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Whitehall History: Famous Visitors/Inhabitants

Besides Ebba St. Claire, JT Buel, and Henry Francisco, Whitehall has had several other interesting visitors and inhabitants throughout its history. A few are listed below, in no particular order, and some may surprise you.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

You have likely heard of Charles Dickens, the 19th-century author famous for such works as David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol, but did you know he once visited Whitehall?

Born in 1812, Dickens was already a celebrated author in January, 1842 when he traveled from Liverpool to Boston on the SS Brittania. From there, he embarked on an extensive tour of the United States and also spent some time in Canada. On May 30, Dickens set sail from St. Johns, Québec on the steamboat Burlington. He travelled down Lake Champlain overnight, arriving in Whitehall at 6:00 the next morning. There he ate breakfast and then continued to Albany by stagecoach. Dickens wrote of his US tour in his book American Notes, in which he praises the Burlington and her commander, Captain Sherman.

General Lafayette
General Lafayette

Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette was born in 1757 in Château de Chavaniac in the Auvergne region of France. Before he was even 20 years old, Lafayette had become extremely sympathetic toward the American colonies in their struggle for independence and came to America in June, 1777. Due to his French nobility and his willingness to help the American cause while seeking nothing in return, the Continental Congress bestowed the commission of Major General upon Lafayette and assigned him to the staff of George Washington.

In this role, Lafayette led the Americans to several victories. In addition, while on a trip home to France in 1779, Lafayette convinced the French government to contribute troops and supplies to the American cause. By the time Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, Lafayette and Washington had become very close friends and Americans were deeply appreciative toward Lafayette and the French for their aid.

Lafayette returned to France following the American Revolution, but he and America would continue to hold each other in high regard. In 1824, Congress and President James Monroe invited Lafayette to visit America, and he enthusiastically accepted the invitation. His visit coincided with America's Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Over the next 13 months, Lafayette toured all 24 states and was greeted with tremendous love and admiration wherever he went.

Whitehall was included in this tour and Lafayette arrived there on June 30, 1825, greeted with much exuberance and fanfare by the townspeople. Although his visit was short, Lafayette did enjoy a dinner held in his honor and then toasted the town with the following statement.

To Whitehall! May this Town enjoy forever the advantages resulting to it from the manner in which the prophecy of the English General was accomplished.

The English General to whom Lafayette refers is General John Burgoyne. During the Revolutionary War, Burgoyne had confidently declared to the British Parliament that he would easily march his 5000 troops, undeterred by the bumbling American rebels, from Canada to Boston, where he would spend the winter. In actuality, Burgoyne and his troops sailed down Lake Champlain to Whitehall, but Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. General Burgoyne did indeed spend the winter in Boston, but as a prisoner of war.

As an interesting sidenote, the Ticonderoga Sentinel reported on April 18, 1907 that Whitehall residents were considering a return to the name of Skenesborough. The name had been abandoned in 1786 due to a general hatred in America of all things British. Why the name Whitehall, which was originally two words - White Hall - was chosen is not clear, but it was apparently not realized that Whitehall Palace had been the main residence of English monarchs in London from 1530 to 1698, when it was largely destroyed by fire. According to the Sentinel report, Lafayette pointed this out to Whitehallers during his 1825 visit.

Ernest J. "Trey" Anastasio
Trey Anastasio

In the early morning hours of Friday, December 15, 2006, Whitehall Police Patrolman Andrew Mija spotted a car veering out of the right lane while traveling along Poultney Street. After pulling the car over, Mija was surprised to discover that the driver of the car was Trey Anastasio, the former frontman of the band Phish.

Although a breath test for the presence of alcohol was negative, Mr. Anastasio did fail field sobriety tests. In addition, prescription drugs - Hydrocodone, Percocet, and Xanax - were found in his car and they had been prescribed for someone else. To make matters worse, it was found that Trey's license had been suspended in New York due to his failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket he had received in Chestertown years earlier. Mr. Anastasio was taken into custody and charged with DWI-drugs, third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, and seventh-degree possession of a controlled substance.

According to police, Mr. Anastasio was extremely cooperative. In addition, the incident created quite a stir in Whitehall and also a media frenzy, with various reports and Trey's mugshot appearing in newspapers and websites nationwide. Anastasio released the following written statement the next day.

I  feel terrible about what happened last night, and I am deeply sorry for any embarrassment I have caused my friends, family and fans.

Bigfoot (aka Sasquatch)

Bigfoot is a popular figure in North American folklore, and also of cryptozoology - the study of "hidden animals" falling outside of taxonomic records. Bigfoot is most often described as a large ape-like creature 7 to 10 feet in height. Many believe these creatures may represent a missing link between humans and primates.

Although the Pacific Northwest is considered a hotbed of Bigfoot sightings, the Whitehall area has also been recognized by many Bigfoot aficionados as a Bigfoot hotspot. In fact, the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) traveled to the Whitehall area in the fall of 2005 and again in the summer of 2006 looking for evidence of Bigfoot's presence in the region. The BFRO website includes reports of Bigfoot sightings and/or evidence of Bigfoot found in the Whitehall area.

One Whitehall man, Paul Bartholomew, has been studying Bigfoot for many years and, along with three other authors, compiled evidence and sighting reports in a book entitled Monsters of the Northwoods (1992). In 2004, Paul also successfully persuaded the Whitehall Town Board to pass an ordinance making it illegal to hunt Bigfoot.

Whitehall has embraced its association with Bigfoot in recent years. In addition to the town's ordinance protecting the creature, Whitehall has held the Sasquatch Festival each fall since 2004. The festival includes various activities such as canoe races, food, music, and fishing tournaments.

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