By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
The summer of 1912. There was a lot to do—or not do. What there was to do required no interaction with smart phones, computers, Kindles, the Internet, televisions, or radios. Even the first American commercial radio station was still a good eight years off. The music of the day was concert music, band music, and ragtime… and it could be heard live or from a phonograph record. That’s it. If you wanted to see Harry Houdini perform one of his stunts, you had to find a way to show up… or just be content with the photo of Houdini that ran with the newspaper story. Reading was an important component of entertainment and leisure in the early 20th century.
In that time the United States population was about 95,000,000 and the GDP thirty-seven billion. In politics, former President Theodore Roosevelt decided to challenge his former secretary of war in the upcoming election, incumbent President William Howard Taft. For that purpose Roosevelt created the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party. Much water had flowed under the proverbial “bridge” since 1897, when Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, made an oration at the Tarrytown Music Hall on the occasion of the Old Dutch Church’s bicentennial.
More locally in the August election, Tarrytown Village President, Frank R. Pierson, was voted, once again, the president of the Tarrytown School Board. Among the most popular new books of that year was Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Lost World. The Woolworth Building in New York was then the tallest building in the world, and on July 2nd the city’s first Automat opened at Times Square.
One of the joys of summer in the year 1912 was Sleepy Hollow’s Farrington Pharmacy at 60 Beekman Avenue. There you could catch up on the latest professional baseball scores, which were telegraphed in while you refreshed yourself with “The Finest Soda in Town.” The shop also prided itself on its grape juice and lemonade beverage. If you were not content with just hearing about sporting activities, you might catch a real, semi-professional baseball game at St. Teresa’s Park, just one block down the street, at the corner of Beekman Avenue and Pocantico Street. You might even catch the local Catholic Club take on the Oakwood Team of White Plains.
If kids wanted to compete athletically themselves, there were many options, including the annual St. Teresa’s Church Picnic offering a Children’s Sports Field Day with foot races, bicycle races, all kinds of races—sack races, three-legged races, barrel races, and a one-mile walking race. Other attractions were offered—exhibition dancing and an Irish piper. Not to be outdone, Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown had its own 4th of July Picnic with “games, dancing and good music.”
The ultimate “games” were being played out that summer in Stockholm Sweden where the United States team was making headlines and garnering the greatest portion of the “gold”. The team’s standout athlete was Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon, and who would, six months later, be dispossessed (“temporarily”) of his awards. His awards were posthumously reinstated in 1982.
Closer to home, a graduate of the Irving School in Sleepy Hollow was continuing to astound the fans of professional baseball. Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Collins played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and at the end of his career he ranked second in the major league in career games, walks, and stolen bases. Collins had graduated from the private boys school in Sleepy Hollow during the spring of 1903. During his Irving School days, his parents lived first on Wildey Street and then, afterward, at 90 North Broadway in Tarrytown (the current Dwyer Funeral Home). A cartoon in the Tarrytown Daily News suggested that making a kid practice the fiddle while all his friends were off playing baseball was just “Taking the Joy Out of Summer.”
The Music Hall offered a mix of silent films and vaudeville. The theater boasted that it was “The coolest spot in the village.” (Note that in 1912 the word “cool” referred exclusively to temperature.) With respect to live entertainments at the theater, the public apparently needed to be assured that performances would be in good taste, “Three refined acts including the News Boys’ Sextet—a high class act”. This year was also the advent of the serial movie. How many of us know that the mini-series was in invention of early silent films? Audiences would be lured back to see the next exciting installment of Edison Studios’, What Happened to Mary? The Fox & Biography Studio was fond of shooting scenes in our local villages in those days. The “film biz” was still in the process of transplanting itself to the West Coast, not exclusively to enjoy the better shooting weather, but to escape the crippling threat of Edison’s exclusive patents on motion picture equipment.
We can be sure that the day laborers who landscaped the local estates and the maids and seamstresses had little use for the croquet sets and hammocks advertised by C. H. Curtiss and Company in Tarrytown, but they might have splurged on the summer drinks and ice cream served up by Breunig’s at 47 Orchard Street, owners of a “new sanitary fountain”. Today it is not clear who could have afforded the amenities of the Phoenix Hotel at the Tarrytown waterfront, which included a cafe, restaurant, and “summer garden” overlooking the Hudson River’s Tappan Zee (the body-of-water, not the bridge). Nearby, the Tarrytown boat club hosted a dance for its members and the public.
It was a time when catching a six-pound bass could land you on the front page of the Tarrytown Daily News (which had just begun publishing). The proud fisherman just had to remember to pass the newspaper office at Valley Street on the way home.
Further up the Hudson River, Bear Mountain Park and Lodge were under construction and they would not open for yet another year. But if a rustic lodge was the vacationer’s summer dream, then he or she could take the New York Central Railroad to the Adirondacks or perhaps the Thousand Islands? The traveler was counseled to pack old clothes for “roughing it”, and journey north for some fun at fishing, golf, or tennis. At night there would of course be dancing and stories told around the campfire, and one could sleep soundly up in the woods due to the cool summer nights! Film exposed up in the northern wilds could be sent ahead by mail or express, and Russell and Lawrie Pharmacy on the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway would have the photos ready on the vacationer’s return. In addition to expedited photo processing Russell & Lawrie Pharmacy had other allurements. “If you own a straw hat (and you probably do) you will need Elkay’s Straw Hat Cleaner,” available at the drug store.
The call of the northern wilds could be answered by men or women, for the leaders of the New York State women’s suffrage movement were promoting a new “physical activism” to all women, who would no longer be confining themselves to the family homestead. The campaign had been earnestly joined for women of New York State to win the Vote.
The dictates of fashion can be severe, so it was only fair to warn folks that, in 1912, women’s clothes should have “abundant pockets” and “taffeta bodices” are to be worn with “white organdie skirts”. “Flat and thin” was the preferred style dictated for the 1912 handbag.
If local events were not plentiful enough for one’s taste, the pedestrian ferry could be taken to the other side of the Hudson River where the Nyack firemen were throwing their annual carnival. The grand prize was a Chevrolet five-passenger automobile. There was also a midnight sail scheduled to Palisades Amusement Park on the New Jersey side of river. The Scarborough K.O.K.A. (?) planned an August trip to Coney Island, and another Coney Island excursion was offered by Irvington’s Pastime Athletic Club, leaving from Lockwood & Pateman’s Dock aboard the Cyrus. In Tarrytown the Christ Church Sentinels offered an excursion to Rye Beach and for 75 cents one could voyage on the Commander through the Hudson Highlands. The hosts, Asbury Church Sunday School, assured participants that there would be “no crowding” aboard and “first class music”.
In Irvington that summer, the Saint Barnabas Church Junior Auxiliary presented two plays on the parish lawn, and tickets were only 15 cents. In Sleepy Hollow the Tarrytown Hebrew School sponsored a picnic at St. Teresa Park. The Women’s Devotional Society of the Second Reformed Church planned a “porch tea” at the private home of a member at 24 South Washington Street to be held Thursday from 3-6, admission 15 cents. Glenville Fire Company held a “Peach Festival” and dance—“peaches, ice cream, cake, and good music.” Immaculate Conception Church in Irvington hosted a lawn party on the Russell Thompkins estate with music and amusements—admission, 50 cents. St. Paul’s Church in Sleepy Hollow planned an ice cream and cake sale. And one of the biggest events of the summer was that held by Rescue Hose at the Chevrolet lot, on the corner of Hudson Street and Beekman Avenue. It included a wrestling exhibit, a Ferris wheel, shooting galleries, and an Italian band. An estimated 2000 people attended.
Mr. & Mrs. C. F. Odell of Grove Street hosted a summer porch party in honor of their daughter Helen. We don’t know if this announcement was just an FYI, or if everyone was invited. A sober note in the wake of all this socializing—“Speed maniacs are a menace.” Or so the editor of the Tarrytown Daily News thought. “Automobiles are being sold at lower prices every year… everybody thinks that he or she can drive a car.” So the writer looked ahead to better times, when “every driver will be compelled to take an examination and go through a course in driving before being issued a license.” And to give the crusading editor his due, there were many bad auto accidents reported near and far in that day.
The Hudson River could be both a pleasure and a hazard. Those who sought to enjoy its waters had to take their opportunities and chances amid the industrial uses it was increasingly being put to. A brand new YMCA building on Main Street in Tarrytown opened its doors in 1912. At the “Y” children could learn to swim, but many youths did not yet know how. Young people in that day often went unmonitored, especially in the summertime, and the river took its toll. There were newspaper stories of both drownings and rescues. The lighthouse keeper, Captain Kalberg, lamented that youths regularly tried to reach the lighthouse from the shore, and he would often feel oblige to launch a rescue boat—just in case. In that day the shore was nearly a quarter mile from the lighthouse.
In the month of August that year a new bridge was completed in Sleepy Hollow. It was constructed at a cost of approximately $15,000 donated by William Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller it seems had to routinely cross the Pocantico River bridge on his way home along Route 9, and he must have preferred to cross a new bridge. The village fathers ordered a bronze plaque to be placed on this new crossing, crediting Mr. Rockefeller’s “gift”, but the man “indignantly” ordered his name removed. He of course paid for the removal of the plaque too. Our journal of record informs us reassuringly that,” William Rockefeller will spend most of the summer at Rockwood Hall”, though “he may spend a few days at his cottage in the Adirondacks. Many picnickers are admitted to his estate daily, however they are not permitted to eat lunch on the estate.”
[Copyright © 2012 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]