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Veracity, or Truth in Advertising

Phil Amsterdam, himself an old tour-boat guide and boat-line operator, complains about about sitting on his Cherry Island porch, hearing familiar misinformation being perpetuated over tour-boat loudspeakers. Misinforming tourists is a long-time tradition here. We smile tolerantly to hear once more about "the shortest international bridge in the world" at Zavikon Island. We heard such nonsense when we were young, so reiteration affords comforting nostalgia. But any lie, repeated often enough, tends to become entrenched as fact--especially when false information gets into print.

Zavikon Island

Post Card, c.1950

Case in point: readers currently are being told about our "summer homes of such rich and famous as Astor, Pullman, Rubinstein, Irving Berlin, and Mary Pickford." In fact, of these now almost forgotten celebrities, only Pullman had a summer home here. Berlin visited once, briefly, with his bride on their honeymoon. Astor was a guest of the Boldts for a weekend. Rubinstein and Pickford? Probably the ladies never visited the Thousand Islands.

How do these legends become tradition? Some of us may remember an old parlor game, where one person starts a statement that is passed from person to person around a circle. When it returns to the originator, the message is compared with the original, recorded on a slip of paper. Usually there is little conformity.

We did have a summer resident with a surname similar to that of Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics queen. We have had other theatrical stars living here, some contemporary with Mary Pickford. Usually there is some tenuous link between fact and folklore.

This is the case with the Boldt story. Local lore about what happened to Louise Boldt, causing termination of the ambitious castle building campaign, seems to have derived from some historical facts, becoming garbled in transmission over generations. As I point out in my Boldt Castle book, the truth probably is neither the official version long told visitors to the landmark, nor the less sanitized tale oft told at the Bay, but something quite different.

When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Boldt Castle, the late Vince Dee, then chairman of the Authority, told me, "We're not in the history business. We're in the tourism business." In other words, any story would do, so long as it served to entertain visitors.

This probably has been the general view here, particularly among those in the "tourism business." Young people engaged to inform visitors on tour boats are not trained historically, but encouraged to retell the hoary old folklore.

Perhaps we need a standard tour-guide's crib sheet, providing corrected information about the usual sights pointed out to tourists. If readers recall particular misinformation that is being perpetuated, we can publish it here, eventually compiling it as a guide for the guides.

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Paul Malo, Editor

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