In the Shadow of a Giant
Photo by Patti Fitz-Gerald
A couple years ago, I started researching my family’s history and had the good fortune to run across a website that had historical newspapers from New York State, all the way back into the 1800s. I was particularly interested in the story of my family’s business, Paleface Ski Center and Dude Ranch, established in the early 1960s by my paternal grandparents, Aaron Boylan Fitz-Gerald and his wife Jean Allen Fitz-Gerald. I dutifully clipped every citation I could find, and cataloged them by year. As I was doing that, I began to feel compelled to bring the family business back to life by writing a book.
It occurred to me to write up the facts, figures, dates and chronology and essentially write a “history book.” What I really wanted to do was re-create Paleface so that people could experience it the way it was experienced by my family, the people that worked there, the people that vacationed there, and the local community where Paleface was located, which is to say just on the town line between Wilmington and Jay, New York, just a short distance from Lake Placid. If I was “filthy stinking rich” I would buy the property and turn it back into what it once was, however I would need a time machine, which mankind has not yet invented.
I thought a lot about the best way to capture Paleface on the page. I could write a book as a memoir, that is, Paleface from my perspective, as I recall and imagine it was. From my perspective, to do so would make the book about me, and my intent is to make the book primarily about Paleface. Also, I was very young at the time. I wish I had a better memory to recall more details. Fortunately, I have been able to talk to many people who were older at the time, and who have better memories than I do.
Another option would be to write an historical novel. At The Harley School, in Rochester, New York, where I graduated from High School in 1980, I took an elective class, taught by a professor named Alan Sparrow. I think it was called History as a Novel. We read James Michener’s The Source, and as we were reading the novel, we researched the history within the book. To this day, I love the way a good historical novel can put me right in the setting with the characters I’m reading about. This is the option that I was drawn to.
Over the last couple of years, I have been keenly aware that the characters in this book are real people and happily, quite a few are still living. Those who have passed away have descendants who would not appreciate having me fictionalize their loved ones for dramatic effect. In a novel, part of the fun for a reader is experiencing conflict, and identifying with the inner feelings of characters in a book. I remain steadfastly dedicated to presenting the real characters in this book in a manner that they and their loved ones would be proud to read about, and willingly sacrifice the potential for the character portrayal to be deeper and richer. To make up for it, there are fictional characters in the book. I had lots of fun creating them, and some of them I fell in love with myself.
If I achieved what I set out to do, then you, the reader, will be transported into the heart of the Adirondacks, during the 1960s and early 1970s. This is primarily a story about a place. A family business. The entrepreneur’s family. The towns of Wilmington and Jay, New York, and to an extent also the neighboring towns as well. It is also a collection of brief stories about local heroes, and everyday people.
and Dude Ranch
This historical novel tells the story of a family-owned resort in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains and the struggle to thrive alongside the rugged, spectacular, and majestic Whiteface Mountain. It is the story of a dreamer, Boylan Fitz-Gerald, who fought Mother Nature, Father Time, and a dwindling checkbook balance and wound up creating a business with a lasting legacy—a business that left a deep imprint on the souls of many people. In the Shadow of a Giant is about a place, and also about an entrepreneur, his wife, their family and friends, the proprietors of other nearby Adirondack attractions, the communities of Wilmington and Jay, New York, and the local heroes who lived there. Take a trip back in time and enjoy a one-of-a-kind, vintage Adirondack vacation experience.
In the Shadow of a Giant