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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, June 1970

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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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