Last Saturday, we stopped by the Somers Library to help mark the 50th anniversary of the bequeathment of the farmstead that became Reis Park. If you’re unfamiliar with bequeathments, my advice is to swallow first before saying it out loud. Some informal booths were set up to help celebrate the event and the town. The Friends of the Somers Library were there; they sponsor various programs and performances. I am a Friend of the Library and we’re going out for cocktails on Friday, and we may gossip, just in case anything gets back to you.
There were some local authors in attendance, a folk-rock duo, some games for the kids and a face-painting booth. For my particular face, they suggested vinyl siding instead of paint. All of this took place on land given to the town of Somers by lifelong resident Caroline Wright Reis upon her death in 1967.
We walked through the back of the park up to her house, now a museum opened on this day for visitors. Even though Caroline Wright Reis lived her entire life there, the early American period furnishings have been restored to the grounds. If they wanted a museum with 1967-era decor, the house I grew up in had plenty of linoleum and wood paneling, and historians are still trying to explain why.
Caroline Wright was an orphan at the age of 12, a fact that possibly explains how she became a leading figure in the community. She graduated from Pratt Institute at a time when college-educated women were relatively scarce. After that, she ran her farm as a successful businesswoman, her new husband away much of the time. Walter Reis was a button salesman, and if he didn’t travel to support the business, sales fell, not to mention everyone’s pants.
She was active in local politics as a member of the Civic Club, and in her later years became a philanthropist who donated substantially to local causes. She was an artist, and her works hang on the homestead walls. She never had children, but she pictured herself with a family, literally. A self-portrait of her rocking a cradle sits on an easel behind the very same cradle, unless that was the cat’s cradle.
A rare and impressive contraption called a megalethoscope is displayed on the second floor. Through it, specially prepared photographs play tricks of light and perspective that are unlike anything digital photography can produce. Do not miss it.
Caroline Wright Reis seemed to have no use for conventions and gender confinements. A photograph depicts her with her bicycle, and back then it was considered un-ladylike to ride one. I STILL consider it un-ladylike to ride a bicycle, especially if I haven’t shaved. Caroline Wright Reis may have been an early feminist without even knowing it.
To see the material connections to her life spread before you is to put yourself in her shoes for a short moment, which is as much as I can take since I wear a size 11. That’s what museums do, and in this case, as in all others, you can imagine life in history’s continuum and notice that the trappings are different, but the people are the same.
By the way, if I die, and I’m planning not to, and if I decide to leave my land to the town of Somers, they are going to take one look at my lawn and say, “Thanks, but no, thanks.” They might even skip right to the “No, thanks.”
Visit somershistoricalsoc.org for news and information on Somers Historical Society exhibits, resources, events, membership and sponsors. Also, learn more about Caroline Wright Reis.
Join Rick and the Trashcan Poets for some modern rock and roll on Friday, May 12, at Mohansic Grill in Yorktown. Say hello to Rick Melén at firstname.lastname@example.org.