NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XXVI, No. 2, June 1970
David Rhys Roberts
WHY would anyone still cut ice in this day and age? The
availability of cheaper, more convenient and more
sanitary methods of refrigeration would suggest that
older ways should have died out rather naturally about a quarter
century ago in New York. There has been time for former practitioners
to age and become physically unable to carry on. T.V.
sets in living rooms have had ample time to disseminate urban
living standards to the most remote kitchens and milkhouses.
Unprecedented mobility of population has made the persistence
of less modern ways of doing things much less likely. The demise
of rural ice harvesting seems altogether logical.
To find the annual harvest still being taken causes one to
reexamine his assumptions. To find harvesters undertaking the
practice for the first time in this day and age tends to dispel the
notion that folkways will ever be scientifically explicable. Such
findings lead to re-asking the question, “Why would anyone cut
ice?” The question now becomes a matter for serious inquiry
rather than a mere statement of conjecture.
Ice harvesting is still practiced in New York State. Looking
for informants that had participated in the practice on a scale
comparable to that which cooperating farmers might have used
to meet their own rural needs, I was referred to four separate
small operations almost at once. Contacting them with the assistance
of the Adirondack Museum led to invitations to observe the
harvest for documentation purposes from two of them and to
participate in one if I cared to.
That one, a harvest by Richard Lereux of Tupper Lake, New
York, is the one photorecorded in this report. It took place on March 1 and 2, 1969. While traveling to take part in it, I took note of still another harvest, just completed, along the way. The full extent of the practice in New York State today is not known,
but that it is very much alive in the Adirondack region is certain.
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