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About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

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Old Susan of Sleepy Hollow

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A woman's face

A woman’s face

The portrait of Old Susan will, of necessity, be only a fragment.  As in piecing together a few shards of ancient pottery we can only attempt to suggest the whole.  It may seem strange to contemplate a subject where the bare facts are exceedingly bare, but Old Susan peers out at us from a distance of over three hundred years and we might take a moment to see if we can bring her into better relief.

The will of Philipse

The will of Philipse

Our knowledge of Old Susan’s existence hangs on a slender thread—a passing mention in the will of Frederick Philipse I, signed October 26, 1700.  The Philipse will provides us with a few facts and a few possibilities.  History gives us other clues which help in sketching some of the vague outlines of her life.

Mill and manorhouse

Mill and manorhouse

Old Susan was an enslaved African-American who lived and worked at the Philipse Upper Mills in 1702.  The Upper Mills was, roughly speaking, what we know today as the Village of Sleepy Hollow.  Old Susan was one of a number of enslaved persons who, upon Frederick Philipse’s death in 1702, were conveyed as property to the ownership of his son, Adolph.  There were other enslaved persons also mentioned by name in the will: Symond, Charles, Towerhill, Samson, Claes, Billy, Mingo, Hendrick, Bahynne and Hector—these were the men; there was a boy named Peter; and there were other women, Susan the Younger and Mary.  There was also a Native American woman named Hannah and her child (who was not named in the will).  By what law or practice these Native Americans became enslaved is not clear.  All these enslaved persons appear to have lived and worked at Sleepy Hollow.

Frederick Philipse

Frederick Philipse

For some reason, possibly due to her age, it would appear that Philipse singled out Old Susan for at least a kind of special treatment.  The language of the clause is strong and clear, “Then I will and order that ye negroe woman, old Susan, shall dwell and continue in plantation at ye upper mills soe long as she lives.”  From what we know of Philipse, he was not a  sentimentalist; he was an able, hard-boiled businessman who did not miss a wrung on the ladder to commercial success.  During his life he acquired enormous wealth and political power.  He arrived at New Amsterdam in 1647, at about the age of twenty-one.  Early on as a yeoman carpenter and an assessor he found favor under the administration of Peter Stuyvesant, after which he entered the shipping trade.  Philipse married a wealthy widow, Margaret DeVries.  He also made a seamless political transition after the British took possession of New Netherlands in 1664.  By 1675, the year he became a member of the governor’s council, Philipse was said to be the wealthiest man in New York.  Later, on the death of his first wife he married an even wealthier widow, Catherine Derval,  a daughter of the powerful Van Cortlandt family.

Vessel carrying enslaved people

Vessel carrying enslaved people

In time Philipse became an energetic shipper of enslaved persons to New York and elsewhere.  His large fleet of ships commonly made the run to Madagascar and other points in Africa to take on human beings as cargo.  It is unlikely that he would pay a premium for that which he could easily import.  He and his son Adolph were  also notorious evaders of the customs authorities, unloading his human cargo off-shore and smuggling it into the colony on smaller vessels.  Not exactly the portrait of a “benevolent” slave holder.

Dutch fluyt

Dutch fluyt

Recent evidence suggests that Old Susan was brought to America by a Philipse ship, the Charles, perhaps so named as a homage to the British king, Charles II, or possibly named after a Philipse child, Charles.  It seems probable that at the time of Frederick Philipse’s death the enslaved woman, Old Susan, had been put to work with the Philipse Family for more than a few years.  It appears that she arrived at the Upper Mills (today, Sleepy Hollow) in 1685, five years after Philipse struck a deal on the Pocantico Purchase with leaders of the local Weckquaesgeck Tribe. 

Angola shoreline

Angola shoreline

New details suggest that Old Susan may have come from the area today known as “Angola” or the neighboring “Congo.” Soyo was apparently the coastal slave trading center for that region, and the Charles dropped anchor there in 1685.  (This was also the year stamped on the bell of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was cast in Holland.)  The Charles, captained by Thomas Singleton,  had been owned (and managed) by Philipse’s first wife, Margaret.  This ship had been described elsewhere as a “small flute-ship.”  The Dutch-designed “fluyt” was a dedicated commercial transport vessel, not designed for potential adaptation as a war ship.  It therefore offered roughly twice the cargo space of other vessels.  After taking on this “cargo,” the Charles sailed for Barbados, presumably the intended destination for all the Africans it had taken on.  But only 105 remained at that island, and for some reason—not entirely clear—nine of them continued on to the colony of New York.  Of these nine, eight would in due course arrive at the Upper Mills of Philipseburgh, but not by the route that one would expect. 

Mill dam

Mill dam

Rather than unload its cargo at New York or ascend the Hudson as far as the Tappan Zee, the Charles dropped these people on the east shore of Westchester County, somewhere near modern-day Rye.  They were then marched about fifteen miles across the greatest breadth of the county to their ultimate destination on the Hudson River shore.  In so doing, Philipse and his son Adolph were later accused in a New York court of evading import taxes.  It is said that the enslaved Africans were immediately put to the work of constructing the plantation with its church, mill, and milldam, although some sources state that a mill of some sort might have existed on the site before Philipse bought The Pocantico Purchase from the Weckquaesgeck Tribe.    

Philipsburg millstone

Philipsburg millstone

One could imagine that Old Susan was already of at least middle age when she came to the new plantation.  If she was indeed old or advanced in years at the time of the will, she might have been about Philipse’s age.  The specific provision made for her seems to imply that remaining at the Upper Mills would be perhaps more satisfactory to her, but that is certainly unclear.  The idea that she might be sold is not even entertained in the document, although an enslaved woman of average years was valued by New York commerce at approximately 15 pounds—equal to three years’ rent on a typical Philipsburg tenant farm.  The will also seems to imply that she had already been situated there for some time and may have viewed the place as a kind of home.  It is likely that she participated in and witnessed the construction of the mill, the dam, and the church.  It is probable that she observed the funeral of Philipse at the Upper Mills in December, 1702 and possibly had some role in it.

Manorhouse garden

Manorhouse garden

According to early records, Old Susan was one of approximately 150 African enslaved persons living in all of Westchester County in 1700 (which included the Bronx at that time).  There is a strong chance that Old Susan died and was buried at the Upper Mills.  Where? We do not know.  Enslaved persons were not generally memorialized with handsome markers and evocative epitaphs.  In fact, no markers at all survive from that period in Sleepy Hollow; the markers installed for members of the local Dutch Reformed congregation were, no doubt, made of wood in the early days.  If she was not buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground (which is highly probable), then perhaps across the post road on the fringes of today’s Philipse Manor, in an area which might have been set aside for the burial of enslaved persons.  There is a tradition of such a plot being located on the easternmost block of DeVries Avenue, but there does not appear to be any reliable documentation to support that.

Eyes

A woman’s eyes

By how many years did Old Susan outlive Philipse?  What illness eventually claimed her?  Exactly what was she tasked to do as a job at the Upper Mills?  We do not even know who had the idea of giving her a special mention in the will—Philipse?  Or maybe Mrs. Philipse, Catherine Van Cortlandt, or Adolph Philipse, both of whom survived Frederick Philipse.  We do know that Old Susan was one of the first non-Native American inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, a tiny but emerging social, commercial, and religious outpost.  Despite her enslavement, she was one of a handful of people who made up the life of that new center.  But, like many of the one-line epitaphs in the church burying ground, Old Susan’s one line of recognition in the Philipse will is the only clear story left to us.

 

[Copyright © 2006 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]

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. 

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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.”

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“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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