Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Leonard Abraham

…and Notes on the Sleepy Hollow – Tarrytown Jewish Community

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

From Beginnings in Old New York

Leonard Abraham as a youth

Leonard Abraham as a youth

It was an enriching experience to meet with Leonard Abraham in 2011.  Our interview took place less than two months before his passing at the age of 100.  Leonard died on Sunday, December 18, 2011, a little more than five and a half years ago.  I found him to be warm and intelligent, possessing a great deal of zest for the life he led and a also a fondness for his memories of the past.  The man I met with was a lovely, modest man with a fantastic memory and physical resources that belied his years.  I saw him manage to walk down his steep driveway with careful but sure-footed steps.  Like myself, Leonard was a man who never strayed far from his hometown.  He was born on Main Street and died 100 years later on Neperan Road, two streets that are so close they are practically the same street.  Like my own folks, Leonard’s parents had “migrated” northward to Tarrytown from New York City.  Here the Abrahams put down new roots, and their family became a welcome addition to the life of this community.

Leonard’s parents left the surging Jewish population of Manhattan to become part of the more or less nascent Jewish community rising up along the eastern side of the Hudson River’s Tappan Zee.  This community emerged to a large degree from behind the storefronts of Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, and Ossining.  Jewish merchants had begun to arrive, seeking opportunities to earn a living and to peacefully raise families.  They were not unlike the first Jewish families who arrived in New Amsterdam (the former name of New York City) in the mid-seventeenth century.  Those new arrivals were hoping to start a new life. 

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A Short Walk on the Aqueduct

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Where I started my walk.

Where I started my walk.

Today, July 21st, 2017, it was hot.  But, since the air was fairly dry and the sky was sunny, I thought I would take a brief walk…  And it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail for many months.

So I drove over to McKeel Avenue in Tarrytown and parked at Croton Avenue, just behind the Chase Bank.  This section of the aqueduct was the one I used most often when I was growing up in the village.  My parents’ family had just moved from one neighborhood in Tarrytown to another.  We started out in the Tarry Crest area and moved, maybe half a mile north, into a district known as Wilson Park.  Our street was new, a cul-de-sac named Walden Road.  You took McKeel Avenue up the hill from Broadway to Beech Lane, and then made a left on Walden Road.

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Remembering Monsignor Louis Mazza

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Monsignor Louis Mazza

Monsignor Louis Mazza, photo Henry John Steiner

I was downtown today, June 9, 2017, and I struck up a conversation with Father Dany Abi-Akar of Saint John Paul II Parish at the Immaculate Conception Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Father Dany has been a much appreciated addition to our community here in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. He and I were speaking together about his church building’s local history, when Father Dany informed me of the sad passing of the church’s former pastor, Monsignor Louis Mazza. My understanding is that Monsignor Mazza passed away in Yonkers (where he had been living in retirement) last Wednesday, June 7, 2017.  [Please note: there has been some conflicting information about the exact location of Monsignor Mazza’s passing.  The Riverdale on Hudson Funeral Home noted : “at the Edward Cardinal Egan Pavilion, St. John Vianney Clergy Residence in the Bronx, New York.”  Another source suggested that he died at the Cardinal OʻConnor Clergy Residence in Riverdale, the Bronx.  According to the funeral home, the monsignor’s remains were to be interred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in Bronx, New York.]

In observance of Monsignor’s life and service to our community, I thought I would share a glimpse of the man who has left us. I interviewed Monsignor Mazza fifteen years ago, in early 2003, and what follows is a brief look at the man who many of us knew personally by sight and by name…

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Twenty Years Later—Recapturing Sleepy Hollow

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Just a few personal thoughts…

I reflect with gratitude on an important date in Sleepy Hollow history, something particularly meaningful to me. Twenty years ago this month, along with many other dedicated folks, I helped to recover Sleepy Hollow’s identity. It was lost and we found it. That I am able to say this means a lot to me.

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Henry Steiner and Christopher Skelly, Co-Leaders of the 1996 Sleepy Hollow Renaming

December 10th, 1996, was the rewarding culmination of a significant struggle. Through it, we were able to reinstate the legacy of Sleepy Hollow as an important historic and legendary American place. My colleagues and I saw the thing that we had worked so long and hard for finally come to pass. Many committed women and men joined in the campaign, and among them was my friend and Renaming Campaign co-leader, Christopher Skelly.

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The Holiday Fish …or… Mutants in the Hudson

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Introducing the tomcod

Before we suburbanites came to Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, and the other river towns, there were the millionaires—our neighborhoods are carved from their estates.  Before them, there were farmers—they displaced (to put it nicely) the Native American farmer/hunters who inhabited these lands for thousands of years. But even before the native people there was the humble tomcod, swimming in the Hudson.

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Sleepy Hollow’s December Fish

December has long been the month for tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), also known as the Atlantic tomcod, tommy cod, frostfish, poulamon (French), or winter cod. I wonder how many hungry, bygone residents of our community have sustained themselves on tomcod when there was little else at hand? Few of us give these small creatures a passing thought, or even know that they exist at all. Be that as it may, they are out there now, along the edge of the Hudson—a modest little fish. It is described as an “in-shore fish,” rarely swimming into deep water, sticking to shallows, estuaries, and tributaries. And it loves the cold, being able to tolerate extremely cold temperature and significant fluctuations in water salinity.

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Native American Fish Fire-17th century

The similarity and dissimilarity of the tomcod to the codfish

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Monhegan Island — an addendum to the Rockwell Kent post

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Native Tarrytown artist, Rockwell Kent, was both a productive artist and a talented writer.  From time to time I enjoy dipping in to his wonderfully descriptive and often provocative prose.  The other day I stumbled upon his short account of his first visit to Monhegan Island in Maine.  It is taken from his 1955 autobiography, It’s Me O Lord.  In it Rockwell Kent conveys the excitement and anticipation he felt as he stepped ashore and began to explore the island as a young artist in the summer of 1905.  I have never been to Monhegan Island, but Rockwell Kent’s description coupled with his many paintings of the island makes his experience there startlingly vivid for me:

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MONHEGAN

The Island, 1905

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Captain Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow Home

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Talented, well connected, intelligent, mild, affable, diligent, pious, and, above all—controversial.   All these things could be said of the man whose order inspired Billy Budd, the dark, short masterpiece of American literary giant, Herman Melville. Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie was born in New York City and began his naval career before he was twelve years old. During the last eight years of his life, 1840-1848, he made his home at the northern limits of Sleepy Hollow. Today that place is called Rockwood Hall or Rockwood.

Alexander_Slidell_Mackenzie_(1803-1848)

Mackenzie the Writer

Mackenzie was a productive writer and an accomplished naval officer. His literary friends included Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Fennimore Cooper (until Mackenzie and Cooper fell out). A few hundred yards to the south of Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow farm was the estate of the wealthy and influential newspaperman, James Watson Webb—a place that was once called Pokahoe, or later, the Fremont estate. Ocean-going writer, Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast, was another literary acquaintance of the commander. Mackenzie’s second in command at the most critical moment of his career was Guert Gansevoort—the cousin of American novelist Herman Melville—author of what many scholars believe to be the “Great American Novel,” Moby Dick.

Washington Irving in later years

Washington Irving in later years

It was in Spain between 1826 and 1827 that Mackenzie began close friendships with Washington Irving and American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With Irving, Mackenzie discussed the notion of turning his personal journal of Spain into a first book. Irving endorsed the idea and the result was A Year in Spain (1829). Irving would generously assist the younger author in producing a successful London edition of the book. America’s leading author of that age actually took pen in hand to make stylistic improvements to Mackenzie’s manuscript. Irving wrote to his friend that these changes were “petty corrections which will be of service to you hereafter in point of style.” The unselfish Washington Irving, acting as a copy editor! But Irving had already garnered a service from his friend; Mackenzie, then a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy, had provided Irving with valuable nautical information to be used in an ambitious biography of Christopher Columbus.

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Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse in 2017

Bring your questions to discuss with Sleepy Hollow Village Historian Henry John Steiner.

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

May – October 2017

2017 Extended Open House Dates:

September 3, 17

October 8, 29             

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The Mystery of “M. E. J.” or Insanity, Suicide, and Grief in the Gilded Age

 

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

About 9:30 PM, Friday night, June 20, 1891, a home owner named Abraham Anderson saw her walking by his house in Croton. Whether she walked directly to the Hudson River, or waited until morning is unclear. Shortly after 9 AM, Philip Schnell arrived at his waterfront brickyard and noticed a woman’s straw hat and veil out on the dock. He dragged the water with a rake and discovered the clothed body of a “handsome” young woman.

Our ideas of the 1890s in America tend to call up images of decadence and high living among the “captains and kings” of industry and society. There is, however, another less familiar side to that picture, one that reveals the lives of workers and “ordinary people.” These are lives referenced in the period literature of novelist Theodore Dreiser and journalist Jacob Riis among others. The Gay Nineties predated the development of modern psychiatry and the use of antibiotics; it was the height of the industrial revolution, confronting Americans with accelerating social changes.

The Mystery Woman, M.E.J.

The Mystery Woman, M.E.J.

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Native Son—Rockwell Kent

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

The solitary figure in an austere landscape is the emblem of Rockwell Kent’s rugged individualism. Kent’s work is homage to the mystic power and beauty found in both man and nature. The “elemental” reigned supreme in the artist’s view of life, nature, and his art. One familiar example of this theme is the bookplate he designed for the Warner Library about 1947. A man stands, book in hand, near the crest of a hill; the wide Tappan Zee and the hills of Nyack lie in the background. This image and Kent’s distinctive artistic style were etched into my memory from the time I first borrowed a book from the Warner Library as a young child. As I recall, there was a time when Kent’s bookplate was pasted into the endpaper of nearly every book in the library.

 The scenes of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are no match for the stark drama of Tierra del Fuego, Alaska, Newfoundland, and Greenland, which fills much of Kent’s work, but these Hudson Valley hills served as the artist’s spiritual incubator. The man was a set of contradictions, a sociable introvert, a cantankerous sentimentalist, a mix of Victorian formality and radical non-conformity, an avowed socialist whose patrons included corporations and the wealthy. This strange mix would lead to a kind of artistic and political rejection during his lifetime; some might call it a suicide, others a crucifixion.

young Rockwell Kent

Young Rockwell Kent

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