(Laura Vecsey was a terrific news reporter in upstate New York even before she became a sports columnist. She liked to tell me about the stuff a town clerk told her, or a farmer knew. She is revisiting her old reporting grounds as part of her new site, "You Know What I Mean?" )
By Laura Vecsey
A Whole World In Your Own Backyard
The Town of Malta seems a pretty boring place, until ...
The world, we all pretty much know, is a big place. Lots of continents, hundreds of countries, seas and oceans, mountains and deserts, billions of people. The enormity of the world makes it exotic — a feast too big to eat even for the most insatiable explorers and travelers.
So why then I am talking about Malta, a nondescript town on a sandy patch of land in upstate New York’s Saratoga County?
Ask my friend Lisa Smith.
Last week, from her Japanese-Zen influenced home that fronts Willapa Bay in serene Seaside, Washington, Lisa Smith read a post I had written here about buying your first home. It was there, buried in the comments section, that the ever-curious Lisa Smith noted that my spouse, Diane, noted that the first home she ever bought more than 35 years ago was a townhouse in Malta.
If that name stirs any sense of excitement, maybe it’s because the town of Malta carries the same name as the country of Malta, that archipelago between “Sicily and the North African coast — a nation known for historic sites related to a succession of rulers including the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and British.”
That Malta, set in shimmering green-blue waters, does conjure centuries of world history and human migration. So the name “Malta” rightfully triggers the imagination, especially for curious people like Lisa Smith, an inveterate world traveler who lived in Abu Dhabi and scaled an NYU program there.
Lisa has also toured India, graduated from Harvard, ran public TV radio and stations in Seattle and Oregon. She’s also been long paired with the award-winning journalist and book writer Buzz Bissinger. In other words, Lisa Smith has a nose for stories, as much as she possesses a delicious little streak of sarcasm.
So what was I to make of Lisa Smith’s quip about the apparently insignificant town of Malta?
More important, what was I going to do about Lisa’s pithy remark? I decided that I would take it as an invitation.
The Saratoga County, New York town of Malta, it turns out that, is just like all other places in the world: Just another name on a map and yet also a place where there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
In fact, the seemingly nondescript town of Malta can make the case that any named place on Earth is its own world. Even more strange, it’s one of the places that taught me, as a newspaper reporter and writer, to look harder and longer and you’ll be surprised what you find.
In addition to Malta being the town where Diane bought her first home, Malta was a town I covered for the Albany Times Union. In the late 1980’s, Malta was a part of my news beat in Saratoga County. My job to know what was going on there, and to dig out stories, and to monitor Malta’s local government.
This is a townhouse in Malta’s Luther Forest just like Diane first bought.
For me, covering Malta served as a primer on how America planned, regulated and protected its citizens and natural resources. I saw how conventional and orderly local governmental bodies carried out their duties. How town budgets were negotiated and passed. How water quality, fire station grants, street plowing and extensions were managed.
In Malta, I saw how developers had to demonstrate the impact new housing developments would have; how commercial development was cautiously promoted, how senior citizens would get access to services.
And based on what I heard about in the town board meetings, I’d go out and explore for further background or news feature stories that the Times Union would run to show how suburban America was being built out.
That included writing about Luther Forest, a section of Malta that was the site for a new housing development where Diane — who I didn’t know at the time — had bought her first house!
In 1945, rocket testing was done at the Malta site hidden deep in Luther Forest.
The Luther Forest housing development was a planned community, which meant it had a homeowner’s association and a general manager to keep the place running tip top. The manager’s name was Barney Granger, a lanky and taciturn man I spent a lot of time trying to chase down for information or a quote.
It wasn’t easy. Barney Granger was always hellbent on riding away from me in a golf cart or his green Ford Ranger pickup. But this quirky memory of Barney Granger in his Ford Ranger is just a little sliver of the real story of Luther Forest.
Like a lot of places that seem to have no true personality or any easily identifiable points of interest, Malta’s Luther Forest is riddled with intrigue — not that you could easily tell without doing a little digging, or sky gazing.
But the acres of towering pine trees, and the fenced-off areas that warned about criminal trespassing, were a clue. It turns out that the “boring little town of Malta” is actually a nexus of American history from World War II to the Baby Boom era of suburban sprawl to today’s Tech Age of semiconductors and massive retail warehouses.
The center of the Malta story is how the 7,000 acres of pine forest started in 1898 by a man named Thomas C. Luther turned into a rocket test site for the U.S. government in the 1940s, after Luther gave some of the land to the U.S. government to serve as a site to test rockets and rocket fuel. That’s when things got really interesting.
After WWII, the U.S. started a secret military intelligence program called Operation Paperclip in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from Germany to the United States. That included Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, plus former members, and some were former leaders, of the Nazi Party. The goal of the Operation Paperclip was to gain military advantage during the Cold War and during the Space Race.
In 1945, Luther Forest became the home of the Hermes Project Rocket Test site. Von Braun’s team and 400 General Electric scientists worked at the Malta Rocket Test Station to help the U.S government improve upon Germany's expertise in missiles. That lasted until the 1960.
Von Braun, who eventually became the director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and was the chief architect of the super-booster that launched American astronauts to the moon, came to Malta for weeks at a time. When he came to Malta, locals were said to hear the ground rumble and smoke plumes filled the air.
It’s said that Von Braun enjoyed his time in Malta, because Luther Forest reminded him of Bavaria.
In the 30+ years since I first covered Malta and learned about Operation Paperclip, Malta has further enhanced its standing as the nondescript little town where big things happen.
Chip manufacturer Global Foundries’ 1,400-acre campus in Malta, New York.
The Luther Forest Technology Campus is a $3.5 billion development that spans 1,400 acres. It is home to Global Foundries, a multinational semiconductor contract manufacturing and design company incorporated in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Malta. “The company manufactures silicon chips designed for markets such as mobility, automotive, computing and wired connectivity, consumer internet of things (IoT) and industrial.”
Global Foundries has brought hundreds of jobs and boosted the development of more suburban housing in Saratoga County. It’s also opened the doors for Amazon to propose a new million-square-foot warehouse on 235 acres south of the Global Foundries headquarters.
That plan for an Amazon warehouse was scrapped this year, but not before the little town of Malta and its local planning board had once again flexed its muscle against the big boys from a multi-national company.
In other words.
Malta? There must be a story there.
Right, Lisa Smith?
Here’s a photo of the curious Lisa Smith reading in her beautiful home on the coast of Washington State. It was taken by the Daily Astorian (Oregon) newspaper for a story about how people were coping during the pandemic.
If you liked this post from You Know What I Mean?, why not share it?
Photos Galore online:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.