Lake Tear of the Clouds – Keene Valley, New York - Atlas Obscura
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Keene Valley, New York

Lake Tear of the Clouds

Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “midnight ride to the presidency" started at this small lake high up in the Adirondacks. 

At an elevation of over 4,000 feet, Lake Tear of the Clouds is the highest lake in the state of New York, a source of the Hudson River, and one of the most inconvenient places one could be upon discovering they need to be sworn in as the next President of the United States.

Yet this pristine pond high in the Adirondacks is exactly where then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was on September 12, 1901, having lunch with his family near the summit of New York’s tallest mountain, Mount Marcy, when a messenger came with the news. President William McKinley’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, and he was expected to die.

McKinley had been shot several days earlier by an anarchist while attending an event in Buffalo, New York. Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo to be with the McKinley, but doctors expected the president to make a full recovery, and Roosevelt was told to resume his vacation, so headed for the Adirondacks. There in the mountains, 50 miles from the closest railroad and 10 miles from the nearest telephone, Roosevelt was told McKinley’s condition had worsened. Age 42 at the time, he began his hurried journey back to civilization to fulfill his constitutional duty.

At the nearest cottage, another message was delivered: “Come at once.” Roosevelt descended the peak — a tough hike in the best of conditions — in record time, arriving at the Tahawus Club where he was staying, an old cabin now part of an abandoned ghost town. Around 10:30 at night he climbed onto a one-seated stagecoach and embarked on the 40-mile ride through the Adirondacks to the North Creek railroad station.

Good old Teddy made the midnight ride along the slippery mountain road — which would normally take about seven hours — at such a rapid and exhausting pace, he had to stop to change horses and drivers three times. Roosevelt arrived at the train station shortly before dawn, where his secretary delivered a telegram announcing that McKinley had died. 

Roosevelt took the fastest train the remaining miles to the city, arriving in Buffalo shortly after 1:30 PM on September 13th, where he became the 26th President of the United States.

Once a narrow road through the mountain range, the 40-mile historic route is now part of Route 28N, a scenic highway, dubbed the Roosevelt-Marcy Trail. Mount Marcy and Lake Tear of the Clouds are located in the town of Keene in Essex County in northern New York.

As president, Teddy Roosevelt, who worked to protect the Hudson River as Governor of New York, would help preserve over 200,000 acres of wilderness as the first national parks and forests in the country. It’s a small part of his great legacy, and fitting, considering how his presidency began.