Ernest Blue Vistas in the Trees Beyond Prison Bars
Page 4 of stories and sidebars associated with the life and times of Ernest W. Blue. Complied by his son, Allan G. Blue.

Above is an image of the cover of The Many Lives of Robert Rosenbluth - 1887 through 1962, an unpublished 94-page autobiography by the man who played so pivotal a role in Ernest W. Blue's life. NYCHS appreciates EWB's son, Allan G. Blue, making the 1962 manuscript available for review purposes.
This Page 4 of Ernest Blue Vistas in the Trees Beyond Prison Bars, Page 5, and the few pages thereafter (now being drafted) are devoted to an extensive review by the NYCHS webmaster of The Many Lives of Robert Rosenbluth - 1887 through 1962, an unpublished 94-page autobiography by the man who played so pivotal a role in Ernest W. Blue's life.

RR sent a mimeographed copy to EWB in 1962 but was still working on it in September 1964 when he wrote EWB requesting photos, presumably to submit for publication with his text whenever, or if ever, finally finished. This review of the manuscript focuses mainly on the correction history aspects although other phases in RR's "many lives" are mentioned.

The concluding page of this extended review of the Rosenbluth ms will address his becoming the "American Dreyfus."
---The Webmaster

(A review.)

Robert Rosenbluth began his 94-page 1962 manuscript simply as "Recollections" on an un-numbered page [actually the obverse of the title page] using a letter format addressed to J. S. Stokes of Ogden, Utah. The ms opens as a response to Stokes' request for his "recollections."

Dear Stokes: . . . . You asked me for some recollections of my experience [in forestry], so [all] this is your own responsibility.

While RR, tongue in cheek, placed "responsibility" for the autobiographical pages at Stokes' doorstep, we can only be appreciative that Stokes triggered the author's reminisces.

Their value arises not from their literary style, best described as serviceable, but rather from their reflecting important historic developments in which he often played a significant role.

The temptation to write oneself as the "hero" in one's own biography must be close to irresistible, but in his case, Rosenbluth had ample grounds justifying his doing so.

Indeed his experiences and accomplishments were quite remarkable and worthy of note.

The U.S. Forestry Service website includes a page about the scenic Kaibab Plateau–North Rim Parkway (State Highway 67 in red above). To access the page, click the Forestry Service map image above. The page includes links to other web pages about the Kaibab region. One of these linked pages happens also to be on the U.S. Forestry Service website and features 21 photos of the North Kaibab District. The Kaibab National Forest's complex of pages can be accessed through
Hopefully, this extended review of his autobiography will serve to increase awareness of the many roles -- aka "Many Lives" -- played by this extraordinary man at key junctures in New York history.

His is not a dull, dry tale overloaded with accounts of meetings and conferences of high public import. Instead, the ms is filled with extended episodes and individual incidents that are quite fascinating, sometimes funny and even earthy.

For example, reading his account [on ms numbered Pages 2 and 3] about a 1910 topographic survey of Arizona's Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon -- hauling supplies in 4 feet of snow up thousands of feet of elevation by man-pulled dogsleds, crossing the canyon in a wire cage hand-propelled on the single cable -- is exciting.

The above image is a section of a photo taken by Ernest W. Blue of a Dannemora inmate, holding a bugle on which he played reveille during the morning flag raising rite. Beyond the cannon is the prison wall and sky above it.

In a January 26, 1963, letter thanking Robert Rosenbluth for sending an advance copy of the autobiography, EWB recalled the plaintive notes played by the prison bugler.

"When I was at Dannemora I had a room over the warden's office . . . . In those days a bugler sounded reveille and taps in the prison yard just below my window. . . . The sound of his bugle in the quiet of that northern country would echo from mountain to mountain of the rugged Saranac River valley and I have never forgotten the thrill of it. A little newspaper was published at the prison. . . . In one issue there appeared the following poem which so gripped me that I memorized it."

The clear sweet notes of the bugle's call
Ring out through the waning light,
When the sun has set and the stars appear
Through the purple shades of the night.

A thousand bondsmen hear the call
As it floats far on and away,
And a thousand bondsmen's hearts rejoice
At the close of another day.

They go to their bunks and fall asleep
To dream of the morrow to be --
When shackles and walls shall fall away
And Death end their misery.

But they wake with the dawn,
With a prayer to God,
At the sound of the reveille,
And ask that He, with His Guiding Hand,
Will lead them to Victory.

The image above, of another inmate raising the flag, was taken from the same EWB photo. Click either image to access the full text of the letter and the full photo.
Another example: On the opening page, in recalling his directing a 1910 U.S. Forestry Service project near Ely, Nevada, he told Stokes how on one of these occasions [of shanghaiing" drunks from a local bar to fill his labor crew vacancies], I had a most unusual experience . . . . For the ranchers, who were all Mormons (and a very fine group of people) and who were teetotalers, I was the upholder of temperance.

I drank only water (this was my invariable rule, so that I would offend no one by refusing to drink with them, although I would "buy") . . .

a fellow . . . boasted that he could drink more whiskey than any one could drink water.

Much money was bet, with added bets taken after each drink (a total of 30 or 40 as I recall) and excitement mounted as the bets rose.

Word of this spread by the grapevine, and as I said, the ranchers greatly approved and were most helpful in the work. I won, both the contest and universal approval.

At the bottom of Page 3, RR noted:

You ask how I came to switch from forestry.

I should start by telling you how I came to leave the Forest Service; this came about because New York State gave a Civil Service Examination for Director of Forest Investigations, and I took the examination and was appointed . . .

I found that there was much talk about forestry, but almost nothing done about it, so I conceived the idea of making the land at the 26 or more State Institutions demonstrations of forest management, insofar as the land was non-agricultural.

The results were very spectacular, particularly in a 10,000 acre tract on the north side of the Adirondacks.

This belonged to Dannemora State Prison . . . a very maximum security prison!

I could never get permission to make a demonstration on this area for a long time, for it had been cut over, burned, wind-fallen and the most desolate area imaginable.

But after a riot burned down all the prison shops, RR approached the State Superintendent of Prisons to let him take inmates from the prison to set up, work and live in a forest camp.

He said I was crazy, and I replied, "How many years will it take to replace the shops, and have new industries in the prison?"

We agreed it would be at least three years and I asked, "Can you keep people in idleness that long and not have continuous riots?"

The wooded character of vast acreage near the Clinton Correctional Facility can be seen in the undated aerial images above and below. Both appear in the on-line slide-show of "Old Dannemora" provided by the Village of Dannemora website. Click either image to access the excellent slide-show.

Below: #34 of the 74 views in the slide-show. Above: #35 with lettering identifying it as one of the "Skyviews" by Dwight P. Church (1891-1974), a prominent photographer and aviator from Canton, N.Y. Church used a Kodak folding camera to capture Adirondack scenes from his Monosport NC113K. For more about him, visit the Davis-Monthan Airfield web page featuring him, his camera and plane.

He said, "Alright, if you are crazy enough to make a try, I will let you."

With that sanction, RR appeared at the prison, and against all the pleading of the warden, started out with 12 prisoners, and pitched camp on a mountain about 20 miles away.

I ran this camp at the beginning with only one civilian helper and no guards.

We did a tremendous job in restoring this area, and made a big profit for the State.

The number of prisoners greatly increased and few foresters were added -- never any guards.

The Dannemora forestry camp crews uncovered wide-spread trespass taking place on state land and thereby helped the state recover thousands of dollars in what otherwise would have been lost revenue.

RR wrote Stokes: My assistant, Ernest Blue, is now a retired banker in Poland, New York, which is one way for ex-foresters to emulate. In later stages of the work at Dannemora, your classmate, Edward C. N. Richards participated as did Stanley Wilson and William Sauder.

If any reader wonders why some people call the Dannemora prison complex in Clinton County "Little Siberia" a glance at a NY State map outline can help make the point clearer. Depicted in red above, Clinton is the state's northernmost county and borders Canada. It is said, perhaps with tongue in frozen cheek, that Clinton has two seasons: winter and July.
Another of the State Institutions was the State Prison for Women in Bedford, New York. There we did a very fine job on the land attached to that prison, using in this case as in all others, inmate labor.

The head of this institution, Katharine Bement Davis, was appointed Commissioner of Correction for New York City, January 1, 1914. About a month before that, I received a telegram to come to New York to talk to her. She calmly told me that she had arranged for a leave of absence for two years from my job as Director of Forest Investigations, as she wanted me to start a New York City Reformatory, on an honor system and take charge of it, as she knew no one else who could do this.

I really did not want to leave forestry, where I was happy in my works. But she over-persuaded me and this correctional work became an outstanding success. At the end of my two years, it was turned over to Louis [sic] E. Lawes, who had been a guard in charge of my demonstration project at another institution (Elmira) and from the New York City institution which I started, Lawes went on to become the very famous Warden of Sing Sing. I might add, that all this work with prisoners in forestry camps set the example for successful camps in many states today.

Contrary to RR's reference to Lewis E. Lawes (whose first name he misspelled) as a mere "guard" both at Elmira and at the "New York City institution," Lawes had been chief guard at Elmira and the Superintendent in charge at the NYC Reformatory in the Bronx on Hart Island beginning March 1915.

1914-15 NYC Correction Commissioner Katharine Bement Davis.
Not known to this reviewer are what duties Rosenbluth may have had, if any, with respect to supervision of the NYC Reformatory on Hart Island where it had begun in 1905 and where it was still in December 1913 when he met with soon-to-be Commissioner Davis about New Hampton. NYC had acquired that Orange County farm land in 1912/13 to become the home for the NYC Reformatory.

Lawes was the one who on April Fool's Day 1916 led 547 youths from Hart Island to the New Hampton Farms property to establish that as new home for the Reformatory.

At the start of her two years as NYC Correction Commissioner (1914/15), Davis sent a very small advance contingent of staffers and young inmates to pioneer the farming program on the Orange County property. This evidently is what she recruited RR to head.

Whatever responsibilities, if any, RR may have had on Hart Island, the main base of the Reformatory until the April 1, 1916 move, those duties would seem to have come under Lawes' supervision a full nine months before Rosenbluth's two-year stint at New Hampton Farms was up.

Lewis E. Lawes who served as NYC Reformatory superintendent (warden), first on Hart Island and later at New Hampton Farms, eventually became Sing Sing warden. Click image to access more about him. Use your browser's "back" button to return.
The massive Hart Island-to-New Hampton Farms move came three months after expiration of the two years RR agreed to serve preparing the Orange County acreage.

While his Hart Island Reformatory role, if any, in 1914 and the first three months of 1915 remains somewhat unclear, Rosenbluth was without doubt the major player in helping Commissioner Davis and later her successor, Burdette G. Lewis, who had been her Deputy Commissioner, get New Hampton Farms ready for the April 1, 1916 move of the Reformatory from Hart Island.

After leaving New Hampton Farms, Rosenbluth wrote Stokes:

. . . I went into government research (which needs a chapter in itself), then into World War I, and subsequently into Welfare and other activities, including working now as Assistant Director of Cook County (Chicago) Department of Welfare, because, fortunately among other things, there is no compulsory retirement here because of age.

It was as Assistant Director that RR signed off his 5-page response to J. S. Stokes.

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