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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Eliot Ness Fest---Many people ask us, "Why Coudersport?" Read on...

Eliot Ness Fest

Many people ask us, "Why Coudersport?" Read on...

Eliot Ness was nearly destitute when a business opportunity that proved too good to be true lured him to the Potter County seat in 1956. He was 53 at the time, far removed from his law enforcement career, and was not in a position to be choosy as he sought to support his wife and son.

Ness was fighting what proved to be a losing battle as an executive with the Cleveland-based North Ridge Industrial Corporation. The company was built around a formula for watermarking personal checks and other documents. It was hailed as a solution to the serious forgery and counterfeiting problems that plagued the business world.

Company leaders recruited Ness as a salesman and promoter, hoping that his name recognition would bring credibility to its product. But North Ridge’s products were far from market-tested and its economics were shaky. Financial desperation forced the company to relocate from its plush office complex in Cleveland to a small production plant and two satellite offices in Coudersport.

Local headlines suggested that North Ridge was the salvation for the area’s stagnant economy. Federal government agencies and financial institutions across the country were said to be lining up to be clients. Many community leaders invested and local banks issued a mortgage and loans.
Eliot, his wife Elisabeth and their 11-year-old son Robert moved into a home on Third Street, which still stands today behind Northwest Savings Bank. The Nesses didn’t take long to work themselves into the community fabric. Elisabeth was a talented sculptor who found others in the community who shared her love of art. Eliot enjoyed small-town living and he was popular in the community.

North Ridge Industrial Corporation was doomed. As orders remained few and far between, company executives scaled back operations and began working on an exit strategy. Friends said the impending demise took a toll on Ness’s health.

At the same time, Eliot began working with syndicated writer Oscar Fraley on a book that sensationalized his Chicago exploits. When Ness’s memory failed him, Fraley filled in the blanks with his own vivid imagination for a book to be titled, “The Untouchables.” Ness was disappointed by the distortions and embellishments, but he signed off on them due to his financial desperation.

Late on the afternoon of May 16, 1957, Eliot Ness left his office complaining of a headache and walked home. He went immediately to the kitchen sink, where he opened the cold water faucet, reached for a glass and collapsed on the floor, dead of a heart attack.

Ness’s estate consisted of an aging automobile, some North Ridge stock, and little else. It wasn’t long before the Ness/Fraley book was published and it instantly caught the attention of Hollywood. A gritty black-and-white television series starring Robert Stack, also titled “The Untouchables,” had a seven-year run on network television. It made Eliot Ness a household name. The image was reinforced in 1987 when Paramount Pictures released “The Untouchables” as a feature film, with Kevin Costner playing Ness.

Meanwhile, back in Coudersport, North Ridge stock certificates can still be found in attics and garages, worthless on their face, but valuable because of Ness’s autograph.

(Aerial photo compliments of Curt Weinhold)


Anonymous said...

If you research this he is not the hero everybody makes him out to be.He was a fake .

Anonymous said...

So the story is that Eliot Ness moved to Coudersport, went bankrupt and died of heart attack at age 54. Not sure how that promotes the local area.

Anonymous said...

He is a fake. Do some research he is a legend in his own mind ,and the people from Coudersport . Nothing wrong with having a party though.