By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Every so often, Farmers’ Museum interpreter Deb Anderson will see someone sneaking a ride on the closed Empire State Carousel.
It’s not a ghost or a straggler – it’s daredevil Sam Patch, one of The Farmers’ Museum’s scarecrows, atop Bucky Beaver, the first of the carousel’s hand-carved animals.
Sam was created by the museum’s staff, part of the museum’s Celebration of Autumn, underway through Sunday, Oct. 11, in place of the usual single-weekend Harvest Fest.
Concerned about the crowd the Harvest Fest predictably draws, “we wanted to spread it out over three weeks,” said Anderson. “We have food trucks and music, a hay maze, and the staff made scarecrows for visitors to vote for their favorites.”
Because the buildings in the 19th Century country villages are too small to allow for social distancing, the interpreters have moved their demonstrations outdoors or into larger indoor spaces.
In the main barn, pharmacist Eben Williams, usually in Thrall’s Pharmacy, has set up shop in the corner, complete with his bowl of medical leeches and dried herbs harvested from the garden. In the former children’s “grow patch,” exhibit, printer Mark Simonson has set up – not the Washington Press that once printed The Freeman’s Journal – but a smaller portable press.
“It’s a little sad not having people in their buildings,” said Anderson. “But the buildings are still open and people can look inside.”
It’s also forced some of the craftsmen to learn a few more tricks of the trade.
“It’s always dark in the blacksmith’s shop, so seeing the color of the metal is difficult,” said John Patterson, village blacksmith. “I’ve been doing it long enough to figure it out, but in the shop, you never had the wind putting out your fire!”
His portable forge is set up on the Village Green, where he makes bottle openers and mantle hooks. “We had someone who wanted to buy one of his mantle hooks,” said Anderson. “He had to say, ‘We have to wait for it to cool off!’”
And though hands-on activities are minimized, kids can still pet the goats, sheep and oxen in the farm. “We’ve got plenty of hand sanitizer around for them to use afterwards,” she said. “We want to give people as much of the experience as we can.”
Frequently touched surfaces are sanitized throughout the day, masks are required and social distancing is enforced. “We want people to feel like they’re safe here, that they can bring their family,”
said Anderson. “And we find that people come and they spend all day here, because the kids can run around, they can pet the animals and they don’t have to worry about being too close to other people.”
While the Celebration of Autumn is an open event, the popular “Bump in the Night” ghost-story weekends – starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, Oct. 16 – 31 – will be by reservation only, with tours every half-hour in order to clean between shows.
The Candlelight Evening on Dec. 12 will also be held as a tour, rather than an open-grounds event.
“It feels like you have the whole place to yourself,” she said. “But then you look around, and there’s a lot of other people here.”