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Not just a pretty place, the Finger Lakes are a destination for history and wine

Patti Nickell, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Travel News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Even considering that a travel writer's career is unconventional, this was an unusual day at the office. Standing in front of a large illuminated screen filled with cartoon and movie characters, and using just the motion of my arms against the screen, I was trying to get Darth Vader to do battle with Yoda.

Darth, menacing as ever, seemed willing enough. Yoda was less inclined to give it a go. Finally, waving my arms like a stranded motorist, I succeeded in luring Yoda out of his safe space. The battle was on.

I was at the Strong National Museum of Play, and no child there was playing any harder than I was. Over several hours, I tested my Ms. Pac-Man skills in the video arcade before moving on to the life-size chessboard, the library with its collection of Nancy Drew mysteries, the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden and the Toy Hall of Fame, which includes that favorite of all children -- the cardboard box.

I might even have hopped aboard the 1918 carousel -- if every horse hadn't been occupied by pint-sized riders more to their steed's scale.

Rochester is "the Gateway to the Finger Lakes," a region in upstate New York covering 9,000 square miles and 14 counties, making it approximately the size of Vermont or New Hampshire.

Known primarily for its 11 pristine lakes and its reputation for fine wines, it has much more to tempt the visitor -- historical and literary sites; Native American culture; farm-to-fork dining, and scenery so spectacular that only superlatives will do.


In the 19th century, western New York was a hotbed of activism. The industrial revolution had spurred the educated classes to take on causes ranging from slavery, with abolitionist Frederick Douglass leading the charge, to women's suffrage, whose high priestess was Susan B. Anthony. Her mantra, "Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less."

Located in one of America's most intact preservation neighborhoods, Anthony's former home is now a museum. This National Historic Landmark was where she spent most of her politically active years, welcoming other like-minded individuals such as Douglass and fellow suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The front parlor was where Anthony was arrested in 1872 after she incurred the ire of officials by casting a vote.

When the arresting officer tried to treat her according to her sex and station, she angrily demanded to be handcuffed and hauled in like any other "criminal."

If Susan B. Anthony was a strong, determined woman, the same could be said of the tribal matriarchs of the Seneca Indians. While women could not be chiefs, they dominated every other aspect of tribal life.


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