We drove out to Cooperstown, New York yesterday. It was a beautiful drive. Cooperstown is situated on longitudinal Lake Otsega: narrow and long, one can easily see the tree-covered hills on the other side. Route 80 along the western coast has lots of small cottages overlooking the lake, covered by the shade of the trees and the surrounding hills.
First we visited the Farmers’ Museum, a working farm representing methods of the early and mid-nineteenth century. It was very cute. They had several heirloom species: cattle, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens. A few of the buildings were working exhibits: people performing daily tasks in the manner of the era. We were disappointed that so many of the staff were between tasks–we did not get to see much getting done. The most interesting buildings were the church (transplanted from a community south of Cooperstown, originally built in Gothic style but reformed to neo-classical) and the Seneca house (transplanted form the west). We also spoke to one man who gave us advice on growing broom corn (which we have in our garden) and on making brooms (he said that it is very difficult to get good broom in our climate).
Next we went to the Fenimore Art Museum, the home of the Coopers. It consisted of several interesting exhibits. The lower level had an extensive collection of Native American artwork, perhaps reason enough to see the museum. Many of the pieces were from northern tribes: they were made more from wood and biological sources rather than from mineral. There were masks and chests carved from wood, carved bones and tusks, textiles, jewelry made from shells ... . My favorite pieces were small masks from wood and feather from Alaska. A smaller collection dealt with representations of the American Flag in Native American art. The lower level also had pictures of trains by Winston Link. Many of these were pictures of ordinary life with trains passing through–poetic. The middle level had a small room about the Coopers themselves and a collection of folk art representing moments in American history. The top level was changing exhibits; only the life masks of Bowere were open for viewing. Not my thing. If you go, take a good look at Lafayette’s hair.
From there were drove south to the Ommegang Brewery. The Brewery was opened in 1997 in order to make beer in the Belgian style. There was a nice little tour and a tasting of the offerings of the Brewery. All of their brews are, like Belgian beers, heavier than American offerings in alcohol and taste. The wheat beer and the abbey ale are nice, the latter being rich. We bought several local products that were made from the beer and some glasses. We bought only a bottle of the white/wheat beer because we can get all their offerings near us.
How can I express my disappointment in the Baseball Hall of Fame? It was Comic Book Guy when it should have been Ken Burns; it was This Week in Baseball when it should have been Bull Durham. The building itself is nice brick with the entrance set on the street. Inside the actual walls of the building were not visible. Instead, all the exhibits were placed into moveable, temporary walls. All the surfaces were painted black, creating an atmosphere of sorrow and doom. The exhibits themselves were not well organized. The second level was a vaguely chronological representation of feats and important teams. A few gloves, a few balls and bats, clippings and other memorabilia were presented in random fashion. There was a small display for “Women in Baseball” with a few uniforms and programs. The third level consisted of awards and championship series. Toward the back of the first level there was the hall in which the plaques of the hall-of-famers themeselves (where’s Joe?). In additions behind that there were displays for sports reporting and baseball in films. The best exhibit concerned the Negro Leagues and their history.
There was little difference between the Baseball Hall of Fame and the cheesy stores that sell memorabilia around it. What I think it ought to have had were more displays that concerned with changes in the style of play, about baseball culture, etc. There was nothing on pre-1903 baseball, save the players who were inducted thereinto. Not one picture of kids playing in sandlots or the streets of crowded NY burroughs. Perhaps the things the Hall of Fame ought not need to do the work of making baseball meaningful to the people who visit, but what else will? The focus should be taken off hagiography of professional baseball and put onto the culture that supports it. Furthermore, the floors should be open an airy. We should see more of the building, and the walls should not close in on us like a rat maze.
We did not stay long in Cooperstown after seeing the Hall of Fame. We were not enticed by the shops or by the restaurants. We sat in one park to stare out at the lake, and we walked around town. The houses in Cooperstown are very cute. But we wanted to get home, so we left by 7.