MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Uncle Harry


By Jim Bishop.

A watercolor painting hangs in our T.V. room that everyone has always referred to as “The Sheik”. It was painted by my maternal grandmother’s sister, Bess Hayes, on January 16th, 1896. Family members possess other watercolors she painted. Most are still-lifes of flowers and other objects. I’ve always been curious how living her entire life in semi-rural Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania she chose the sheik as a subject matter. Bess was deaf and grandma said she lost her hearing from infectious meningitis that swept through her senior year high school class. Only Bess and one other student survived the epidemic. I was curious if the story was true and tried googling everything I could think of, but have been able to come up with any corroborating stories.


This got me thinking about other relatives and I remembered that grandma’s brother Harry wrote for the paper in Altoona, PA. A quick Google of him turned up a few interesting things. I’ve always been curious about Harry for a couple of reasons. The year before I was born, Harry passed away at age 85. To honor his memory, I was given the middle name of Harry. Second, my grandmother, mother and aunts would frequently say that I was just like Harry. This comment was most frequently made when I mentioned something about nature, plants or hiking. I never knew exactly what they meant, but figured Harry too must have had an interest in anything involving the natural world. They said he loved hiking the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania.

One of the first things I found online was that Harry was birder, or least participated in the Audubon Christmas Census of Birds in 1917 and 1918. He was also concerned about overhunting of birds and other native animals. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, an officer in the Alpine Club and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Folk Lore Society.

However, the most interesting was that he had authored a 1923 booklet entitled “On Adirondack Trails” reprinted from the Altoona Tribune. It was the account of the trip he took to hike the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. Much to my surprise there were several copies of the booklet available for purchase online, so I ordered one.


In September of 1922, Harry Price, Harry McGraw, and Harry Kinch of central Pennsylvania traveled to Lake Placid NY and met Scott Wood, “a six-foot product of the Adirondacks” and Tom Ladd, a “young man of iron nerve, muscles like steel and as sure footed as mountain goats” for a week long hike to the top of the 5 of the 42 “very high peaks” of the Adirondacks. The highest peak on their hike was Marcy at 5344 feet, the tallest of the Adirondacks. Harry notes that at the time only 14 of the peaks had trails and many had no record of being climbed.

Much of the story is about the hike, the natural scenery, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the rocks and birds. He compared the vast and untouched evergreen forests to the already heavily logged deciduous forests of the frequently clear-cut Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. The most detailed description of plants in the booklet is:

“Much to our surprise, was found growing from a small spit in the rock, a lone bluet, the humble little blue flower looking very much out of place on the great pyramid of stone. Wild flowers grow in great profusion in the valleys in spring and summer. We saw gentian blooming in the lowlands and found Labrador tea and modest little cloud berry. One thing that particularly attracts the attention of the traveler in these mountains is the size and beauty of the mountain ash, that grows much larger in this section, the branches being covered with great masses of red berries that glow from the walls of verdure like sheets of flame. A sprig of plant known as strawberry blight, was found the first day of our visit near Lake Placid. The stem of this plant is covered with red berries that resemble wild strawberries on short peduncles. It is very rare.”


One other thing of note, Harry never married. However, with nearly ever mention of Harry Price, I also found mention of Harry A. McGraw. Mr. McGraw was a “lover of the out-of-doors…with a special emphasis on birds”. I believe they would have called the two Harrys committed bachelors or life-time companions. My 93 year old aunt says you never saw one without the other.

Today, I am in possession of Uncle Harry’s shaving mug, the recently acquired booklet of the Adirondack hike and his love of nature and the out-of-doors.


  

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