A heart wrenching story of love and loss in the face of incurable disease. May 11, 2013
“I originally found this book while researching for a character I my own novel who has TB. Joe’s journey cross-country through ice and snow, and his booze-running to pay for Alice’s care, brought me to tears. As did Alice’s brave fight in the face of eventual death and her desire to spare her husband heartache while freeing him to continue on. Gods! I cried through most of this book.
The author’s detailed research gave me more of an understanding of what it was like to live with TB and the “Cure” than most of what I got in exhaustive weeks of combing the web for true stories. Not to mention that it gave me a better understanding of both the prohibition area in my native state of NY.
But never mind the fantastic research, it’s the story itself that matters. This one was moving, evocative, funny, sad and made me consider issues of love, fear and death. I realize “couldn’t put it down” is a cliché, but I really could not, and had to put my entire life on hold for a day because I wasn’t able to tear myself away from the book.”
This historically-accurate novel
is a wonderful exploration of both the natural and cultural environment of the Lake Placid/Saranac lake area of New York’s Adirondacks during the 1920’s. The enjoyable story of a couple that is introduced to the region by necessity also provides a glimpse into the area’s rich heritage, and illustrates to those of us that live in the Adirondacks that some aspects of that time period remain the same today.
Brooks presents a well-researched description of Saranac lake’s tuberculosis cure cottages and the affluent nature of Lake Placid during prohibition, from the working-class perspective of a young man who finds himself immersed in the conflicting settings of both.
In its exploration of the cure cottages, the book provides an accurate account of this very important time period in Saranac Lake’s history, and it showcases many aspects of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in a different era. However, to those of us lucky enough to live there, it is clear that some characteristics of the mountains in the story haven’t changed much.
As the main character makes his way to Lake Placid on foot after his Model T breaks down less than 100 miles away, the reader is taken to a time when the winter made what is now a short drive into an epic journey. In the book, the beautiful, yet remote wilderness is contrasted by the warmth and hospitality of the region’s inhabitants.
Today’s technology allows easy travel through the mountains; a great advancement from the impassable winter roadways of the prohibition era. But the residents of the region still abide by the same conventions with respect of hospitality as the welcoming rural folks in the book. Though eighty years have passed since the time in which this story is set, that remote wilderness is still there, forever wild, to be enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. And, although the development of antibiotics eliminated the need for the tuberculosis cure cottages, visitors continue to travel to the region seeking a different kind of cure. Today, the High Peaks region blends a rich Olympic history, countless outdoor recreational opportunities, and the chance to get away from it all.
The historic significance of the tuberculosis cure, in the context of such a well-written, heartwarming story, would translate beautifully onscreen, allowing a much larger audience to learn about this important part of our region’s past. And, the largely unchanged geographic surroundings here in the Adirondacks would make a spectacular backdrop for a project of that nature. As the President of the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau, I am pleased to have had to opportunity to read and endorse this book as a wonderful resource that enhances our efforts to promote the heritage of our region.
Set in 1925, Mountain Shadows tells the tale of a poor, young couple, Joe and Alice Devlin, who come to the Adirondacks seeking a cure for the wife’s tuberculosis. Alice is placed in a “cure cottage” in Saranac Lake. Joe, a wiz of an auto mechanic, lands a job in the Lake Placid Club’s garage. Finding that Alice’s treatment costs far more than the Club can pay him, Joe takes up with bootleggers who are running liquor from the Canadian border through the Adirondacks to the big cities farther south.
The basic situation of the Devlins, coming to the Adirondacks for the “cure,” is a subject Brooks knows intimately. Her father, Julian Reiss, came to Lake Placid from New York City in 1924 seeking treatment for tuberculosis. He got better, and he stayed, starting Northland Motors — later Northland Auto Supply — and Santa’s Workshop.
The main characters are not, however, fictional versions of Brooks’ parents. “Joe Devlin” is based on Joe Kendrick, the father of her brother Peter Reiss’s wife Agnes. Like the Joe Devlin character, Kendrick came to the Adirondacks seeking a cure for his first wife’s tuberculosis.
“In real life, he was a bookkeeper,” Brooks said in a Tuesday interview, “but there’s not much story in that, so I made him a mechanic.” A photo of Kendrick as a young man is one prominent feature of the cover art for Mountain Shadows, Brooks said.
“What you don’t see is his doughboy uniform from World War I,” she added.
Brooks got the substance of her “Alice” character while she was researching the local history of tuberculosis treatment in the famous Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library. There, she found the diary of a 17-year-old named Evelyn who had been treated at the state sanatorium in Ray Brook.
“The diary might have been a Christmas gift,” Brooks said, “for it starts on Jan. 1. She talks like a teenager, but she wasn’t allowed to BE a teenager because of her disease.
“The diary ends before the year did. I don’t know if that’s because she left Ray Brook,” she added, “or because she died.”
Brooks places her character “Alice” in a private cure cottage in Saranac Lake, one of the dozens operated in the Little City at the time, each of them half boarding house, half hospital. A more natural placement for a TB patient of limited means like Alice would have been the Trudeau Sanatorium — “but that wouldn’t have given me the intimate setting I wanted for my story,” Brooks said.
Brooks had difficulty researching the Lake Placid Club, where she had “Joe” working as a grease monkey.
“David Ackerman had started work on his Lake Placid Club book just a short while before I started doing my research,” she recalled, “and he had taken most of the material I needed.
“But I relied on other things, including long conversations with Irma McLeod. She worked with our family for years and years, but as a young woman she had worked as a waitress at the Lake Placid Club.”
The most difficult subject for Brooks to research was the state troopers who, during Prohibition, spent much of their time busting the rum runners so common then.
“I found a lot of information, but it was like pulling teeth,” she said. “Nobody wanted to admit there was an archive for Troop B, the state police unit here, until I saw an article in the Franklin Historical Society bulletin referring to it.
“I was finally able to make an appointment to visit the archive — but only for 2 hours. It was a wonderful place, with all the news clippings from the day about the exploits of the troopers.”
Sgt. Henry Schermerhorn, one of the more prominent supporting characters in Mountain Shadows, was a real trooper of the 1920s.
“I couldn’t include all of the real stories about what those troopers did, because people just wouldn’t believe it,” Brooks said.
Though this is Brooks’ first novel, it is far from the first material she has seen into publication.
“Ever since I could walk, I was crazy about horses,” Brooks said. “I read everything about horses I could get my hands on, and when I started writing, that’s what I wrote about.”
Her first article, “Trail Etiquette,” was published in 1956 in the prestigious Chronicle of the Horse. Brooks, just 16 years old at the time, was paid $3.
Since then, Brooks reckons she has published more than 500 articles, most of them on the Morgan horses she and her husband raise. For about 10 years she was also responsible for the regularly updated “Who’s Who in New England Morgandom,” an illustrated guide to those who were breeding and training Morgan horses in the Northeast.
It was, in part, the “Who’s Who” book series that led last year to Brooks’ induction into the American Morgan Horse Association Hall of Fame.
Today, in addition to her writing, Brooks and her husband own Horse Country Real Estate, a realty firm dedicated to Connecticut horse farms.
“Patricia Brooks is a very skilled and knowledgeable historian who has created a thrilling, sensitive and comprehensive novel about a unique period in Adirondack history through the struggles of an extraordinarily devoted individual who matures through one year of intimate exposure to the rigid policies of the Lake Placid Club as an employee; and to the difficulty of providing and caring for a consumptive wife; and to the risks and lure of big money in bootlegging.
As a physician who has lived and practiced in this area over 47 years, I am very impressed with her descriptive accuracy and treatment of tuberculosis and of cold weather injuries and survival techniques.
I am equally impressed with her knowledge of physiological and psychological stresses and behavior; of auto mechanics, of horsemanship, of character development; and her lyrical portrayal of our magnificent Adirondack scenery.
I enjoyed it thoroughly and couldn’t put it down.”
“The book brings the unique history of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to life. It highlights the desolation of the area in winter, the history of bootlegging during the Prohibition years, and the meaning of cure cottages during the last great American tuberculosis epidemic. It follows the love of two young people during a very dramatic time in their lives. This book is in keeping with Martha Reben’s book, “The Healing Woods.”
“Patricia Brooks has taken the disparate subjects of Prohibition and tuberculosis, set them in the Adirondack High Peaks, and woven them together with a tragic story of love and loss to give us a wonderfully good read. Her evocation of the mountain woods and air are almost palpable, as is her depiction of the cure cottages in the early years of the 20th century. Highly recommended!”
“This gem of a story reveals gleaming facets of the small but famous Prohibition-era villages of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. These communities, conveniently located for the rum-running trade, were also famous for the health-restorative qualities of clean mountain air. Heroism, triumph and tragedy, moral dilemmas, and the absolute hopefulness and hopelessness of “taking the cure” for tuberculosis are present in every page of this wonderfully engaging work…but most of all, it is a story of unselfish, timeless and enduring love.”
Mountain Shadows, a new book of fiction by Patricia Reiss Brooks, rolled off the press. It is set in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake in the 1920s during the Prohibition era when rum running was a local activity and tubercular patients still came to Saranac Lake to cure. The story, well researched for its facts, brings together the state police, a desperate husband who becomes a rum runner to pay for his wife’s medical bills and another woman whose life is affected by both of them.
The reader is sure to find the emotional stresses of the young couple deeply moving as they struggle to face life with dignity.