Made it up to Ogdensburg early this afternoon, but first I had to get as far down I-81 as possible before my car turned into a Canadian pumpkin. Now I can say I have driven I-81 in its entirety — from just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee to wherever I was today:
On the way up I stopped by the partially defunct Granny’s Motel and Restaurant in Frackville, Pennsylvania, to see a terrifying statue of a pioneer woman holding a homemade pie while a homunculus dragging a rag doll clings to her tush. Then I hit the Inebriates Asylum in Binghamton, New York, before swinging by Recreation Park (in case you weren’t clear on the purpose) to see the gazebo and carousel featured in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, “Walking Distance.”
I came to this particular town because my father was born in Ogdensburg, as was his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. Ancestry tells me that at least one of those grandfathers was a cattle dealer. My dad’s dad served in the New York State Assembly as a Republican representing St. Lawrence County from 1939-1944. After that, Grandpa Daniels (that’s what we called him; we weren’t close) worked for the Empire State Chamber of Commerce then the Rockefeller Administration in Albany, which is where my parents met and where I was born.
Like many towns in Upstate New York, Ogdensburg has its tony zones with gorgeous multi-storied homes with turrets, wrap-around porches, slate roofs, and meticulously manicured mini-lawns, buttressed by stone curbs. Not two blocks away you’ll find hard-scrabble, two-story, vinyl-sided houses cordoned off by chain-link fence fragments with broken concrete steps flanked by concrete sidewalks split by the strongest weeds in the world. You can tell that winter has beaten the crap out of Ogdensburg, and though I have yet to see a person smoking, everything smells like Tiparillos.
The Frederic Remington Art Museum is one such fancy manse. Remington grew up in a town called Canton just east of Ogdensburg, but one of his boyhood friends used to live in this house and offered it up to Remington’s widow after he died. She turned it into a museum in the 20s:
By the way, I am spending the night in a ginormous room in an old schoolhouse. You’d think there’d be ghosts, but it’s just styrofoam drop ceiling and couches and chalkboards instead. The owners have done a nice job decking out each room with a presidential theme, because a surprising number of presidents have been to this burg. I am in the Ulysses S. Grant room.
Heading to Maine tomorrow the very long way. More French & Indian War! Can’t wait to hear how it turns out.