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More Ghosts!

Below is the written response to my exhibit of 10 of the Ghosts In Saranac Lake paintings at Historic Saranac Lake in February 2019.

Ghosts In Saranac Lake - Watercolor Painting Series

Valerie Patterson

My series of paintings "Ghosts Of Saranac Lake" incorporates the past with the present while highlighting Saranac Lakes unique history as a health resort/sanitarium for people suffering from TB between the 1880's and the 1950's.

This series began after I toured an abandoned former cure cottage. While in this grand, rambling, beautiful, old building, I couldn't help but feel the presence of those who had cured there. People who, because of an illness that was often a death sentence, left family and friends to come to the Adirondacks in hope of relief and a cure facilitated by some fresh mountain air. When I view old photos of the people “taking the cure” on the local porches of former sanitariums and cure cottages, I try to imagine myself into them. I wonder how those people experienced their lives at that point. Pain, fear, discomfort, loneliness, were probably often present, and yet many TB patients survived and lived long lives. There are numerous patient stories of hope, survival and happiness. Many patients survived to describe their time “taking the cure” in the Adirondacks as being the best time of their lives due to the tight knit community, hope and friendship. Imagine a community of people who truly knew the value of one day…one hour…one minute…


TB bacteria most commonly grow in the lungs, and can cause symptoms such as:

  • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer

  • Pain in the chest

  • Coughing up blood or sputum (mucus from deep inside the lungs)

This painting shows a piece of Main St., Saranac Lake, with a TB patient’s face, and some coughed up blood…A disturbing reminder of the seriousness of this disease in a time before antibiotics. Many people came to Saranac Lake leaving their families, friends, careers, homes… with the knowledge that they may never be able to go home again.


When I would walk my then 16 year old dog, Sadie, around our Saranac Lake neighborhood, she often stopped to sniff and listen…and feel the spirits; so did I. “My Dog Hears Them” features Sadie in the midst of a day in the late 1800’s at the intersection of Broadway and Main in front of the Berkeley Hotel. The Berkeley was built in 1875 to accommodate the growing number of people coming to town to seek “the cure”. It burned to the ground in January of 1981. On its former site is now The Berkeley Green park.

Also added into this image is Adelaide Crapsey. Adelaide, born in Brooklyn in 1878, became a well-known poet. She was a patient at a private nursing home in Saranac Lake from July 1913 through August 1914, at which point she went home to Rochester to live her last days. In the years before her death, she wrote much of the verse on which her reputation rests. Her interest in rhythm and meter led her to create a unique variation on the cinquain (or quintain), a 5-line form of 22 syllables influenced by the Japanese Haiku and tanka. Adelaide’s appearance in this painting is a symbolic nod, not only to her, but to the many well-known people who “cured” in Saranac Lake.


Memoir shows a view of the village from the top of Blood Hill in 1902. The child, in color, adds a sense of immediacy to the image. She represents the continuity of life and leads us into contemplation of a noteworthy past.


Winter Carnival Ghost gives the viewer a glimpse down Main Street (Today the Library and Mercantile are on the right with the Hotel Saranac on the left.) towards Broadway in the early 1900’s. The ghost is that of a child, or youth, symbolized by the sled. It is interesting to note that in the early days of Winter Carnival, a snow/ice pyramid was annually constructed in this location.


This painting features the Pontiac Theatre on Broadway (There is currently a parking lot in this location.) in its heyday. During Saranac Lake's boom years, movies, and stage shows played to a full house here, nightly. In this painting, an older man, in color symbolizing the present, stands in front of the theatre, absorbed in memories from his past… The Pontiac burned to the ground on December 19, 1978. The week that it burned, the movie, "Foul Play" was showing; the next week's film was to have been "Up In Smoke”.


This painting features The Alta Vista Lodge, formerly on Franklin Ave, which started as two separate, nearly identical, houses built before 1902, that were combined into a single building around 1924. The ghost of the woman in front of The Alta Vista is a woman named Helen Sather Sochia. Helen was the mother of a friend of mine and worked at The Lodge in the 1930’s. Her life was forever altered by the experiences that she had there. It is my understanding that working with young patients close to her age, and with an incurable illness, helped Helen to live life more fully, with empathy and a deep understanding of the value of time, family and friendship.


The Santanoni, 36 Church St., when built in 1913 was considered to be the most luxurious apartment building in Saranac Lake. Among its tenants were Kathleen McFarlane Hammond and Christy Mathewson. The fourth and fifth stories, along with the magnificent slate roof, were destroyed by a fire in 1973. The Santanoni has been rehabilitated and currently houses the offices of the Adirondack Explorer, its owners, and a number of rental apartments.

Since many TB patients were placed on bed-rest, I image they spent much time gazing out from windows and porches at “the world of the well” just beyond their confines. In this painting, the building itself is the ghost, still featuring its top floors and patients inside. I imagine the patients watching those living around them very closely; dreaming of what was and what may be.


This is the most personal painting in this series. I have often walked by this abandoned home on Park Ave. and imagined myself living in it (I am sad to say, I have never set foot inside.). At this time, it is in a state of disrepair, requiring love and hard work to restore. I utilized a photo of myself for the ghost in the upper story window. The child symbolizes an innocent, intuitive and magical state of mind. She hears, perhaps, little more than the rustling of leaves, yet profoundly feels a presence.

Known as The Talbot Aldrich Cottage, located at 370 Park Ave., this structure was built by Thomas Bailey Aldrich who was a poet, novelist, traveler and editor of The Atlantic Monthly. In 1901, Aldrich's son, Charles was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Aldrich built two houses in Saranac Lake, one for his son and one for him and his family (The Porcupine Inn). On March 6, 1904, Charles Aldrich died of tuberculosis, age thirty-four. The family left Saranac Lake and never returned.


(Not to be confused with the religious order who worked here for many years…)

This image features one of the bedrooms in The Larom Cottage, 247 Park Ave., which was built in 1905 and 1910. The house was owned by the Reverend and Mrs. Walter H. Larom of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Beginning in 1915, the Laroms leased 247 Park to TB patients and their families.

Most of the doctors and nurses who cared for the TB patients in Saranac Lake had the disease themselves. This painting is an homage to their many dedicated years of providing compassionate care for others while often suffering themselves. They are benevolent ghosts, whose kindness can still be felt around Saranac Lake.


The great 20th century scientist Albert Einstein (In Saranac Lake, he is noted as having been one of our more famous summer visitors.) developed a theory called Special Relativity. This theory says that space and time are really aspects of the same thing—space-time. Special Relativity also says that a surprising thing happens when you move through space-time, especially when your speed relative to other objects is close to the speed of light. Time goes slower for you than for the people you left behind. You won't notice this effect until you return to those stationary people. So, time as we experience it, is relative (so doesn’t really exist).

This painting is about truly feeling the history (time travel) of a place. It’s interesting to consider that if time is merely a human concept, and therefore doesn’t truly exist, then everything may, in fact, exist simultaneously. So, perhaps, when we walk into say “an old train station”, we may actually be doing so with all of the other souls who have ever been there.

The Saranac Lake Union Depot is a former New York Central Railroad station in Saranac Lake, New York. It was built in 1904 by the Delaware and Hudson Railway. In its heyday, the station served several daily trains going north to Malone, NY, on to Montreal, Quebec, and south to Utica, NY and Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Scheduled train service by the New York Central from nearby Lake Clear south to New York City ended in 1956.

I continue to “listen” around this historic town with its unique past; and so this series of paintings is on-going. It is my sincere hope that these images will encourage you to contemplate the meaning of time, the past (and its effects on the now), and the importance of good health and well-being. And, may you have the pleasure of enjoying a stroll around Saranac Lake, NY, while ”listening” for the ghosts yourself…

Valerie Patterson creates highly refined watercolor paintings that often explode with psychological resonance - with a sensitivity towards beauty and strength achieved through truth and honesty. Her work has always been a continuing search for deep understanding of the human condition. Throughout Valerie’s body of work: children repeatedly symbolize vulnerability and an unfeigned soul, connections between past and present are examined through the manipulation of black and white with color, and realistic and fantastic images may be juxtaposed to fabricate a surreal certainty.

Ms. Patterson grew up in Ogdensburg, NY, the daughter of a Minister and public school teacher. She earned degrees in art and education and has been teaching, as well as creating art, for over three decades. She has been teaching Art in the Saranac Lake Central School District since 1996.

More of Valerie’s watercolor paintings can be viewed and purchased at:

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