Anniversary of a Successful Saratoga Scandal


Piping Rock Casino poker chip

It’s the 58th anniversary of the burning of the Piping Rock. On the morning of August 17, 1954, Piping Rock Casino was burned in Saratoga Springs’ most scandalous arson. In the 58 years since, no one has ever solved who burned it—although my father said it was torched by an arsonist known only as Harry the Torch.

No one has ever answered why it was burned.  But it must have been torched for a reason. Otherwise, why burn a casino that had been seized by the feds for back taxes, had not been open for business for 3 years, had been sold at auction a year before it burned and had not been insured by the new owner? Why was Piping Rock Casino reportedly empty, yet was broken into and robbed of gaming tables and other items shortly before it was torched?

We have at least four suspects: the three mafia members who “owned” Piping Rock,  Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Joe Adonis—and the fourth, Lansky’s dear friend, Saratoga Springs attorney James A. Leary, head of Saratoga’s Republican machine, owner of MacFinn’s Drugstore, and one of the slickest criminals ever to avoid prosecution by New York State or the United States. I will be adding names to this list.

What were they trying to cover up? What was in the “empty” casino that that someone wanted hidden? Is there any evidence beneath the housing development on Piping Rock Circle now standing over the Piping Rock Casino’s remains at the corner of Union Ave. and Gilbert Rd. in Saratoga?

Because it’s Saratoga Springs, we probably will never know. Another successful Saratoga scandal. So, happy 58th anniversary, Piping Rock!

And, as Harry the Torch might have said, “Keep the Home Fires Burning!”

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12 responses to “Anniversary of a Successful Saratoga Scandal

  1. As a teenager growing up in Saratoga during the 1950,s, I was well aware of the reputation of James Leary and how he made his fortune as a ruthless lawyer. He lived with his spinster niece in a mansion on North Broadway and it was to her that he left his fortune. She in turn left the entire amount to the Catholic Church. I believe it was in the neighborhood of eighteen million dollars. Many stories about Jim Leary abound. I am Benjamin G. Straus, 2205 Hyde Lane, Bowie, Maryland 20716. My phone is 301-464-0972

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  2. Hello Mr. Straus

    Thank you so much for your comment on my website! My father, George A. King, was a pharmacist who ran MacFinn’s Drugstore, which was owned by Jim Leary. Dad was its manager from 1947 to 1952 and, sadly, got caught up in all the “activities” Mr. Leary helped the mob with–casinos, and every other sin known to man. Dad’s involvement forms the basis for my historical mystery novel, “The Burning of The Piping Rock.” Our family knew Leary too well, as we fled Saratoga in 1952 when Leary was indicted by the state. We literally got away with our lives.

    I recall when Leary’s niece died. I understood that the money she inherited, $5 million, went to the Vatican. It could be there was more, represented by the house and other things.It’s certainly among the world’s greatest ironies. Jim Leary must have been spinning in his grave when she did that!

    Share some of your stories about Leary with me, would you? Thanks again for writing.

    Best,
    Joe

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  3. More on James Leary. He may not have been all bad. When my great uncle, Irving Goldsmith, was dying of cancer in 1951, his niece called our home to inquire about the condition of one of his fellow Saratoga lawyers. I took the call and noted that she pronounced Jim,s surname as “Larry” which aroused my curiosity. I look forward to reading your book. Ben Straus

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  4. Thank you for your reply and thanks for wanting to read my book. It’s available through independent bookstores and as a Kindle book via Amazon. When you have finished it, I’ll tell you the “story behind the story” regarding our family’s escape from Saratoga and Jim Leary. You certainly are a Saratogian. No one else would know that he pronounced his surname as “Larry.” –Joe

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  5. Benjamin Straus

    I received in the mail today my copy that I purchased from the bookstore on Phila Street of THE BURNING OF THE PIPING ROCK and have already begun to read it. It was autographed by you. Thanks again. Ben Straus

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  6. Hi Ben,
    Thank you! I hope you enjoy it! When you’re finished reading it, would you review it here–that is, make any comments on it that would let others know what you thought? I’m always looking for readers to give an honest appraisal of the novel, so potential readers will have a real sense of how it was received.

    Thanks again!
    Joe

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  7. Benjamin Straus

    Joe, Although I have not quite finished the book I will give you an appraisal once I have finished and pondered it a bit. It has unleashed a flood of Saratoga memories which I would also like to share with you and are pertinent to the book. Ben Straus

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  8. Many thanks, Ben!

    Best,
    Joe

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    • Benjamin Straus

      Joe, found your character Harry to be a complicated one, almost a Jekyll and Hyde character. I was thinking the book could be a great movie if you could find someone to play the many faceted Harry. I have had bios of Dietrich Bonhoffer and Douglas MacArthur as my reading efforts while reading Piping Rock. The contrast was extreme; nevertheless I enjoyed your book as much as those. Ben

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      • Thank you so much, Ben. I am deeply grateful for your comments–and obvious very happy that you liked the book! I had a great time writing about Harry the Torch. And, you’ve probably guessed that I would love to have a movie made of it. May your thoughts become reality!

        You sound like me, i.e., reading several books at once. Bonhoffer and MacArthur–what a duo! And what a coincidence about MacArthur, as he figures slightly in my book.

        Ben, your comments above are posted for anyone to see, but I would also like to put them in a post that would go out to far more people if that is all right with you.

        Thanks again for writing. Please stay in touch. I’ll shoot you an email so you have my address.

        All the best,
        Joe

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  9. Benjamin Straus

    first impressions- I just wonder if I was not a native Saratogian or familiar with the area and its history how I would react to your book. With me, I reacted to everything from Jim Leary and Dr. Leonard (his deputy was my uncle, Peter Hofsess), to the Arcade which our family owned for many years, to Lincoln Avenue where many of my fellow students lived when I attended P.S.#4 on Spring Street and SHS where I graduated in 1954. My Uncle Duncan Ritchie lived on Lincoln in a yellow Dutch Colonial, I grew up on Phila Street near Nelson Ave less than a block from the nearest dorms on the old Skidmore campus. And, of course, the Broadway fire which not only destroyed Mac Finns, but the old Palace Theater which my father managed for many years and above it the law offices of Swartz, Slade, Harrington and Goldsmith, my uncle Irvings law firm. These are just a few impressions without even getting into the characters portrayed which I will deal with later. Fascinating. Ben Straus

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  10. Thank you very much, Ben. I’m grateful for your impressions and looking forward to further impressions.
    Joe

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