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