I recently returned from a trip to Ticonderoga, New York where I visited one of the most unlikely attractions for an area rich in American revolutionary history. Hidden away in a repurposed storefront of this tiny, historic town, one man’s childhood dream has become reality that he’s chosen to share with the world.
James Cawley is, by profession, an Elvis Presley tribute artist. But his lifelong love of the original Star Trek television series drove him to construct one of the single most accurate recreations of the classic show’s space-going sets. Wise men may have said only fools rush in, but Cawley did it full throttle, going where no few fans had gone before.
Around 2004, he rounded up friends and associates in the entertainment business to produce a web-based continuation of the Starship Enterprise’s five-year mission. Titled first, “Star Trek New Voyages,” and later adopting creator Gene Roddenberry’s planned second series name, “Star Trek Phase II,” Cawley and crew made nearly a dozen full-length episodes and shorts featuring Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the original series characters.
Using his own time, effort and money and thanks to the care and hard work of his associates, Cawley’s dream became a reality as he, himself, took up the center seat on the web show as Captain James T. Kirk. With computer generated special effects, hand-crafted costumes and painstakingly detailed sets based on the 1960s series, his vision was to capture the appeal of the original show, and that he did.
Unfortunately, that dream was cut short when CBS Paramount, the owners of Star Trek, issued highly restrictive rules for fan-made Star Trek productions. Although no revenue was generated by Cawley’s show and any donated funds were used for production costs, not paychecks, the company still saw it as a copyright infringement.
Unwilling to let all of this hard work dry up and blow away, Cawley and company worked with CBS Paramount to officially license his production sets into an attraction that fans could visit and appreciate along with them.
Now open to the public, the Star Trek Set Tour is a one-of-a-kind fan experience. Built from and arranged according to the original Desilu Studios stage plans, the tour includes a complete bridge set, transporter room, hallways and much more. Several areas of the ship’s interior sets are still under construction and more are planned, but that only adds to the value of the experience.
While there is a charge to visit the sets, volunteers still do nearly all of the labor-intensive and highly skilled creative work. And it is clear Cawley sees this project as his way of sharing what he’s built with all of us. Chatting with him during my visit, I made a comment referring to “his” ship but he was quick to correct me.
“This is ‘our’ ship,” he responded, looking across the bridge set from where we stood watching fellow fans marvel over the realism of what he’d built. It was clear this is his labor of love and he’s proud to share it with us.
At this point it’s important for me to tell you that other than having been yet another visiting fan transported back to my childhood as I sat in the recreated captain’s chair I have no affiliation with the exhibit. But I bring all of this to your attention because I can relate to Cawley’s vision, his desire to see a dream to reality and bring it to others who will enjoy it with him.
We should all have a labor of love in our lives, something that earns us no money but serves to enrich others and ourselves. For some, it might be volunteering as a sports coach or tutoring underprivileged children. Others may see community theater or serving in public office in such a way.
You don’t have to go where no man has gone before to do it. But, whatever yours may be, when we are able to share our interests with other similarly impassioned people, it makes us better and more well rounded human beings.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Photos and video from this piece available at thejamestowncomet.com.