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13 Capital Region Myths That We Fact-Checked for Posterity’s Sake

'Saratoga Living' investigates the urban legends Upstate New Yorkers have come to accept as fact.

The historic Canfield Casino is the subject of many rumors in Saratoga Springs.

If you’ve been a faithful reader of Saratoga Living since, say, February 2018, we hope you’ve become a fan of our recurring “It’s True (We Think)” feature, in which we’ve investigated the urban myths Saratogians have come to accept as undeniable fact: age-old rumors about the local origins of the potato chip and Club Sandwich, as well as the US Navy, American Ski Patrol, pie à la mode and the hit song “American Pie.” For added value, during the process, perhaps you’ve come out all the wiser. We certainly have.

This issue marks the final installment of “It’s True,” and the SL team found it only fitting to honor the section with an ode to all things untrue, or, at the very least, questionably so. Even though we debunked the majority of the legends, there’s no denying that however dubious, the stories Saratogians have passed down through the generations have made the Spa City what it is: a potato chip–loving, “American Pie”–singing, ghost-hunting city of believers.

Myth: The potato chip was invented at Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake.

Moon’s Lake House (Robert Joki Collection/Saratoga Springs Public Library)

SL says: Questionable. Moon’s cook George Crum did serve potatoes fried to a crisp in 1853, but an earlier published cookbook listed a recipe for what could only be described as a potato chip. 

Myth: Don McLean wrote “American Pie” at the Tin & Lint.

The plaque at Tin & Lint that claims Don McLean wrote “American Pie” at the bar. (Lawrence White)

SL says: Untrue. McLean expressly told the The New York Times that he did not and has said that he doesn’t even know the Caroline St. watering hole. But that hasn’t stopped the T&L from proudly displaying a plaque claiming otherwise.

Myth: Uncle Sam is from Troy.

A sign in Troy, NY. (Ron Cogswell/Flickr)

SL says: Questionable. Troy townies did call local butcher Samuel Wilson “Uncle Sam,” but the USS Constitution Museum in Boston possesses a diary that makes reference to an “Uncle Sam” before Wilson acquired his nickname.

Myth: The Club Sandwich was invented at the Saratoga Club House (now the Canfield Casino).

The club sandwich is rumored to have been created at the Canfield Casino. (Erik Forsberg)

SL says: Untrue. “It’s pure rumor,” says Saratoga Springs History Museum Executive Director James Parillo. Sadly, that doesn’t leave much to chew on.

Myth: Saratoga Race Course is the oldest racetrack in the country.

The sign at Saratoga Race Course’s Union Ave entrance.

SL says: Untrue. The historical Saratoga Race Course has some years on it, having opened in 1863, but both Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and Pleasanton Fairgrounds Racetrack in California are even older. 

Myth: Pie à la mode was first served at The Cambridge Hotel in Washington County.

Duluth, MN and Cambridge, NY both claim to be the birthplace of pie à la mode. (Dwight Burdette)

SL says: Questionable. Duluth, MN also claims to be the birthplace of the dish, but neither city has produced particularly convincing evidence that it was the first. We are, however, sure that it was one sweet idea, whomever’s it was.

Myth: The Canfield Casino is haunted.

The Canfield Casino is supposedly haunted.

SL says: Questionable. While there have been numerous reports of paranormal activity at the casino, including during a spooky episode of the TV show Ghost Hunters, there is no hard evidence. Also, a 2003 study found that people are more likely to report experiencing a paranormal event in a place they already believed was haunted. What do you believe?

Myth: Santa Claus is an Albany invention.

It’s rumored that Santa Claus is an Albany invention.

SL says: Untrue. While the Albany Times Union blog post that made the claim sites the Van Rensselaer papers as proof, no reference to Santa Claus exists in the papers. Bah, humbug.

Myth: Gore Mountain has the world’s oldest ski patrol.

An early ski patrol team at Gore Mountain.

SL says: Untrue. Davos, Switzerland’s ski patrol operated for several years before any patrol activity went on at Gore.

Myth: Whitehall is the birthplace of the US Navy.

Navy watercolor by Edward Tufnell. (U.S. Navy Art Collection)

SL says: Untrue. The amphibious operations on Lake Champlain during the Revolutionary War were undertaken by the Continental Army, not the Continental Navy.

Myth: The Canfield Casino was the first casino to use the poker chip.

Canfield Casino chips worth $1, $5 and $25 from 19th-century gambling expert John Fignar’s collection.

SL says: Untrue. This is one urban myth not to double down on, as ivory poker chips and mother-of-pearl counters were used at other venues for decades before Richard Canfield purchased the casino in 1894.

Myth: The Travers Stakes is the oldest continuously run stakes race in the country.

Man o’ War running in the 1920 Travers Stakes.

SL says: Untrue. There were several years around the turn of the 20th century when the Travers didn’t run, and the Phoenix Stakes is older anyway. 

Myth: Ballston Spa’s Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball.

Ballston Spa native and Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.

SL says: Untrue. Doubleday was 140 miles away at West Point when he is said to have come up with the game. But he did hit a home run with his (true) war-time hero status.

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the director of content at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living.

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