What follows was originally intended for Val Suan as a private
response to his query several days ago about lodging in the
Cooperstown area, but there's no reason I shouldn't share it with
other list members who may encounter similar problems, especially
during Hall of Fame Weekend. I realize it's largely off-topic, but I
think Bob will understand. Besides, it deals with a fascinating
anomaly which I myself didn't discover by accident until somewhat
recently after 22 years of reviewing Glimmerglass Opera. I think
you'll find it apt and interesting, if long-winded (this is boiled
down from a feature piece I did for my paper and Mother Gannett
several years ago).
Nestled squarely if obscurely in the middle of Schoharie County and
the beautiful Cherry Valley roughly 24 miles from Glimmerglass
Opera's Alice Bush Opera Theater is the very, very tiny village of
Sharon Springs, which until about 5 years ago was virtually unvisited
by most operagoers. To the best of my knowledge, it still is (for
reasons I cite below), but that's starting to change. Here's why.
At the turn of the century, Sharon Springs was a very prosperous spa.
Yes, they've got the real stuff -- sulfur springs, magnesium springs,
you name it -- and on a windless, warm summer day you can smell them
The town then had no fewer than eight very large hotels (and a large
variety of eating establishments) catering exclusively to
middle-class city folks who traveled from Albany and Manhattan
seeking the cure. But it especially became a haven for many Italians
and Jews who felt excluded from places like Saratoga Springs (keep in
mind that at the time Kutscher's hadn't been invented and Sullivan
County didn't have hot springs anyway). Most were, not surprisingly,
Ashkenazem for whom the palliative waters were as familiar and
welcome as the springs of Budapest and Cluj. All this, of course, lay
in the middle of rich farming country, but I gather from talking to
the town historian that the locals could hardly call the town their
own during spa season.
Then things changed. The railroads died, the Catskills were invented,
and Route 20 made it more convenient to bypass Sharon Springs than to
visit it. Ten years ago the town was in really dreadful condition.
Most of the hotels were boarded up (one burned and its blackened
skeleton still fronts the main street), restaurants were closed, and
only a feed store drew locals occasionally from their prosperous
But one hotel survived -- more or less intact.
The Adler Hotel looks like a miniature of that enormous pile in "The
Shining" (remember the film where Jack Nicholson went ballistic?).
Still elegant and massive (six floors), though increasingly
down-at-heels, The Adler continues to open up in the summer almost
exclusively to Eastern European Jews, largely second generation
Ashkenazem, generally quite pious, though not ultra orthodox, who
stay at smaller nearby boarding houses that the Adler helped
generate. It is not an unusual sight to see clusters of full-bearded
men in elegant frock coats and beaver-trimmed hats walking down the
street, their bewigged womenfolk trailing respectfully behind -- it's
a sight you rarely see in this country outside of Crown Heights or
the Williamsburg district, and the last thing you expect to see in
the middle of rural Schoharie County.
The Adler also caters by arrangement to a rapidly diminishing group
of Holocaust survivors (quite a few are Schindler people with whom
I've talked), many of whom can only afford to go there because of
reparations from Germany and Rumania (The Adler's owner, 75-year-old
Mrs. Yarkony, is herself Hungarian, formerly a member of the Magyar
minority in Romania). The hotel runs the baths across the street and
a better schwitz you'll not find anywhere: Between gulps of acrid
magnesium or sulfur water and really hot bath water in sunken ceramic
tubs, large Russian women will pound your shoulders until you think
you've died and gone to heaven.
The Adler has a pretty good dining room (Kosher), and for those who
observe, there's a synagogue on the premises, as well as a large
ballroom, a chess room and all the mod coms of a good spa. Rooms are
clean, large, most have window air conditioners (old but
functioning). The furniture dates to the 1950s and looks it. The view
from a small balcony that fronts many of the rooms is splendid.
There's also a large terrace where one can stroll to join those
disputing Talmudic law. On Friday nights and Saturday room service is
provided by strapping local farmers' sons who find it all very
curious but modestly remunerative.
More to the point: Rates are very modest ($55-$71) single, only a few
dollars more for a double. And they usually have rooms available,
even during Hall of Fame weekend (or Glimmerglass Gala weekend).
Because, as Mrs. Yarkony told me, most of the opera or baseball
people "feel uncomfortable" there. It's far too alien to their
middle-class American sensibilities (one operagoing family came this
year when they could find nothing else within 60 miles -- and left
after a day because they felt "uncomfortable," despite the fact that
they had the best room in the place. They also didn't like the
pervasive smell of sulfur). That's why Mrs. Y. doesn't even bother to
list the Adler in the Glimmerglass accommodations directory.
In the meantime, all about the Adler, Sharon Springs is enjoying a
remarkable revival. About five years ago, an increasing number of
enterprising gay and lesbian couples trying to escape the hassles
(and high real estate prices) of metropolitan living, discovered
Sharon Springs and bought at then-depressed prices some of the lovely
old houses, shops and hotels, fixed them up and encouraged the rest
of the place to get its collective act together. When I first met
them three years ago, Doug Plummer and his partner Garth Roberts had
recently bought an old storefront and turned it into a
bakery-restaurant which was soon packed on weekends with locals as
well as knowledgeable opera company staff, singers and supers.
In 1996 they bought the old American Hotel (1847) which was almost
falling apart, and slowly refurbished it. It reopened in April, and
though my current budget won't bear the tariff ($120), Doug gave me a
personal tour several weeks ago through some of the most beautifully
restored rooms I've seen outside of Nantucket. I could afford their
delicious brunch, however, and enjoyed it sitting in a small sunlit
dining room overlooking the main drag. Since Doug knows many of the
opera company's staff, I suspect he'll soon be listed and will have
no problem filling his rooms with opera people. Next door, yet
another, much larger (100 rooms) hotel has been taken over and is
being fixed up. The village now has a good Italian restaurant and,
I'm told, another restaurant is on the way.
What's so encouraging is that this once charming but decrepit village
is being restored to its former elegant condition. And what's
especially so delightful, if mildly incongruous, is the view down
main street (Route 1) where you'll see local farmers in their
dungarees peeping in the windows of shops owned by lesbian couples,
chatting with the owners, while a small, silent crocodile of Hassidim
stroll past on their way to schule.
The usual disclaimer: I am a straight, non-religious half-Jew (but
fully qualified under the Nueremburg laws) with no connection to
either Yarkony's Adler Hotel & Spa or Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts'
Stephen G. Landesman
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"Wann geht der naechste Schwan?"