Our 2022 Road Trip #7: Harriet Tubman vs. the Empire

Harriet Tubman statue!

Harriet Tubman. The lady. The leader. The legend.

After the National Women’s Rights Park we had another set of stops to make at the next town over that would likewise have fit in well with our 2018 visits to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester and her grave (as well as Frederick Douglass’), if we’d had time to stop at every single upstate New York city on that trip. This year we made up for quite a few omissions that year.

But first, we had to brake for some unexpected cameos that had far less to do with rights, except perhaps in other galaxies.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Since 1999 Anne and I have taken one road trip each year to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. After years of contenting ourselves with everyday life in Indianapolis and any surrounding areas that also had comics and toy shops, we chucked some of our self-imposed limitations and resolved as a team to leave the comforts of home for annual chances to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

For 2022 we wanted the opposite of Yellowstone. Last year’s vacation was an unforgettable experience, but those nine days and 3500 miles were daunting and grueling. Vermont was closer, smaller, greener, cozier, and slightly cooler. Thus we set aside eight days to venture through the four states that separate us from the Green Mountain State, dawdle there for a bit, and backtrack home…

We took US 20 East out of Seneca Falls toward the city of Auburn, an easy twenty minutes away. Around a particular grassy curve, our eyes caught a few familiar faces we hadn’t expected along the upstate NY roadside. A block later, we looked at each other and realized we had to brake, go back and say hi.

Vader and Stormtrooper!

Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper! Just…standing there, staring at passing cars from on high.


Also: a Minion! Because it can!

Finger Lakes Drive-In sign!

Together the trio are the reigning sentries at the Finger Lakes Drive-In, the oldest continually operating drive-in theater in New York State. Now showing: uhh, these guys!

Finger Lakes Drive-In!

Sorry, wait, HERE’S what was now showing.

Finger Lakes Drive-In toys!

The head-on view for full context.

We hadn’t expected those surprise curios or their keeper. The Finger Lakes Drive-In is renowned enough to rate its own Atlas Obscura entry. While it’s been ages since our last drive-in trip, years ago I wrote about the drive-in of my childhood and what it meant. Infrequent sights like the Finger Lakes bring back those warm memories and tug at the ol’ heartstrings, even when I remember some of the non-classics I saw back in those days.

(Of the two films showing on this Saturday in June, I’ve yet to see Maverick, but I definitely considered Dominion a non-classic.)

Then it was onward to Auburn, where stands the Harriet Tubman statue in our lead photo, sculpted by Brian P. Hanlon and dedicated in 2018. As the driver I utterly failed to make time for even a brief swerve by Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. Their special features include an entire replica of the home where Tubman largely lived throughout the last five decades of her life, from her final years as the legendary Underground Railroad conductor to her postbellum suffragist work and her death in 1913. Rather than the park, our next stop was at her gravesite, per our frequent road trip tradition.

Fort Hill Cemetery entrance!

The gates of Fort Hill Cemetery. The real entrance was that tiny lane off to the right.

Harriet Tubman grave!

The grave in question, gently shaded.

Tubman mementos!

A few mementos left by fans.

Tubman's brother's marker!

Tubman is surrounded by numerous family members. This was one of her eight siblings (born Henry Ross).

Also buried in Fort Hill is William Seward, a governor of New York, the U.S. Secretary of State under Lincoln, and one of the targets wounded by Booth’s co-conspirators the night of the assassination, having taken five stab wounds in addition to the shock and trauma inflicted upon his family who were home at the time. Perhaps the less said about his years under Andrew Johnson the better, but he’s best remembered for orchestrating the Alaska Purchase, which gave America its biggest coldest, northernmost, sometimes prettiest state. Seward was a lawyer in Auburn for years before his political career came a-callin’, and spent his last few years there as well. So basically all his stuff’s there.

William Seward grave!

The graves of Seward and his wife Frances, who died of a heart attack two months after his knife attack.

cemetery squirrel!

Also in the cemetery: squirrel!

The Tubman statue was a few blocks east of the cemetery, standing in an area packed with other sights you’d expect in a de facto town square.

Seward House!

The center of our walk was the Seward House Museum, the longtime family residence that was also an Underground Railroad safe house.

Seward House sign!

The official historical marker.

Seward statue!

Seward likewise gets a statue.

Also in statue form on the same block is Thomas Mott Osborne — great-nephew of Lucretia Mott herself, grandson of fellow suffragist Martha Coffin Wright (who was among the Seneca Falls statues), and nephew of yet another abolitionist/suffragist, one William Lloyd Garrison. Osborne became warden at Sing Sing Prison and would become a staunch advocate of prison reform.

Thomas Mott Osborne statue!

He was also a foe of Tammany Hall and William Randolph Hearst, in case he needed to score even more principle points.

Tocqueville Was Here sign!

For collectors of historical markers out there, this one time the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville came to town, but he didn’t stick around. C-SPAN just thought you should know and wants cool principle points, too.

Equal Rights Heritage Center!

The Equal Rights Heritage Center was setting up for a large gathering, which at first we thought might be an impromptu post-Dobbs protest, but the food-vendor booths setting up shop implied this was a different event that’d been on the books a bit longer than 24 hours.

Auburn courthouse!

The Auburn courthouse across the street.

Civil War memorial Auburn!

The requisite Civil War memorial.

9-11 memorial Auburn!

The requisite 9/11 memorial, posted here a bit late for this year’s commemoration.

Auburn vegetation mural!

A fleeting glance at a mural we caught upon our departure.

Mask standee!

For some reason the Mask leered at us from the third floor of a tavern.

After a brief detour to spoil this cute chick in the car who really wanted a strawberry Frosty, we left Auburn and continued east toward Syracuse. At this point my phone battery was down to 15% because I hate, hate, hate driving in silence, wouldn’t let go of my SiriusXM lifeline, and still hadn’t deciphered the cheat code to make the rental car play terrestrial radio, which is another thing I grew up on that might feel dead to you yet really isn’t.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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