Searching for the Twilight Zone—in Binghamton NY

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Pictured above is the bus terminal of Binghampton, NY. It is no longer just for Greyhound—all county buses now launch from the site. Built in 1938, it is of the Art Deco design known as Streamline Moderne—I love this design!—intended to convey aerodynamics and speed. Only a half dozen of such terminals still exist—there were once ten times that number.

This particular station was the inspiration for Rod Serling’s “The Mirror,” an episode of the anthology series The Twilight Zone. That episode terrified me. All Twilight Zones did, but I didn’t see too many as a boy because it was past my bedtime. Every so often, however—due to circumstances I no longer recall—I succeeded in outmaneuvering my parents and scared myself silly with the off-limits show.

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The Mirror is a story of a woman waiting for the bus who becomes unnerved when her exact double appears from another world, intent on replacing her. She is assured by others that such things are imaginary and do not happen, but then she looks up from outside the bus and—gasp!—there is that double seated on board, gazing down upon her.

Rod Serling narrated every opening and closing of The Twilight Zone. For “Mirror Image,” he began with:

Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night. Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes: not given to undue anxiety, or fears, or for that matter even the most temporal flights of fantasy. Like most young career women, she has a generic classification as a, quote, girl with a head on her shoulders, end of quote. All of which is mentioned now because, in just a moment, the head on Miss Barnes' shoulders will be put to a test. Circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block. Millicent Barnes, who, in one minute, will wonder if she's going mad.”

A young man in the episode, concerned for Millicent’s visibly deteriorating mental health, settles back in his seat at the terminal after the officers he has summoned have taken the woman away for help. He notices his bag is missing. He spots the thief absconding with it. Overtaking him, he discovers that—gasp!—it is his double!

Serling closes:

Obscure and metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon. Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it 'parallel planes' or just 'insanity'. Whatever it is, you'll find it in the Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling was a favorite son of Binghamton, born and raised there. You can run around and view, as we did on a recent visit, the homes in which he grew up—well, two of the three, anyway. It is a small city. Getting from anywhere to anywhere else is a snap. The Rod Serling Archive produces a map that lists other sites. There is the site of Serling’s Market Sanitary—it is a parking lot today. There is Serling’s Market—now a vacant lot, as is the former site of the Arlington Hotel, the inspiration for an episode of Night Gallery, a show he later hosted. The temple where his family once worshiped is now the Binghamton Housing Authority. His six Emmys and Peabody Award are housed at Ithaca College, about 45 minutes away. His own nondescript gravesite is at Interlaken Cemetery, another 45 minutes to the northwest.

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Other episodes of the Twilight Zone were fashioned in his home town. The carousel and bandstand of Recreation Park serves as the setting for “Walking Distance.” This is the episode—not particularly scary, though it probably terrified me at the time—in which a man named Martin has his car break down—they often did back then—necessitating repairs in his hometown that he happens to be driving through. While waiting, he wanders into the park that he remembers so well, and finds that time there has stood still. Why—he spots himself as an eleven-year-old riding the carousel! He calls out to his younger self. His call distracts the boy, who tumbles off the horse and breaks his leg. Instantly, the adult Martin feels the pain. And so forth—on goes the storyline.

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Closing narration:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too, because he'll know it isjust an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.”

We stopped at Recreation Park. The bandstand is still there at an intersection of sidewalks. It is dated, a bit ragged, and is perhaps no longer used for its intended purpose, but the nearby carousel was only closed up because fall had arrived—during summer it sees regular use. Sturdy trees tower over both structures, indeed over all of the park except for what looks like a more recent addition of athletic fields. The leaves were turning—yellow and oranges predominated—and only some had fallen. The small city itself is surrounded by hills—bursting with color during our visit. The day was sunny. The autumn air was crisp.

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Then there was Fowler’s (now Boscov’s), a department store on the corner of Court and Water streets. In the old days, the Boscov’s salesman told me, a piano player entertained shoppers. This site was the inspiration for “The After Hours,” an episode featuring a woman named Marsha, who chances into the store and passes all the mannequins. For a transaction, someone asks her for ID, and hers only goes back a month! More strange things transpire. She tries to run away, but freezes into plastic as she does so. The show ends with her a mannequin on display—her turn to be a human has expired—and another store mannequin, one that she passed earlier, is now taking his turn walking about shopping as a human!

Imagine standing forever still, unable to act, to speak, to touch a reassuring hand. If you were released from such a fate, even for a while, wouldn't you hope to forget that in reality, you're only on a short leave of absence...from the Twilight Zone?”

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Boscov’s proved an interesting find in itself, if only because downtown department stores are a dying rarity in most cities. This one is growing—not dying at all—and it is one of a chain of 48. It began as a single dry goods store in Reading PA purchased by Solomon Boscov, a Russian immigrant who arrived in 1914 speaking only Yiddish. 26 Boscov stores are scattered throughout Pennsylvania—it’s first (1962) out-of-state store is this one here in Binghamton, just a few miles over the state line—with four floors, escalators at center, elevators on the side, adjacent to a four-story parking garage, so that you can exit on any level and walk straight to your car. Mirrors make the interior seem larger than it actually is.

Is Boscov’s the department store equivalent of Wegman’s, the family-owned supermarket chain from my home town, Rochester, which opened its 101st store in Brooklyn this week? I left my wife in the store while I walked around the downtown area to snap a few pictures for this post. When I returned, she was exactly where I would have imagined she would be—in the bargain nook on the 4th floor—the Auditorium, probably a preserved holdover from Fowler’s. “This place is like a mall in itself—it has everything!” she exclaimed. I left her there to stroll the floor, where the salesman mentioned previously tried to interest me in furniture. “I might buy a couch if you could deliver it to Rochester,” I responded.

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We fell into conversation about my visit to Binghamton. He knew about the Twilight Zone episode at his store, but he hadn’t seen my Archive map of Rod Serling destinations. He didn’t endorse our previous visit to the Cracker Barrel for lunch because each year the chains take about 2% from the business of the struggling Mom and Pop diners that he favors—he had been one of the Pops himself and now he is selling furniture at Boscov’s. So I told him about Dave back in Rochester from my season or three of carrying newspapers.

Newspaper carriers arrive at a ridiculously early hour to pick up and bag their papers for morning delivery. They do this in one of several large warehouses, and I got used to preparing my stock across the table from old Dave, who was preparing his. I lamented the morning that Wegman’s Chase Pitkin home repair store chain went down. Wegman’s had declared that they wished to focus on their core grocery business. The real reason, I said, was that they were steamrollered by the out-of-town corporate Home Depot’s and Lowe’s, and wasn’t that too bad. But Dave didn’t have a bit of sympathy for them. What goes around, comes around, he said. He had once been the Pop of a Mom and Pop hardware store, and Chase Pitkin had sent him packing—now here he was, in his 70s, delivering the morning paper. Karma might be a bitch for Chase-Pitkin, but it but it didn’t bother him even the slightest.

87 Court Street is the former home of Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel, which inspired the Twilight Zone episode “Where is Everybody?”

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call, The Twilight Zone.”

In this episode, a man in an Air Force uniform—he cannot recall why—enters a town, finds it completely deserted. As he wanders, he grows increasingly paranoid that he is being watched. His fears grow upon spotting the paperback on the spinning book rack—who set it spinning?— “The Last Man on Earth, Feb, 1959”—his time! Panic mounting, wildly running through the street, he hits a pedestrian call button and screams for help. The pedestrian call button turns out to be a panic button. Military personnel stop the experiment. He has actually been in an isolation booth, and they have been running tests to see if he can endure the long periods of isolation he will encounter on his upcoming space launch to the moon.

The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in The Twilight Zone.”

There is no Resnick’s Woman’s Apparel anymore. It disappeared long ago, as though it, too, had been part of the experiment. The street-front building now houses university students.

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Housing students is a growth industry for Binghamton today. The students like to move off campus and into town—same as I did when I was in school. Binghamton University is growing, even though the Bundy Museum docent told me that only 10% of those who apply are admitted. Its prestige shot up recently when one of its professors was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry—highly unusual for a college in the state SUNY school system—it is a prize that generally goes to the most prestigious universities. Professor M Stanley Whittingham had, years prior, conducted research that led to the development of the lithium-ion battery. “I think it’s no question this will make more people know of the university and make people look up, ‘Where is Binghamton,’” he said at a press conference.

Professor M Stanley Whittingham, a brainy type, a man whose claim to recognition came and departed long ago. Some would call him a has-been, his deeds overlooked by time. A pedant who now teaches ordinary students at an ordinary college in an ordinary small town in upstate New York, the professor long ago resigned himself to a slow downward slide into obscurity. Impossible for such a forgotten man to receive the Nobel Prize, you say? Ordinarily yes. Unless that college happens to be located in the town that forever remains the birthplace of...the Twilight Zone.”

[Paragraphs in italics are the words of Mr. Serling, except for the last, which is mine.]

 

 

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At the Toledo Zoo

We told the border officer at the Ambassador Bridge, en route from Windsor to Detroit, that we had planned to go to the Detroit zoo, but we might go to the Toledo one instead because we had heard that it was better. He agreed that it was. He thought that because he was a member himself. The Detroit zoo was okay, he said, but it meant a lot of walking to see not that many animals.

These are not guys that are known for chit-chat. Upon being waved through, we headed straight for Toledo, though the bridge itself empties directly into Detroit.

The hour drive down, along I-75, was not pretty. I thought of some Vietnamese friends, who had yet to master the language, describing a certain picnic at which they had all sat on the ground, as “not beautiful.” This drive was also not beautiful. Detroit went bankrupt in 2013, long-ago dethroned as Emerald City of the automobile. It is a pretty gritty place today, though the downtown itself is vibrant and we will return someday to explore more thoroughly. I-75 itself was under heavy construction. A billboard whizzed by for the Detroit Pistons; only then did it occur to me: Of course! Pistons—what else would you name the team from the motor city?

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You can see Detroit from the Windsor shoreline, a narrow strip of park. It is very pretty and the GM building dominates. Peter Lynch once wrote that the nicest thing that he could say of General Motors was that it was a terrible company—bloated and inefficient, but that was long ago. No doubt it is firing on all cylinders now. Do not say that these stone figures became such when they fled the sinking town and disobediently looked back, as though fleeing Sodom. It is a cheap shot. Don’t go there. No. This is a statue of Canadian people doing something else.

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We had spent the night in Windsor because, from upstate New York heading to Detroit, you are better served crossing into Canada and traveling “atop” Lake Erie.

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Phone service dies, because we don’t have Verizon, and you have to drive those things they have there instead of miles, but the trip is shorter. We stayed at a Best Western—it was once called the Waterfront Hotel. The next morning in the elevator someone commented on how Justin Trudeau had also spent the night there.

Could it be? The Chrysler Theater was right next door—there is even a connecting passageway—and there had been a long line wrapping around the night before. I had gone out to investigate, but I assumed it was for a music concert, as the marquis suggested. Quite a few cops were there, too, but not that many—I mean, Trump would have shut down half the city. A protester there had been shouting that Trudeau was a racist, and though it made no sense then, afterwards I found out that some college photos of him in blackface (“face-darkening make-up,” a friendly news source said) had been discovered and published by those who didn’t like him. It occurred to me that protests are pretty much the same everywhere—just plug in a fresh set of faces and you are good to go in any land.

It turned out that he had not stayed overnight. That was just rumor encouraged by the guest having seen a SWAT team. He had just been there to give a campaign speech—he was in and out. Moreover, the relatively small police presence occasioned remarks afterwards of how nice they are in Canada, how just a few cops will do for a visit from the Chief of State—you really don’t need too many—and how even the terrorists, should they feel obliged to shoot up the place, are invariably polite and apologize for the inconvenience.

My wife and I were on the final leg of our Zoo tour. We had signed up as members to the Cincinnati zoo last year so as to get in at half price; the clincher had been when they told us that we could then get into other zoos at half price. We had planned to see about 20, but life gets in the way, and we only made four: Syracuse, Buffalo, Hershey, and now, Toledo. Even Rochester, closest to where we live, we did not get to.

We did not even need our membership at the Toledo Zoo—it was senior day—“Senior Safari”—and oldsters that we are beginning to resemble were admitted free! They were trucking them in, hauling them around in golf carts, and lining them up for vendors and agencies who would pitch services to them.

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It was all sponsored by the Office for the Aging. The old people didn’t look too healthy, many of them—old age is not kind—and one of them (who did look healthy) keeled over right behind us in line for no reason at all. He suffered no injuries, fortunately, except for pride. It was a splendid day weather-wise—sun, mid-seventies, with low humidity.

They offered seniors a special deal for lunch, just five dollars per head, so of course, my wife and I signed up. I absolutely refuse to wear the “Where’s My Senior Discount?” tee shirt that some nutty friend gave me a while back, but when a bargain falls right into your lap, of course you take it. So did hundreds of others—when I saw how long the line was, I began to regret it. But it moved quickly, and once inside, we were seated at round tables of ten—with tableclothes—and waiters placed identical meals of a hamburger and a few tiny side dishes before each old person.

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And then, lo and behold, the master of ceremonies, standing before the aquarium, introduced the Contours, that Mo-Town band of the 60s! I had seen them entering from the other side of the building and had not known who they were. There may have been close to 1,000 in attendance to hear these guys. Who would have thought it? See them here on-screen, but also in person away to the left in the connecting room. They only sang four or five songs. The topper was: “Do You Love Me?”—a 1962 hit that became a hit all over again from the 1988 movie “Dirty Dancing.”

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They are still the showmen they once were. One of them exclaimed: “There’s a lot of good-looking women here!” What was he smoking? Even local realtor Sam Morreale, extrovert like you’ve never seen an extrovert, who thrives on people-contact and has done several deals for family members—I would recommend him in a heartbeat—told me that he doesn’t go to class reunions anymore because “the women don’t look so good” (as though the men do). There may have been a few good-looking women there in Toledo, but it WAS senior day, after all. One band member introduced another—I wish I could remember the names—and observed that even after all these years—even with his store-bought teeth—even with his store-bought teeth, that he got from K-Mart, he can still “really shake ‘em down.”

I love the scene from “Dreamgirls,” code name for the Supremes, where Eddie Murphy croons some song nice and bland, so as to appeal to the white people, and breaks down mid-song. “I can’t do it,” he cries. He then lets out a shriek and launches into pure funk, at which point the all-black horn section exits the bleachers and parades single file past him, joyously blowing for all they are worth. Let’s face it—modern music doesn’t really get interesting until the black musicians get their hands on it.

The Toledo zoo is rated by the Ranker.com site as the seventh best zoo in the country. Is it just a coincidence that the #2 (Columbus) and # 3 (Cincinnati) zoos are also in Ohio? As good zoos do, it intertwines people pathways with animal quarters. The former get many viewing angles—see how you can look through this aquarium and see folks on the other side?

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The animals have varied terrain and relatively spacious quarters. Probably not as spacious as Detroit, which is still in the first half of the Ranker list—after all, if you have to walk a lot to see not that many animals, it means that the animals have more space. The American Zoo Association mandates 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. When I was a boy, zoos used to be jails for animals—they have come a long way. Still, that is hardly the space that they would have in the wild, and my brother (the one who cheats at Scrabble) doesn’t like zoos for that reason. They represent one segment of humanity protecting animals from another segment that would kill them off in one way or another. I don’t know how the animals might feel about that.

Toledo used to be one of those jails for animals—most zoos were. The former gorilla enclosure literally looks like a jail, but it is now a restaurant where people come to dine behind the bars. It opened in 1993–it is called “Carnivore Cafe.” As I panned my camera, so as not to be obvious that I was honing in on a couple of diners, the woman wasn’t fooled a bit, and she began waving even before I pointed toward her—how can people be so clever? Later, when I sat back there myself, my wife exclaimed that they still do have great apes back there—see what I have to put up with?

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These days the gorillas get some revenge for their forebears being jailed. They can soak visitors if the latter happen to be standing in the wrong spot and the former are quick enough.

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And the translucent mannequin simulating how the body reacts to venoms and stings, who in this case represents just an ordinary joe cleaning his house gutters, dies after disturbing a nest of wasps! I mean, they went out of their way to have him die—ordinarily he wouldn’t have, but this fellow had a specific allergy.

The New York zoos that we went to—Syracuse, Buffalo—and we know Rochester from before—are all down near the bottom of the Ranker list. They are well done—almost all zoos are improving—and reflect people dedicated to their care, but they are smaller. Even ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania—with a name like that we figured it must be spectacular, but it actually meant that it contained, as a refuge zoo, only animals native to North or South America—one would never describe as “bad.” Sometimes less is more, and having defined their more modest goal, they go on to do more with it.

Most zoos undertake the mission to educate as to how to be better stewards of the planet. The aquarium building had photos—they are spotted only as you are close to the exit—of just how damaging human pollution is to marine life. Some birds will feed on small discarded plastic items, filling their stomachs and causing starvation when real food no longer fits, one sign informed. And the next one of the turtles speaks for itself:

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Another exhibit of the Cassowary bird even illustrated a Bible verse for me. The creature defecates thousands of seeds that sprout and serve to repopulate the rain forest in which it resides. That called to mind the derisive title given the apostle Paul by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who wanted to know “what is it this chatterer is trying to say?” (Acts 17:18) Literally the word means “seed-picker” and it denotes a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there—it is not as though they held him in high esteem

Just as some other creature did something so amazing that I was overwhelmed with appreciation for God’s design, some evolutionist behind me exclaimed: “It seems almost a miracle that natural selection has resulted in these ingenious behaviors!” So I spun about and threw him into the lions den behind me, where he was instantly devoured, as the three Hebrew lads had not been. Look—I gave him a chance to prove survival of the fittest—don’t judge me. I admit that it was an overreaction, but I was tired of his type carrying on about how the Chinese steal intellectual property, whereas nobody steals intellectual property today more than scientists themselves. The way jet wings tip up at the extremities, the way they never used to? That comes from watching buzzards, eagles, and storks. It wasn’t the brainchild of any human, but of God. Fortunately for them, it was not patented, and God doesn’t begrudge them for copying it. But they have no right to pass it off as their own brilliant idea and not give credit where credit is due.

 

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Wandering N.Y. Route 80–The Prettiest Drive

The traveler just arrived at the whistle stop town asked what folks were like there. The geezer just sitting around responded by asking what they had been like where he had come from. “Aw, they were just great people! Friendly, warm, helpful,” the visitor replied. “I think you’re going to find people here are pretty much the same,” said the old guy.

Another visitor arrived on the next train and asked the same question—what were folks like here? As before, the geezer countered—what had they been like there? “Miserable. Just plain ugly. Backbiting. Hard to get along with.” “You know,” the geezer said, “I think you’re going to find folks here are pretty much the same.”

To set the story up—the moral of which is that people are to a large degree what you focus upon—the circuit overseer had prefaced a history of the locomotives. In the early days, they had to stop every 100 miles or so in order to refuel with wood for the tender and water to make steam. So towns sprung up about that distance apart.

It is true of many transportation modes. The Erie Canal, connecting Buffalo to Albany, triggered quick growth to several former villages in between, most notably, Rochester and Syracuse. Buffalo—at one time the third most populous city in the country—became so because it was chosen as the western terminal. Had the competing village of Black Rock won out instead, nobody would have heard of Buffalo.

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The New York State Thruway, its first section completed in 1954, connects these cities as well, though it skirts well south of Rochester. I can, as a boy, recall politicians of that town grumbling that, whereas Syracuse had five exits on the Thruway, Rochester had only two, and—well—it just wasn’t right. This was partly remedied with 490W extending from the city 20 miles to the west to connect to the big road, but even so, three is not five, and the more exits there are, the easier it is for commerce to take place.

The tolls on the mighty road were meant to be temporary, but the politicians got used to them, and they will no doubt exist until Armageddon. “Worth every penny!” I tell the toll-collector, which they always appreciate, though one in Geneva said: “It is not!” It appears that he will soon be out of a job, because the plan now is for cameras to scan license plates and access tolls with no human interaction at all, and the governor is making everyone in the state switch (for $25) to a new design of plate easily read.

Prior to the Thruway, U.S. route 20 was the primary east-west corridor in New York State. This road scoots well to the south of the Thruway cities, and connects ones that have not grown so quickly, or have even shrunk at being ignored by the big road—places like Lancaster, Geneva, Canandaigua, Auburn, Morrisville, Waterville, and Sharon Springs. It is the road we used to take, prior to the toll road, when visiting the region north of Poughkeepsie where my Dad’s people owned a dairy farm—years after everyone left their agrarian roots, we still referred to family reunions as “going down to the farm.”

Then there is N.Y Route 5, another east-west corridor, and this one does link—like the Thruway—the big cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany, plus a new assortment of smaller towns. The big names I well remember as highway markers along the never-ending drive to and from the reunions, occasions for my young siblings and I to whine from the back of the station wagon: “How soon till we are there?” until my fed-up dad would again holler: “If you kids don’t stop crying back there, I’ll stop this car and give you something to cry about!” I thought that he was being mean then. I did not think of him then as a sage prophet for latter times, for sometimes that is exactly the answer that must be given.

All of these routes—from canal to Thruway to highway—are means of going in a straight line, from point A to B, or A to C via B, or A to D—and so forth. You take them if you want to get somewhere. But if you don’t care about getting somewhere—if you just want to meander, you take N.Y. Route 80, which runs from Lords Corners to Tully to Georgetown to Smyrna to Sherburne to New Berlin to Cooperstown to Nelliston. Never heard of these towns, you say? No, you haven’t—except for maybe Cooperstown because the baseball museum is there.

Why would anyone want to connect these towns with a N.Y numbered route? Your guess is as good as mine. These are not straight line towns. They are more like connect-the-dot towns. The route follows various waterways and stage coach turnpikes of long ago. As the crow flies, the east and west terminals are only about 80 miles apart, but the roadway must be at least twice that.

At times, it seems that the locals have stretched pretty hard to find history where perhaps not much of it actually occurred. Such is the case with a marker for the Beaver Meadow Hotel, which “provided an overnight rest stop for guests passing through the area” in its day. I mean, didn’t all hotels do that? But this is not a New York State marker, even though that is what it looks like. The state stopped funding markers in 1939, and it is left to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to detail and commemorate community history of rural America. All is forgiven. It’s a good idea for a volunteer organization to recall what went down in this tiny locality or that, even if it would be silly for the state itself to do so. This also explained for me why so many New York historical signs—gold print on blue—are in deplorable shape. They don’t do that anymore, and it is left to someone else to notice and pick up the slack.

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Route 80 also takes you through Smyrna, New York, and that’s hardly nothing, is it? That is the town you must go through (unless you go the back way) to reach Wolf Mountain, where “Wolfman” and myself enjoyed a fine visit not too long ago. And at Rogers Environmental Education Center, not too far to the east, I learned through a series of posters that New York has a state bird (the bluebird, though it should be a robin—nobody ever sees bluebirds around here), a state flower, a state fish, a state insect, a state mammal, a state tree, and a state reptile. And no, the state snake is NOT that politician you don’t like. Nor is he any lawyer. Don’t even go there.

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Come to think of it, I have never actually driven the entire roadway, just different segments of it at different times. I think that I have never driven through the mightiest stops on the route, such as New Berlin, population 2700. It doesn’t mean that I won’t someday, but always there are bigger fish—though not the state fish—to fry. But what I have driven confirms what some touristy website stated—that it is among the prettiest drives in the state—winding through lush hills and picturesque villages. It is one for someone who is in no hurry to get anywhere.

 

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Atop Wolf Mountain - Smyrna NY

Your first impression of Wolf Mountain is that it really is a mountain. This may not be obvious at first—my friend and I arrived 20 minutes before opening time, and the only thing that was obvious was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a few miles outside of Smyrna, NY. When opening time came, the keeper did not drive up from outside as I has supposed she would, but she descended from within, leaving one to suppose that she had slept with the wolves.

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Follow her through the gate, up into the compound and notice the sign advising you to drive slowly up the dirt road. Unless you have 4-wheel drive (we did not), you cannot drive any other way.

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After taking in that you are really up there, the second thing that you notice is that these people are truly serious about their wolves. Were a visitor to fall into an enclosure, it might not be as it was with Harambe, the Cincinnati gorilla—the sharpshooter might take you out instead, sparing the wolf. A sign at the entrance demands attention—if you annoy the wolves in any way, you will be asked to leave. If you refuse, staff will call the police.

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Well, they wont get any trouble from my companion, who is pushing 90, and who—alas!—has declared that this is his last major excursion—he had to stop and rest a few times this time around. He is such a nut about wolves that his home congregation has named him “Wolfman.” His love of wolves extends to all canines. When making return visits, the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do, he forgets the names of the people but never their dog. “Let’s go pay a call on where Prince lives,” he will say—a partiality that generally gets him farther than if he had remembered the people.

It is on his account that I have made the trip. I came across the closed facility months ago and thought it was something that he might like. It turned out that he knew all about it, but had never been there. I thought that he might decimate the gift shop halfway through the tour, but he showed admirable restraint. So many people have given him stuffed wolf toys, wolf attire, and the like that he barely has room to move where he lives. He was mildly disappointed with the refuge, for he had watched many YouTube videos of snuggling with the wolves and had imagined himself doing the same.

Our guide was leading his first-time-ever group. He was a graduate of the nearby forestry school in Syracuse and his goal is to one day enter the National Park Service. For now, he is paying off some bills running a landscaping crew, and he volunteers here at Wolf Mountain. The wolves are getting acclimated to him—they notice right away anyone new, and they notice when anyone is on the grounds after hours, which are fairly limited.

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Staff regards each wolf as family. There are placards introducing each individual, and upon leaving, one encounters a group goodbye from them.

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The owner, like Wolfman, is essentially a wolf nut, who devotes all his energy to his wolf sanctuary. It is privately funded—that is, mostly not at all, other than admission fees and donations of road kill for food. He ventures out to buy 500 pounds of chicken legs per month for the animals. He welcomes donations of chicken, ground deer meat, deer hearts and liver, buffalo, elk, and pork hearts. He does not want woodchuck, birds, innards from slaughtered animals, or wild game not legally obtained. He is also a Native American, and a side theme of the place is preserving Native American culture.

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Oddly, Wolfman, whose father died before he was born, believed and told one and all throughout his life that he was a Native American of the Mohawk tribe. His Inuit appearance easily gives that impression, so it was questioned by nobody. In his later years he took one of those ancestry DNA tests and discovered that he had not a drop of Indian blood in him!—he was mostly Swedish. The revelation came a little late to turn around a lifelong affinity for Native American ways, but even in his heyday he had not taken personally the atrocities done to “his” people—it was just one more example of man’s inhumanity to man, and there were hundreds of examples.

The American Zoo Association decrees that there should be a minimum of 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. Wolf Mountain easily exceeds that, said our guide. I didn’t know about such a rule, nor did the guide know when it had been implemented (which would not affect Wolf Mountain, anyway, since it is independent of that body) but it led to my remark, agreed to by all those of my age, that zoos used to be jails for animals and that now they are much less that way.

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At the Oneida Community Museum / Bed n Breakfast

If you brought a woman into your tiny bedroom at the Oneida Community, no one would raise an eyebrow. If you brought her in the next night, they would. But if you replaced her with another that second night, they would not.

This is because they did the “complex marriage” thing at that socialist community where they believed in sharing all things equally—even each other. It was “selfish” to focus on a single mate. Traditional marriage was a “slaveholding position” toward women, wrote the founder, John Noyes.

Furthermore, everyone knew just who you brought into your bedroom at night. It was their business to know. The tiny bedrooms all opened up, on upper and lower level, off the joint living room areas. Thus, the architecture of the mansion—enlarged several times as the group prospered—served to prod conformance to group norms.

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Oneida was a Bible-believing community (believe it or not) that adhered to a doctrine called “perfectionism” and drew great authority from the Matthew 22:29-30: “In the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but they are as angels in heaven.’” He was replying to the Sadducees who had been trying to trap him.

Taking that “resurrection” to mean heaven, Noyes figured that the one man-one woman marriage model would be obsolete at that place and time, and he determined that the start date was 70 CE, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple. Christ had returned just after that time, he calculated. Human absolution was thereby accomplished, and faith in this doctrine made Noyes theologically perfect, to benefit whoever’s life he touch by his “hastening the coming of heaven to earth.”

Our docent was a retired professor at the community college who had taught sociology. He came to Oneida to investigate an example of a unique marital type—there can be only for, he said, one man/one woman, one man/many women (common), one woman/many men (rare, though there were some, he said), and many men/many woman. He determined that after he retired, he would serve here as a guide, and here he was.

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Those of the Onieda Community were not the only ones to take defining guidance from that passage of Matthew 22, a passage recorded in all three synoptic gospels. The Shakers thought it meant no sex at all in the here and now—it is not surprising that they died out. Somehow the Mormons took from it that a man might take many wives. My own people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) put it not only yet in the future, but also on the earth. Death ends the marriage bond in this system of things. In the new system, it apparently does not pick up where it left off.

The novel living arrangement prevailed only through the tenure of the founder, John Noyes, whose initial plans to practice law had been diverted into religious beliefs. He had attended Yale Divinity College, till embracing “perfectionism” made him an oddity there, so he founded a community based on the new teaching. Toward the end of his tenure, “apostates” sprung up who wanted monogamy, the exact reverse of what has happened in modern times, where monogamy gradually loses out to a Woodstock-inspired life of no rules.

The mirror image is far from correct, our guide pointed out, for the Noyes community was hardly one of no rules—there were myriad rules. Your sexual tryst in the tiny bedroom (I am certain that they were not thought of as “trysts”) was only to last two hours—that way you didn’t get selfishly attached to one person—after which it was well if you rejoined the group, and it was not to reach the point of male climax—“male contraception,” it was called, and booklets explaining it and other practices were put out by the community.

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When you ask the docent how Noyes came to terms with (it is even worse if you say “got around,” as I did) Jesus’ words that a man should stick to his wife so as to become “one flesh,” he braces himself for a barrage of criticism from a religionist, as though he himself is suspected of promoting a lifestyle of shacking up like at Woodstock. I know this because I asked him. I asked him because I thought I saw him so bracing. Nobody knows any scripture today, and if you do, he figures it might mean trouble. However, I told him that with me, it did not.

I even toyed with opening this post by telling of my fictional friend Tom Pearlsnswine, (from “Tom Irregardless and Me,”)  and relating how I had decided to leave him in my home town, since he had embarrassed me at the Ithaca Earth Museum, loudly muttering about the “wiles of Satan” upon seeing all the fossils, and if he carried on like that there, what might he do HERE—I didn’t want to find out, so I cut him loose. In fact, I visited Oneida with my friend, and not my wife, who would break both my arms if I pulled such a stunt as was done here. She would have broken both my legs as well had I told her it was due to my interpretation of the Bible.

It is good that I did leave Pearlsnswine home, for he would not only have muttered about “orgies” here, but also about the fossils. Noyes’s community accepted evolution. Their perfectionism extended to perfecting the intellect, not just the spirit, and they assumed that higher education would do the trick. The mansion included a 1300-volume library, as great a collection of accomplished authors as might be found anywhere in the region. They promoted study and education, and if you mastered any given subject, you were encouraged to teach it.

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The townspeople thought them odd, but not especially objectionable. In the words of Hilton V. Noyes (born 1871), they enjoyed a “priceless reputation for honesty and fair dealing in business, a tradition of manufacturing only the highest quality goods, and a habit of fair dealing and human sympathy amongst themselves, and in their relations to employees and neighbors.” The current museum features a room dedicated to the community’s children, which Hilton would have been one of, and it connects to one dedicated to its one-time greatest product—steel animal traps—a placing that the docent thought odd.

The clergy were less tolerant than the general populace. From time to time they launched campaigns against the group. Adultery was illegal at the time, so they had plenty of fodder to work with. It was one rumored pogrom, which turned out to be a false alarm, that caused founder Noyes to flee into Canada, never to return.  From there he sought to guide his group through epistle, as though the apostle Paul, but with limited success.

Townspeople of today certainly would have been up in arms, not so much at the group marriage—that would be accepted today—but at the initiation of children into the world of sex by adult members of the community. “Older members, more advanced toward perfection, could impart their spirituality to younger members through intimate association. Young people were encouraged to have sex with their elders (ascend in fellowship) and discouraged from forming exclusive attachments to one another,” reads an interpretive poster.

Boys were introduced to it by post menopausal women, so that if they took some time to master withdrawal, it would not bring consequences. Girls were initiated into it by—wait for it—Noyes himself, so that the modern person assumes that the entire “cult” was started for just that purpose. But there appears no murmuring about it at the time, nor do docents of the here and now cluck their tongues over it. They simply relate the history. The present spectrum of pedophilia ranges from, at the lower end, sex with prepubescent children, roundly condemned by all as wicked, to, at the upper end, sex with underage teens, which increasingly becomes a matter of enforcing changing societal norms. If we are to extend the current rules into the not distant past, we must label Lennon and McCartney, the ones who sung: “Well, she was just 17. You know what I mean,” as pedophiles.

“When the Oneida Community felt prosperous enough to have children, they instituted the world’s first eugenics or “stirpticulture” program,” another poster reads. “Their idea was to breed spiritually elevated people who would benefit humankind. 41 mothers and 40 fathers had about 60 children, called stirpcults, who grew up in the mansion.” You had to apply to produce such children, and it caused hard feelings, since only 2/3 of all applications were approved. Moreover, your proposed  child might be approved with the mother you chose, but not with you as father if you were judged as not quite measuring up.

The community practiced “mutual criticism.” You might be “invited” to the stage of the home’s auditorium where the community would tell you everything that was wrong with you, confident that you would thereby improve. When certain ones proved to have too thin skin, the entire group was replaced by committees of 6-8 seniors to impart their degree of perfection to you—ostensibly based upon recognized spiritual values, but probably (the docent agreed with me on this) mixed in with a good amount of just plain old meddling.

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“Glance at a photograph of the assembled members of the Oneida Community and you will intuit the charisma of the leader [right foreground] who dominated the group’s history,” writes Deloris Hayden.

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One might imagine that leaving the group was all but impossible, but in fact, it was not at all traumatic. If one chose to do so, he or she left with he good will of the group and an equal share of wealth, the same as they had once pooled what they had. John sent his oldest boy to Yale Medical School, and when he returned he didn’t believe in God—at best he returned agnostic. His second son left to make his way in business, and when he returned, he proved to be the group’s salvation, for they had floundered with the exile of their chief to Canada.

After Noyes died in that country, certain ones of the group tried to contact him through spiritism (with no more success than when Saul tried to contact Samuel that way). When the docent told us this, I asked him if he knew the two sisters from Rochester, and he said the name before I could—the Fox sisters, who were well known for spiritism. I then asked him if he knew about Nelson Barbour, the publisher/preacher who briefly teamed up with the commonly credited founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, but he did not. Central New York at the time was known as the “burnt over district,” for the number of zealous preachers criss-crossing the region.

The second returning son, Pierrepont, the one who had tried his business hand in New York City, took a laissez faire attitude toward religion, but preserved the socialist orientation of the group, an orientation which was thought to be supported by the early doings of first-century Christianity: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life…all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts 2:44-47) The group took as permanent what most have recognized as a temporary arrangement to accommodate visitors during that first Christian Pentecost.

Pierrepont determined to throw the group’s industry into spoon-making. He changed the name Oneida Community to that of a business corporation, Oneida Community, Ltd, and by 1910, silverware had become the group’s main product. That business continued into the early twenty-first century, and I well recall the company’s advertising. “We were descendants of Oneida perfectionists and were attempting to carry into a modern setting as much of the principles taught by our forebears as seemed to us practicable,” Pierrepont would write later. “No other American communism enjoyed the economic success [and] approached in prosperity or in significance the adventure of the perfectionists of central New York,” writes Whitney R Cross, in “The Burnt-Over District.”

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I know several persons with the Noyes surname, but they couldn’t be the same family, I told the guide. “Don’t be too sure of that,” he replied—it was a very large family. The more I think about it, the more I think he may be right. I mean, this was a Bible-studying non-mainstream group, and so are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can easily picture the descendants of the first opting for the second. Some of those descendants live there today, for the connected mansions are now museum, community center, bed and breakfast, and apartments.

The notion of living in such an apartment sort of appeals to me, but my friend said that for him it was not that way, for it seemed too institutional. Well, it is that, I guess, but I like the notion of being somewhere where so much is going on—unexpectedly as we toured we would encounter roped off areas that were residential and you were asked not to cross that barrier, but there was no reason that they could not cross over to the common area, where there was a comfortable library, well-lit due to overhead skylights, and it was connected by a small joint room to the original library of 1300 volumes. Other rooms are employed as a B&B, something I had not known or I might have stayed there instead of the hotel in Utica. It is also a community center hosting events such as weddings.

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The Door Stop at the Eisenhower National Historical Site

When you go to Gettysburg, you go because you think you will hear about Abraham Lincoln. You do not go because you think you will hear about Dwight D. Eisenhower—he is 80 years removed from the Civil War battle that made the town famous. But hear of him you do, because he bought his first and only house adjacent to the Gettysburg battlefield, now a National Park Historic Museum.

Should you doubt that you are adjacent to the Gettysburg battlefield, all you need to is glance a couple hundred yards away at the observation tower built to survey where the troops once fought. Eisenhower’s secret service attachment had conniptions over that tower, and pressed Eisenhower to remove it. He refused. If it was for the public’s edification of important history, who was he to take it down? So they bought him a book on the subject of what assassins with high-powered rifles could do. ‘Take it down,’ he said.

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Of course, by the time you spot the tower, you will be in no doubt as to the Musuem’s proximity, because it is only by shuttle bus from the Museum that access to the Eisenhower ranch is gained. It is itself a National Historical Park Site.

On the grounds that came with the farmhouse, Ike used to putz around on a golf-cart type of vehicle. Dignitaries that he would invite away from the congestion of Washington would putz around with him, and Ike would show them the Angus cattle that he raised. Khrushchev was one who rode with him. If the Soviet leader was fond of railing about the materialism of the West, he would have been hard pressed to make his point here. The farmhouse has more rooms than is typical, but otherwise it is no different than any farmhouse of the era. The extra bedrooms are not large. Some of them are downright tiny.

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The farmhouse was not a budget-buster in itself, but the rehab work proved astronomical, the equivalent of two million dollars today. The brick facade proved to be just that—the covering on a log frame that was rotting away. He should have had an inspector look the place over for him before signing on the dotted line. After Ike was done, he bought a car (hard to photograph because it was in the closed-off garage) for his wife (he did not drive himself) and told her that they were now broke. It is about that time that he figured he had better begin writing his memoirs.

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The elderly docent who greeted us in the living room apologized for sitting as he did so, but he had reached the age where standing was too hard on his feet. He did not seem to know how to silence his phone calling pre-recorded to remind him of a doctor’s appointment—he told it to “shut up” once or twice before at length shutting it off. He had once been a building facilities specialist in the military and had at that time been granted Top Secret clearance. People would call him for help even after retirement, and he tried to avoid them because, after all, he was retired—ask the new guy—but he could usually be prevailed upon to tell how to adjust the air conditioning up or down—nothing is straightforward when it has government overtones.

I learned all this because after his speech, While others were roaming the house, I asked him whether he had ever seen the movie ‘Guarding Tess.’ (He had not.) The reason that I asked him that was because he had related before the group grapevine reports that Mamie, Ike’s wife, would make the secret service take notes on her soap operas whenever she was not able to watch them in person, just the sort of thing that Tess, the fictional former First Lady of the movie would have done—though otherwise there appears no similarity at all—do not think I am suggesting that the movie was modeled after the Eisenhowers.

Eisenhower, a recent West Point graduate, had wanted to see action during World War I, but they stuck him in Gettysburg instead in order to head up Camp Colt, a training ground for the Army’s new Tank Corps. He trained his untested volunteers so well—their first task had been to get over the flu they all came down with—that, by the time World War II came about, he vaulted over many more well-known prospects to eventually become Supreme Commander, not just of American forces, but to all Allied Troops.

In his almost embarrassingly modest back enclosed porch (for a president), he liked to watch Westerns as the day wound down. Gunsmoke was a favorite. In this he was just like my Dad, who also liked all Westerns, but would reliably emerge from his den like clockwork only when he heard the Gunsmoke theme music that heralded Matt blowing away yet another miscreant in the street who had drawn his gun first—they always did, the louts—and Matt always outdrew them, saving Dodge City once again.

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An odd and unusual door stop caught my wife’s attention before it did mine. It was metalwork—a statue of Jacob wrestling with the angel, about 8 inches tall.  Maybe his Jehovah’s Witness mom had given it to him with the note ‘Do you remember?’ I entertained for a split second, but dismissed it immediately. Of course he remembered it—the biblical scene has for centuries been fair game for painters and sculptors alike. Or maybe he didn’t remember—or if he did, he was not swept off his feet with appreciation for it. I mean—come on!—a door stop is not an especially honored place for a work of art. It beats weighing down the toilet handle so the water doesn’t run, but still...

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I decided I would ask about that statue, because the subject had come up recently in another connection. Did the ranger (not the one in the living room) know where it came from? No, she said, she did not, but she then dove into the task of discovery with surprising gusto. There is a master log of every single item in the room, if not the entire house. She led me to it and we combed through the pages together.

Ah - here it is. It was a gift presented to the President in 1955 by the Swedish artist Carl Mille, and he used the biblical story to symbolize the present struggle for world piece. How much do you want to bet that before he came calling—hopefully, he didn’t just drop in—Mamie Eisenhower (who kept everything, the docent stated) retrieved it from the humble spot she probably put it in to begin with, spiffed it up, and displayed it prominently on the mantelpiece. I learned that trick with regard to my in-laws ages ago.

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Ike really didn’t get as much use out of his house as he would have liked. No sooner had he bought it, at the conclusion of the war, then Truman asked him to become leader of NATO, which meant living in Europe. Afterwards, elected President of the United States, he would have spent more time in Washington than his Gettysburg home. He willed his home to the National Park Service. After that, he lived but a few years until heart trouble—he had been drinking 25 cups of coffee per day—confined him to nursing facilities. The Park Service granted Mamie permanent occupancy until her health, too, failed. At that time David Eisenhower, the son, told family members to remove the keepsake items they wanted from the home—but make it sparing—and from that time on the farm home and surrounding ranch became the haunts of Park Rangers and docents. The view is spectacular—no wonder the Eisenhower’s liked it. The entire Gettysburg area is gently undulating landscape—the perfect spot for the epic battle of the Civil War 80 years before he and Mamie moved there. It is what went through our minds as we took the shuttle bus back.

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Why Isn’t THAT in Your Museum, National Historic Park Service - Eisenhower’s Mom

They wanted to make him king? And he declined?

“Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone.” (John 6:15)

Few who have read the verse will have had that same offer, much less the experience of accepting it. But Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the few. The victorious general gets to be president—it worked for George Washington, then Andrew Jackson, then Zachary Taylor, then Ulysses Grant. And it worked for Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected “king” in 1952. He had served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II.

At the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Pennsylvania, the ranger almost immediately made a mistake. Ike and his siblings were raised in the Mennonite religion, she said. I knew it was wrong. They were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses—‘Bible Students’ was the name back then. Yet even when I had one-on-one time with the ranger, I did not challenge her because 1) I had forgotten about it, and 2) the reason I had forgotten about it is that I had initially told myself that maybe his parents were Mennonites longer than they were Witnesses, or maybe they were not Witnesses during their childrens’ formative years. However, I checked later. They were. She was wrong—amazingly wrong, because the National Historical Park Service is not wrong about anything.

The most authoritative source will be this entry of the Kansas Historical Society. If I recalled the name of that ranger, I would contact her first. Alas—like most of the ‘Aha!’ moments of life, it occurs to me too late to act upon it.

If a Mennonite background might sink you as a Presidential candidate in 1952, God help you if were found to have a Jehovah’s Witness background. The Eisenhower children and their handlers kept that background very very secret, so as not to hurt Ike’s political career. Pundits would have destroyed him. I have to admit, even I would have enjoyed a crack at it—there would be my cartoon of Ike and his wife doing street work in front of the White House, holding aloft the Watchtower and Awake, the cover emblazoned: ‘Can Presidents Bring Peace?’ Oh yeah, they would have had a field day with it.

No U.S. religious group was more unpopular during World War II than Jehovah’s Witnesses, who not only refused military service, but also refused to salute the flag—Witnesses do not salute any flag anywhere. Often Witness youths refusing the military draft were sentenced with considerable emotion. Like this example: “I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years!” [from the book ‘Oer the Ramparts They Watched’ - by Victor V Blackwell, an attorney who represented many of them]

Mob violence was common following a 1940 decision of the Supreme Court that school pupils could be compelled to salute the flag. Mobs formed, waving the flag, demanding Witnesses salute it. When they would not, they were attacked and beaten, even into unconsciousness. Their homes, automobiles and meeting places were torched. In small towns, some were rounded up and jailed without charge. In four years, over 2500 mob-related incidents occurred.

The Solicitor General of the United States took to the airwaves: “Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly been set upon and beaten. They have committed no crime; but the mob adjudged that they had, and meted out punishment The Attorney General has ordered an immediate investigation of these outrages...The people must be alert and watchful, and above all, cool and sane. Since mob violence will make the government's task infinitely more difficult, it will not be tolerated. We shall not defeat the Nazi evil by emulating its methods.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt echoed the plea of the Attorney General. The ACLU also spoke out: “It is high time we came to our senses regarding this matter of flag-saluting. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans…They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.” The High Court reversed its decision three years later, partly because they were aghast at what they had unleashed.

A question might be asked: Why didn’t Ike defend them? If not he, (for he was at the time fully immersed as brigadier general overseas) then why not one of his several siblings, who were in position to clarify that declining the flag salute had nothing to do with lack of patriotism, but of respecting the 2nd of the Ten Commandments. They would also have been in ideal position to explain that non-participation in war was completely in harmony with Bible standards. Instead, it was left to the ACLU to explain that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans…They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.” Ike’s kin might have done it, if not for their former faith itself, then for the sake of dear ol Mom, who held faithfully to it.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s service to his country, and even the world, will be the trump card for most persons. Had he not been appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, maybe someone less capable would have botched the job. Even for Jehovah’s Witnesses, this will likely be the trump card—for he did liberate the German concentration camps where many of them were, after all, and that must have made Mom proud.

Yet the Eisenhower sibling’s service to the cause of faith is not so stellar. When the Word states that Christians will be hated in all the nations on account of Jesus’ name [“Then people will hand you over to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” - Matthew 24:9], is it because those nations will say that they hate God? No. They will say that they love God, but there will be some hot-button issues—in this case, refusal to salute the national flag or engage in military service—that will enrage them, be the matter biblically supported or not.

In fact, a third reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses were reviled is that they called out the major churches for their enthusiastic war cheerleading on both sides of both World Wars. Had even one of the major churches in Germany renounced war participation, Hitler might never have become the world threatening menace that he did become. If you are not going to stand up for peace during time of war, just when do you stand up for it?

Eisenhower’s kin could have explained it all, even if not going along with it themselves. They didn’t. One can only conclude that they were deeply embarrassed, if not ashamed, of their Jehovah’s Witness mother, and to this day wish to keep it a deeply held secret—and that even the National Historic Park Service, who seldom miss the slightest detail, acquiesces to their desire to keep this worst of all worst disgraces out of the public eye. Look, nobody cares—the Watchtower organization is certainly not outraged by it—they don’t do celebrities over there. However, the fact that nobody cares can be said of most details of history. It is history, and history is the National Historical Park Service’s reason for existence. They ought to get it right!

In the mid-seventies, Modern Maturity magazine ran this quote from Melvin Eisenhower, Ike's brother:Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance: Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted. . . . We had an ideal home for I never heard an unkind word between Father and Mother. They lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion.” Really? Well what “Judaic-Christian religion” was it? Alas, it must never be told, for fear of dropping in the eyes of others.

From a Bible standpoint, it is not good. “Everyone, then, who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father who is in the heavens.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens,” says Jesus at Matthew 10:32-33. Should a literal observing of his words be treated as a dirty little secret that must never see the light of day for the sake of preserving popular social approval? “How can you believe,” Jesus spoke again, “when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” (John 5:44)

The October 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a World War II American soldier who became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So the fellow wrote, not to General Eisenhower, but to his mom! Sometimes you have to do that. Do you want President Trump to do something for you? You can’t write him – he’s busy. You have to write his mom, who will nag him into doing what you want.

One testy exchange between this new Witness and his superiors turned around quickly: “As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the ‘top brass’ had gathered, I didn’t salute.”

One of the officers said: “Don’t you salute your superiors?”

“No, Sir.”

“Why not?”

The soldier gave his reasons, based on his new and incomplete understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: “General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!”

“Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?’ The soldier asked. He then produced the reply that he had just received from Eisenhower’s mom. The senior officer read the letter, and the other officers also gathered around to look at it. He then replied: “Get back to ranks. I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.”

Why isn’t THAT in your museum, you who miss no detail of Ike’s life? The letter is reproduced below:

 

Abilene, Kansas - August-20-’44.

Mr. Richard Boeckel.

 

Dear Sir: A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in your privilege of attending such convention.

It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.

My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.

Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.

I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.

It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.

I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.

And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.

There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.

Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.

Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.

Respectfully yours in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,

Ida E. Eisenhower

 

See also the chapter ‘Enemies’ of my ebook ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’

And ‘The Military-Industrial Complex and Jehovah’s Witnesses’

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See overall post of our visit to the Eisenhower National Historical Site here.

 

 

 

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At the Hershey Chocolate Story Museum

No bad things will be said about Milton Hershey at the Hershey Story Museum. Almost no bad things will be said at all.

“Trouble ensues” when Milton’s father appears on the scene, but that trouble is only hinted at, even though it caused the son’s bankruptcy. No matter. Through “hard work” he got on his feet again to find success. He did not build his factory near his birthplace because Lancaster doubled his taxes after he declined to support a local politician. No. He moved so as to be close to his neighbors—industrious workers, and the farmers who would supply his burgeoning chocolate factory with fresh wholesome milk, along with the railroads.

All exhibits will feature nothing but praise of Milton Hershey—almost always called ‘Mr. Hershey.’ “I have always worked hard, lived rather simply, and tried to give every man a square deal,” [1938] is about as controversial as it gets at the museum. “I am trying to build a place where people can live in pleasant surroundings,” is another shocker. [1927] A teenaged docent seemed surprised that there could be any bad things to say. “He built this beautiful town that I live in,” she explained. Hershey, Pennsylvania, is billed as “the sweetest place on earth” and the street lights are in the shape of Hershey Kisses. Eight million of the chocolate Kisses are made each day.

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Perhaps there are no bad things to say and even modern pundits would abandon the search to find some. A headline of November 9, 1923, tells that he transferred his entire then-wealth of $60,000,000 to an orphanage he’d established years earlier, and managed to keep the deed hidden for five years. It is the highest-profile example that comes to mind of Jesus’ words—“When you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men....[Instead], do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your gifts of mercy may be in secret. Then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.”

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He is the founder of a company town, with housing that workers were encouraged to own. He was energetic in providing for cultural resources, parks, and education. Placard after placard informs that: “Mr Hershey knew that workers needed....” and one may gaze about the city and see that whatever thing they needed was planted in seedling form and is now a massive forest seemingly employing all the teenagers in the region—no wonder they like him. “But if you want to see Mr. Hershey’s extraordinary legacy, step outside and look around you,” says a poster. Schools, an amusement park, a zoo [ZooAmerica, which I took at first to mean that it was huge, but it actually means that it is a “rescue zoo” and all animals are native to America], sports arenas, floral gardens and an arboretum.

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In fact, he is the founder of two such towns, for there was also a Hershey, Cuba (sugar cane source during WWI, when it became scarce) that was sold in 1946, 14 years before communism could confiscate it.

“To reduce unemployment [during the Great Depression] in his Pennsylvania town, Mr. Hershey embarked on a ten year “Great Building Program.” Amenities such as Hotel Hershey [it is the building to the background of the next picture], Hershey Stadium, and Hershey Theatre were constructed,” says one placard. “My workers are not my partners, so they don’t have to share my loss,” he explains in another. Another placard explains that he donated $20,000 apiece to the area churches to stay them through the hard times.

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Still, labor unions were gathering steam during those tough years. Though there were no layoffs, there were shrinking paychecks. 400 workers staged a sit-down strike in 1937. After 5 days, local farmers and workers not disgruntled stormed the factory and beat them. Wikipedia attributes some of the tension to the nationality differences of supervisors and workers.

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Milton meets his bride to be in Jamestown NY and his animated eyes take the shape of hearts that bulge outwards. But within a few posters, we read the couple is touring the world in futile search for her incurable illness, and then that he is a widow after just 17 years of marriage. Just what her illness was is unknown to this day, another placard down the row briefly states.

Only at the rose garden he planted for her—now expanded to 23 acres—did my wife discover that her unknown illness was one causing slow paralysis and that, unable to sense cold or heat, she had told the chauffeur to drive fast so as to feel the wind in her face. It was cold March wind and she died of pneumonia.

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At the museum, the teenaged guides have little to do other than stand around and look friendly, and one of them was completely immersed in her smart phone—always a major temptation. Nothing is free at Hersheyworld, another teenaged attendant told us, but there is a single exception—the ChocoWorld tour that loads people into cocoa-bean cars and rides them through a simulated factory. Hershey recoups the funds, probably, because the ride empties out onto the largest retail candy shop (with gift shop) that I have ever seen, not to mention the huge amusement park just outside. The queue on top is for the ChocoWorld tour. Most visitors probably saw the town in reverse order than did we and many would never even have gotten around to the museum.

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But the ones that started with the museum, like we did, might even get around to visiting the Wilbur Chocolate store, in nearby Lilitz—it is not as though Milton was the only candy maker of this time. We bought a package of ‘Wilbur Buds,’ essentially ‘Hershey Kisses’ minus any patent infringement, and they tasted just as good. The defunct Wilbur chocolate factory is just across the street and is now being converted to upscale lofts and restaurants, and entire town is dubbed one of the coolest small towns around. It is a designation that is not especially hard to come by. It is marketing, mostly. Still, a fuddy-daddy town will not get one.

Trust Wikipedia to tell the bad news that will not be read at the museum:

“In September 2006, ABC News reported that several Hershey chocolate products were reformulated to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil as an emulsifier. According to the company, this change was made to reduce the costs of producing the products instead of raising their prices or decreasing the sizes. Some consumers complained that the taste was different, but the company stated that in the company-sponsored blind taste tests, about half of consumers preferred the new versions. As the new versions no longer met the FDA’s official definition of "milk chocolate", the changed items were relabeled from stating they were "milk chocolate" and "made with chocolate" to "chocolate candy" and "chocolaty." [I thought the taste was different, but it is very subtle and might be my imagination.]

However, Wikipedia also reports some good news: “A 2016 attempt to sell Hershey to Mondelez International was scuttled because of objections by the Hershey Trust.”

Good. A new monster buyer would come in with efficiency spreadsheets and productivity software. They would search out that teen engrossed in her smartphone and fire her. Somehow the museum needs her.

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At the Erie Canal Museum - Syracuse NY

I had known that Erie Blvd east and west, stretching as though the wide brim of a top hat over downtown Syracuse to the south, had been named after the old Erie Canal. What I did not know was that it WAS the old Erie Canal - filled in and paved over.

Then:

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Now:

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The men of New York State wanted to put interstate 690 directly over Erie Boulevard, formerly the Erie Canal. The women of the City of Syracuse wouldn’t let them do it and today the the elevated highway runs parallel and just north of the old canal.

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We had seen this before. The leading men of Savannah, Georgia, were perfectly willing to demolish 200-year old buildings for the sake of parking garages—if it interferes with making a buck, what good is it? It was the leading women—often their wives—who banded together into historical societies to thwart them. They wield tremendous power today and you cannot make an unapproved interior change on your own home if it has been designated an historical landmark. Trim one of the ancient oak trees on your own property in Charleston, the guide told us, and it will cost you a ten thousand dollar fine.

The Erie Canal Museum would be a go-to destination even without the many touches that make it a truly special visit in an overall compact package—the museum is not large. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor and it is as though entering a canal boat.

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Descend the stairs and the mural on your right is the descending elevations the canal traverses from Buffalo to Albany.

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Navigating a mini-maze of interpretive posters lining the walls, one comes at last—if you’ve taken the time to read them as you should—to the original weighlock building—where canal boats were weighed and tolls were accessed. Tolls were an integral part of how the canal was to be financed. They were discontinued in 1883 when they had served their purpose and there were railroads to compete with. This stands in contrast to the New York State Thruway, which was also to be funded only temporarily by tolls. However, the time for the tolls to be phased out came and went—the State decided that they liked the idea of tolls—and the oldsters who remember how it was supposed to be have just about died out.

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The weighlock building is circa 1850 and it is the only remaining one in New York State. Enter through a side opening, leave through the canal-side door and lo! there is a full-scale boat to climb aboard and into. As you do you find yourself immersed in the chatter and sounds of the times and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t real—it was broadcast from some unknown source but there was no way—or desire—to track it down—better not to resist and just immerse oneself in the air of the time.

Here is the view from the stern. They don’t let you climb the stairs, though passengers on the actual boats could.

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Some vessels were even dedicated to passengers:


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Here is a view from the bow:

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As long as you didn’t get in the crew’s way, you could fish or do any other thing atop deck.

Since the proposed Erie Canal would open the infant United States to westward expansion, and that could have been seen from the start, it is surprising that Thomas Jefferson did not get behind it, even though the idea intrigued him. It would be built (and funded) by New Yorkers. Maybe the project was seen as too audacious. Such a feat had never been attempted—not even close. Mockers called the underway project “[Governor DeWitt] Clinton’s ditch.” Some had thought it impossible to complete within their lifetimes, but it took only seven years—and the labor of thousands of workers.

The engineers rounded up for the project had no experience in such an undertaking—they had only done a bit of surveying—and they figured out things as they went. Aqueducts were built to carry the the canal over marshes, such as in the Montezuma swamps, where workers toiled in two-foot deep water, and over the Genesee River. To traverse low-lying areas like the Irondequoit Valley, raised embankments were created for the canal to flow between. “What they did not understand, they conquered by diligent study unfettered zeal, and sound common sense,” wrote the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1890. Benjamin Wright and James Geddes were two of the lead engineers and there is a major thoroughfare though Syracuse named after Geddes. As for Wright, the name is too common to tell what is named after him. More likely any such street would be for those two who invented the airplane.

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The first segment of the canal, from Rome to Utica, opened in 1819, which must have somewhat silenced the doubters. The canal when completed was an immediate success. Within ten years it was widened, which threatened structures that had been built to close to it. Much later, it was expanded again into the Barge Canal. Spur canals connected the main one to nearby lakes—in order of length, the Champlain Canal, the Oswego Canal, and the Seneca-Cayuga Canal.

“Surely the waters of this canal must be the most fertilizing of all fluids, for it causes towns—with their masses of brick and stone, ...with their churches and theaters, their business and hubbub, their luxury and refinement, their gay dames [No, not that kind of gay] and polished gents, to spring up, till in time, the wondrous steam may flow between two continuous lines of buildings, through one thronged street, from Buffalo to Albany,” wrote Nathanial Hawthorne in 1835. However he must have been unusually chipper that day—his completed vision would take awhile—for the next year he bemoaned “the dismal swamps and unimpressive scenery that could be found between the Great Lakes and the sea coast.” (1836)

Mules were the method of moving freight during the 1800s. They were intelligent and more sure-footed than horses. Accordingly, the 2nd floor of the canal museum features a poster exhibit on mules, their habits and history. Canallers —that’s what those who made their living in that transport mode were called, and they developed a separate culture often looked down upon by the communities they serviced—grew very fond of their mules.

Their idiosyncrasies were noted: “A mule will labor ten years, willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once,” said William Faulkner.

And also their value: During the Civil War, the Confederate Army captured a U. S. Army general, along with 40 mules. President Abraham Lincoln, who almost lost the Civil War for want of a competent general, reportedly said: “I am sorry to lose those mules” when he was told of the loss.

Though Pete Seeger and others sung it “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal” (leading to the misconception that that is as far as a mule went on any given shift) the song was actually “fifteen years on the Erie Canal.” The songster had been on the job for only 15 years and was looking at his way of life being phased out by the Barge Canal, which would be open to new-fangled motorized traffic. It is yet another of the things that I learned at the Erie Canal Museum.

Outside the museum is a statue of a tow path mule and driver—who was often a teenaged boy—before the elevated superhighway that the women shoved to the north so it wouldn’t obliterate the canal site.

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