Friday, August 14, 2009

Sanitary Advantages

TIP, 2005

There are many ways to spend a delightful summer afternoon. But I can think of few I’ve enjoyed as much as spending time in the company of friends on this pier on the St. Lawrence River.

Certain places make it easy to become attached. We’ve only been to Thousand Island Park three or four times. But I know could spend every summer there. Our friend Marjorie has been spending summers at “camp,” as she refers to her cottage at Thousand Island Park, for more than fifty years.

Back before the age of air conditioning and income taxes, Gilded Age tycoons with names like Pullman, Singer, Boldt, Abraham and Strauss came north to the Canadian border in the summer in search of cool breezes. They built elaborate stone mansions, some of them big enough to be considered castles, on private islands in the St. Lawrence River.

Regular folks hopped trains and steamers to stay in boarding houses and hotels along the river. Ads for the Gananoque Inn touted its “modern improvements and sanitary advantages.” Lots in nearby Edgewood Park were leased to “prospective cottagers under strict by-laws regarding hygiene, morality and good order.”

Thousand Island Park is located on Wellesley Island, which is essentially a big rock with a thick head of forest growing on top of it. In the summer it’s a vacation playground. In the winter, when the river freezes, it’s a place of such brutal cold and isolation that Chicago Seven member Abbie Hoffman hid out there for years under an assumed name and was apprehended only, so the story goes, when he decided to run for public office.

The star of this show is the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean and runs so deep that there is said to be a fully intact sunken Great Lakes ore carrier so deep in the water under the International Bridge that it presents no hazard to navigation in the narrow shipping channel above.

The river’s also cold, take-your-breath-away-and-don’t-give-it-back cold. When we visit Marjorie and her husband Robert Wagner—his name is neither Robert nor Wagner, but we’ve given him this nickname lately in recognition of a swank Robert Wagner-brand sports coat he wore to our daughter’s wedding—the guys usually bathe in the river. The cottage has a very nice bathtub upstairs. But being models of modern chivalry we graciously cede that to the ladies. Or at least we did the first time.

I bathed in the Maury River when I went to summer camp in the mountains of Virginia when I was a kid and thought that was cold. I’ve been in both the Pacific and the North Atlantic and thought they were cold. But until I grabbed a bar of soap and did a belly flop into the St. Lawrence one August morning, I clearly didn’t know what cold was. Up to then, I’d have never believed I could wash every part of my body and be out of the water in less than two minutes. In more recent visits I’ve waited in line behind the ladies to use the tub.

The Thousand Island Park series. Here.

1 comment:

  1. That's hilarious. Made me remember that guy, ?Gilbreth? who wrote "Cheaper by the Dozen." He was the time and motion study expert who made me laugh even as a kid--he had his kids use 2 bars of soap simultaneously so they could lather up both sides of their bodies at once and take quicker baths. Cracked me up.

    I remember your photos of this place on flickr and it sounds gorgeous.