By Darren Woods
Back in 1957 John Seagle invited a young singer to his training program, the Seagle Music Colony. The young singer’s name was Fulton Fryar and this is significant because Fulton was the first African-American to come to the Colony. This was several years before the Civil Rights Movement would win its hard-earned victories in Congress and at this time much of America was still segregated, but John thought him talented and wanted him to come study at Seagle Music Colony.
John’s solution to accommodate Fulton for his stay in Schroon Lake was to have a small bedroom built on the side of the laundry building. Fulton sang in all the shows that summer, sang in the vesper and town concerts, and other than sleeping separately, lived a regular colony life.
It was soon discovered that in addition to singing, Fulton was a talented visual artist as well. On the walls of his room, which he called “The Closet” are lines from “Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson poem and some Bible verses and on the door a painting that says “Always Welcome to the Closet – the home of Fulton Fryar”. Fulton returned to Seagle Music Colony the next summer as well and in addition to singing he helped build scenery too.
The Seagle Music Colony is now much as it was in the time of Fulton. It is the oldest and best summer training program in the United States. Each summer thirty-two singers are selected from hundreds of applicants to come here and study and train and put on productions of operas and musicals for the people of upstate New York.
I did not know of the room’s existence until Director of Production, Richard Kagey relayed a story about it about seven years ago. What I had assumed was a closed storage room on the side of the now, dilapidated laundry, was this magical room. Since that time, several people who knew of it wanted to save it, but we had no way to store it and the building was falling down. In fact it was scheduled for demolition this fall. We did not know what to do other than take pictures and keep the story alive.
This summer a friend of mine, Jonathan Green, came to visit me and I showed him the room and told him the story of Fulton Fryer. Jonathan took pictures of the room (which we now call “The Closet” since that is what Fulton dubbed it so long ago). Jonathan became obsessed with saving this little room and bit of African-American history in the Adirondacks. He contacted Steven Englehart with Adirondack Architectural Heritage who then sent the pictures to Laura Rice at the Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum). After some examination, the Adirondack Experience has decided to remove The Closet and move it to Blue Mountain Lake, restore it and then it will become an exhibit at the museum, thereby preserving an important moment in Seagle Music Colony history and giving visitors a glimpse into the African-American experience in the mid 1950s.
Another small miracle has also happened. Jonathan found Fulton! He is 76 and lives with his wife near Philadelphia. The Museum and Seagle Music Colony are bringing Fulton back to the Adirondacks to see his room, to make some video memories of his time here which will be part of the Adirondack Experience’s exhibit as well as Seagle’s.
When I spoke to Fulton about saving The Closet and his summers here, he said they were the happiest two summers of his life. He said “I never thought anyone would remember me or The Closet”. I said, “The irony is that now you will be remembered forever.”
Photos of Friars closet, courtesy Jonathan Green.