On Christmas eve in 2014, National Public Radio and North Country Public Radio reported how Ogdensburg and Heuvelton played an important role in the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, role in tracking Santa Claus's journey from the North Pole.
Ogdensburg's Sherman Inn recounts the story in its Franklin Roosevelt room.
Was the NORAD Santa Tracker born in Ogdensburg? Or Heuvelton?
BY DAVID SOMMERSTEIN (NEWS DIRECTOR) , IN CANTON, NY
Dec 24, 2014
Tonight is the night; the big, jolly guy dressed in red has made his list and checked it at least twice. Rudolph and the gang are harnessed and ready to go.
What may be overlooked during the last minute holiday hustle-bustle is Santa Claus and his entourage will in fact fly through United States military airspace.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, tracks Santa every year with state-of-the-art equipment. Believe it or not, the whole thing was born in New York’s North Country, in St. Lawrence County.
The question, though, is exactly where? Was it Ogdensburg? Or Heuvelton?
Our Christmas tale begins not on a white winter evening, but rather during the hot summer of 1940. Much of the world has already taken sides in the second Great War. Canada has joined the allied forces with the British. The United.States has remained neutral up until now, but President and Commander-in-Chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt, realizes it may not last long. American troops are using the North Country as a training ground.
The Ogdensburg Pubic Library’s genealogy and local history specialist Sandy Putney takes up the story.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was up here in the area inspecting the troops and must have had it in the back of his mind that something needed to be done between the United States and Canada. And history has it that he called Prime Minister McKenzie King in the evening and said “Can you meet me in Ogdensburg tomorrow?”
The prime minister agrees. On the morning of August 17, 1940, FDR is in nearby Norwood checking on his military’s readiness. It’s a steamy summer day. With the top down, the President’s elegant black vehicle leads his entourage south west down the roads of the North Country. You can picture it — a warm wind blowing back Roosevelt’s hair. His long cigarette holder clenched between his teeth, on his way to a historic meeting with Prime Minister of Canada, in Ogdensburg, or so history has it written.
Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie King ferried across the St. Lawrence from Prescott. The two leaders met at the train station in Ogdensburg and quickly disappeared into FDR’s private railroad car. Persis Boyesen is the official historian for the city of Ogdensburg and the adjacent town of Heuvelton. As she and Sandy Putney explain, this is where the historical record gets a little complicated.
In a short time, the railway car was moved to Heuvelton, where both heads of state remained overnight.
There’s a little bit of controversy. Supposedly it was hot during the day, so they moved the railroad car out onto a spur closer to Heuvelton, so there’s been a little bit of discrepancy as to actually where the document was signed.
Politically and technically, it’s called the Ogdensburg agreement. But some of the local old timers, I know in 1948, a woman wrote and said “They were in Heuvelton, get it straight.”
Call it the Ogdensburg agreement. Call it the Heuvelton declaration. Regardless, when the president and the prime minister emerged from the private care the next morning, the document they produced is a landmark agreement between the United States and Canada. It voices the need for a permanent joint board of defense uniting both countries. Right here, on the St. Lawrence county railroad tracks. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD is born. Which brings us back to our Christmas tale.
Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, NORAD uses highly sensitive radar to identify anything that flies over the United States and Canada. In 1955, a misprinted phone number in a Colorado newspaper add added one more duty to NORAD’s list: tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Again, Ogdensburg City Library’s Sandy Putney.
There was a local newspaper station that was inviting people to call and find out where Santa was, and the phone number that they printed, was one digit wrong. And it went to an unpublished phone at NORAD.
Major Jamie Robertson of NORAD in Colorado Springs has the rest of this Santa tracking history.
What happened was the phone started to ring, and usually when that phone rang, it usually caught people’s attention because it’s usually the Commander and Chief. The gentleman that answered the line, he says he got a call from a 6 year old girl wanted to speak to Santa Claus. He thought initially that someone on the staff was trying to play a game on him and yank his chain.
The NORAD official looked closely at his radar screen and told the girl that yes, indeed, he could discern Santa’s sleigh coming down from the North Pole. The tradition stuck.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, NORAD helps children around the world track Santa Claus as he travels on his annual journey.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife were close friends with Ogdensburg Mayor Julius Frank and his wife Marion Sanger Frank. Their wives were active in the Women’s Suffrage movement together. Roosevelt came to Ogdensburg in 1920 as friends of the Franks. He came again as President in 1940 to negotiate the Ogdensburg Agreement with Canada’s Prime Minister.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Was Close Friend to Ogdensburg Mayor Julius Frank
But in 1920, 100 Years Ago in Ogdensburg
EXTRACT FROM SPEECH
Of Honorable Franklin D. Roosevelt
OGDENSBURG, N. Y., Fall 1920
(Roosevelt was campaigning for the Vice Presidency of the United States. These are Roosevelt's actual remarks in Ogdensburg at the old Opera House the Sherman Inn obtained from the Franklin Roosevelt Center which still has a copy of his speech. - Jim Reagen)
"I hope that every voter will make a special effort to think back over the history of the past two years and to make application of that history to the present campaign. For instance, it is of distinct interest to think over the change of mind which certain Republican Leaders have sustained on the subject of the League of Nations. The important thing is that where there has been a change of mind, there must have been some motive for it.
What that motive is, it also is written in history. We remember that when President Wilson returned to the United States for the first time, bringing with him the first draft of the Covenant of the League, he held conferences with Senator Roosevelt Spoke At Ogdensburg’s Opera House Where City Hall Now Stands in 1920.
(Henry Cabot) Lodge and with other Republican Leaders, including Senator (Warren G.) Harding, and received suggestions from them as to several ways in which they believed the Covenant could be improved. President Wilson returned to Europe and it became obvious that he would be able to incorporate the suggested changes, including that of definite recognition of the Monroe Doctrine.
This was the turning point in the whole Republican policy. It became obvious that the President was obtaining in Paris a League of Nations satisfactory not merely to the Senate of the United States, but to the whole American people. Here is where partisan politics first came to light. This is the unwritten history of what really happened - William Hays, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, hurried to Washington and called Senators into secret conference. He pointed out to them that a successful outcome of the President's efforts to restore peace and to gain the greatest object of the War - a permanent peace through the League of Nations - would spell inevitable Republican defeat in the coming Presidential Election, then about a year and half away. He pointed out that President Wilson would be acclaimed throughout the World, as he was being in the United States, as the man who had at last been able to accomplish the World's ideal of putting an end to future wars. Will Hays delivered in effect an ultimatum to the Republican Senators that they must choose between a surrender of power to the Democratic Party, and a deliberate and carefully planned campaign to throw over the threat of peace and to discredit the President of the United States…
A copy of this speech is now on display at the Sherman Inn in Ogdensburg.
U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt spoke to the crowd at the Oswegatchie Fair in Ogdensburg in 1899 when he was governor of New York State.
At the Sherman Inn, we have a copy of the drawing showing him at the fair.
Teddy Roosevelt Speaks to Crowd at Oswegatchie Fair
Harper's Magazine published the drawings by W.A. Rogers who was sent to Ogdensburg 121 years ago today on Sept. 5 to record the governor's activities that day.
Part of his speech and other photos of Roosevelt are on display at the Theodore Roosevelt suite at the Sherman Inn where we think it's important to remember some of the important moments in Ogdensburg's history.
This copy is reprinted from the July, 1987 edition of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association's Quarterly which published an extensive article on the history of fairs in the county. Help support the St. Lawrence County Historical Association and it's Quarterly Magazine which is currently conducting a membership drive.
A lot of people have asked why U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Ogdensburg, N.Y. on Aug. 17th, 1940 and why we named a room at the Sherman Inn after our 32nd president to commemorate his visit to our community.
Most Ogdensburg citizens have either forgotten or never knew that our city hosted a major historic event 80 years ago.
In August, 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, the British Empire was locked in a death struggle with Germany. The U.S. was officially neutral with American public opinion firmly against entering what many saw as a European war.
President Roosevelt worried that if the United Kingdom was conquered by Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler might set his sights on Canada which had sided with the British Empire against the Axis Powers. If the Germans defeated Canada, they would be able to attack the U.S. anywhere and at any time along America’s longest undefended border, using its extensive cross continental rail system.
Roosevelt invited Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to meet him in Ogdensburg for discussions about plans for the mutual defense of North America. Roosevelt had announced he would be touring St. Lawrence County as part of a visit to the troops that were conducting the largest peacetime maneuvers in the nation’s history.
President Roosevelt arrived in Norwood by train and joined New York Governor Herbert Lehman for a tour of the troops. The president then traveled to Ogdensburg in a motorcade that drove through downtown and ended at the New York Central Depot at present day Lighthouse Point, across from the present day Freighthouse Restaurant where a special train car awaited him.
Canada’s Prime Minister crossed the river on the Prescott-Ogdensburg ferry. The two leaders began their talks about how the two nations could work together during the dangerous times they were facing. With Hitler’s Air Force launching the largest air assault in world history against the British isles with the “Battle of Britain” and German troops preparing for an invasion of England, the two leaders knew that the time had come for their two nations to build a new relationship to protect North America.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Motorcade Passes Through Downtown Ogdensburg
Franklin Roosevelt's motorcade through downtown Ogdensburg to the New York Central railroad depot on Aug. 17, 1940.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Ogdensburg New York Central rail depot where he began historic talks on Aug. 17, 1940 about how the U.S. and Canada needed to work together if Germany attacked either nation.
The Ogdensburg Declaration
on Aug. 18th, 1940, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Canada’s Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King issued a joint declaration they called “The Ogdensburg Declaration.” That’s why the Sherman Inn named a presidential suite after President Roosevelt - to commemorate his historic visit to our community.
The two leaders met in Ogdensburg on Aug. 17th to discuss mutual defense issues. The train car with the two leaders was moved out of the city that night for security reasons, but it was moved back to Ogdensburg’s New York Central Depot during the night. A press release they issued on Aug. 18th, 1940 stated:
Declaration by the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States of America regarding the establishing of a Permanent Joint Board on Defence made on August 18, 1940.
The Prime Minister and the President have discussed the mutual problems of defence in relation to the safety of Canada and the United States.
It has been agreed that a Permanent Joint Board on Defence shall be set up at once by the two countries.
This Permanent Joint Board on Defence shall commence immediate studies relating to sea, land, and air problems including personnel and material.
It will consider in the broad sense the defence of the north half of the Western Hemisphere.
The Permanent Joint Board on Defence will consist of four or five members from each country, most of them from the services. It will meet shortly.
The idea of the U.S. and Canada working together on mutual defense issues initially drew a sharp rebuke from England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill who saw the “Ogdensburg Agreement” as Canada’s first step away from its historic relationship that relied solely on Great Britain for its defense.
King was also criticized by Canada’s Conservative Party leadership which questioned the need to work with the U.S. on defense issues. King defended the Ogdensburg Agreement from his Canadian and British critics as a long overdue recognition that the U.S. and Canada shared mutual interests, a mutual border and a unique mutual relationship at a time when real dangers threatened both countries.
President Roosevelt, who had spoken publicly before about the U.S.’s commitment to mutual defense, dismissed criticisms in the U.S., arguing that the Ogdensburg Agreement was simply a long overdue extension of the Monroe Doctrine which established that the U.S. would not stand for interference from European or other powers in the affairs of the Americas.
Most importantly, the agreement established the Permanent Joint Board on Defence, a body composed of top military officials which meets twice a year to discuss issues concerning mutual defense. With the U.S. officially neutral, the agreement helped pave the way for the British to buy war supplies using Canada as a go between. The Permanent Joint Board on Defense has been a fixture in establishing U.S. - Canadian defense policies for the past 80 years.
Sadly, few Ogdensburg residents today remember that our community hosted two of North America’s great wartime leaders on the eve of World War II. The Sherman Inn is keeping the memory alive in its Franklin D. Roosevelt Suite as a testament to our community’s rich history and heritage.
The Sherman Inn recently enjoyed a few days with Giovanni Colavita and his son, Leonardo, who stayed with us while Leonardo raced at the Morristown race complex.
Sherman Inn Receives Colavita Gift Basket
Giovanni, the CEO of the family-owned company, sent us this wonderful gift basket of Colavita products imported from Italy. The firm produces and distributes a wide variety of olive oils, pasta, and other Italian products.
Donna and I were surprised and delighted to receive such a wonderful surprise. We are looking forward to hosting the Colavita's the next time they come back up to Northern New York.
We're pleased to announce the addition of our new "Grover Cleveland Suite" at Sherman Inn.
Grover Cleveland Suite at Sherman Inn
The Grover Cleveland Suite has two queen size beds, private bath, 32-inch flat screen HD television, and a comfortable sitting area.
Inn common areas also include:
Check out some additional pictures of the Grover Cleveland Suite below.
Old Ogdensburg school turned into an Inn.
Sherman Inn on Channel 7 News
"I want to thank my friends, Keith Benman, News Director Scott Atkinson, Live at Five Anchor John Moore and 6 o'clock News Anchor Jeff Cole for broadcasting a wonderful story about how Donna and I have taken over the Sherman Inn in Ogdensburg and intend to carry on the traditions established by John Wade and Carlos Lopez when they transformed this historic elementary school into a luxurious bed and breakfast." - James Reagen, Sherman Inn Co-Owner
Click here to read the full article and view the video on WWNYTV Channel 7 News.
Address: 615 Franklin St, Ogdensburg, NY (map)
Phone: (315) 713-4672
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Check-In: 3:00 PM to 9:30 PM
Check-Out: 11:00 AM
Breakfast: 8:30 AM to 9:00 AM
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