Nothing fits a warm summer night better than a great old car show. Well the biggest and best old car show in Central New York takes place every day at the wonderful Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich (Chenango County).
When you first step in to one of their several large showrooms it is sensory overload. Cars are lined up as far as the eye can see: red, black, white, turquoise, brown, green. They look like Life Savers on wheels. It is positively dazzling!
There are more than 150 cars on display every day at this unknown museum in Norwich. From Model T and Model As, to big-finned classics from the 1950s, to the muscle cars of the 1960s they are all here. Of special note is the largest collection of Franklin Automobiles under one roof. These cars were made up until 1934 in Syracuse. Other local auto manufacturers are represented here as well.
Some of the surest head-turners are the giant, block-long cars of the 1920s and 1930s. There are several Dusenbergs, Packards and Cords here that are as long as boats and have every imaginable accessory to ferry around the rich and famous of the day.
The thing I like best about the Northeast Classic Car Museum is its multi-generational appeal. This is the perfect place for Grandpa to bring his grandson (or granddaughter) to and give them a lesson on yesteryear. Both generations will love it. Granddad will enjoy reminiscing about his first car and the kids will love all the fancy, colorful features that make almost every auto here look as if it sprang from one of today’s superhero movies.
This is a nice museum, a little off the beaten path, but certainly worth a couple of hours on a a warm sunny Saturday! It is also a chapter in my new book Unknown Museums of Upstate New York.
You may remember our Summer Road Trip series with author and radio personality Chuck D’Imperio. Over the course of the summer Chuck took our readers on a tour of the most fascinating monuments, statues, and memorials in Upstate New York, all found in his book Monumental New York! He shared stories about the famous and infamous personalities to ever tread the forests, fields, and city streets of the Empire State.
Fortunately, Chuck is back with a new book and whole new set of summer travel ideas. Unknown Museums of Upstate New York: A Guide to 50 Treasures will be out later this summer but you will get a sneak-peek every few weeks when Chuck drops in on the blog to highlight a museum in this year’s Summer Road Trip series….starting today!
One of my favorite stops along the “museum trail” is the Gomez Mill House in Marlboro (www.gomez.org). The community lies on the border of Ulster and Orange County on the west bank of the Hudson River. The Gomez Mill House is steeped in history. It is the oldest surviving Jewish home in the United States.
Its graceful stonewalls, lush gardens, and old wooden water wheel give it a peaceful and nostalgic air. Inside the walls you will find the stories of five different prominent New York families (and others) who have resided there. It is totally fascinating and clearly one of the best kept secrets in the Hudson Valley. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the home and events and celebrations are planned.
Why not mark it down on your “trip catalog” for this summer and get a first look at this incredible landmark? The docents are well versed and the stories they tell are really the stuff that legends are made of.
Original builder Luis Moses Gomez was a Sephardic Jewish merchant and trader who established the first synagogue of Sherarith Israel and in 1728 served as its first president. The congregation, still in existence in New York City, is the oldest one in the United States. The families who followed the Gomez family as residents (Acker, Armstrong, Hunter and Gruening) are equally important and touched every aspect of American culture over the centuries from politics to literature to craftsmanship to military.
I spent an entire afternoon here recently and can’t wait to go back. As you quietly walk from room to room to room you can actually sense the heft of history found in this home. You will love the Gomez Mill House….an unknown museum of upstate New York that I write about in my new book.
Thomas Redfield Proctor came to the city around 1869 and quickly established himself as a hotelier of significance. His Bagg’s Hotel, Butterfield House and Spring House Hotel (Richfield Springs) were among the most popular and posh overnight accommodations in the region. Once he became wealthy, Proctor (and his extended family) was benevolent to their city beyond compare. He financed a parks system in Utica that quickly became the envy of similar sized cities in the U.S. It is in one of those parks that an everlasting tribute to this giant figure in Utica’s history still stands today.
From it’s exquisite aerie high atop the 400-acre Roscoe Conkling Park (named for legendary three-term U.S. Senator from Utica) sits the majestic “Proctor Eagle.” Upon his death on July 4, 1920, his wife, Maria commissioned a heroic image of an American Eagle about to take flight. This eagle sits atop a tall marble base. The direction of the eagle’s flight path reaches out over the city of Utica and on to the sweeping foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. While it is almost akin to detective work to try and discern the impetus behind the creation of some great memorials, the Proctor Eagle leaves no question as to its origin.
It commemorates an actual event.
A plaque affixed to this dynamic eagle monument reads: “This monument is erected to the memory and honor of Thomas Redfield Proctor by his wife. He was an incorruptible citizen and pure patriot. If asked what he wished for in reward for any good public deed he would reply, “I want nothing.” An American Eagle in a cage was once offered to him. He bought it and liberated it on the 4th of July. It paused for a moment and then took flight. He also was given his liberty on the 4th of July, 1920 and went the way the bird did, seeking his native element and the true Father of his country.”
The view from the Proctor Eagle high atop Conkling Park is one of the most beautiful of any monument sites I have researched in the state.
While visiting the Proctor Eagle simply turn around and look over the fence into Forest Hill Cemetery. The first large grave you can see is that of James Schoolcraft Sherman. Sherman was a political contemporary of Conklings, a fellow Utica native and a man who served as 27th vice-president of the United States.
Cooperstown, N.Y. is known as “America’s Most Perfect Village.” It has a storied past (the Baseball Hall of Fame obviously), a spectacular setting (Otsego Lake) and some pretty amazing members in its family tree (author James Fenimore Cooper for starters). So it is no surprise that it also has a wonderful selection of public art.
A visitor will marvel at the clarity and strength depicted in one America’s earliest popular sculptures, “The Indian Hunter” by John Quincy Adams Ward overlooking the lake. Or the magnificent solemnity of the World War I statue standing guard near the famous Otesaga Hotel (many have called this one of the most exact statues of its kind in America.). And then there is the towering and heroic statue of James Fenimore Cooper by sculptor Victor Salvatore posted outside the front door of the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. They are all great, but it is another Salvatore piece that strikes the most sentimental chord amongst the throngs visiting Cooperstown annually.
“The Sandlot Kid” was placed in front of Doubleday Field (dubbed “The Birthplace of Baseball) in 1940. It is a tall pedastled statue of a young lad preparing to hit a baseball in the 1800s. We do not know much more than that, but the statue speaks volumes. The kid has a farmboy’s straw hat pulled down over his eyes. He looks to be about ten years old. He is barefoot, dressed in overly large work clothes and his bat is resting on his right shoulder. Its placement in front of one of baseball’s “unofficial” shrines is picture perfect. Who cannot relate to this familiar scene?
And speaking of “picture perfect.” This statue is without a doubt one of the most photographed ones in the Upstate region. Teams of little leaguers, visitors from other countries, nostalgic grandparents and Hall of Famers alike have lined up to get a photo over the decades with this timeless kid in front of Doubleday Field. The majority of the 300,000 visitors to Cooperstown each year no doubt have a snapshot featuring themselves posing with this popular icon.
Victor Salvatore was a respected sculptor with bronzes showcased in galleries around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is also the sculptor of the giant Cooper statue near the Hall of Fame.
Salvatore was married to Ellen Ryerson, the daughter of wealthy lawyer Arthur L. Ryerson who perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. She was the only one of his daughters who did not voyage with thier parents on the doomed ship.
Our next “road trip” will take us to an aerie overlooking one of Upstate’s largest cities. Here we will learn the story of an amazing bird.
The President’s Whiskers
In far western New York, where the Finger Lakes region ends and the Great Lakes begin to make their presence known, one will find the most charming memorial in Upstate. The two central figures are familiar and yet curious. A towering U.S. president and a little girl holding a tiny bouquet of flowers. And that is it, in its entirety. Of course the president was Abraham Lincoln and the story of the president and the little girl is one of the most famous tales to come out of Upstate.
Lincoln was running for the presidency when he received a fan letter from an 11-year old girl, Grace Bedell of Westfield, N.Y. She was imploring him to grow some whiskers on his bare face so “all the ladies would vote for him.” Unbelievably, this seemingly innocuous letter reached the candidate’s desk and he read it and answered the little girl.
He agreed. He grew the whiskers.
After he was elected, Lincoln’s victory train made a stop in Westfield on his way to his inauguration. The tall president-elect came to the rear of the station and hollered to the huge crowd to “bring me the little girl, Grace Bedell.” Grace was there with her family and she shyly approached the soon-to-be president with a small bouquet in her hands. Mr. Lincoln reached down to give her a kiss on her cheek and the little girl reached up and rubbed his new grown whiskers. Lincoln whispered to the young girl, “Gracie, I have been growing them for you!” A roar went up from the crowd, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Much has been written about the meeting of Abraham Lincoln and Grace Bedell that day but sculptor Don Sottile, of Himrod, N.Y., created a timeless, poignant and beautiful life size double statue of this famous event that is the perfect anecdote to this delightful story. Many visitors come to the spot where the memorial is (corner of US Rt. 20 and NYS Rt. 394) during their visit to this region.
Westfield is grape country. The village is surrounded by many large vineyards and the was actually the birthplace of Welch’s Grape Juice (1897). The last remaining original building of the factory, Welch’s Building Factory #1, is still standing in downtown Westfield and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
In our next visit we will explore the “Home of Baseball” (or is it?) and the famous statue of “The Sandlot Kid.”
If you ask any sports fan to name a miracle that took place in Upstate New York they will quickly tell you of the “Miracle on Ice,” when the U.S.A. team defeated the Russian ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But another miracle, this one a medical miracle, took place a century before this. It occured in Saranac Lake, just a hockey puck shot down the road from Lake Placid. It is the subject of our newest look at an Upstate memorial.
Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915) came to the pristine Adirondack Mountains in 1873 after both completing his medical degree and contracting tuberculosis all in the same year. At the time it was felt that there was little to do to fight this disease but that surrounding yourself with fresh clean air, plenty of sunshine and a relaxed lifestyle all contributed to lengthening ones life with the disease. In 1894 Trudeau established the first clinic in the U.S. dedicated to the study and treatment of tuberculosis. The Trudeau Laboratory was opened in Saranac Lake and over the years hundreds would make the trek to the mountains seeking “the cure.”
Among the many famous clients who visited Trudeau’s clinic are writer Robert Louis Stevenson (who survived the disease) and baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson (who died of TB in a cure cottage in Saranac Lake on October 7, 1925).
The clinic is still located here. At the rear of the building is a haunting statue. The statue shows the doctor in his final days of life gazing serenely over a pond behind the clinic that bears his name. The creator is one of America’s most famous sculptors, Gutzon Borglum, a friend of Trudeaus. Borglum’s most famous work of course is the presidential tribute carved on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Dr. Trudeau’s great-great-grandson, the cartoonist Gary Trudeau (“Doonesbury”), currently serves as an Honorary Trustee of the institute bearing his family name.
In our next post we will take a look at a remarkable statue in Western New York which commemorates the historic meeting between a U.S. president and an 11-year old girl.
The Erie Canal is the magnum opus in the early establishment of the Empire State as the jewel of the U.S.A. Called the “greatest engineering marvel of its time,” the canal was built at a time (1825) when there wasn’t even a single civil engineer in our new nation! So where are the monuments to this sterling achievement? Well they are few and certainly far between. But here in Seneca Falls, N.Y. along the banks of the Seneca-Cayuga canal, an offshoot of the Erie Canal, one will find a most sentimental and solitary salute to the great Canal Diggers (the monuments’ actual title.)
Here on the back side of the main business district one will come upon two statues standing solidly in the water. Each weighs a ton. Both are evocative of the canal workers who came through this region of Upstate New York by the tens of thousands. One essays an Irish digger and the other an Italian. Brian Pfeiffer of Bennington, N.Y., is the sculptor. The statues are located along the Ludovico Sculpture Trail which runs a mile and a half along the old canal. Several statues along the path (which is an abandoned rail bed) pay silent tribute to several hallmarks of the region including feminist Amelia Bloomer, the wine industry, local industries and others.
A small wooden staircase allows the casual visitor to walk down to the water’s edge and eye the statues from only a few feet away. It is not a stretch to imagine that the two silent sentinels are looking up at you from under their crumpled immigrant hats as if to say, “How about this canal, huh? It’s really something isn’t it?”
The next time we visit we will discover a statue which commemorates the “Miracle of the Adirondacks.”