Looking back at a recent trip in upstate New York with my husband Rich, I’m still thinking about tourism and pilgrimage. For example, we saw:
4 diners (in one the waitress had the same name as our cat, which was startling!)
5 farmer’s markets (5 for Rich, 3 for me)
John Brown’s Farm and grave
Harriet Tubman’s grave and house
Seneca Falls monument to the rights of women
3 Indian Mound archeological sites
Bela Bartok’s cabin in Saranac Lake where in the last year of his life he wrote his third piano concerto and viola concerto
a shrine to the Blessed Kateri
Robert Louis Stevenson’s cottage
All of these affected me, but in varying ways and degrees. Stevenson’s cottage was a cluttered tourist trap while Kateri had an exquisite chapel with Native American art. Some are tourist spots for everyone, but not everyone is collecting diners. Of course I cried at Harriet Tubman’s tomb, but the atmosphere was enhanced by dusk, a sprawling cemetery, and mounds in the background.
John Brown’s farm evinced confusing emotions—was he a hero or homegrown terrorist? The monument to him looked very patriarchal to my eyes but fascinatingly was put up in the 1930’s by an African-American club in Philadelphia dedicated to his memory.
The New York State historical signage is often atrocious to a New Mexican’s eyes—also dating from the 1930’s it is unabashedly expansionist and imperialist and heavy on the “savages.”
Years ago, someone costumed as a city worker with power tools removed the phrase “Savage Indians” from a monument on Santa Fe’s Plaza in my one my favorite guerrilla art acts of all time. Well, upstate New York’s historical signs could use a little editing.