February 4th marks a very important day in the history of the Adirondacks. Eighty years ago today, the 3rd Winter Olympic Games opened in Lake Placid, NY. This momentous occasion was the first winter games held in the US and made Lake Placid a household name.
Timing is Everything
Anyone who remembers their history classes can tell you that 1932 was not the happiest of times. The great depression was taking its toll on the public which prevented then President Herbert Hoover from leaving Washington to attend. Facing the difficulty of raising money to host an international event in the face of an economic crisis Dr. Godfrey Dewey of the Lake Placid Club, the man responsible for bringing the games to Lake Placid, donated his own family land for the construction of the bobsled track. To understand the expense of such an event, the indoor skating arena supposedly cost a quarter of a million dollars. The town of Lake Placid got behind the decision and even enacted a tax to support development in preparation of the games.
Perhaps the most recognizable name in attendance of the games was Franklin Roosevelt.
As Governor of New York, he opened the games since the President could not attend. He would go on later in the year to become President himself. His wife Eleanor also made a remarkable appearance by accepting an invitation opening day for a run in the bobsled. Bobsledding can be quite dangerous, and a crash would have left a permanent scar on the games. A main draw to the games came all the way from Norway. Figure skater Sonja Henie revolutionized the sport at the 1928 games with her costumed and choreographed performances. Her performance was so popular that she may have been the reason for the extra attention in the building of the skating arena.
Other prominent athletes participating were William Fiske as bobsled driver and Irving Jaffee on speed skate. Some accounts say that Jaffee leapt across the finish line it was so close a race while others claim he fell from rushing but maintained his lead. My personal favorite has to be Eddie Eagan, who won his second gold medal. What makes Eddie remarkable is the fact that he remains the only athlete to win a gold medal in both the summer and winter games. Eddie’s first metal was at the summer games in Antwerp (1920) as a boxer. Furthering this accomplishment is the fact that Eddie apparently had never been in a bobsled prior to three weeks before the event. I believe that Eagan will likely maintain this honor given that every sport has far more competitors nowadays. Interestingly enough, a hockey team from McGill University defeated both the Canadian and USA national teams, gold and silver medal winners respectively.
The real winner of the games was Lake Placid itself. Though the financial cost was profound, the publicity was immense. NBC, just 6 years old, as well as CBS broadcasted accounts of the games by radio. It was even brought to Europe by shortwave radio out of Schenectady, NY. People across America could tune in and hear of exciting winter activities, and Lake Placid where they could be experienced. While the financial cost of the games far outweighed the profits, the long term effect lies not in monetary value.
George Hicks image from The Official Report, all others from Don Williams
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