CGP Community Stories

John Carnahan, November 15, 2012

Title

John Carnahan, November 15, 2012

Subject

Alaska
Anaktuvuk Pass (Alaska)
Anchorage (Alaska)
Barrow (Alaska)
Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Eskimo
Gunnison (Colo.)
Museum collection
Museum contract work
Museum development
Museum management
North Slope Borough (Alaska). Dept. of Planning & Community Services
Ontario (Or.)
Pennsylvania
Simon Paneak Memorial Museum
United States Air Force
Wyoming State Museum

Description

Born December 11, 1942 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, John Carnahan was raised in nearby Marysville. The small town routinely saw John, his younger brother Glenn, and their friends riding bikes, ice skating, and playing baseball. In 1960, John enrolled at Penn State University; after two years, however, he left for Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to serve as a weather observer in the United States Air Force. During this time, he married his first wife, Ruth Ann, and the couple had two sons.

Soon, John moved with his family to Gunnison, Colorado to study history at Western State College; in order to support them, John was a bartender and Ruth Ann was a member of the United States Forest Service. In 1969, John graduated Magna Cum Laude from Western State College. By 1972, he earned his Master’s degree from the University of Wyoming and took a job as a registrar at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne. This was his first experience working in a museum and inspired him to apply to the Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP). He graduated from CGP in 1975.

John briefly worked in Alaska at the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum; soon after, he was offered a job as the site manager at Philipsburg Manor, a historic site in Tarrytown, New York. Although he only spent two years there, John met his future wife, Florence, during this time. By the time the two married in 1980, John and Florence returned to Alaska, where they worked in Anchorage and Barrow. In Barrow and several other villages, John worked on a variety of projects with local Inupiat communities.

In the late 1980s, John and Florence moved to a farm in Pennsylvania to raise their daughter Kate, who they adopted from Korea. After a few years in Pennsylvania, they lived in Oregon and Vermont before settling in New York and by 2007, he was the Vice President for Development at the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). Around this time, John also returned to CGP to teach museum management.

Now, nearly forty years after earning his degree from CGP, John is preparing to retire from teaching and the museum field. Although he has called Cooperstown and New York home for many years, his career has taken him across the country and presented him with many different opportunities in the museum field.

This oral history will be useful to those studying CGP’s history, museum development and management, and the Native communities of Alaska during the 1980s. Florence’s oral history—also in the NYSHA/CGP archive—from 2011 provides a complement to John’s. For clarity of transcription, I have corrected any grammatical errors, added words in brackets where necessary, used em dashes (—) to illustrate interruptions, and removed any false starts.

Creator

Eric Feingold

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2012-11-15

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

image/jpeg
200 x 263 pixels
image/jpeg
865 x 750 pixels
image/doc
239 kB
image/pdf
612 x 792 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

12-011

Coverage

Harrisburg, PA
1942-2012
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Eric Feingold

Interviewee

John Carnahan

Location

New York State Historical Association Research Library
5798 NY-80
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2012

JC = John Carnahan
EF = Eric A. Feingold

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

EF:
This is the November 15, 2012 interview of John Carnahan conducted by Eric Feingold for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course and this interview is taking place in the conference room of the New York State Historical Association’s library in Cooperstown, New York. So, John, just to start off, can you tell me when and where you were born?

JC:
I was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on December 11, 1942.

EF:
And when did your parents decide to settle in Harrisburg?

JC:
Actually, they never did. We lived across the river in Marysville, a small town about ten miles outside of Harrisburg.

EF:
Can you tell me a little bit about Marysville?

JC:
The only thing it was noted for was that it was the home of the longest stone-arched bridge in the world.

EF:
Okay, that’s interesting. What did your parents do?

JC:
My father was an electrician and my mother worked in the family bakery.

EF:
Can you tell me a little bit more about them [and] their backgrounds?

JC:
Sure. My mother was one of four children. Her father held a number of different jobs over the years. One of the last that I recall was when he was janitor of the elementary school that I was attending. The only reason that I remember that is that I got to go up into the bell tower and wind the clock with him when he did it. And my father’s family came from that same general area and had for quite a long time. He had one brother and three sisters. One of them—my aunt Pearl—is still alive and she’s 104.

EF:
Wow. So you were going to school when your grandfather was working as a janitor [at the school]?

JC:
Yes.

EF:
And did you get to do any other jobs with him?

JC:
Not really.

EF:
What was that like, being up in bell tower there?

JC:
Well, it was pretty interesting for somebody who was, I think, in the fourth grade.

EF:
Did you have any siblings growing up?

JC:
My brother Glenn is four years younger than me. He was also an electrician and recently retired. He has four children.

EF:
And is he still in Marysville?

JC:
He never lived in Marysville after he graduated from high school. He lived close by though, about fifteen miles away, and he’s lived in the same house for that entire time.

EF:
What was your relationship like with Glenn growing up?

JC:
That of an older brother [laughs]. It was as though—well, there wasn’t much democracy there. You followed the older brother’s lead. The whole neighborhood was like that.

EF:
When you say the whole neighborhood, could you describe the place you lived a little bit?

JC:
We lived in a small town—probably 2,000 people—and we pretty much ran everywhere we wanted to. It was a time when you could go anywhere and do anything. So, we had this gang and there were a couple of kids from next door and, down the street, another family of about four boys, so it was always baseball during the day and running around town. There was a large park at the one end of town that we used to go to for ice skating and things like that during the winter.

EF:
What was the name of that park?

JC:
Lion’s Club Park or something like that.

EF:
Can you tell me more about this ‘gang’?

JC:
It was just a bunch of kids running around together with bicycles. It was not really a gang [laughs], it was just a group of kids. Not a gang as we understand it today.

EF:
No, no. So, do you have any specific childhood memories? I know you mentioned the bell tower and your group of friends, but [is there] anything [else] that sticks out to you?

JC:
Not really. My father was a member of a hunting camp in northern Pennsylvania and we went there fairly often during the year, summer and winter, and had a lot of good memories of that from the time I started hunting squirrels to just running all over that neighborhood. Then we went back at one point—Florence [JC’s wife] and I—after we were living in Alaska and bought some property back there. We decided not to pursue that and sold it several years later.

EF:
I definitely want to talk about Florence and your time in Alaska a little bit, but I’m just curious, when did you start hunting?

JC:
I was twelve.

EF:
So you started with squirrels?

JC:
Well, we hunted for everything: squirrels, turkey, deer.

EF:
Did you have any specific family traditions growing up?

JC:
Yes, all the holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter were all spent at my maternal grandparents’ house. There would be about thirty people each time, from the four girls that they had. But those are mostly the traditional things that we did.

EF:
Was music a part of your family at all?

JC:
Listening to it, but not playing it [laughs].

EF:
[laughs] Anything in particular?

JC:
Rock ‘n’ roll had just started when I was growing up, so it was a combination of the late ’40s music and then the beginnings of rock ‘n roll.

EF:
How did you feel about this new music that was—?

JC:
We pursued it. Near us was an arena, called Hershey Arena, and they always had rock ‘n’ roll shows that were put together by Dick Clark and a number of other people, so there would be two or three of those a year and through my teen years we went fairly often.

EF:
Who did you get to see?

JC:
Buddy Holly, Little Richard, The Platters, Fats Domino. Well, each one of those shows had, probably, fifteen or sixteen acts in the show. So it lasted from seven o’ clock until eleven or twelve at night. It was all music.

EF:
That sounds great.

JC:
[laughs]

EF:
Can you describe the scene a little more at the [Hershey] Arena?

JC:
I can’t imagine [Hershey Arena] held more than about 20,000 people, but it was sold out every time, so the noise was pretty spectacular. I’m trying to think of some other people, but all those names escape me [laughs]. I had a whole bunch of 45 rpm records from that period, which, when I went off to college, my mother of course gave to one of my cousins, I think.

EF:
From what I understand, when you went off to college, you went to Penn State [University], is that correct?

JC:
That’s correct.

EF:
And what made you decide to go to school there?

JC:
Actually, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to school there. I was so late in applying that my father filled out the application. He was very convinced that I needed to go to college, so he did that. Very frankly, I don’t think I was ready for it—I was too immature to take the notion of a campus of 25,000 people.

EF:
And why would your dad—?

JC:
Nobody in the family had ever gone to college. He was certain [laughs] that I was the one, I guess.

EF:
You mentioned [your father] was an electrician. He was also in the Air Force, correct?

JC:
Oh, sure. He served in the Air Force in World War II.

EF:
And where in World War II?

JC:
For some reason he was stationed in Boise, Idaho and then he was stationed in England during the latter part of the war. He never talked about it, but he had a lot of interesting photographs and stuff that he brought back, people he knew.

EF:
What was that like for you growing up—you were relatively young at the time—but how was it growing up with your dad—?

JC:
Oh, it was great. When he got back, it was right at the end of the war, so it was a time of transition there where he went off to New Jersey to study to become an electrician. When he got back, he was really into baseball, so we played baseball a lot. And [I] carried that right through high school.

EF:
Did you have an opportunity to go to any [baseball] games with him?

JC:
Oh, sure, yes. He belonged to a number of VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] clubs and American Legion and through some of those [clubs] we went to games in Philadelphia to see the Phillies play or the Athletics.

EF:
Any specific memories from being in Philadelphia at all?

JC:
No, I remember more the food on the train [laughs] on the way down.

EF:
[laughs] Well can you tell me about the food on the train, then?

JC:
All I recall is they brought out big trays of shrimp and other things on that trip down to Philadelphia.

EF:
[To] skip ahead to Penn State. You feel you didn’t have the maturity?

JC:
No, I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no goal. As a result, I didn’t do very well and I left there after two years and went in the Air Force. I was in the Air Force for four years and, while in there, I went back to school at the University of New Hampshire and took a bunch of courses there. But, it was just the wrong timing [to enroll at Penn State University].

EF:
What year was this?

JC:
When I went to Penn State? 1960.

EF:
Ok. Can you describe being on campus at that time? What was that like?

JC:
The things that stand out in my memory from that time is it was the time of Sputnik, when the Russians put the first satellite up. Well, for me, it was a big party frankly [laughs]. But, I outgrew it. I didn’t really spend much time on academics [laughs].

EF:
Can you go into any details about that atmosphere?

JC:
Not really. It was just a real heady atmosphere. I was only seventeen years old then, so everybody was older than me and it was kind of an interesting place to be. It just overwhelmed me.

EF:
When you were in the Air Force, can you go into some detail about that?

JC:
I spent [almost] the whole time—three and a half of the four years—at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire—Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I was a weather observer and got married during that period and had a child before I got out of the Air Force; and when we got out of the Air Force, I went on to the next step, which was college in Colorado.

EF:
So that was with your first wife?

JC:
[Yes].

EF:
Tell me a little bit about her.

JC:
Ok, her name was Ruth Ann. She lived in a neighboring town, not in Marysville, [but] in Duncannon [Pennsylvania] and I’d known her for years and years and just got together at one point and got married I think, when I was home. We got engaged when I was home for Christmas in the year—1962—that [U.S. President] John Kennedy gave everybody in the military a three-day pass over Christmas. I got stuck in a snowstorm coming back from Chicago [Illinois] to Pennsylvania. Flights were cancelled, [and] they put us on a train that stopped at every stop along the way through Ohio and Indiana. Took us all of three days to get there and back.

EF:
She was in Pennsylvania when you were in—?

JC:
Illinois and we got married the following year and went to New Hampshire.

EF:
And you had a son, correct?

JC:
Yes. Tim was born in May of 1966 and when we moved out to go back to school, we had Tim.

EF:
Back to school in New Hampshire?

JC:
No, back to school in Colorado.

EF:
And where were you going in Colorado?

JC:
Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado.

EF:
Where is Gunnison?

JC:
Way up in the mountains. It’s about 7300 feet above sea level, I think, so it’s very cold. Coldest place I’ve ever lived. I mean, much colder than northern Alaska.

EF:
I was going to say.

JC:
I’ve never seen a place as cold as Gunnison.

EF:
Really? [Is it a] big town?

JC:
Small town. Once again, it was maybe about 3,000 people. [Western State College] probably had about 5,000 people. But it was a good school for me, at least, because their history department had—maybe through coincidence or a fortunate series of circumstances—several very good historians passing through on their way to better jobs. By the time I left there, most of them were ready to leave and had already applied for other jobs. One went on to Iowa State [University] and others went to other much larger schools than the one in Gunnison, so I was just fortunate to be there at the right time.

EF:
You were at Western State less than ten years after being at Penn State. What gave you that desire to return to school?

JC:
Well, I was married and had a child then [laughs]. That was one [reason]. But I just knew I was going to end up doing it sometime and I wanted to go ahead there and, frankly, when I was in the service I did a lot of research on it and I chose Gunnison more because they had good trout fishing than because they had a good school [laughs].

EF:
Did you have an opportunity to do trout fishing?

JC:
[laughs] I sure did. It was great. It was a great place to live. In fact, Florence and I went back and visited a couple years ago.

EF:
Have you noticed any changes there?

JC:
Oh, sure. In that area, when we left in ‘69 when I graduated there, there were already major changes: land development, and it’s just proceeded pretty quickly since then.

EF:
Is Gunnison isolated?

JC:
Oh, sure. There are mountains on either side of it, so it’s cut off pretty much in the wintertime.

EF:
You worked with meteorology in the Air Force—what made you want to go into history at Western State?

JC:
When I was in the Air Force, they offered me the chance to stay and they’d send me off to school in meteorology and I turned them down. I really wasn’t interested in that and I thought at the time that I might go into teaching and I enjoyed history courses, so I focused on those. After my poor start at Penn State, I graduated Magna Cum Laude at Western State College [laughs], so it was a strong comeback.

EF:
And were you working at all when you were at school there?

JC:
Oh, sure. My wife was working at the Forest Service and I worked tending bar at two different places in town—six nights a week, from six until two in the morning.

EF:
Any specialty drinks?

JC:
No [laughs]. They were all special.

EF:
[laughs]. This is around the 1970s?

JC:
1969.

EF:
What did you decide to do after finishing up there?

JC:
I’d applied for and received a graduate fellowship at the University of Maine’s maritime history program. We travelled back across the country and went up to Maine, and it just didn’t work out. They didn’t really have any housing, so we never even registered. I got there and decided not to [register], so I went back and got a job in New Hampshire—we stopped in New Hampshire on the way back, because I’d been stationed there while I was in the Air Force—and I got a job at a place that made undersea cable. Simplex was the name of it. And they had this undersea cable and I got a job in quality control, where you did inspections all the time of the wire coming off the line. We stayed there for about nine months and then moved back to Marysville and I got another job tending bar there for about six months and, at the end of that, we moved and I started graduate school at the University of Wyoming. So, we’d made a couple of trips back and forth across the country already, and that was a good experience. I enjoyed the University of Wyoming. When I got there, I got a job driving a school bus in the mornings and afternoons, and then the head of the history department said, “You know, you don’t have time to drive a school bus, you need to be working something else.” So, I got a teaching assistantship at the school and gave up driving a school bus. I did pretty well there. I finished a Master’s degree in a little over a year and then took a job at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne as a registrar. And that was my first real contact with museums from the inside. And frankly, I only applied for it because a friend of mine was working there and told me about the job. But it was an interesting job. It was an interesting collection. It was really disordered. When I got there, we had lots of things in garages and barns all over town that were poorly stored, so it was an interesting year. And while I was there, I applied for Cooperstown [Graduate Program].

EF:
Not to get ahead of ourselves.

JC:
[laughs]

EF:
But I’m curious about this collection at the museum. What about it was interesting?

JC:
Well, they took me downstairs the first day to show me the vault and it really was a vault with one of those big metal doors on it. When they opened the door, on the inside, it was piled from the floor to the ceiling with moccasins—some of which were paired, some of which were not. And I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a fun job.” But I actually got a student at the University of Wyoming to come over and [catalog] it and he later came to Cooperstown the same time I did. He was in my class—Jim Nottage.

EF:
I remember you telling me about Jim Nottage a little bit.

JC:
And between that and the military saddles, Nottage was the guy I went to. He was the go-to guy because he knew all of that stuff and had been working on it all his life.

EF:
You said military saddles?

JC:
Oh, by the hundreds.

EF:
Can you explain what a military saddle is?

JC:
Well, a lot of them were variations on the old McClellan saddle, which was a real barebones kind of frame that had very little covering on it. I mean, it must have been a hard son-of-a-gun to ride on all day long. And through the years in the West, they made a number of different modifications to it. Well, the only person I knew who knew anything about that was Nottage, so we got him to do those, too. But the collection was so varied it had a lot of fairly decent artwork, it had some really kooky kind of collections where people would go on a vacation to Egypt and bring back marbles or some other—seriously, there was a collection of 15,000 marbles from one family, so I don’t know why they had it in the Wyoming State Museum, but they did. And when I was there, we had a director who was kind of flirting with technology in the sense that he—and this was [laughs] before computers you’ll have to remember—had one of these card-sort systems where you put a rod into punch holes in the top of the cards. They were about a foot by a foot and [had] all of the information along the outside edges. And you’d clip each hole if you wanted a hole in each one of those spaces and when you stuck the rod in for “Southwestern Indian moccasins” or something like that, you’d pick the rod up and all the other ones would fall off and the ones that came out were the ones that supposedly answered the description you gave. It was a very laborious thing to put together and it was superseded I’m sure within a couple of years by technology.

EF:
Enter PastPerfect. Do you remember anything else about working in that museum?

JC:
Well, a friend of mine, like I said, worked there, too and we’d always go for coffee every morning and it became—this was the period, 1972-73, [of] the Watergate investigation—so we were really into all of that and talk[ed] about the latest revelation everyday so it was an interesting time.

EF:
You and your colleagues were just interested in it for conversation?

JC:
Yes. Just news buffs. Wyoming is another place that Florence and I have gone back to visit since then and it’s changed a lot, too, but some of the same places are still there. Some of the same things that we remembered—mostly outdoor things.

EF:
Have you been back to the museum?

JC:
Oh yes. It’s changed big time. A brand new museum was built about ten years after I left.

EF:
So you finished up there around 1973?

JC:
Actually, I finished up there in August of ‘74, right before I came to Cooperstown.

EF:
Were you in the process of applying [to the Cooperstown Graduate Program] when you were there [in Wyoming]?

JC:
Yes. That was the second time I applied. I applied the year before while I was in graduate school in Wyoming, thinking I might go straight to Cooperstown, but I was turned down the first year. And then the second time, they took three people from [the University of] Wyoming: myself and Jim Nottage and Vickie Monks, so we were all in the same class with Gretchen [Sullivan Sorin].

EF:
The program was just kind of getting off the ground at that point.

JC:
Well, actually it started in ‘64 or ‘65 and this was ‘75, so it had already changed certain characteristics. If you look at pictures of the first year’s class, they were all men, except one, I think. By the time our class [started,] it was a fairly even mix of men and women in the class. And now, it’s flipped to the other end, where it’s mostly women.

EF:
Yes. Well, I brought a picture along with me and I’d like you to describe what you see here [EF hands JC a photo of the Cooperstown Graduate Program Class of 1974-1975].

JC:
[laughs] Well, it’s difficult because I don’t know all of them [the students in the picture]. There are museum studies students,

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

JC:
folk students, and also the conservation students. So, each program had about fifteen people in it and I can pick out the museum studies students, but a lot of them are unfamiliar.

EF:
So who are some of the people that you recognize from that picture and what is that picture?

JC:
Well, it’s a picture that they [the graduate program takes] every year. This one was everybody, the entire graduate program. [laughs] I’m just noticing Gretchen there, she looks awfully young. But the ones I notice, some of these people aren’t even alive. You know, it was interesting, last year we had several people come back for a program and John Carter came back and Emily—I almost gave you her maiden name—Wright and Mary Ellen [Hennessey] and Eloise [Beil] and Jack Braunlein and Gretchen and I, so we had a nice party. A lot of other people tried to make it back but couldn’t make it. The only interesting thing about this is that it wasn’t too long after [the class picture was taken] that they closed down the conservation program and moved it to Buffalo.

EF:
1987, I believe, is when they did that.

JC:
Was it? And then after that, they closed down the folk studies program. So, here we are. I can’t imagine how we got through the program in a year.

EF:
CGP was only one year at that time? What do you think, looking at this picture now, as a faculty member of this program and seeing all of those familiar faces, some not so familiar [too]?

JC:
What do you mean, “What do I think?”

EF:
What do you remember about Cooperstown?

JC:
Oh. I guess the thing that strikes me the most is the changes because we were in the White House—that was the graduate [museum studies] program. We were never allowed in the current building because that was the conservation program. The Kecks, who ran the conservation program, were very adamant about keeping everybody else out of their building.

EF:
Why?

JC:
Well, they set out, what they thought was, a very difficult curriculum for their people and didn’t seem to have the same respect for the other programs, just because their [program] was science and art related. But, as hard as they worked, I think we worked just as hard. Just different studies. The difference, too that I can recall, is the photography classes that we had. I mean, you don’t do that anymore.

EF:
No, we don’t.

JC:
The other person who stands out, who I didn’t realize was in that class, was C.R. Jones, who was the conservator at NYSHA for many years and retired within the last couple of years.

EF:
And what do you remember about C.R. Jones?

JC:
I’m just surprised about him being there. We serve on different boards together now and I didn’t remember he was in that class.

EF:
Do you recognize these buildings at all from your time at CGP? [EF hands JC a picture of the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s audio-video trailer and classroom trailer next to the White House, circa 1975]

JC:
You know, that looks familiar. I recognize this one, certainly, but this one looks less familiar. Is that the one that was outside with the [White House]?

EF:
[Picture #1] is the audio-video equipment trailer over at CGP, for the folk studies program. But you recognize the building on the bottom?

JC:
That’s right next to the White House. All we did at that point, that I recall [was] they were trying to show us how to use tools in this building. But, it was such a skimpy collection, you [the current CGP classes] get that tool kit that probably has more than we had in the whole program.

EF:
You mean for exhibition design?

JC:
Yes. And the photography [in the] darkroom was done in the basement of the White House with unfinished stone walls [laughs].

EF:
Can you describe what the social scene was like in Cooperstown?

JC:
I don’t know how much it’s changed. It seemed like we had an awful lot of those potluck dinners at different people’s houses, which always ended up with music and a lot of discussion. There were several places downtown that we’d go—The Pit, at the—I can’t remember the name of the hotel, right there across from Stagecoach [Coffee].

EF:
Tunnicliff [Inn].

JC:
Tunnicliff, yes. And every time I think of that, the bartender then is the same guy you see limping around town, “Stretch.” He was the bartender at the Tunnicliff when we were in graduate school.

EF:
The bartender’s name at the Tunnicliff—or at least his nickname—was “Stretch.” And how did he get that name?

JC:
He’s about six [feet] four [inches], I think. He has an exaggerated limp—there’s something wrong with his one leg.

EF:
Did you ever tend bar in Cooperstown?

JC:
No. Probably glad that was behind me, even though it was an interesting time.

EF:
Did you go anywhere else with your classmates or friends?

JC:
I went to a couple of things on living history at [Old] Sturbridge Village and met up with an alum of the program who was Nancy Campbell [and] Darwin Kelsey was also at Sturbridge at the time. I’m trying to think of someone there who was from Old Bethpage Village out on Long Island. So it was just a get-together of people interested in living history farms and we did it a couple of times during that fall semester. I remember one time I was coming back from one of those in the evening and, boy, ran into fog in Cherry Valley and had a heck of a time getting down the road and back to Cooperstown. It took me a long time.

EF:
What were you driving?

JC:
An Opel.

EF:
A German car, right?

JC:
Yes, I had a Chevrolet before that and it died on us coming from Colorado up to Wyoming while I was in graduate school and we went out and bought a new Opel.

EF:
[laughs] Probably handled a little better than a school bus.

JC:
Oh, it was a nice little car.

EF:
So you graduated from CGP in 1975.

JC:
1975. And looked around for jobs and one caught my eye and it was in Anchorage, Alaska. I applied and they wanted to interview me on the phone [but] I couldn’t find a phone. I’d moved out of an apartment and was about to leave town, so I did this interview on a payphone down on Main Street in Cooperstown. They offered me the job, and I can tell you, it didn’t pay very much. Even though the prices were high in Anchorage, I think I started at $17,000 a year in 1975 as curator of collections at what’s now the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

EF:
And what was it called?

JC:
The Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum.

EF:
You were with your son at that time?

JC:
Both of them.

EF:
Oh, both. You had two sons. So Ruth Ann was there, your two sons, and you.

JC:
Well, yes. I went up first. I drove up alone and then they flew up. I just went up to find a place to live.

EF:
What was that transition like for them, living in Cooperstown to Alaska?

JC:
You have to understand that that was right at the end of one oil boom in Anchorage and right near the beginning of another one. They were arguing at the time about drilling offshore, so there was a lot of excitement in town, but the population was at a fairly low point because a lot of oil workers had moved out. I can remember the newspaper saying one time, that there was so little work for prostitutes that they were accosting people in the parking lot at Safeway [laughs].

EF:
[laughs]

JC:
[laughs] I’m serious. But, that was a good time. When I got there, I stayed at the director’s house. He and his wife invited me to stay for however long it took me to find a place. Well, she let me know in no uncertain terms that my job was to make him look good. He had suffered enormous criticism when he first got there, so they had it in mind that the rest of the staff was supposed to promote him. In the normal course of events, that’s what happens anyway I suppose, but they were very forceful about it and very aggressive, because he only wanted to get in five years. It only took you five years to vest in the retirement system in Alaska, so he had been there for about four years when I got there. He ended up staying longer than that, but not much.

EF:
What did he do that made you have to make him look good?

JC:
I don’t know if it was anything he did. There was a local person, Mike Kennedy, who had been the director before him and everybody liked him in the community and when this new guy came from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he’d been the director of a museum everything that seemed to go wrong, he was blamed for. He took it really hard. He was a very quiet guy to begin with and some of the members of the local historical society came down hard on him, and several of them were on the board of trustees. But I think, in the long run, he didn’t hurt the museum because when he was there, the chairman of the board was a banker’s wife who eventually ended up leaving the museum $120 million when he died. He probably started building those relationships that later brought that gift, but he was hard to work with. [He was] not willing to do anything new or different because he was afraid of inviting more criticism, so consequently, not much happened there. Then after that, when I had a chance, I got a call from Nancy Campbell, who I had met at [Old] Sturbridge [Village]. She had a job at Phillipsburg Manor, part of the Sleepy Hollow Restorations, as site manager and asked me if I’d come down to take it.

EF:
Is that in Tarrytown [New York]?

JC:
North Tarrytown, yes. So, I agreed. I just wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay, so Ruth Ann stayed in Alaska—she had just started a new job—with the boys and I went off to try this job in Tarrytown and stayed there for about two years, having made several trips back and forth to Alaska during that time. And the boys actually came down to visit me at one time, too. Soon after that, I went back to Alaska. I mean, it was interesting times working in Tarrytown because the [interpretive] staff was so darned good. Frankly, I think it was because of Nancy Campbell. She was just so detail-oriented and such a stickler that it was hard day-to-day to work for her, but you realized over time that she’s what held that whole place together and made it as good as it was.

EF:
Can you describe that a little more—what made it hard working for her?

JC:
There was a lot of criticism, very little congratulatory sentiment and it got pretty heated at times, in terms of trying to do day-to-day jobs. For me, it was a matter of having to put myself between the staff and Nancy to argue on their behalf.

EF:
Can you explain your responsibilities?

JC:
I was the site manager, which didn’t mean too much at Sleepy Hollow in terms of actual responsibility. For instance, I didn’t have any role in the budgeting process. I did have a role in evaluating staff, but a lot of that was just making recommendations to Nancy who did the final evaluation. Given the ages of some of the people on the interpretive staff—they ranged from 85 to 17 [years old]—day to day it was really hard to meet the needs of all these people because you’d have ten to fifteen, maybe twenty, people onsite at a time and, with different abilities, it was a matter of assigning everybody the right job just to make sure they were able to do it. And Nancy was always complaining about the older women having their own stories that predated the more factual interpretation. But it was interesting and I met a lot of really nice people who are still friends to this day from that experience. But then I decided to go back to Alaska. When I went back to Alaska, I was searching madly for a job because I went back without a job. I took a job at an environmental think tank from the University of Alaska, it was called Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center. So I got a job there as a researcher—later, a research analyst—and was working on a large study for the Bureau of Land Management. They had set themselves the task of determining the navigability of all the streams, lakes, and water bodies in Alaska. The reason for that is that those that are navigable are federal property and those that are unnavigable become state property. Or maybe it’s the other way around. But anyway, it was a horrendous task because [there were] so many streams and rivers and lakes in Alaska. I worked on that for about a year and a half and also helped to write a history of wildlife refuges in Alaska.

EF:
I’m sorry, were you still in Anchorage?

JC:
Yes. Then, I remember I was reading something about navigability and this guy came in and said, “I’m looking for somebody who can work with Eskimos and wants to live on the North Slope [a coastal region of northern Alaska].” And I said, “Tell me more.” So, he ran the Planning Department for the North Slope Borough, which is a local government in Barrow [Alaska], and he wanted somebody to research and write historical pieces that would show Eskimo use of offshore islands so it would give them a hedge about offshore development [in order] to plan for offshore development. So I did. I flew out in a plane with a couple of Eskimo people to two different islands that lay off the coast of northern Alaska and had a good time. [I] wrote a book about one of the islands called Cross Island—

EF:
[EF hands JC a copy of Cross Island: Inupiat Cultural Continuum, by John Carnhan, 1979]

JC:
Yes. [laughs] Inupiat Cultural Continuum. It was a little interesting walking across the island out there, hearing these people talk about it because they’d had whaling camps on the island for when they were growing up. Every once in a while, you’d run into a piling in the ground or something like that. Because they sit offshore, the winter ice just scours the islands. The ice from the ocean just blows in over top of the islands [and] it just scrapes everything off that was there, so the notion was that we would try to apply for a National Register nomination. It was difficult because all we had was the testimony of four or five people and no physical evidence on the island, but we presented it for the committee in Alaska that made those recommendations and they approved it as a National Register site. But, the [head of the] shippo [pronunciation of SHPO, State Historic Preservation Office] at the time was an archaeologist and he didn’t like the notion that there was no physical evidence, so he turned it down. But, we got past him and sent it on to the National Park Service who was dealing with National Register sites. It was again turned down, but still it was a good start. We didn’t get that protection for the island, but in the following year, they did do a number of subsistence sites in an area that also didn’t have any physical evidence, but were accepted as National Register sites.

EF:
This is in the early ‘80s at this point?

JC:
Yes. We lived in Barrow from 1981 to 1983.

EF:
That’s you and Florence?

JC:
Yes. Florence and I were married right before we moved to Barrow, so it was in September of 1980.

EF:
I definitely want to jump back to Barrow, but how did you and Florence meet?

JC:
She worked at Sleepy Hollow when I was there as site manager. We just got to know each other and were friends for the most part and would go around to different museums and visit on our days off, but it got to be more than that.

EF:
She moved out to Barrow with you?

JC:
Yes. And she got a job with the Legislative Information Office. Alaska’s so big that they set up these Legislative Information Offices around the state to relay information to people in the community, so she would get all [of] these dispatches from Juneau, the capital, and she’d deliver them around the town.

EF:
So she was based out of Barrow as well?

JC:
Yes. Well, she got that after we moved up there.

EF:
From what I understand, Barrow is extremely isolated.

JC:
You can only get there by flying. There’s actually a town now that’s 65 miles away and you can get there by snow-machine or a small plane.

EF:
How did you deal with the isolation up there?

JC:
There were always a lot of people your age working around in the building and the North Slope Borough was actually a home rule borough set up that included all eight villages.

EF:
I’m sorry, could you just explain what you mean by “home rule”?

JC:
The closest thing you’d have [to a home rule borough] here is a county. They didn’t have a county there so they had a borough that incorporated the interests of a number of small settlements. Barrow at the time was only about 1500 people and many of them [were] living in really poor conditions—plywood buildings and no insulation and fierce winds. It never really got desperately cold in Barrow but the wind blew all the time. So, Florence and I, both of our jobs called for us to fly out to different villages all the time. She got really tired of it because [of] the small planes and it was always a rough ride [and] you’d land in the middle [of the] street or something [with] no airport. But, by the time we left there—actually, I went back to work on contract for a number of years later on. By the time that period was over, they had an airport in all eight villages, they had health clinics in all eight villages, they had new housing in all eight villages [with] over 300 houses in Barrow alone that had been built. That was all because of the oil company. The Prudhoe Bay Oil Field sat within the North Slope Borough, within the boundaries, so they tried a tactic early on—when they formed the Borough—of taxing the ad valorem value of the property there. You add up all the assessed valuation of the property and then you levy a tax on it. A different kind of taxation was what the state did. They taxed the oil companies by taxing the wellhead price of the oil when it was shipped out. [We chose property.] By the time I left up there, there was $14 billion worth of property at Prudhoe Bay, so this small community of eight villages was reaping, maybe, $170 million a year in taxes from the oil companies and were able to build. They started building small units of housing until they realized that they could sell general obligation bonds in New York [City] based on the longevity of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, which meant there was no question there were always triple-A bonds and we sold those to finance the Capital Improvement Program. When I was Deputy Director of Planning for Capital Improvements, the Capital Improvement Program was $1.2 billion.

EF:
So you were in charge of over a billion dollars in Barrow?

JC:
Yes, in Barrow and the seven other villages. Kind of interesting. You’d have to go around, check all [of] the projects. It was a bad time. When I took that job, it was after a period when one of the mayors and a bunch of his consultants had conspired to steal a lot of money from the Capital Improvement Program. I think they later determined that they stole somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million from the Capital Improvement Program. A couple of them went to jail—not long enough, but they went to jail. So, it was interesting times: you have the oil development on one hand and I always said that I would do these weird jobs like this Capital Improvement Program if I got to build a museum, too. So, they said, “Okay.” And we built a museum in one of the small villages, called Anaktuvuk Pass. It was the only inland Eskimo village in Alaska and we built a museum that was probably about 1800 square feet and, last year, they put an addition on it.

EF:
What’s the name of the museum?

JC:
The Simon Paneak Memorial Museum. Simon Paneak was a guy who had done research

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

JC:
for scientists from Japan [and] from the United States. He would collect bird samples [and the scientists] taught him how to write. So when the time came it was hard to figure out who the museum was going to be named after. In fact, when they voted in the village, I think it [the voting result] came out 6-5-5-5-5-5 because every family wanted to have their name on [the museum]. So Simon got it.

EF:
What was the staff like at the museum when it just started?

JC:
When it started, we hired an anthropologist from the University of Alaska who had lived in Anaktuvuk Pass in a sod house for eighteen years at that time. So, we hired him and put him in charge of the museum and the library and he just retired a year or so ago. His name was Grant Spearman. He loved the village [and] spent most of his life there and was really instrumental in doing most of the ground research for the exhibits and for a whole series of educational pamphlets that the state put out for statewide distribution. We picked the right guy.

EF:
Have you had a chance to return to the museum?

JC:
I haven’t been back. You know, they had, it must have been, the twentieth anniversary or twenty-fifth and I didn’t make it back. They invited me, but I just couldn’t do it. I had some of the most harrowing experiences of my life flying in small planes [up] Anaktuvuk Pass [laughs]. I wasn’t sure I needed to do that again.

EF:
You finished in Barrow in the late ’80s, correct?

JC:
I think we [Florence and JC] moved to Anchorage in ’83 and then my job kept me flying back and forth to Barrow between Anchorage and Barrow almost weekly. And then in ’86 we moved to Pennsylvania. [We] sold the house in Anchorage, moved to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Not with a job in mind, we just moved.

EF:
Where is Wellsboro?

JC:
Wellsboro. It’s in Tioga County.

EF:
Is that north-central [Pennsylvania]?

JC:
Yes, it’s not too far from Corning [New York], actually. We moved there and bought a small farm and I got a job going back and forth to Barrow from Pennsylvania to work on different projects. It’s an interesting phenomenon: once they trust somebody, that seems to take over more of the judging whether it’s financially feasible to have that person work for you or not. It doesn’t seem to matter, as long as they can trust you or feel they can trust you. It was, once again, a really good time for me because I could do other projects at the same time since I was working on contract for them and I took one on. Carl Nold was at the Pennsylvania State Museum at the time as the director and I met him at an AASLH [American Association for State and Local History] meeting up in Rochester [New York] and he said, “How’d you like to be the guest curator for a show on the WPA [Works Progress Administration] in Pennsylvania?” And I said, “Well, that sounds interesting.” So, he didn’t have a lot of money, but we made it. We found many more things than we expected. It started out to be a 3400 square feet show and it ended up being almost 9,000 so we kept finding stuff. I enjoyed the experience [and] got around the state a lot.

EF:
Did you have an interest in the New Deal programs or Works Progress [Administration]?

JC:
Not before that, I hadn’t done any real reading about it, but I became absorbed in it. It was just interesting times—so many different programs going on.

EF:
So you got to travel around Pennsylvania?

JC:
Oh yes. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, all over, small towns. You would run into an account in the newspaper and, [in] a small town, Santa Claus came to town in a WPA truck. It still said, “WPA,” right on the side of the truck and I couldn’t borrow the truck for the exhibit because they needed it for Santa Claus [laughs]. But we found another one.

EF:
That’s great. So you were doing contract work in northern Pennsylvania. What was life outside of work like in Pennsylvania?

JC:
Oh, it was wonderful. At one time, we had 60 [or] 70 ewes, I think, so [when] lambing [came], we’d have 90 lambs.

EF:
You lived on a farm out there with Florence?

JC:
Oh yes, and we farmed it. [We] put up a ton of fencing and spent all [of] that Alaska money putting up fencing in Pennsylvania for sheep, but it was fun. I mean, that was a really good part of our life.

EF:
Can you go into some more detail about that?

JC:
I should say that when we were living in Barrow, we adopted our daughter from Korea. She came in ‘83, just as we were leaving Barrow. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we left Barrow. We couldn’t trust the medical service in Barrow, so Florence kept flying back and forth to Fairbanks [Alaska] and just got tired of it and we moved to Anchorage again. But the funny thing about that was that the people in Barrow thought the baby was an Eskimo. They kept saying, “Whose baby is that?” [laughs]

EF:
[laughs] How old was she at the time?

JC:
Nine months.

EF:
You moved from Alaska to Pennsylvania with Florence and Kate and what was it like raising Kate on a farm?

JC:
Oh it was great, absolutely great. I mean, it was all new to her, but it didn’t matter, she was only nine months old. It wasn’t like she had anything else implanted on her before that. The only problem we had was that it was a small community and Kate kind of stuck out when she went to class because there weren’t many people of color. But we had an interest in trying to homeschool anyway, so we started that, I think, when we were in Pennsylvania. And then the farmer across the street sold out to a land developer from Philadelphia who wanted to build 140 houses on the 240 acres and we just decided we didn’t want to do that. So I applied for a job in Oregon, in eastern Oregon, for [the] Japanese American—

EF:
Four Rivers [Cultural Center]?

JC:
Yes, later [it was called] Four Rivers, but earlier on it was called the Japanese American something Museum. Then it became the Treasure Valley Cultural Center and then it became Four Rivers. It sounded interesting—it was certainly a more diverse community [than Tioga County, Pennsylvania]. We had to raise $12.5 million, so it took a while.

EF:
I understand you were there for about six years?

JC:
Yes.

EF:
‘92 was when you moved out there?

JC:
Was that when we got there? Yes, I think it was—‘92 to ‘98.

EF:
And [did] you successfully raise that money?

JC:
All except for [$]175,000 maybe and the board wouldn’t listen to me. They said, “Oh, we’re just going to borrow it.” And I said, “You’re never going to be able to pay it back.” And sure enough, they still haven’t paid it back. [Florence and I] stopped there a couple years ago when we went through and talked to a couple of the former board members and had dinner with them, but it was a good time.

EF:
That town was Ontario.

JC:
Ontario, Oregon, yes.

EF:
Can you describe Ontario?

JC:
Yes, it’s on the eastern side of Oregon [and] it’s flatter than a pancake, the whole terrain around there’s flat; in fact, [the local farmers] use laser-levelers to level their onion fields. They plant only two crops, onions and potatoes. Everybody has a contract at the beginning of the year to sell their onions and their potatoes—the onions to an onion processor there in town and the potatoes to Jack Simplot, who is the supplier of potatoes for McDonald’s [Restaurants] all over the place, here and as far as China. So they’re pretty wealthy farmers. They’re row crop farmers and some of them still use an awful lot of migrant labor for fieldwork, for stacking onions and stuff. When we were leaving, they started getting in new crops because right near our house there was a field of mint that always had a wonderful smell to it when they drove a tractor through it or something. But I enjoyed the people there. There was a fairly good sized population of Japanese-American people, most of whom—or their families—had been interned during World War II, just east of [Ontario] in Minidoka, Idaho.

EF:
Ok, so Ontario was on the Oregon-Idaho border? Did you hear any stories about those camps?

JC:
Oh sure, all the time. We sponsored a meeting in Minidoka and brought back a whole lot of people who had been in the [internment] camps and got them to walk around the [Minidoka National Historic] Site and talk about it, which was really interesting. There was a woman who showed up [to the meeting], who had bought a hotel in Seattle and downstairs in the hotel were all these suitcases and boxes and trunks of stuff that the Japanese-Americans had left when they went off to the camp. They couldn’t take it with them, they were only allowed to take one bag. She was there at that meeting asking what she could do with [the suitcases, boxes, and trunks] and I said, “I know one thing you could do with it.” [laughs] But, she didn’t. I think she kept it.

EF:
[She] didn’t donate anything [the suitcases, boxes, and trunks]?

JC:
No, no. But I think they did the whole downstairs as a museum in the hotel.

EF:
And that was in Seattle and do you know if that is still around?

JC:
You know, I don’t know. There is a novel about something like that, At the Corner of—Florence has got it—I’ll check on that. But it’s a novel about a woman who buys this hotel and finds this basement full of stuff. It’s actually about kids going in there to find things from their families. It was interesting. So we got to meet fairly frequently, too, with the people in Los Angeles who were doing the Japanese American National Museum at the time. We were in the same planning phase, [but] they had to raise a lot more money than we did. I think our goal was [$]11.5 million and they were talking [about raising] quite a bit more. But, I really enjoyed it. We’d do different things to focus on the diversity of [Ontario], so we got to the point where a Japanese-American woman in town—third generation—had a restaurant. Made wonderful food. We got the idea, why can’t we have the Basque community do food, too? A lot of Basque came there as sheep herders; in fact, they started out in that area from Nevada all the way up through Oregon as sheep herders. Today, they’re Peruvians, but there was a good sized Basque population. So, one night a week they’d take over one of the restaurants in town and produce Basque food and that was a lot of fun. Then, somebody said, “You know, we’ve got a lot of Hispanics around here.” Nobody knew how many they had. When we looked at it, 40 percent of the population was Hispanic. And everybody said, “Well, how come you don’t see them?” Well you don’t invite them anywhere, that’s why [laughs]. We put two Hispanic members of the community on our board; the mayor in the town said, “Where’d you find these guys?” I said, “One of them lives within a block of City Hall, where you work everyday,” and, “They’ve lived here for 25 years. These are not migrant workers.” But it was a new concept to them—they just assumed that every Hispanic was a migrant worker. I can remember, we invited Ishmael Hernandez and his wife to our house with their kids for dinner one night—

EF:
I’m sorry, who is he?

JC:
He was one of the board members eventually, but at that time he was an educator. He worked on education for the school district. It was kind of a roving school district. He also dealt with migrant labor camps, with education in the camps. And I can remember when he pulled up to the house because he was very hesitant about getting out of the car. So I walked outside and I said, “What’s the matter?” And he said, “Well, I’ve never been invited to an Anglo’s house before.” [laughs] I said, “Well, so what? Come on [in].” When we were putting the exhibits together, too, we tried to involve all the communities as much as possible, so that made it even more interesting.

EF:
Did you have that opportunity in any of the other museums—[working with] that variety of different cultures?

JC:
No, see [when I was in] Anaktuvuk Pass, there were 153 people who lived in the village and 150 of them were Eskimos, so you don’t get that same opportunity everywhere. Other jobs that I had were mostly contract jobs. I worked on contract for a long, long time and didn’t have a chance [to work with other cultures]. When I was in Anchorage—I’m trying to think of the timing on that because I was still working in Barrow when the State Museum asked me if I would help to design a native arts and cultural center for Alaska.

EF:
You were in Barrow from ‘79 to ‘86, I think.

JC:
Well, more or less, yes.

EF:
Did you say you were in Anchorage in ‘83 as well?

JC:
We moved back to Anchorage in ‘83. We actually lived in Barrow from ‘81 to ‘83 and I was working for the same North Slope Borough in Anchorage before we moved up [to Barrow] and then again, later, in Anchorage when we moved back down to Anchorage. Once again, when I did that project for the State Museum, it was a diverse audience, but it was Eskimos and Indians and Aleuts from all the different linguistic groups and from all the regions of Alaska. They asked me because I lived in Barrow for three years and they thought I could probably get along with them. They hadn’t had any luck at all with people being able to deal with [Alaska Natives]. In Alaska, there are more Eskimos and more natives living in Anchorage than anywhere else in the state, so they call it the biggest Eskimo village in Alaska. Those urban Eskimos wanted quite different things in their cultural center than the ones who lived in Barrow, Nome, and other places around the state, so it was difficult to do. But that was a very interesting project because we flew all over the country with this committee of people, looking at native arts centers, many of which had been built in 1965 to ’68. There was a federal program to build local museums; in fact, the Anchorage Museum was built during that time. We flew to New York first, to Buffalo, to Niagara Falls. There was a museum there called the Turtle Museum and it was in the shape of a turtle. It was designed by a Native American from Minnesota named Dennis Sun Rhodes and it’s a beautiful building that now sits empty. [It had] a wonderful start.

EF:
It just ran out of funding?

JC:
Yes. They were able to get all the capital funding and then they got some operating support when Hugh Carey was governor of New York but that was the last state money they got, and it just folded.

EF:
Well, that’s fascinating about Ontario.

JC:
It was an interesting town. But then we left there. Oh, that was the time I won $100,000 in the Powerball lottery, too.

EF:
What was that like?

JC:
I bought a ticket and—I always just stick them in my pocket and forget about them—walked in to get a donut at the grocery store and they had a sign up that said, “We sold a big winner,” and I pulled out my ticket and I said, “Hell, that’s me!” It was interesting. It didn’t change anything [laughs]. We didn’t change our plans or anything, we still stayed until we had the place open. But then we decided to move again.

EF:
Where did you move after Oregon?

JC:
Vermont. Not for a job or anything, we just decided to move to Vermont. We had a little latitude because we had some money in the bank. We put our house up for sale in Oregon and moved to Vermont and bought a house there.

EF:
Where in Vermont?

JC:
Vergennes. I started looking around for work. I got contract work right away: a job up in Maine and another one in New York. So, that was pretty well covered for a while. Then we started doing things with the house. We had a big carriage barn that sat right next to the house that was tilting, so we had a guy come in and straighten it up. And then we hired another guy to come in and redo the inside, so he put a new staircase in and all of that stuff so we could use it for an office.

EF:
What was that property like compared with the one in Pennsylvania?

JC:
Much different. The one in Vergennes was just a city lot and a very, very small city lot. There was hardly enough grass to throw snow onto off the sidewalk [laughs]. It had that space and a little bit of space behind the house, but not that much. It was really a city place. We just liked the house and it was a good move for us because when we later sold the house, it turned over pretty easily.

EF:
I know you had mentioned it was tough raising Kate in Pennsylvania.

JC:
It wasn’t any easier in Vermont. She decided that she wanted to go to the regular school for senior year, so she did. I think she suffered from the fact that she didn’t know anybody.

EF:
She was a senior in high school at this time?

JC:
Yes. And I think before we left Vermont, she went off to Castleton [State College] and was still there when we moved to New York. We went to New York because a couple of people asked me if I would come and be an interim director at Museum Village [of Old Smith’s Clove] in Orange County. Well, I went to see the place and what a wreck! It was not only that the buildings were not taken care of, but there was insulation falling off of wiring and you could see sparks back and forth across this line that was just opened across the air. I said, “This could be a real big job.” And he said, “We’re willing to spend $500,000 [on repairs].” And I said, “[That’s] not near enough.” And he said, “Well, can we try it for $500,000?” and I said, “Sure.” So we stayed there for two years, I think, bought another house in Florida, New York, in Orange County. [It was] another nice house. We stayed there for two years and I told them, “Your $500,000 is gone and there’s still a heck of a lot of work to do.” We made a heck of a start because we had a lot of civic groups who were willing to come and help and we painted all the buildings that needed [to be] painted and we got a grant from the state to redo the electrical system. But, it was still a junky looking place. It needed new restrooms and things like that that were far beyond the willingness of this couple to pay for. So, we decided to move again.

EF:
What year was this again?

JC:
Well, that’s a good question.

EF:
From my notes, you were the director at the Museum Village from 2001 to 2003. And then—

JC:
And then in 2003 we came to Cooperstown. We bought a house, rented a house in Milford while the house was being done in Burlington Flats, and Cindy Falk’s husband, Glenn, is the one who did it for us.

EF:
That’s the house where you currently live with Florence?

JC:
Yes. The place had plywood on the walls, plywood on the ceilings, and so they [Florence and Glenn] tore it all off and insulated and sheet-rocked it. In the meantime, I was looking for work again and I got a job.

EF:
Huguenot Historical Society?

JC:
Well, that was one of them. One at the Huguenot [Historical Society] and there was more work up in Maine. Marilyn [Hinkley]—another CGP alum—who was having trouble with her board and wanted to do strategic planning, so I started helping her a couple years before that and then they stopped and she wanted to start up again. So I was still traveling down to the Huguenot Historical Society [in New Paltz, New York] and teaching at the same time. I started doing some adjunct teaching through the [Cooperstown] Graduate Program. Then [in 2005], Mike Stein [Vice President of Development at Bassett Healthcare] was doing some contract work for [Steve Elliot, former President of the New York State Historical Association] at the time—and Mike asked me if I could come in and run the office staff because he didn’t have enough time to do it. So I did that on contract for a year and, in the meantime, they were still looking for a full-time Vice President for Development, and they had four or five candidates while I was in this contract position. Steve said, “Why don’t you just apply for the job?” And I said, “Ok.” So, we had a meeting with Jane [Forbes Clark, President of the Clark Foundation] and she said, “Do you think you can raise money for The Farmers’ Museum?” And I told her I could raise money for her if she could put the magic back.

EF:
What did you mean by that?

JC:
Well, Steve Elliot said, “Could you be a little more clear about that?” [laughs] And I said, “When I was here as a graduate student, the whole place was magic. You didn’t have as skilled a blacksmith, but you had an old farmer who was a blacksmith. And when the kids came in, he’d hold his hammer out and show them how strong he was and he’d teach them how to do things.” And she [Jane] said, “I know who you mean. When I was growing up, he was there, too. I went in one time and he had these little things made out of iron—they were rings with crosspieces on them and I asked him what they were. And he said, “they were snowshoes for some animal.” So she said she went home and told her dad about it and he said, “Oh my God, I wonder what other things he’s telling people.” [laughs] But she knew what I meant when I talked about magic.

[START OF TRACK 4, 0:00]

JC:
I kept that job for three years [and] quit in 2008, October, with every intention of not working again. Gretchen had other plans.

EF:
And what were those plans?

JC:
I taught periodically through all those years at NYSHA and then sat in on part of the process of hiring Mike Flinton when he came. And then—

EF:
I’m sorry, Mike was a professor at CGP?

JC:
He was hired as the first full-time person to teach [museum] management. I don’t know how many years he was here. He had to leave at the beginning of the fall semester in 2011 and he left in October. Gretchen asked me to come in and fill out the year, so I did. In the springtime, it became clear to me that she wasn’t looking very hard to find another replacement, so I signed on for this second year, but this will be the end of that.

EF:
So, Spring 2013, that’s it.

JC:
Did we cover all of those points you have there?

EF:
[laughs] That doesn’t matter, John.

JC:
[laughs]

EF:
We are running out of time because I only have this [room] reserved until noon, but this is going to be your last semester coming up at CGP, so I did want to ask you what your plans are for retirement?

JC:
The first time I retired what was most important to me was not having a schedule, being able to sit down and read if I wanted to, to go outside and work, take a walk, get in the car and go away somewhere. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that. We [Florence and JC are] already planning a trip across the country—we’ll drive across the country and probably fly to Alaska.

EF:
Stop back in Barrow?

JC:
No, we don’t go to Barrow when we’re up [laughs]. We have good enough memories of Barrow. I mean, where else would you get to see the whaling ceremony or whales pulled up on the ice? Florence had the best part of that: she got to go out on the sea ice. They had a whale census station twenty miles offshore on the pack ice and there was a lead on the pack ice and they set their towers up there to count whales. One of our friends was in the whale count and he got her on the snow-machine and took her out there. She never thought about the fact that she was twenty miles offshore.

EF:
[laughs] I’d love to hear more about that, but unfortunately our time is running out.

JC:
[laughs]

EF:
I just want to close [by] asking you, what has Cooperstown and CGP meant to you in the whole span of your career?

JC:
You know, the interesting thing is, when I first went out and took a job after being here, it never occurred to me that there were other Cooperstown people out there. When I was in Alaska, there was a guy in Sitka who’d been there for ten years since he’d graduated from Cooperstown and I ran into him at a museum meeting in Anchorage about the second year I was there. We got to be fast friends and it was just that notion of some connection or shared experience. Then later on, Cooperstown meant an awful lot because [of] the connections, more than anything else. I never used them for getting a job—except I may have when Carl Nold asked me to do that guest curatorship. But other than that, it wasn’t until I came back to live in this area that it started meaning more because you’d see people all the time. I worked with people in the community, from Marianne Bez to a couple of people who are now at the [National Baseball] Hall of Fame, who were doing contract work when I got here, so I would contract with them knowing I’d get a decent product. To me, it started out being a real blast when I was a student and then it’s just an interesting phenomenon now. I’m glad to have been a part of it.

EF:
That’s great. Well, I can’t thank you enough. I really appreciate your time and I appreciate you giving us this great interview, so thanks again.

JC:
You bet.

[END OF TRACK 4, 5:40]

Duration

01:35:40
30:00 - Part 1
30:00 - Part 2
30:00 - Part 3
05:40 - Part 4

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Eric Feingold, “John Carnahan, November 15, 2012,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 12, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/125.