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Joshua Thomas
Anita Smith's Olympic bag, featured in the MRML display.

Joshua Thomas
Photos and memorabilia from the local 1980 officially Olympics event are featured in a display case at the MRML.


Smith shares memories of the Olympic torch's local visit in 1980

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - Updated: 11:31 AM


C-S-E Editor

ST. JOHNSVILLE -- With the latest Winter Olympics upon us, St. Johnsville resident and historian Anita Smith took the opportunity to set up a display of memorabilia from the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid at the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library, 19 Kingsbury Ave., also sharing memories of work she did organizing, as master of ceremonies (alongside Attorney James Salmon), a local welcoming event on a word wide tour of the olympic torch.

"It was quite an event," said Smith. "I invited every legislator and every mayor in the county to come to the Amsterdam Mall," where ceremonies were held in the east end to welcome the torch and the Olympic runners accompanying it. "Every official was there," she said.

On the day of the event, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department met the torch at the Schenectady county line and accompanied the Olympic officials to the mall. Because of the frenzy surrounding the torch's arrival in Schenectady, the flame arrived in Amsterdam around 6 p.m., an hour and a half after it's scheduled arrival time.

"It was so exciting to see the flame coming up Route 5," Smith said, noting, "We let everybody touch the torch." Mary Plank, mayor of Canajoharie at the time, with tears streaming down her face, said to Smith, commenting of her husband and herself, "Paul and I have been to Greece, and I have been to Mount Olympus, and I have seen the sights, but it is more thrilling to stand here and hold the torch."

Upon their arrival, Smith and a variety of individuals provided Olympic officials with various pieces of memorabilia, including a wood carving, and a hurricane lamp emblazoned with the Olympic symbol (provided by the head of the Montgomery County Youth Bureau at the time), which are still on display at the Lake Placid Olympic museum.

Smith said that every mayor in the county was also provided a large candle, which was lit by the Olympic flame. Smith's candle is also on display in the museum at Lake Placid.

In 1980, the Olympics was a very different event than the one held today, said Smith. "Every Olympic event is different," she commented, explaining that in 1980, a runner from each state were selected to remain with the torch, of which she said, "what people don't realize is the fact that the Olympic flame is in a van." Everyday, the torches that pass through each area are lit with the original flame, kept burning in the van around the clock.

This van, said Smith, was the first vehicle to arrive, and they stayed the night. "We were very fortunate that they stayed in Montgomery County overnight," she said, as they didn't have the opportunity to stay overnight at every stop on the tour.

There were events held coinciding with the flame's arrival, including a dinner at the Second Presbyterian Church in Amsterdam, featuring music by the Amsterdam and Fonda-Fultonville school district bands, along with the Mohawk Valley Chorus. The dinner, attended by over 200, was served by the Boy Scouts.

About 10,000 were estimated to have attended the Amsterdam torch arrival.

At the end of the event, Smith, who was Montgomery County Historian at the time, also in charge of Montgomery County promotions, received rewards for her work, including not only the bronze medallion, but a flag featuring the NYS mascot -- the beaver. Smith noted, as a fun fact, that the first state flag, dating back to the arrival Dutch settlers, was white, emblazoned with a beaver. The flag she received for her efforts contained a black beaver, which, she said, is also coincidentally the symbol of New York State County Historians. She was also provided a Lake Placid flag and an Olympic flag.

Because Smith was too busy to get autographs that day, she was also provided one of the Olympic posters that every present runner had signed. This poster, said Smith, has since disappeared. "It has walked away, I think, "she joked.

Smith said that the memory of her Olympic experience will never fade. "I still get so excited," she said about the modern games, noting that she takes every opportunity possible to let people -- her nieces and nephews included -- know that she received a bronze medal for her Olympic contributions.

"What other 89 year old do you know with a bronze medal?" Smith rhetorically asked with a laugh.

The Olympic display, featuring newspaper clippings and photos from the 1980 local event, will be at the MRML through the conclusion of this year's winter Olympic games.


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