By RANDY MINK
Special to Journal & Topics
Whether your travels in New York State include the Big Apple, the Hudson River Valley, or the central or western regions, there is a museum or two worth adding to the list. itinerary.
While big Manhattan repositories like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History tend to command attention, smaller museums in New York City and elsewhere lurk under the radar. Some of them appeal to history buffs, others to dog lovers, baseball fans or art lovers.
Here’s a look at 10 New York State cultural gems:
West Point Museum, West Point
Opened to the public in 1854, America’s oldest federal museum houses memorabilia relating to the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States military, and wartime history. The vast collection of weapons, dating back to antiquity, includes pieces that belonged to men such as George Washington, Napoleon I, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Adolf Hitler. The American Wars Gallery features colonial militia armour, a Vietnamese soldier’s muddy fatigues in the jungle, binoculars used in the Battle of Gettysburg, and the last message sent by Lt. Col. George A. Custer during the Battle of Little Big Horn. Visitors also learn about the opening of the US border, the Buffalo Soldiers, the construction of the Panama Canal, the secret Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, and US military aviation, from balloons to space exploration until the 1991 Gulf War. (https/ /history.army.mil)
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park
The library and museum are located adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, which preserves FDR’s birthplace and his lifelong home overlooking the Hudson River. Immersive audio-visual theaters, photos and artifacts, including gifts from admirers and heads of state, trace FDR’s presidency from its beginnings in the depths of the Great Depression through the New Deal and the Second World War.
Interactive exhibits include touchscreen experiences at FDR’s Oval Office and Ford Phaeton. “Confront the Issues” are 10 touchscreens strategically located throughout the exhibit that allow visitors to explore digital “flipbooks” containing documents, photographs and historian excerpts related to controversial issues during the presidency of Roosevelt. Topics include “Japanese American Internment”, “FDR and the Holocaust”, “FDR’s Health”, and “Did the New Deal Really Work?” Fireside Chat environments with a radio and period furniture invite visitors to sit and listen to FDR’s radio messages to the public. After the audio chat is over, visitors can hear letter readings about what Americans think of his leadership. (www.fdrlibrary.org)
AKC Dog Museum, New York
The American Kennel Club’s Dog Museum, just steps from Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan, has one of the finest and largest collections of canine art and artifacts in the world. On display are paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics and bronzes. Interactive stations include Find Your Match, a digital board that matches your face to a breed of dog, and Meet the Breeds, a touchscreen that lets guests explore the history and traits of different breeds. At the Working Dog station, guests learn how to train a working dog (i.e. real-time signals and commands. Dog lovers will love the gift shop. (www.museumofthedog.org)
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown
This shrine in central New York State, and the baseball souvenir shops along Main Street, are synonymous with nirvana for fans of America’s national pastime. The hallowed hall is a must-see destination that Major League Baseball fans, regardless of their team, want to see before they die.
From artifacts and play-by-play videos to stats, facts, and plaques, there’s plenty to absorb. Fans can customize their visit to “The Locker Room”, where each team’s clubhouse exhibits feature bats, balls, jerseys, video clips and other memorabilia depicting current players and events recent in the team’s history. The “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit explores the history of baseball cards and features 10 of the rarest. Other exhibits salute the contributions to the game of women, Hispanics, and African Americans. The Hank Aaron Gallery of Records’ “One for the Books” exhibit honors all-time leaders in categories such as home runs, hits, strikeouts and RBIs.
The Hall of Fame’s Gallery plaque is the heart and soul of America’s shrine to baseball immortals. On the oak paneled walls of the rotunda are plaques bearing bronze relief portraits of a chosen few. The side-by-side statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams make for a good photo op in the Rotunda. (www.baseballhall.org)
Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers Museum, Cooperstown
The Fenimore’s exceptional array of American folk art and artwork includes paintings by Grandmother Moses and Thomas Cole, quilts and weather vanes, and carved wooden sculptures like ship figureheads and an 1870 Indian cigar store. The Clare E. and Eugene V. Thaw Collection of Native American Art, one of the finest such collections in the world, has masks, woven blankets, moccasins, maces of war, necklaces, baskets and pottery; some items date back to the 1600s. Rare artifacts include Chief Black Hawk’s sketchbook, a Tlingit wooden chest and an Alaskan war helmet, as well as a magnificent eagle feather headdress of a Plains tribe of the Dakotas.
Across the road, the Farmers’ Museum, Fenimore’s sister institution, is a historic village and farmhouse depicting life in the 19th century. The museum’s 1917 fieldstone dairy barn, owned by gentleman-farmer Edward Clark and a native of the site, has an extensive collection of antique tools and agricultural implements, ranging from a hop press and a butter churn to maple syrup and cider making equipment. (Clark was the brother of art connoisseur Stephen C. Clark, whose hoard of treasures formed the basis of the Fenimore, originally built as his home. The Clark family, heirs to the Singer Sewing Machine Co. , created the National Baseball Hall of Fame and their foundation still plays an important role in the life of the community.) Combo tickets to Cooperstown Museums are available. (www.fenimoreartmuseum.org, www.farmersmuseum.org)
Jell-O Gallery, LeRoy
Original advertising art, molds, cookbooks, toys, collectibles and other memorabilia tell the story of the popular gelatin dessert, a product born in LeRoy in 1897. Jell-O was made in LeRoy (30 miles south -west of Rochester) until 1964 and today. is manufactured by Kraft/General Foods in Dover, Delaware. An anecdote: the first four flavors of Jell-O were orange, lemon, strawberry and raspberry. The museum’s gift shop sells a wide variety of souvenirs bearing the Jell-O logo, from aprons and chef’s hats to stuffed animals, potholders, boxers and golf balls. (www.jellogallery.org)
The Corning Glass Museum, Corning
Founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Inc.), this museum in the Finger Lakes region of western New York has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of glass in the world. , with pieces dating back to ancient Egypt. Interactive exhibits explain the science and technology of glass innovations. In a 500-seat auditorium, the Hot Glass Demo presents commented demonstrations of glass blowing by master glassmakers who transform molten glass into vases, bowls and sculptures. First-timers can test their skills in the “Make Your Own Glass” experience in The Studio. The Contemporary Art + Design wing is the largest space devoted to exhibiting contemporary glass art. (https://home.cmog.org)
National Comedy Center, Jamestown
Lots of laughs are in store in Lucille Ball’s hometown. Located in Southwest New York, the world-class National Comedy Center, which opened in 2018, offers an interactive journey through the history of comedy. More than 50 exhibits feature great minds and voices in the art form, from Charlie Chaplin to Dave Chappelle.
Also in Jamestown, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, founded in 1996, explores the personal lives, careers and legacies of “comedy’s first couple.” Operated by the National Comedy Center, the Lucy-Desi Museum features exact recreations of studio sets from “I Love Lucy,” the classic 1950s TV show that continues to entertain new generations in reruns today. Thanks to the generosity of Luci Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., the museum maintains an extensive collection of their parents’ personal effects, including costumes, dresses, photographs, letters, scripts, and awards. One ticket gives access to both museums. (www.comedycenter.org)
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