Freethought Field Trip: Robert Ingersoll Museum
August 11, 2011
Today, August 11th, is the birthday of one of the most amazing and influential leaders of the freethought movement. Robert Green Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was born in Dresden, NY, a mere two-hour drive from the current Center for Inquiry headquarters. I recently had the chance to visit the Robert Ingersoll Museum, the birth place and historic home that is maintained by the Council for Secular Humanism. The home was purchased and restored and is currently filled with Ingersoll’s work as well as period-specific artifacts and pieces of local history. I asked a few of my fellow freethinkers to go on a field trip to see the museum. In all, nine of us piled into two cars and took off to learn more about this amazing thinker and orator who was known as “The Great Agnostic.”
The Ingersoll house is unassuming, on a shaded grass lot, located on the main street in Dresden. When we arrived, the neighborhood was so quiet that we began to wonder if we had stumbled into some sort of Truman Show where the cast of the quaint set was off for the day. The inside of the house, however, filled us with glee.
The suggested donation is $2, which gives you at least a full hour of entertainment, even if you read quickly. We spent time walking through the Dresden room, learning local history of the town and gushing over the coolness of antiquity. I loved the amount of care that was put into finding and keeping bricks, nails, and other pieces of the past. Photographs are placed alongside these materials in order to create a textured and colorful record for attendees to enjoy.
After leaving the Dresden room, there is a cabinet that allows you to listen to recordings of Robert Ingersoll with descriptions of the clips. Hearing him speak is inspirational, and the listener can learn more about why Ingersoll became known as “the premier orator and political speechmaker of post-Civil War America.” It is clear from the eloquence and conviction of his oration why he influenced and touched so many people and how he continues to do so. This is a wonderful resource for freethinkers young and old.
The museum docent working that day was Fran Emerson. She has been the docent for three years and was very helpful. She was so knowledgeable about Ingersoll and the collection, and she answered all of our questions without hesitation. She encouraged us to sit and watch the DVD had created by the Council for Secular Humanism. The video is cohesive and connects all of the Ingersoll relics with facts about his life and the controversial opinions he held, which explains why he is often left out of ordinary historical dialogues.
I was shocked to see that Ingersoll spoke about racial equality, women’s rights, birth control, skepticism, and the ability to openly question religious practices and intolerance long before other writers and thinkers had started to approach such forward-thinking topics. Here is this man who existed so many years ago and was actually so progressive that he embodies our mission more and in a more positive way than most of our current freethought and god-less heroes. Plus, he was fighting against slavery in addition to everything else, which is more admirable and must have been more intense than much of what we do, “liking” causes on Facebook and getting groups of skeptics together to drink. Sure, we can’t all be Ingersolls, but I sure hope that we can aspire to be as compassionate and thoughtful about our own convictions.
“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” - Robert Green Ingersoll
We toured the rest of the house, finding joy in old photos, engravings, pamphlets, posters, and more. We had to buy some of the merch, smiling gaily with our new Ingersoll shirts. And eventually we had to leave, making our trek back to Buffalo.
I can’t say enough positive things about the Ingersoll museum. It was so much fun; it was cheap, worth the drive, and just as inspirational as it was informative. This is a must-see for anyone near Rochester, Buffalo, or central New York, and I hope that we can coordinate trips out there for students so that they can get a sense of Robert Ingersoll and what he did for our movement.
“I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous - if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.” - Robert Green Ingersoll
For more information on how the Council for Secular Humanism is involved with the Freethought Trail and Ingersoll Museum, click here.
To do a virtual tour of the museum and get more information, visit the Robert Ingersoll Museum page.
We created an Ingersoll poster to commemorate his birthday. If you would like a free poster please visit here and fill out the poster application!
About the Author: Dren Asselmeier
Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour.
#1 Nate Phelps on Thursday August 11, 2011 at 9:10am
Thank you for this Dren. I would love the opportunity to learn more about this man and his thoughts and ideas.
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