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1868 Hoax: The Day a Lake George Island “Sank”

By Joseph W. Zarzynski

Monday, August 12, 2013

A few months back marked the 145th anniversary of a local hoax, the day a Lake George island reportedly sank following a “tremendous upheaval of waters” upon the 32-mile long waterway. It was early January 1868 and newspapers around the state and elsewhere reported a news story similar to this quote from the Buffalo Daily Courier about “the sudden sinking of Recluse Island near Bolton, Lake George.”

Even the well-respected New York Times newspaper ran a front-page news account on January 7, 1868 about this event under the bold title—“EARTHQUAKE IN NEW-YORK.”

The New York Times likewise published a related blurb just below the news story that started with the sentence: “The dispatch from Glens Falls, N.Y., about the earthquake at Lake George and sinking of Recluse Island cannot at this hour be traced to a reliable source.” Apparently the initial news story was “without signature” and was “sent by a private party.”

According to the initial news flash that was printed by many newspapers, the island disappeared from a “tremendous upheaval of waters” on the lake. A shock wave from the incident lasted 5 minutes. Soundings indicated the island and its cottage sank into 85 feet of water. No lives were reportedly lost.

Within a day or two of the initial news scoop, many of the newspapers that reported the demise of the Lake George island printed a retraction that was like this one published in the Utica Daily Observer: “A Hoax–The telegram about the sinking of Recluse Island seems to have been a hoax.”

Recluse Island is one of over 170 islands in Lake George. The private island is located west of Dome Island and just to the south of the Sagamore Resort on Green Island in Bolton. One newspaper account states the island got its name during the French and Indian War (1755-1763) when a Jesuit priest was forced to take shelter on the isle. His personal diary, a Bible, and rosary beads supposedly were later discovered on the small island.

Lake George once had its renowned early 20th century lake monster hoax conceived by Hague artist Harry Watrous. Now we have recalled an earlier prank from nearly a century-and-a-half ago, when newspaper readers were initially stunned by the news that a Lake George island sank, victim of an earthquake and massive water wake.

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