By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — SARANAC LAKE — A local legend became eternal over the weekend with the passing of Forrest W. “Dew Drop” Morgan.
The local veteran, champion bobsled athlete, businessman and quintessential storyteller died Saturday at Uihlein Mercy Center in Lake Placid at age 90.
Born in Saranac Lake on Aug. 16, 1922, the local luminary spent most of his life here, sharing his vibrant perspective on life with everyone he met.
“Saranac Lake has lost its greatest icon with the passing of Forest ‘Dew Drop’ Morgan,” Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said by email Monday.
“No other person was so emblematic of Saranac Lake’s zest for life, friendliness and loyalty. Dew Drop Morgan was indeed ‘Mr. Saranac Lake.’ On behalf of the village and the greater mournful community, I extend sorrow for this enormous loss to the Morgan family and our deepest condolences.”
Many remember encounters with the man who could tell a tale like no other.
“When I first moved to Saranac Lake, Dew Drop instantly treated me like family and told me many stories, getting me up to speed on the legends and lore of the community,” Rabideau said. “Stories he always had — most of them true— and smiles aplenty.
“He was a character in the best sense of the word, and he had character, the rock-solid kind that got him through a World War II POW camp and back home to raise a large and robust family and give so much life to Saranac Lake.”
On Monday, Historic Saranac Lake shared an HSLWiki page commemorating Morgan’s life of accomplishment, musings and adventure.
The nickname “Dew Drop” came early from an upperclassman, Murph O’Donnell.
Morgan recounted the story in an interview with SUNY Plattsburgh’s All Points North four years ago, saying the nickname came from a tussle in eighth grade.
“He (O’Donnell) said, ‘You’re as fresh as the dew on the grass. I christen thee Dew Drop.’ Naturally, the name stuck, and the madder I got, the more they used it,” Morgan said in the interview.
Morgan surmised O’Donnell must have been “studying Shakespeare” at the time.
But the name became part of the legend.
SHOT DOWN IN WWII
Morgan enlisted in the Air Force in 1942 and fought in World War II. He was trained to arm warplanes and flew on the Grand V Liberator bomber.
On his 18th bombing mission, he and nine other soldiers were shot down by friendly fire over Poland. They were found by Russian fighters and, luckily, no one was killed.
He married Sheila O’Reilly in Saranac Lake in September 1946, and through the years, the couple had 11 children: Jim, John, Terry, Sean, Kelly, Colleen, Bridget, Brian, Kevin, Casey and Dermott.
Morgan bought the Bridge Bar and Grill on Broadway in 1947 and renamed it Dew Drop Inn, the first of three restaurants he established, the others being 13 Morgans in Plattsburgh and the Dew Drop Up in Potsdam.
The iconic Dew Drop Inn sign still hangs, its lights unlit, near the banks of the Saranac River. It remained a cornerstone business downtown for 42 years.
Morgan’s passion for bobsledding was sparked at the 1932 Olympics.
Sports lore recounts how Dew Drop was hoisted to the shoulders of Olympic bobsled champion Billy Fiske, who won gold that year in Lake Placid.
National Public Radio StoryCorps recorded an interview between Dew Drop and his youngest son, Dermott, on a drizzling day in Saranac Lake in 2008.
The elder Morgan recalled then the influence Fiske made on his young life.
“He picked me up and put me on his shoulder in ‘32, which I was 10 years old,” Morgan said at the time.
“Then, of course, I followed Billy Fiske closely.”
Morgan eventually pursued the thrill of bobsledding himself and won a championship in 1959.
He went on to manage the U.S. Olympic and World Bobsled teams for four years. Five of his children competed in the sport.
His oldest son, Jim “Nitro” Morgan, an Olympic bobsled pilot, was killed during the four-man championships in Cortina, Italy, in 1981.
After “retirement,” Morgan took on the position of official raconteur at Lake Placid Lodge for many years.
Serving as both barkeep and storyteller, people would stand when he arrived for work.
He told All Points North in 2008 that Red Skeleton was his favorite comedian.
“He always ended his show the same way: ‘God bless,’” Morgan said in an interview that year.
“So that’s how I’ll leave you, by wishing you a happy night and God bless.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
Calling hours for Forrest "Dew Drop" Morgan at Fortune-Keough Funeral Home are today from 4 to 7 p.m. with a Mass Wednesday at St. Bernard's Church at 3 p.m.
Five sons, four daughters and 12 grandchildren survive Morgan. He was predeceased by Jim and another son, Kevin, and his wife, who died in 1988.
People wishing to remember Dew Drop Morgan can make memorial contributions to High Peaks Hospice and Homeward Bound Adirondacks in care of the funeral home.