A Leatherstocking Tale

A weekend trip to Cooperstown.

Glimmerglass from above the parking lot.

Cooperstown, NY, boasts, in addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a lovely opera house that has been able to attract some of the best performers in the world. For two summers in a row, for example, Deborah Voigt, who recently sang Brünhilde in the Ring cycle at the Met, appeared in shows at Cooperstown’s Alice Busch Theater, popularly known as Glimmerglass. The theater seats nine hundred people, large enough to hold one-half the permanent population of Cooperstown.

Sue and I customarily make the trip to Cooperstown in mid-August to see an opera or two. The company performs nearly every day during the summer. Traditionally they have presented three or four different operas, two or three traditional “warhorses” and one a little more avant-garde. This year they deviated slightly from the norm and scheduled, in addition to a couple of operas, an unamplified version of Meredith Wilson’s famous musical The Music Man. It featured two singers who have performed at the Met. We both enjoyed the show, and the house was packed.

For the tourist there is considerably more to the Cooperstown area than the Hall of Fame and the opera house. The village lies at the southern end of Otsego Lake, which is not famous for its beaches, but which does offer opportunities to boating enthusiasts. It is the home town of James Fenimore Cooper, the creator of Natty Bumppo’s Leatherstocking Tales. I was surprised to learn that the town was not named after the author; his father purchased the area in 1785 and named it after himself. Plenty of establishments in the area, however, were named after the son, including a rather important art gallery. The village has been quite successful at drawing baseball teams from far and wide to play in tournaments in Doubleday Field or in one of the other nearby stadiums. The golf courses also get a good deal of play in the summer. There is a Farmer’s Museum and a few mansions from the area’s halcyon days in which one can spend a few pleasant hours. Some boutique breweries have recently sprung up, and a trail has been designated for a pub crawl.

We always take Route 20 to Cooperstown. Along the way is the famous Tepee, the best place in the area for purchasing worthless nicknacks. In the surrounding area are several other attractions, including a place in Herkimer that allows tourists to look for diamonds for only $10. Howe’s Caverns and a few competitors are nearby.

Even though the area boasts a good number of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, one cannot expect to stay cheaply in or around Cooperstown, at least not in the summer. In the winter I assume that you can just about name your price, but in the summer you must either stay forty or fifty miles away from the village or put up with being gouged. Hedge fund managers and their ilk stay in the luxury hotels and cough up $400 or more per night. The frugal travelers stay at one of the many ma and pa motels or at a bed and breakfast, but they still shell out $200 or close to it.

We stayed at one of the small motels. It was a throwback to the seventies or earlier. The pillows were flimsy, and the beds were a little uncomfortable. The bathroom fixtures all worked, but neither Sue nor I could remember the last time that we had seen a shower in which the hot and cold water could be adjusted separately. The television was small and definitely not HD. There was a small refrigerator, but no wifi, no ironing board, no coffee maker, and no hair drier. We had a view of the lake, but trees obscured all but a tiny corner. In short, it was nothing to write home about.

During the summer “No Vacancy” signs abound. If an induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame is scheduled, it is advisable just to pick another time. At any time during the summer there are far more cars in the village than there are parking spaces. People who are on day trips are advised to park in one of the free lots on either end of the village and take the trolley. This is somewhat time-consuming, but searching for a parking spot in Cooperstown is usually frustrating and often futile.

One thing that puzzles me about Cooperstown is the dearth of restaurants. The tourist guide book describes only a handful of restaurants, but it includes dozens of places to stay. How can this be? Do tourists not eat? Do they all depend on room service? Maybe they bring barbecue grills.

We could not find a single place that was open for breakfast at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. We ended up driving a few miles south to the village of Milford. There we discovered that the VFW was sponsoring an all-you-can-eat breakfast. It was tempting, but we chose a dive named Jackie’s that was located a few blocks away from the VFW. The atmosphere, about which I ordinarily care very little, was a notch below even my standards. On the other hand, the food was not bad, and the service was quite good.

There is a McDonald’s south of town, but that is the only nationwide chain that I saw. A number of temporary sheds that sell fast food can be seen on the side of the highway. We did not sample any of their offerings.

The drive to Cooperstown is always something of an adventure. It defies credulity that such a famous place is so inaccessible. If you draw a triangle that connects Syracuse, Albany, and Binghamton, Cooperstown lies just about in the middle. In this year’s trip my navigating skills failed us twice. Sue got a little annoyed at me, but we did find the hotel in time to check in before the owner turned in for the night.

The last thing that I said before we departed our hotel room the following morning was, “Well, I always leave something behind. I wonder what it will be this time.” At that moment I was standing within twelve inches of my laptop’s power supply, which was plugged into the wall when it should have been in my computer case. By my count, this is the third power supply that I have left in a hotel room. Sue called the owner, and he said that he would mail it to us.