Column: The Chicago swindler and Pinehurst

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We left the Chicago swindler, Leo Koretz, just as he heard from Laurie Mitchell that Pinehurst, a resort-like property on the Christopher Lakes in northern Queens County, was for sale. The story was being told by Dean Jobb, from the School of Journalism at the University of Kings College, to a sold-out audience at the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society in Halifax, at their recent annual dinner.

Laurie Mitchell himself had a big role in Queens County's history, as a guide, fisherman and as a companion to Zane Grey, the celebrated writer and sportsman. Mitchell was the first manager of the Kedge Rod and Gun Club, later known as Kedge Lodge. Mitchell told his friend Lou Keytes (Leo Koretz) about Pinehurst, and in 1924, Keytes bought the property from A. Byron McLeod.

Dean Jobb showed the audience a map of Queens County, pointing out Kejimkujik National Park, Caledonia, and the little picnic park in Cameron Landing. Just up the hill from the present park was Pinehurst, with a gorgeous view overlooking First Christopher Lake. Byron McLeod had built it before 1908, when a book about it was published in Boston. (Today the lodge has fallen to ruin.)

As we saw in a previous column, Lou Keytes was actually Leo Koretz from Chicago, a man who had swindled investors and was on the run. He fetched up in Queens County, dazzling local citizens - including the young Thomas Raddall - with his prolifigate spending and extravagant parties.

Jobb said that Leo Keytes wanted to see the property for himself. Mitchell took him there in the spring of 1924. It was a two-storey lodge and Leo liked the place. It had a long driveway and the kind of seclusion Keytes wanted. He decided to buy it, paying $17,000. Now, not only did he have a secluded lodge, but it was recorded in literature by the writer R. R. McLeod, Byron's uncle, in the book called Pinehurst or Glimpses of Nova Scotia Fairyland. Literature was important to Lou Keytes, who was trying to pass himself off as a man of letters.

Keytes hired Laurie Mitchell to run the place, Jobb told his audience. Up the road was the village of Caledonia. The weekly newspaper in Caledonia was the Gold Hunter, reflective of a gold rush that had disappeared. Jobb said that Keytes brought a new gold rush to the area.

There was a story told of Keytes walking into a Caledonia ice cream parlour, buying an ice cream, giving the girl a $100 bill, and walking out without asking for change. He bought an expensive Franklin car, a 30-foot motorboat, and spent money lavishly on Pinehurst. Up to then it had no electricity and no central heating. Jobb said that Keytes hired an army of workers to renovate the lodge, spending more money on the renovations than he had paid for the property.

There was a turret, housing Keytes' bedroom. There were fifteen rooms, and guns and swords on display on the walls, enough for a small army. There was a herd of moose heads on the walls. Jobb said that Lou and his guests ate on fine china, walked on imported wool rugs from England, and sat in plush chesterfields. He put in a coal-fired heating plant that also generated electricity, so his lodge was one of the first places in the area to have electric lights. There was a tennis court and canoes for the lake.

Dean Jobb said that Lou (Leo) played the part of the eccentric literary critic, and was spotted walking around Liverpool with his arms loaded with books. Thomas Raddall told the story of how, when he was invited to go moose hunting, Keytes turned up dressed as for a stroll on Madison Avenue. The guides noticed that for the entire trip into the backcountry, he kept his nose stuck in a book of poetry.

The parties he held at Pinehurst were legendary affairs. Booze flowed despite Prohibition, Jobb said, and music was provided, sometimes by an orchestra brought in from the Mountain Gap Inn. Even members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra were brought in for a soiree. Pinehurst became a northern version of Jay Gatsby's fictional estate on Long Island; F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing scenes at the same time that Lou Keytes was living in Queens County. Pinehurst was a blaze of lights; guests filled the rooms and wandered the grounds in the moonlight.

I think I will leave the story there. I do not want to steal the thunder from Dean Jobb, who has a book coming out on Leo Koretz next May. In it Jobb describes more about Pinehurst, about Keytes' guests, about his friendship with Zane Grey, about the way Keytes' true identity was discovered and what eventually happened to him. The book will be fascinating.

For the next few weeks, this column will be occasional, as another project is pursued. I want to note two events. Vernon Oickle, of Liverpool, formerly editor of the Bridgewater Bulletin, has written a new book. It was launched at Lane's on the weekend and I will cover it when I get a chance.

Darren Greer, a graduate of North Queens, will be having the launch of his new book, Just Beneath my Skin, at the Margaret Hennigar Library in Bridgewater on Thursday, May 22. He will give a reading, along with poets Alice Burdick and Alison Smith, the latter also a graduate of North Queens. Watch for Vernon's book and plan to attend the Darren Greer book launch.

- Tom Sheppard can be reached at twsheppard@gmail.com 

Organizations: Kedge Rod and Gun Club, Mountain Gap Inn, Boston Symphony Orchestra Bridgewater Bulletin Margaret Hennigar Library

Geographic location: Pinehurst, Queens, Caledonia Chicago Kejimkujik National Park Cameron Landing First Christopher Lake Boston Liverpool England Madison Avenue Long Island

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