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Sara the Snowy Owl 2008

Sara's Gift
Sara the Snowy Owl parade
photo by Andy Flynn

Sara the Snowy Owl Fable - 2008

Sara's Gift

Steam puffed from the train that waited for it's 'freight' to be loaded on. It was late at night, the last run out of the village.

The train that was waiting to leave, was one of the two railroad companies that were serving Saranac Lake in 1915. Between the Delaware and Hudson and the Chateaugay Railroads there were 18 to 20 passenger trains a day.

Saranac lake was a prosperous community and for most it was happy times. Especially on the first day of February 1915. Winter Carnival would start the next day and run until Thursday. There were so many events it was a wonder they all could fit into a three-day event.

The Ice Palace was all set. To the locals of course, it was referred to as Sara's House as much as it was called the Ice Palace. Ever since Sara the Snowy Owl had been visiting Saranac Lake, the villagers had built her a shelter with the blocks of ice harvested from Lake Flower. As long as it was cold enough — and it was always cold enough — the hardly souls of the small town could make extra money by cutting and storing blocks of ice. These blocks would then be used in the summer. People would put ice in their ice boxes to keep their perishables chilled.

Since no one needed the blocks of ice in February, why not make a home for their feathery friend. The Snowy Owl would have been content with a couple walls to block the wind, but the Ice Palace Workers 101 worked hard to make a Palace that glistened in the sun and protected the owl at night.

Katee would help with the creation Sara's home. Though she never actually mashed the slush that was the mortar or moved the blocks of ice around, she helped in smaller ways to make sure the IPW 101 were content. She often brought them vacuum flasks of coffee, so they could warm up and kept awake during the long hours of moving around frozen water. She would also contact the newspaper to put out notices for volunteers.

Since 1884, most of the people who came to Saranac Lake were like Katee, coming for treatment of TB or 'consumption' as her parents called it. It was in '84 that Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau started his curing cottage and the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium. (No one knew it at the time, but the 1915 Winter Carnival was going to be the last winter festival for Dr. Trudeau. His productive life would end later that year — also a victim to TB. In his honor the ACS would become the "Trudeau Sanatorium.")

Many other visitors had been attracted to the little village that the Saranac River flowed through, just like Sara the Snowy Owl. During the summer there were many famous people who had made Saranac Lake a fashionable resort.

It was one of those famous visitors who came to Saranac Lake that made the name famous enough for Katee's family to know of the village. In 1887-1888, Robert Louis Stevenson wintered in Saranac Lake. So even before the first Winter Carnival in 1898, people knew about the hospitable village up north. Sara's first trip was in 1899 when the tradition of building an ice-block residence began.

Katee waited at the Union Depot for the last train to depart. She didn't know many of the people on the train and they could not wave back, but she felt someone should say goodbye. The last train of the day transported the people who did not have a successful cure in Saranac Lake. On this day it seemed even sadder, since it was the day before Winter Carnival.

"Why are you here, and so sad" asked Sara and Katee jumped so high you would have thought the girl could fly as easily as Sara.

"You startled me," Katee said as she leaped into the warm folds of Sara's hug. "We have been looking for you for the last couple days. The Palace is all ready for you."

Sara told her that she had flown by the Ice Palace and it was as beautiful as ever. Adding that even though she was tired from her flight from the Arctic Circle, she wanted to make a quick rounds of the village and Sanitarium to check up on everyone and thank th

em for thei

r hard work. Like the nurses at the ACS, she could offer up her own comfort.

The owl could see not all was well with Katee. Katee explained how she had not been feeling well and many of her friends were on the train that just left the station. That those friends had not survived their battle with the consumption. It was not the first time that Sara had happened upon a sad little girl in Saranac Lake. Even though many people were able to survive TB with the cure, many did not. The one thing that was true, your chances were better in Saranac Lake than in any big industrial city where the air was thicker than Paul Smith's venison chili.

Sara presented a proposal to the young lady: "I must give you a gift that will make me richer, but it will take me several days."

And the girl was confused, she wanted to know you could give someone something and it would make you wealthier, but she did not ask for an e

xplanation — not then at least. But all through Winter Carnival, Katee would ask about her gift and Sara would fend off the request with a story about a fun time the two of them had had. She would parlay that story with some antics at another Winter Carnival event. Soon the girl was having so much fun and thinking about the 'gift' she almost forgot about her melancholy.

During the Children's Fancy Dress Skating Carnival Katee asked for the millionth time: "So what is this whosibob you are going to give me."

"Are you having fun?" Sara asked, knowing Katee's smile was an answer in itself.

"Yes and I will never forget it," Katee responded. "Is that my gift?"

"In part, but really you are the gift," Sara explained. "I have many memories of great times with you and like all Winter Carnival memories, they will live on forever. The trick is to not stop them from happening by worrying about tomorrow. Let today be the memory we make for tomorrow."

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Kathy & Roger Steinbrueck Named Grand Marshal’s
2023-01-25 - The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee chose Kathy & Roger Steinbrueck as its 2023 Grand Marshal's
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