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Olga Petrova, the actress

June 13, 2009

When Walt Fiedler casually asked his wife Pat, "Why don't you ask your friends at your coffee klatch (at the Blue Moon Cafe) how the avenue off Lake Street came to be called Petrova," I?wasn't there at the time but I?guess it was casual.

So Pat asked her friends and they didn't know the answer; so as bright, curious persons will usually do, they visited the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library and there, with the help of Curator Michele Tucker, they found the answer.

I have heard many stories over the years about a "Madame Petrova" a famous Russian ballerina who danced on the stage of the Petrova School auditorium really, so famous that a street and a school were named for her?

Article Photos

Ms. Petrova breaks ground at the bungalow housing project.
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library – 83.683)

Well, it turns out she wasn't Russian and she wasn't a dancer. But she was famous. Her name was Muriel Harding; she was born in Tur Brook, England in 1884 and died in Clearwater, Fla. in 1977 at age 93.

After coming to the United Sates at a young age she became an actress and starred in more than two dozen movies, wrote the script for several others and wrote three plays. Her studio, Metro, billed her as a Polish-born Russian aristocrat. She published her autobiography, "Butter My Bread," in 1942.

Olga in Saranac Lake

That factual information about Ms. Petrova is mostly from the internet which leads us to the information that Pat and her friends found at the Library. After all her various professional achievements Ms. Petrova was touring with a theater troupe when she visited Saranac Lake in the summer of 1921 for a very special event as the guest of William Morris. The following excerpts are from an Enterprise dated July 10, 1921:

Headline: "Theatrical Star Plays Leading Part in Beginning of Saranac Lake's Campaign for Greater Housing Facilities."

"Olga Petrova - the magnificent--turned with her own dainty hands the first clod of earth for the chamber of commerce bungalow on a lot in Lake Street, donated by Walter Jenkins (re: Jenkins Street). With her at the time were other stage celebrities, brought here by William Morris, theatrical promoter and benefactor of Saranac Lake, for a performance in aid of the local community house, and the leading citizens of the village.

"History was made at the auspicious beginning of a building campaign to provide quarters for thousands of persons who desire to come to Saranac Lake for health and recreation. The Saranac Lake boys' band of 45 pieces, pride of the Adirondacks, played lilting airs while the assemblage gathered about the spot selected for the bungalow.

"Charles L. Dickert, president (title changed to mayor in 1928) of Saranac Lake village, after shaking hands with the stage star, gave the shovel, bedecked with red, white and blue ribbons, to Master Gilmer Petroff, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Petroff, and the boy presented it to Petrova. With one of her celebrated smiles and a caress of the boys head (someone said he didn't wash his hair for a month after), she accepted the spade and turned over 10 shovelful before stopping."


Big diggers

Some of the biggest men in the community, well, big as in 'important,' were breaking ground

"The business men wielded a wicked shovel; they dug in to dig Saranac Lake out of the housing rut. Among the diggers were W. C. Leonard, Dr. Sidney F. Blanchet, Fred Hull, Giles Bombard, William F. Roberts, Walter Jenkins, Paul F. Jacquet, C. L. Dickert and H. Ray Williams. The well-known comedian, Loney Haskell, who was Master of Ceremonies, led the cheering at the end of the ceremony for Christy Mathewson, Petrova and Miss Rita Gould, a stage star.

"There is already a great demand for possession of the bungalow. So numerous are the inquiries that it has been decided to place the names of the prospective purchasers in a hat and draw one of them to decide who shall buy the cottage."

We have not been able, by press time, to find out where the cottage was located, who bought the cottage and if it still exists. Perhaps some readers can come up with the answers.

In any event, that July day 88 years ago was an important day in the history of Saranac Lake.



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