Interview: Star Trek fandom lives long and thrives in Trekonderoga

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Trekonderoga 2021, the annual Star Trek the fan event which takes place in – or elsewhere – Ticonderoga, New York, kicks off this weekend. George Takei, better known as the coxswain of the USS Enterprise Sulu, will be in attendance. There will also be a costume contest (by official rules: nudity is not costume) and opportunities to tour an elaborately recreated setting of the Enterprise. The mastermind behind it all is superfan James Cawley, who built sets from the original. Star Trek series in the northern city of the state, funded in part by his income as an Elvis impersonator.

As he prepared for the weekend by doing a last-minute clean-up of the Enterprise Bridge’s reenactment, Cawley spoke with WNYC host David Furst about Trekonderoga, his relationship with William Shatner and his passion for all things. Star Trek.

This conversation has been edited for clarity by Kate Hinds.

First up: why does Ticonderoga own this incredible replica of the Enterprise starship deck? I guess the answer is “why not?”, But I would expect to see something like this in Hollywood. Well, here’s the thing. It’s 13,000 square feet, so it’s huge. And as we all know, real estate in Manhattan and Los Angeles is extremely expensive, and it’s a permanent attraction – it doesn’t move from place to place. So you are literally entering a one-on-one reconstruction of the Desilu soundstage from 55 years ago. So you have to plan it and build it appropriately so that it stays in one place. And Ticonderoga is part of the greater Lake George area. We have a very nice tourist area here in the Adirondacks so this is a great place for that. Lots of people come here every year and we expect this to continue to grow.

There is also the teleportation room. Why was this something you felt like you had to do? It’s more than the bridge and the teleportation room. It is on each set that the actors worked every day, arranged and recreated exactly as they were when the actors worked on it. So you’re talking about the teleportation room, the infirmary, the lab, Dr. McCoy’s office, Captain Kirk’s quarters, the briefing room, engineering, the whole hallway. It’s literally like being a time-traveling actor and going back to work on the show. i grew up with Star Trek. I was just in love with it and never lost the passion for it. So here we are still celebrating it today.

How accurate is the whole? Deadly. We worked from the original plans. They were given to me by the original costume designer who had them in his possession. We have preserved thousands of still images from the original series in high definition. We have researched and located hundreds of antiques and antique furniture. We have rebuilt each jelly button. Everything is arranged, each color, proportionally. All of the surviving cast members have been here, along with many guest stars. Bill Shatner loves it so much he’s here twice a year.

Twice a year?! He’s here twice a year. It usually comes in June or July, then it comes back in November. He will be here again on November 12 and 13. All the stars like him so much that they actually run the tours. They are your tour guides through the sets and they tell what it was like to be on the show.

A reconstruction of the teleportation room

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A reconstruction of the teleportation room

Trekonderoga

New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie visited, and sat down in Kirk’s chair. And as you say, William Shatner has been there several times. Have you ever seen it become such a big deal? I always thought it was going to grow up and become a big deal because, you know, I’m a Star Trek fan and I like to think I know what other fans would like to see. So I always had my wishes and hopes and he did what I thought he would do. Did I ever think the stars would love her so much? Probably not, so that was a real bonus. And getting to know Bill Shatner and some of the others has been great.

Can you call him Bill? I call him Bill. Yes. [Editor’s Note: So does WNYC host Alison’s Stewart, who just interviewed Shatner about “Bill,” his new autobiographical album, a collaboration with Joe Walsh, Brad Paisley, Robert Randolph, and Joe Jonas, among others.]

What did he say on his first visit? Did he have any arguments about things that weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be? By his agent [he] had a set of specific requirements. Bill, you know he’s seen a lot of playtime over the years, [he’s] like, ‘Well, I don’t really want to get stuck in the captain’s chair all day.’ That sort of thing. So we said, ‘No problem, you know, whatever your requirements are, no problem.’ And then he was making other appearances across the country and meeting people from Paramount and CBS. And they had told him about the quality of this set. Then his curiosity, I think, was born. And when he got here he walked through the door and said: take me to the bridge.

So of course I took him to the bridge and he was there for what seemed like forever, but it was probably only about three or four minutes. And he just clapped and said, ‘You know, that’s it. The proportions are perfect. It’s incredible.’ He said, ‘This is my chair.’ And he went and sat down on the chair.

Have you ever thought in your life that a day would come when William Shatner would say to you, “Take me to the bridge”? He’s such a great guy. [Editor’s note: Shatner, who turned 90 earlier this year, worked a trip to Ticonderoga into part of his birthday celebrations.] He has a lot of influence on what we do to improve the event. We asked him what he would like to do, what was his preference for signing autographs, and he said, “Well, why don’t I just sit in my quarters? And people can walk down the hall and line up and sign autographs that way. And I thought, ‘Damn, this is great.’ So fans were able to stand in the halls of the Enterprise and wait to enter Captain Kirk’s quarters to greet him. I mean, how, how cool is that?

A photo of the reconstruction of the Enterprise Bridge

A reconstruction of the Enterprise Bridge

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A reconstruction of the Enterprise Bridge

Trekonderoga

In the last few hours before this event starts, what are the last things you do to prepare? Basic maintenance, cleaning. And of course, we still have daily tours at the same time, so we have all of that going on. In addition, we are starting Star Trek. The next generation. We are actively building this soundstage for fans of this show to visit. And we’re going to kick off some of that bridge set up this weekend for people on insider tours.

What kind of building is it? Well, the whole of the original series is in a building that was built in 1965. It was originally built to be a grocery store, and it was a grocery store for decades, and then it was vacant. And so we bought it and completely renovated the space to turn it into Star Trek. And then next door was a large two-story store, which we just acquired. And this is where the The next generation going.

Am I allowed that you initially funded it in part with the money you earned from your work as Elvis impersonator? Yes. For 31 years, I traveled the country as Elvis on big shows. I’m not the jelly donut guy and I’m not Elvis’ wedding, if you’ll excuse me. But I’ve played in a lot of casinos, in a lot of theaters and showrooms over the years, and toured with the original Jordanaires as backup bands. So it’s been a great career. I live by the philosophy, “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something if you just want it to come out and do it.” “

And apparently if you build it they will come. They will come.



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