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SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections Mystery Archives Series

Episode Four: Foggy Pharmacological Breakdown

I had contacts deep in Texas. People I knew from another time and place. Good people, from back in the day. Surprised? Listen, I haven't always had the glam job of Inspector in the Special Collections archives.

No my friend, there was a time when as a young buck I rode shotgun, so to speak, for some highfalutin' archeologists on a top-secret dig west of the Pecos, in the throbbing heat of the Chihuahuan Desert. I can tell you that those archeology gals were more than passing smart, especially when it came to piecing together prodigious puzzles presented by pretty painted potsherds.

I don't mind admitting that I learned a thing or two from them in the investigation biz. Had fun, too. But one day the ol' wanderlust kicked back into overdrive, and I had to tell them adiós. Well, didn't that just make me as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party?

Anyway, the point is, I was staring through the mists of time one day in the company of a rather foggy photo from the archives, when all of a sudden I remembered a friend down sunny Tejas way. A man who just happens to be the great-great-great grandson of Willis Mould.

Who's Willis Mould? I thought you'd never ask.

Stores of Uncertainty

The faded image depicted the interior of some kind of store. Only an uncertain clue was handwritten on the back of the photo: “Keeseville?” Maybe. Maybe not. I took out Betsy - you remeber Betsy, my pearl-handled six-way diamond-polished magnifying glass - for a closer look. Rows of old-style apothecary jars on the shelves screamed pharmacy.

I recalled that there were a couple of drugstores in Keeseville back in the late 1800s. One was run by a Mr. F.H. Hopkins, beginning in 1876. And who do you think ran the other one? That's right: Willis Mould. Hey, you're pretty quick on the uptake.

Now Willis Mould had bought-out an older store in 1857, and he took on his son, H.M. Mould, as a partner in 1869. Both of the old pharmacies had been on Front Street. Could this image be one of them? It was time to get in touch with my Mould faimily contact in Texas. I knew he had a strong interest in the family’s genealogical history. 

When I emailed him to see if he might have any information about his ancestor’s business, he sent back a scan of a worn sepia trade card  showing the interior of the Mould drug and book store at a time when it was run by Willis's son, H.M. There was no date, but it was the same store alright. Only now it had an elaborate soda fountain installed in the center!  In those days druggists would serve-up carbonated soft drinks at the fountain by dispensing syrup into chilled soda water.

I looked back at the store photo, shifting Betsy so as to zone-in on what appeared to be some kind of poster in the center. It was too faint to make out. But using available Special Collections technology, it was a cinch to make a high-res scan of that area of the photo. I pushed the contrast to extreme, just the way I learned to do it with those extreme archeology professors back in potsherd days.

Yes folks, we had a winner. Only wish I could get this lucky a little more often with the ponies. But hey, what am I saying? Luck ain't got nothin' to do with it.

It turned out to be a poster ad for a Lake Champlain excursion on the steamship Williams, slated to dock near Ausable Chasm for an opera performance in Keeseville on June 21, 1889. I now had my place, my store name, and a date. Trifecta!

What else could I find out? I wondered. As a gift to Special Collections, my pal in Texas had also sent me scans of more than 100 studio portraits of individuals from an old family album. One of them was Fred O. Bailey, a clerk in the Mould drugstore. Close examination  - Oh Betsy, come hither - confirmed that the man in the back left corner of the photo was indeed our fine friend Fred!

Mr. Mould number two

Yeah, that was good news. But what about the store owner, H. M. Mould? 

Turns out, when the Special Collections Archivist did a search, she was able to dig out two other photos from the College’s vast and diverse repository. One was of Henry M. Mould in 1890, when he was probably in his 50s. Sure enough, there he was in the photo, far left, posed with other veterans of the Civil War at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion at Willsboro Point. History records that he served two years as a 2nd lieutenant in Company K of the 118th New York Regiment, which his father Willis had helped to organize.

The other photo the Archivist found showed the exterior of the Mould drugstore in Keeseville in the 1870s, seen in a stereoview taken by G.W. Baldwin. The store was at the north end (right in the photo) of a two-story complex that Willis Mould had built in 1868. Baldwin was one of our region’s great 19th-century photographers. His picture studio initially was upstairs above the Mould drugstore. 

Mystery solved, I strode out through the Special Collections doors in time to catch the sun slipping below the Adirondack horizon. I thought about how so long ago I'd done some slipping away myself, from those smart archeologist ladies in the Chihuahuan Desert. I wondered whatever became of them. Maybe I'll look them up sometime, on some fine day when there are no more mysteries to solve here in the archives.

Hey - who am I kiddin'? In the archives, a new mystery is born every day.

View more Mystery Archives episodes

Contact Special Collections at Feinberg Library

Debra Kimok
Special Collections Librarian
132 Feinberg Library
(518) 564-5206

Michael Burgess
Special Collections Associate
132 Feinberg Library
(518) 564-5206