- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Everyone has heard of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, where the annual induction ceremony takes place honoring the sport’s greatest players.

This village in upstate New York offers much more than sports history, however. Summertime visitors throng here for all types of culture and recreation, from the Glimmerglass Opera and art by Grandma Moses and Winslow Homer to boating on a picturesque lake; a museum of Indian artifacts; and the Otesaga, a 19th-century hotel restored to grandeur by a $40 million renovation.

Most trips here include stops at one if not all of the village’s three museums, which are home to giants — both real and bogus.

The baseball museum is a shrine to the greats of the game, including such Giants as Christy Mathewson (New York) and Willie McCovey (San Francisco). The memorabilia, equipment, uniforms, photographs and artwork that define the national pastime can be found within the walls of the 65-year-old museum.

At this year’s upcoming induction ceremony July 25, Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley will have their plaques placed among those of legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

At the Fenimore Art Museum, a towering 7-foot-tall wooden totem looms, fashioned more than a century ago by the Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia. Created to welcome guests at tribal feasts, the figure now greets visitors to the museum’s display of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection, an impressive array of North American Indian art arranged by regions of origin.

At the Farmers’ Museum, another kind of giant is a popular attraction. The Cardiff Giant, a 10-foot-long stone carving, was passed off in the late 1860s as a “petrified man” by George Hull of Binghamton, who charged people 50 cents to view the curiosity. Even after he admitted it was a hoax, Hull’s giant remained popular with the public.

The Farmers’ Museum purchased the Cardiff Giant in the late 1940s, adding it to the museum’s collection of artifacts, crafts, tools, furnishings and other items that re-create rural life in mid-19th century New York state.

The museum’s period rooms and active demonstrations give visitors a feel for how an agricultural community really lived — not, as one early supporter said, “as latter-day nice Nellies might wish it to have been.”

Thomas Costello, vice president of the New York State Historical Association, which runs both museums, offers a tip to first-time visitors.

“Get to know the museum,” he says. “Then, come back the next day and spend some more time.”

It’s good advice, considering the extent of the art museum’s holdings. The Thaw Collection alone contains hundreds of artifacts, from a 2,000-year-old Anasazi bag to Geronimo’s bow, arrows and quiver.

The native pottery, craftwork, weapons and ceremonial items bear intricate, colorful details that offer a glimpse into a lost world. The articles of clothing on display combine artistic flare with everyday function. Pointing to a century-old item a Yup’ik Indian of central Alaska made from seal intestines, Mr. Costello says: “This parka looks like something you could buy at L.L. Bean.”

Also on display at the Fenimore are everything from Winslow Homer’s Adirondack masterworks to paintings by Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses.

The Hudson River School is represented, and an extensive folk-art collection displays images ranging from 18th-century Dutch life along the Hudson to the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001.

Down the road from the museum stands the 95-year-old Otesaga Hotel, one of the grand old hotels of upstate New York. With its front portico supported by 30-foot columns, the Federal-style structure’s charms transport guests back to another era.

Open just from mid-April through November, the 139-room hotel has its own 18-hole golf course, oak-paneled lounges, ornate dinning rooms and cozy suites with Colonial-style furnishings — and flat-screen televisions.

“They just don’t make rooms like this any more,” says General Manager John Irvin, gesturing at the original murals flanking the entrance to the ballroom.

Even after $40 million in renovations undertaken inside the Otesaga over the past year, the hotel’s winding verandah, with its rocking chairs and prime view of the greenery reflected in Otsego Lake’s slate-blue surface, remains the most popular gathering spot, Mr. Irvin says.

“The best room in the house is outside the house,” he says.

The Cooperstown area offers many other lodging options, from mom-and-pop motels dotting the lake’s western shore to dozens of inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The 20-room Cooper Inn, owned by the same company that operates the Otesaga, was built a century before the Otesaga, but it has been run as a hotel just since 1927.

If you’re visiting on Hall of Fame weekend, just remember that accommodations then may be hard to come by. The Otesaga, for example, is off-limits to everyone but Hall of Famers and their families.

In between museum tours, visitors to Cooperstown can catch a boat ride, take in the opera or quaff a Belgian-style brew.

The Glimmerglass Queen runs boat tours of the lake, as does Cooperstown Lake Charters, which also offers charter fishing for bass, trout and salmon on Otsego Lake. For those who like to take the helm, Sam Smith’s Boatyard rents watercraft from kayaks to pontoon boats capable of carrying 10 passengers.

The Glimmerglass Opera, just north of the village, opened its 30th season Thursdaywith a performance of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” Before closing Aug. 24, the company also will perform Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience,” Handel’s “Imeneo” and “The Mines of Sulphur” by Richard Rodney Bennett.

Just south of Cooperstown, the Brewery Ommegang serves up Belgian beers on a 135-acre farm that harkens back to the 19th-century days when Otsego County was the nation’s top producer of hops.

Planning a trip to Cooperstown?

To reach Cooperstown from the south, take Interstate 88 east to Oneonta, N.Y., then Route 28 north to the village.

Farmers’ Museum: Lake Road, Route 80, 888/547-1450 or www.farmersmuseum.org. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission: Adults, $9; seniors, $8; children 7 to 12, $4; children 6 and under, free.

Fenimore Art Museum: Lake Road, Route 80; 888/547-1450 or www.fenimoreartmuseum.org. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission: Adults, $9; over 65, $8; children 7-12 $4; children 6 and under, free.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:ee.

Glimmerglass Opera: www.glimmerglass.org or 607/547-2255.

Cooper Inn: 15 Chestnut St.; 607/547-2567 or www.cooperinn.com. Rates begin at $199 nightly.

www.cooperstownfishing.com or 315/858-3922. Half-day fishing trip, $175 for one or two people; full day, $300; family rate, $200 for up to four people.

Sam Smith’s Boat Yard: 607/547-2543.

Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce: 31 Chestnut St.; 607/547-9983 or www.cooperstownchamber.org.


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