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An Open Letter to Lake George visitors

America's Historic Lakes Commentary

September 1, 1997
South Hero, VT

 Yesterday Lynn and I visited Lake George. Of course I had been here before. I had taken the kids to Story town and later the Great Escape. I had seen the hustle and bustle of one of New York's most popular tourist attractions. Certainly I knew of the dramatic events that took place here- The Battle of Lake George, Dieskau's defeat... the Battle of Fort William Henry. The massacre. The deployment of Abercromby's huge army 15,000 strong up the lake to take Ticonderoga in a pageant of martial spectacle. The ignominious retreat, a mighty army huddled upon her shores in defeat after suffering horrible losses. The return of the British to this place- under Jeffrey Amherst. This time to evict the French from the Continent for good.
   So many important events took place upon this ground. Hundreds, no, thousands- suffered and died in this place. The native, the Frenchman, the Englishman, the provincial. All were here. All suffered here. All rejoiced here. All experienced life at its best and its worst.
   I knew this.Steamships at Waterfront
   Lake George on Labor Day weekend 1997 was mobbed with people. Everyone was there to enjoy Summertime's last hurrah. The mountains surrounding the village were alive with the sights and sounds... the arcades, the miniature golfers, the steamboats... the parasails flowing in brilliant color above the water. The wax museum with Frankenstein out front waving to the passersby. The revelers spending their money, enjoying the last few days of warmth and sunshine in one of their favorite places. As they have for the past 100 or so years. What an incredible place, I thought.
   People love this place. Families, children, the groups of people. Many speaking strange and foreign tongues.
  Fort William Henry. The fort. Thanks to James Fenimore Cooper and a host of Hollywood producers, this is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions in eastern North America. You take a left at the Miniature golf course, past the big neon sign and it is right there.
   Filled with people- enjoying the fort before they go to the wax museum. Or the place where the diving horse performs. Or before they go shopping to stock up on 2.99 t-shirts for the folks back home.
   This is a historic place. Everyone knows it. Why, it is everywhere. The street names, the motel names, the occasional historic site marker.
   And yet I can't help but wonder. Do they know... do they really know what happened here?
   Are the visitors to the fort aware of the struggles that took place on this very same ground? Can they imagine life in the fort... the smallpox, the deprivation, the daily burials outside the walls? Do they know that it had been written that ..."The fort stinks...their necessary houses, kitchens, graves and places for slaughtering cattle, all mixed The Northwest Bastion of Fort William Henrythroughout the encampment?"  Do the masses of tourists walking the paths to the fort realize that they walk upon a burial ground? As one stands atop the Northwest bastion, is it really obvious that men were killed in this spot? Blown apart... by guns... French guns- just a few hundred yards to the west. Are they aware that many died on this bastion when their own cannons- heated to the point of bursting, exploded- taking the exhausted soldiers with them to destruction?
   And the visitors to the wax museum- do they know? Are they aware that where they now look at images of ghouls and historic figures that history itself was played out? That here were the French lines? Here the gallant Marquis de Montcalm quartered most of his 8,000 troops while the trenches were frantically dug, ever steadily toward that bastion that was to suffer defeat at his hands.
   Marker honoring 35th Regiment of Foot at Fort William HenryDo many of the visitors to this recreational mecca take the time to go a little further to the East? Past the recreated fort with its small museum and large dummies of "recreated" soldiers. Past the lovely steamships...across the long filled in "great morass" or swamp, to the high ground- to the Lake George Battleground park.
   I hope they do. I really hope they do.
   For only in this place can one still get the sense of what the real Lake George was like.
   Here among the trees, and the few monuments can one see the real Lake George. The site of the lesser known Battle of Lake George. Lesser known, but important, nonetheless. The ruins of Fort George- built later upon the same place. The Jogues memorial, the statue commemorating the battles. The scattered graves of unknown soldiers.

this plaque commemorates the memory of those officers, n.c.o.'s and men of the 35th regiment of foot 
(now the royal sussex regiment), their wives, and families, who lost their lives during the defence of fort william henry, and the subsequent massacre by hostile



   Please go to this place.  
   Walk the grassy field that once was the morass. Walk up the hill. Here is where 1600 British troops experienced the battle of Ft. William Henry. Here is where Colonel Munro received the French terms of surrender. Here is where hundreds died of smallpox and battle wounds. Here is where the terrible massacre occurred.
   Enjoy this lovely village. Have fun. Relax. Recreate.
   But please, remember that this is sacred ground. History was made here. This is indeed a very special place.

Jim Millard- Publisher
America's Historic Lakes
P.O. Box 262
South Hero, Vermont 05486
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South Hero, Vermont 05486-0262

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