POW! A Fistful of Adirondack Heroes and Zeros

Illustration by Garry Trudeau

Illustration by Garry Trudeau

You don’t have to trek all the way to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to chill out in a superhero’s lair—just head to the ice palace that volunteers have forged on the shores of Lake Flower, overcoming the colossal heat ray that a diabolical genius has obviously leveled at the North Country. During this year’s “Superheroes and Villains” themed Winter Carnival (February 5-14) the forces of good and evil will duke it out for the heart of Saranac Lake. (Or settle their differences in no-holds-barred broomball tourneys and fry-pan tosses. See a full schedule of events here.) But it won’t be the first time larger-than-life characters have captivated the region’s imagination. Read on for a few of our more memorable champions and scoundrels.


Joe Call, the Lewis Giant

This colossal War of 1812 veteran from tiny Lewis was known far and wide for his unsurpassed wrestling skills and feats of brute strength. In true folk hero style, his deeds ballooned with every telling, from toting around a brimming barrel of hard cider to hoisting an 1,800-pound canon. Call was credited with a jovial disposition, but he could turn into a hulking beast when angered—word is that he once tossed a pack of ferrymen overboard after being reprimanded for spitting.

Inez Milholland

Milholland was Essex County’s caped crusader, an unstoppable suffragette who arrived at President Wilson’s 1913 inauguration in a flowing cape and starred tiara—looking every inch the heroine as she called the nation to her cause with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue astride a white horse. Milholland didn’t live to see the movement’s victory over injustice. She died—possibly of leukemia—in 1916, four years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

William H. Osborne

Osborne’s origin story is tragic: his father, hotelier Hiram Osborne was shot and killed by a rival on the streets of Fish House in 1894, when William was in his 20s. Hiram’s murderer went to Dannemora and William went on to become a legendary deputy sheriff of Hamilton County. He brought down Charlie Wadsworth, the meanest of the infamous Windfall Gang from Wells, in an 1899 shootout that earned William a hole in his hat and a reputation as the most fearless man in the county.


Charles Parker

This Central Adirondacks scoundrel was so notorious that he nearly blackened the reputation of an entire profession—Adirondack guides. Parker was an ex-con, a bigamist, and a general ne’er-do-well who hunted and fished to stock hotel tables. He wasn’t a guide, but he took on that role in July of 1881 when he led a woman deep into the wilderness and attempted what contemporary newspapers called a “brutal outrage.” Parker took a bullet for his crime, but local woodsmen took a hit too. In the aftermath, regional guides were being slandered to such a degree that George Washington Sears, aka Nessmuk, had to step in to defend their honor in the pages of Forest and Stream magazine.

General James Abercrombie

French and Indian War General James Abercrombie didn’t need a doomsday device to kill thousands. In the summer of 1758—confident in the extravagant numbers of his British troops and ignoring millennia of proven military strategy—he ordered an ill-fated frontal assault on the firmly entrenched French at Fort Carillon (now Ticonderoga). Wave after wave of his men threw themselves against the enemy’s makeshift timber barricade and were struck down. Watching from the rear, Abercrombie allowed the fruitless slaughter to continue until 2,000 of his men were dead.

Tubercle Bacillus

Throughout history, tuberculosis killed so many that it was dubbed “Captain among these Men of Death.” The disease was no stranger to the Adirondacks—in the late 19th century its victims flocked to Saranac Lake, where Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau was waging war on their foe. But if it weren’t for this particular public enemy, there might not be a beloved winter carnival to celebrate. Since folks “taking the cure” were encouraged to get out and about in the frigid—and health-reviving—North Country air, the tradition of celebrating the season with an outdoor bacchanal was born.


POW! A Fistful of Adirondack Heroes and Zeros
The Least Reliable News Source in the Adirondacks?
Kitchen Cures for the Common Cold?
WATCH: Crow Enjoying “Blackbird” Performance
The Original Slow Cooker: Woodstove Recipes
How to Make a Balsam Pillow
Know a Teen Who Likes to Write? Pass This On.
How to Cook a Wild Turkey
Our Favorite Adirondack Places
Adirondack Life Wins 13 Regional Magazine Awards
Will El Niño Mean a Snowless Adirondack Winter?
Mysteries and More: The Latest Regional Reads
The Adirondack Life Behind “Bridge of Spies”
A Tale of Two Antique Boats
Apple Crack and Other Fall Recipes
The Poky Way Up Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain
World’s Largest Cheesecake and Other Adirondack Records
GALLERY: A Writer’s Home in Essex, Inspired by Dickinson and Plath
Beam Yourself to Trekonderoga
Learn to Shoot Like an Adirondack Life Photographer
Top Chef: Michigans Edition
Q & A with Ashley Sofia, a Promising Musical Artist from Ticonderoga
Put ‘Em Up at Whallonsburg Grange Harvest Parties
Railbikes Are the Latest in Adirondack Outdoor Fun
Cedar River Flow Offers Wilderness Paddling with Easy Access
Adirondack Memories Lead to Windfall for Local Animal Shelter
Three Kid-friendly Hamilton County Hikes
Quiz: Do You Know Your Adirondack Bird Songs?
And the Adirondack Lake with the Most Islands Is…
Remembering an Adirondack Landmark