In my humble opinion

Skating on thin ice

Posted 1/18/23

While in conversation last week with managing editor Annemarie Schuetz about this issue of the River Reporter , I mentioned that I was planning to swing by the Sullivan County Historical Society and …

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In my humble opinion

Skating on thin ice


While in conversation last week with managing editor Annemarie Schuetz about this issue of the River Reporter, I mentioned that I was planning to swing by the Sullivan County Historical Society and Museum in Hurleyville, NY to hear Carol Smith share some stories about explorer Dr. Frederick Cook.

Smith, one half (the other being musician/photographer/husband Aldo Troiani) of popular musical duo Little Sparrow, also serves as the executive director of the local Frederick Cook Society. She was planning to share some anecdotes about Cook, his adventures in the North Pole, and the infamous historical rivalry with another explorer, Robert Peary.

For many years, Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909, yet even at the time his claim was disputed. Cook insisted that he had reached the pole almost a year earlier. Carol shared tidbits she had picked out of the polar ice in her never-ending quest to unearth the truth about the expeditions.

While listening attentively to Smith’s narrative, I was reminded that there had been an article in the River Reporter about Cook, his photographs and the story behind them published last June (visit,56117) but had told Annemarie that this would be different, because music was also on the bill.

I’d heard that Carol and Aldo were slated to perform with special guests, including Rounder recording artist Van Manakas on guitar; Ellen Iovino on congas, vocals and harmonica; Nick Sherman on bass; and the band’s newest addition, Sullivan West High School’s Henry Simon.

“Don’t forget we discussed ice fishing (or the lack thereof) during the editorial meeting,” Annemarie reminded me before I headed for Hurleyville. “Maybe there’s a way you can combine both topics.”

Thinking about it, I saw the correlation, since Cook’s arresting photographs of the North Pole are currently on display at the museum, and there’s plenty of ice in them.

“I lured you all here with the promise of great music,” Smith said with a laugh, prior to the concert. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about Dr. Cook for a few minutes, because we keep discovering more and more about him. Please pardon the pun,” she added with a sly grin, “but this exhibit is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Having scanned the River Reporter article from last summer, I learned that the Frederick Cook Society’s exhibit includes images from both the South and North Poles, and part of it comes to the county “courtesy of the Ohio State University Byrd Polar Center and the Library of Congress.” Also included is a collection of photographs taken by Cook in Alaska between 1903 and 1908. These images of the Inuit, as well as glaciers, icebergs, lakes and animals, have been printed from a box of vintage negatives (recently discovered) in the Sullivan County museum’s basement.

Did I mention that Frederick Cook was born in Hortonville, NY? Well, he was. Hence the local hook. I almost said “fish hook” but thought better of it. Wait… what?

Remembering Annemarie’s suggestion that I look into the state of ice fishing in the Upper Delaware River region, I scanned local sites online after Carol’s incredibly interesting mini-lecture and before the band’s first set.

Sure enough, I noticed that the 64th annual Livingston Manor Rotary Ice Carnival has been rescheduled (thin ice!) until Saturday, February 4. Keep an eye on the River Reporter calendar section for further developments.

So far, the Sullivan County Conservation Club’s “King of the Ice” fishing competition is still on for Sunday, February 19, and with luck, Lake Superior’s Ice Fishing Derby will (also) take place on February 4. We need some frigid temps to ensure no delays. After all, this isn’t Frederick Cook’s North Pole.

“I’ve never talked this much,” Smith claimed as she concluded her commentary on Cook’s life, but backstage, Aldo could be heard chiming in. “Oh, yes you have” he quipped while walking on stage as the crowd laughed in unison, and the band began to play.

It was then that the aforementioned (and highly accomplished) musicians began displaying great prowess with their renditions of the Grateful Dead’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” followed by “Valerie”—covered by many, but made most famous (IMHO) by Amy Winehouse. The song was originally written and performed by British band the Zutons, I learned from the Google in between numbers, and was based on a real live person. Who knew?

Not only was the audience (including yours truly) mesmerized by the insanely smooth riffs being played on stage, but it was immediately clear that the musicians themselves were seriously digging the groove they were happily sharing with the rest of us. More Grateful Dead commenced, with Simon getting an opportunity to shine during “Fire on the Mountain,” as he held his own alongside the more seasoned guitarists.  Percussionist Iovino’s rhythms and smooth vocals added a special touch, and it was clear to see why Aldo described his bandmates as “great professional musicians who are very generous with their time, giving us all an opportunity to thrive.”

Oh, look,” I whispered to the dog in between sets. “Wally Ice Fest (on Lake Wallenpaupack) is still on for February 5th and 6th. I better haul out the cleats,” I mumbled. “Don’t want to be skating on thin ice!”

For more on Cook, Peary and which was really the King of the Ice, visit

To keep up on all things ice fishing in New York, visit

Ice fishing in Pennsylvania? Check out

Sullivan County Historical Society and Museum, Dr. Frederick Cook, Little Sparrow, Frederick Cook Society


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