The large, brown oak door stood partially open, the cavernous foyer was empty, and the museum was, as best we could tell, deserted.
It was a quiet, weekday afternoon, and it took a “hellooooo” to flush out the museum attendant. A “Yesssss, come in,” echoed around the corner, and we stepped into the foyer. Then suddenly, as if blown in on a summer breeze, a petite, gray-haired, iPad totin’ woman popped into the hallway. Immediately we knew we were in the presence of a “character.”
The interesting, and usually amusing, characters we encounter in our travels are one of the true perks, and this docent at the Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, New York fit this category perfectly. She was all smiles as she ticked off the different exhibits scattered around the early 19th Century mansion. And what began as a warm welcome, became even warmer when she discovered that we were from the far off land of Georgia, USA. Without missing a beat, she shifted into ambassador mode suggesting attractions that we might want to see in town.
Auburn, a small city of 30,000 people, sits like a fingernail at the north end of the Finger Lake of Owasco in north central New York. The town isn’t as quaint and charming as some of the other villages in the area, but for a small place, it has a surprising number of famous sights and historic figures. All of which, the ebullient docent happily reeled off.
In the mid-1800s, Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader, made her home in Auburn and established a haven for southern slaves seeking their freedom.
Theodore Case, the first person to successfully add sound to movies was born here, and the docent pointed out the museum window to the upscale garden shed out back which was Case’s “lab.”
The home of William Seward is also located here. This is the Seward of “Seward’s Folly” fame, and the person responsible for Alaskans speaking English instead of Russian.
Then in a casual, Oh-by-the-way voice, the docent said, “Then there’s the maximum security prison just down the street. You might want to drive by that as well.” This is the prison where William Kemmler, the first person to be executed by electric chair (Or as they say in Texas, “ride Ol’ Sparky”), met his maker. This bit of trivia was a surprise and we had questions, but the docent’s tourist train rolled on.
We mentioned that we were camping in nearby Moravia, New York, which brought a mischievous twinkle to her eye. What followed couldn’t have been more unexpected: “But Have You Been To The Nudist Camp?” Four eyebrows shot skyward, and in unison we said, “What Nudist Camp?”
As it turns out, the Empire Haven Nudist Park was very near our state park campground. A visit to their PG-rated website proved informative. The rules and regulations were pretty standard until we got to the only rule that was in all caps:
IF YOU ARE NUDE, YOU MUST SIT ON A TOWEL.
This rule conjures up images that definitely stray into TMI territory.
Of course, like most people we were curious, but we decided that our boring, clothing mandatory state park campground suited us just fine.
Our conversation with this charming museum docent was a pleasant surprise, and she’s a character that will stick in our memories for a long time. She made a mundane museum visit something special, and that’s what it’s all about.
James & Terri
Last updated August 22, 2017
1. By Gerbil via Wikimedia Commons
6. By Albert Yam via Wikimedia Commons
It’s not often you see all those tags together on one blog 😉
You’re right about that Stephanie. I don’t know about your experience with museum tours, but most of the docents I’ve experienced could use a bit more “spirit”. ~James
If you want spirit then you HAVE to visit “Graceland Too”- it was the most amazing tour I have ever had and it’s open 24/7. Did I mention it’s a residential house?!
Good point – that is an eclectic mix of tags.
Love the photos, especially the final image 🙂 I’m from that part of the world and sure hope you can stay until the fall colors are in their full glory. —Jadi
Thanks Jadi. Unfortunately, we’re back in Georgia and will miss the autumn in NY. But, the good news is that in a week we’re heading off to Eastern Europe, so I’m sure we’ll see some color there. ~James
Will you pass through Stuttgart?
No Jadi, we won’t be. We fly into Kiev, Ukraine and are visiting Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Are you in Stuttgart?
Love, love, love the quality of writing in your blog…
Thanks Melanie. It’s always good to get feedback (particularly when it’s positive). I’m not the most confident writer, and it’s nice to hear that someone appreciates my writing skills. ~James
I’m new to writing in this way i.e. travel writing, conversational. My career is laden with persuasive writing so I feel very “green” in this arena as well. I really enjoy the simplistic, concise way that you and your wife convey information on your blog. I hope to emulate that as I progress.
Thanks again Melanie. I’m particularly happy to hear that you like our simplistic and concise style, because this is exactly what we hope to achieve. I’ve read that there are 2 million blog posts each day, and people have so many sources of info, that it’s astounding. We recognize that readers have lots of choices and little time, so from day one, we’ve gone for clear and concise. And I have to be honest, when I read other blogs, if the post is more than 500 – 600 words, I skim. Or if it’s not something I’m particularly interested in, I just go away. I wouldn’t want readers to be leaving our blog for this reason. This is probably way more info than you needed, but Terri and I feel pretty strongly about it. ~James
Too funny! You never know what you’ll find in a place!
Isn’t it the truth Laura! The museum docent was a fountain of information, but somehow that wasn’t a question we’d anticipated! ~James
Ha, a rare place with something for everyone 😀 Great post James.
Thanks Madhu. This museum and town were both pleasant surprises. The docent was just an added bonus. ~James
I love that title. Cracks me up just thinking about it. Pun intended. I have enjoyed the series very much. Thanks for the walkabout USA.
This lady was a real hoot Sue, and I couldn’t believe that such a small, unknown town had so many famous residents and notable sights. And who knew? A nudist camp! ~James
Yeah, agree with their TMI towels! Great story, fun! ~SueBee
Thanks Suebee. You know, that in order to properly research the post, I had check out the nudist camp’s website. I’m just sayin’. ~James
Well, research is very important!
Ewww agreed, but would you rather they NOT sit on a towel (and you sat there later, not knowing, scratching, breaking out in hives, convulsing, begging for mercy…).
Just funnin’ ya. Happy travels!!
I’m with you Tom. Also, besides the obvious health and cleanliness issues, with very hot or very cold plastic seats I would think that towels would represent a significant improvement in quality of life at a nudist camp – if you know what I mean. ~James
This post is awesome, and it made me laugh aloud! Love it! I love finding other bloggers who are exploring America too. There’s just so much to see and experience, and you’ve helped me add a lot to my personal list! 🙂
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Genna. If you’ve read much of our blog, you know that we’ve lived and traveled abroad quite a lot. But, there’s nowhere like the US for easy travel, and the variety is fantastic. With the money we save on overseas airfares and hotels, we’re able to travel longer in the States. ~James
I definitely agree! Traveling in the US seems underrated to me. It definitely saves money and offers a ton of gorgeous variety. I look forward to reading more of your posts!
What an interesting post! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Denise. It was lots of fun to write as well. It’s funny how some posts seem to write themselves, and others are like pulling teeth. ~James
Running into “characters” is always a highlight of travel and life in general. I am a pretty much normal person, but I have always had a lot of weird friends. It keeps things interesting.
I agree Jeff, and the interesting thing about this encounter was that it happened at a museum. She was truly a hoot. ~James
Yes, a museum is a rather unexpected place to meet a “character.”
So funny! I love meeting ‘characters’ to as I travel. We usually remember them for years and years. They become a part of our reminiscing.
You’re right Juliann. We still laugh about this lady. One minute we were talking to what we thought was a typical reserved docent, and the next minute she was suggesting a drive by the maximum security prison and a nudist camp. Hilarious. ~James
It’s people who make the world go round!
Tracey, it’s always fun and helpful to meet people who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about where they live. And this was one enthusiastic lady. ~James
This is one of those stories that lives on and on…
Amen Susan. Experiences like this are never forgotten, and you have to love folks that add a bit of spice to the travel experience. ~James
I so enjoyed this post James & Terri! I have to say it one of the things I love most about travel, the interest people we meet along the journey! I am guessing you & Terri were just out of towels!
This docent was a class act all the way Lynn, and what a hoot. I’m sure that she had no idea that she made such an impression on us. I hope she stumbles on this post. And BTW, I don’t know if you’re a David Sedaris fan, but in his collection of essays called “Naked,” one of his stories is about his experience in a nudist colony. Fabulous, funny, and it answered a lots of questions for me – especially about the towels. 😉 ~James
I had not hear of David Sedaris but just googled him & he is actually speaking in Toronto in October. Hmmm, may have to check him out!
I can see nudists wandering around wearing a belt and a towel covering their hind ends. Save a lot of effort. 🙂 –Curt
Curt, I must admit that lots of images come to mind when I think of nudist camps, and most of them are pretty comical. But, to each his own I guess. ~James
My thoughts exactly, James. 🙂 –Curt
If you were really serious about exploring the region, you’d have checked out the camp yourself 🙂
Bea, after some careful consideration, I realized that when it comes to nudist camps, I’m more of a viewer than doer. 😉 ~James
What a lot of history for such a little place.. It just goes to show, just about anywhere can be fascinating if you’ve got the right tour guide 😀
I agree Dee. It’s been my experience that just about everywhere has an interesting story or two. Sometimes it takes a bit of digging, but every place has a story to tell. ~James