Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Category: Tarrytown (Page 2 of 2)

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.


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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Thanksgiving Past

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Thanksgiving 1959. Could it be fifty-five years ago? My Austrian grandmother, grandfather, and aunt would drive up together to Tarrytown from their apartments on the Upper West Side for Thanksgiving dinner at the Steiner house on Crest Drive. The bread was picked up early that day from Alter’s Bakery on Cortlandt Street, with Mary gently cautioning from behind the counter that the loaves were still too warm to slice. And the car ride back to the house, with the German corn-rye bread speaking its aroma to my nostrils in its strange foreign tongue. The bread was a local creation that all the assembled adults lauded without reserve, filling me with a kind of youthful civic pride. The children would make “pipes” from the crust of a bread slice, a crust that had the texture of prime beef.

Alter's Bakery & Cortlandt StThe dinner that my French mother prepared was standard Thanksgiving fare. Maybe the string beans almondine would not appear on every table in the community. We had rice instead of potatoes, but, until I married an Irish-American, I had no idea of the magnitude of sin that was being committed. Indeed, even the Pilgrims were immigrants and had to be schooled in the correct way to set a Thanksgiving dinner by their Native American hosts.


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Favorite Places Part Two—”The Old Cut”—Tarrytown

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

As I mentioned in the first partnot everyone’s favoritesbut mine. Could I possibly have only one favorite place per village? Not possible. These are just three that came to mind, and three that to me are special for personal reasons, some of my choices might seem odd. I realized, after I had selected them, that while all three places featured here are beside lovely water features, none is on the Hudson. They are the favorite places of one who has spent many hours treading this community’s landscape. As a local historian, I call it “field work”; others may call it meditation or contemplation, and still others – loafing.

The Old Cut – Tarrytown

I confess, this is the name I call it by; I don’t think anyone else has a name for it. Park at the park-and-ride lot near the Tarrytown Lakes dam, and then cross the road toward the lakes. Walk ten paces on the driveway and turn left on a narrow, dirt path leading up the hill. Continue across the old Putnam Line railroad bed, and turn right on the path when you see the white blaze marks on the trees. Walk eighty-five paces (my paces) and turn left up the hill and go a few paces toward a small knoll above you. Walk up past it, and you will see the “cut”.



It looks like it could have been a rock quarry, but I think not. It also looks as though some god had hurled some oversized lightening bolt at the sloping ridge and shattered the rock ledge, cleaving a channel deep in its granite foundation. There is drama in this place. It bewildered me when I first saw it, but after a while I groped for an explanation. I don’t think a belligerent god created it, but rather an old-time, nineteenth-century engineer with a mission – to build a trestle across the valley.

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Ramblings in the Crest

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

My parents were raised in Europe. Dad met mom in Lorraine, France around the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Leo was born and raised in Austria, and he served as a special agent in the US Army Counter-Intelligence Corp of Patton’s Third Army. Lucie was born and raised in France and spent the war working as a school teacher near her hometown.

After the war, the Steiners lived for a time in Manhattan. Seeing a New York Times article about the quality of the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow school system, they resolved to buy a house in the Crest. In 1951, Mom and Dad made a $200 down payment on the purchase of 245 Crest Drive. That’s where I spent most of my childhood years. The low down-payment and their low-interest mortgage were courtesy of the United States G.I. Bill. Our house was a brand-new, three-bedroom, one-bath ranch with no basement and no fireplace—they would have cost extra. It was about half way up the cul-de-sac, on the right side, and it was a standard-issue home of the Upper Crest. The house has since been expanded like so many of the Crest homes, but somewhere within the walls of the updated structure still lies the modest little ranch we called home.


The Steiner children in front of 245 Crest Drive

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Andre’s Tree – The Vanished Landmark

By Henry John Steiner

Village historian, Sleepy Hollow, New York

I wrote the following piece many years ago, prodded by the knowledge that Andre’s Tree was a real, historic  – though now extinct – landmark.  My researches in local history taught me that many well-intentioned writers of the 19th and 20th centuries had, through ignorance and misinterpretation, consigned this important landmark to mythological status…

Major John Andre

The Vanished Landmark

by Henry Steiner

Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown once had an impressive, living landmark which stood near what is today the border of the two villages.  André’s Tree was an ancient, enormous tulip or white-wood tree which towered over the Post Road until 1801.  According to Washington Irving’s friend, James K. Paulding, it stood “About half a quarter of a mile south of Clark’s Kill bridge, on the high-road….”  In other words, it stood roughly where Broadway passes Warner Library today.

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“I believe it was the very peculiarity of the name…”

The Mill Dam at Philipsburg, Sleepy Hollow

“I believe it was the very peculiarity of the name, and the idea of something mystic and dreamy connected with it, that first led me, in my boyish ramblings, into Sleepy Hollow.  The character of the valley seemed to answer to the name; the slumber of past ages apparently reigned over it; it had not awakened to the stir of improvement, which had put all the rest of the world in a bustle.  Here reigned good old long-forgotten fashions; the men were in homespun garbs, evidently the product of their own farms, and the manufacture of their own wives; the women were in primitive short gowns and petticoats, with the venerable sun-bonnets of Holland origin.  The lower part of the valley was cut up into small farms, each consisting of a little meadow and corn-field; an orchard of sprawling, gnarled apple trees, and a garden, where the rose, the marigold, and the hollyhock were permitted to skirt the domains of the capacious cabbage, the aspiring pea, and the portly pumpkin.  Each had its prolific little mansion, teeming with children; with an old hat nailed against the wall for the house-keeping wren; a motherly hen, under a coop on the grass-plot, clucking to keep around her a brood of vagrant chickens; a cool stone well, with the moss-covered bucket suspended to the long balancing pole, according to the antediluvian idea of hydraulics; and its spinning-wheel humming within doors, the patriarchal music of home manufacture….”

–Washington Irving


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