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"Here's a letter from one of those 12-year-old girls," Pines was observing a few minutes later, holding up a sheet of blue stationery. "They all say, 'Please send me everything there is to know about trotting horses.' Everything! Can you imagine?" Despite his feigned irritation, Pines tries to oblige such requests, although visiting the Goshen shrine is certainly a more pleasant way to get information. Using horse stalls for display space, the museum handsomely houses such relics as a harness worn by Lou Dillon, the first two-minute trotter and one of 157 immortals—roughly half of them horses—enshrined in the hall.
Pines takes pride in the fact that his Hall of Fame is chartered as an educational institution. One-third of its 35,000 yearly visitors are schoolchildren, and the museum employs a full-time educational director who leads them in playing "Pin the Tail on the Pacer" or singing The Old Gray Mare. Subsidized by harness-racing patrons as a showcase for the sport—admission is free—the Hall of Fame aims, Pines said, to "explain trotting as it relates to American history and to build interest in the sport." Did this mean that he hoped to turn those innocent schoolchildren into horseplayers?
If Pines was discomfited by so sly a question, he never let on. "We're trying to make them educated horseplayers," he replied.
Before I left, Pines alerted me to a shrine I had not heard about, the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame, just 15 miles away in the old Hudson River town of Newburgh, N.Y. A short time later I was on Broadway, Newburgh's wide and joyless main street, where the chamber of commerce office had available a mimeographed list of tourist attractions. It included such nearby points of interest as West Point and Hyde Park and went so far as to mention branch libraries, but there was no reference to any hall of fame. This was quite an oversight, since the speed-skating shrine was located above the bank across the street.
The omission became more understandable a few minutes later. To visit the shrine, one must contact Joe Monihan of the sponsoring Newburgh Lions Club, a bow-tied man in his 80s who is chairman of the club's hall of fame committee. Monihan led me beneath a pressed-tin ceiling up three flights of narrow stairway and, after fumbling for the key, into what was once the city room of the Newburgh Daily News. The room was in disarray. Display cases were caked with dust. Signs were toppled over, and one listing the Hall of Fame's inductees had not had an entry for at least two years. Through a bare window, a shaft of sunlight shone on a dead blackbird that lay on the scarred floor as if it were the hall's prize exhibit.
Monihan regarded the bird a moment, slowly encircling it as he did. Then he concluded with a chuckle: "Well, he must have got in without permission."
The clutter also included a stack of books on museum care, evidence of the high ambitions that reigned a decade ago when the Amateur Skating Union of the U.S. selected Newburgh, home of such speed-skating greats as the 19th century champion Joe Donoghue, as the site of its Hall of Fame. But time has brought change. Along the river where Donoghue once flashed across the ice, stores like Smiling Willie's Snack Bar now stand abandoned, their gutted shells waiting for urban renewal, and such are the vagaries of civic sentiment that Joe's 100th birthday passed last Feb. 11 without public notice.
The Lions, hopeful that the Hall of Fame will one day be incorporated into a proposed winter-sports center, keep it alive, if barely, out of what the club's president, Dan Leo, calls "a sense of stewardship." Meanwhile, all visitors to the shrine are asked to sign a guest book. A similar practice at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., my next destination, would have produced 197,000 signatures last year, but traffic was somewhat leaner at New-burgh. The guest book listed 14 visitors for all of 1970.
Cooperstown is the best known and probably most solvent (and therefore holiest) of all halls of fame, although another shrine, not a sports one, is older. That would be the 70-year-old Hall of Fame for Great Americans, an open-air colonnade on the Bronx campus of New York University that restricts membership to candidates dead for 25 years, a rule that has the virtue of discouraging active lobbying. Its 95 members include a dozen Presidents and literary figures aplenty (among them Longfellow, Poe and Irving), but not an athlete in the lot. It is an oversight for which the sports world has compensated with a vengeance, starting with that glorious June day in 1939 when the Baseball Hall of Fame was dedicated on Cooperstown's maple-lined Main Street.
It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate site for the national game's shrine than Cooperstown, a village of 2,500 residents and almost unbearable Early American charm. Overlooking Lake Otsego—Glimmerglass in the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, whose father founded the village in 1786—Cooperstown boasts several other museums as well, including the New York State Historical Association. Situated next to Danny's Buy-Rite Grocery, the baseball shrine maintains a low profile, its Federal-style facade indistinguishable from the banks and post office that are its neighbors on Main Street.