The Week: What Caught Our Eye

December 21, 2019

A red front door adorned with a Christmas wreathMerry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus and Happy Kwanzaa, everybody! (Eric Potter)

ALL DOWNHILL AT THE MALL: You no longer have to go to Dubai. Within sight of the Manhattan skyline, North America’s first indoor ski center is now open. It’s Big Snow America in the Meadowlands, 16 stories tall with a 1,000-foot run and even a chairlift for year-round skiing and snowboarding. It’s part of a ginormous mall that, at full buildout, is projected to include 450 stores and restaurants and 15 entertainment options, including a water park, a Nickelodeon Universe, a Legoland Discovery Center, a regulation ice rink, and an aquarium.

UNIVERSAL APPEAL: A blazing new star in the Capital Region’s cultural constellation is born. Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs will open Saturday, February 29, under the leadership of Teddy Foster with a programming lineup that includes Rosanne Cash, Chris Botti and the Steep Canyon Rangers. UPH was built in 1871 as a Methodist Church and over the years hosted notable speakers including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as well as Frederick Douglass and William Jennings Bryan. The building deteriorated and was condemned in 2000, but a community effort preserved what will now become a year-round performance venue that’s part of the Proctor’s Collaborative.

TREES THAT MADE LIFE POSSIBLE: In this season of trees, the oldest forest on the planet has been discovered in the Catskills town of Cairo, N.Y., in, appropriately, Greene County. The trees’  fossilized woody roots are contained in rocks believed to be 385 million years old. For years, scientists have been focused on a quarry in Cairo, not far from Gilboa where, in the 19th century, researchers discovered a fossil forest containing 382-million-year-old specimens. The woody trees of Cairo were innovators – they had leaves that could produce shade and a big root system, something that did not exist before, and they helped lock up carbon dioxide, leading to the development of the atmosphere we know today.

AN FDR FIR: Franklin Roosevelt became interested in forestry on his 1905 honeymoon to Europe. (Evidently, not much else was going on.)  Six years later, back in the Hudson Valley, he cleared some overgrown family-owned farmland and planted trees along the Hudson River. That’s how the Presidential Christmas Tree Farm got its start. For starters, FDR ordered 5,000 white pine and 1,000 Norway spruce, Scotch pine and red pine seedlings. Over his lifetime, he planted a half-million trees on the property, selling them at Christmastime for between 50 cents and $3.

OH, TANNENBAUM! President Roosevelt could have made it big in tree biz. Today, he could unload a Frasier Fir South of Houston Street for $6,500.

Logo of Adirondack mountains during daytime and nighttime, with Hamlets to Huts name in betweenAdirondack Hamlet to Huts  promotional materials created by Sidekick Creative

A BACKCOUNTRY HUTEL: The hut-to-hut system of hiking, popular in Europe, has not taken off in the States. That’s about to change in a big way in the Adirondacks. Imagine being able to leave your tent, the heavy pack and the gear at home and hike, bike, paddle or ski the Adirondacks by day, eating in local restaurants and sleeping in a comfortable bed at night. Adirondack Hamlets to Huts is coming, with a reservation system, customized maps, connecting trails, and cabins, BnBs and even yurts.

BE THE LIGHT:  For more than 100 years across 14 counties of Upstate New York, Catholic Charities has been a warm, welcoming light in the lonely night for local people in need regardless of creed. This holiday season you can be the light for people like Greg, who suffered a stroke on Christmas. With rising medical bills, two teenagers to feed, and his wife taking a leave from work to serve as his caregiver, his family couldn’t make ends meet. Catholic Charities stepped in with emergency assistance. In your holiday giving this year, we hope you will remember Catholic Charities and give the gift of hope

A HEADS-UP IDEA: For children with autism and adults with PTSD, the loud, sudden noises, bright, flashing lights and screaming crowds of a college basketball game can create an overwhelming and unpleasant experience. Last year, Siena College decided to try to make watching a game more comfortable. They turned down the lights and the sound at the first sensory-awareness, autism-friendly game and embraced fans who otherwise might never have been able to attend one. They’re doing it again Dec. 29 when the Saints play The College of the Holy Cross.

INNVENIRE IN LUCEM SCIENTIAM: RPI researchers place bright, blueish lights in the darkened hallways and rooms of long-term care facilities, and patients are notably less agitated and depressed and are eating, sleeping and behaving better. Could light prescriptions make people happier and healthier and perhaps relieve Alzheimer’s symptoms?

CHAMPION INDEED:  Google Marylou and you will find her story. Marylou Whitney, of course, the actress, socialite, businesswoman and philanthropist who died in July. Saratoga Living’s tasteful year-end tribute to Mrs. Whitney as Saratoga Springs’ greatest champion made a splash not only in Saratoga Springs but in Palm Beach, Florida, as well where the Palm Beach Daily News featured the story on its own front page. A respected bold-faced name is a bold-faced name forever.

SKIDMORE’S SELECTION: In 116 years, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs has had only seven presidents. Last week, Dr. Marc C. Conner, an author and warrior for the liberal arts and diversity, was named the eighth leader of the school founded by Lucy Skidmore Scribner, widow of the publishing icon, who disliked frivolous parties, horseracing and gambling but still found the charms of Saratoga Springs irresistible.

JERRY GIVES THE POST THE POOP: You want a smart read on Upstate New York politics? Follow The Washington Post to Poopie’s Restaurant in Glens Falls (4.5 stars on Yelp and TripAdvisor) where Jerry DiManno serves up the keen political insight that 43 years behind the counter instills. And be sure to order the soup and a one and a half with sautéed onions.

FOR FAKES’ SAKE: We all claim to prefer authenticity, but perhaps there are limits. Consider museum displays of dead animals. Or ancient artifacts that would be destroyed if removed from caves. Do visitors really prefer the smelly, dripping carcass to a good model? A new book probes the fine line between real and genuine fake.


WHITE AND BLACK: When protesters with automatic weapons entered his classroom, William S. McFeely stared them down, armed with chalk. But he was best known for his biographies of Ulysses Grant and Frederick Douglass and as a gifted and courageous white professor of black history. Of Grant, he wrote: “I am convinced that Ulysses Grant had no organic, artistic or intellectual specialness. He did have limited though by no means inconsequential talents to apply to whatever truly engaged his attention. The only problem was that until he was nearly 40, no job he liked had come his way — and so he became general and president because he could find nothing better to do.”

FELIX THE FIXER: In the Spring of 1975, New York City was teetering on the verge of insolvency. The city had overspent for decades and Wall Street, fed up with the city’s accounting gimmicks, cut off credit. Enter Felix G. Rohatyn, the pre-eminent Lazard financier who for two decades henceforth ruled over the city’s spending as unelected official. He is in many ways the man who saved New York.

A TITAN: Herman Boone was told in 1969 that Williamston, N.C., was not ready for a black head football coach. So, Mr. Boone resigned and found another coaching job at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.  Two years later, when the three public high schools in Alexandria merged, he became head coach, chosen over a white coach with more experience.  Somehow, the two coaches found a way to work it out, and together they led the football team to its first state championship. Remember the Titans?


KNOCK THREE TIMES, ASK FOR JAKE: Secret bars serving giggle water? Who knew there were still speakeasies hiding in plain sight in the Hudson Valley? You will need the password.

ICE BARS ON TAP: Why fight winter when you can civilize it with a festive cocktail and a nice fire? Across Upstate New York, it’s almost ice bar season. There’s never been a better reason to dig out those ear flaps and toe warmers.

TURNING TOWARD THE SUN: A new community solar farm opens in Saratoga County. It’s one of the largest in New York State. The subscribers earn discounts on their utility bills and the project is already fully subscribed.

TROLLING OR PATROLLING? Social media fakery claims the careers of two Burlington, VT, police chiefs in two days.

MORE FAVORITES: As we’ve compiled our favorites here over the past several weeks, our readers have been helpfully reminding us of things we loved but overlooked. We love Pentatonix, (and think they should put out summer album called Gin and Pentatonix), anything Ken Burns produces (most recently the Country Music series), Mel Brooks movies, the Mets (everybody loves the ’69 Amazins), Mallomars and Tootsie Rolls.


"I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year." 
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


BEST SANTA LETTERS EVER: Santa, make sure the pony is under the tree this year, or there will be consequences … and other gems from the North Pole mail bag.

PLEASE SHARE: Feel free to pass this along to your friends and colleagues.

THANK YOU to our contributors: John Brodt, Bill Richmond, Bill Callen, Lisa Fenwick, Colleen Potter, Tina Suhocki, Tara Hutchins, John Behan, Matt Behan and Claire P. Tuttle.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

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