Rewind: June 1, 2022 – “The Sons of Seneca Ray Stoddard, Part 1 “

Rewind: June 1, 2022

“The Sons of Seneca Ray Stoddard, Part 1 “

 

[Seneca Ray Stoddard

Seneca Ray Stoddard was a late 19th century photographer, painter, inventor, writer and cartographer.  born in Wilton, Saratoga County, NY in 1844, he captured thousands of images of life in our region.  His works helped to popularize the Adirondacks as a tourist destination and displayed the naturalistic beauty of the landscape. His persistent lobbying efforts helped in forming the Adirondack Park in 1892.

In his youth, he left his home to follow his desires to create illustration and advertising, and in his 20’s he developed a love for photography. He went on to publish tourist guides on the Lake George and Lake Champlain regions, and in 1874 issued the first tourist map of the Adirondacks. Stoddard died in his home in Glens Falls in 1917, leaving behind a legacy of cartography and accomplishment of introducing a new-found tourist hot-spot to the general public.

Seneca Ray Stoddard had two sons, Charles Herbert and Leroy Ray.  Thanks to David Waite, our friend and regular contributor, we can learn about these ‘chips of the old block.’]

The Sons of Stoddard, Part I        

Dr. Leroy Ray Stoddard: Miracle Worker of WWI

by Dave Waite

For many of those who love the Adirondacks and its history, the name Seneca Ray Stoddard brings to mind scenes of untamed wilderness, guides with heavy loads, and sportsmen lounging in front of open hunting camps. While much is known about this man’s work as a photographer, mapmaker, and writer, little if anything has ever been written about those who carried on the Stoddard name. Seneca Ray Stoddard and his wife Helen Augusta had two children, the first, Charles Herbert, born in 1869, and six years later a second son whom they named Leroy Ray.

Charles and Leroy had grown up on Elm Street in Glens Falls, a neighborhood of merchants and bankers, many who had sufficient affluence to have servants, and in one case, even a coachman. For their education, they attended Glens Falls Union Free school, likely School #2 which was at the corner of West and South Streets only a few blocks from where they lived. In this two-part series on the sons of Seneca Ray Stoddard, I will begin with the youngest, Leroy.

Even at a young age, Leroy was a part of outdoor activities with his older brother Charles and his father. One of the most ambitious of these was a trip by canoe from Glens Falls to Lake Champlain when he was only twelve. In August of 1887, eighteen-year-old Charles, Leroy, and their friend seventeen-year-old Harry Mickel paddled the canal in Glens Falls to the Champlain Canal, and then north to Whitehall on Lake Champlain. There they met their father and together paddled one hundred miles up the lake to South Hero Island to attend the annual meeting of the American Canoe Association.

By the age of fifteen, Leroy was heading out on his boyhood adventures. With the local newspaper, the Glens Falls Times, occasionally reporting on his adventures, we learn of one adventure that had the potential for fatal consequences. On Saturday, November 22, 1890, Leroy and his friend Ira headed out squirrel hunting, taking with them besides their weapons nine frankfurts, a loaf of bread, and half a dozen red herring. The five-mile tramp west to the foot of the Luzerne Mountains brought on a hearty appetite and after a meal over a campfire, they started on their hunt. When a red squirrel took shelter under a stump, Ira attempted to flush out their intended victim while Leroy stood with his shotgun pointed down towards the hole. In his excitement, Leroy fired his gun into his foot, with the newspaper taking every opportunity to paint a dramatic picture of the scene, including an approximation of the boy’s colorful words:

“Djugitim?” shouts Ira, “I’m shot Biob,” from Roy. “You’re foolin?”

But contrary to his usual habit Roy wasn’t fooling. He whips out a ring of fire that is enlarging a hole in the inside of his right trowser-leg near the bottom. Tears off his shoe, and with Ira’s help his stocking, showing a black mouthed hole in the inner side of his foot where the charge had entered.

Using their handkerchiefs and whatever else was at hand, the two bandaged Leroy’s foot and together they headed down the mountain to the nearest farm. With the help of this family and their neighbors, the boys were brought by wagon to the office of Dr. Phelps who removed the buckshot and dressed Leroy’s wounds. Fortunately, the injury left no permanent disability and after an extended stay out of school, he was up and about again.

If one of the sons of Seneca Ray was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, it was Leroy. In March of 1895, the then 19-year-old went on the road with a lecture of scenes from Florida titled “The Sunny South.” The tour opened in the Adirondack Region, with plans to later visit Albany, Binghamton, and other stops further south over the following months. The Ticonderoga Sentinel of March 28, 1895, commended the young man for his “successful way” of presenting what they called “art entertainments,” with his projected images. Adding to that praise, two months later after a lecture in Corinth in northern Saratoga County, New York, a Glens Falls reporter said, “Although a young man he shows the maturity of thought and resource which will win him success.”

Leroy’s father had traveled to Florida in 1894, so it is possible that Leroy accompanied him, and used his own photographs for his lecture. Seneca Ray Stoddard also was touring during that time giving a lecture by the same name based on images he had created while in Florida, so it is also possible that Leroy used those for his presentation. Over the next five years, Leroy would occasionally step back to the lectern and give talks using his father’s photographs, one of the last at Silver Bay where he gave a lecture and showed slides of the Adirondack region.

Later that summer, the lecture circuit was replaced by more common boyhood activities, as in July he bicycled from Glens Falls to Albany on a multiday trip with one of his cousins. Two months later, Leroy was off on another bicycle adventure, this time with his father. For two weeks in September of 1895 Seneca Ray and Leroy headed north into the Adirondacks riding vehicles that were called safety bicycles at the time, similar to what is used today but with a slightly larger wheel on either the front or rear.

Leroy started his medical studies at the University of Vermont in 1896, then continued at New York Homeopathic Medical College in New York City, where he graduated in May of 1900. He quickly found an opening at a homeopathic hospital in Washington, D.C., where he lived in the hospital dormitory. Soon after becoming a physician, Leroy became interested in the specialty of plastic surgery. By 1908 he had become known as one experienced and accomplished in this field.

He soon returned to New York City where he became the house physician for the department store Saks and Company, and where, in the spring of 1906, he married his first wife, singer Carolyn Williams. With Carolyn, he would become involved in the city’s theatre scene, at times even performing alongside her in amateur productions at the New York Theatregoers’ Club. It was here that he also began to interact with people looking to stay young and attractive, perfect for an up-and-coming plastic surgeon. To help extend his contacts, during these years he was active in many groups in the New York City area, including the Columbia Yacht Club and Delta Phi fraternity.

Citing a need for a break from the stresses of life, in June of 1912, Leroy booked passage on a steamship headed to Bermuda. His wife, suspicious of her husband’s motive for this trip south, quickly learned that his stateroom on the ship was assigned to both himself and a wife. A year later Caroline was granted a divorce, and wanting nothing more to do with her husband she responded in court to the question of alimony with “I should say NOT.”

Leroy Ray Stoddard and Alice Neilsen

While during the divorce trial, the mystery woman who accompanied Stoddard was never identified, a book published one hundred years later gives some clues to her identity. In the early years of his work as a plastic surgeon, Leroy Stoddard met and performed surgery on his future second wife, 37-year-old opera star Alice Neilsen. In her biography, she is quoted as saying that starting soon after her surgery she was spending time each summer with Stoddard and even taking trips with him. Though in this biography she is vehement about avoiding relationships with married men, it is also noted that she was dating Leroy for a decade before they married, which would point the start of their relationship to a time around her surgery.

With battle-scarred soldiers returning from the front lines during World War I, Dr. Stoddard realized the desperate need for facial reconstructive surgery. By the end of the conflict, Stoddard was touring the United States giving lectures to physicians and surgeons on advances in facial reconstruction. Using what he termed cosmo-plastic surgery, Stoddard showed techniques and examples of how to replace facial gashes caused by shrapnel with “fine, inoffensive lines” making the disfigurement no longer noticeable. Doctor Stoddard was more than just a spokesperson, as during his lectures he offered his services at no cost to any serviceman who had been disfigured in the war.

Along with his individual efforts, Leroy’s wife also did her part on behalf of servicemen. In February of 1918, Alice Neilsen came out of retirement, and with fellow artists, Willeum Durfeux and William Reddick, gave a benefit at Christ Church in Glens Falls. While the concert was given in honor of Leroy’s father, Seneca Ray Stoddard, who had passed away only 10 months before, the proceeds of thirteen hundred dollars were donated to the Glens Falls chapter of the Red Cross.

To learn more about the advances in reconstructive surgery, in 1921 Leroy traveled to England and met with the man who came to be known as the “father of modern plastic surgery,” Sir Harold Gillies. The New York Morning Telegraph gave this testimonial of Stoddard’s efforts:

Dr. Stoddard regards plastic surgery as the soldier’s legacy to humanity, and for that the soldier paid a fearful price he is determined, as his French and British colleagues are determined, to give the world the fullest possible benefit. Where men and women are maimed from any cause these “reconstructionists” are found restoring lines, curves, and contours which is more than equivalent to restoring life itself.

With all his success as a surgeon, Leroy Stoddard was never able to maintain stability in his personal life. After being caught at his apartment in New York with another woman, his wife Alice quickly sued for divorce. During the first five months of 1937, banner headlines in the Glens Falls Times kept readers informed of the progress of the lawsuit, with the final decision coming on May 20th. The announcement that was spread across the top of page two left no room for doubt as to who was victorious:  Judgement for Miss Nielsen is Granted by Justice Lawrence. In this decision, Leroy Stoddard was required to pay his ex-wife $325 a month for life, as well as losing the house on South Street in Glens Falls inherited from his grandfather Thomas Potter.

In 1940, the 63-year-old Stoddard was living on 57th Street in New York City, and at that time still in private practice as a physician. Leroy Ray Stoddard died of natural causes three years later at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, MD. His brother Charles brought his remains to Philadelphia where he was cremated. No notice of his death or obituary was even published in Glens Falls.

 

The sources for this article were newspaper archives at fultonsearch.org, nyhistoricnewspapers.org, and the Library of Congress newspaper archives. Another important source of material was the book Alice Nielsen and the Gayety of Nations by Dall Wilson as well as census and other records from ancestry.com

  1. R. Stoddard photograph in the banner from wmht.org, the photograph of Leroy Stoddard and Alice Neilsen from the Arizona Republican newspaper, January 20, 1918

 

Look for the story of Leroy’s brother, Charles Herbert Stoddard, on the 15th of this month.

 

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