Saratoga Springs humorist Frank Sullivan is honored!

Author Frank Sullivan reading The New Yorker

Author Frank Sullivan reading The New Yorker

The 20th Century American humorist Frank Sullivan is beginning to enjoy a much-deserved revival in the 21st Century! “The Sage of Saratoga,” as he is lovingly called in his birthplace, Saratoga Springs, was in his heyday a renowned humorist and regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and a published author whose works delighted millions.

Thomas Dimopoulos reports in Saratoga Today‘s “Sage of Saratoga Honored with National Literary Landmark” that Frank Sullivan’s home on 135 Lincoln Avenue in Saratoga Springs is to be dedicated as a “Literary Landmark” by United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. This gives Frank’s home the same honor as places associated with other great American authors as diverse as Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, W. E. B. DuBois, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frederick Douglass, to name just a few.

In addition, Saratoga Springs Public Library will feature “Frank Sullivan at His Best,” a selection of Frank Sullivan’s writings that are the library’s 2017 choice for the SaratogaReads! a community-wide reading and discussion initiative. Hats off to Saratoga Springs Public Library Director Issac Pulver!

On a personal note, Frank Sullivan came into my family’s life in 1946, when my parents, George and Jane King, moved to Saratoga Springs. They rented the first floor of 121 Lincoln Avenue, just down the street from Frank’s home, where he lived with his sister Kate. My father had accepted the job as Manager of MacFinn’s Drugstore on Broadway and Frank immediately reached out to the young couple, starting a friendship that lasted until Frank’s death 30 years later. Even after we moved from Saratoga, my mother corresponded with Frank and stayed in touch with him until he died in 1976. For our family, then, simultaneously thinking of Frank Sullivan as both a dear friend and a great author was very easy.

However, I have to recognize, however grudgingly, that forty years have passed since Frank’s death, and many more since his heyday, and people’s memories are short. So, in this time when we need gentle humor served with real intellect, it’s wonderful that the humorist whose New York Times obituary described him as “a gentle wit” is being brought back for a whole new generation to enjoy.

For those of you not familiar with Frank Sullivan, here’s a thumbnail biography of him. Frank was born in 1892 in Saratoga Springs on 177 Lincoln Avenue, next door to the Saratoga Race Track and not far from his second and last home on 135 Lincoln Avenue. He was educated in Saratoga—meaning then that he not only attended schools there, but also worked at the track, where he received a liberal expansion of his scholarly education. As Alden Whitman wrote in his New York Times obituary of Frank, “Frank Sullivan, Humorist, Dies at 83; A Gentle Wit and Spoofer of Cliches”

As a boy of 10 he worked as a pump boy in the betting ring at the race track. On one occasion he served a glass of water to Lillian Russell, the actress, who tipped him 50 cents and said to him:

“Thank you, little boy. Tastes better out of a tin cup, too.”

“It was a swell job,” Mr. Sullivan said of his pump‐boy job, “easy hours, plenty to see, little to do, 10 to 15 bucks a day in tips and no income tax.”

While in Saratoga Springs High School, Frank was also a part-time reporter for The Saratogian. He went on to Cornell University, graduated in 1914, and then returned to the Spa City to write full time for The Saratogian.

So far, much of that description typifies the careers of many hundreds of newspaper reporters of that era, but Frank’s rise to renown began right after World War I. Drafted into the US Army in 1917, he served as a Lieutenant. Post-war, he moved to New York City and briefly worked as a reporter for the Sun and then the New York Herald, before joining The World in 1922. Very significantly, in 1925 he also began a long association with The New Yorker magazine, newly created by Harold Ross. That literary relationship lasted until a little before Frank’s death in 1976.

Frank’s fame began in the Roaring Twenties and it is this part of his life that I know will provide some keen biographer with the core of an excellent book. Simultaneously writing for The World and The New Yorker, while contributing to the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, Frank Sullivan also became an “unofficial” member of the Algonquin Round Table. A daily luncheon gathering at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, the Round Table included newspaper reporters, columnists, and humorists, as well as Broadway playwrights, producers, directors, and actors. Its“official” (charter) members were:  Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Ruth Hale, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Brock Pemberton, Harold Ross, Robert E. Sherwood, John Peter Toohey, and Alexander Woollcott. Harold Ross, not coincidentally, was the founder and editor of The New Yorker.

Frank Sullivan had been “invited to the table” as an intellectual compatriot and would become a lifelong friend to many of them. But, before you think of the Round Table’s “unofficial” members being minor players in that scene, consider just some of those who held that rank with Frank:  Noël Coward, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Jane Grant, and Edna Ferber. Ferber, you’ll recall, wrote Saratoga Trunk, later made into the musical Saratoga by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Frank’s period of greatest fame spanned from the 1920s through the 1940s. Beyond the Algonquin Round Table, Frank’s friends also included noted writers, actors, playwrights and producers. For example, there was his dear friend and drinking companion Monty Wooley—Yale professor, Broadway producer and actor, and Hollywood movie star. Also, Frank counted the acclaimed novelist and short story writer John O’Hara as a friend. And there were many more friends from every walk of life. That was the gift he had.

In all things, Frank was a Saratogian at heart. In 1930 his newspaper, The World, went out of business and, deeply affected, Frank moved from New York City back to Saratoga Springs, where he bought his second and last house on 135 Lincoln Avenue. (I should note that there are differences among sources as to the date he returned to live full time in Saratoga Springs. I chose the year that Alden Whitman had reported in his obituary of Frank.)

Of course, business dictated that Frank still went to Manhattan. While there he stayed at the Cornell Club on East 44th Street, right next to Grand Central Station. Being a short hop from Grand Central must have appealed greatly to Frank as, to my knowledge, he never drove a car or even had a driver’s license.


The Night They Burned the Old Nostalgia Down

The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down


Beyond newspaper and magazine articles, Frank published eight books, including The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down. For many, Frank’s Christmas poems in The New Yorker were a much-anticipated annual event, as he extended greetings to the internationally famous and his neighbors down the street.

What is Frank Sullivan’s place among American writers? I can’t say. His humor was subtle and gentle and, in contrast to Dorothy Parker’s pithy zingers, probably wouldn’t have the same appeal in today’s world. But Frank deserves a full examination of his work, and a good biography of his life. For Frank Sullivan was a renowned writer who walked among, and had lunch with, the giants of his day.

I’ll be back next week with some King family memories and more personal history of Frank Sullivan. Meanwhile, may I ask a favor? Does anyone have a photo of Frank taken in, say, the 1940s, something from around when he was 50? The photo always shown now (and which is included in this article) is of Frank as an older man with thick glasses. Yet I always conjure up an image of him as younger, being smartly dressed in a suit and tie, as if ready to step out to a Broadway show in Manhattan or to the Colonial, his favorite watering hole on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

Till then,



© 2016 Joseph A. Cutshall-King; all rights reserved.

PLEASE HELP Racing City Chorus’ $how to Benefit Saratoga Springs HS Music ♫ Department

THE RACING CITY CHORUS NEEDS YOUR HELP!!! (Yes, I am repeating myself!) The Racing City Chorus is Raising $$$ to Benefit the Saratoga Springs High School Music ♫ Department. PLEASE join us! Please help us make this a smash hit! (At the bottom of this you’ll see all kinds of ways you can share this.)

The Racing City Chorus (RCC) of Saratoga Springs, NY, is celebrating its 60 anniversary this year with a Diamond Anniversary Show on June 4thand we are going to donate 50% of the Show’s net proceeds to the Music Department of the Saratoga Springs High School.

I call this cause RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music.RCC Sings for Saratoga Springs 7

For our Chorus, this is HUGE (or as Billy Fuccillo would say, “You-jah!“) and we need  your help. We believe in our Barbershop music and in supporting music education for youth. Candidly, we’d like to raise a LOT of money to make a really large donation. (For some more information see Paul Post’s great article “Singing for a Cause” in the 4/12 issue of The Saratogian.)

AND PLEASE COME TO OUR SHOW! It will be an a capella singing lover’s feast! Here are the details:

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, June 4, 2016, the Maple Avenue Middle School 515 Maple Avenue Saratoga Springs NY 12866. Two performances: 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.


Mike Maino

OUR PERFORMERS: Barbershop Harmony Society favorite Mike Maino will Emcee this fabulous LINE UP:

2015-NED-0456The Racing City Chorus and its four Quartets – Contempt of Chord, Elderly Brothers, Late Bloomers, and Primrose Lane!

VS 1Vocal Spectrum, 2006 International Barbershop Harmony Society champions! These four young men rock Barbershop singing, America’s original a capella art form!

SSCSD logo JCK 3Saratoga Springs High School Choraliers led by Kathleen McCarty (7:00 pm show)!

southgf_HP_bannerSouth Glens Falls High School  SGF Vocal Point led by Elizabeth Stambach-Fuller (2:00 pm show)! (Thank you SGF Vocal Point for helping!!!)

The Afterglow: Join Vocal Spectrum, Mike Maino, and all of us for a more casual sing. Pizza and wings to be served. (Starts after the Show at the Saratoga Springs K of C hall.)


    • TO BUY TICKETS ONLINE CLICK HERE: (Reserved Seating available, first come, first serve!)
    • OR CALL:  518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464) to buy Tickets through the Racing City Chorus.
  • Show Tickets:
    • VIP Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $23.00
    • Premium Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . $19.00
    • General admission: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $17.00
    • Non Reserved General Admission: .  .  . . . $15.00
  • Afterglow Tickets: Per person: . . . . . . $20.00

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit the Racing City Chorus website OR Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464).

Join the  Racing City Chorus June 4th  as RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music“!  Thank you!

Joe Cutshall-King

  • Information on The Racing City Chorus:
    • The Racing City Chorus is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, chartered in Saratoga Springs in 1956 as a Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
    • Mailing Address: PO Box 713, Saratoga Springs, NY  12866
    • Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464)
    • Website:

Do you think my ♫ cause is worth going viral?

I have a Music ♬ Cause and I am asking you this:   Should it go viral?

Here is my cause:  My Barbershop chorus, The Racing City Chorus (RCC) of Saratoga Springs, NY, is celebrating its 60 anniversary this year with a Diamond Anniversary Show on June 4thand we are going to donate 50% of the Show’s net proceeds to the Music Department of the Saratoga Springs High School.

I call the cause RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music  (or RCC ♬ for $$$ for Saratoga ♬).RCC Sings for Saratoga Springs 7

For our Chorus, this is a huge undertaking and we need the public’s support. But we believe in our Barbershop music and in supporting music education for youth by 1) donating to our hometown school’s Music Department and in doing so,  2) drawing attention to music education for youth. Candidly, we’d like to raise a lot of money to make a really large donation.

Paul Post beautifully describes our efforts in his article “Singing for a Cause” in the 4/12 issue of The Saratogian. If you think RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music is a good cause, will you share this on social media and via email and help it go viral? (See: “Share this” below.)

And please come to our show! It will be an a capella singing lover’s delight! Here are the details:

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, June 4, 2016, the Maple Avenue Middle School 515 Maple Avenue Saratoga Springs NY 12866. Two performances: 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.


Mike Maino

OUR PERFORMERS: Barbershop Harmony Society favorite Mike Maino will Emcee this fabulous LINE UP:

2015-NED-0456The Racing City Chorus and its four Quartets – Contempt of Chord, Elderly Brothers, Late Bloomers, and Primrose Lane!

VS 1Vocal Spectrum, 2006 International Barbershop Harmony Society champions! These four young men rock Barbershop singing, America’s original a capella art form!

SSCSD logo JCK 3Saratoga Springs High School Choraliers led by Kathleen McCarty (7:00 pm show)!


The Afterglow: Join Vocal Spectrum, Mike Maino, and all of us for a more casual sing. Pizza and wings to be served. (Starts after the Show at the Saratoga Springs K of C hall.)


    • TO BUY TICKETS ONLINE CLICK HERE: (Reserved Seating available, first come, first serve!)
    • OR CALL:  518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464) to buy Tickets through the Racing City Chorus.
  • Show Tickets:
    • VIP Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $23.00
    • Premium Seating: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . $19.00
    • General admission: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $17.00
    • Non Reserved General Admission: .  .  . . . $15.00
  • Afterglow Tickets: Per person: . . . . . . $20.00

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit the Racing City Chorus website OR Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464).

Join the  Racing City Chorus June 4th  as RCC sings for Saratoga Springs Music“!  Thank you!

Joe Cutshall-King

  • Information on The Racing City Chorus:
    • The Racing City Chorus is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, chartered in Saratoga Springs in 1956 as a Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
    • Mailing Address: PO Box 713, Saratoga Springs, NY  12866
    • Telephone 518-504-SING (that’s 518-504-7464)
    • Website:

American Pharoah faces the “Saratoga Jinx” on Triple Crown winners

American Pharoah

American Pharoah

Saratoga Springs—It’s all about American Pharoah. Whether we don’t know a horse from the carrot it’s chomping, we all seem to know about American Pharoah. Tomorrow (8/29) we’ll all see if that Triple Crown winner breaks the “Saratoga Jinx” at the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

With this world-wide American Pharoah mania, all eyes are on Saratoga Springs—and on its infamous gambling history. Last Sunday journalist Heather Kovar had me on WTEN TV’s News10 @ 9am to talk about those gambling heydays, as one of her top stories was on whether Triple Crown winner American Pharoah would be visiting Saratoga Springs while the ravers was run. (Thanks, Heather!)

Heather Kovar

Heather Kovar

Well, we know now that American Pharaoh is more than visiting–he’s running in the Travers. The only speculation now is whether American Pharoah can beat the “Saratoga Jinx” on Triple Crown winners competing in the Travers Stakes.

For those unfamiliar with horse racing, here’s a short explanation of the Travers and the Triple Crown. The Travers Stakes has been held at Saratoga Race Course since 1869 and was named for William R. Travers, the first president of the then Saratoga Racing Association.

The Triple Crown is officially “The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.” Three-year-old Thoroughbred horses that win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes in a single season are Triple Crown winners. The first Triple Crown was won in 1919.

And what is this “Saratoga Jinx”? It’s simple. While twelve horses have won the Triple Crown, only one of them has ever won the Travers Stakes—Whirlaway in 1941!

NYRA’s webpage on Whirlaway  reports that, “in 1941 the crowd-pleasing ‘Mr. Longtail’ often landed above” baseball great Joe DiMaggio and boxing legend Joe Louis “on the front pages of the nation’s sports sections.” It also states that the famed jockey “Eddie Arcaro called him ‘not the best, but the runningest’ horse. His trainer called him dumb, stupid and crazy.” Out of the Whirlaway could unpredictably run all over the track, but then always pulled out at the right moment to leave the others in his dust. Arcaro rode Whirlaway to his Belmont victory for his 1941 Triple Crown victory.

Whirlaway was now slated to run in the Travers on August 16, 1941, when tragedy struck! Ten days before the race, on August 6th, the Jockey Board of Stewards suspended Arcaro from riding because of charges of “rough handling” of the horses he rode. Instead, Alfred Robertson took Arcaro’s place. The racing world was in a state of frenzy.

Piping Rock Casino

Piping Rock Casino

In the Spa City, the casinos and other businesses were finally enjoying a financial revival after the Great Depression and this race was symbolic of that revival. What would happen now? Never mind that most of the world was already at war, with the US was aiding the beleaguered British in their fight against the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. (And Pearl Harbor was 103 days away.) No, what was vital was the Travers!

On Saturday, August 16, 1941, the stands at Saratoga Race Course were packed for the Travers Stakes. As the horses broke from gate, Whirlaway sprung to action—well, almost. William DuPont’s Fairymant took the lead by 15 lengths and Samuel D. Riddle’s two horses, War Relic and Lord Kitchener, were coming up strong. Whirlaway wasn’t doing well.

Cy Peterman of the Philadelphia Inquirer summed it up best: “When Whirlaway turned on the pressure, all chances of a shock were erased. Up to the mile post, before he made his move, he looked as if bound to make history repeat. . . . But once Whirlaway came into full stride there wasn’t much to it. As far out as the 16th pole the race was over; he was almost four lengths ahead at the finish, and Fairymant had two and a half on Lord Kitchener.”

Peterman also reported that, “By his victory, Whirlaway took down another $16,900 for [Whirlaway owner] Warren Wright. Chicago sportsman who found there are more ways of raising dough than with the baking powder he manufactures.”



Wright was presented with the gold cup by Samuel D. Riddle, owner of War Relic and Lord Kitchener, and George H. Bull, president of the Saratoga Association.

And since that day 74 years ago no Triple Crown winner has ever won the Travers Stakes. In fact, Whirlaway is the only Triple Crown winner ever to have won the Travers!

Damon Runyon

Damon Runyon

“The play,” as author Damon Runyon described gambling in Saratoga’s gaming heydays, is understandably high. In just a few days, the Travers purse has risen from $1.2 to $1.6 million. As of this writing (Friday, 8/28) the odds are, well, odd. Saratoga Race Course is showing 3/5 odds, while across the pond in the UK, Ladbrokes is offering 28/9 odds. (We attempted to find Runyon’s Bookie Bob, but Bob’s kidnappers have yet to release him.)

Adding to the frenzy is that Saratoga Race Course has sold out seating for tomorrow’s Travers!

So, all that remains now is to see if Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh breaks the “Saratoga Jinx” and wins the 2015 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

In this instance, all bets are definitely on!

Review of The Ox Factor: China Invades the US – Can America Survive?

The Ox Factor

The Ox Factor

When Richard Duvall’s techno thriller novel The Ox Factor: China Invades the US – Can America Survive? came out in late 2013, its premise could have seemed to some to be too far-fetched, too militaristically overcharged, and even harboring a borderline xenophobic reaction to China.

But, oh my, what a mere 20 months has done! Here in 2015, The Ox Factor’s premise of a Chinese invasion of the US in 2027 seems far more plausible. The last year has witnessed China’s continued GDP growth with its ever-increasing “ownership” of American debt; its geographical and military expansion into the South China Sea; its cyber-attacks on the US, including the hacking of personnel files on 18 million US employees and the hacking of SONY by its puppet North Korea. And all of this has resulted in ever-increasing tensions between the US and China. Just a few days ago, the Obama administration warned China about its covert agents operating in the US.

So, to read The Ox Factor now is to believe that by 2027 China has surreptitiously wormed its way into the US military cyber systems. By 2027 America has placed its heaviest reliance upon those cyber systems and unmanned warfare, because of shrinking budgets. And then China shuts both down. With that done, one million Chinese troops invade the US, totally surprising the US command structure and rapidly moving to seize not just western states, but Gulf States as well. Duvall has, to this lay reader, extensive knowledge of military weaponry and command structures, all controlled by a Chinese supercomputer. Duvall deftly and chillingly dispels readers’ doubts that such an invasion could occur.

The action is fast, taking place over a six week period. It reminds me of several authors, Tom Clancy among them. The Ox Factor cuts back and forth between the Chinese vantage point and several American vantage points: that of US Navy sub fleets, of Army posts, of National Guard units, of US President Elizabeth Rutledge (at last, a woman President!), of a hacker genius named “OX” whom Rutledge is forced to trust and work with, of patriotic Chinese-Americans, of Black and Hispanic gangs, of white militias—and more.

With American satellites seized and its worldwide command structure hijacked, America’s Air Force and Naval capacity has been destroyed or incapacitated and its land forces isolated. The action ranges in focus from the East Coast, with a near-paralytic Washington, to Montana, to the urban jungle of Los Angeles, to Canada, and even out in the Pacific itself, where a lone sub has managed (with Australia’s surreptitious aid) to elude the destruction of most of the US Navy by the Chinese.

Blackmail and extortion have a juicy part to play in the plot. European countries and others are “virtually” (double meaning intended) blackmailed into submission by the Chinese. In essence, “Try to help and we do the same to you.” There are Chinese-Americans being blackmailed into helping by threats to their families back in China. And American moles are present in the Chinese commend structure. It would be understandable for someone reading this review to assume the scenario is far-fetched, but once this reader gave into to the fast paced action, a la Clancy, and ignored the occasional two-dimensional minor characters, the ride was a thriller.

As that action is rolling out, President Rutledge works with Ox, fighting to save the Union as states fall one by one, and as Rutledge is being addressed by the leading Chinese military commander as the “former President” of a defeated nation. China threatens worse than a mere invasion if she does not publicly surrender.

It is difficult to review a thriller without revealing the plot, but let’s just say that Rutledge proposes a solution to save the Union that is unique in this reviewer’s reading! The character of President Rutledge is good. She fights with Congress on Capitol Hill, not to mention with her own father, who “just happens” to hold a top position in the American military. So she is at once hosting Family Feud and jockeying with the Department of Defense. These and other conflicts go on as subplots of (and fuel for) the drama.

Author Richard Duvall, who very sadly passed away as his book was coming out, provides us with many surprises. He offers some excellent insights into the American political and military landscape, which he presents in liberal/conservative jousts between those on the right and left, whether on Capitol Hill, or in a family in Montana, or in the barrios of LA. Duvall had the benefit of merchant marine service in World War II, of US Army service in the Korean War, and of extensive work and travel in China. Duvall obviously deeply respects the Chinese people, but underlying the entire novel is a common truth forgotten by some today: China is a dictatorship that has skillfully, and ironically, fostered rapid capitalistic growth under a communist government. Marx, Engels and Mao must be spinning in their graves.

Using his rich life experience, he makes observations on paradoxes of American politics through his characters. He lets some of them engage in a bit of polemics, which can seem a bit much at times. One such occurs in Montana, where a very conservative father and his very liberal daughter heatedly argue over the militias and other ultra-right organizations that portray themselves as saviors of America. An abrupt end to that argument comes as the father stops to say hello to his friend Nestor Ruiz, a young Latino man sporting gang tattoos, who has just entered the room. He and his family had moved to Montana to escape LA’s gangs and Nestor’s brother just happens to be “a Navy officer.” Now you see the connective tissue between Montana and Los Angeles.

The notion that an entire war could initially begin by cyber-attack has certainly been given legs by hackers recently having shut down entire retail chains, invading SONY’s most confidential records, and hacking US government employee records.

And that brings us back to the character for which the book is named, the genius computer hacker Ox. No, there’s no spoiler alert here. Ox’s identity is safe—that is, until you read Duvall’s novel, The Ox Factor: China Invades the US-Can America Survive? which I think would also make a great movie. Get your copy now — and keep watching the news!

The Ox Factor: China Invades the US-Can America Survive?: Published by Northshire Bookstore (November 26, 2013); paperback, 542 pages long; available in stores and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Join me Tuesday July 15 at Saratoga Arts Center!

Piping Rock ablaze

Piping Rock ablaze

This coming Tuesday (July 15) at 7 p.m. I’ll be giving a presentation in the Saratoga Arts Center (320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) on The Burning of The Piping Rock for the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation! The title of my presentation is “Arson in Saratoga: Piping Rock and Beyond.” I’ll be talking about the architecture of the infamous Piping Rock Casino, other casinos and the “mysterious fires” that consumed Piping Rock and so many other Saratoga Springs buildings.

There’s going to be a hot time in the old town that night, so come join us! For more information click on: Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. Or contact Sarah Kaplan, Membership and Program Coordinator at 518-587-5030 (email:

Visit the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation events page on Facebook.

“A Very Special Santa”—a Christmas memory

Here is a Christmas memory I wrote for my “Over My Shoulder” Column© in the Glens Falls Post-Star of December 21, 1994. I hope you enjoy it.

A Very Special Santa

My mother had a little ornament that she placed on the Christmas tree each year, a tiny cotton Santa that she said she had placed on her tree from the time she was a little girl. The little Santa was, truthfully, in sad shape for its years of wear. But it was one of “those things,” something given a special meaning when my mother was so little. Why, no one knew. Not even Mom.

As I grew older, with each Christmas I came to look forward to that Santa being placed gently on a high bough, nestled securely to prevent shrieking children, or cats, from knocking it to the floor. Without realizing it, a part of her childhood Christmases gradually became a part of her children’s. It was a good feeling.

The tiny Santa moved a lot over the years. From my mother’s birthplace in Mechanicville, it went to Saratoga, then to Fort Edward and then Ticonderoga, at each juncture adding children and years to its life. It sagged and it drooped and it faded. Yet it survived, tying each new Christmas into the ones that had passed.

The last time my mother put the Santa on her tree was in Ticonderoga in 1982. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer and on her next Christmas, which was to be her last, she decided she and my father would come to our homes instead. I remember her apology for not having a tree, which I later recognized as her way of saying, “I’m angry because I can’t put up a tree, like I should.”

So that year, 1983, for the first time in decades, the little Santa stayed in a box in my parents’ cellar. At Christmas, 1984, my mother was gone and, again, the little cotton Santa stayed packed away. For that Christmas and the next two, my father would not decorate the house nor have a tree. The Christmas person in the King family was Mom and the Christmas person was gone.

About two and a half years after my mother died, Dad told us he was selling our family home in Ticonderoga. It was too big and too full of memories. “Come and take what you want,” he told his children. The rest he would sell. For weeks upon weeks we helped him sort through the remains of a lifetime, as much a reward as a burden. For you must understand that Mom saved everything:  family pictures and letters, dad’s service records, the kids’ report cards, canceled checks, even occupant mail. As I had before, I looked through acres of boxes of Christmas decorations. As before, I could not, amidst them all, find the tiny Santa.

Mom always was fond of saying, “What will be will be.” I resigned myself to the fact that it was gone. “Things change,” my father was always saying. Oddly, I think that while he knew that was true, in a way he never resigned himself to his own wisdom. Almost three years to the day after my mother’s death, he died. Things had, indeed, changed.

For my wife, Sara, and I, that Christmas of 1987 in Glens Falls was, with my daughter being six, filled with expectations of Santa. It was also an oddly empty Christmas. We got out the boxes of decorations and frantically searched for our tree’s special angel, fearful it had been misplaced and then found it packed snugly away. My daughter sighed a big sigh! Under our regular boxes were the ones I’d brought from Ticonderoga. I rummaged through them, looking at the bubble lights and other things from my childhood Christmas trees.

And then, I found it. A tiny box inside of which was my mother’s faded cotton Santa wrapped up securely. Lost, but never really lost. Tenderly, I placed it on a high bough. And there it will go again this year, as we celebrate our Christmas and the memories that a special decoration carry with it.

From my family to you, a very merry Christmas.

Joe Cutshall-King

(“Over My Shoulder” – a weekly column written Joseph A. Cutshall-King for the for the Post-Star of Glens Falls, NY. All content Copyright © 1994-2013 by Joseph A. Cutshall-King. All rights reserved. No reproduction by any means or methods allowed without express written permission by the author.)

“Piping Rock” presentation on December 2nd–Easton Library, Easton, NY,.

Join me on Monday, December 2nd at 7:00 pm at the Easton Library in Easton, NY . I’ll be giving a presentation on my historical mystery novel, The Burning of The Piping Rock.

The Easton Library is on 1074 NYS Route 40 in Easton, NY. My presentation will include a book reading and book signing. The presentation is open to the public and free of charge. (Click here for a map.)

For more information, contact Helen C. Brownell, Director of the Easton Library at 518-692-2253 or on the library website at

See you then!

Joe Cutshall-King

In memory of all veterans

In memory of all veterans, I post this photo of my father, Lt. George A. King, Commanding Officer of PT Boat 27, with some of his crew. Left to right: Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King, Jack Gilligan, & Bill Maynard. (Undated photo; possibly taken in late 1944 at Pearl City, Hawaii.)
PT Boat 27 Crew l-r--Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King [Commanding Officer], Jack Gilligan & Bill Maynard; South Pacific

PT Boat 27 Crew, left to right: Stan Lewis, Lt. George A. King [Commanding Officer], Jack Gilligan & Bill Maynard; South Pacific

At Woodlawn Commons in Saratoga Springs

Last Friday, November 8, the residents at Woodlawn Commons, part of the Wesley Community in Saratoga Springs, had me as their guest to give a presentation on The Burning of The Piping Rock.  What a great group they were! Several had been to Piping Rock Casino in its glory days. They discussed how much they enjoyed dancing to the big bands at Piping Rock Casino and watching the hit stars, such as Sophie Tucker, Hildegarde, Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. (In those post WW II days, Andy Williams performed as one of the Williams Brothers.) When I showed them this photo of the entertainment revue at Piping Rock Casino, and other photos, they gasped in recognition of those times long ago. Thanks to Gina Mergel for the invitation to speak at Woodlawn Commons!

Piping Rock Interior  around 1946-B&W

Piping Rock Interior around 1946-B&W

Post-Star carries great news about Cossayuna’s new Lakeside General Store!

Today’s Post-Star carries Amanda May Metzger’s excellent story on the reopening of the Lakeside General Store in the hamlet of Cossayuna, where we live.  Last year, the little country store had closed and it left a gaping hole. Well, our neighbors, Joe Troiano and Palma Kolansky, bought the store,  made wonderful changes, and recently reopened it.  All of Cossayuna has been been celebrating the reopening of the store and what it offers now! Please read all about it in the article, “Couple opens Lakeside General Store after six month vacancy.” Click here to read the article and celebrate with us!

Thank you Greenwich, NY, Senior Citizens!

Sara Idleman, Nan Fitzpatrick & Susan Frisbee with author Joe Cutshall-King Greenwich Seniors Lunch

Sara Idleman, Nan Fitzpatrick & Susan Frisbee with author Joe Cutshall-King Greenwich Seniors Lunch

Patrick Gilgallon takes “The Burning of The Piping Rock” to new heights!

'Piping Rock' at LG 09-13 - photo by Patrick Gilgallon.

‘Piping Rock’ at LG 09-13 – photo by Patrick Gilgallon.

This photo was taken by Patrick Gilgallon, a fellow devotee of Barbershopper music, who sent it in an email, saying: “While at my cabin on Lake George I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED READING The Burning of the Piping Rock! I couldn’t stop thinking about the story line when I put down the book periodically. So much could I NOT put down the book, that upon departing for a hike, I packed it in my backpack. At the summit, I read for 2 hrs.  What a beautiful day that was!!!”

To prove his point, Patrick attached this photo he took at the summit.

Thank you very much, Patrick, for your totally unexpected and totally appreciated email!

Saratogian article (9/8/13): “Author to unravel ‘Piping Rock Arson’ at brown bag lunch”

Check out this article from The Saratogian about my upcoming program for the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center’s Brown Bag Lunch Lecture  Series held at Saratoga Springs Public Library! Saratogian (9/8/13) - Author to unravel 'Piping Rock Arson' I’m looking forward to seeing you this Thursday (Sept. 12 ) at noon in the Community Room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library! (Thanks to Chuck Packevicz  for this clipping!)

Article courtesy of The Saratogian (9/8/13)

“Piping Rock Arson” by Joe Cutshall-King: Brown Bag Lunch Lecture (9/12) at Saratoga Springs Public Library

Brown Bag Lunch

Brown Bag Lunch

‘Page Turners’ book study group of North Carolina Skypes with me about “The Burning of The Piping Rock”

Skyping with an author may not be something new to you, but it was to me when recently I was a part of a “Skype with the Author” event. But in this case, I was the author!

Members of Page Turners, the book study group of the Tryon United Methodist Church of Tryon, North Carolina decided to read my historical mystery novel, The Burning of The Piping Rock.

Tryon United Methodist Church

Tryon United Methodist Church

The Page Turners’ leader is Lynn Montgomery. And in the spirit of “full disclosure” I have to report that one member of Page Turners is my cousin, Laura Bitter. Laura had read my novel and proposed it to her fellow members of Page Turners, who said yes. (Thank you, Laura, and your fellow Page Turners!)

Here’s how Laura describes Page Turners: “No dues, no refreshments. Just monthly gatherings to share thoughts about recent books and older books that have been selected by the group.”

And what a wonderful group! This time they were to meet at Laura’s house. Laura said the Page Turners had questions for me and asked me if we could have a phone conference. I said, “Sure!” Then someone suggested we Skype and the next thing I knew, Page Turners member Pam Monterisi was adjusting the screen on Laura’s laptop and we were off and running!

SkypeIn case you’re not familiar with Skype, it is an application you can install on your computer (PC, tablet, iPad, Android, etc.) to allow you to communicate with others having Skype on theirs. It allows you to see and speak with people in real time.

The Page Turners folks had wonderfully probing and insightful questions. As we talked about the novel, I learned so much. When you hear questions about your work and the characters in them, you find yourself reacting to those characters, considering them, sometimes defending them.

MacFinn's Drugstore

MacFinn’s Drugstore

I had a chance to talk about how much real history there was in the book. Many of the memories expressed by protagonist George A. King were real—things he’d spoken of during his life that I had recalled, especially his memories as a PT Boat Commander in WW II, as well as his memories of working at MacFinn’s Drugstore in post-war Saratoga Springs with all of its casinos, mob activities and crooked politicians. He was held to be a sympathetic character by the Page Turners.

Saratogian headline 10-17-1954 copyOn the other hand, Harry the Torch, the other main character in the novel, was not held to be a sympathetic character. That was understandable, as Harry is an arsonist after all, but I confessed that I’d come to like Harry to a degree I wouldn’t have thought possible as I first began writing the novel. As with any fictional work, once the actual writing starts, the characters take over. They lead me in directions I had not foreseen, and they reveal things about themselves I hadn’t known.

One surprising question was: “How was I able to transcribe all those microcassette tapes?” that George A. King had recorded prior to his death. Well, I have an answer for that, but I’d rather tell you during a Skype session with your reading group or your class! If you’d be interested in Skyping with me to talk about my novel and about writing in general, please contact me on this site by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button and together we’ll figure out a good time for me to Skype with your group, class or workshop.

If by chance you are reading this post, but haven’t read The Burning of The Piping Rock, you can purchase a copy at your local bookstore or online at Click on the “WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK” tab for more information.

My thanks go out again to the Page Turners book study group of the Tryon United Methodist Church. You really know how to make an author feel special.

I’m looking forward to Skyping with your book group, your English class or your Creative Writing class or workshop! Contact me, please.


The design for this site, all artwork used on it, and the cover artwork used in The Burning of The Piping Rock was created by Black Swan Image Works.

A great new book for you: “The Things Our Fathers Saw”

The Things Our Fathers Saw

Teachers are normally miracle workers, but sometimes they’ll perform a miracle within a miracle. Matthew Rozell is a teacher who performed just that in a teaching method that ultimately led to his new book The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA; Volume I: Voices of the Pacific Theater.

Let me describe what happened and then I’ll tell you about this extraordinary book by Matthew Rozell.

Starting in the late 1980s, Matt, a history teacher in Hudson Falls High School (Hudson Falls, NY), had his students interview and videotape the recollections of grandparents and others who had served in WW II—men and women. They were among the Greatest Generation, who were now aging, dying, and taking their stories to the grave. Matt’s miracle within a miracle was to have his students hear, see and feel the living history of the war, as embodied in and transmitted by these veterans. As he writes in The Things Our Fathers Saw, “I had hit upon something every teacher searches for—a tool to motivate and encourage students to want to learn more, for the sake of just learning it.” Matt himself also videotaped interviews with these veterans. His classes’ work coincided with the emergence of the Internet and world wide web and so The World War Two Living History Project (WW2LHP) website was born.

The project has been widely recognized in the media—newspapers, TV, radio, Internet— and justifiably praised here and abroad. And here’s a perfect example of its power. Matt was videotaping a student’s grandparent, Sgt. Carrol Walsh, who had been a tank commander in the European Theater. As the interview ended, Carrol Walsh’s daughter just happened to ask if he’d told Matt about “the train.” Carrol Walsh said he had not and so related how, on April 13, 1945, his tank unit came across and liberated a train full of concentration camp victims being transported from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Carrol Walsh’s interview and the photos taken that April day were uploaded to the WW2LHP website and gradually the train’s survivors began to see it. Eventually hundreds of them saw it, some living as far away as Australia, who subsequently contacted their liberators. Matt then worked to get most of the nearly 300 survivors reunited with their liberators.

So much other good came of that website, too much to relate here, but you can read Matt’s full story online. To me, the greatest good was expressed in what one of Matt’s students said of this project: “It’s life altering and because we’ve heard these stories, it’s our job to make sure it won’t happen again.”

Now, on to his book, The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA; Volume I: Voices of the Pacific Theater. Matt’s classes have also interviewed veterans of the Pacific Theater. Matt selected the stories of twenty-nine men and three women living in and around Glens Falls, NY, which had been designated as “Hometown, USA” in a series of articles published by Look Magazine in 1944—hence its inclusion in the title. Some of the 32 were natives, born within a 30-mile radius of Glens Falls. Others came to settle in the area after the war’s end.

Matt edited these interviews and interwove explanatory text and historical background all in one book. It is a chronological progression taking us from Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, through to the Japanese full surrender September 2, 1945, and then beyond into the veterans’ homecoming at war’s end. The war in the Pacific Theater covered an incredible area, considering how huge the Pacific Ocean is and that the Japanese Empire occupied almost as much territory as the United States does today. That so much of the scope of the Pacific Theater’s war is reflected in the lives of these  people is astonishing, both in terms of their personal experiences and in terms of the different number of geographic areas in which they served.

For example, we begin the war at Pearl Harbor with the memories of Gerald “Barney” Ross, who was serving in the US Navy aboard the USS Blue, moored at Pearl Harbor on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941. Ross and others were waiting for a motor launch to take him to church services, when a Japanese plane flew over their heads. Ross recalled, “She went down and dropped a torpedo. Then I saw the Utah turn over”—the USS Utah, a 522 foot Florida Class Battleship that went down taking 64 men with her.

It should be noted that not all of the accounts in the book were from interviews done by students or by Matt alone. Also, some accounts were taken from diaries and one from a 1946 article in The Post-Star. This in no way subtracts from the enormity of the ongoing contribution of the World War Two Living History Project; rather it beautifully complements it and strengthens Matt’s book. For example, the book quotes Joseph Minder’s diary. Kept throughout the war, it chillingly related the conquest of the Philippines Islands by Japanese forces in 1942. Minder brings you there, puts you in that moment at the heroic defense of Corregidor Island, and then takes you with him during the subsequent imprisonment of him and thousands of others in a Japanese POW camp. Minder’s accounts of life in the camp for the next three years are not for the faint-hearted.

Going back to his project, I was delighted to learn that veterans would also visit students in the classroom. James “Jimmy” Butterfield of Glens Falls came along with his wife Mary and his good friend James Lawler. Both Butterfield and Lawler had  served in the Marines and were on Okinawa, where Jimmy was wounded. Mary’s memories give us the stateside view of someone waiting for her loved one to return. In the classroom, the three spoke and Jimmy patiently, and with tremendous honesty and humor, told the students of how he lost his sight at age 19 during the battle for that Japanese Island, only 150 miles off the coast of Japan. As you read what Jimmy told the class and how Mary and James Lawler reacted, you find yourself alternately laughing and crying.

In addition to the memories of Mary Butterfield, I was particularly grateful to see the inclusion of the memories of Katherine Abbott and Dorothy Schechter,  who served in the war. Women then were not allowed in combat positions and so became nurses, WACs, WAVEs, or worked in other supporting services. Dorothy Schechter was an example of the last, serving as a civilian in charge of accounting on various Army Air Force bases. In 1942, she was the only woman authorized to be at a South Carolina air base that was being used to stage General Jimmy Doolittle’s famous raid on Tokyo. Doolittle and a team of crack B-25 bomber crews were practicing  taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, something no bombers had ever done. Later, Doolittle’s fleet of B-25 bombers would take off from the USS Hornet in the South Pacific and bomb Tokyo, the first time Americans had struck the Japanese Empire’s homeland. Schechter’s narrative also relates her subsequent very personal and poignant experiences with Japanese-Americans held in California interment camps, one of the many facets of this complex war.

Katherine Abbott trained to be a nurse at Memorial Hospital in Albany, NY, and then joined the US Army to be a flight nurse in the Air Evacuation Squadron. She served on a plane with “only one nurse and one medical technician” that island-hopped all over the South Pacific to serve the wounded in such places as Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Leyte, and Okinawa. Other times they would ferry patients to larger places that had hospital facilities. On board, 28 patients had only Mary and the medical technician—no doctor—to keep them medicated, sedated, and cared for. Think of flying in an unarmed aircraft, with no pressurized cabin or oxygen. Although she was only in a combat area once, when serving Okinawa, Katherine’s service and heroism certainly qualify as “going above and beyond.”

Those are just snippets of the many stories gathered in The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA; Volume I: Voices of the Pacific Theater—268 pages of enjoyable, educational reading.  This is a powerful work and I recommend it wholeheartedly for both adult and young adult readers. You can purchase Volume I in paperback in local bookstores; or online in paperback and Kindle format at Go to Matt’s website for more information on the that, as well as on his upcoming speaking engagements.

Congratulations to Matthew Rozell, teacher, author and humanitarian!

Joe Cutshall-King

revised 9/18/2015

A Celebration at the Holidays!

The Burning of The Piping Rock

The Burning of The Piping Rock

Happy Holidays to you all! I hope you’ll join in my holiday celebration of Santa’s having arrived early at Matchless Books™ with this “present”: my Saratoga mystery novel, The Burning of The Piping Rock, has passed the 500 copies mark in sales!
While perhaps a little number for a major author in a huge publishing house, for a struggling, self-published author this is number is large. When I first started out having it printed by Northshire bookstore, my heart was in my throat. But, my book is now in Indie (Independent) bookstores from here to Charleston, SC, as well as on in Kindle eBook format (; and through IndieBound—website of Indie Bookstores nationwide (
When it comes to selling The Burning of The Piping Rock, the Indie bookstores have been my best friends. And so, as I celebrate my novel’s continuing sales, let me salute all those Indie bookstores that have made my book available by telling you a bit about the top three Indie bookstores, those that have sold the largest number of my novel:

Lyrical Ballad Bookstore ( – 7 Phila St.; Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 518-584-8779.
Owned and operated by John and Jan DeMarco Lyrical Ballad Bookstore has been a part of Saratoga Springs since 1971. Lyrical Ballad Bookstore was the first to carry The Burning of The Piping Rock and has sold the greatest number of copies to date. Lyrical Ballad Bookstore has its Phila Street entrance right off Broadway in the basement of the former Saratoga National Bank. In fact, you can still see the bank name on the Broadway façade of the building. What is remarkable, too, is that an original bank vault is in Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, loaded with one of civilization’s greatest treasures, books—over 100,000 books and antique prints and maps! If you are an ardent bibliophile, this is your store.
Speaking of the former Saratoga National Bank, here’s a nice coincidence. That bank featured prominently in New York State’s 1953 racketeering trial of James A. Leary, head of Saratoga’s Republican machine, which serviced the mob’s illegal casinos with banking operations. And Leary also features prominently in The Burning of The Piping Rock.
Thank you Jan and John DeMarco for your support!

Northshire Bookstore (; 4869 Main Street Manchester Center, Vermont 05255 and Northshire Bookstore Saratoga, at 424 Broadway Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 (
As I mentioned above, I first had my novel printed at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester. Northshire Bookstore is a family-owned, independent bookstore founded by Ed & Barbara Morrow in Manchester Center, VT in September, 1976. It moved to the Colburn House in 1985 and about that time the Morrows’ son, Andy, joined the firm. It expanded in 2003 and, in 2012, made the bold decision to open a second Northshire Bookstore on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, NY. Both are wonderful to browse and to shop in.
Northshire carries my novel in both their Manchester Center and Saratoga Springs bookstores. Northshire also prints new copies of The Burning of The Piping Rock, which is resells to other bookstores.
Thank you Northshire Bookstore for your support!

Battenkill Books (; 15 East Main St.; Cambridge, NY 12816.
Battenkill Books, a beautiful bookstore on Main Street next Hubbard Hall, has been in operation since 1989. Owned and operated by Connie Brooks, it is a “must see” place in Cambridge. I gave a reading there and loved the experience.
And here’s exciting news! Battenkill Books announced December 15, 2014 that it has received a major donation from author James Patterson, as part of his campaign to support independent bookstores across the nation (full story). Connie Brooks said, “We will use the money to expand our children’s section into an unused space alongside our building on Main Street. We will create a dedicated room for our youngest patrons, which will include expanded space for picture books and early chapter books. The new space will also be able to accommodate our popular summer reading program.”
Congratulations, Connie Brooks and thank you for your support!

And thanks to all of you for following my blog. May your Holiday Season be joyous and your New Year be filled with happiness and health!

For all the places to buy a copy of The Burning of The Piping Rock, click on this “Where to Buy the Book” page.

A review of “Deadman’s Float,” a Henrietta Brown Mystery novel by Robert Sugarman

Deadman's Float

Deadman’s Float

Picture this, please: It is summer in the picturesque college town of Kent, Vermont. Henrietta Brown, a retired academic, goes for her regular swim at Kent’s town beach on a lovely little lake. She dives from the raft only to discover the college president, in his seersucker suit, staring at her, his body jammed between the barrels supporting the raft, his hair floating around his face, and his hands bound.

Hardly the romance of “Moonlight in Vermont” or the sweetness of maple sugar you were expecting? Welcome to page one of Deadman’s Float, a new mystery novel by Robert Sugarman.

Deadman’s Float is a myth-breaker. Sugarman’s Vermont hills of maples and collegiate architecture frame a hidden picture of anti-Semitism and Klan activity, academic viciousness, and “town-gown” animosities that fly in the face of the Vermont tourist industry’s standard information.

The mystery is set in 1989 and the reader will be struck by the year’s “quaintness.” In a wonderful moment at the start, Henrietta Brown rushes for the payphone to report the murder, only to remember that “Ma Bell” had removed it because of vandalism. For a split second “Where’s her cellphone?” came to my mind, immediately replaced by “Oh, sure, it’s 1989.”

Of course, mainframe computers and PCs are common in Deadman’s Float, but cellphones and the Internet wouldn’t be commonly used until the late 1990s –and Google, iPads, Androids, Facebook, voice and face recognition software and all the other new millennium marvels are just a glimmer away. And nicely so. There’s no techno-wizardry substituted for “the little gray cells” solving the crime. No CSI here.

Kent is small but complicated by its “town” and “gown” sides, which allow for many suspects with different motives. And there are strong characters on both sides. The protagonist Henrietta Brown is the retired Director of the Early Learning Center at Kent College, an elite private school. Sugarman alludes to Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple, although Henrietta is no Miss Marple. Unlike Jane Marple, Henrietta has a sex life and she is a highly educated, highly trained professional with jungle instincts. After all, she has survived academia’s infighting.

But she is similar to Jane Marple. Henrietta is unmarried, a village native, and no longer “middle-aged.” (Yet can we call her “old,” even in 1989?) Like Marple, Henrietta is the “inadvertent detective.” Henrietta is a “townie” who crossed the town/gown line into academia by going off to college and returning to work at Kent College. To some she’s a traitor. Active in her community, she knows everyone on both sides of that fence, she knows “things,” and she is not afraid to ask questions—“to snoop” as some would say.

Kent’s Chief of Police Laval wants her to leave police work to the police. Yet, reluctantly, he quickly comes to rely upon her. There’s a nagging sense he has come to this decision too easily, but once you’ve passed that qualm, the rest falls in place. I hope if Laval appears again he’ll be more appropriately upset when he fails to fend off Henrietta’s detective impulses—her snooping.

But there’s so much to snoop about! The murdered president, Albert “Al” Kaplan, was so universally loathed! He was the college’s first Jewish president and a man, it seems, only his widowed wife and his children could have loved. Al tried to build the college to build his career and the hell with everybody else.

The college thrived because of Al’s ambitions. Some on campus liked that, even if they didn’t like Al. Most of the faculty seemed to have disliked Al, some simply because he was “administration.” (Sugarman explores Kent’s academic infighting and it is hoped he will do more of it in future Henrietta Brown mysteries.) But there were other issues. Charles Piersell, a gay faculty member, had borne the brunt of Al’s rage over Piersall’s promoting openly gay academic activities. But, of course, there was more to it than that.

And, then, who knew of President Kaplan’s secret past in New York City during the nineteen sixties, when he was young and people sang songs of “revolution”—and the young took revolution to their hearts? The 1960s’ “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll!” is operative in the 1989 of Deadman’s Float. That perennial favorite, “sex,” provides one of the major backdrops for murder. The sexual appetites of every segment of Kent society—townies, college administrators, faculty, and students—thread their ways through the mystery.

Major characters include a number of students and at least one townie who preys on them. We get a glimpse of the unsavory world of small-market television and national network news. The survival strategies of local business owners are laid out with surprising honesty.

Readers may cringe when one key character, the student Julie, plays detective. Julie is horribly naïve. With her fellow student Peter, who is puppy-like in his adoration of her, Julie decides she also wants to play detective, as Sugarman writes, like Nancy Drew. But where at least Henrietta is mature and somewhat worldly as an amateur sleuth, Julie is not. Henrietta is curious, dangerously so for the killer, as well as for herself. But she is aware of the danger and cautious. Julie simply rushes in, maddeningly deciding to question the president’s assistant, who even more maddeningly answers her questions! Although this does provide information, it makes a reader want to scream.

Importantly, Henrietta is wise. She recognizes that while Al’s actions have justifiably generated dislike even hatred of him, some in the community loath him simply because he is Jewish. Henrietta has grown up knowing the locals who don’t like what has happened to “their America,” and in particular the large Jewish population at the Kent College. Henrietta knows they see Kent College as a symbol of it all, what with its arrogant, liberal faculty, its gays, its nonwhite students and, now, its Jewish president.

With Al’s murder, the teacher Henrietta learns about her community. From Al’s personal assistant she learns of the unsigned hate letters Al had received; from Chief Laval of the unsigned anti-Semitic tirades the local newspaper receives but won’t publish. With time, they both learn of Kent’s white power movement, Klan activity and the depth of anti-Semitism in Kent. It is bone chilling.

That anti-Semitism is something about which Mort Levine and his family know. Mort, locally born and raised, is a devout Jew, who runs a local supermarket, is active in the chamber and civic organizations, and, like Solomon, has a wise and discerning heart. Mort has suffered in silence for years while fully aware of the anti-Semitism and the Klan activity in Kent. His son is of a new generation that will not be silenced by the bigotry. In a poignant scene, Mort contends with the fear and anger of his son, who has bought a pistol for self-defense. There is a richness in Mort and we want to know more about him.

But Henrietta is our hero and after Al’s death, she and Laval are confounded by more murder, set against the backdrop of Kent. In Henrietta, Bob Sugarman has created the bridge between the town and the college, using her to explore the tension of interdependency existing between the two, as well as the academic infighting, the drug use and sexual predation on the campus, the racial hatred in the town, and those other well-guarded secrets that make for a good whodunit.

Sugarman, with a long history as a playwright, gives us very good dialog—his characters sound natural and different from one another—and that dialog propels the reader forward. His characters are complex, although sometimes you want a cast of characters listed at the beginning! I have only alluded to some of the major actors in this interplay of small-town murder and madness. Moonlight in Vermont—falling bodies everywhere!

So, let me recommend that you quickly get a copy of Deadman’s Float, find a good nook in your home, grab a cup of tea or a snifter of brandy, and enjoy a delightful mystery!

Joe Cutshall-King


Deadman’s Float, a Henrietta Brown Mystery novel by Robert Sugarman; published by Puck Press, is available in paperback at bookstores and on

I’m giving a reading tomorrow at The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls—Join me!

Please join me tomorrow (Saturday, September 6) as I give a reading from my mystery novel The Burning of The Piping Rock at 3:45 p.m. at The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls, as part of its 3rd annual LocalFest!

I’ll be joining with many local authors who will be reading from their recent works all day long. This event has been organized and will be emceed by writer and Post-Star columnist Maury Thompson. Thank you, Maury, for volunteering to organize this!

The Shirt Factory, Glens Falls-corner of Lawrence & Cooper

The Shirt Factory: Glens Falls-corner of Lawrence & Cooper

Here’s the pertinent information:
The Shirt Factory on the SW corner of Lawrence and Cooper Streets, across from The Post-Star.  It’s in the Adirondack Quilts Too classroom (Suite 114, first floor).
The Writers What time they begin reading
Persis Granger: 10:15 a.m.
Dave Blow: 10:45 p.m.
Carol Gregson: 11:15 p.m.
TBA: 11:45 p.m.
Jenny Latzko: 12:15 p.m.
David Cederstrom: 12:45 p.m.
Vincent Palazzo: 1:15 p.m.
Stacey Morris: 1:45 p.m.
Pat Leonard: 2:15 p.m.
Bernice Mennis: 2:45 p.m.
Maury Thompson: 3:15 p.m.
Joe Cutshall-King: 3:45 p.m.
TBA: 4:15 p.m.