Seneca Falls, NY, as every astute student of American history knows, is the birthplace of the American Womens' Suffrage movement. In 1848, at a convention in the Wesleyan chapel in that city, 300 people attended, 100 of whom (one-third men) signed the Declaration of Sentiments, a bold and strident catalogue of the oppression of women by men. The location is now a National Historic Site.
The Wesleyan Chapel itself has had many uses in the intervening 150 years; by the time the government decided to preserve it, only two walls and a roof remained. That much has been restored and preserved, but the building shell itself did not convey much meaning to us, historical or otherwise. A dark grey polished stone water wall has been built next to a grassy lawn, with the text of the Declaration and names of the signers inscribed. Wesleyan chapel remains
The 25-minute film, as well as the displays inside the Visitor Center seemed more suited to school groups than adults. There are numerous interactive exhibits and somewhat dumbed-down historical displays. It appeared to us that politically correct bureaucrats avoided the hard issues.
Why did politicians grant rights to blacks but not to women in the 1870s? Why did it take fifty more hard-fought years after that merely to produce women's suffrage? Describe the history of patriarchal society in America from Colonial times to the present. Why have so few American women won major political offices today? Why did the Equal Rights Amendment fail? Should Catholic women be admitted to the priesthood? To what extent are modern Americans, men and women, in favor of full equality for women? How does the United States stand in comparison to other countries of the world in women's rights? What efforts are underway to improve the rights of women around the world, and how is the United States participating?
Each one of these questions will evoke controversy and differences of opinion today. The challenge to this Visitor Center is to adress these controversial issues, and to elucidate the variety of opinions on those issues. Perhaps the kindest thing we can say is that many of these questions were hinted at, although not explicated.
It may be that the National Park Service, which, after all, spends the bulk of its time entertaining the public on vacation, just isn't up to the task of challenging the public's thinking on political issues. Here's our modest proposal: instead of staffing the center with a lot of park rangers Dale Chihuly sculpture (there were four on duty this day), what about providing a fund of money to pay the salaries of persons representing diverse and opposing views on the issues of women's rights? Instead of rangers, why not have some debates? That will prove much more interesting and also do a better job of explaining what this historic site is all about.
Down the street is the National Women's Hall of Fame, where for a $100 gift one can purchase a plaque to honor a favorite woman! We gave it a pass.
We fumed about this a while in the car, missed two turns, but eventually headed down highway 14 along the shores of Seneca Lake. All along the lake shore were vineyards and wineries, with buses stopped to take tippling visitors on tasting tours. We stopped briefly at Glenora Winery where tastings are free, and a broad selection of wines is available. They import all their Syrah grapes from California, but have succeeded in growing Cabernet and Pinot Noir varieties locally. Local white wines are generally better than reds.
We drove up a long hill to see Watkins Glen Raceway, where campers overlooked the course, and other folks sat on bleachers or stood near the fences, watching practice laps of fast shiny noisy cars.
Next we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass. Bob had been there fifty years ago, but wow! has it changed. It's an amazing museum - a combination of art and science and technology, with exhibits and films and wonderful explanations and demonstrations. The displays offer something for all ages. After learning about windshields, tempered glass, lenses, fiber optics, and Corningware we attended the Hot Glass show, where we watched a crystal vase being created.
We had noticed a Chinese tour group as we viewed the exhibits; at the Hot Glass show, a Corning employee mounted the platform, hooked himself up to Glass flower the PA system, and translated the proceedings into flawless Mandarin. It was an unexpected treat to find some central New Yorkers who spoke a language other than English. [No, we don't know Mandarin, but the lady next assured us it was flawless!]
Next we saw exhibits of glass, from the beginning of the craft of glassmaking about four thousand years ago to the present. The museum is an academic research facility as well as a public treat. As with any great museum we kept giving gasps of pleasure as we saw the incredible variety of art that has been, and still is, being created in glass. The special display this summer was a display of Czech art glass created in the last fifty years. We looked at, but did not buy, the beautiful pieces for sale in the gift store. Where would we put them in our traveling truck?!
The museum was rebuilt and expanded thirty years ago, when a monster flood deluged the city. Corning managed to save their library by freezing the books and allowing the ice to slowly evaporate. This is a technique we saw in action when a flood hit our desert laboratory.
It's a little surprising to find a world class museum in a small upstate New York city, but that's our opinion. Definitely worth a detour.