On November 2, 2014, I climbed North Dome in the Catskills with Jon, an occasional hiking partner of mine, and his friend Chris.
The trip that this report describes is in the nature of a pilgrimage, and the slaying of a personal bugbear. As far as I know, I'm the first in my family to climb North Dome Mountain since the tragic events of 1940.
Note: I expect to be able to include more pictures soon. My partners did most of the photography on this trip.
I'll let the newspapers describe the piece of family history that North Dome represents.
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 29 November 1940, page 7:
Brother Vamps Join Search for L.I. Hunter Missing 3
Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
Inwood, Nov. 29—Twenty-five members of the Inwood Volunteer Fire Department today joined the search for Wesley Meserole, 28, of 143 Lord Ave., here, who disappeared last Tuesday on a hunting trip in the mountainous countryside near Spruceton. Meserole is a member of long standing of the local fire company.
Headed by Nassau County Police Sgt. Robert O. Kirk of the Woodmere Precinct, brother-in-law of young Meserole, the firemen left here in five automobiles. The missing man's wife is on the verge of collapse at his home, where she and their two children are anxiously awaiting news.
Police Continue Search
Spruceton, N. Y., Nov. 29 (UP)—State police, CCC workers and volunteers continued to search the woods near here today for Wesley Meserole, 28, who disappeared on a hunting trip Tuesday. Meserole, father of two children, left his Inwood, L. I. home Monday. Hunters at a Catskill mountain camp said he had ascended nearby North Dome Mountain. State police were notified when he failed to return that night and a search has been in progress since.
From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, January 9, 1941, page 5:
Shells Identified As Fired By Meserole
Shotgun shells found in Mink Hollow, town of Lexington, were positively identified by experts as shells fired by Wesley Meserole, Inwood, L.I. hunter who has been missing since November 26 when he left a Spruceton farmhouse to go hunting.
The search for the hunter is expected to continue whenever weather permits and many county residents, CCC boys and friends from Inwood have participated in the search.
From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, April 24, 1941, page 1:
TO SEARCH FOR MISSING HUNTER AGAIN SUNDAY
Volunteers are again requested to join in a search of the Mink Hollow and Broad Street Hollow sections near Westkill in a final effort to locate some clue to the mysterious disappearance of Wesley Meserole, Inwood, L.I. hunter who vanished during a hunting trip on November 26.
The search, to be held Sunday, May 4, is sponsored by the Inwood Volunteer Firemen. Cooperation will be offered by county volunteer firemen and others from several sections of the state. State Troopers, game wardens, fire wardens, local police, and residents will also join the hunt. It is hoped that sufficient manpower will be present to comb every inch of the territory in which Meserole had been hunting.
Searchers are requested to report at Westkill Community Hall at 8 a.m., Sunday. Sandwiches and coffee will be served throughout the day.
Since Meserole's disappearance, several attempts have been made to locate the missing man, his gun, or some definite clue which might help in solving the mystery of his disappearance. After January 12, the search was discontinued due to the snow on the mountains.
The only clues found so far have been discharged shotgun shells identified as the same type used by Meserole.
From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 15, 1941, page 1:
EXPECT 500 MEN TO JOIN SEARCH FOR MESEROLE
The search for Wesley Meserole, missing Inwood, L.I. volunteer fireman, who disappeared while on a hunting trip near Westkill, town of Lexington, on November 26, will be organized this Sunday, The search, a final attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of the hunter, was originally scheduled for May 4, but was cancelled when the state closed the woods to the public due to the danger of fire.
More than 500 searchers, consisting of volunteer firemen and co-operating residents from Inwood, Meserole's home town, and communities throughout Greene and adjacent counties are expected to join the searching parties.
Charles Stewart, president of the Green County Firemen's Association, is in charge of the arrangements. All searchers will leave the Westkill Community Hall at 8 a.m.
From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 22, 1941, page 1:
SEARCHERS FAIL TO FIND ANY TRACE OF LOST HUNTER
Although upwards of 400 men gathered at Westkill on Sunday for a final search through the Broad Street Hollow, North Dome, and adjacent areas, no trace of Wesley Meserole, 29, was found.
Meserole, a volunteer fireman from Inwood, L.I., has been missing since he started on a hunting trip last November.
Participating in the search Sunday were volunteer firemen from nearly every company in Greene ounty, as well as representatives from Columbia and Schoharie counties, Inwood, and residents from the nearby communities, headed by men from the Conservation Department, the sheriff's office, State Police, Charles Stewart, president of the Greene County Firemen's Association, and Frank D. Meserole, the missing man's father.
Any number of miscellaneous objects, left by countless hunters in the area, were found, but nothing could be located to indicate the whereabouts of Meserole.
Many persons apparently are convinced that Meserole was accidentally shot and killed by another hunter, and that the body and all equipment which he carried, have been hidden in the rocks or buried. The mystery may remain unsolved forever. Providing Meserole was killed by another hunter, hope has been expressed that a guilty conscience may cause the killer to reveal the whereabouts of the body in due time, either by personal confession or by an unsigned message to the authorities.
From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 29, 1941, page 1:
$1,000 REWARD OFFERED FOR BODY OF W. MESEROLE
Determined to solve the mysterious disappearance of his son, Wesley Meserole, Frank Meserole now offers $1,000 reward to any person or persons locating the missing Inwood, L.I. hunter, dead or alive.
Meserole disappeared on November 26, 1940, while hunting rabbits in the town of Lexington, south of the Westkill and Spruceton road, presumably in the Broad Street Hollow area.
Thousands of searchers have combed the mountainous area of North Dome where the hunter was last seen. The hunt continued for some time after Meserole disappeared, although the men were handicapped by snow, the first of which fell the night Meserole was reported missing.
A final search was organized on May 18 when a large group of men, composed of volunteer firemen, civilians, friends from Inwood, state police, game protectors, and men from the sheriff's office combed a large area, but failed to find a single clue to indicate the whereabouts of Meserole.
The theory that Meserole had died in the woods as the result of an accident, or from wounds inflicted by himself, is now discounted, since it is believed that his body would have been found on May 18 had the remains been exposed since his disappearance.
A couple of side notes: I'd describe Wesley Meserole as having gone hiking. A strict Methodist, he was never one to "eat the bread of idleness," but carrying a gun would give his expeditions purpose, however unsuccessful they might be—and they most often were. In his time, there was little in the popular conception to distinguish recreational hiking from vagrancy.
The $1,000 that the elder Meserole offered as a reward was quite a substantial sum, more than half a year's wage for a journeyman carpenter in those days. Nobody ever stepped forward to claim it.
Wesley Meserole was the father of Roy Meserole, who eventually became my mother's long-time companion. (I often refer to him as my stepfather, although they never contracted a formal marriage, owing in part to the fact that doing so would jeopardize the assets of both should either ever suffer a severe medical problem.) Among my family, North Dome was a mountain whose name was uttered in hushed tones. When I took up mountaineering in the Catskills, my brother strongly reminded me of the tragic events that befell the Meserole family, and told me in no uncertain terms that I must not leave my wife a widow! With that background, North Dome was the one of the Catskill 3500's in particular that filled me with profound unease, if not indeed dread.
It was against this background that Jon called me on November 1 (rather at the last minute), inviting me to hike North Dome and Mount Sherrill on the following day. I accepted, warning him that I would be a bit of a nervous Nellie on the trip, and telling him some of the family history that made that so. We agreed to meet at the Shaft Road trailhead to shuttle cars.
We got started from the Mink Hollow trailhead in Spruceton (do you recognize names from the newspapers?) in reasonably good order, if at quite some delay, owing to the fact that I got delayed a little bit north of Schoharie village for some sort of police roadblock. I never found out what was going on. They were talking with a good many drivers, but when I finally got to the head of the line, they waved me through.
We walked in on the Devil's Path to roughly the first place where it's possible to turn up North Dome without trespassing. We rock-hopped the Mink Hollow brook, and started up the steep ascent to North Dome.
About a quarter of the way up, Jon had to sit down, and started looking quite ill, and talking about aborting the hike. Chris and I of course stayed with him, and offered considerable reassurances that we'd not be at all annoyed at an abort, Objective Number One is to come home safe! But it turned out that he'd skipped breakfast, and had had nothing to eat that day but a couple of cups of coffee, and a Slim Jim munched in the car washed down with a can of Red Bull. He got out some of the food he brought, and had a sandwich. We made sure to get extra water into him, since he'd had nothing earlier in the day but salt and caffeine! He came around nicely, and said, "Let's try just moving slowly, and do just North Dome," insisting over our objections that he was well enough to travel.
In the event, it turned out that he was right. He continued to improve and was soon hiking strongly. Nevertheless, I'm a slow hiker, and the various delays made it obvious that we didn't have enough time to do Sherrill and descend to the west.
There had been a dusting of snow at the trailhead, and it gradually got deeper until it was boot-deep at the summit. The snow atop slippery fallen leaves made the ledges quite challenging. It was difficult finding safe footing for scrambling. Still, nobody had a bad fall or got hurt.
We eventually made it onto the north spur of the mountain, making the ledges slightly less high. They were still just as precipitous, and as frequent. They were just somewhat less tall. They continued up into the balsam forest.
Finally, we emerged onto an open path that led for about half a mile across the flat summit, depositing us directly at the canister.
At last, I'd reached the spot that my family's lore had me believe was cursed.
I wrote a lengthy inscription in the log book:
IN MEMORIAM F. WESLEY MESEROLE BORN 1911 LAST SEEN ON THIS MOUNTAIN NOV. 26, 1940 LEAVING BEHIND HIS WIFE GEORGINA AND TWO YOUNG CHILDREN ROY AND ETTA THIS NOTE LEFT NOV. 2, 2014 ALL SOULS DAY BY HIS STEP-GRANDSON KEVIN KENNY
I hope that for me, at least, that particular ghost will now be laid to rest.
We then started back down the mountain. Jon was quite enjoying his descent, glissading wherever possible. I was going at it considerably more gingerly, glissading only when necessary, mostly when the arses of the two hikers ahead of me had compacted the snow into a slippery mass that would not give me stable footing. A few of my glissades were of the "inadvertent seated glissade" variety. There wasn't really enough snow for a good slide, and I suspect that the rocks may have done some damage to the seat of my pants.
On the way down, I happened to notice a row of trees where the snow had made near-perfect AT blazes - nowhere near the Appalachian Trail. This potential confusion is one reason that I find the AT is interesting to navigate in the winter.
Without much further ado, but on an approach trail that seemed much longer in the afternoon than it had in the morning, we made our way back to my car, shuttled back to grab Jon's car, and got on the road.
After getting into dry clothing, we adjourned to the Sportsman's Alamo Cantina in Phoenicia for a post-hike celebratory meal. The verdict: a successful day.
Map of our tracks: