Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

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Captain Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow Home

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Talented, well connected, intelligent, mild, affable, diligent, pious, and, above all—controversial.   All these things could be said of the man whose order inspired Billy Budd, the dark, short masterpiece of American literary giant, Herman Melville. Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie was born in New York City and began his naval career before he was twelve years old. During the last eight years of his life, 1840-1848, he made his home at the northern limits of Sleepy Hollow. Today that place is called Rockwood Hall or Rockwood.

Alexander_Slidell_Mackenzie_(1803-1848)

Mackenzie the Writer

Mackenzie was a productive writer and an accomplished naval officer. His literary friends included Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Fennimore Cooper (until Mackenzie and Cooper fell out). A few hundred yards to the south of Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow farm was the estate of the wealthy and influential newspaperman, James Watson Webb—a place that was once called Pokahoe, or later, the Fremont estate. Ocean-going writer, Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast, was another literary acquaintance of the commander. Mackenzie’s second in command at the most critical moment of his career was Guert Gansevoort—the cousin of American novelist Herman Melville—author of what many scholars believe to be the “Great American Novel,” Moby Dick.

Washington Irving in later years

Washington Irving in later years

It was in Spain between 1826 and 1827 that Mackenzie began close friendships with Washington Irving and American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With Irving, Mackenzie discussed the notion of turning his personal journal of Spain into a first book. Irving endorsed the idea and the result was A Year in Spain (1829). Irving would generously assist the younger author in producing a successful London edition of the book. America’s leading author of that age actually took pen in hand to make stylistic improvements to Mackenzie’s manuscript. Irving wrote to his friend that these changes were “petty corrections which will be of service to you hereafter in point of style.” The unselfish Washington Irving, acting as a copy editor! But Irving had already garnered a service from his friend; Mackenzie, then a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy, had provided Irving with valuable nautical information to be used in an ambitious biography of Christopher Columbus.

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Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse in 2017

Bring your questions to discuss with Sleepy Hollow Village Historian Henry John Steiner.

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

May – October 2017

2017 Extended Open House Dates:

September 3, 17

October 8, 29             

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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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Just In… A Note from the Past… Rockwood Hall

Rockwood Hall about 1911

Rockwood Hall about 1911

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

My friend Ed Murphy just sent me a message from Las Vegas.  It’s always great to hear from him, because, whenever Ed gets contemplative about his hometown, he generally fills in another piece of the Sleepy Hollow picture.

Rockwood Hall is one of Sleepy Hollow’s wonderful scenic assets, and a favorite with many of us:

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The Celebrated Wife — At Home in Sleepy Hollow

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

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Years ago, I got tired of writing about prominent nineteenth century males. The women were out there somewhere, but they often operated behind the scenes. How do you write about nineteenth century women if they are required to live in the shadows of men? Jessie Benton Fremont provided an unheard of solution; she wrote about herself and her life.

This woman led a momentous, varied, and courageous life in which her finances swung between wealth and poverty. In the end, she was forced to support herself and her family by writing. Jessie spent some of her happiest years and most stressful days in Sleepy Hollow.

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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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