Cooperstown is best known for the Baseball Hall of Fame, because the only thing better than watching a sport on TV where mostly nothing happens is looking at a bunch of mementos glorifying the guys who do that mostly nothing. There are actually at least two other attractions: the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmer’s Museum.
Yes, I realize a Farmer’s Museum sounds even less exciting, but that’s only if you don’t think someone walking sheep on a leash (which is what’s happening in the above photo) is exciting!
The Farmer’s Museum is split into three main parts: the store which is free to enter, some indoor exhibits and a snack shop, and the farmer’s village. The indoor exhibits are mainly educational bits geared toward kids (though the chili dogs aren’t bad), but the highlight (for me) was the Cardiff Giant. Go ahead and check that link, but the short story is a dude made a ten foot tall statue, buried it on someone else’s property where it was “discovered”, and people were charged people fifty cents to see it. Capitalism, hell yeah!
The village is really where’s it’s at. It’s been painstakingly designed to represent small town America in the mid-to-late 1800’s. Most of the buildings are actual period structures that have been moved to the site and rehabilitated. There’s a church, a pharmacist, a doctor, a blacksmith, everything you’d expect — and some things you wouldn’t, like a hop house where hops for brewing are dried and stored. The highlight for me was the printing office, with working printing presses from the 19th century. All of the people working the village are extremely dedicated to their own specialties, and the printer is probably one of the better examples. He talked to us for at least twenty minutes, explaining the various machines and typesetting, even running some pages off. He knew what he was talking about and the impromptu demonstration was pretty awesome. Beyond the surprise encounters there are scheduled events throughout the day; we got to see some pillmaking and spinning of flax. Life definitely wasn’t easy back then, no antibiotics or rayon, or digital cameras even.
Of course there are animals, make sure you say hi to the absolutely terrifying turkeys. No surprise that’s what’s left of the dinosaurs. The sheep are a bit nicer, and the pigs were either asleep or had resigned themselves to their eventual fate (the cows have a chance at least; nobody milks pigs).
I admit, I was skeptical, but it’s hard to find a nicer place for a relaxing afternoon on a warm, sunny day. Take a stroll, pet some animals, learn a thing or two, check out the carousel, watch people walk sheep, and be thankful for modern science. As an extra bonus, the Farmer’s Museum is directly across the street from the Fenimore, and you can get tickets to both for $20 instead of $12 each. I really like the drive west on Route 20 from Albany, and Cooperstown, just a quick left onto the shore of Otsego Lake, just became one of my must-see attractions on that venerable road. Want more info? The Farmer’s Museum has a website.
– Magnum Photos at Fenimore