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America’s most perfect village – and more

November 18, 2008

I’m recovering from the NY trip and readings from Miko Kings at SUNY Potsdam, Oneonta College, and the Iroquois Museum. At Potsdam, I spent one lovely afternoon catching up with writer and poet Maurice Kenny and anthropologist Susan Stebbins, both Mohawks, and professors at SUNY Potsdam. One of the highlights was flying on Cape Air from Albany, NY to Massena. Cape Air is a regional airline, and the morning of November 13 I was the airline’s only passenger. Just me and the pilot and eight empty seats. However, the view over the Adirondacks was spectacular. The crisp morning air, shadowing the bright red and orange colors of autumn left me wishing I had learned to fly a plane. I imagined [for a brief moment] I knew just how aviatrix Pearl Carter Scott must have felt the first time she took to the skies. Well, perhaps that’s hyperbole. Pearl Carter Scott was a Chickasaw from Oklahoma and the youngest licensed pilot in America. Her story is famous in Oklahoma as she was a teen protégé of aviator Wiley Post in the late 1920s. By the time Pearl was 14 years old, she was performing as a barnstormer and commercial pilot. The Chickasaw Nation is producing a feature-length drama, based on her life. The movie is being filmed on various locations in the state of Oklahoma, and I’m told it may be released in late 2009 or early 2010.

While I was flying with Cape Air, I thought about Ms. Scott and all the incredible things she must have witnessed in the early days of aviation. When I arrived in Massena, a town that overlooks the great St. Lawrence River in northernmost New York State, I was taken to Potsdam and gave a reading on November 12.

My next stop was Oneonta College on November 13. My hosts there were English Professor Susan Bernardin and English Department chair George Hovis. The students quizzed me about Hope Little Leader, time traveler Ezol Day, and the meaning of the eye tree. I confess I am impressed with their questions about chaos theory, language theory, and Indian Territory baseball. About 115 people attended the reading at Oneonta. [Hurray for Poets & Writers and their support of these events over the past few days.]

a_cleveland_indianThe next day Susan Bernardin took me to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and we visited the shops, museum, and we couldn’t help ourselves when we spotted a Cleveland Indians “Redskin” figurine in a memorabilia shop on Main Street in Cooperstown. Cooperstown is known as America’s most perfect village. Seventy miles southwest of Albany, it rests next to Otsego Lake.

On “Main Street USA,” fathers and sons can be seen walking together peeking in the windows of the glass displays in the shops about baseball. Perhaps James Fenimore Cooper said it best in 1837 about his beloved surroundings: “Lying, as it does, off the great routes, the village of Cooperstown is less known than it deserves to be. Few persons visit it, without acknowledging the beauties of its natural scenery, and the general neatness and decency of the place itself. … Everything shows a direction towards … an improving civilization.”

And here is where America’s two national myths coalesce in Cooperstown making it “America’s Most Perfect Village.” This is the place where James Fenimore Cooper imagined Last of the Mohicans, and Cora Munro and Natty Bumppo replace the Natives as the original inhabitants of America, at least forever in the minds of moviegoers. According to the 2nd story in the Leatherstocking Tales, the Mohicans have all died off. Sadly, according to the story, Indians are dying off and henceforward the country will just have to belong to newcomers: Immigrants, Europeans, ah-hem, whites. Can anyone spell manifest destiny?

statue1Cooperstown also gave America the Abner Doubleday myth of the origins of baseball. While Doubleday was a competent general during the Civil War, he’s best remembered as the inventor of the game of baseball. Supposedly, he figured it all out in Elihu Phinney’s cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Doubleday Field is now located next to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. So in one “perfect village,” two national narratives are born. One replaces American Indians with white Europeans. One replaces the American Indian origins of baseball with the myth that a white man invented the game. Hum . . . no wonders Cooperstown is known as America’s perfect village!

My next stop was the Iroquois Indian Museum of New York. I gave a reading there on Saturday Nov. 15, and had a wonderful visit with the Mohawks and friends. Mike Tarbell, one of the curators at the museum, talked about his great uncle Joe Tarbell who played for Carlisle Indian Industrial School, [1879 – 1918] an Indian Boarding School. The school was founded in 1879 by Captain Richard Henry Pratt. Mr. Tarbell said he had never seen a picture of his great uncle until when they were putting together the exhibit and someone found a postcard with his uncle’s picture in the line-up. It’s an amazing exhibit and travels next to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Stamford Connecticut in June, 2009. If you’re visiting the northeast this summer take a day to visit the Indian baseball exhibit. The photographs of the Indian baseball players, mementos, bats, uniforms are remarkable. One other thing I was interested in was the variety of teams sports the Iroquois played — from Shinny ball, Long ball, Lacrosse, and base and ball, and chunkey. Much like the southeastern tribes, team sports were the games Indian men and women excelled at playing. This Wednesday, November 19, I’ll be talking about “Indian base and ball” games, and more on “Not Just Sports w/Fritz Hauck”, an online radio program. We’ll also be talking about ghosts, mounds, famous ball players, Choctaws, and of all things – casinos.

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