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About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

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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.

At the time when all that had been brought about, the high personage went into

Creation deer

Creation deer

labor and, being confined, gave birth to three different creatures. The first was in every respect like a deer as they are today, the second resembled a bear, and the third a wolf. The woman suckled these creatures until maturity and remained on earth for a considerable time, during which she cohabited with each of the said animals and was delivered a number of times of various creatures in multiple births. Thus were bred all the humans and animals of the several kinds and species

Creation bear

Creation bear

that are still to be seen in our day. In due course, they began to segregate according to the genera and species still existing, both from an innate urge and for the sake of propriety. When all those things had thus been disposed and made self-perpetuating, the universal mother ascended again to heaven, rejoicing at having accomplished her task. There she continues to dwell forever, finding her entire happiness and delight in keeping and fostering the supreme Lord’s love for her. To that she is devoted, and from it derives her complete enjoyment and satisfaction; therefore, God vouches safe to her his fondest love and highest esteem.

Creation wolf

Creation wolf

Here below, meanwhile, humans and animals of all the various species that were the result of miscegenation increase and multiply, as does all creation the way we find it still. That is why human beings of whatever condition still exhibit the innate characters of one or other of the three animals mentioned, for they are either timid and harmless in the nature of deer, or vindictive, cruel, bold, and direct in the nature of bears, or bloodthirsty, greedy, cunning, and treacherous like wolves. That all this has changed somewhat now and is no longer clearly visible or recognized, they attribute to the times and people’s guile in disguising it. This, they say, is all we have heard on the subject from our ancestors and believe to be true.”

Creation cloud

Creation cloud

Commentary:

According to new evidence, the individual tribes of the lower Hudson Valley were part of a larger group known as the Munsees. This Native American nation was formerly thought by historians to be a part of the Delaware or Lenape Tribe, but it is now recognized to have been located in its own region and to have used a language or dialect similar to the Delaware tongue, but with some differences. The Munsee homeland ranged, roughly speaking, from northeastern Pennsylvania down to the New Jersey Pinelands, then east to western Long Island and up to the Taconic and Berkshire Mountains. In other words, all of Westchester County and far beyond.

Creation earth

Creation earth

The story told above was recorded by seventeenth century, Dutch colonist, Adrian Van Der Donck, an important scholarly and political figure of New Netherland. He was a keen observer of local geography and Native American culture. Fortunately he placed many of his findings in a book, so that we are able to “inherit” his wealth of knowledge. The title of the book was, A Description of New Netherland, first published (in Dutch) in 1655. A flawed English translation of the book appeared in 1841, and, until about nine years ago, it was the only English translation available.   Then, in 2008 a new, accurate translation appeared, presenting a more reliable account of Adrian Van Der Donk’s book. The “Creation Narrative” above is excerpted from that recent edition, translated by Diederick Willem Goedhuys and edited by Charles T. Gehring and William A Starna.

In the excerpt we hear in Van Der Donck’s words what was told to him by “the mature and wiser” Native Americans of the Munsee Tribe. We hear directly what the Dutchman heard in the time that he lived in the Hudson River Valley. This period was from the time of his arrival in New Netherland in 1641 until his return to Holland in 1650.

In 2009, one year after the new translation of Van Der Donck’s appeared, a history of the Munsee Tribe appeared. The Munsee Indians, A History was written by Robert S. Grumet, an anthropologist and archaeologist. From Grumet’s book emerges a much clearer image of the Native American nation that once occupied the terrain that we call home. The picture that Grumet draws succeeds in explaining many of the contradictions that have muddled, for the past 100 years, even authoritative descriptions of the Native Americans of this region in the “period of contact.”

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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A Short Walk on the Aqueduct

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Where I started my walk.

Where I started my walk.

Today, July 21st, 2017, it was hot.  But, since the air was fairly dry and the sky was sunny, I thought I would take a brief walk…  And it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail for many months.

So I drove over to McKeel Avenue in Tarrytown and parked at Croton Avenue, just behind the Chase Bank.  This section of the aqueduct was the one I used most often when I was growing up in the village.  My parents’ family had just moved from one neighborhood in Tarrytown to another.  We started out in the Tarry Crest area and moved, maybe half a mile north, into a district known as Wilson Park.  Our street was new, a cul-de-sac named Walden Road.  You took McKeel Avenue up the hill from Broadway to Beech Lane, and then made a left on Walden Road.

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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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