Margaret Parsons, November 24, 2020

Title

Margaret Parsons, November 24, 2020

Subject

Boston, MA
Boston University
Brentano’s Bookstore
Community
Cooperstown Graduate Program
Cooperstown, NY
COVID-19
Environmental Stewardship
Film
Folklife
Glimmerglass Film Days
Hog Butchering
Keck, Caroline (1908–2007)
Keck, Sheldon (1910–1993)
Main Street (Cooperstown, NY)
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute
Museum Conversation and Preservation
New York City, NY
Photography
Smalley’s Theatre (Cooperstown, NY)
Utica, NY

Description

Margaret “Peggy” Parsons (née Bouslough) was born December 23, 1946 in Richmond, Virginia. As a child, she moved with her parents to Utica, New York, where she later graduated from the Utica Free Academy in 1964. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Boston University in 1968, before taking a year to visit Europe and work in New York City. She then attended the Cooperstown Graduate Program and received a Master of Arts in Museum Studies in 1970. Following her graduation, she moved to Washington D.C., where she continues to live today. She has worked for the National Gallery of Art since 1978; her current position is Film Curator.

Since childhood, Margaret Parsons has been interested in museums and art history, believing in the importance of preserving the past. She has worked at the Boston Children’s Museum in Massachusetts and in the Slides Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has a particular interest in photography, a skill she acquired during her time at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. This grew into an appreciation for film which she later brought back to Cooperstown, having founded the Glimmerglass Film Days festival in 2012. Mrs. Parsons may one day retire to Cooperstown, New York.

During the interview, Mrs. Parsons recalls her time at the Cooperstown Graduate Program from her application to graduation. A focus is placed on location—her home and the businesses on Main Street—and the program’s curriculum. Due to Mrs. Parsons long history with the city, having visited often since the late 1970s, comparisons are drawn between the Cooperstown of 1970 and its transformation into the Cooperstown of today. This transformation includes Parsons’s own work in bringing a film festival to the village.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the interview was conducted remotely via Zoom, with Mrs. Parsons at her home in Washington, D.C. The pandemic also affected Cooperstown’s Glimmerglass Film Days, which was held virtually this year. Mrs. Parsons visited Cooperstown in early November to finish preparations. By the time of this interview, the virtual festival had concluded successfully.

Creator

David Gain

Publisher

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

Date

2020-11-24

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mp3
42.9mB
image/jpeg
1170 x 872 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

20-008

Coverage

Upstate NY
Cooperstown, NY
1946-2020

Interviewer

David Gain

Interviewee

Margaret Parsons

Location

Washington, D.C.
Oneonta, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2020

DG = David Gain
MP = Margaret Parsons

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

DG:
This is David Gain, interviewing Margaret Parsons on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020 as part of the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Oral History Project. We’re recording remotely on the video conferencing platform Zoom. Ms. Parsons is at her home in Washington, DC, and I’m in my home and Oneonta, New York. To start Ms. Parsons, would you tell me your name and your current place of employment?

MP:
Yeah, it’s Margaret, Bouslough is my middle name, and it’s Parsons. And I work at National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

DG:
How long have you worked at the National Gallery of Art?

MP:
I actually started at the National Gallery on January 2nd of 1978.

DG:
That’s exciting! So, have you have always been interested in museums?

MP:
Yeah, I have, I have actually. When I was a kid, growing up in Utica, NY, one of my favorite things to do after school—probably because I was a loner, I was a bit of a loner. We lived right in the center of town and it was an easy walk, but I would, even as a, well, this is more like high school because the grade school that I went to was not near here. But the high school was near the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. And when I started in high school, it was the fall of 1960, and the new building had not opened yet; the one that looks like a cube, was designed by Philip Johnson, that had actually not opened. It must have been under construction because I think it opened in 1960. So, maybe in the late fall. But I used to go to the Fountain Elms, which is the home that’s there, the Italianate House that’s part of the museum. I used to just hang out there after school, with hardly anybody there. I guess there was no admission and they didn’t mind that a young girl was coming in to look at the paintings and, you know, I just enjoyed the atmosphere.

There was also an art school that was open to anybody. It was not Pratt Institute at that time, it was just Munson-Williams-Proctor Art School. So, I finally enrolled, I forget what year it was, maybe Sophomore year of high school. I finally enrolled and I took virtually all the art classes that they offered at that time. There was sculpture, there was painting, there was metal arts. I don’t know, I think there was something else too, and so I took them all. So, that was my initiation in museums. Then when I was in college, I was on a sort of what they call a work study program and part of my work for a couple of years was at the Boston Children’s Museum, which at that time was not on the waterfront where it is now, it was in Jamaica Plain. It was a big old house, like Victorian house, in Jamaica Plain, which is a section of Boston. I used to take the bus to go there and I worked in the museum. Then one summer I worked there full-time, more or less, with the objects in the collection and applying accession numbers [laughter] to the objects in their collection. So, you know, yeah. So, it goes on from there.

DG:
So, you received your Master’s degree at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. That was still a fairly new program—it started in ’64. How did you hear about the Cooperstown Graduate Program?

MP:
I actually heard about it—even though I grew up fairly close—I was in Boston as an undergrad and I didn’t know about it. But there was a woman that I knew from Boston University. She was a year ahead of me and she worked. Her job was to work in one of the dining rooms at Boston University, and it happened to be a dining room that I went to quite a bit in one of the larger dormitories. Her name was Alison Swift, and then she became Alison Swift MacTavish eventually. But Alison Swift told me about it; she was going to go to this program. And at one point we—I don’t know what year it was, it must have been ’68, because I didn’t go right away. I took a year off to work. Probably in either late ’67 or ’68, Alison Swift told me about this and it sounded interesting to me. We just know each other from, you know I would see her; she was the checkout person at this dining room at BU. We were kind of friendly but not really close friends, but we knew each other. So, she gave me the literature about it and I thought, “Gee, it sounds pretty interesting.” So, I just sort of filed it away and I didn’t apply for a full year later. I didn’t want to go to graduate school right away, so I did take a year off. I only applied to two programs going to grad school. One was Cooperstown and the other was Tufts University in art history for a Master’s. And so, I wanted to think about that and sort of let it all sink in. And I was accepted for Tufts in art history, but I decided on Cooperstown. I don’t remember my reasons why, but they accepted me and I went.

DG:
Where were you in the gap year between BU in Cooperstown?

MP:
I graduated from BU in May of ’68. One of the things I really wanted to do was to travel to Europe, because in the end I majored in art history—I sort of had a combined major in sociology and art history—but I really wanted to see all of the Baroque churches and all that stuff that I’d been studying in art history. So, as a graduation present, one of my father’s sisters gave me enough money to spend about six weeks in Europe. And I mean I lived very cheaply. But I wanted to do that, so I spent virtually all of July and part of August traveling around Europe and looking at all the churches and all the museums and all of that stuff and taking it all in by myself because I just wanted to experience it. I didn't really have a plan after that, but I came back to Boston and I got a job in a bookstore that was called Brentano’s. Brentano’s was a big art bookstore, it was actually was based in New York. It was B-R-E-N-T-A-N-O-S. And it was a well-known bookstore chain, very high end. Their main office, I mean their main store, was on I think Fifth Avenue in New York and they specialized in art books and, you know, really, really good stuff. The one in Boston was in the Prudential Center at that time, because the Prudential Center has a shopping center. They needed a person to work in the Gallery, what they called the Gallery within the bookstore where they sold prints and jewelry and stuff like that. They wanted, they called it Gallery Manager, but basically I was just a salesperson, but it was interesting work.

I think it was the following spring I decided that I ought to apply—or maybe it was that fall—I decided I ought to apply to grad school for the following year. So, I did, but I knew that this job was temporary. And then when I was accepted, I wanted to move to New York, New York City, for the summer before I moved to Cooperstown. Also, I was following, I think a boyfriend had moved to New York and I had to be there. But anyway, so I got a job for the summer before I left for Cooperstown. I got a summer job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Which was really good; it was good experience for me. I worked in something called the Slide Library. Cataloging slides and again doing little labels for slides, and I had great fun. I lived with a couple of girls in New York, but I knew I was going to grad school so that was just a summer job.

DG:
So, you went from Boston to Europe to New York to the village of Cooperstown?

MP:
Right. [laughter]

DG:
How was that experience moving?

MP:
Well, I kind of knew Cooperstown a little bit because I had grown up not too far away and I’d made several trips there with my parents for various reasons. I think one of them was the summer theater. There was a great summer theater when I was growing up called, I think it was called Leatherstockings Summer Theater. It’s still there on Route 80, but at that time it was really, really active all the time, very famous. So, I know we went there a couple of times for plays and to eat and that sort, and I had relatives in Otsego County. So, I knew the village a little bit and I knew it would be—but I wasn’t unhappy making that move from the cities. First of all, I knew it would be temporary. Secondly, I really wanted to get a degree. And I knew that I would be studying and all of that kind of stuff. So, I didn’t mind it. I figured I’d get out after a year, because at that time the program was a full year, it wasn’t two years. And actually, I was very glad I did, because I had a great time. I had a great time in Cooperstown.

DG:
Where did you live while you were in Cooperstown?

MP:
75 Pioneer Street. I lived with two other students. The house that we lived in—which of course is still there, it’s painted a different color now—but it’s not far from Main Street. It’s kind of near the church, I think it’s two houses to the right of the Presbyterian Church. So, that house was owned by the father of one of the students in my class and she was looking for roommates. When I showed up in Cooperstown, I did not have a place to live. This was like the end of August. I didn’t have a place to live, but there was a woman in the White House who was helping with housing and she said, “Well, I know Pam Hoes needs another roommate, she only has one roommate in this house. You should go talk to her.” So, I did. And Pam said, “Fine,” so I had a bedroom in this house and there was Pam and then there was another student, Ruth—Ruth Stearns. So, we spent the year there together and it all worked. It was good. It was a good housing situation.

DG:
What did you do for fun while in Cooperstown?

MP:
Well, I did not have a car. I had a bike. I could drive, but I, actually to be honest, I couldn’t afford to buy a car at that time. I didn’t want to hit up my parents for the money. They had just one car, so I got a bike. I used to love to bike ride, I don’t do it anymore here in Washington, I sort of gave it up. In the fall especially it was beautiful, I remember taking long bike rides and that’s how I got to class. I was the only person who went to class on a bike. I don’t know if anybody does that now, but if you saw a bike out front of the White House or the Library you knew Peggy was there. Then as we started to meet people, we just had a lot of parties. We’d have sherry parties. Sherry parties were something that the Hoes house was famous for—we’d call it the Hoes House. I guess Pam, the owner Pamela Hoes, she sort of originated this idea because her parents must have done it or something. Nevertheless, we’d buy these huge bottles of Taylor’s New York State sherry, like the cheapest sherry possible. We’d invite other students over. I don’t think we ever had faculty come over; but we’d have students, and Pam had a lot of friends there. She actually had been living in Washington because she went to American University and came to Cooperstown right out of AU. But her parents had friends. So, there were always, like maybe once a week or I can’t remember now if it was that often. Probably not that often, more like once a month we’d have sherry parties. She had a fire—we had a fireplace. During the winter it was a wonderful place to hang out, the Hoes house, because the fireplace would be going in the living room. Pam knew how to do all of that. So, that was one way we had fun. Then as I got to know students who had cars, we’d drive around, we’d go to different places. We weren’t really going to Sharon Springs then, I know that’s sort of a popular thing now, but Sharon Springs wasn’t on the map the way it is now. Or if it was at least I didn’t go there, but we would drive around the country, we’d go to Utica.

In Cooperstown itself I spent, not a lot of time, but I went to movies at Smalley’s on Main Street. The theater was still going. I can picture it now. It was a long skinny auditorium. With a center aisle, there were no side aisles, just one center aisle; long and skinny. I would like to sit, about in the middle, not in the back but in the middle. And I saw, you know, a bunch of movies there. I was trying to recall this morning what movies I did see there. Sometimes I’d go with a friend in the program and sometimes I’d go alone. I’m pretty sure it was open year-round. You know I was kind of busy most of the time, so I didn’t spend a lot of time going to films. And we didn’t watch television. We didn’t. I don’t know if we even had a TV in the Hoes house. At least I wasn’t watching it. Most of the big films that I saw had been released the year before, because Cooperstown was like Second Circuit; it wasn’t the First Circuit. They would have to wait for the films to get there. But I do remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released in ’68. I saw it in, I’m guessing the late fall of ’69 or maybe the winter of ’70. I remember seeing Planet of the Apes. Planet of the Apes I saw there and really liked it. And there was another really biggie that I saw—oh oh, Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand, which had also been released a little earlier and then that it opened at Smalley’s. There were others too, but those three I remember quite vividly. I might have seen The Thomas Crown Affair, the original version of it. There’s been a remake, but the original version with Faye Dunaway and, oh the actor who died, who was a motorcyclist. I can’t think of his name right now. Steve McQueen! I mean, there’s another Steve McQueen now, but the original Steve McQueen was this blonde actor who was also a pretty heavy-duty motorcycle driver. But anyway, I remember seeing those movies there. So, there were things to do. There were things to do on Main Street.

DG:
So, you’re obviously a fan of film: you’re a film curator. How was the curriculum at Cooperstown? Did they incorporate any sort of film into their history track?

MP:
No, no, not at all. I don’t recall any of that. No, absolutely not. I’d go to Utica sometimes with friends to see movies. But there was no film component. Video hadn’t been invented yet really. I mean, it was being invented, there were people in Buffalo—the State University in Buffalo—who were doing video experiments then like video arts. But in ’69 there was no video. You could do home movies, of course; 16-millimeter home movies, 8-millimeter home movies. But we were into slides. If we did any documentation, it was all slide documentation and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the photography aspect of it. We had practicums in photography, and of course Milo Stewart was on the staff and he taught. Milo Stewart, the great photographer who has since died. And Ann Stewart—his daughter, Ann—was on the staff. I mean this precedes you, but she worked for the CGP. She was just a little girl when I was there, but she was on the staff of CGP for a number of years. Anyway, Milo was a terrific photographer. He gave courses in photography, lectures in photography, and he taught us all to use the darkroom. I spent a lot of happy time making prints in the darkroom of the White House. And that’s where I really honed my photographic skills, which I kept up. I’m being told my Internet connection is unstable.

DG:
It’s good. It’s good.

MP:
It’s OK. So, you were asking how, one of the things I really enjoyed was doing my own photography and printing. I loved it. Some of our courses we had to use the camera. One of the first things that I did in Cooperstown for one of the classes, and I don’t know which one, but we had to make a slideshow about anything we wanted to make a slideshow about. Mine was, this was in the fall, I remember it very well, so it was like maybe October or maybe even late September. I made a slideshow, all black and white slides, about walking around Cooperstown. I would do things like, I would take photographs of my feet with the leaves, you know, walking down the street with my foot on the leaves. There was an A&P store, a big food store in that white building on Main Street that used to be a CVS and now is nothing. But at that time, it was a grocery store, a supermarket called A&P, which stood for “Atlantic and Pacific.” It was a big, big, big chain. So, I went in the A&P and I took photographs inside the store, the outside of the store. I took some photographs walking. I think I must have walked out to Fenimore with this photo project, so it had to be warm enough to walk. So, it was early fall. I loved making that slide show, which now would be a PowerPoint. But then we were making 2x2, in my case, black-and-white slides. Everything was black and white for this project. And we put them together in a carousel tray, and then we had a class where we would show our slideshow to the other students. So, that for me was a lot of fun; photography.

DG:
So, you mentioned the other students. I know that there was also a folk studies track at Cooperstown around the same time. Did you interact with them at all during your time at Cooperstown?

MP:
Oh absolutely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I took at least, maybe two classes from Rod Roberts. Rod Roberts was the folklorist on staff. He gave basic courses in folk history and folklore. I mean he must have given enough classes for a major, but it wasn’t my major, but I liked the classes. In fact, the project that we had to do that year, I think the entire class was doing it, was a folklore project. We had to document a family hog butchering in the area. I’m pretty sure everybody was doing this, the folk students and the museum students because it’s local history. So, we had to, on our own, every student had to find a family that was going to butcher a hog and then we had to show up. We interviewed the family, we had to document the butchering. It should be in the archives there; all of this stuff should be in the archives. But I found a family, I don’t remember how. I attended. The butcherings are always in November when the weather is cold but there’s not a lot of snow on the ground. So, they allowed me to be there with my camera and my tape recorder and I mean I don’t know what I said or how I set up the interview, but I do remember taking a lot of photographs. I tried to make mine arty [laughter]. And there was a little bit of snow on the ground. They did the butchering in an outdoor kettle. They had a big iron kettle. Well, they didn’t do the butchering in the kettle—they would put all the parts of the hog that they weren’t going to use into the kettle to make, I think they were going to make scrapple, which is basically all the remains of the hog and they end up making loaves of scrapple and slicing it. Yeah, so I did that.

There was also a conservation program. I don’t know if that was your next question, but the conservation program was basically where your building is now. It was in that area, so it was separate from our [campus]. Our campus consisted of the White House and the Library, what we called the Library. I think it’s still called the Library. All of our classes were at one or the other of those places, and then once in a while we’d meet in the Fenimore House too. We knew the conservation students a little bit, but we didn’t really interact the way we did with the folklore and the museum studies people because they were on a different track altogether. But, we did get to know the famous couple called the Kecks. Sheldon and Caroline Keck started the conservation program at Cooperstown. They were world famous art conservators who believed in conservation education. They’re kind of important in the history of museum conservation, in fact. They, I think, had been living in New York City, maybe working with one of the museums there and they decided they wanted to launch this program for the State University of New York. So, they set it up, they came to Cooperstown. They were a very famous couple. They were very colorful people, especially Caroline. Maybe you’ve heard stories about her, I don’t know, it was a long time ago. Caroline was very salty, to say the least and she would use four-letter words all the time and nobody stopped her. She was really smart, really down to Earth. So was her husband Sheldon, but he was a different sort of personality. They would give us a couple of lectures at least, or maybe there was an entire class in conservation when we were there, I don’t recall the extent of it. It was good. It was good to have that bit of interaction among the three programs, or the three parts of the program.

DG:
Sounds like there was a diverse set of skills you learned at Cooperstown; how did this prepare you for a life in museums?

MP:
Well, I mean, that’s a deep question. I think I’d have to give that a little more thought, but I think the main takeaway that I had was the importance of preserving the past, which has kind of been a guiding principle in my entire life. I mean, I don’t know to what extent I thought about that before Cooperstown. There must have been something in there because I had all these experiences in museums and historic houses, just because I like to do that, but I didn’t think about it consciously until I came out of Cooperstown. I was really determined that my life would be somehow preserving the past. Well, I shouldn’t say determined, but I knew it was of the utmost importance to me. It’s influenced almost everything that I’ve done, not only my jobs but the way I approach life. I think that was the main takeaway that Cooperstown gave me, rather than specific skills because I never became a registrar even though I took a course in museum registration. And I never became a conservator; I never became a museum director. I did keep my photography skills for a long time and I even for a while was printing pictures here in DC—on photographic paper. I think it was more the orientation toward life that it gave me that was important.

DG:
So, you graduated the Cooperstown Graduate program in 1970, but you've returned to Cooperstown since. Can you tell me a bit about the Glimmerglass Film Days [Festival]?

MP:
Sure. I started coming back to Cooperstown with my husband who had been in the program also. He’s deceased. I should also say that the other important takeaway was that I met my husband who had been in the class preceding me and who stayed on as the archivist. He worked for Bruce Buckley, who was head of the program, and he was the archivist. So, he and I started dating the year that I was there, and then he afterwards went to the University of Pennsylvania and I came to DC. But, we ultimately got married. We didn’t come back much at first. But with Jerry—his name was Jerry Parsons—with Jerry we started coming back to visit, mainly to visit Bruce Buckley, because they stayed friendly and Jerry was in the folklore program. Jerry was in the folklore program, so he was getting his PhD at Penn in folklore. So, he and Bruce, we’d come to Cooperstown. For a while it was almost once a year because I was also seeing my grandfather who was living in Utica. My parents had moved away, but my grandfather was still there. So, we’d make this annual trek. We’d go to Utica, we’d visit my grandfather and a couple other relatives, and then we’d come to Cooperstown and we’d spend maybe two or three days with Bruce Buckley on Elk, he lived on Elk Street in a Victorian house. But then by the mid-’80s—that was like from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s, maybe for ten, eight or ten years. By the late ’80s we weren’t coming back anymore. And then my husband got sick and he was sick for a number of years with cancer, so we didn’t really come to Cooperstown. And also, my grandfather had died. My grandfather died in ’88. I didn’t start coming back again to Cooperstown until the late ’90s.

And I think the first time I came it was because a friend of mine in New York wanted to go to the opera, the Glimmerglass Opera, and she talked me into driving with her up to Cooperstown from New York City. So, I did. We went to the opera. We stayed in some B&B and I said, “Gee, maybe I ought to start coming back here to Cooperstown. This is kind of interesting.” You know I had forgotten how nice it was in the summertime. And then a couple years later I met Cathy Raddatz. I don’t remember how that was, but I remember our meeting. I don’t remember why she called me, but she did. I didn’t know her, you know, because she came to the program later on, long after I was gone. But she found out that I was coming a couple of years later to Cooperstown. She said, “Why don’t we have breakfast?” So, we had breakfast together, Cathy and I in the Otesaga Hotel. We kind of hit it off, we became friends, and then I just started coming back and at first I would only stay in a B&B. And then eventually I bought a little house in Cooperstown. I still have it, although I don’t stay there because it’s a rental property. At one point I thought to myself, “This would be an interesting place for me to think about retiring to eventually.” Because I have roots in New York State, you know. Well, I haven’t retired and I haven’t thought about moving yet, really.

But I did—this was like 2012—I thought if I come to Cooperstown, I want to be sure they have something related to film here. So, I had this idea that maybe an environmental film festival would be an interesting thing to try because there’s such a strong environmental ethic around Cooperstown with all the people on the lake [Otsego Lake] and everything. I somehow found out about Otsego 2000 on my own. Nobody told me about it; I found out about it and I approached Ellen Pope. I just walked into her office one day and I said, “Could we have a meeting?” And I sat down, and we chatted about this idea to have an environmental festival. But I knew it would need some sponsorship and she was running this 501(c)3. So, she took the idea to her board a few weeks later. I came back to DC, I didn’t know what would happen. Eventually she called me and she said, “Well, the board likes the idea.” So, this would have been 2012. And then we had our first festival, sort of an experiment, in the fall of 2013. And we’ve been having one ever since. I am still active in it, although I want to make sure other people are going to be active in it too, so it keeps going. But there’s a steering committee and Ellen does a masterful job of organizing it. I just look at a lot of films and sort of decide what the theme should be and on what the films should be. But then Ellen and her team really do all the work, but I’m glad it’s worked out.

DG:
You mentioned that that first showing was a bit of an experiment. Would you mind talking about, speaking of experiments, the most recent Film Days Festival and how that happened in the age of COVID?

MP:
Ah yeah. Well, we kind of knew very early this year that we weren’t going to have an in-person festival. Partly because all the other festivals in the world were going virtual. It just didn’t seem right, even though we didn’t know what would happen in the fall. For all we knew back in April or May, when we started talking about this, for all we knew COVID was going to go away by the fall. You know maybe we could just be back to normal. Thankfully, we didn’t operate on that assumption; we just did our homework and tried to figure out how we could be virtual. And we have Joey Katz working with us now. Joey is from Cooperstown, his father was the mayor at one time, Jeff Katz. And Joey went to work a few years ago for the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Joey knew how to create a virtual festival technically; he knew who to call, he knew what the drill was in terms of setting all that up. So, that’s what we did. We just kind of almost seamlessly slipped into this virtual mode by calling a company called CineSend. And then by the time that we got ready to load our films, every source of every film knew exactly what was needed: an MP4 file. You send it to CineSend, you upload to the CineSend platform and there you are, you have your virtual festival. So fortunately, because we were rather late in the year, it was easy, much easier than it would have been had we tried to do this in the summer. This virtual festival.

DG:
You were in Cooperstown a few weeks ago prior to the festival coming up. I just want to see, because you were on Main Street, what differences have you seen over the years on Main Street in Cooperstown?

MP:
Well, you know, when I first went back to Cooperstown after being away, which had been almost a decade. When I first went back with my husband around ’70-whatever-that-was—’77, ’79—right away I sensed the difference. It only became more pronounced as the years went by, but it was partly because Main Street—mainly because Main Street seemed much more commercial and somehow rundown at the same time. There were storefronts that used to be real stores—what I call real stores—were now selling baseball souvenirs and somehow I just thought that was sort of odd because they managed all the souvenir selling in a much more efficient way when I was in Cooperstown. When I was living there, it seemed like there were a few designated places for souvenirs and the Hall of Fame itself had a souvenir shop. But the rest of the street was like a normal small town or what at that time was a normal small town where you had functioning businesses selling clothes, selling drugs, selling food. A few restaurants. One of the things that I do recall is that the sidewalks had bigger trees. And I don’t know if I’m imagining that, but I’m pretty sure that the trees were older. That many of the trees were older and they gave a little more elegance to the street itself. I don’t know what kind of trees they were, I don’t know why they eventually were taken down. Maybe they were elm trees and they got the disease. But I don’t want to speculate on that because I really don’t know. But walking along Main Street was like walking along, you know, any village at that time where you could go in and buy groceries or buy cigars. There are still restaurants, of course, and there were restaurants then. They weren’t exactly the same restaurants. But you could just in general do more activities on Main Street. There was just a better vibe. But this has been happening with all cities, in all towns, very slowly, where retail has been going away. But it seemed to start in Cooperstown much earlier and I found that very sad. That it lost that life that I knew.

There was a place—I might have mentioned this to you before—but there was a place. There was a tobacco store, not the one that’s there now, although there might be a connection, but there was a tobacco store that was on the other side of Main Street. Not near Smalley’s, it was more like closer to where Danny’s [Main Street Market] is now. This tobacco store was famous among the guys in the program because you could go up to the counter and the owner, under the counter he had Cuban cigars, which were illegal—maybe they’re still illegal—you could not buy a Cuban cigar unless you knew how to do it. And he had his stash, this guy had his stash. I remember there were guys in our class who would get their Cuban cigars there [laughter]. There was a big drug store, which I don’t recall the name of, but I’m pretty sure it was on the corner of Pioneer and Main. And opposite what is now the Beverage Exchange, but then it was a bookstore, Augur’s bookstore. And a very active bookstore. They had things hot off the press and they had hardcover and paperback and they had nice stationary. That sort of stuff. So yeah.

One of the other things that I liked in Cooperstown, but nobody else seemed to go there was where Mel’s is now on Chestnut and Main—Mel’s Restaurant—there was a little restaurant called Sherry’s, S-H-E-R-R-Y, Sherry’s Restaurant. The building was painted red. I think it might still be red, but the red was a different color. The red was more like a pink, like a really bright pink. Pink-red. And Sherry’s had things like grilled cheese sandwiches and coleslaw and good coffee. And of course, across the street from that was Schneider’s Bakery, which is still there. But what I remember about Schneider’s that differs is that they had much better donuts when I was there. They were famous for their donuts, fried cakes. They were big and they were always fresh and they were very high in fat content. I gained weight that year; I probably gained 10 pounds because I loved Schneider’s donuts so much [laughter].

DG:
I also know that you have served on the Board of the Glimmerglass Opera House and you are a Fenimore Society member—

MP:
Well, I should correct you. I’m not on the board of the Fenimore. I’m on something called the National Council simply because I contribute at a certain level. If you contribute at a certain level, you get put on something called the National Council. But there’s a lot of people on the National Council. I do try to go to the Opera now, you know, but of course they didn’t have it this year.

DG:
[simultaneous] Yeah, I was going to ask—

MP:
[simultaneous] And then—

DG:
No, you go. [laughter]

MP:
No, I think I interrupted you. You were going to say the Fenimore...?

DG:
Yes, the Fenimore Society. I was going to ask about your commitment to the arts in Cooperstown.

MP:
Yeah, yeah, I started doing that. I mean, I’m not wealthy, but I like to contribute a certain amount of my income to the arts. And I decided a few years ago that I should support the arts in Cooperstown to the extent that I can. So, I consider the festival the arts, the Film Festival, which I give my time to. And then Fenimore, yeah, and the Opera. I also contribute to the Village Library, a little bit—Friends of the Village Library—and the Summer Music Festival. I try to give annual contributions.

DG:
Sorry, I’m just looking at my notes, pardon me. [pause] So, before we wrap up anything, I just want to see if there’s any particular areas that you want to talk about. Anything that struck your fancy during your time from in Cooperstown that we haven’t gotten to mention previously.

MP:
Well, let me think a minute if there’s something. One thing that I think was different then [were] winters. The winter that I was there, which would be ’69-’70, we had a lot of snow. I don’t know if the snow is getting less or more with climate change, but we literally did not see the ground. There were lots of blizzards. You just had to get used to the idea. To get to the program, I had to rely on one of my housemates, because they both had cars and I didn’t. But the snow was a big factor. And the ice fishing—this has probably been covered by other oral histories that you’ve done, and it was famous—there was ice fishing on Otsego Lake. One of our professors Minor Wine Thomas [Jr.] was famous for his ice fishing. He would put up one of the little huts that would appear on the lake, on the frozen lake. And he would spend—I never went out to his hut, but I know Jerry did, my husband, who I was dating then. He went out to the little hut and [went] fishing with Minor Wine. They [huts] were basically just big enough for one person; drilling a hole inside the hut and putting your line into the hole. I think they would take their own little kerosene heaters and stuff like that. Now, I don’t believe the lake freezes enough to do that; there has to be a really hard deep freeze in order to do the ice fishing. And I’m virtually certain that hasn’t happened for a long time. So that was a big deal. And then there was always sort of an ice—maybe this is still done, and I know I didn’t attend that because it was around the holidays but there was like an ice, like a winter festival. I think it was during our break in January. Do you know, if the winter festival still goes on, where there would be a big ice sculpture contest and that sort of stuff? Do you remember?

DG:
I haven’t heard anything, but I’m also from New England, so New York is fairly new to me.

MP:
Right, yeah [laughter]. But that was the Winter Ice Festival or whatever they called it, the Winter Festival [Cooperstown Winter Carnival], was something that was going on in the village. But I remember being away, because I think during the break between the semesters, I think that’s when I went home to get my wisdom teeth pulled and I was kind of out of commission. So, I can’t really report on that. But the wintertime was a big deal because of all the snow and the frozen lake and, you know, you couldn’t get around. And I don’t think it’s like that now I think winter is, if anything, a bit wet. You might have someone heavy snows, but it’s not like constant, constant winter.

DG:
So last question for you here: as a Cooperstown alum and as someone who has worked in museums for many years, do you have any advice for future Cooperstown Graduate students?

MP:
Um? Well, let’s see advice, you mean advice about career wise or just life in general?

DG:
Life in general.

MP:
Again, this is sort of a thought question. But I think that one of the valuable aspects that we can’t underestimate is staying in touch with your friends from Cooperstown, which I have done, particularly in the case of two or three people. Because it’s a very special bond that you form and I think this is true for every class, at least it was true in our class and for me. The bonds that I formed in Cooperstown were very nurturing and helpful and bonds that I could always fall back on even when my life went in different directions. Not that it always helps with getting a job, but it just helps you structure your life in such a way because you know you’ve got a network, even how small. I mean, my network now is very small, but it’s been absolutely important to me to keep that connection somehow. I know that’s not true for all of my classmates. Some of them never went back, but for me it was, it’s been very enriching. Really, it’s been very enriching to keep that bond with Cooperstown. You learn lessons that won’t even appear [pauses]. I just got a message that I have a one-on-one call in nine minutes that I forgot about. Anyway, OK. [laughter] OK, so. You form ideas and bonds that you won’t even think about until later probably, but they’re there. Pay attention to what you’re doing and stay connected with people. It’s easier to stay connected now because we have electronics, you know electronic media, that we didn’t have before, but nevertheless. I found it one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for Cooperstown.

DG:
Well, thank you so much for talking with me today, Peggy, it was great.

MP:
Great.

DG:
Thank you very much.

MP:
OK, yeah, take care.

[END OF TRACK 1, 48:52]

Duration

48:52 – Track 1

Bit Rate/Frequency

122kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 08:29 - Cooperstown, NY
Track 1, 11:02 - Film
Track 1, 20:03 - Folk studies
Track 1, 26:55 - Glimmerglass Film Days
Track 1, 45:47 - Community

Files

Parsons.2017.jpg

Citation

David Gain, “Margaret Parsons, November 24, 2020,” CGP Community Stories, accessed April 14, 2021, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/425.