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Poe in Westchester

Poe in Westchester

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Poe in 1848

Poe in 1848

Few of us realize that a great American author, Edgar Allan Poe, once lived in Westchester County.  Well, he sort of did.  We can assert this because the Bronx was once the southern part of Westchester.  The Bronx was part of the county at the time of Westchester’s founding, in 1683.  The area remained the southern part of Westchester until the creation of Greater New York City in the years 1874 and 1898.  So, for 191 years (at a minimum) the Bronx was within the county of Westchester.  For as long as Poe lived in the Bronx, he lived in Westchester County. 

Good—we got that out of the way…

Poe Park map

Poe Park map

The part of the Bronx in which Poe resided was Fordham Village, one of the eleven villages in the now extinct township of West Farms.  The present-day Grand Concourse runs north-south, through the Fordham Village of old, and the humble farmhouse or cottage which Poe rented stood on the west side of where the Concourse runs today.  The little Poe house was subsequently relocated to the east side of the boulevard in the early twentieth century.  It stands within a small public park, named Poe Park, and the historic house functions as a tiny museum with a street address of 2640 Grand Concourse.

Poe cottage front wide

Poe cottage front wide

Poe had settled in Manhattan in 1844.  He then moved to the Fordham cottage in the spring of 1846 in the company of his wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, and his mother-in-law (who was also Poe’s aunt), Maria Poe Clemm.  The New York and Harlem Railroad had only recently become the first line to connect New York City and Westchester County, and service to Fordham had opened in 1841.  It is likely that Poe took advantage of this link to the publishers of lower Manhattan.  Occasionally Poe would be visited by messengers carrying proofs of his writing from printing houses in New York. 

Poe cottage front

Poe cottage front

One particular messenger boy was sent to Poe’s residence twice within a few months of the Poe family settling in Fordham Village.  As the boy sat waiting for the writer to review the proofs, he had the opportunity of observing the activity of the household.  When the boy was older, he recorded his impressions.  On the first occasion, the boy saw Poe’s wife, Virginia, who sat wrapped up beside her husband as he did his work.  On the next visit, the boy was struck by the appearance of the woman’s face, “thin and white,” with eyes “wonderingly obtrusive.”  He remembered seeing Poe wince as he heard Virginia cough in another room.  Poe himself was said also to be ill during this period.  The family suffered from want as Poe struggled to generate income.

Postmortem watercolor of Virginia Clemm Poe

Postmortem watercolor of Virginia Clemm Poe

Toward the beginning of January 1847, a friend and visitor observed Virginia bedridden  and inadequately clothed in the cold house, “with only sheets and a coverlet on the bed, wrapped in her husband’s coat.”  A charitable “subscription of $60” was said to have been raised for the family, and its situation was reported in the New York newspapers in order to raise more funds.  Virginia died of tuberculosis on January 30, 1847, less than a year after moving into the cottage.  Her grieving husband and mother had Virginia’s remains buried in the graveyard of the Fordham Dutch Church. 

Poe cottage 1st floor Virginia's bedroom

Poe cottage 1st floor Virginia’s bedroom

Poe cottage 1st floor sitting room

Poe cottage 1st floor sitting room

During his time in Westchester, Poe indulged in self-defeating controversies with real or perceived literary rivals.  Published disagreements of this sort appear to have been a common ritual among many mid-nineteenth century writers.  These wanton brawls in print made peaceful nonparticipants, (such as local celebrity, Washington Irving) all the more admired and remarkable for staying out of the fray.  In this period Poe would produce some of his most famous works:  “The Bells,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Annabel Lee.” 

High Bridge in Poe's time

High Bridge in Poe’s time

He was observed strolling on  High Bridge, a notable feature of the newly constructed (Old) Croton Aqueduct.  Poe, it is recorded, enjoyed visiting the Jesuit priests of the Fordham college, then named “Saint John’s College,” which was very near to his home.  The bells of that institution may have inspired his famous poem, “The Bells.”  The writer found the priests to be “highly cultivated gentlemen and scholars [who] smoked, drank, and played cards like gentlemen, and never said a word about religion.”

Maria Poe Clemm

Maria Poe Clemm

While Poe resided in Fordham after the death of Virginia, his mother-in-law continued to care for him and keep house.  Even in the years following his death Maria Clemm loyally defended him and his legacy, in spite of her struggles with poverty and other personal difficulties.  The cottage she kept was ringed with cherry trees, and it was “of the humble description and contained in all, but three small rooms and a kind of closet.”  On the first floor there was a sitting room, a kitchen and a small bedroom.  On the second floor was a room for Mrs. Clemm and a small study for Poe.  There were songbirds in cages hanging from the eaves of

Poe cottage 1st floor kitchen

Poe cottage 1st floor kitchen

the narrow front porch.  One source suggests that the house was sparsely furnished, out of preference or necessity, or both.  It sat on a plot of ground about a quarter of an acre in extent.  In the latter nineteen century, long after Poe’s few years there, it was feared that the structure would be torn down and its land developed.  One observer wrote in 1900, “To-day several ‘modern’ houses of a distinctly indifferent order of architecture, occupy all of the land except the single lot where the cottage stands.”  At that date there were already plans being made to move the small dwelling to a public park on the opposite side of the concourse. 

Poe cottage stair at 2nd floor

Poe cottage stair at 2nd floor

After Virginia’s death, Poe “pursued” a number of women, possibly in an attempt to fill an emotional void and to repair his economic straits through marriage.  His gaze turned on a local divorced woman, Marie Louise Shew, who had been of valuable assistance to the household during Virginia’s illness.  She, it seems, wearied of the troubled writer’s attentions. In June 1848, Poe hosted another woman, Jane Erminia Locke, a literary enthusiast, at his Fordham home.  He then traveled

Poe cottage front side view

Poe cottage front side view

to see her at her home in Lowell, Massachusetts while he delivered a lecture there.  Soon, Poe was distracted by one or two additional women.  He was particularly avid for another woman living in Providence, Rhode Island—a writer named Sarah Helen Whitman.  The two were engaged, until, through damning reports and firsthand evidence, it became clear to the lady and her family that Poe was an emotional wreck and an apparent abuser alcohol and laudanum.  The Christmas Day 1848 marriage was called off and Poe returned to Fordham. 

Poe cottage window

Poe cottage window

In early 1849 he managed to reignite his literary efforts for a time.  Receiving encouragement from a potential financial backer, he saw the possibility of establishing his own literary journal, and in June 1849, he set off for the South to promote subscriptions for the magazine.  The railroad trip from New York to Richmond, Virginia had terrible results.  Before Poe made it past Philadelphia he was drunk, broke, and missing a valise that contained all his belongings.  After experiencing great difficulty and then miraculously recovering his valise, he arrived at Richmond.  He managed to deliver a set of relatively successful

Poe cottage 1st floor fireplace

Poe cottage 1st floor fireplace

lectures there, and also rekindled a relationship with a recently widowed, childhood sweetheart, Elmira Royster Shelton.  This led, on September 22nd, to a formal engagement.  Poe took leave of his new fiancé to settle business affairs in New York, but he never arrived at that small cottage at Fordham.  He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore, on October 7th, 1849 at the age of forty.  The following day, his remains were buried there.  Much later, in 1878, the remains of his wife, Virginia, were moved from Fordham to Poe’s grave site in Baltimore.

A 19th century sketch of the Poe cottage in its original location

A 19th century sketch of the Poe cottage in its original location

Today the tiny Poe cottage is still standing, but across the boulevard from its original site.  Indeed, it hunkers beneath the comparatively high, massive apartment buildings of the Grand Concourse.  There is no longer the twitter of birds on its front porch, but the report and echo of passing cars and buses.   The diminutive dwelling is only a relic of Poe’s life, but it is well worth visiting.  There is a rich poignancy that hangs about the place, born perhaps of Poe’s seemingly ineffectual and misguided efforts to climb free of his nearly hopeless “lot.”  Neither were the fates kind to his wife, Virginia Poe, nor to her mother, Maria Clemm.  For a time, these three persons found a kind of sad respite at their humble Fordham home, ringed with cherry trees and serenaded by caged songbirds.

Note: For more on Edgar Allan Poe’s influence (specifically in historic Sleepy Hollow), see my piece entitled, “The Ghosts and Mr. Anderson.”

http://headlesshorsemanblog.com/ghosts-edgar-allen-poe-john-anderson/

[Copyright © 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Jim Laird —An Overdue Appreciation of a Friend

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

jim Laird with paddle

Jim Laird with paddle

Jim Laird was a friend of mine, and over the years we spent a lot of time together.  Much of that time was spent playing tennis and platform tennis.  For a long time Jim organized a regular, Sunday morning pickup match at the old—now defunct—Tarrytown platform tennis courts, on the Hudson River waterfront. They were old wooden courts in bad shape.  During their last decade of existence, little was done to keep them in operating condition.  I guess there was virtually no Tarrytown constituency left to squawk about keeping them in shape.  (Apparently, if you turn your back on something long enough, the constituencies fade away.)  Our own group of men players were interlopers there—we were pretty much all from Sleepy Hollow.  So, we had no standing to complain about the condition of the courts—or even to be on them!  But we never got hassled us for our clamorous, early-morning, Sunday platform tennis bouts.

Freehand- by Jim Laird

Freehand- by Jim Laird

Jim was the ring leader.  He was persistent about lining up players for those pickup matches, just as he was dogged about so many of his pursuits—the renaming of the Village of Sleepy Hollow for instance—but I’ll get to that later.  It was a mistake to mention a cherished idea to him in passing, because he would continually remind you of it in subsequent discussions, “holding your feet to the fire.”

A trout program sign by JIm

A trout program sign by JIm

So, anyway, on Sunday mornings you were supposed to be there ready to play at 7:00 am sharp.  And woe to the player who failed to answer the alarm!  Jim would hunt you down. “Where’s Ed?” he would say, “he’s supposed to be here.”  Jim had everyone’s cell number and landline number.  If he got no response on the cell, he would go the landline, and many was the morning that the phone was answered by a groggy and bewildered wife or significant-other.  Jim had the habit of not introducing himself when making calls.  He seemed to think such niceties a waste of time, besides, wasn’t it obvious who it was?  The only thing he would utter on such occasions were the three doleful words…“Where is he?”  He seemed unperturbed by the response he usually got, which was the slamming of the receiver on the cradle or a shouted expletive.  Jim was just doing his “job.”  Usually the offending player would arrive sheepishly within a few minutes away. 

Jim Laird in his medium

Jim Laird in his “office”

Jim came from Ohio, of Scottish descent, and he could be as careful with money as a Highland bard, or as generous as a kid on payday.  In his younger years he served in the U. S. Army, a noncom in the tank corp.  When I met him in Sleepy Hollow, he was a dedicated, amateur athlete.  Jim was approaching the end of a long and active enjoyment of sport—racquet sports, golf, fishing, and cycling.  In years gone by he had bicycled across the United States and run in the New York and Boston Marathons.

Jim Laird and Henry Atterbury at the Tarry Inn

Jim Laird and Henry Atterbury at the Tarry Inn

Jim’s career was in graphic design, and he had run a successful agency in New York after receiving degrees at Kent State and Syracuse University. In many ways, his talents left distinctive marks on our community.  He designed a lineup of attractive publications in the early days of the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and some very professional and aesthetically pleasing brochures for the newly renamed (in 1996) Village of Sleepy Hollow.  Back in the days when I was completing my first local history book, it was Jim who so generously offered to help me with the cover design.

Page one of Jim Laird's Renaming flier

Page one of Jim Laird’s 1996 Renaming flier

Jim Laird contributed monetarily and professionally to reconnect Sleepy Hollow with it famous name.  He also pitched in with a lot of time and sweat.  This was during the 1996 referendum campaign.  Hundreds of lovely brochures designed by Jim were delivered to village voters and played a significant role in once more returning a famous name to a famous place that had, in many respects, forgotten its own fame.  As one of the leaders in the renaming effort, I truly valued his contributions and enthusiasm.  I know that Chris Skelly, my friend and co-leader on the effort, felt the same way.  On the evening of December 10th, 1996, Jim joined us at the Old Dutch Church to “ring-in” the new village name with the church’s three-century-old bell.

Sleepy Hollow Village sign

Sleepy Hollow Village sign

After the time of the renaming, Jim put his talents to work for the village by designing attractive signs, prominently positioned at the north and south approaches to the village.  They are still there today.  About twenty years ago he got very involved with me and the village recreation department on a program that began trout stockings on the lower Pocantico River.  At that time there was also a catch-and-release section of the river created with the cooperation of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Jim produced the signage for this project too.  Speaking of fishing, I remember the old flat bottom rowboat he used to keep behind his house in Philipse Manor and how, in the old days, he used to launch it on Fremont Pond for bass fishing or just rowing around.

Some of the Usual Suspects

Some of the “Usual Suspects”

As Jim got older he seemed to spend more of his time playing golf and less of it playing racket sports.  On occasion I would go along with him and be very impressed with his easy, fluid swing and his love of the game.  Sometimes Henry Atterbury would be accompany him and the three of us would have good laughs as we played our round together.  Henry Atterbury was the recreation director of  Sleepy Hollow at the time of the renaming and when the trout program began.  Eventually he became the recreation director of Ossining for many years.   The three of us would sometimes meet for lunch at Hugh Casey’s Tarry Inn on Beekman Avenue in Sleepy Hollow—today known as J. P. Doyle’s Restaurant.  Hugh Casey was a “founding father” of our community’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.

Black Walnut tree—Philipse Manor

Black Walnut tree—Philipse Manor

Saint Patrick’s Day was often a good reason for convening at Jim’s house.  He, his wife Irene, and daughters Lisa and Kate would host a lively gathering characterized by warmth and good cheer.  He loved his children and was proud of their accomplishments.  Patrick and Sonya Munroe (two friends very active in the village renaming) were often on hand to lead the hosts and their guests with music and song.  Next to the house stood an ancient, magnificent, Black Walnut tree of which Jim was very fond and proud.  He once had it examined by the Westchester County arborist who claimed it to be (I think) 350 years old—the oldest in the county.  It was impressive, but, as I recall, it had at one time an enormous limb that hung like the Sword of Damocles an inch or two above Jim’s roof.   

Hudson Valley Writers Center

Henry Steiner with Jim at the old Tarrytown Courts

But in the days when we were playing racket sports, that was when I saw Jim the most.  A few years after Tarrytown demolished their old platform tennis courts, Jim started lobbying the Sleepy Hollow mayor and board to put up two new courts of our own, at DeVries Field.  Jim approached me and asked me to join him in co-captaining the village’s men’s team, which competed for years in the Westchester County Men’s Platform Tennis League.  (He and I had previously co-captained Sleepy Hollow’s USTA men’s team.)

Sleepy Hollow Platform Tennis warmup

Sleepy Hollow Platform Tennis warmup

Our teams had a great time practicing and competing.  They were composed of many of the “usual suspects,” and Jim managed to disturb many of the usual wives on Sunday mornings.  He designed our very own warmup jackets, which are to this day (roughly fifteen years later) the sharpest-looking ones in the Westchester league!  At the time of this writing the village has just completed a beautiful renovation of our courts, making them look like new.  There is one odd addition though—a few extra lines drawn on the courts for pickleball play.  I guess I’m an old-timer, but I was never a purist, so if that’s what the public wants today, by all means they should have it.  Indeed, platform tennis was once new—about 100 years ago, in Scarsdale…  I wonder what Jim would say? 

Hudson Valley Writers Center

Hudson Valley Writers Center

I was surprised to learn, after I had known Jim for years, that he had a pacemaker in his chest.  One day the unit went off in the middle of a doubles match as I looked on.  It was like someone had swept his feet out from under him, and Jim fell hard on the court.  He didn’t seem unduly concerned about it and explained that basically the unit had done what it was intended to do.  In later years he played more golf, and I would see him less often on the courts.  He let us know that he was having increasing trouble with his heart condition.  He had by-pass surgery and unexpected complications that frustrated him and limited his activity.  While my wife and I were on a trip to a remote part of Puerto Rico, away from computer and phone communications, Jim passed away on January 26, 2011.  By the time I returned to New York, it appeared that he had been laid to rest.  Jim was also survived by Becky and David, children from a previous marriage.

A book cover designed by Jim Laird

A book cover designed by Jim Laird

Jim Laird was a good man and a good friend.  Sometimes I wish I could give him a call and listen to his thoughts on any number of subjects.  I remember those sunlit mornings on the tennis court and the fellowship that Jim played such an important role in creating.  I’m grateful to have known him, and for the many reminders of Jim that I see everyday as I drive around our community.     

 

 

 

 

 

[Copyright © 2019 Henry John Steiner]

“Target Man”—John B. Jervis

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

High Bridge, the oldest remaining Harlem River crossing , designed by John B. Jervis

High Bridge, the oldest remaining Harlem River crossing , designed by John B. Jervis

John Bloomfield Jervis was one of the great American civil engineers of the nineteenth century.  Late in that century, many of his achievements had been eclipsed by even grander designs than the seemingly indelible marks he left on the American landscape—particularly in the State of New York. Yet, perhaps Jervis’s greatest success was himself.  He was a man whose mind, ambition, and character allowed him to rise from cart driver to the grandest of civic “architects.”  He changed the path of his own career from what might have been a life of menial, physical labor in upstate New York, to that of a “masterbuilder” of the early United States.  His works were instrumental to making New York State “the Empire State.”

Sleepy Hollow Viaduct of the Old Croton Aqueduct

Sleepy Hollow Viaduct of the Old Croton Aqueduct

As we walk the terrain of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown today, we encounter the great products of Jervis’s skill and imagination.  There is no doubt that his productions transformed this community in many fundamental ways.  The Hudson River Railroad is just one imposing example—still significant and still in operation after 170 years.

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Wandering to Hackley Field

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Many of the revelers at this 245 Crest Drive costume party became the "usual suspects" during my Hackley Field jaunts. I'm standing to right of Mom near the top of the shot, about 1956.

Many of the revelers at this 245 Crest Drive costume party became the “usual suspects” during my Hackley Field jaunts. I’m standing to right of Mom near the top of the shot, about 1956.

I remember the Hackley School grounds from the time of my early boyhood.  I was a kid growing up on Crest Drive, and Hackley seemed like a big playground for myself and my friends.  We were a “gang” of kids living on the Crest Drive cul-de-sac.  This was part of the so-called Upper Crest, a name that may seem to confer a distinction that did not exist.

SquirrelThere were days when we “hunted” for rabbits and squirrels with our bows and slingshots, subjecting our prey indeed to the “slings and arrows” of “wanton boys.”  But never with a fatal result or serious injury to our quarry.  We did endanger ourselves, however, by shooting at treed squirrels from all sides at once.

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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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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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