Sand Lake is an area blessed with beautiful lakes, rolling hills, creeks, waterfalls, small mountains and plenty of timber. In many ways it resembles New York’s Adirondack Park.
James K. Averill
Thanks to the work of James K. Averill, a New York City lawyer, the hamlet of Averill Park would become a stop along the Troy & New England railroad. This trolley connected Sand Lake to affluent Troy, NY and then to the Hudson River Railroad. This, more than anything, helped Sand Lake to flourish.
My grandparents, Everett Holser and Irene Whitehead, met on this trolley. I suspect that this is what eventually led to her father’s decision to purchase the land on Crooked Lake that later became my childhood home.
It was because of this trolley that all that Sand Lake had to offer was now easily accessible to travelers from Troy, Albany and Schenectady. Even people like James Averill came up from New York City to Sand Lake for long weekends or entire summers.
Summer days would see a line of horse-drawn taxis ready to deliver visitors to one of Sand Lake’s five hotels or private camps. Orient Avenue would be a hive of activity as the Albia trolley arrived, bursting at the seams with passengers eager for fresh country air, a swim, or a leisurely stroll along the lake. The times were prosperous and that meant they were good for Sand Lake.
Visitors could choose to rest or recreate on Crystal Lake, Crooked Lake, Glass Lake, Reichards Lake or at one of the nearby Burden Lakes. It was just a a short walk or a scenic country ride from the trolley to each of these lakes.
Favored hunting grounds of Teddy Roosevelt
As I mentioned, I grew up on Crooked Lake, and like to brag that while he was the Governor of New York, President Teddy Roosevelt would bring his family to Brown’s Crooked Lake House (formerly the Wendell Inn) to vacation and enjoy long walks in the nearby woods. Once hunting grounds for indigenous peoples, the now beautifully restored building under new ownership, still sits at the base of Bailey Mountain. Crooked Lake’s surrounding woodlands became a favorite hunting area for Roosevelt.
Who is Mark Frost?
For those of you who don’t know, Mark Frost and David Lynch are co-creators of the extremely popular Twin Peaks television series that ran two seasons in 1990 and 1991. It returned for a third season in 2017, airing on the Showtime network. At a recent Twin Peaks reunion, Mark revealed that his summers spent in Sand Lake, specifically on Taborton Mountain, influenced the creation of the television series.
On March 23rd, 2017 the UK based Daily Mail did a feature story on the Sand Lake, Mark Frost and the Hazel Drew connection to the Twin Peaks series. Annette Witheridge for the Daily Mail wrote:
“Enigmatic Frost, 63, has occasionally dropped hints about the real stories behind Twin Peaks, but his most telling observations were in an essay he wrote in a Sand Lake newsletter about his maternal grandmother.”
“The inspiration for the television series Twin Peaks sprang from a nightmarish little bedtime story my grandmother Betty Calhoun planted in my ear as a young boy,”
“Betty, whose interest in the facts was at best, glancing, framed this tale more along the lines of a cautionary ghost story; don’t go out in the woods at night, etc.”
“Poor Hazel’s body was found on the banks of the pond. Mystery ensued. Uncertainty about the perpetrator lingered, and may still.”“Some weeks later, a calf, stuck in the mud and bleating for help under a dim half moon, was mistaken for the spirit of the lost girl by a couple of local drunks, who fled the scene in terror.”“Some twenty years later, half-remembered details of this sad tale swam through my sub-conscious during the creation of a similarly doomed character named Laura Palmer.” Read the Daily Mail article here
Mark and his brother, Scott, spent summers with their grandparents on Big Bowman; a lake on Taborton Mountain in Sand Lake. It was here that their grandmother would tell of the ghost of Hazel Drew, a young, beautiful girl murdered and found face down on the shore of Taborton Mountain’s Teal’s Pond. His grandmother said that her ghost was still haunting Taborton – especially at the very end of the lake where they stayed.
As stated, the story stuck with Mark. So, as any good writer would, he went back to the source and began poking around Sand Lake for details. He said:
“It was the notion of this girl’s body being found on the edge of the water, the mystery remaining unsolved, the multiple suspects, and the kind of cross-cultural and different social classes of people she interacted with,” he said. “It really struck my fancy,”
Who was Hazel Drew?
Hazel was born a farm girl in East Poestenkill, NY, where she stayed until she was fourteen. Evidently, a smart and ambitious girl, Hazel went to work as a domestic servant for Troy’s mayor. She quickly worked her way up to governess, working for RPI professor, Edward Carey. At the time of her death, Hazel was nineteen and had just quit her job at the Carey house.
It was 11:00 am on Monday, July 6th, 1908 and Hazel was unemployed. Later that day she was seen in Troy. No one knows or has been willing to say where Hazel slept that night. She was spotted the following day in Troy at 1:49 and not again until that evening walking on Taborton Road in Sand Lake.
She wasn’t seen again until her body was discovered and pulled from the shore of Teal’s Pond on July 11th; her skull crushed and a corset string knotted around her neck.
Hazel’s murder became known throughout the country. Details about her murder, the suspects and the ever-changing theories, had the nation’s attention.
It was reported that Hazel liked to travel but was traveling beyond what she could afford on a governess’s salary. She supposedly had been proposed to by a married dentist. Hazel’s bags had more than one man’s handkerchief in her luggage and some thought she was seeing a wealthy man from Albany.
Was Hazel Drew living a double life like the Twin Peaks character she inspired?
Hazel was living a life beyond what those around her knew anything about.
Or did they?
Her Aunt Minnie refused to cooperate with Troy’s district attorney. She even told Hazel’s friends to stay quiet.
Why? What was Aunt Minnie afraid of ?
Hazel’s murder was never solved. Why did the investigation end so quickly?
These are questions more then a few people are still asking today.
What is the Sand Lake Connection?
Sand Lake, specifically the hamlet of Taborton, was where Hazel’s body was found and was where Mark Frost spent his summers. Sand Lake also influenced the creation of Twin Peaks’ setting and characters.
In many ways, 1908 Sand Lake was similar to Twin Peaks with its water falls, saw mills, hotels and colorful characters.
In the early years, people settled here to work the land as farmers, mill workers, loggers and charcoal merchants. My ancestors, the Holsers and the Finches, were farmers, live-stock breeders and ran a lumber yard just off of Taborton Road.
Mark Givens and David Bushman wrote this in a Washington Post article:
“Sand Lake is, in many regards, a northeastern doppelganger to its fictional Pacific Northwest counterpart.”
We’ll never really know if Twin Peaks‘ Trudy, Andy or Sheriff Harry Truman were modeled after actual Sand Lake residents. Although, during the same interview where Mark mentioned that Hazel’s murder played a role in developing Twin Peaks‘ Laura Palmer, he also mentioned the many “colorful” characters living in Sand Lake.
Nor will we ever be one hundred percent sure if Twin Peaks’ Packard’s Lumber Mill was derived from a time when he had been riding his bike past a Taborton lumber yard. Or, when he made Whitetail Falls part of the setting for Twin Peaks, if it was based on his recollection of Poestenkill’s Barbersville Falls; a stone’s throw from where Hazel Drew is buried. But where do the things our imagination creates come from, if not images, memories and stories from our lives?
Let’s fully appreciate what has now happened.
Once the reports hit the interwebs, that the real-life Laura Palmer was murdered in Sand Lake, fans started buzzing with Twin Peaks excitement. They want to know MORE!
There is enough excitement that the London based Daily Mail came to Sand Lake for a closer look. The Daily Mail article states:
“Sand Lake is the real life version of Twin Peaks – and the character Laura Palmer, whose naked body is discovered in the river at the beginning of the show, is based on Hazel Drew.”
So far, we’ve only scratched the surface.
I’m following, filming and interviewing a group of amateur detectives, a historian and a couple of authors for a documentary about this Sand Lake murder mystery and its Twin Peaks connection.
If you would like to stay informed on updates to this mystery and on the documentary click here: