There is always a risk in going back to places you loved as a child. They don’t always synch up with your golden memories and the experience can leave one wistful or worse, depressed. I am happy to report that wasn’t the case when Brendan and I spent an afternoon at the Farmers Museum recently.
Our annual visit to the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown was of the highlights of summer as a young child. My Aunt Jody worked at the New York State Historical Association across the street, thus we got free tickets to all the museums in town. I willingly suffered through rows of wooden bats and signed balls at the Baseball Hall of Fame, which my brothers preferred, knowing much better sights in store for me.
While the Belter suite at the Fenimore House and a coach and fake four at the Carriage and Harness Museum were inspirational, they couldn’t compare to the euphoria I experienced when we reached the Farmer’s Museum and Village Crossroads.
Weaned on The Farmer Boy and the Little House series, it was thrilling to see objects and activities from the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books come to life. Walking through the large stone barns full of farming exhibits and craft demonstrations. I would stop transfixed by a woman sitting at a spinning wheel. Sure, her cat-eye glasses might not have passed muster in Miss Beadles School, but watching her pedal-operated wheel effortlessly transform flax into yarn was nothing less than magical. I remember the first time I saw a man leading a yoke of oxen past me on the grounds. Did they really just respond to “Gee” and “haw”, like they did for young Almonzo Wilder? I wanted to pinch myself!
The Village Crossroads (a collection of historic buildings moved to the museum to approximate an early New York Village) held a school where I covetously admired the writing slates and inkwells. I would buy rock candy in the Village store and dutifully watch the blacksmith and apothecary practice their trades.
The Lippitt Farmstead was another favorite stop,
featuring a charming saltbox home full of open hearth cooking aromas and a little door for the cats to get in and out of the upstairs. Outside, chickens and other gentle animals ran around its little barnyard. I would leave each year wishing I could find a time machine to transport me back to that idyllic era.
Flash forward forty some odd years, and I was once again walking through the majestic stone silos that mark the entrance to the museum.
While the exhibits inside the barns looked different from what I remembered, with few tools and nary cat-eyed eyeglass wearing woman spinning anything, once we went outside, things began to seem more familiar.
Sure, more buildings have been added over the decades, but the actually enhanced the experience.
The ones I remembered from my youth looked exactly like I remembered, greeting me like old friends.
We walked by a carousel featuring carved wooden animals (one of the newer additions to the museum). Ordinarily, it would never occur to me to ride a merry go round, but the two women attendants were very persuasive, encouraging Brendan and I to take a whirl.
With that, I was officially a kid again. We got off and eagerly went from building to building. Costumed employees were found in many of them, plying early nineteenth century crafts.
Thankfully, they did not try to convince us they were actually living in the early nineteenth century. Instead, they would give a brief explanation of what they were engaged in, providing more information based on the level of interest of the guests. Of course, I wanted a lot of information. I chatted away with the staff in the apothecary shop, our discussion revolving around the various methods doctors used for obtaining cadavers cut short when some children entered. On and on we went, to the church, printers, tavern and Blacksmith Shop.
In between the buildings we stopped to visit every animal we passed – turkeys, pigs and chickens and cows.
Which led us through the farmyard and garden of the Lippitt homestead.
A young woman who was cooking lunch for the staff there showed us her meat pies and explained that the farming equipment exhibits were still in the main Barn, just upstairs.
On our way out we went to see them, and they were just as I remembered. I left that afternoon with my golden memories untarnished and learned new things that interested me on an adult level. Even better was seeing a new generation exhibit the enthusiasm as I had as a child.
Whatever one’s age though, the Farmer’s Museum is worth the trip!