolling around.’”

Cook knows Blue Mountain Lake well, from childhood summers and visits now with his family. Years ago a friend set up a bar in his garage, calling it “Dr. Graves Tavern,” and a  cocktail named after Mrs. Barnaby was a specialty of the house. What exactly went into this potion was different—but not deadly—every time.

“After writing the song two summers ago from the perspective of Mrs. Barnaby lying on her deathbed,” Cook says, “the band took hold of it. With this tune and 11 others, we put together an album that has been recorded by the audio and video team Jeff and Sue Oehler, of Beehive Productions, in Saranac Lake.”

The song became a costume drama with a cast of five plus the band; the music video was filmed in two days last November at the Hedges, in Blue Mountain Lake.


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