This is the conclusion of a three-part series by Melanie Bayless Veteto, an enthusiastic historian and a friend and volunteer with the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Melanie lives in Carlsbad, California.
We left Long Lake well before sunrise on Monday with clarity and renewed enthusiasm. My requisite courage arrived with the dawn. With no trouble whatsoever we sailed through now-familiar Newcomb, past the site of Lower Tahawus and up the winding road along the river (left turn, left turn, left turn, river). We found the old furnace at Upper Tahawus, abandoned even in Roosevelt’s day, and then suddenly there was McNaughton Cottage, most certainly the place we’d been looking for. It was yellow now and boarded up, just as described. We took our pictures, did a fair amount of investigating, and continued to a parking lot at the Tahawus Preserve which opens to a trailhead for the hike to Mount Marcy via Lake Colden.
Roosevelt had hiked this. The night before he became President he had camped with his wife, his children, his nephews the Robinsons, and his guide Noah LaCasse, at Lake Colden. The next day Mrs. Roosevelt and the children returned to the cottage, and he climbed to the summit of Mount Marcy. That was September 13, 1901.
We registered at the trailhead and began to hike. It was September, it was misty and cool, and we were following in Roosevelt’s footsteps seeking Rooseveltian adventures with marvelous companions. Absolute bliss. Though we knew going in that we could not hike the entire trail, we were a somewhat pitiful returning crew. If given a choice, we would have stayed and retraced the entire hike – Lake Colden, Mount Marcy’s summit, Lake Tear of the Clouds… We left to drive down the mountain.
Photos courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto.
While at the Wilcox Mansion, Cindi had purchased a tidy little book entitled Theodore Roosevelt’s Night Ride to the Presidency by Eloise Cronin Murphy. We dug it out of the souvenirs. It contains an oral history as told to the author by her mother. The central figure in the story is the author’s father, Mike Cronin, who played a role in the night ride. We found the page that detailed Roosevelt’s journey that night and reviewed the three relays as we rode the very same paths.
The first relay, by a driver named Hunter, was a ten mile journey from McNaughton Cottage to the Tahawus Lodge Post Office. They completed it in two hours. Even stopping for photos at the river and Lower Tahawus, it took us just twelve minutes. We continued confidently now down Highway 28N toward Aiden Lair.
Roosevelt’s second relay, from the Post Office to Aiden Lair, was nine miles. It took driver Kellogg two hours and twenty minutes. It took us – even with the road construction crew in full Monday morning swing and with accompanying traffic delays that meant we never actually did find that plaque we were looking for – exactly fifteen minutes.
We stopped for pictures at Aiden Lair, that spot “four miles past Newcomb” that had given us four troubling hours. In 1901 the lodge folks had been notified of McKinley’s death. As Roosevelt approached, Mike Cronin, the proprietor of the lodge, instructed his workers to say nothing about it. The thoughtful proprietor did not think it their place – or his – to break such news.
TR’s carriage then raced out of Aiden Lair toward North Creek. If any team knew the trail, it was the team of Mike Cronin and a pair of mismatched Morgan horses named Frank and Dick – together they had driven that road at least three times a week all summer. This section of the night ride has the greatest elevation drop, is the longest section, and on September 13, 1901, was muddy and slick due to three days of rain. It is this section of the ride that earns the reputation the entire night has been given – that of a wild and dangerous ride (even foolish perhaps) over rough trail on muddy slopes in the darkest hours of night. Mike, Roosevelt, Frank and Dick took the sixteen miles to North Creek Depot in one hour and forty-one minutes. It was a record even Mike himself could not beat when he attempted it afterwards. It took us seventeen minutes.
We arrived at North Creek with a deep sense of Roosevelt’s Adirondack adventure and an understanding of what a welcome sight that town was after such a night, a day and a week. As we deposited Sharon safely with a friend and said our goodbyes, I pulled out the little book to revisit the story while it was fresh in my mind. As I read it aloud, Cindi and I chuckled at the clarity of hindsight and really, really wished we had read it before we had ever reached Newcomb. Our journey ended on a cheerful note, both of us realizing the opportunity we had grasped and both of us thankful for the companionship of each other and Sharon along the way. We headed west to obligations, our thoughts hovering around a marvelous mountain adventure and the night 112 years, one week and one day before when a somber and very young President made his own way west to duty.