Editorial: It’s Not Johnny’s Bench, But He Can Sit On It


It’s Not Johnny’s Bench,
But He Can Sit On It

Early in the freezing morning of Saturday, November 11, 1961, a terrible fire began in a building on the northwest corner of Main and Pioneer streets in Cooperstown. Fires had long been a part of the history of the village, with some big enough to threaten its very existence, and others ending the existence of a plethora of shops, restaurants, and houses. One killed a resident; John Lippitt lost his life in 1938 in a house fire at 110 Pioneer Street.

This fire destroyed the printing plant of “The Freeman’s Journal,” next door to The Tunnicliff Inn at 38 Pioneer Street, and rendered useless the adjacent building that housed the offices of “The Freeman’s Journal” and “The Otsego Farmer,” at 82 Main Street. The blaze was intense. Three fire companies and a host of volunteers fought it, in shifts, for 48 hours, with many on-lookers keeping a shivering watch from across Main Street. Volunteers, many of whom were kids, hauled out the records and archives of the then 153-year-old newspaper, which, typically, did not even miss printing the next week’s edition. For that first week, though, the paper had some outside help.

“The Freeman’s Journal” offices moved south on Pioneer Street, the ruined newspaper buildings were razed, The Scriven Foundation bought the resulting vacant lot on the corner and gave it to the village, and the village decided to make a proper park, to be called Pioneer Park, complete with a border garden, a smattering of shade trees, and a few beckoning and comfortable park benches. The Lake and Valley Garden Club helped; construction began in 1964.

Pioneer Park opened soon thereafter, but its name did not resonate with the village residents who took their daily strolls along Main Street. The inviting new meeting place was immediately redubbed Farkel Park, a name that came, no doubt, from the then-new and hysterically engaging skit, “The Farkel Family,” which appeared every week on the NBC hit show “Laugh-In,” most probably because somebody, or several somebodies, who frequented the Farkel Park benches bore an uncanny resemblance to the red-headed, freckle-faced, bespectacled Farkel kids on the show. (There is a dice game called Farkel that was doing the college rounds at the same time, but attributing this park to a dice game might have been a reach.)

Those benches were an immediate, and permanent, hit. They, like the other million or so benches across the world as well as those at Lakefront Park and Council Rock—which are used by many tourists and visitors—allow for a sense of solitude and, at the same time, community. They are sounding blocks for ideas and opinions. They are comfort zones for just looking and thinking. They are invitations to meet. Today, in Farkel Park, they are sat on by myriad people, and, yes, their myriad dogs, all of whom are for the most part familiar local residents who enjoy village life and lore and who are pretty good at disseminating that same stuff, pretty much all day long, pretty much in the rain, snow, sleet or sun, pretty much to anyone—and there are a lot—who will slow down, sit, and listen.

Every town should have a bench or two for their people, like those in Farkel Park, and when Johnny comes to town he can sit there, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Prove you're not a robot: *