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Laura Rice holds some of the Crooked Canes club walking canes made by Paul Van Dyke, a former science teacher from Warrensburg.  Photo: Andy Flynn
Laura Rice holds some of the Crooked Canes club walking canes made by Paul Van Dyke, a former science teacher from Warrensburg. Photo: Andy Flynn

Adirondack Attic: the story of the Crooked Cane Club

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In the Adirondack Attic series with Andy Flynn, NCPR is collaborating with Andy and his sources at the Adirondack Museum and other historical associations and museums in the region to bring local history stories to air.

Andy Flynn visits the Adirondack Museum to view a selection of wooden canes made by former Warrensburg science teacher Paul Van Dyke and his participation in the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Crooked Cane Club.

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Reported by

Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

Adirondack Museum Chief Curator Laura Rice: [Van Dyke was] very active in the Adirondack Mountain Club, and sometime in his later years he [helped] organize the Crooked Canes club, which was a group of older ladies and gentlemen who were slowing down physically a little bit but really didn’t want to give up being out in the woods, hiking and being active. So they formed the Crooked Canes club.

Andy Flynn: Some of them look like typical walking sticks. I love the idea of Crooked Canes club. Is it still around?

LR: I believe so.

AF: Did he use all of these?

LR: I don’t know if he used them or if other members used them, but I know that he made them. I would assume that if you’re going to make a cane that you would go out and give it a test run before you passed it on to somebody else.

AF: Was Mr. Van Dyke a woodworker to create all these canes?

LR: I don’t think he was really a woodworker. He learned to do this from his father-in-law. I think his emphasis was really on being outside and hiking, and that’s what led to making these canes. He was very active in the Adirondack Mountain Club for many, many years and was one of the first people to organize their advanced winter badge program.

The advanced winter badge program was designed to recognize achievements in winter mountaineering, and he actually had an application for the advanced winter badge filled out for himself. He was awarded in 1954. And from 1949 to 1959, he climbed 20 peaks during the winter from Mount Marcy to South Dix. As it says in the bottom of his application, he had a sponsor who wrote, “Paul has my complete confidence in his use of himself and his equipment.”

AF: Let’s talk about some of these honors, the badges and awards from the Adirondack Mountain Club.

LR: Well the V-Badge was awarded for those who would climb at least five Adirondack peaks in winter that were at least 4,000 feet high and had to include Marcy or Algonquin. That’s what the V-Badge was for.

And then there was a winter leadership award, which required that you have a minimum of three seasons of winter climbing; that you’ve made winter ascents of 12 major peaks of 4,000 feet or more; have shown leadership, proper caution and discretion in situations where you were a leader; have camped out away from enclosed or heated shelter for three successive winter nights or on two occasions on two successive nights; and have passed the American Red Cross advanced first-aid course or have certification as an emergency medical technician. So it was quite a process and quite a recognition if you actually achieved the award of the badge.

AF: So Mr. Van Dyke, these canes don’t look awfully old. How old are we talking with the canes? And tell me a little more about him and when he did his hiking.

LR: The canes probably are from the late 20th century. He died in 1985 very suddenly, so it was just prior to that time that the Crooked Canes club came into being. That’s when these would have been used.

We received the collection from his widow, Marilyn, who very much wanted her husband to be remembered for all that he did. She said that she herself wasn’t much of a hiker or a camper, although she went with him a few times. But this was really Paul’s passion. This is where he really found himself, out in the woods and hiking and camping with people of like mind.

AF: You mentioned he died in 1985. How old was he?

LR: He was 60 or 61, so not very old. He was still a young man when that happened. And it was quite a shock apparently to his friends and colleagues at the Adirondack Mountain Club.

AF: Did he live in Warrensburg? You had mentioned that he was a science teacher there.

LR: He did live in Warrensburg. He was born not too far away in Keuka Park in New York. He went to Cornell. That’s where he received his education and was all over the Adirondacks as a hiker.

AF: You find that a lot. People from outside the Adirondacks discover these mountains and then just move here.

LR: There’s something about this place, I think, that really gets into your blood, and people who are into the hiking really, really take it to heart. And it just becomes a way of life.

AF: What do these canes tell you about the Adirondacks, and why are these important to have here?

LR: I think they’re important because it demonstrates some of that passion, the attachment people have from being in nature regardless of their physical condition. I think there’s something really wonderful about that self-deprecating humor of the Crooked Canes club and the desire not to lose something that’s so important.

AF: Sometimes I see people going into the trailhead, into the woods, and the first stick they find on the ground, they will pick up, and that’s their stick for the hike.

LR: Exactly. And sometimes when you’re going in, you see this pile that somebody’s left for other people, which I think is really nice.

This program is supported by Hungry Bear Publishing, home of the Adirondack Attic book series.

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