John W. "Hawkeye" Hawkinson earned his nickname from a camp counselor who noticed that he had quite a flair for target practice.
He remarked, "You have quite a hawk eye!" Hawkeye also had quite an eye for all things beautiful: antique cars and boats, cameras, microscopes, guns, survey instruments and trains. He was intrigued by the beauty and mechanics of their individual parts, and in love with the beauty of the sum of their parts.
The industrial age piqued his interest, and he particularly loved the quality of cars made in the late 1920s. He famously quiped, "Every car after 1930 is junk." His collection included old Packards and Buicks, Marmons, Cadillacs, Pierce Arrows and fire engines. He relished telling the histories of each and every one. The Packards had treasured hood ornaments: the Flying Lady and Daphne at the Well, both of which he would unscrew and safely tuck away in his pocket when he was out and he had to leave his car.
Hawkeye was the biggest antique car dealer in northern New York. He sold antique cars, sleighs, carriages and old boats, some of which he pulled from the lake. He was adamant that his cars were "go" cars and not "show" cars. They were not restored vehicles but in their original glory and they all worked. One day a friend dropped by to see 14 cars lined up on his lawn and all running.
The Antique Car Tour came to visit Hawkeye. They came to see his cars and share theirs. Hawkeye had always dreamed of having an antique Dusenberg, and for that day, he was tickled to have a turquoise one spend the day on the lawn in front of his house, and he was thrilled to have his picture taken beside it.
Hawkeye was proud to own three American LaFrance fire engines from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake. He bought his first one from Howard Riley for $50. He dreamed of one day owning a 1929 Cadillac.
Hawkeye was a master mechanic. He could build or fix anything. He was an accomplished artist, photographer and writer, and he loved to play the piano. His sister Bettina Pratt says that he inherited his artistic gifts from his father, John L. Hawkinson, a ceramist and filmmaker. Hawkeye also spoke very good German and enjoyed practicing with his friend Peter Brandt who would drive down from Montreal.
Hawkeye loved his simple life in the Adirondacks. This is truly where his heart was; among his possessions, the nature and animals all around, and near his beloved neighbors and friends. His front yard, with a ring of wicker chairs, was his social center. If he was out feeding the ravens, who would eat from his hand, it was okay to stop for a chat. He enjoyed watching the deer, turkeys, foxes, ravens, chipmunks, birds, bears and woodchucks who frequented his yard. He loved looking at the picture of his mother and father, on the wall in his house, on their honeymoon and telling the story of their travels. He loved the pirate art of Howard Pyle.
As children, Bethany, Ashley and Megan Marshall remember Hawkeye appearing at their house at Christmas with baskets of goodies, a corncob pipe always in his mouth. He would settle in to play a few tunes on their old player piano. He would come to take their pictures; old camera and drape in hand. The film was sent to London; the last place that still developed this particular film. Months later the package would arrive with said photos much to the delight of the children. When they were feeling under the weather, they might trudge up to see his cars and be magically transported. They would often sit outside with him taking in the aroma of the beautiful lilac that framed his door and watch his beloved chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits run around just beyond their reach. He always made sure that all these little critters were well fed. There is a very well trodden path between Hawkeye's house and the Marshalls' house, a testament to years of friendship, love and caring.
Eileen Jauch remembers the excitement of being off to the car show in Malone with Hawkeye in his red and black Packard with orange wheels, top down. Jay Annis recalls him as the most famous guy driving around in his open silver Packard and wearing his raccoon skin coat (pictured above). Jay also recalls his joy when he would bring Hawkeye a motor or a steam pump from the woods. Strawberries were his favorite delicacy.
Rogene and Peter Lemay enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with Hawkeye for over 50 years. They met at the Shamrock and would go skiing together. Rogene remembers Hawkeye skiing straight down Whiteface Mountain, past the ski shack and into the parking lot. He remarked, "There is no place for me to stop here. I will never ski here again." Rogene recalled that he just bent his knees, put his feet several feet apart and he didn't make many turns. Rogene's and Peter's backyard were home to some of Hawkeye's cars before his mother and father built him sheds to store them. She once asked him what an old Dodge was doing there without even a motor. He replied that although it didn't have a motor, it did have a marvelous body! It was a while before the Bulldog fire truck and other vehicles were removed from their yard. Rogene says fondly that it was a wild year.
Several years ago, Hawkeye was accidently backed over by one of his own cars. As he lay on the floor of the garage with a broken hip, among other injuries, he watched that very car back across a field and stop against a hedgerow with the wheels still spinning before the engine stalled. Howard Riley visited him in the hospital after the accident, and all that Hawkeye wanted to talk about was the tremendous torque of that old car. Howard replied, "And I say, other than that, John, how are you feeling." This story definitely makes a statement about his love of old cars. Incidentally, Howard and Hawkeye became friends in the 1950s when they helped pay the rent at the Shamrock Inn. All these years, they have lived a half-mile apart on the Harrietstown Road.
Hawkeye was very well known in the area and enjoyed being mysteriously famous and very eccentric. Ashley Ash remarked that he was fantastical and fully able to be who he was.
While Hawkeye attempted to remain aloof, he was very present in his neighbors' and friends lives who loved and cared for him and who felt his love in return.
John W. Hawkinson was the son of John and Laura Hawkinson. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on Sept. 13, 1932, and slipped away, in his chair at his home in Gabriels, on July 15, 2016.
As a young boy, his bathroom was filled with small animals. His pet crow, Edgar, would descend the staircase at dinnertime and take his place at the table in his red chair. Inspector, his white pet mouse, rode on his shoulder or snuggled down into his shirt. One day he arrived home with a pocket full of baby copperheads and he created quite a stir. Hawkeye bought his first car at the age of 15. He attended Pomfret School, University of Vermont and Paul Smith's College.
Hawkeye leaves behind his sister Bettina Pratt of Boston, Massachusetts, two nieces and one nephew, and two grandnieces and two grandnephews. In addition, he leaves his very dear friends Rollie and Naomi Marshall and their three daughters: Ashley, Megan and Bethany, Eileen Jauch, Howard Riley, Jay Annis, Rogene LeMay and her daughter Barbara Darring.
He was predeceased by his dear friend Peter LeMay.
Funeral arrangements are in carw of the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home. A private memorial gathering will be planned for the fall.
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