We’re still in wait mode regarding the two hockey tapes, which means that I’m biding my time working on other questions pertaining to the Ron Tammen mystery. In fact, just a couple days ago, as I was going through photos from my last trip to University Archives, I noticed a new detail that was screaming to be investigated.
The item had to do with something a volunteer researcher had found on the second day of our visit this past June. In a box holding Tammen-related materials are notes that had once belonged to Dr. Phillip Shriver, president emeritus of Miami University and a historian who had done so much to keep the Tammen mystery alive on Miami’s campus. The notes were typewritten on index cards in outline format, and the purpose of these cards was to provide Dr. Shriver with a scaled-down version of his renowned Miami Mysteries talk. In order to keep his talk to 50 minutes, he decided to skip over the part about H.H. (Hi) Stephenson. Nevertheless, Dr. Shriver had elected to include one important detail in line #6, and that rarely disclosed detail was the name of a hotel, which was the Adirondack Inn.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. So was this our answer? Was the Adirondack Inn the hotel in Wellsville, NY, where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen? You’re probably brimming with questions about this discovery too, which is why I’ll now be switching over to Q&A format.
Q: So, is that the answer? Did the serendipitous meet-up happen at a restaurant in an establishment called the Adirondack Inn?
Oh, there’s no way.
Q: How can you be so sure?
Several reasons. According to Manning’s Directory for May 1953, there was no hotel by that name in the village of Wellsville, NY. Or Andover. Or Belmont. Or Scio. Those are four towns in Allegany County in order of population size. Wellsville was by far the biggest town in the county and it was also a major stopping point for travelers. If you were going to stop for dinner anywhere between New York and Ohio, Wellsville would have been a choice spot.
Under the category of “Hotels,” Manning’s listed five of them, all in Wellsville, all off of route 17, which, in town, was known as Main Street:
- Al-Ha-Mar Motel, 475 N. Highland Avenue (Route 17)
- Brunswick Hotel, 173-177 North Main
- Fassett Hotel, 55 North Main
- Pickup’s Hotel, 38-40 North Main
- Wellsville Hotel, 470 North Main
Therefore, one of the reasons that it couldn’t be the Adirondack Inn is that there was no such hotel in or around Wellsville. I could go on.
Q: Please do.
I’ve also looked up the terms “Adirondack Inn,” “Adirondack Hotel,” and “Hotel Adirondack” in newspapers from that era to see if anything popped up that’s close to Wellsville. The only Adirondack Inn that I was able to find was the one at Sacandaga Lake in upstate New York. It was beautiful in its heyday, and I’m sure they had a nice restaurant, but it was 4 hours and 21 minutes from Wellsville.
There’s also the Adirondack Hotel, which is in Long Lake, NY. It, too, is nice, but it was over 5 hours from Wellsville. And that sums up our options.
It’s worth pointing out that the Adirondack Inn and the Adirondack Hotel are both located in the Adirondack Mountain region, which makes so much sense. What makes less sense is for a hotel in a town near the border of Pennsylvania to be named for a mountain range that’s 325 miles away.
Q: Where do you think Dr. Shriver got the name?
These things happen innocently. Phil Shriver surely would have known Hi Stephenson. Phil had arrived in Oxford in 1965 and Hi had already been working at the university since the 1940s. Hi retired in 1977. Phil stepped down from the presidency in 1981 and retired from teaching in 1998. Hi passed away in 2006 and Phil died in 2011. So I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities for Phil to ask Hi the question that I’d always wondered if Carl Knox had asked him—“What was the name of the hotel, Hi?”
The problem is…people’s memories have a way of jumbling things up over time. It could be that Hi accidentally told Phil the wrong name. Hi and his wife Kay had been vacationing in upstate New York before driving home through Wellsville. Maybe they even stayed in the Adirondack Inn, and, when he was talking to Phil, he accidentally confused the two hotel names. Or maybe Phil had gotten the details wrong. He’d mixed up other details about Hi’s story before, as a matter of fact.
Q: Really? What makes you say that?
On another note card, Phil has written some additional details regarding Hi’s story, several of which are inaccurate. In ink, he wrote the following:
“N.B. Hi & Kay Stephenson were returning from Connecticut and stopped in Waynesboro, PA.” Above that line he wrote, “Hi recalls young man’s piercing eyes.”
From what I can determine, the “N.B.” is a Latin phrase meaning “Nota bene,” or “Note well.” He’s saying that this is important, and I can totally see Phil Shriver using that terminology to do so. The man had panache.
But the locations—Connecticut and Waynesboro, PA—don’t agree with Joe Cella’s April 18, 1976, article in the Hamilton Journal-News. Joe was quoting Hi directly in that article, so that’s the source I’m going to go with factually: that the Stephensons were vacationing in upstate New York and they dined in Wellsville on the way back. (By the way, I checked and there’s no Adirondack Inn in Waynesboro, PA, either.)
But don’t be too critical of Phil or Hi. They couldn’t instantly fact check some fuzzy detail like we do now. If the information wasn’t stored securely in their brain or a file folder somewhere, it could get muddled up or completely lost.
Q: So where does that leave us? Are you still unsure about which hotel it was?
Well, funny you should ask, because when I revisited Joe Cella’s article I noticed an additional detail that could help us further narrow things down.
Let’s listen to Joe tell the story again, paying close attention to the last paragraph:
On Aug. 5, 1953, five months after Tammen was gone, Stephenson, who was in charge, and still is, of housing assignments and campus permits at Miami University, was returning with his wife from a short vacation in upper New York State.
Stephenson recalled they stopped for the evening in Wellsville, N.Y. At dinner that night, in a hotel dining room, he said he noticed three or four men sitting a few tables away. At once he said he became aware one of the men looked exactly like Tammen. He said he knew Tammen.
“When my eyes looked toward him, I would find he was looking at me. He was sort of looking right through me. For some reason that I’ll never know, I said nothing to my wife about the fact that this young man was Ron Tammen. I was sure it was him.”
After finishing dinner, Stephenson said he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street. He then told his wife. At her urging, they went back inside, but the men, one of whom Stephenson thought to be Ron Tammen, were gone. There was no trace of them in the lobby or anywhere else.
Thanks to Joe’s clues, I have three criteria to narrow things down. I’d had the first two criteria for a while now. The third one is new.
- The hotel had to have a restaurant that served dinners. This may seem like a no-brainer, but two of Wellsville’s five hotels weren’t serving regular meals.
- The hotel had to be on the street.
- The hotel had to have a lobby near its restaurant.
Regarding criterion #1: The Al-Ha-Mar Motel was a typical 1950s-style one-story motel in which all overnight guests had their own street-level entrance. They didn’t have a restaurant.
The Brunswick Hotel had a coffee shop and a bar. According to local historians, they weren’t serving meals then. So those two hotels can be ruled out.
Regarding criterion #2: The Hotel Wellsville was a stately old building about one mile north of the center of town on Main Street. It also had a restaurant. However, the hotel was set back away from the road, nestled among trees. For this reason, I don’t think it was the Hotel Wellsville.
And finally, criterion #3. The Fassett Hotel was a striking red brick building with spectacular windows. They had a dining room that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week as well as Sunday afternoon. And importantly, the Fassett Hotel was right on North Main Street and had a lobby that owners made use of by frequently featuring the work of local artists.
Pickup’s Hotel wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the Fassett, but it had a coffee shop, a cocktail lounge, and a dining room, where they served meals. It was also on North Main Street. What isn’t clear is if there was a hotel lobby near the dining area. If there was one, I don’t think it was big. A 1961 article on a fire that had broken out had said that “Principal business activity in the building centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.”
Although it’s possible that Pickup’s Hotel was where Hi Stephenson saw Ron or Ron’s look-alike, I now strongly believe that the encounter happened at the Fassett Hotel. And doesn’t it sort of fit that, given a choice between a cobbled-together medley of wood, stone, and whatever else, and an elegant building of red brick, H.H. Stephenson and Ronald Tammen, Miamians through and through, would have been drawn to the latter?
Update 10/5/2022: Before posting the above write-up, I had emailed several historians from Allegany County to see if anyone had heard of an Adirondack Inn anywhere near there. Today, I heard back from Craig Braack, Allegany County’s official historian. Craig had asked a few local “old-timers” about a possible Adirondack Inn in Allegany County and no one knew a thing about it. This is one more piece of evidence that the Adirondack Inn was not the name of the hotel where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen.