SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections Mystery Archives Series
Episode Five: Postcard in Paradise Plattsburgh
I love a parade. Hey, who doesn't? So when I noticed Gumshoe Mike punctiliously pondering a primitive paper postcard portraying a parade, my curiosity was piqued.
"You'll go blind, kid," I said, reaching into my trench coat and slipping out my trusty pearl-handled six-way diamond-polished magnifying glass. "Here, take ol' Betsy. She'll help you see straight."
Gumshoe Mike rubbed his eyes and held the card to the light. No stamp. That meant no easy way to find a date and place. The image depicted a group of men in military uniforms posed along the curb of a residential street. Well dressed ladies looked on from the porches of the houses behind them, with other folks, including children, standing and reclining nearby. These people were waiting for something to happen. Where was this place?
"Sorry, Inspector, but I think we need to go beyond Betsy on this job. We need digital magnification."
The kid was right. After all, didn't I teach him my methods? We fired up the machinery and got to work.
Magnification revealed words on a tall wooden sign that was partly obscured by people. All we could make out was...
Champlain Valley Sta…
-G.F. Hutchinson Pro…
-Home Of- …rmark | Govern.
It was enough to tell us that we were somewhere in the Champlain Valley. Gumshoe Mike quickly dove into the Northern New York Historical Newspapers website and old business directories in search of the mysterious G.F. Hutchinson. Was he a Proprietor of a business in the Champlain Valley?
It didn’t take long to discover that Hutchinson was a breeder and seller of thoroughbred race horses in Plattsburgh at least as early as 1887. Newspaper articles revealed that Hutchinson opened his new Champlain Valley Stables on Oak Street in Plattsburgh early in 1889.
Now we were really excited. But was the sign on the fence actually at the Oak St. location, or elsewhere?
Quick as you could say Holly Heller-Ross, Gumshoe Mike had out the old city atlas of Plattsburgh, dating to 1916.
"Look here, Inspector. These maps show Hutchinson’s stable area at 102 Oak St."
"We gotta corroborate that location, kid. See the number on this house on the right? It's an 8—a perfect match with one of the two houses in the atlas shown at 98 and 100 Oak St. That fence sign is exactly at the entrance to the stables!"
"We still need a date, Inspector. There's no stamp, but the particular AZO stamp box design on this card can only mean we're looking at Kodak Professional AZO photo paper. Each corner of this stamp box contains an upward-pointing triangle. That was known to have been used only from 1904 to 1918."
Yeah, the kid was good alright. He knew my methods—and then some.
"Hmm. We need more precision in the dating department. Take another look at that sign on the Champlain Valley Stables fence. Parts of two words under “Home Of” are missing."
Gumshoe Mike spun around to his computer and began sifting through dozens of additional newspaper articles and ads for Hutchinson’s horse breeding.
"Got it, Inspector. Here are the full words. Turns out that Champlain Valley Stables were once the home of two of Hutchinson’s prize race horses, “Watermark” and “Government Bond.” He'd sold these two thoroughbreds at auction on May 27, 1913. The time frame for our photo is now narrowed to between 1904 and 1913!
"Good work, kid. Now check your primary subjects—those uniformed soldiers. What are they doing there? Are they ready to march in the parade?"
"Well, Inspector, we know they're not young military recruits. Those uniforms and... umm, those aging faces—"
"—Watch yourself there, kid."
"...they look like veterans of a previous era. I recall seeing a photo in the archives that showed infantry officers posed at Plattsburgh Barracks prior to being sent to Cuba in 1898 to participate in the Spanish-American War. Except for the officers’ insignia, their uniforms were identical to those of these soldiers. Those uniforms were only used for commissioned officers—the men in this postcard are enlistees and non-commissioned officers. You can tell by the ranks on their arm chevrons. But we still don't know what parade in Plattsburgh between 1904 and 1913 could have involved these men."
I put ol' Betsy back in my trench coat pocket and reached out to touch Gumshoe Mike's shoulder.
"Kid, some mysteries stay mysteries. C'mon, you look like you could use some liquid refreshment. My treat. We've got some things to talk about."
"Let me guess, Inspector. Your methods?"
"Never guess, kid. Never guess."
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