By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
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 to 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 when I returned for 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.