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Ice! The Amazing History of the Ice Business

The Story Behind the Book

Serendipity is one of my favorite words. It means "unexpected good news." One early experience in my young life is an example: my father sent me outdoors on a cold November day to rake leaves. I grumbled, and felt unhappy. Raking, raking, raking. So many leaves! And then, in the roadside leaves, I found a five dollar bill. (This was long ago; today it would be like you finding a twenty!) Suddenly a boring chore was rewarded.

Serendipity also played a part in my writing Ice! The Amazing History of the Ice Business. In January 2009 I read about an upcoming event: the Knickerbocker Ice Festival, held at Rockland Lake, a few miles from my home. On a chilly Sunday I was there, marveling at ice sculptures, and seeing enlargements of old photos that showed that the lake had once been the site of a thriving and vital business. I had known a bit about this, but the photo captions and other information there gave me the idea of writing a book about a time when everyone depended on ice, iceboxes, and deliveries by icemen. Until that day I had never really thought about how different life was, before electric refrigerators and freezers. And I knew that the story wasn't just about Rockland Lake. The lake was important, since for a time it was called "the icebox of New York City." However, ice was harvested all over the country's colder regions. It was a national story. It was even an international story, since ice from the United States (including Rockland Lake) was shipped to such faraway places as Australia and China.

One of the rewards of writing this book, or any book: meeting all kinds of fascinating, and helpful, people. I'm especially grateful to two men, Timothy Englert and Rob Patalano, who knew about the history of ice harvesting, ice storing, etc. at Rockland Lake, and featured their knowledge at the ice festival. They both helped with details and accuracy of the book. Much later on, as I was hunting for old photos and drawings, I stumbled upon Icebox Memories, of Springfield, Massachusetts. The home of Gail and Thomas Lucia is a mini-museum (though not open to the public), and they shared their wisdom, plus old postcards, ice cards, and other items that helped illustrate the book.

As a writer, I always look for intriguing anecdotes or fascinating details that readers will appreciate. Here are three I especially like in this book: "Girl on the Ice!" (page 25), "A Horse Named Jerry, or White Silver" (page 38), and "Ice Riot!" (page 50). They tell true stories about everyday people, and help history come alive.