Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cooper’s Legacy in Land and Lore

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
While Cooperstown’s geography hasn’t physically changed due to the influence of any of its citizens, the history and lore surrounding the town has been profoundly affected by one man: James Fenimore Cooper. Locations throughout Cooperstown and around Otsego Lake still bear the influence—both in name and description—of Cooper’s fictional vision of the area as seen in his five Leatherstocking novels.

This early stereoscopic view shows the site that inspired Natty Bumppo’s cave in Cooper’s The Pioneers. To call the location a “cave” is in fact a misnomer. It is actually merely a natural chasm with no interior section. However, it has become forever associated with James Fenimore Cooper and continues to delight hikers who stumble upon it to this day.

Cooper’s names and influence stretch well beyond geographic features. Not only Natty Bumppo, but Pathfinder, Deerslayer, Leatherstocking, and others have found a permanent home in Cooperstown’s street signs, lake-cruising boats, trolleys and institutions.

Cooper’s stories have also been the inspiration for countless artists since the nineteenth century. To learn more about his influence on 19th-century painters, visit the Fenimore Art Museum on April 4th for our Hidden Treasures event.
Top: Bumppo's Cave, ca. 1870. Robert Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, Photography Collection, Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints & Photographs, The New York Public Library.
Bottom: Natty Bumppo II, Otsego Lake, ca. 1865. Smith and Telfer Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

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