Chasing a Barrel of China

One night forty years ago, local Raquette Laker Jim Regan told this story to my father and my Uncle Mike as they sat around the stone fireplace between the red cabin and the lean-to where I was falling asleep.

Mr. Reynolds lived in that cabin over there with his wife and kids for a whole year. During that time, in the summer of 1938, he guided for a wealthy English gentleman, a friend of your grandfather [George Hornell Thacher Jr.]. Months after the man returned to England, Mr. Reynolds received a wooden barrel filled with good English china. The story goes that Mr. Reynolds, after one too many drinks, was angered that his payment came in the form of this useless luxury. He raised the barrel above his head and tossed it as far as he could off the dock into the Needles Channel, and that china still sits somewhere at the bottom of the lake.

A good yarn to be sure, but there is always a grain of truth to every tale. Who might my great grandfather have known in England? Finding no family correspondence that speaks of friends across the pond, I turned to the newspaper archives. I got a royal surprise when the first connection jumped off the page of the October 16, 1860 edition of the Albany Argus.

Albany Argus October 16, 1860

Albany Argus October 16, 1860

Nineteen-year-old Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales, travelling incognito as Lord Renfrew, did indeed accept my great-great-grandfather’s invitation to host his visit to Albany in 1860. The Prince’s trip marked the first time a member of the British Royal family had stepped foot on American soil since before the Revolution.

Lord Renfrew

Lord Renfrew later became King Edward VII, but could this one connection 78 years earlier possibly relate to our family’s English gentleman friend? I thought not, until I unearthed this in the newspaper archives of the Albany Knickerbocker News.

JBT2 invitation

In 1938, Mayor John Boyd Thacher 2nd invited King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to visit Albany during their 1939 tour of the U.S. and Canada. Could it be that JBT2 developed a connection with a member of the royal family’s staff during the planning of this event? Could someone of nobility have been the family’s English friend? Did royalty visit Indian Point?

This theory unraveled when I learned two things.   First, King George VI did not accept the invitation to make an extended stop in Albany during his tour. Also, I tracked down Warren Reynolds who was a five-year-old boy when he and his family lived in our red, one room cabin.   Warren filled in some holes in the story.

It was not 1938 when his father had guided for “an” English gentleman. It was in fact in the mid 1920s and “the English gentleman” was actually two teenage boys sent to Raquette Lake from England by their wealthy father. One boy did not enjoy the wilds and returned after a short time, but the other stayed for almost two months. That boy came back as a young man with his wife in the summer of 1938. Warren went with his father to visit the couple at their campsite at Brown’s Tract Pond.

Warren believes that it might have been this young man who sent the barrel of china. He vaguely remembers his parents arguing about the china, but he is adamant that his father would not have tossed the barrel into the lake.   Perhaps we will never know the final resting place of the china, but a few years ago, my cousin Mike FitzPatrick did find an intact, uniquely colored oval bowl of English china buried in the family trash heap about a hundred feet into the woods behind the cabin.

Chasing down this barrel of china revealed one last twist. Jim Regan’s knowledge of this story most likely came from his very good friend George Reynolds Jr., Warren’s older brother.   In fact, Jim Regan would never have been able to spin this tale over the campfire had Warren’s brother George Jr. not spent the summer of 1938 at Raquette Lake. Jim’s daughter Joan assures me that the John in this article below is indeed her father, owing the misprint to Jim’s father being named John.

Syracuse Journal August 16, 1938

Syracuse Journal August 16, 1938

 

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