Teddy Roosevelt slept here. Or might have were he not the home-schooled, mountain-climbing, really-big-game-hunting, rough-riding-war-hero and boxer of a man he turned out to be. “Sleep when you die,” you can almost hear him bellowing. “I’m pressing on.”
Despite that missed opportunity, Roosevelt’s arrival at Aiden Lair makes the lodge’s present condition all the more lamentable.
The scene was New York’s Adirondack Mountains, September 1901. Assured that President William McKinley was recovering swimmingly after being shot in Buffalo, Vice President Roosevelt and family opted for a little R&R deep in the Empire State’s North Country. Among TR’s planned activities was nothing too taxing, mind you, only climbing the state’s highest peak, the 5,343-foot Mount Marcy.
After knocking out that molehill with a day hike, Roosevelt paused on the mountainside to enjoy what any red-blooded American would after such an accomplishment: a tin of ox tongue. That’s when a messenger on foot delivered the news that McKinley wasn’t doing so hot after all. The president was alive, but barely. Roosevelt set off at once for Buffalo where McKinley lay dying.
At Tahawus Lodge, where the Roosevelts had been staying, TR and a driver set off in an open buckboard wagon for the nearest train station, sixteen miles south along rutted, muddy roads. That journey required two legs with a pause in the middle to switch out the exhausted horses with fresh ones.
Somewhere along that first leg, the clock struck 2:15 a.m., and 250 miles southwest of that bumpy wagon ride, McKinley expired.
When Theodore Roosevelt showed up at Aiden Lair an hour later, he was President of the United States, leader of the free world. There was no entourage, no “How do you do, Mr. President?,” no bands playing “Hail to the Chief.” In fact, even though word of McKinley’s death had reached Aiden Lair by then, no one told Roosevelt. They thought he had enough on his mind already. Still, that brief layover was remarkable.
Roosevelt’s first act as president was a pit stop at Aiden Lair, a humble country lodge deep in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He stretched his legs, no doubt glad to be rid of the constant jostling for a spell. Those who greeted him urged him to stay. The night was pitch black, the roads near impassable. Dawn would break soon, they told him. Take a load off until then.
But the unsuspecting president would have none of it. The new team hitched up, Roosevelt and Aiden Lair proprietor Michael Cronin pressed on into the morning’s small hours, seven-and-a-half-miles south. There Roosevelt discovered his status and boarded a train, bound for Buffalo and the oath of office.
Aiden Lair’s brush with fate did little for its prosperity. Michael Cronin was hospitalized for personal issues, which an April 1914 New York Tribune article none-too-subtly announced with the headline “Roosevelt Guide Crazy.” The lodge burned a month later. Cronin’s family rebuilt Aiden Lair, but without his help. Michael Cronin, TR’s first presidential chauffeur, died soon afterward.
Aiden Lair soldiered on as a mountain lodge until the late 1950s. It has has been deteriorating ever since.
We don’t need to save every single spot where some famous character sneezed. Otherwise you get those laughable cliches like “George Washington slept here.” But that discretion will never completely salve the sting that results when unlikely places put on the map by quirks of historical circumstance pass into oblivion.
(Here is a link to Aiden Lair’s location on Google Maps.)