One of the great joys of being located in our neck of the woods is the incredible amount of historic sites surrounding us. It is only occasionally when we can connect these sites to our work here at the theatre, but it is very special when we can do so. In the past, for example, we have taken casts of plays such as The House in Hydesville to the actual house in Hydesville, NY which made it all so real for the actors and everyone associated with the project. Last week, I had the privilege of taking the cast of The Whipping Man to the lovely town of Auburn, NY. The town itself is a Victorian jewel and just driving through, looking at the magnificent architecture, is a treat. We were there to visit to sites in particular: the Seward House and the Harriet Tubman Home.
When you first enter the Seward House you are struck by what a lovely home it was/is. Then you get to know the man and the family who lived there. This was the home of Lincoln’s right-hand man, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation and the man behind the purchase of Alaska, William Seward, a man of extraordinary intelligence, character, integrity and principles. Besides being a gorgeous home, the house is chock full of gifts given to Seward by heads of state from around the world, an impressive library of over 7,000 volumes, a picture “gallery of greatness” and an exhibition dedicated to the Civil War and the assasination attempt which Seward survived on the same night that Lincoln was shot. Fortunately for us, his descendents had the foresight to leave the house and contents as a museum so that pretty much everything is original.The recent film, Lincoln, has added to the popularity of the house (Seward was portrayed by David Strathairn in the film) which was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, which leads us directly to our next site – the Harriet Tubman Home – just down the street.
If you think you know everything about the Woman called Moses, think again. A very well put together time line and exhibition in the Visitors Center welcomes over 9,000 people each year. The building that she founded as the John Brown Hospital for elderly African Americans was her dream and we were escorted into this building in which she died at the age of 93. The AME Zion church that manages and cares for the site is in the process of restoring her actual brick house, which is not yet open to the public.
In the car on the way back home, we started to list the accomplishments of these 19th century over-achievers and to whom we, as Americans, owe so much. (I say started, because it was only a 1-hour drive to Downtown ROC.) A big “thank you” to our hosts at the Seward House and the Tubman Home for their wonderful hospitality. If you are in the area, I urge you to walk in the footsteps of history and visit these incredible sites. They certainly inspired us!