Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life, Especially Now that Women Can Vote

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We started today by setting the GPS toward the Seneca Falls Visitor Center. There we picked up some  brochures to help us find the important landmarks in the town, and perused the very interesting Museum of Waterways and Industry. This gave us an understanding of the way the town developed along the rivers and then the Erie Canal, which is directly north of the city, and some of the major industries which made the town flourish.  

There is another canal, the Seneca-Cayuga Canal, which runs through Seneca Falls along what was originally the riverbed of the Seneca River, and connects the northern tips of those two big finger lakes to the Erie Canal.  The Seneca canal is right behind the visitor center, and after browsing through the exhibit and through the store next door (called “WomanMade Products”, full of great gifts), we moved Samantha down to a visitors parking lot right beside the canal. There we got to see a number of boats which are really counterparts of our RV—they were “camped” at the tie-ups in Seneca Falls, and their owners were clearly enjoying a few relaxing hours beside the water.

 After moving the RV to this new spot, we walked back up to Fall Street, which is the main street in town. There we went to Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Seneca Falls was a center of the women’s rights movement, and the location of the convention 165 years ago which produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a document which used the wording of the Declaration of Independence to articulate the inequities toward women during the 19th century. Declaration Park is right between the Wesleyan Church where the convention was held in 1848, and the National Park Visitor Center. Its striking feature is a “waterwall” which has the words of the Declaration, and the names of the signers, engraved under a curtain of flowing water.
Inside the Visitor Center are a number of excellent exhibits (a whole small museum, really) focusing on the issues of women’s rights and equality in general in America. There were displays discussing every aspect of life and the different ways the sexes interacted with those things, from exercise to education to fashion. There were interactive displays dealing with significant court cases—such as whether a woman could properly be tried for murder of her husband (the alleged cause was “temporary insanity” due to her suspicion of his infidelity) by an all-male jury; or whether it was a violation of men’s rights that women were not subject to the draft equally with men. There were videos with clips of the depiction of women in film and tv, fashion, beauty ads, etc. All in all, we spent about an hour there and really found it interesting.

From there we walked down the street and since it was already 12:30 or so, decided to eat “in town” rather than go back to the RV. So we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for some lunch. Then we went to the Seneca Falls It’s  A Wonderful Life Museum. We hadn’t realized that Seneca Falls was probably the inspiration for Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls. 

The incident where George leaps into the river to “save” Clarence the angel from drowning was based on a real incident in Seneca Falls. In 1917, a young Italian-American man jumped into the canal to save a woman who had jumped in trying to commit suicide. He was able to save her, but just as she was pulled from his arms, he was swept away and he himself drowned.  The town, which was not fond of Italians nor of immigrants, nevertheless was so moved by this act that the church was filled to overflowing at his funeral, and the citizens subsequently collected money to put a plaque on the bridge with his name, and the phrase “He honored our community; our community honors him.” Frank Capra, who came to the town before the finalization of the script of the movie, saw the bridge and the later scripts were changed to include the episode. The museum itself was very cute, with lots of Beautiful Life memorabilia. Every December, they have a festival in the town, and a number of businesses have names which link them to the movie.

By this time it was about 3pm, and we decided to do a little research on the idea of kayaking on one of the canals. We went to a local kayak rental place and I had a good talk with the guy who ran it. He was most helpful. We decided that we really didn’t want to rush it in the afternoon, so instead we headed back to Cayuga Lake State Park with the intention of relaxing and getting up early tomorrow.  On the way, we explored some more and found our way to Locks 2 and 3 on the Seneca-Cayuga Canal. I spoke to the lockmaster about coming tomorrow morning, and he was very encouraging. Now we know where to go and where to park!  But it was hot and muggy back at the park, so before going back to our campsite, we parked and walked down to the beach on Lake Cayuga. There Joey and I went swimming—we were the only ones there, leading us to conclude that we were the only people swimming in the entire lake! The lake water was very clear and the bottom is sandy, so it was really lovely and not very cold.  It’s a nice little park area, with picnic facilities, playground, and a large bath house.

After about 30 minutes, we were relaxed and no longer hot and sticky, so we came back up to the campsite and sat outside with our books and some cold drinks until it was time for dinner. We are getting ready to go to sleep (Joey just finished his book—the third one on this trip!) and get up early tomorrow. We are going to go back to the canal and go kayaking through the locks before heading east again.

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