Cudmore: Cousin George — the weather prophet

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Amsterdam area weather prophet Cousin George Henry Casabonne once was described in a newspaper story as “cocky as a blue jay and scrappy as a bantam rooster.”

Casabonne, who was 5-foot, 2, worked as a stonemason, farmer and General Electric factory hand.

His 1974 obituary stated he was born in Northville in 1886. In 1959, though, he told The Gazette he was born in Tribes Hill.

He said it was so stormy when his mother was in labor that the doctor crawled across the suspension bridge from Fort Hunter on his hands and knees as the bridge swayed in the wind.

Casabonne burst onto the local media scene in the 1930s, following in the footsteps of a weather prognosticator called Uncle George Van Derveer of the town of Florida.

Amsterdam Recorder managing editor Bill Maroney was the first to call Casabonne “Cousin George.”

Historian David Pietrusza recounts in his Amsterdam childhood memoir, “Too Long Ago,” that Cousin George predicted accurately the end of a summer drought and Pietrusza witnessed the event by getting soaked walking home from the library.

Home for Pietrusza at the time was a flat over A. Lenczewski’s Bar and Grill at Church and Reid Streets.

Cousin George was a regular there and sometimes entertained patrons with his fiddle. He was married to Lydia Kruger and they had four children. Starting in 1917 the family maintained a farm on West Line Road in the town of Charlton in Saratoga County.

Cousin George used lunar phases, the size and prevalence of woolly bear caterpillars and his own weather records to create his seasonal forecasts.

He maintained that “satellites and Sputniks” zooming through space led to unexpected wind currents and rain here below.

Cousin George was a favorite of newspapers, radio and then television.

He performed on the Pete Williams country and western television show on WRGB.

Much in demand as a fiddler and caller at square dances, Cousin George did take some ribbing because of the squeaky sound of his violin.

He could dowse for water, clog dance and tap dance. As a show stopper he would do a high kick.

Toward the end of his life Cousin George moved to his daughter Georgianna Chirickio’s home on Lyon Street in Amsterdam.

Former Recorder reporter Steve Talbott’s desk at the Amsterdam paper was closest to the door in the 1970s when Cousin George was ending his run. 

Talbott tended to receive walk-in news releases first, including the annual fall visit from Cousin George with the winter forecast.

In 1973, Cousin George’s daughter drove him to the paper. Talbott said when asked about her father’s health, she looked down sadly and said he was not well. Cousin George died the next year.

Talbott said, “Stan Silvernail, the managing editor, a great guy and good editor, was the keeper of the Cousin George memory file. He would tell us young reporters about how Cousin George would admit to his occasional mistaken forecasts. There was a picture in the Recorder files of Cousin George shoveling shoulder-high snow in the Recorder parking lot on a day when he had said there would be no snow.”

On March 16, 1974 he sent his granddaughter to the Recorder with his spring forecast the day before he was admitted to Amsterdam Memorial Hospital.

The newspaper reported, “Cousin George’s last forecast was among his best, and right on the button.” That phrase was one of his favorites.

He died March 21, 1974 the first day of spring. Snow turned to rain as Cousin George had predicted. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Johnson.

Categories: Life and Arts

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