arlington, Virginia, usa
September 12
Former 60's wild child, not much left in the tank, restaurant lifer, baseball fanatic


Coogansbluf's Links
FEBRUARY 20, 2009 12:43PM

Village of Dreams

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If I could live anywhere it would probably be Cooperstown, NY. The picturesque little village in central New York state that is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, the boyhood home of James Fenimore Cooper, The Glimmerglass Opera and The Farmer's Museum. I might add that I think it's about the most beautiful little village on earth.

The Village was founded on land purchased by Judge William Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper in 1785 and was officially named Cooperstown in 1806.  It sits at one end of Lake Otsago, a nine mile long lake that is the mouth of the Susquehanna River. 

I first went to Cooperstown in the mid eighties for the Hall of Fame on a whim. I needed to get away from a bad situation at home and several weeks at work without a day off. I got into my car and made the eight and a half hour drive north with nothing more than a little cash and an American Express Card. It was Columbus Day weekend and I had no idea that I'd picked the busiest weekend of the year to visit the town. I arrived at dusk with snow falling and every motel in town full. The one guy in town that had vacancies didn't take credit cards. I got back in my car and drove north along the lake until I finally saw a motel with a vacancy sign about ten miles north of town. By that time it was full dark so I checked into my small room and bedded down for the night.

The next day the snow was gone and it was an absolutely glorious day. Bright blue skies and the trees were in peak fall color. That was the reason Columbus Day weekend is always the top weekend. The trees are at their absolute peak. Where I live we get some nice fall colors but it was nothing like this, it's like listening to a symphony it's so beautiful. I drove into town and went looking for a place to have breakfast. The main street was almost completely devoted to baseball. I ate at the Shortstop Cafe and then stopped into the National Pass Time Gallery to peruse the Baseball art. The newest building on Main St was probably built around 1910. Many of the private homes are from the Federal Period that you see copied so much today but these are the real deal, incredible.

But as I said, I went there for the Hall of Fame. I spent three days wandering through the entire building. Since I'm a member of the museum I don't have to pay admission and I could come and go as I pleased. I went to the HOF Library, asked to see some material on the Polo Grounds where I'd seen my first baseball game and was amazed at the volume of material put in front of me. I left at the end of three days to return to my crumbling marriage and my seventy hour work week but I knew I'd be back.

A few years later I began a relationship with my friends sister. She and I had a tremendous amount in common except that I lived in Virginia and she lived in Albany, NY. We'd only get to see each other a few times every year but when I'd go to visit her I'd make sure to drag her to Cooperstown, about one hour west of Albany. Since she knew nothing about baseball or sports in general you can only imagine how thrilled she was after the first hour at the museum was up. One huge bonus was that on the road between Albany and Cooperstown we came across a huge stone teepee souvenir stand that seemed to contain everything a collector of kitsch could ever want. I bought a reclining naked lady salt and pepper set and I don't think I have to tell you what part of the body the shakers were.

When we married a couple of summers later we honeymooned for a couple of days in Cape May, a couple of days in Vermont and a week in Cooperstown which my wife now thinks somehow makes her eligible for martyrdom. She really did have a right jolly old time despite what she likes to tell people. We toured the lake by boat, took in bucolic splendor of the countryside and explored the back streets of the old village. The old churches and eighteenth century grave yards and the beautiful homes but it was one scene that has stuck in my mind as clearly as it was yesterday. We came across a group of old men lounging under a huge old shade tree outside the left field fence of Doubleday Field, site of the annual Hall of Fame Game and mythical birthplace of the first ever game of baseball. They were watching a Little League game being played just as intently as anyone would follow a game at Yankee Stadium. I thought, damn, I could stay here forever.

In 2001 we made another trip and brought our two kids who were old enough to appreciate it but with another purpose as well. We were looking at properties. We were giving serious consideration to buying a bed and breakfast and making the move north. My wife missed living in Upstate New York, my mother was gone so I no longer had to worry about that bit of drama and we were already in the process of getting our house ready to put on the market. We spent a long weekend looking at properties and decided that it was definitely doable. The biggest thing holding us back was health insurance. If my wife left her job we'd lose the insurance and there would be no way to pay for a family of five on the open market. My wife also delighted in reminding me that the latest I'd ever been up there was in October and that I'd probably go mad with the cold and the snow by mid December. I told her that she had an annoying habit of clouding the issue with facts. I reminded her that I after all had gone to school in Poughkeepsie. She responded that the people in Cooperstown laughed at those pussies and would sunbathe in that winter weather. Back and forth we went. The insurance is what settled the matter. No one in their right mind these days is going to go anywhere without insurance if they can help it. I'd have to defer that dream once again but also I'd have to say she's probably right about the snow and the cold. I have grown pretty southern in my ways after more than forty years in Old Virginny.

I'm already planning my next trip back. My youngest has never been and I've got him all ramped up to go and see the Babe Ruth room and the huge display of vintage baseball cards. I'll wait for the spring thaw and maybe if we ever get Universal Healthcare, who knows? 

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Nice post - takes me back to my own boyhood of baseball. And nice pic of Cooperstown on Susquehanna. Had no idea - stirs up the Last of the Mohican in me. Never cared to visit, now I gotta go.
Patrick - even if you just want to visit a beautiful small town it's the place to go, just make a reservation first!
Thanks for the description. I have been considering going to Cooperstown. My significant other is learning about baseball, exploring the greats, reading Roger Kahn. I felt it was time to go and show him what a large part of my life growing up was about. Your post cemented the idea.
There are two books I would really recommend for him about baseball before or after your trip, The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter and Bums by Peter Gollenbock, two great baseball books. Enjoy your trip.
Well, never give up your dreams. Maybe there will be a way to afford insurance at some point in the Obama years. I remember my government health insurance and it was not all that expensive, and while much more now, relatively it might not be too bad.

Sue and I always worry about the insurance angle. I'm 70 and she is 16 years younger. So without insurance she can't either quit or go to a part time job, which would be ideal for us, but that is not in the cards now. We both want to stay here so there is not any big desire to move anywhere else, but we would like a life style where she could enjoy some of my retirement. By the time she can retire I will be ancient. So we hope.

I love the finger lakes. Went to graduate school in Ithaca at Cornell for a while, worked in Albany for Nelson Rockafeller and love that area of the state.

Very well written post.

You know, Coogan, Montreal's only a five hour drive from Cooperstown. It's a very pretty city and we have health insurance. Only problem is you'd have to give up the Nats. But if you lived in Cooperstown you'd have to become a Mets fan, which I don't really recommend.
Juliet - my very first game was at the Polo Grounds (under Coogan's Bluff) watching the very terrible '63 Mets. I've always had a soft spot for the team just not soft enough to root for them. At a game at National's Park this past year some nob in front of me kept holding up a sign that said, "Shea Stadium South". I had to helpfully remind the fool that the Nats had knocked the Mets out of the pennant race two years running. Shea south my ass....