On Visiting Cooperstown

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By Michael Brown

Last week, I wrote about my trip to New York and to the Adirondack Mountains. Besides wanting to hike Upstate, I had two additional goals for the trip, both involving a drive to Cooperstown. Cooperstown, N.Y. is doubly famous, as the home for both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the author James Fenimore Cooper.
One summer during my late thirties, spurred by the movie of the same name, I decided to read The Last of the Mohicans, written by Cooper in 1826. The setting for the story was on and near “Lake Horicon,” which was the apparently fictitious name given by Cooper to Lake George. Cooper wrote the novel as part of a series of five books, the Leatherstocking Tales, which all involved the main character Natty Bumpo, who may have been inspired by the real-life explorer Daniel Boone. The movie is one of my favorites and Daniel Day-Lewis makes a terrific Bumpo.
On my drive southwest from Lake Placid to Cooperstown, I strayed a bit east in order to see Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga. This region of New York was disputed territory during the French and Indian War, which began in 1756 when the English colonies in North America declared war on the French colonies. The action of the novel primarily involves skirmishes between the Delaware Indian allies of the British and the Iroquois tribes, who were allied with the French. The heroes of the book are Bumpo (known to his Indian foes as La Longue Carabine) and his two Mohicans friends, Chingachgook and his son Uncas. Using the “King’s English”, Cooper wrote his novels for an adolescent audience that craved the excitement of early America. For me, it was that, and Cooper’s vivid descriptions of the landscape, which motivated me to drive the back roads of the region.
I stayed two nights at Lake Otsego, at Glimmerglass State Park, located 10 miles or so north of Cooperstown. Readers of Cooper will recognize “Glimmerglass” as the picturesque lake in “The Pioneers” and “The Deerslayer.” The park was a great spot for car camping – I lay in my hammock and imagined the wild, unspoiled nature of mid-eighteenth century America. Except for a few flies when I had my dinner, there were no bugs. And the early-evening chill was a welcome change from the Texas heat. The park has a good variety of animal life. During my time at Glimmerglass, I saw a beaver, woodpeckers, chipmunks, a rabbit, and flocks of seagulls. At night, I heard owls and coyotes. But the coolest thing happened both evenings right at sunset, with the return of several hundred Canadian geese to the lake. I could hear their honks well before they passed over my campsite right at tree-top level. The sound of their beating wings was simply amazing.
Cooperstown, approximate population 2,000, is located at the southern end of Lake Otsego, where the Susquehanna River begins its 464-mile journey to Chesapeake Bay. The Baseball Hall of Fame was dedicated in 1939 as a museum to house the memories of baseball’s past. The annual Induction Ceremony occurs in late July. This year, baseball writers selected for induction to the Hall Mike Piazza of the New York Mets and Ken Griffey, Jr. of the Seattle Mariners. I enjoyed the Museum along with other fans, including several teams of Little Leaguers. I paid homage to Joe Morgan, my favorite player of all time. I grew up listening to Morgan ply his trade for two years with the Houston Colt 45s and then another seven years with the Astros. I admired Morgan. Despite being a small ballplayer, he could really smack the ball – not to mention being a highly proficient second-baseman.
Before heading home from my trip, I bought wooden Adirondack baseball bats, size 27, for each of my two grandsons. Maybe they’ll grow to love the game as much as I. It might be a stretch to think they will someday appreciate reading Cooper’s novels as well, but you never know.
Michael Brown is an education consultant and a former teacher. He can be contacted at michael.brown@utexas.edu.