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Alum's Ancestor Helped Popularize Adirondacks


Randall Beach '94
Randall Beach '94

Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Fall 2013

Randall Beach ’94 studied political science at Union and law at Boston University, but his subject was history on April 15, when he gave a presentation at Union’s new Kelly Adirondack Center. 

Beach’s lecture described his great-great grandfather, William H. H. Murray, the author of a book that popularized excursions in the Adirondacks and the very idea of enjoying leisure time in the wilderness. Published in April 1869, Adventures in the Wilderness; Or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks was a smash-hit with city dwellers, many of whom flocked to the mountains in response to Murray’s description of an unsullied, pine-scented paradise. 

“Murray advocated that the common man embrace the wilderness and that the common man spend time in the outdoors,” Beach said, noting the region largely had been, before the publication of Murray’s book, the hunting ground of a few elites. 

“I have no sympathy at all with those two or three hundred gentlemen who would monopolize the Adirondack wilderness for their own exclusive amusement and benefit,” Murray wrote. 

Beach, a native of Plattsburgh, is a partner with the law firm of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna in Albany. Since 2012, he and his family have lived in a home they purchased from Union College in Schenectady’s GE Realty Plot.

Beach’s talk, coincidentally, came just days after the publication of an article about Murray in The Smithsonian Magazine. Beach peppered his portrayal of the man with details from family lore, describing his great-great-grandfather as a Yale-educated preacher who loved the field and the stream as much as the pulpit; whose vacillating fortunes caused him to lose his shirt and then regain the family homestead in Guilford, Conn.; strike it rich as a popular author and then lose it all as a failed horse rancher in Texas.

“With a character like my great-great-grandfather, there are a lot of legends and tales,” Beach said, “and it’s hard to sift through which are true and what’s just balderdash.”

For all his hits and misses, there’s no denying “Adirondack Murray” is a key figure in the history of the American outdoor movement and a key contributor to the mystique of the Adirondacks; as one contemporary wrote, he “kindled a thousand campfires and taught a thousand pens how to write of nature.”