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Fred Edwords Ingersol

Visit the Birthplace of Robert G. Ingersoll (1993)

Frederick Edwords

After years of planning and restoration, the Robert G. Ingersoll Birthplace Museum opened its doors to the public on June 2, 1993. It is now regularly open to receive visitors June through October. The hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, Noon to 5:00 PM.

Located in the Village of Dresden, on the shore of Lake Seneca, it becomes one of the many attractions of the picturesque Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. Of especial interest to Humanists and Freethinkers is its convenient proximity to the Women’s Rights Hall of Fame and restored home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton located in Seneca Falls, the homes of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in Rochester, the Roycroft campus of Elbert Hubbard in East Aurora, the Elmira home and burial place of Mark Twain, and the natural monument to the last ice age in Watkins Glen (with its nightly laser show on evolution). Furthermore, all of this is in easy driving distance from the national headquarters of both the American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Council on Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH)!

During the weekend immediately following Ingersoll’s birthday on August 11, 1993, the Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee, sponsors of the birthplace museum, conducted a special conference in nearby Geneva. The featured event was Roger Greeley giving his best performance yet of his “An Evening with Colonel Ingersoll.” Attendees were also given the grand tour of the Ingersoll home.

As one of the tourists myself, I was extremely pleased with what I saw. The 1833 birthplace of America’s “Great Agnostic” has become everything I hoped it would be. The main rooms of the house are a museum of artifacts and information memorializing the life of Ingersoll. A short but informative video introduces the self-guided tour, and a gift shop offering Ingersoll tee-shirts, books, and other mementos greets you at the end. (Proceeds support continued restoration.) One of the rooms features objects and information relevant to the Village of Dresden. But, the best part of all is upstairs where, in the words of Ingersoll himself, “my infant cry first broke the stillness of the birth room and my wakening eyes first looked upon the wondrous mysteries of the little world around me.” It is the museum’s period bedroom, restored with furnishings appropriate to the time.

The AHA newsletter Free Mind first reported on the Ingersoll home back in the summer of 1987, when the building was in danger of being torn down. In order to save it, the AHA expressed an interest in picking up from the work of Ingersoll enthusiast Ruth Jokenin and converting the home into a museum. That effort staved off disaster long enough for AHA member Phil Mass to inspire a number of Humanists and Freethinkers to join together, under the auspices of CODESH, to establish the Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee. That committee then raised the money and restored the building. Appropriately, the museum video on Ingersoll is dedicated to Phil Mass, who unfortunately did not live to see the completion of his dream.

As a lover of historic preservation, myself, I encourage Humanists and Freethinkers everywhere to plan a trip soon around the monuments to our philosophy that are so conveniently clustered in upstate New York. The Ingersoll museum can be the centerpiece of what could make for a great vacation!

If you need more information for planning your itinerary, feel free to write or phone the Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee, P.O. Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226-0664 — (716) 636-7571.

Originally published in the Sept./Oct. 1993 issue of Free Mind, the newsletter of the American Humanist Association. Permission is hereby granted to republish this article in any medium, in whole or in part. Please credit Free Mind as the original source.