Surprises along NYS roads, from kazoos to knives and bottles


The American Museum of Cutlery is located in Cattaraugus, NY. Photo: Chuck D’Imperio.

Did you know that Eden, NY is the kazoo capitol of the world and home to the Kazoo Museum and the Original American Kazoo Company (established 1916), the only metal kazoo factory in the United States? No. I didn’t know either until a new book from Syracuse University Press was highlighted in the publisher’s latest catalog.

“Unknown Museums of Upstate New York: A Guide to 50 Treasures,” by Chuck D’Imperio, takes us to the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum, to a bottle museum, one devoted to the history of cobblestones–and the Kazoo Museum. The book explores 50 specialized and quirky institutions, all of them north of New York City.

Full disclosure: While I’m not related to the inventor of the kazoo or mother of a cobble-maker, I do love small, narrowly focused museums and historical societies.

For example, on a trip to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I spent a couple of hours in the Acadian Museum in Cheticamp–hooked rugs and other crafts upstairs, and a two-room historical museum downstairs. An elderly woman who greeted me as I entered gave me a personal and vivid lesson in Acadian and maritime history.

On another trip to the southwest, we stopped into a storefront filled with regional exhibits and memorabilia. The volunteer on duty told endless stories about wolves and grizzly bears, about high desert survival, and the eccentrics who moved through the landscape over the last few centuries.

That’s the thing about small museums, the volunteers and staff are always passionate about their exhibits.

kazooBack to kazoos…this quote lifted from the Kazoo Museum website:

The kazoo was invented by an American named Alabama Vest and made to his specifications by a German clock master named Thaddeus Von Clegg in Macon, Georgia back in the 1840’s. A traveling salesman by the name of Emil Sorg brought the idea of manufacturing metal kazoos to Western New York in about 1912. He teamed up with Michael McIntyre, a Buffalo tool and die maker, and together they found a way to manufacture the first production kazoos. McIntyre moved to Eden, New York where he went into partnership with Harry Richardson, the owner of a metal forming plant. The kazoo has become as American as apple pie. It is the most democratic of instruments because anyone can play.

So Chuck D’Imperio’s book intrigues me. He’s serious about the places he’s chosen for inclusion in this guide. Like his previous book, “Monumental New York! A Guide to 30 Iconic Memorials in Upstate New York,” this collection directs you to places worth visiting, particularly if you find yourself on a summer drive in an unfamiliar part of the state.

Robert Lewis Stevenson at the Cottage, third from left. (Photo: Robert Lewis Stevenson Cottage and Museum website.)

Robert Lewis Stevenson at the Cottage, third from left. (Photo: Robert Lewis Stevenson Cottage and Museum website.)

I think Senator Betty Little, who represents our region and chairs the Senate Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, really nailed it in the “blurb” she provided for the book:

“Whether well-known or unfamiliar, every museum in the state tells us something about who we are and what we’re about as New Yorkers.”

By the way, D’Imperio directs us to destinations located throughout the state, including our neck of the woods, home to The Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage and Museum in Saranac Lake.

Now, share with us your favorite small museums and historical society exhibits.

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3 Comments on “Surprises along NYS roads, from kazoos to knives and bottles”

  1. Rich Loeber says:

    Don’t miss the Historic Saranac Laboratory on Church Street in Saranac Lake. It was the first laboratory established in the US for the study of a single disease. The Lab is beautifully restored and definitely worth a visit.

  2. Lucy Martin says:

    Fun post, Ellen!

    I like discovering little gems like these too.

    Robert Louis Stevenson sure got around! There’s a “little grass shack” that commemorates time he spent in Hawaii not far from where I used to live in Honolulu. (Wikipedia says it’s a replica, the original did not survive.)

    Some guides at these smaller museums don’t know much, but are volunteering their time with true community spirit. Other times the guides have amazing local or specialized knowledge, and are only too happy to share that with interested listeners.

  3. SES ZOO says:

    Thank You for reminding us of some of the off the beaten path places and the chance to learn something new at the age of 60, I’ve seen and played Kazoo’s most of my life and never had any idea their home was in Eden ,NY ,( not that I ever worried about it ,LOL ) But at least now We have a destination place to go this summer on one of our trips to nowhere in the state . Thanks again for the article ,need more of these

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