According to Wikipedia, John Foster Dulles (February 25, 1888 – May 24, 1959) served as U.S. Secretary of State under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against Communism throughout the world. The Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia were named in his honor.
He stopped at least two times in Sodus Bay. This is the story of one visit as seen through the eyes of a boy growing up in Sodus in the 1950s in his book: Stinky’s Tales Growing Up in a Small Village in the 1940s and 1950s (2004) by Bob Pearson.
The World Comes to Sodus Bay — Dulles unwrapped
The two swimmers were going under the stern of the yacht belonging to the Unites States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. They dove repeatedly under the props of the expensive cabin cruiser located in the bay. The yacht had come in during the day from the private island where Dulles vacationed during his breaks from Washington, D.C. and world events during the Eisenhower Administration 1952-1960.
These swimmers were not terrorists in some Tom Clancy novel trying to plant an explosive charge under the stern. They were two local Sodus Point residents who had been hired to clear the yacht’s props of fishing line. These young men were hanging out at the Yacht Club when the boat came in and were summoned to duty by the Secretary of State. They were residents of the “Point” – Sodus Point. Many of us were swimming in the bay that day but did not realize the importance of the visitor until we heard the details.
Those of us living in the Village of Sodus six miles away were always envious of any of our friends living in Sodus Point. This envy occurred about four months a year. Their lives were much fuller than ours in the summer months. They were right where we aspired to be day after day. We journeyed to be with them during the months of May, June, July and August. When school started after Labor Day, Sodus Point was different.
Things were different during the other months. The Sodus Point friends journeyed on buses and in cars to be where the action was during the rest of the year. Up in Sodus! The central school was located in Sodus. Sodus Point in winter was very, very cold and desolate.
There were times in the winter when ice fishermen would venture out, cut holes in the ice and set up temporary shelters to sit in while they fished. The movie “Grumpy Old Men” with Jack Lemon, Walter Matthau, and Burgess Meredith accurately depicted the set and setting for ice fishing. The scenes from the movie caught winter in a community on a lake quite nicely.
Food places along the roads leading to the bay and beaches closed down during the winter. Because of the ice, boats did not get out of their hoists and/or storage or off their trailers for many months. Just about everything important occurred from April, when the ice was usually gone, until November, when it was too cold to be out. Sodus Point was a happening place during summer. Dulles proved this point.
One did not have to be a Secretary of State to get attention at the resort in summer. A beautiful girl would get much more attention than a Dulles. There were times when trips to the beach were like a trip to Fantasy Island. For young guys the idea of all the pretty girls gathering at one spot every summer was almost too much to handle. Our beach was one of the best on the lake, and our recreational offerings were much better than other, smaller areas on the lake.
The beauties gathered and the young men arrived in droves. This was a place for excitement in the summer. Dulles or no Dulles, the beach, roller rink, piers, fast food places, sailboats, golf course, rental boats, yachts, coal boats, fishing, water skiing, and summer romances all combined to make Sodus Point a great place.
Other than the normal excitement generated by all of the aforementioned things to do, we had a very unique place to hang out. Judge George Parsons owned a cottage right on the expansive bay. Tied to his large permanent dock was a boat of choice each summer. For several years he owned large sailboats then switched to cabin cruisers when he and his wife Elsie had children. Later he would return to sailing vessels. For much of my childhood George was a friend and a generous man. He shared his cottage, family, love of baseball and – uniquely – his boats.
Just down the bay from the Sodus Bay Yacht Club where the important visitors would dock, the Judge set up his summer retreat. His cottage was open to his neighbors up in Sodus, and as a part time baseball coach he became the “man” for team picnics, boat rides and even summer baseball on the diamond near his cottage. We were blessed to have so many fine adults in our lives that would map out activities for us and then be there enjoying the activity with us. The Judge was an exceptionally generous man. He was also a Wayne County Judge for many years, and on occasion he would invite his Sodus yearlings into the courtroom to listen to justice being delivered in nearby Lyons, New York where his chambers were located. In the courtroom he was a no nonsense judge. At Sodus Point, he was a fun-loving adult with a reputation for drinking, swimming in March, and a love of sailing on Sodus Bay.
He would often say that Sodus Bay was the greatest inland harbor on the Great Lakes. No one could dispute him since we all believed it to be true. The world came to Sodus Bay.
When the coal boats stopped coming to the huge coal-loading trestle at the end of the bay, an era had passed. The bay became less worldly. The sight of the large coalers coming and going was always interesting. Fortunately the trestle was turned into a huge marina. This came at the time when the fishing made a big recovery due to pollution legislation in the Great Lakes region. Fish stopped dying off and now there were many more places for smaller boats. Things picked up recreationally and commercially.
The bay evolved and reinvented itself over the years. As I see the place during my periodic visits down memory lane, I see a unique place that existed fifty years ago with some changes. There are many more modern homes, improved recreational opportunities, and more places to eat. Dismally, there is no organized baseball for young adults after their youth baseball experience concludes. There used to be American Legion and Sodus Point Lakers baseball in the community for young men once they exited youth ball.
The Jet Ski has taken its place in the bay also. This fast, noisy and sometimes intrusive water craft is everywhere. Like their recreational winter brother the snowmobile, the Jet Ski can be rented or purchased easily and can take the driver about anywhere he or she wants to go.
John Foster Dulles would appreciate the beauty of the bay if he were around today. His security detail would no doubt be traumatized by the number of fast boats and Jet Skis in the bay. His journey into the idyllic summer haven many years ago to stop and refuel and get his props cleared of fishing line would be organized differently in the age of terrorism. He once flew into the bay in a seaplane when they were a rarity. That no doubt caused concerns for the traditionalists back then !
With lessons learned from the USS Cole’s disaster in waters at the port of Yemen it is my guess a U.S. Secretary of State would be less likely to have unknowns clear his props even in tranquil Sodus Bay. John Foster Dulles need not have worried back then because it was a different world.
Historical Note: The above story is how a local teenager recalls the visit of the Secretary of State to Sodus Point. Contrast that to how the rest of the country remembers the stop over. It was Sunday, July 15th 1956 and the good folks of Sodus Point could not just let the Secretary of State get some fuel and untangle some fishing line around his prop. Nope, no way, not our style as reported in the Deseret News and Telegram (Salt Lake City) on Monday, July 16th, 1956