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
The block swarmed with kids as more and more young families moved in. Many of the fathers were WWII veterans. A majority of the families were Catholic, and my parents, forgetting they had moved to Tarrytown for the public schools, sent their kids to Transfiguration School. Neighborhood mothers of all religions were known to threaten, “If you kids don’t stop that, I’m calling Father Wholley!” That was usually enough to get our attention.
On the block were the families of Ruddy, Beach, Deely, Collier, Loomis, Small, Walley, Ellis, Jacobs, Prose, Herguth, Krauss, Crispinelli, Lyon and others. I’d have to go to an old phone book to jog my memory for more names. Later, when Midland Avenue was developed, we met the Callahans, the Mascias, the Kagans and the Stolbachs. Sammy Prose was my best friend; I can still remember his phone number—Medford 1-0603. I wonder who would answer at that number today? Sammy was the only Jewish boy in our Transfiguration-based Cub Scout troop. One day when I was ill, Sammy attended Mass with the rest of the guys and later reported in horror, “Henry, I almost got communionized!”
There were two girls and two boys in my family. I was the elder son, and the kid next door, Geoff Herguth, was like a big brother to me. All I had to do was walk out my kitchen door and into the Herguth’s basement bulkhead a few feet away; then I was in “Geoff’s world.” He was about four years older and he managed to tolerate me, even when he was with his buddy, Carl Caivano. Geoff seemed like a wizard to me. I thought he could do anything; he was an athlete, an artist, and a carpenter. He knew how to work all kinds of machines, and he could mold a block of wood into the model of the car-of-the-future. That talent won him a coveted General Motors award. He taught me how to train for wrestling and gave me pointers on football. When I became annoying, he washed my face with snow.
The writer in his parent’s back yard
“The Circle,” or cul-de-sac, at the end of the street was the great meeting place for kids. In summer the kids could gather there before and after dinner for bike riding and ball playing. Eddie, the Good Humor ice cream man, brought the block to life once a day. Kids would climb aboard his truck and ring the chimes frantically while waiting for Eddie to produce their order from the dark, cold, and mysterious recesses of a freezer door. During one of the Eisenhower campaigns, a long line of neighbors made a torchlight march to the Circle, banging drums and yelling in unison, “We like Ike! We like Ike!” To my young ears it was a clarion call, but my father gently explained to me that we were Democrats. I cursed my fate at having been born a Democrat.
Dad would occasionally talk about “the War” (World War II), but he usually finished by saying, “But that was a long time ago… that was… ten years ago.” It seemed that all the TV shows were about war or cowboys, so mock battles and toy gun-toting were a must for any self-respecting boy. Times have changed… We made frequent visits to the army-navy stores in Tarrytown, buying up knives, dummy hand grenades, canteens and all sorts of paramilitary paraphernalia. We dug foxholes on the wooded ridge behind my house and held councils of war on the bald, pink-stone hilltop known as “Lemonade Rock.”
It seemed like the front yards and back yards along Crest Drive were held in-common—a long green winding swatch of lawn with houses and driveways on it and very few hedges to block passage from one lawn to another. We would end up playing on any yard that presented itself, playing free-or-all or bombing each other with crab apples, horse chestnuts, and acorns. Dogs ran loose and seemed like public pets. Leashes were virtually unknown.
The gardens and surrounding woods were loaded with animals; small animals had good reason to fear us kids. As King Lear lamented, “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.” I blush to relate how frogs, toads, snakes, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and grasshoppers fell by the score before us. We did not have much luck hunting birds, squirrels, and rabbits when we pursued them with our arrows and BB guns; we probably did more damage to each other. Those animals that we didn’t slaughter, we collected. We found frogs and tadpoles everywhere. In spring every ditch seemed to teem with life. We found lots of frogs in the little stream that today borders Midland Avenue, box turtles up at Hackley Pond, and garter snakes in the crawl spaces of our homes. Cat Fish Pond, down near the Tarrytown Lakes, offered the possibility of netting one of those big, nasty-looking snapping turtles.
In fall the air was perfumed with burning leaves. The Steiner house once got a visit from the Tarrytown Fire Department when Mom accidentally set the hill behind our house ablaze. The gang would go down to Hackley Field (at the corner of Crest Drive and Benedict Avenue) to shoot field arrows, or, if a football game was going on, you could buy a hot dog or an ear of steamed corn for a quarter and watch the action on the field. Hackley School had stables and Mom got me riding lessons there one summer. Near the stables was the Hackley Shooting Range where the guys in my group reverentially searched for spent cartridges.
As the days shortened, the climax of the year approached—Halloween in the Crest. Legions of kids walked the narrow streets with bulging bags of candy. Most of the costumes were homemade and so were most of the decorations. Sammy and I would map out our game plan to be sure that we didn’t miss any houses. One neighbor down on Kerwin Place took pity on the parched revelers each year, serving up apple cider—always a blessing after the consumption of several pounds of candy. I think I recall that the folks in that house were good tippers too, when I had my boyhood paper route through the Crest.
At Christmas time the illuminated star on top of Axe Castle (now Castle Hotel and Spa) seemed to appear miraculously on the horizon over “the Circle.” Our energies were thrown into snowball fights and snow forts, and our folks would shuttle us in groups down to the Tarrytown Lakes for ice skating.
These are a just a few of the memories I carry around with me from my first neighborhood, the Crest.
©2006-2016 Henry John Steiner