Aug 5, 2013

Learning about William Seward while in Auburn, New York

A mini-vacation is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes things just happen
without planning. We have season tickets at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and they inadvertently scheduled us for two plays at the same time. We changed one to a night performance and used our Priority Club points for a free stay at the Holiday Inn in Auburn.  The Seward and Harriet Tubman Houses were on my “Wanna’ Visit Again” list so it worked out perfectly.

The plays were excellent as are all the performances we have seen at Merry-Go-Round and the Holiday Inn upgraded us because we are Priority Club members.   Sunday after a nice buffet breakfast we headed out to the Harriet Tubman House which, sadly, is closed on Sundays – next time.  Then we headed to the Seward House.  I have been there before but there is so much to see and learn since all the furnishings are original – and, the Sewards never threw anything away.  The house is a treasure trove of history. 

William Henry Seward’s life is quite amazing.  He was governor of
NY, a US senator, and Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.  And, he is responsible for the purchase of Alaska which at the time was ridiculed as “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Ice Box” and “Andrew Jackson’s Polar Bear Garden.”  In retrospect, the $7 million purchase was a bargain at about two cents an acre. 

I knew Lewis Powell attempted to assassinate Seward on April 14, 1865 as part of the Lincoln assassination plot but I learned more during our tour. At the Seward home is his carriage which played a fateful role in his survival. Nine days earlier Seward was out in his carriage and the door was not properly closed.  He asked the driver to stop and close the door. The horses took off, Seward jumped out and was injured hence he was recovering in bed on April 14 surrounded by family and friends when Power charged into the Seward home and stabbed Seward. At the end of the confusing melee five men were injured but all recovered. The bedridden Seward was bandaged in a way that prevented the knife wound from being fatal.  

I loved all the items Seward collected from around the world. There
is a beautiful marble Buddha from Burma, now Myanmar, and hanging on the wall is an intricately wood carving from China which Seward admired and received as a gift. At that time, in China, if an article was admired it was often gifted to the admirer. Travel has a way of changing one permanently. After his trip to Ireland he supported immigration which was not a popular stance.  His travels were extensive but must have been laborious. To get to Washington Seward would usually take a carriage to Cayuga, then the steamboat down the lake to Ithaca where he would catch the train to NYC, overnight at the Astor Hotel and catch the next-day train to Washington.  

After leaving the Seward house we stopped by Willard Chapel, the only complete and unmodified Tiffany chapel known to exist; however, it was closed. We continued on to Fort Hill Cemetery to pay our respects at the grave sites of Seward and Tubman. Fort Hill was once the center of indigenous people called the Alleghans. In the middle of the 16th century, the Cayuga Indians used the area as a fortified hill. Earthen works are still visible.