Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Author: Henry John Steiner (Page 1 of 4)

Native Sons & The Battle of the Ironclads

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The month of March marks the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia.  This naval engagement occurred early in the War Between the States; it was a two-day battle fought on March 8 & 9, 1862.  Two “ironclad” ship prototypes were involved in the action at Hampton Roads, and the use of that experimental technology made the battle particularly significant.  

The Battle of Hampton Roads

The Battle of Hampton Roads

This battle has associations with our area due the involvement of two men.  One of them I have been well aware of for some time.  The Union ship, Monitor, was commanded by Lieutenant John L. Worden, an early nineteenth century native of Sparta, New York, just to the north of us.  The second man was Commodore Hiram Paulding, one of the children of local Revolutionary War hero John Paulding.  Hiram Paulding made an early name for himself in the Battle of Lake Champlain, during the War of 1812.  By the time of the Civil War he was a seasoned and aged senior naval officer in his mid-sixties. 

Commodore Hiram Paulding

Commodore Hiram Paulding

At the beginning of the Civil War and about a year before the battle of the ironclads, the Gosport Naval Base near Norfolk, Virginia lay idle.  It was a major naval installation of the Union, and it was now effectively behind Confederate lines.  Among the warships at risk of capture there was a relatively new, propeller-driven, frigate named the Merrimack.  This was one of the largest, most powerful warships in the U. S. Navy, mounting forty guns.  The Union commander of the naval base proved to be infirm and impaired by drink, not up to the task of evacuating the warships and personal from the vulnerable port.  Finally, Commodore Hiram Paulding was sent with a relief force to put things in motion, but too late to save the base and its ships.  The best Paulding could do, given the time and resources at his disposal, was to hastily destroy the base, the warships, the ammunition, and the guns.  Paulding reported to headquarters that he had two choices, to leave the arms to the enemy, or attempt to destroy them.  Roughly ten million dollars worth of munitions were burned or scuttled in an attempt to deny them to the Confederacy. 

Upon the departure of Paulding’s forces, the South began to hurriedly salvage the sunken Merrimack and redesign her into a new style of armored ship.  Several months later, in September 1861, Paulding was in Washington.  As a senior officer on the naval board he met in conference with President Lincoln on the subject of a new armored ship for the North.  A controversial design had been submitted by Swedish inventor, John Ericsson.  It met with much opposition, but Paulding proved to be consistently supportive of Ericsson’s concept for the “Monitor.”  While the Monitor was under construction at Greenpoint in Brooklyn, Paulding was appointed Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  It was he who ordered the completed vessel to the seat of battle at Hampton Roads in March 1862.  The order he wrote was delivered to the commanding officer aboard the Monitor, Lieutenant John L. Worden.    

In the first day of the famous battle, Saturday March 8, 1862, the Confederate ironclad, now renamed the Virginia, was unchecked, spreading destruction among the wooden warships of the Union blockade fleet.  However, the second day was marked by a climatic confrontation between the Virginia and the Monitor, newly arrived from its homeport at New York.

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

John L. Worden was born on March 12, 1818, in today’s Scarborough.  In nineteenth century accounts his place of birth is generally cited as “Sparta, Mount Pleasant Township”—a potentially confusing place name in modern context due to municipal changes.  At the time of Worden’s birth, the name Sparta applied to a larger area than it does today. Sparta was an unincorporated hamlet in the Town of Mount Pleasant, embracing most of what is currently known as Scarborough.  The home in which Worden was born was known as “Rosemont”.  It once stood on the east side of Route 9, south of Scarborough Road.  A New York State history sign visible from the highway has long marked the site. 

Worden did not remain long in the locale of his birth; when he was still a child, his parents moved the family to Fishkill.  In 1834, he became a midshipman, later attending the Naval School at Philadelphia.  He was assigned to various tours at sea and to service at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.  At the commencement of the Civil War, Worden was sent by land bearing dispatches to the Union forces at Pensacola Florida.  On the return trip he was captured near Montgomery Alabama.  It is said that he may have been the first P.O.W. held by the South.  After seven months of imprisonment he was “exchanged” and released in poor health.

While still recovering from his illness, Worden was assigned to command of the Union ironclad Monitor.  He reported to Greenpoint, Brooklyn and supervised the final stages of the ship’s construction.  The Monitor was completed on February 25th, 1862.  Although the ship departed for Hampton Roads two days later, it was forced to return immediately for repairs.  It departed a second time on March 6th, 1862, towed along by another vessel.  The relatively unseaworthy Monitor barely survived its voyage to Virginia.  Lieutenant Worden and his ship arrived at Hampton Roads on March 8, too late to participate in the action of that day, which had been highly destructive to the Union fleet. 

The following day, Sunday, March 9, 1862,  the Monitor and the Virginia met in battle—it was a four-hour contest that ended in a virtual draw, neither ship sustaining serious damage.  At the three-hour mark, Worden, the commander of the Monitor, was wounded and partially blinded by a shell explosion.  He ceded his command to the ship’s  executive officer, Samuel Greene.

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

As fate would have it, neither ship saw battle again.  The Virginia was intentionally scuttled by the South to avoid its capture, and the Monitor was to sink less  than a year later, in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

In the North, Lieutenant Worden was acknowledged the Union hero of the battle at Hampton Roads, and his leadership was rewarded with proclamations and a promotion to the rank of commander.  In December 1862, he assumed command of a new Union ironclad, the USS Montauk.  After that assignment, Worden was ordered to supervise the building of ironclads at New York from 1863 to 1869.  He was then appointed to a five-year tour of duty as the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy.  He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and he subsequently commanded the U. S. Navy’s European Squadron.  Worden died in 1897, and his remains were interred at Pawling Cemetery in Dutchess County, New York.

One of the proclamations honoring Worden in the days after the famous battle came from his home state of New York.  A valuable, ceremonial sword made by Tiffany & Company accompanied the legislative proclamation.  Fifteen years after Worden’s death, the sword was donated by his son to the United States Naval Academy, but it was mysteriously stolen in 1931 and given up for lost.  After seventy-three years missing, the sword was recovered by the FBI and restored to the Naval Academy in 2004.

 

 

[Copyright © 2012, 2018 Henry John Steiner]

Herodotus “The Beginning”

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A Personal Beginning

I have strange reading habits—more on that in another post…  As an undergraduate student, I studied literature—English literature—and I started out in a Catholic university named Saint Bonaventure.  I confess that, at the time, I had little interest in continuing my formal education. This was after graduating from Sleepy Hollow High School…

HJS—freshman

HJS—freshman

One of the things that most attracted me to literature, particularly the classics, was the historical component, be it the writings of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, or pre-Shakespearian drama.  People who are aware of my role as Sleepy Hollow Historian often assume that I was a college history major.  History has always been a passion of mine, and I have searched for it in out-of-the-way places.  I don’t know specifically how I contracted the history “bug.”  It might have been my father’s early morning tales of World War II—he occasionally threw a war story off on his way to work.  He usually told me the funny ones—about his buddies in the army counter-intelligence corps—not the tragic ones.  Or maybe it was my mother who connected me with history, who had taught school in France, who sat telling me stories of ancient Greek myths and the “Song of Roland,” the stalwart knight of Charlemagne. 

Somehow or other history and stories of the past seeped into my veins.  Many years later I found a kindred soul in Washington Irving himself—his not so crazy mix of history and story.  Who can blame me for my history “habit,” seated as I have been with a front row seat on the lower Hudson River, with an unobstructed view on the scene of America’s War of Revolution?  Here I can easily see where so many of the players in that epic struggle left their footprints.  So little time, so many stories of the past!

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A Local Native American Creation Story

Commentary by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

“…God was with the woman who dwells with him, and no one knows when that was, or where they had come from. Water was all there was, or at any rate water covered and overran everything… What then took place, they say, was that the

Creation Spirit Woman

Creation “Beautiful Spirit Woman”

aforementioned beautiful woman or idol descended from heaven into the water. She was gross and big like a woman who is pregnant with more than one child. Touching down gently, she did not sink deep, for at once a patch of land began to emerge under her at the spot where she had come down, and there she came to rest and remained. The land waxed greater so that dry patches became visible around the place where she sat, as happens to someone standing on a sandbar in three or

Creation waves

Creation waves

four feet of water while it ebbs away and eventually recedes so far that it leaves him entirely on dry land. That is how it was with the descended goddess, they say and believe, the land ever widening around her until its edge disappeared from view. Gradually grass and other vegetation sprang up and in time, also fruit-bearing and other trees, and from this, in brief, the whole globe came into being much as it appears to this day. Now, whether the world you speak of and originally came from was then created as well, we are unable to say.

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The Mother of Her Country

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Catfish Pond Near the Tarrytown Lakes

Catfish Pond Near the Tarrytown Lakes

It was the forbidden place.  As children growing up in Tarrytown we were told to stay away from it.  So naturally we tried to get there as soon and as often as possible.  The place is called Catfish Pond.  We knew the big kids—the teenagers—went there, and of course that made us all the readier to flaunt the prohibition of our parents.  Besides, our parents probably had a very dim idea of where Catfish Pond was anyway.  Some of the kids on my block knew you could get there by following paths through the woods from the east end of Union Avenue in the Crest—the big kids had shown us the way.  But we could also walk down to Tarrytown Heights and pick up the dirt path of the old railroad bed—along the back edge of  the Tarrytown Lakes.  It was not then a paved bike path as it is today, and there was a chance that you might encounter a particular vagrant person along the way.  He was harmless the big kids said, but, personally, I was prepared to run.

Catfish Pond—a good place to get in trouble

Catfish Pond—a good place to get in trouble

Today, most local folks do not know where Catfish Pond is, or even that there is a Catfish Pond.  They might recognize the place but have no idea that it actually has a name.  The only reason I bring it up here is to give the reader some idea of where Frena Romer lived in the time of the Revolutionary War.  She lived a short distance from where the pond lies today—with her husband Jacob and their many children. 

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An Interesting Map

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The writer, Henry John Steiner, at the NYPL many years later

The writer, Henry John Steiner, at the NYPL many years later

Many years ago, during the 1980s, I would occasionally take my lunch hour at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. What attracted me to the “Main Branch” was its impressive map division, located in the bowels of the enormous library, which one could access on the 42nd Street side.  As conscious as I was of its riches, I was acutely aware that I really did not know how to properly access its resources.  I would “fish” through the catalogue searching for intriguing maps relating to the history of Sleepy Hollow or Tarrytown, but, all in all, my process was pretty much hit-or-miss.

My allotted lunchtime would often be gone before I could hit on something especially interesting.  Walking up the service counter, I would submit my request and wait with my fingers crossed, counting the minutes until my order materialized—or until I got word that it could not be found.  The sands of time drifted away, and, if I was lucky, I would be called to pick up my selection.  A quirk of the process was that a successful search for a promising map was not necessarily repeatable.  A cartographic gem plucked from the labyrinth of the map department might simply be misplaced in the collection once I returned it.  Depending on who behind the counter put it away and who was called upon to produce it once more—I might not see it again.  “Sorry, it seems to be temporarily missing.”  I acquired a touch of gambler’s exhilaration when I could actually access the same item twice.

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John Paulding

Capture of Andre II

Capture of Andre II

John Paulding

—Henry Steiner’s Remarks on the Anniversary of the Capture of Major Andre

By Henry John Steiner

Introduction

Hello, my name is Henry John Steiner, I am the historian of Sleepy Hollow.   It is very good to be here today as part of this celebration and commemoration of John Paulding and his fellow captors of British Major John Andre during the American Revolution. I would like to tip my hat to the members of the board of the Old Cemetery of Van Cortlandtville, who invited me to be here today, to the dignitaries and supporters of this event who have come to honor John Paulding and his fellow American soldiers, and to Colonel Scully, of West Point Military Academy, who we will also hear from today. The new plaque unveiled today will help to spell out and clarify the contribution of a man who did so much for the United States of America in its infancy. John Paulding’s remains lie not very far from where we are assembled. He died 199 years ago this year.

I’d also like to acknowledge my old friend, Jeff Canning, one of your own very astute local historians. Long ago, as children in Tarrrytown, Jeff and I were rigorously schooled in the importance and achievement of John Paulding. I’m sure neither of us has forgotten those early lessons, and I must confess I was somewhat daunted to learn that my old schoolmate was going to be here listening to my remarks. But knowing how generous Jeff has long been with his considerable knowledge of local history, I take great solace in knowing that he will be content to ignore everything I have to say.

Andre-Arnold Affair

Andre and Arnold

Andre and Arnold

I thought that today I would talk about John Paulding the man. His identity is so caught up in the Andre-Arnold Affair that it may be hard to get a good look at him through the centuries. Who was he? It’s very hard to separate him from the momentus event that he was part of, what one historian called “The Crisis of the Revolution.” Many of you are familiar with the story—Arnold was disgruntled with Congress and hard-up for money. He colluded with the wily John Andre, adjutant general and spy-master of the British Army in North America. Later, Andre was often cast as an innocent, unfortunate victim. He was not. He was a very intelligent, ambitious, and interested “player” whose plans went awry. In a high stakes game, he bet future acclaim and a very comfortable life on one roll of the dice. He lost. He was not cuddly and well-intentioned. He sought to deal a death blow to the American military, the American government, and the cause of American Independence. And from the grave he managed to muddy the reputations of John Paulding and the other captors.

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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.

Henry Steiner-and-Chris Skelly.jpg

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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