Niagara Gazette

November 23, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Taking a step back in time at Skaneateles

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Celebrants — In “Oklahoma!,” Rodgers and Hammerstein declared “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.” About a year ago, we were updating it, apologizes Richard and Oscar:

“Everything’s up to date in Skaneateles

“Although the date is 1842

“They went and decked the whole place out in Charlie Dickens’ time

“As far back as they could likely go ...

Skaneateles lies about 120 miles to the east and, at this time of year, about 170 years in the past. From atop the shore of the easternmost major Finger Lake, the Chamber of Commerce some years back decided to raise the Dickens during the holiday season, building from the charming arrangement of shops along a four-block business district. Think Niagara-on-the-Lake with no funny money.

Visiting our daughter 25 miles to the south, Doug conscripted Grandson Clark and zeroed in on Dickensville last Thanksgiving Saturday. They had more fun than Scrooge on Christmas morn. First, they reported to the Chamber office itself, where they’d heard 19th century costumes were loaned out at no charge. It seemed too good to be true, but moments later Doug was “pouring forth” in a frock coat and top hat, leaving only his own winter jacket as collateral. Clark, less extroverted, declined.

Immediately they encountered others similarly garbed, exhaling greetings into the frosty air. A ghostly Marley howled out from between buildings. A fully-costumed choir from a local congregation sang all five verses of “Good King Wenceslas.”

They checked the Scarlett Rat Productions “interactive” trunk show of “Christmas Carol” snippets. Within moments they were part of the scene, Doug as Scrooge himself, a dream come true, Clark as a charity solicitor. “Are there no workhouses!,” Doug roared, with a wink and a nod to the ladies in the crowd.

“Everything’s like a dream in Skaneateles

“With temps and treats that make our faces glow

“You can stop by the doughnut shop if you’ve an urge to nosh

“Marley’s ghost jumps out as all the little kids cry ‘gosh!’

“And not a farthing charged to us for this entire kibosh ...

At Skaneateles Bakery, a conveyor belt of newborn doughnuts recalled Buffalo’s late, lamented, Freddy’s. Having retreated to the 20th century, they were reminded of commitments to the 21st, extracted the car and returned to Polly and Holly’s homey hearth 25 miles to the south.

It was a day to hold in the heart. If you’ve an itch for Dickens the next three or four weekends, scratch it in Skaneateles (, just east of Auburn, which, Scrooge observes, happens to have the lowest non-reservation gasoline prices in the state.

“All ‘Carol’ fans will surely love the show

“They’ve gone about as far as they can go.”

Otherwise, the Vets serve their turkey-sandwich dinner beginning at 4 today, our Electric Light parade steps off about 5:30, and Island Presbyterian invites everyone to a free community dinner on Thanksgiving. Call 773-4849. Come visit our no-humbug zone.

Email Polly and Doug at

Email Polly and Doug at