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Memories of The Catskills: The Making of a Hotel

Author: Alvin L. Lesser

John Conway, Sullivan County Historian

234 pages, 6 x 9, Perfect bound

Line illustrations /
More than 110 b&w photographs

$16.50 trade paperback

$9.95 eBook

Publication date:
January 10, 2013

Published by:
GSL Galactic Publishing

Kate Bandos,
KSB Promotions

Distributed by: Ingram




From pages 1

MY BIRTH (1922)

I was born on July 21, 1922. It seems the doctor who delivered me, Dr. Hirshkowitz, felt my birth was of no particular significance and did not file a birth certificate.

Apparently every cloud has a silver lining. My mother used to swear had I not been born at home, she would never have believed I was her son. I can't believe she said this about someone as sweet and lovable as I.


On July 17, 1923, when I was one year old, my parents, Joseph and Sarah Lesser, bought a house in White Sulphur Springs, New York. My parents made the decision on their own, without consulting me. White Sulphur Springs1 is located between the towns of Liberty2 and Youngsville in “the Catskills.”

The property upon which the house was built was remarkably unsuited to the building of a hotel3. There were two levels where the construction took place. The main house and the eight-room bungalow were built on the lower level. The barn was on the upper level, where most of the future building took form.

* * *

From pages 6


My mother was 27 years old when my parents bought the house that was to become a hotel. My mother was short and heavy but she was strong. When I was 18 years old, she could walk behind me and lift me with ease. In contrast to my father who was stern, my mother was always cheerful.

Joseph and Sarah Lesser

Mom kept a kosher home because my Dad insisted on it. But when she went out with her sisters, she had no qualms about eating bacon and ham. She even enjoyed a good lobster once in a while.

* * *

From pages 126-129


Norman Margolies, my cousin, was born with a great sense of humor. He spent many seasons at the Lesser Lodge. Nothing ever interfered with his desire and capacity to do humorous things

One morning at 2:00 a.m., Norman (shown in picture) turned on the hotel’s loudspeaker and boldly announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, breakfast is now being served in the main dining room. The waiters, the busboys, and the cooks are awaiting your arrival.” By the time he finished his announcement, he had all the guests awakened wondering what was going on.

The next morning my father accosted him and said, “Are you out of your mind? There must be something terribly wrong with you. How can you wake everyone at 2:00 in the morning?” Norman apologized profusely. He kept on telling my father how sorry and embarrassed he was. He told my dad that it had been a terrible thing to do. He said “Uncle Joe, I did something stupid and I'm sorry.”

The next morning at 2:00 a.m. Norman turned on the hotel's loudspeaker again and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday morning I woke up everybody announcing breakfast; I am terribly sorry and I wish to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I disturbed by my previous announcement.”

Norman tells the story of the time he helped out the bellhop who worked in the children's dining room. The bellhop's job was to serve coffee, tea, and cookies to the guests after they left the casino and were preparing for bed. To impress the bellhop and educate him in the methods to be used in order to make money, Norman placed five singles in a cup. After they were finished rushing around and taking care of the many guests they had to serve, there were only two dollars in the cup.

My cousin Norman never got perturbed. The next night the bellhop served and Norman watched the cup. He said, “The worst they could do now is to come out even.”

Norman and Morty Seigleman, the athletic director, shared a small room to the right of the stage in the casino. One night Morty heard noise coming from the front of the casino. He took his bow and arrows, which he used to entertain the guests, and started shooting arrows to the front of the casino, which was about 50 feet away. Norman said, “Morty, are you crazy, you'll kill someone.” Morty answered, “No one, but no one, comes into my room without knocking.” Morty's room was about 1/50th the size of the casino.

* * *

From pages 126-129


My son Gary and my nephew Paul were born four days apart. It was decided to have their Bar Mitzvah at the Lesser Lodge. Preparations were always made for a Fourth of July opening, but this year, 1961, the preparations were made to open earlier.

My son had studied his Haftorah with reluctance—a great deal of reluctance. Each period we received his report card and each time he had an “F” next to all his subjects. When asked what the F stood for, he said, unhesitatingly, “Fair.” One day the rabbi phoned my wife and told her he was kicking Gary out of Hebrew school. My wife asked, “How can you kick him out of school if he is doing fairly well in each subject.” The rabbi then informed my wife that the F stood for “fail.” But he learned his Haftorah. He memorized everything from a record we had to purchase.

My son Gary and nephews Paul and David Auerbach lighting candles at the Bar Mitzvah

The entire family and many friends were invited to spend the entire weekend at the Lesser Lodge to celebrate Gary's and Paul's Bar Mitzvahs. There were over 200 invitees, and the rooms they were to occupy were decided by lottery. Among the people we invited were all of our friends. The casino was opened and entertainment was provided.

My father officiated at the Bar Mitzvah of his grandchildren. They both read their Haftorah and my father hardly winced.

It was a festive occasion. My cousins Jackie and Shirley Murray found their bed halfway out the window when they returned to their room.

Jack Stern, another cousin, attended the Bar Mitzvah, and he drank much too much Scotch whiskey. My brother was with Jack in the bathroom while Jack was throwing up, holding the toilet basin as if he was madly in love with it. At this moment, Jack's father walked into the bathroom. Without a moment's hesitation my brother said, “Jack, say hello to Dad.”

Unknown to anyone, Gary and Paul decided to sip the wine that had been placed on every table. They spent their Bar Mitzvah night flat on their backs, sleeping. But a good time was had by all, except Gary and Paul.

* * *

Selected Endnotes (pages 193- 199)

1. Originally named Robertsonville (and was sometimes referred to as “Robinsonville”). The town was originally settled in 1800 and named for Bradley Robertson, according to John Conway. Name was changed in 1890, per Delbert E. VanEtten, Town Historian. See http://www.betweenthelakes.com/NY/sullivan/sullivan_placenames.htm.

2. Town of Liberty was formed from the Town of Lumberland on March 13, 1807.

3. See Terraserver topological map of area at (center) http://www.terraserver.com/view.asp?cx=512143&cy=4628486&proj=32618&mpp=2.5&pic=
map&prov=dg2&stac=8151&ovrl=-1&drwl=-1. See, 1923 historical maps of Livingston Manor, NY Quadrangle, available at http://historical.mytopo.com/quad.cfm?quadname=Livingston%20Manor&state=NY&series=15 (located in SE portion of quadrangle).

4. Sarah Lesser (1895-1957) was born in Bobowa, Austria/Poland.