Great camp devastation
The Adirondacks are an amazing part of New York’s history. They are so intricate, and most would argue there is no comparable place to this beautiful forest preserve. The building of Great Camps during the 1880s and 1920s confirm the desire to escape to the Adirondacks for rest and relaxation. The word vacation is believed to have originated when people would “vacate” the hot city to head to their camps. Thus, creating the adjective of vacationing.
Great Camp Sagamore, White Pine Camp, The Point, and Camp Santanoni are just several of the many camps that were once occupied regularly in the Adirondacks. However, each camp is so different from the next. Camp Santanoni is what we will focus on during this journey.
The day was gorgeous as usual here in the mountains. No matter the season, it always seems like a fabulous day. We even had a few warm days in October. That was our cue to explore the Great Camp and the stories behind it. I had heard a few stories of the property but the one that wouldn’t leave my mind was that of 8-year-old Douglas Legg.
Camp construction began in 1891 by a wealthy banker from Albany, Robert Pruyn. Decades later the property was acquired by the Melvin family in 1953. This camp was where the extended family would gather during the summer to enjoy the crisp mountain air. They enjoyed many wonderful family memories, unfortunately the last memory of this place left them empty.
On a beautiful summer day in June of 1971 the family decided to take a trek into the woods to enjoy their property. They began hiking and encountered patches of poison ivy. Little Douglas Legg wasn’t properly dressed to trek through the forest in his shorts. His uncle instructed him to return to the camp to change. His brother and cousin reported seeing him pass them approximately 50-60 yards away from the main lodge. That was the last time anyone ever saw Dougie.
The search is on
The search began immediately that night, June 10, 1971. The news spread fast that little Dougie had gone missing. This search started with around 30 people the first night. Unfortunately, the search continued as Dougie wasn’t found. The days went quickly and the search crew expanded rapidly each day. There were locals, college kids, camp counselors, employees of the NY Conservation Department, and even the U.S. Air Force overhead. They had hounds, infra-red technology, and hundreds of people on the ground.
The days went on with a few moments where hope was restored in the finding of Dougie; A hound had tracked his scent, but it was lost at the edge of a pond. The pond was drained and they came up empty-handed. Dougie was still missing and hope was fading. The weather was inconvenient as the rain kept interrupting the search. The danger of the search grew as mucky bogs and sinkholes started appearing and putting searchers in harm's way.
The last true trace of Dougie was a set of shoe prints picked up by a bloodhound — however, again, the rain washed away the scent. The search continued for weeks on end, with less and less evidence of Douglas being found. The Melvin family had hired their own group of professionals from California to search, but they were also unsuccessful in their endeavors.
The search was called off by state police six weeks later. By that time, they believe that 80 square miles were covered in the search for Douglas. This case remains a tragic and upsetting topic for this beautiful area.
The unsolved mystery of Douglas Legg did, however, assist in improving the way searches were conducted in the Adirondack region. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is now in charge of search and rescue missions in the wilderness areas of NY.
Leads to false hope
The case has stayed open since the day Douglas Legg disappeared. There have only been two reported stories. First, a woman swore her relative had taken part in the disappearance of Dougie; however, she was found to be a psychiatric patient.
The other story is intriguing and quite possibly could have aided in the finding of Dougie if it was brought to authorities. This story unfortunately wasn’t told until 20 years after it occurred, when a hunter heard about the story of Douglas and felt compelled to speak with authorities. He had been hunting near Newcomb Lake and stumbled over what he believed to be a small skeleton and skull. He drove all the way from Montana to show them where this had occurred. At the time this hunter was on leave from the Navy and didn’t want to get in trouble for where he was, so he never reported the incident. Unfortunately, 20 years later they found nothing at this location.
I found this case very heart wrenching and upsetting. I decided to go check out Camp Santanoni for myself with my husband. The entire way there I couldn’t stop thinking of the many people affected by Douglas Legg’s disappearance. I can’t even imagine if this happened in my life. His family, friends, and community worked so hard to try and find and save him.
Stuck in the moment
We rented bikes from High Peaks Cyclery as we were traveling from Lake Placid for a day trip. On the way down the foliage was beautiful and the drive relaxing. As we pulled into the parking area you could immediately see the remains of the Great Camp. We hopped on our bikes and cycled towards the Main Lodge. As we passed the Gate Lodge, Farm Manager’s House, barn ruins, Creamery and much more it was almost as if time had stood still. The history behind this land is amazing. The leisurely bike ride went on for 5 miles until we reached the Main Lodge.
When we reached the lodge it was a beautiful structure. We started walking around and exploring the areas that were unlocked for the public. While walking through I tried to imagine the days when Douglas Legg roamed the house and surrounding area. I couldn’t help but feel as though his presence was still at this beautiful Great Camp. Lunch quickly approached and we decided to set up on the boat launch and take a moment to relax and refuel for the bike ride back. I sat overlooking Newcomb Lake and still couldn’t believe that the possible 1,000 people that searched this area could not find Dougie.
This unsolved mystery, although miserable, is a huge part of Camp Santanoni. I must say I will always think of the little boy and his disappearance when thinking of this area. I hope that some day this case is able to be closed and that those who mourn may finally feel at peace. Little Douglas did leave a legacy, however; because of him the search and rescue missions in the Adirondacks are now organized and efficient.
This week in ADK thrills and chills: