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About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

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Monhegan Island — an addendum to the Rockwell Kent post

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Native Tarrytown artist, Rockwell Kent, was both a productive artist and a talented writer.  From time to time I enjoy dipping in to his wonderfully descriptive and often provocative prose.  The other day I stumbled upon his short account of his first visit to Monhegan Island in Maine.  It is taken from his 1955 autobiography, It’s Me O Lord.  In it Rockwell Kent conveys the excitement and anticipation he felt as he stepped ashore and began to explore the island as a young artist in the summer of 1905.  I have never been to Monhegan Island, but Rockwell Kent’s description coupled with his many paintings of the island makes his experience there startlingly vivid for me:

 monhegan-island-1.jpg

MONHEGAN

The Island, 1905

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The Mystery of “M. E. J.” or Insanity, Suicide, and Grief in the Gilded Age

 

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

About 9:30 PM, Friday night, June 20, 1891, a home owner named Abraham Anderson saw her walking by his house in Croton. Whether she walked directly to the Hudson River, or waited until morning is unclear. Shortly after 9 AM, Philip Schnell arrived at his waterfront brickyard and noticed a woman’s straw hat and veil out on the dock. He dragged the water with a rake and discovered the clothed body of a “handsome” young woman.

Our ideas of the 1890s in America tend to call up images of decadence and high living among the “captains and kings” of industry and society. There is, however, another less familiar side to that picture, one that reveals the lives of workers and “ordinary people.” These are lives referenced in the period literature of novelist Theodore Dreiser and journalist Jacob Riis among others. The Gay Nineties predated the development of modern psychiatry and the use of antibiotics; it was the height of the industrial revolution, confronting Americans with accelerating social changes.

The Mystery Woman, M.E.J.

The Mystery Woman, M.E.J.

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Native Son—Rockwell Kent

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

The solitary figure in an austere landscape is the emblem of Rockwell Kent’s rugged individualism. Kent’s work is homage to the mystic power and beauty found in both man and nature. The “elemental” reigned supreme in the artist’s view of life, nature, and his art. One familiar example of this theme is the bookplate he designed for the Warner Library about 1947. A man stands, book in hand, near the crest of a hill; the wide Tappan Zee and the hills of Nyack lie in the background. This image and Kent’s distinctive artistic style were etched into my memory from the time I first borrowed a book from the Warner Library as a young child. As I recall, there was a time when Kent’s bookplate was pasted into the endpaper of nearly every book in the library.

 The scenes of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are no match for the stark drama of Tierra del Fuego, Alaska, Newfoundland, and Greenland, which fills much of Kent’s work, but these Hudson Valley hills served as the artist’s spiritual incubator. The man was a set of contradictions, a sociable introvert, a cantankerous sentimentalist, a mix of Victorian formality and radical non-conformity, an avowed socialist whose patrons included corporations and the wealthy. This strange mix would lead to a kind of artistic and political rejection during his lifetime; some might call it a suicide, others a crucifixion.

young Rockwell Kent

Young Rockwell Kent

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The Last Days of Washington Irving

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 

A Genius for Writing

Washington Irving

Washington Irving

 

I tend to see Washington Irving as a master of Literature’s Classical Age as well as its Romantic Age. His style might be called a hybrid of those two epochs. It is difficult to say exactly how Irving emerged in Federal America with such a strong and polished voice on only a basic education. He seemed to have been born fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, a product of the American consciousness, but with unmistakable British overtones. These he took no pains to conceal. I think Irving can hardly be censured for turning to British models when we consider the spare American literary legacy that was his—the moralizing of Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin. Washington Irving’s youthful, satirical writings in Salmagundi and Knickerbocker’s History of New York displayed a brilliant and confident style indebted to Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and perhaps Pope and Johnson. Those who do not think of Irving as also a Romantic need only turn to his writings on the Hudson River and spirit of Christmas. His achievement was greatly admired by the writers of his time, both home and abroad.

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“Seven Dollars in My Pocket”

JameskPaulding

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Some time between 1796 and 1797, eighteen-year-old James Kirke Paulding boarded a market sloop at Tarrytown with seven dollars in his pocket. He was headed for Manhattan to seek his fortune. Paulding was a homegrown Tarrytowner, and he knew the people and the landscape by heart. His family lived by Tarrytown Bay. The Pauldings were forced to flee from Tarrytown during the Revolutionary War years and settle into self-imposed exile in northern Westchester. James K. Paulding was born at Great Nine Partners near Peekskill, in 1778.

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A Book About the Real Sleepy Hollow

coverIn the years following the reclaiming of the name of Sleepy Hollow in 1996, I received many inquiries for information about the real, historic village of Sleepy Hollow.  As the village historian, I found it difficult to reply to them all.  Many of the questions I received had to do with how the historic village relates to the famous story.  It was then that I began to write the material included in The Historically Annotated Legend of Sleepy Hollow, though it was actually many years before the book was published.  It is now available…

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Old Winter Pastimes in Sleepy Hollow & Tarrytown

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” I can remember the giant icicles hanging, almost to the ground, from our house at 245 Crest Drive. Chunks of black cinder mixed with the snow along the edge of the street. Was it a morning in 1956? After a deep snowfall, the traffic noises were stilled—even the jingling syncopation of the chain-clad milk truck was quieted. In the general silence, the only sound was the crunch of my boot on the crystal snow.

Boot snow crust Sleepy Hollow

Boot snow crust Sleepy Hollow

But before I got too comfortable in my reverie, a snowball would buzz by my ear. There was Geoff Herguth from next-door, freckled and smiling, egging me on to combat. Our driveways lay side-by-side, so shoveling them produced a high mound of snow at the curb that could be tunneled through. The little snow fort served as a position from which we could ambush innocent and unsuspecting passersby.

Henry John Steiner

The writer cross-country skiing in Sleepy Hollow’s Rockefeller Preserve

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Artist in Residence: Robert Havell

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 If today you started out from Main Street in Tarrytown and headed north along Broadway (Route 9), you would pass the now vacant carpet shop of T. F Andrews. The shop sits at the corner of Dixon Street where the road intersects with Broadway. Traveling further north you would come to the Warner Library. Then, continuing on a few blocks, you would pass Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at College Avenue in Sleepy Hollow. If you strolled a mile further, you would come to the office of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and not far from that building is the grave of Robert Havell, an artist of the Hudson River School.

Havell lived the last years of his life in a house near the corner of Dixon Street. He took leisurely walks to the church at the corner of College Avenue (then called Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church). Two fine examples of his artistry and craftsmanship hang prominently in the Warner Library. His mortal remains lie undisturbed and virtually unnoted in the cemetery.

If, on a Sunday in the 1870s, you took the same route along Broadway, you might have seen an elderly couple strolling toward the church just mentioned. Robert and Amelia Havell were from England, and Robert had made his reputation and his fortune as an artist.

Born in Reading, England, about forty miles west of London, Robert Havell, Jr., was the son of an engraver and publisher, who in turn was the son of an engraver and publisher. Entering his father’s business at an early age, Robert learned the artistry and technology of aquatint and the business of publishing.

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Havell as an elderly man

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Irving, Dickens, and Christmas Spirit

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 I have long been familiar with the life and writings of American literary great and local celebrity, Washington Irving. Yet at times I am newly surprised at the range of influence that this genial and easygoing man had on his contemporaries. It was an influence born of his genius, cordiality, and personal appeal. In Irving’s day, his company and friendship were widely sought after, particularly in America, but also in England and continental Europe. It was Irving who first brought American letters to the world. So, it should come as no small surprise to find Irving’s influence in the spirit of our holiday celebrations.

But, how do we celebrate Christmas as a society? Are we disposed to resist the “unholy” call to commercial frenzy and espouse the spirit of peace, abundance, generosity, and mirth? How did the Christmas spirit begin to manifest itself in us this year? Did it begin with an emotionally uncomfortable Black Friday, or a sprig of evergreen in the lapel? Is there any sign of the spirit at all? I think most of us would prefer a holiday that is not the culmination of a Black Friday starting gun, we would prefer a Christmas day where we are not too depleted to savor and reflect upon the celebration’s finer associations and to join in some light-hearted reveling.

irving1

Washington Irving

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Christmas Shopping in Days of Yore

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 

Irvington, Pocantico Hills, Sleepy Hollow, and Tarrytown. Where did folks buy holiday presents for children in the days of my early youth and before? In an attempt to begin to answer that question, I asked a contemporary who had grown up in a large family in the neighborhood of Philipse Manor in Sleepy Hollow. His reply, “What did I get for Christmas when I was a kid? Nothing.” That response made me feel pretty miserable; I can only imagine how he felt at the time. Today, regardless of how we feel about it, I think most of us accept prodigal holiday giving as the norm, but there was a time when any children’s gifts were not to be taken for granted, or, if they were given, it was on a much smaller scale.

flexible-flyer My old Sleepy Hollow High School friend, Jim Caposella, who grew up in Sleepy Hollow’s Webber Park, recalled a happy holiday with modest gifts. “Remember that song that goes, ‘…and presents on the tree’? Well, that goes back to the day when gifts were small enough to actually hang there.”

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