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Summer in the Days of Ragtime

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The summer of 1912.  There was a lot to do—or not do.  What there was to do required no interaction with smart phones, computers, Kindles, the Internet, televisions, or radios.  Even the first American commercial radio station was still a good eight years off.  The music of the day was concert music, band music, and ragtime… and it could be heard live or from a phonograph record.  That’s it.  If you wanted to see Harry Houdini perform one of his stunts, you had to find a way to show up… or just be content with the photo of Houdini that ran with the newspaper story.  Reading was an important component of entertainment and leisure in the early 20th century.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

In that time the United States population was about 95,000,000 and the GDP thirty-seven billion.  In politics, former President Theodore Roosevelt decided to challenge his former secretary of war in the upcoming election, incumbent President William Howard Taft.  For that purpose Roosevelt created the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party.   Much water had flowed under the proverbial “bridge” since 1897, when Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, made an oration at the Tarrytown Music Hall on the occasion of the Old Dutch Church’s bicentennial. 

The Lost World

The Lost World

More locally in the August election, Tarrytown Village President, Frank R. Pierson, was voted, once again, the president of the Tarrytown School Board.  Among the most popular new books of that year was Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Lost World.  The Woolworth Building in New York was then the tallest building in the world, and on July 2nd the city’s first Automat opened at Times Square.

Farrington's Drug Store

Farrington’s Drug Store

One of the joys of summer in the year 1912 was Sleepy Hollow’s Farrington Pharmacy at 60 Beekman Avenue.  There you could catch up on the latest professional baseball scores, which were telegraphed in while you refreshed yourself with “The Finest Soda in Town.”  The shop also prided itself on its grape juice and lemonade beverage.  If you were not content with just hearing about sporting activities, you might catch a real, semi-professional baseball game at St. Teresa’s Park, just one block down the street, at the corner of Beekman Avenue and Pocantico Street.  You might even catch the local Catholic Club take on the Oakwood Team of White Plains.     

If kids wanted to compete athletically themselves, there were many options, including the annual St. Teresa’s Church Picnic offering a Children’s Sports Field Day with foot races, bicycle races, all kinds of races—sack races, three-legged races, barrel races, and a one-mile walking race.  Other attractions were offered—exhibition dancing and an Irish piper.  Not to be outdone, Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown had its own 4th of July Picnic with “games, dancing and good music.”

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

The ultimate “games” were being played out that summer in Stockholm Sweden where the United States team was making headlines and garnering the greatest portion of the “gold”.  The team’s standout athlete was Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon, and who would, six months later, be dispossessed (“temporarily”) of his awards.  His awards were posthumously reinstated in 1982. 

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

Closer to home, a graduate of the Irving School in Sleepy Hollow was continuing to astound the fans of professional baseball.  Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Collins played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and at the end of his career he ranked second in the major league in career games, walks, and stolen bases.  Collins had graduated from the private boys school in Sleepy Hollow during the spring of 1903.  During his Irving School days, his parents lived first on Wildey Street and then, afterward, at 90 North Broadway in Tarrytown (the current Dwyer Funeral Home).  A cartoon in the Tarrytown Daily News suggested that making a kid practice the fiddle while all his friends were off playing baseball was just “Taking the Joy Out of Summer.”

Vaudeville

Vaudeville

The Music Hall offered a mix of silent films and vaudeville.  The theater boasted that it was “The coolest spot in the village.”  (Note that in 1912 the word “cool” referred exclusively to temperature.)  With respect to live entertainments at the theater, the public apparently needed to be assured that performances would be in good taste, “Three refined acts including the News Boys’ Sextet—a high class act”.  This year was also the advent of the serial movie.  How many of us know that the mini-series was in invention of early silent films?  Audiences would be lured back to see the next exciting installment of Edison Studios’, What Happened to Mary?  The Fox & Biography Studio was fond of shooting scenes in our local villages in those days.  The “film biz” was still in the process of transplanting itself to the West Coast, not exclusively to enjoy the better shooting weather, but to escape the crippling threat of Edison’s exclusive patents on motion picture equipment.

Croquet

Croquet

We can be sure that the day laborers who landscaped the local estates and the maids and seamstresses had little use for the croquet sets and hammocks advertised by C. H. Curtiss and Company in Tarrytown, but they might have splurged on the summer drinks and ice cream served up by Breunig’s at 47 Orchard Street, owners of a “new sanitary fountain”.  Today it is not clear who could have afforded the amenities of the Phoenix Hotel at the Tarrytown waterfront, which included a cafe, restaurant, and “summer garden” overlooking the Hudson River’s Tappan Zee (the body-of-water, not the bridge).  Nearby, the Tarrytown boat club hosted a dance for its members and the public.

It was a time when catching a six-pound bass could land you on the front page of the Tarrytown Daily News (which had just begun publishing).  The proud fisherman just had to remember to pass the newspaper office at Valley Street on the way home.

The Adirondacks

The Adirondacks

Further up the Hudson River, Bear Mountain Park and Lodge were under construction and they would not open for yet another year.  But if a rustic lodge was the vacationer’s summer dream, then he or she could take the New York Central Railroad to the Adirondacks or perhaps the Thousand Islands?  The traveler was counseled to pack old clothes for “roughing it”, and journey north for some fun at fishing, golf, or tennis.  At night there would of course be dancing and stories told around the campfire, and one could sleep soundly up in the woods due to the cool summer nights! Film exposed up in the northern wilds could be sent ahead by mail or express, and Russell and Lawrie Pharmacy on the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway would have the photos ready on the vacationer’s return.  In addition to expedited photo processing Russell & Lawrie Pharmacy had other allurements.  “If you own a straw hat (and you probably do) you will need Elkay’s Straw Hat Cleaner,” available at the drug store.

Women's Suffrage

Women’s Suffrage

The call of the northern wilds could be answered by men or women, for the leaders of the New York State women’s suffrage movement were promoting a new “physical activism” to all women, who would no longer be confining themselves to the family homestead.  The campaign had been earnestly joined for women of New York State to win the Vote.

The dictates of fashion can be severe, so it was only fair to warn folks that, in 1912, women’s clothes should have “abundant pockets” and “taffeta bodices” are to be worn with “white organdie skirts”.  “Flat and thin” was the preferred style dictated for the 1912 handbag.

If local events were not plentiful enough for one’s taste, the pedestrian ferry could be taken to the other side of the Hudson River where the Nyack firemen were throwing their annual carnival.  The grand prize was a Chevrolet five-passenger automobile.  There was also a midnight sail scheduled to Palisades Amusement Park on the New Jersey side of river.  The Scarborough K.O.K.A. (?) planned an August trip to Coney Island, and another Coney Island excursion was offered by Irvington’s Pastime Athletic Club, leaving from Lockwood & Pateman’s Dock aboard the Cyrus.  In Tarrytown the Christ Church Sentinels offered an excursion to Rye Beach and for 75 cents one could voyage on the Commander through the Hudson Highlands.  The hosts, Asbury Church Sunday School, assured participants that there would be “no crowding” aboard and “first class music”. 

In Irvington that summer, the Saint Barnabas Church Junior Auxiliary presented two plays on the parish lawn, and tickets were only 15 cents.  In Sleepy Hollow the Tarrytown Hebrew School sponsored a picnic at St. Teresa Park.  The Women’s Devotional Society of the Second Reformed Church planned a “porch tea” at the private home of a member at 24 South Washington Street to be held Thursday from 3-6, admission 15 cents.  Glenville Fire Company held a “Peach Festival” and dance—“peaches, ice cream, cake, and good music.”  Immaculate Conception Church in Irvington hosted a lawn party on the Russell Thompkins estate with music and amusements—admission, 50 cents.  St. Paul’s Church in Sleepy Hollow planned an ice cream and cake sale.  And one of the biggest events of the summer was that held by Rescue Hose at the Chevrolet lot, on the corner of Hudson Street and Beekman Avenue.  It included a wrestling exhibit, a Ferris wheel, shooting galleries, and an Italian band.  An estimated 2000 people attended.

Model T

Model T

Mr. & Mrs. C. F. Odell of Grove Street hosted a summer porch party in honor of their daughter Helen.  We don’t know if this announcement was just an FYI, or if everyone was invited.  A sober note in the wake of all this socializing—“Speed maniacs are a menace.”  Or so the editor of the Tarrytown Daily News thought.  “Automobiles are being sold at lower prices every year…  everybody thinks that he or she can drive a car.”  So the writer looked ahead to better times, when “every driver will be compelled to take an examination and go through a course in driving before being issued a license.”  And to give the crusading editor his due, there were many bad auto accidents reported near and far in that day.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

The Hudson River could be both a pleasure and a hazard.  Those who sought to enjoy its waters had to take their opportunities and chances amid the industrial uses it was  increasingly being put to.  A brand new YMCA building on Main Street in Tarrytown opened its doors in 1912.  At the “Y” children could learn to swim, but many youths did not yet know how.  Young people in that day often went unmonitored, especially in the summertime, and the river took its toll.  There were newspaper stories of both drownings and rescues.  The lighthouse keeper, Captain Kalberg, lamented that youths regularly tried to reach the lighthouse from the shore, and he would often feel oblige to launch a rescue boatjust in case.  In that day the shore was nearly a quarter mile from the lighthouse.

Rockwood Hall

Rockwood Hall

In the month of August that year a new bridge was completed in Sleepy Hollow.  It was constructed at a cost of approximately $15,000 donated by William Rockefeller.  Mr. Rockefeller it seems had to routinely cross the Pocantico River bridge on his way home along Route 9, and he must have preferred to cross a new bridge.  The village fathers ordered a bronze plaque to be placed on this new crossing, crediting Mr. Rockefeller’s “gift”, but the man “indignantly” ordered his name removed.  He of course paid for the removal of the plaque too.  Our journal of record informs us reassuringly that,” William Rockefeller will spend most of the summer at Rockwood Hall”, though “he may spend a few days at his cottage in the Adirondacks.  Many picnickers are admitted to his estate daily, however they are not permitted to eat lunch on the estate.” 

 

 

[Copyright © 2012 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Old Susan of Sleepy Hollow

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A woman's face

A woman’s face

The portrait of Old Susan will, of necessity, be only a fragment.  As in piecing together a few shards of ancient pottery we can only attempt to suggest the whole.  It may seem strange to contemplate a subject where the bare facts are exceedingly bare, but Old Susan peers out at us from a distance of over three hundred years and we might take a moment to see if we can bring her into better relief.

The will of Philipse

The will of Philipse

Our knowledge of Old Susan’s existence hangs on a slender thread—a passing mention in the will of Frederick Philipse I, signed October 26, 1700.  The Philipse will provides us with a few facts and a few possibilities.  History gives us other clues which help in sketching some of the vague outlines of her life.

Mill and manorhouse

Mill and manorhouse

Old Susan was an enslaved African-American who lived and worked at the Philipse Upper Mills in 1702.  The Upper Mills was, roughly speaking, what we know today as the Village of Sleepy Hollow.  Old Susan was one of a number of enslaved persons who, upon Frederick Philipse’s death in 1702, were conveyed as property to the ownership of his son, Adolph.  There were other enslaved persons also mentioned by name in the will: Symond, Charles, Towerhill, Samson, Claes, Billy, Mingo, Hendrick, Bahynne and Hector—these were the men; there was a boy named Peter; and there were other women, Susan the Younger and Mary.  There was also a Native American woman named Hannah and her child (who was not named in the will).  By what law or practice these Native Americans became enslaved is not clear.  All these enslaved persons appear to have lived and worked at Sleepy Hollow.

Frederick Philipse

Frederick Philipse

For some reason, possibly due to her age, it would appear that Philipse singled out Old Susan for at least a kind of special treatment.  The language of the clause is strong and clear, “Then I will and order that ye negroe woman, old Susan, shall dwell and continue in plantation at ye upper mills soe long as she lives.”  From what we know of Philipse, he was not a  sentimentalist; he was an able, hard-boiled businessman who did not miss a wrung on the ladder to commercial success.  During his life he acquired enormous wealth and political power.  He arrived at New Amsterdam in 1647, at about the age of twenty-one.  Early on as a yeoman carpenter and an assessor he found favor under the administration of Peter Stuyvesant, after which he entered the shipping trade.  Philipse married a wealthy widow, Margaret DeVries.  He also made a seamless political transition after the British took possession of New Netherlands in 1664.  By 1675, the year he became a member of the governor’s council, Philipse was said to be the wealthiest man in New York.  Later, on the death of his first wife he married an even wealthier widow, Catherine Derval,  a daughter of the powerful Van Cortlandt family.

Vessel carrying enslaved people

Vessel carrying enslaved people

In time Philipse became an energetic shipper of enslaved persons to New York and elsewhere.  His large fleet of ships commonly made the run to Madagascar and other points in Africa to take on human beings as cargo.  It is unlikely that he would pay a premium for that which he could easily import.  He and his son Adolph were  also notorious evaders of the customs authorities, unloading his human cargo off-shore and smuggling it into the colony on smaller vessels.  Not exactly the portrait of a “benevolent” slave holder.

Dutch fluyt

Dutch fluyt

Recent evidence suggests that Old Susan was brought to America by a Philipse ship, the Charles, perhaps so named as a homage to the British king, Charles II, or possibly named after a Philipse child, Charles.  It seems probable that at the time of Frederick Philipse’s death the enslaved woman, Old Susan, had been put to work with the Philipse Family for more than a few years.  It appears that she arrived at the Upper Mills (today, Sleepy Hollow) in 1685, five years after Philipse struck a deal on the Pocantico Purchase with leaders of the local Weckquaesgeck Tribe. 

Angola shoreline

Angola shoreline

New details suggest that Old Susan may have come from the area today known as “Angola” or the neighboring “Congo.” Soyo was apparently the coastal slave trading center for that region, and the Charles dropped anchor there in 1685.  (This was also the year stamped on the bell of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was cast in Holland.)  The Charles, captained by Thomas Singleton,  had been owned (and managed) by Philipse’s first wife, Margaret.  This ship had been described elsewhere as a “small flute-ship.”  The Dutch-designed “fluyt” was a dedicated commercial transport vessel, not designed for potential adaptation as a war ship.  It therefore offered roughly twice the cargo space of other vessels.  After taking on this “cargo,” the Charles sailed for Barbados, presumably the intended destination for all the Africans it had taken on.  But only 105 remained at that island, and for some reason—not entirely clear—nine of them continued on to the colony of New York.  Of these nine, eight would in due course arrive at the Upper Mills of Philipseburgh, but not by the route that one would expect. 

Mill dam

Mill dam

Rather than unload its cargo at New York or ascend the Hudson as far as the Tappan Zee, the Charles dropped these people on the east shore of Westchester County, somewhere near modern-day Rye.  They were then marched about fifteen miles across the greatest breadth of the county to their ultimate destination on the Hudson River shore.  In so doing, Philipse and his son Adolph were later accused in a New York court of evading import taxes.  It is said that the enslaved Africans were immediately put to the work of constructing the plantation with its church, mill, and milldam, although some sources state that a mill of some sort might have existed on the site before Philipse bought The Pocantico Purchase from the Weckquaesgeck Tribe.    

Philipsburg millstone

Philipsburg millstone

One could imagine that Old Susan was already of at least middle age when she came to the new plantation.  If she was indeed old or advanced in years at the time of the will, she might have been about Philipse’s age.  The specific provision made for her seems to imply that remaining at the Upper Mills would be perhaps more satisfactory to her, but that is certainly unclear.  The idea that she might be sold is not even entertained in the document, although an enslaved woman of average years was valued by New York commerce at approximately 15 pounds—equal to three years’ rent on a typical Philipsburg tenant farm.  The will also seems to imply that she had already been situated there for some time and may have viewed the place as a kind of home.  It is likely that she participated in and witnessed the construction of the mill, the dam, and the church.  It is probable that she observed the funeral of Philipse at the Upper Mills in December, 1702 and possibly had some role in it.

Manorhouse garden

Manorhouse garden

According to early records, Old Susan was one of approximately 150 African enslaved persons living in all of Westchester County in 1700 (which included the Bronx at that time).  There is a strong chance that Old Susan died and was buried at the Upper Mills.  Where? We do not know.  Enslaved persons were not generally memorialized with handsome markers and evocative epitaphs.  In fact, no markers at all survive from that period in Sleepy Hollow; the markers installed for members of the local Dutch Reformed congregation were, no doubt, made of wood in the early days.  If she was not buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground (which is highly probable), then perhaps across the post road on the fringes of today’s Philipse Manor, in an area which might have been set aside for the burial of enslaved persons.  There is a tradition of such a plot being located on the easternmost block of DeVries Avenue, but there does not appear to be any reliable documentation to support that.

Eyes

A woman’s eyes

By how many years did Old Susan outlive Philipse?  What illness eventually claimed her?  Exactly what was she tasked to do as a job at the Upper Mills?  We do not even know who had the idea of giving her a special mention in the will—Philipse?  Or maybe Mrs. Philipse, Catherine Van Cortlandt, or Adolph Philipse, both of whom survived Frederick Philipse.  We do know that Old Susan was one of the first non-Native American inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, a tiny but emerging social, commercial, and religious outpost.  Despite her enslavement, she was one of a handful of people who made up the life of that new center.  But, like many of the one-line epitaphs in the church burying ground, Old Susan’s one line of recognition in the Philipse will is the only clear story left to us.

 

[Copyright © 2006 & 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Washington Irving’s “The Angler”

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Title Page - Serial No. 1 of The Sketch Book

Title Page – Serial No. 1 of The Sketch Book

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was completed by Washington Irving 200 years ago, in 1819.  (2019 is its bicentennial year!) The larger work in which it appears, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. was published by Washington Irving in installments during 1819 and 1820.  Soon collected editions of the The Sketch Book appeared in Britain and the United States.  The next-to-last offering in that work is entitled, “The Angler,” which precedes “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

This was not always the sequence of the two sketches, but let’s not get too deeply into the historical “weeds” of their publication.  Suffice it to say that, at a later date (1848), Irving considered “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to be the most compelling “finale” to The Sketch Book.

Brook Trout— Currier and Ives

Brook Trout— Currier and Ives

In “The Angler,” Irving neglects to mention his own earliest experiences on a trout stream in Sleepy Hollow.    Although, some of that first experience seeped into the pages of both “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Angler.”  These angling forays began in the summer of 1798, when Washington was the youngest and frailest child of the Irving family in New York City.  That summer waves of yellow fever that summer visited the port city of New York, a deadly side effect of its trade with the Southern States.  Irving’s family worried that one such wave of yellow fever might carry the fifteen-year-old boy away. 

James Kirke Paulding

James Kirke Paulding

Irving was sent for the summer to the Hudson River community of Tarrytown, New York.  A few years before, his oldest brother William had married Julia Paulding at the Paulding home on the Tarrytown waterfront.  Julia was the daughter of a formerly prosperous merchant, William Paulding, and she was the sister of James Kirke Paulding who would in time become one of Irving’s literary collaborators.  (Note, the many Paulding children were also the cousins of local Revolutionary-War hero, John Paulding, well known in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow lore.)  The marriage of William Irving and Julia Paulding significantly linked the Irving and Paulding families.

Pocantico freshet and bridge

Pocantico freshet and bridge

That summer of 1798, James K. Paulding served as Washington Irving’s guide through the forests and along the streams of the Pocantico River Valley in nearby Sleepy Hollow.  Paulding was an experienced woodsman who when still a child had partly sustained his family by local hunting and fishing.  That was during the post-Revolutionary War years, while Paulding’s father languished in the county jail for debt.  Irving later remembered that it was during his 1798 visit that, “I first tried my unpracticed hand at fishing.”  He recalled, “A thousand crystal springs… sent down from the hill-sides their whimpering rills, as if to pay tribute to the Pocantico…. I delighted to follow it into the brown recesses of the woods; to throw by my fishing gear and sit upon rocks beneath towering oaks and clambering grapevines…. My boyish fancy clothed all nature around me with ideal charms, and peopled it with the fairy beings I had read of in poetry and fable.” 

A few years following the great success of The Sketch Book, James K. Paulding published his own book which included a friendly critique of Washington Irving’s angling ability: “He was the worst fisherman we ever knew…”

W.I. about ten years before The Sketch Book

W.I. about ten years before The Sketch Book

Irving’s essay, “The Angler, is loaded with tact and diplomacy.  His earlier sketches had already charmed both sides of the Atlantic.   He sought to maintain a cultivated American perspective that literally disarmed the British reader and informed Americans  about nuances of British character, but never at the sacrifice of a good laugh.  He also showed unique insight in the process of revealing aspects of British character to Britons!  Of course Irving succeeds in this while demonstrating uncommon literary ability and sophistication.  The American writer is entertaining, poking fun at Americans and Britons alike, but his humor never cuts too deeply.  Where he jokes, he is generally good-natured and agreeable.  An Anglophile and devotee of English Letters, Irving arrived in England only a few years after America’s conflict with Great Britain the War of 1812, making his enthusiastic reception by British readers and British literary critics all the more startling.  He seemed to show through his writings that he had come to Britain with an open heart.  His literary tone and style would have resonated well with this audience, as it “looked back” to the stylistic antecedents of British literature’s Classical Age and incorporated contemporary traits of English Romanticism.

Fishing Creel

Fishing Creel

Washington Irving was on a tour of Wales from July 31, 1815 to August 14, 1815, during which he toured with a traveling companion (James Renwick), kept a journal, and enjoyed more than a few local trout and grayling dinners.  His journal sheds almost no light on the subjects in “The Angler.”  Irving appears to have had little interaction with Welsh country folk on that trip, although he recorded his impressions of the countryside and some figures in Welsh history.  After completing the tour, he arrived in Liverpool where he was confronted with family business problems.  Those troubles would continue to unsettle him until the bankruptcy of his brothers’ export partnership in 1818.  Irving was associated with the business as a kind of junior partner, but his personal finances and fortunes were bound up in it.  A year after the Wales excursion he would travel to Derbyshire with his brother Peter in August of 1816.  They sought to follow the “tracks” of early British angling authority, Izaak Walton.  Irving would take yet another excursion through the Welsh countryside in late June 1817, with his brother Peter and William C. Preston—an American lawyer and political figure.

Sir Henry Wotton

Sir Henry Wotton

“The Angler” begins with a verse motto by 17th century British diplomat and angler, Sir Henry Wotton, who enjoyed fishing a particular section of the River Thames with famed seventeenth-century English angling authority, Izaak Walton.  The work is a relatively short “sketch” of twenty-one paragraphs.  It suggests to us an idea of what a varied work The Sketch Book is as a whole.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Angler” have aspects in common.  They share a humorous tongue-in-cheek tone, and they both exhibit rustic backdrops and moments of Romantic Era sentimentality.  Astoundingly, both sketches include a charactacter or person who was maimed by a cannonball!  But, unlike “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “The Angler,” is a work of nonfiction.  One might called it an essay or a short memoir.

Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton

The sketch begins with its narrator observing how the legacy of early British author/angler, Izaac Walton, and his book, The Compleat Angler (1653) have seduced and inspired young gentlemen in America.  The old book has ignited a vogue which Irving describes as, “angling mania,” a craze similar to that produced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which inspired British boys to run off to sea.  We learn that “The Angler’s” narrator and a group of his friends were enthused one winter by reading The Compleat Angler.  By early summer the young men traveled together on a quixotic adventure along an American country stream.

A particular type of novice fisherman is introduced, one whose attention to the requisite dress and accoutrements of the sport absurdly outweigh his skill.  He is a common “butt” character-type of English literature, with precursors reaching back to and before the cross-gartered Malvolio of Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night.  We see him in twentieth century American Westerns too, he is the “dude” or “tenderfoot,” the ludicrously tailored cowboy who arrives at the ranch never having “thrown” a rope in his life.

The Compleat Angler

The Compleat Angler

The narrator contrasts the typical English trout stream with one in his native United States.  The American stream is a rough, steep brook set in the terrain of the Hudson River Highlands.  It is contrasted with a typically placid English trout stream.  He later returns to the American stream, which presents itself as an angry torrent.  He describes how it runs its course, becoming agreeably peaceful as it descends to more level terrain.  The paragraph ends with a bit of unexpected and gratuitous misogyny.  The stream is likened to a housewife who is petulant and difficult at home, but who walks out in public with a phony air of sweet good-nature. 

There follows a short revery, invoking the memory of a cherished rural scene in the narrator’s home country.  He places before us a picture of peace and calm along a rustic brook, finishing with an earnest exclamation.

Cascade Pool at high water

Cascade Pool at high water

We next meet “the bungler,” a self-effacing portrait of the narrator as an angler.  He  lacks the “patience and adroitness” for angling and finally abandons the pursuit of trout to meditate and dream under the trees, submitting to the realization that it was the idea of angling that had bewitched him and not the actual practice.  The narrator watches his companions as they continue their hunt, secure in their delusions about the sport.  The creatures of the forest are alarmed and unsettled by this indelicate intrusion on their precincts.   

The narrator remembers that after a day of these inept efforts the squad of over-equipped gentlemen had little to show for their exertions.  Soon there appeared a young country boy, a proficient “urchin,” who equipped with the crudest equipment put to shame the older empty-handed  amateurs.

Gentlemen fishing

Gentlemen fishing

The narrator fondly remembers the special camaraderie in his group of friends, sitting about having lunch at stream-side, reading aloud passages from Walton.  He remembers the warm feelings they shared.  We learn that these thoughts and feelings are triggered by  the narrator’s more recent experience on the River Alun in Wales.  [The River Alun empties into the River Dee about twenty miles south of Liverpool in England.]

"Brook Trout Fishing"— Currier and Ives

“Brook Trout Fishing”— Currier and Ives

There he encountered a “weathered” old man with a wooden leg who was coaching “two rustic disciples” in the art of angling.  One of these followers he typed “the poacher,” from his slightly cagey manner.   The other he labeled “a tall, awkward country lad.”  Our narrator refers to an old treatise on fishing which touts the pure and unoffending nature of the average fisherman and the moral benefits of angling.  The narrator claims that, since reading Izaak Walton, he has a “kind feeling” for those who fish.  Walton manages to turn the accustomed image of the idle, uncouth fisherman on its head, crediting the angler with industry and spiritual devotion. 

Our storyteller believes he can read into the character of the old man an attractive, “cheerful contentedness.”  This energetic and skilled instructor demonstrates to his students how best to hold the rod and the proper use of the other equipment.  The beauty of the Welsh countryside is noted.

The narrator then joins the old angler for the better part of a day, encouraging him to speak broadly on angling.  For, “who does not like now and then to play the sage?”  The angler is also spurred on to provide details about his life in general.

Stream and mill dam, Sleepy Hollow

Stream and mill dam, Sleepy Hollow

The old man tells the narrator that he spent many of his youthful years in America, where he was ruined by an unscrupulous business partner.  He relates the story of how he lost his leg—carried away by a cannonball when he served in the British Navy.  [Note that, in the story which follows “The Angler,” there is a character—the Headless Horseman—who has also lost a body part through the agency of a cannonball!]  Due to this wound, the old man enjoys the benefit of a pension amounting to nearly forty pounds-per-year.  In the words of the narrator, “This was the only stroke of real good-fortune he had ever experienced…”  It enabled him to retire to his native village and live the life of an avid fisherman of modest means.

Welsh country village

Welsh country village

The old man, too, has an appreciation of Walton’s famous book.  His manner is generally outgoing and positive by nature.  He does not appear to carry any ill will toward the United States for his business misfortune in America.  One of the old man’s “students”—the tall awkward one—is the son of a stout widow who keeps the village inn.  No doubt the old man hopes that this will secure him a favored place at the inn’s fireside and an occasional free drink for years to come.

Anglers, while exacting cruel torments on the live bait they employ, nevertheless tend  to be, by nature, gentle and serene.  The English are adept and systematic at “softening” nature.  The dedicated angler receives beneficial religious ministrations as he walks in a “meadow along some gliding stream.”  To him, it is a God-affirming experience, or so Walton asserts.  A short poetic interlude about fishing follows.

Pocantico River, a pool

Pocantico River, a pool

The narrator seeks out the old man in his country village, arriving at the one-room cottage a few evenings later.  The description of his modest home seems intended to endorse the wholesome, simple lifestyle of a humble Briton.  The man lives with a cat and a parrot in the well-ordered modest cottage amid simple pleasures.  He is  regularly mopping and sweeping it to keep it tidy.  He speaks of his fishing activities that day—the big trout he caught—and tells of sending the fish to the woman who keeps the inn, presumably to enhance his good will there.

The scenic Pocantico River

The scenic Pocantico River

The old man is praised and approved of for his peaceful contentment and good nature.  He is a “universal favorite in the village and the oracle of the tap-room…”. To that is added, “his life was quiet and inoffensive…”. He is a regular attendee at church services (sleeping during sermons), and he desires to be buried in the churchyard where the remains of his parents lie.  He can see that very gravesite as he looks out the window from his seat in church.

Young Alex Steiner of the Sleepy Hollow "Rock Rollers"

Pocantico stream improvements

The narrator fears he has wearied his readers and must end his story.  He loves the idea of fishing, but the practice of it will always elude him.  He offers a tongue-in-cheek blessing on the reader, adapted from Izaak Walton, who hopes that his own reader will trust in God, “and be quiet, and go a-angling.” 

In “The Angler” Irving is entertaining and his style proficient and cultivated.  Admittedly, he is not brilliant.  Still, the sketch is preparatory to the final story of The Sketch Book.   There we will find the voice and tone of “The Angler” employed in one of the truly brilliant works of American Literature, the virtuoso performance of Irving in ”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” 

 

 

[Copyright © 2019 Henry John Steiner]

Sleepy Hollow’s “Chick” Galella

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Hickam Field during Pearl Harbor attack

Hickam Field during Pearl Harbor attack

Chick was present and in uniform during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.  On the day before Veteran’s Day in 1999—roughly twenty years ago—I interviewed my friend, Armando “Chick” Galella at his home in Sleepy Hollow.  The article below was the result of that interview.  Chick is one of the few still living who can say he witnessed the attack, the event which launched the United States into World War II.    

Chick Galella’s family moved to 26 Barnhart Avenue in 1922 when he was only one.  He and his older brothers, Frank and Alfred, were still very young when their father died on December 3, 1923.  The Depression hit the United States before Chick reached his adolescence.  Money was tight, but North Tarrytown seemed like a place where friends were always invited to dinner.  As a youth he was slight of build; that is how he got the nick name, “Chick.”

Armando "Chick" Galella with his mother Theodora Cestone Galella

Armando “Chick” Galella with his mother Theodora Cestone Galella

Among Chick’s best buddies were John, William, and Roger Horan, Jack Maguire, Paul Danko, Bob Sherry—all of them gone now.  Betsy Conover lived in the big house at the end of Barnhart and Alice Duquette lived on DeVries Avenue in Philipse Manor.  Groups of kids went to the pavilion at Kingsland Point Park, where they had a jukebox.  At the park they enjoyed dances and swimming.

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“Target Man”—John B. Jervis

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

High Bridge, the oldest remaining Harlem River crossing , designed by John B. Jervis

High Bridge, the oldest remaining Harlem River crossing , designed by John B. Jervis

John Bloomfield Jervis was one of the great American civil engineers of the nineteenth century.  Late in that century, many of his achievements had been eclipsed by even grander designs than the seemingly indelible marks he left on the American landscape—particularly in the State of New York. Yet, perhaps Jervis’s greatest success was himself.  He was a man whose mind, ambition, and character allowed him to rise from cart driver to the grandest of civic “architects.”  He changed the path of his own career from what might have been a life of menial, physical labor in upstate New York, to that of a “masterbuilder” of the early United States.  His works were instrumental to making New York State “the Empire State.”

Sleepy Hollow Viaduct of the Old Croton Aqueduct

Sleepy Hollow Viaduct of the Old Croton Aqueduct

As we walk the terrain of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown today, we encounter the great products of Jervis’s skill and imagination.  There is no doubt that his productions transformed this community in many fundamental ways.  The Hudson River Railroad is just one imposing example—still significant and still in operation after 170 years.

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Wandering to Hackley Field

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Many of the revelers at this 245 Crest Drive costume party became the "usual suspects" during my Hackley Field jaunts. I'm standing to right of Mom near the top of the shot, about 1956.

Many of the revelers at this 245 Crest Drive costume party became the “usual suspects” during my Hackley Field jaunts. I’m standing to right of Mom near the top of the shot, about 1956.

I remember the Hackley School grounds from the time of my early boyhood.  I was a kid growing up on Crest Drive, and Hackley seemed like a big playground for myself and my friends.  We were a “gang” of kids living on the Crest Drive cul-de-sac.  This was part of the so-called Upper Crest, a name that may seem to confer a distinction that did not exist.

SquirrelThere were days when we “hunted” for rabbits and squirrels with our bows and slingshots, subjecting our prey indeed to the “slings and arrows” of “wanton boys.”  But never with a fatal result or serious injury to our quarry.  We did endanger ourselves, however, by shooting at treed squirrels from all sides at once.

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An Addendum… Native Sons & The Battle of the Ironclads

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

I wrote a piece earlier about the Monitor and the Merrimack (the Virginia) and their epic battle.  We also noted how that event was significantly shaped by two figures with ties to the Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown area.  Lieutenant John Lorimer Worden (born at Scarborough/Sparta) actually commanded the Union ship Monitor, and Commodore Hiram Paulding (most famous child of local hero, John Paulding) personally commanded the emergency Union naval expedition that preemptively scuttled the Merrimack at Gosport, Virginia, before it was raised and refitted as an ironclad by the Confederate Navy.  A short time later, Paulding would be influential in promoting the Union’s construction of the Monitor.  He was furthermore the commandant of the New York Navy Yard when the newly completed Monitor was ordered to its fateful service at Hampton Roads, Virginia.   But another figure residing in our community also played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the story.

The Homestead, Tarrytown – Version 2

The Homestead, Tarrytown

Henry Rossiter Worthington, did not hail from Westchester County, but he did become a resident of Tarrytown, possibly as early as 1859.  In fact, Worthington and his family were close neighbors to “Sunnyside.”  Worthington’s residence, “the Homestead,” was located a few hundred yards northeast of Washington Irving’s well known country seat.  Worthington’s association with the battle between the ironcads lay in the fact that both the Monitor and the Merrimack were fitted out with essential equipment designed by Worthington himself.  Wrote John Ericsson, the celebrated designer of the Monitor, to Worthington, “I regard your pumping engine as the greatest achievement in Hydraulic Engineering of our time.”

HR Worthington at 48

HR Worthington at 48

Engineer and inventor, Henry R. Worthington, was born at New York City in 1817 and educated in the city’s public schools.  He became a mechanical engineering prodigy who, at an early age, became acutely interested in the problems of the notorious New York City water supply existing at that time.  It is likely that the young man experienced first-hand the rash of epidemics stemming from the city’s unwholesome water supply, as well as the destruction caused by lack of a sufficient water supply to fight the “1835 Great Fire of New York.”  

On September 24, 1839, Worthington married Sarah Elizabeth Newton, the daughter of Commodore John Thomas Newton of Alexandria, Virginia.  Commodore Newton commanded the USS Missouri on the first Atlantic crossing of a United States steam warship.

Replica pump - detail

Replica pump – detail

By the age of twenty-three, Worthington was patenting innovative water pumps which would lead to his development of the direct acting steam pump in 1845.  In 1845, he co-founded with William H. Baker, Worthington and Baker.  The new company set up a small shop near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and made its first sale to the United States Navy in 1850.  As their business with the United States Navy expanded, the operation moved in 1854 to larger quarters at Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where Worthington developed the duplex steam pump in 1859.  Upon the death of Baker in 1860 the partnership dissolved, and Worthington’s business was reestablished as Henry R. Worthington. That year the company developed the first duplex waterworks engine.

Detail 1856 map of Brooklyn showing Van Brunt St,, Red Hook

Detail 1856 map of Brooklyn showing Van Brunt St,, Red Hook

Replica Worthington drect steam pump

Replica Worthington direct steam pump

Which brings us to 1861.  Someone once told me that, in extreme situations at sea, when a ship is sinking, the very last item one throws over the side is the pump.  This little adage appears to stress the importance of a good pump aboard a ship.  It was in the early months of 1861 that the United States Navy scuttled the steam frigate Merrimack at Gosport, Virginia.  Confederate forces then raised the vessel and redesigned it for use as an ironclad, before renaming her the Virginia.  The completed ironclad was equipped with two “large” Worthington pumps.  These pumps were important components within the new warship, both to keep the vessel from flooding and to feed the Merrimack’s huge boilers with water.  Whether the pumps were salvaged from the scuttled Merrimack, or newly installed from another source later, is yet unclear to me.

In the same year (1861) the ironclad Monitor was in production at Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Its designer, the brilliant, exacting, and testy John Ericsson, saw to it that two Worthington pumps, purchased on October 19, 1861, were included in the warship.  These pumps were approximately 4.5 feet-long and weighed about 400 pounds.  They were to be used as bilge pumps and to replenish the ship’s boilers with seawater.  Both were steam-operated, and could keep the bilge (the interior of the hull) dry without resorting to the old laborious method of manual pumping.

At the time of the famous naval battle between the two prototypical ironclads, The Merrimack attempted to ram the Monitor after having lost its heavy ram in action the previous day.  The Monitor was little scathed by this attack, but the Confederate ship, as it drew away, began to leak at the bow and take on water.   The executive officer of the Merrimack, now in command of the ship, was concerned that his ship might founder—that is run aground or sink.  He was inclined to withdraw from the contest and steam back to port.  But the bellicose engineer of the Merrimack exclaimed in frustration at such prudence, “With the two large Worthington pumps, besides the bilge injections, we could keep her afloat for hours, even with a ten inch shell in her hull.”   Over this objection, the ship made for home.

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

Neither ironclad saw battle again, but the Monitor was to sink in a violent storm off Cape Hatteras about midnight on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1862. The crew managed to keep her afloat for a time using the Worthington pumps, but the conditions were too extreme for even those contemporary marvels to save the ship.  The men were forced to abandon ship, and the Monitor sank with the loss of sixteen lives.

Orig Worthington pump, encrusted

Original Worthington pump, encrusted.  Salvaged from the USS Monitor

Near the end of the twentieth century, the wreck of the Monitor was located off Cape Hatteras.  In the twenty-first century, parts of the ship and equipment have been retrieved from the wreck.  Some skeletal remains of crew members have been recovered too.  Among the items brought to the surface was one of the Monitor’s two Worthington Pumps.  Though extremely corroded, the direct steam pump has been reverse-engineered into a life-sized working replica—a modern miracle.

HR Worthington in later years

HR Worthington in later years

Henry Rossiter Worthington’s business continued to prosper. Pumps designed by Worthington and his associates would play an increasingly important role in water supply systems—and eventually in the oil industry.  Worthington’s company also developed precision instruments and hydraulic presses.  By 1876, eighty municipalities throughout the United States and Canada had installed his waterworks engines.  The capacities of those systems ran from 500,000 to 15,000,000 gallons per hour.  In 1893, thirteen years after his death, 1160 of his waterworks engines had been installed throughout the world.

Detail 1891 map showing Homestead aka "Northcote"

Detail 1891 map showing Homestead aka “Northcote”

Worthington became one of the three main founders of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  He passed up an offer to become the society’s first president in favor of becoming the society’s first vice president.  He would die only eight months later, on his birthday, December 17, 1880.

St Joseph of Arimathia Church

St Joseph of Arimathia Church

St Joseph of Arimathia sign

St Joseph of Arimathia sign

Following the death of her husband, Laura Worthington continued to live at “the Homestead.”  As noted earlier, the property lay to the northeast of Sunnyside, extending from the Old Croton Aqueduct on the west to Broadway on the east.  The residence was built in 1835 by Benson Ferris (senior), the man who, that year, sold “Wolfert’s Roost” to Washington Irving.  (Wolfert’s Roost was the name with which Irving dubbed his new purchase when it was still but an ancient, colonial farmhouse.)  The Homestead was the new home that Benson Ferris built for himself upon selling Wolfert’s Roost.  Ferris sold his new residence in 1856,

Worthington vault, detail

Worthington vault, detail

before he relocated into the (then) hamlet of Tarrytown.  That may have been the year in which the Worthingtons brought the Homestead.  A census of June, 1880, the year of Worthington’s death, the house was reported occupied by Worthington, his wife, a son, a daugther-in-law, a sister, and four servants.  The property is today embraced by the Belvedere Estate, and the mansion was replaced by the Belvedere mansion in the early twentieth century.  Note, the Homestead appears on an 1891 Beers map as “Northcote.”

Worthington vault

Worthington vault

Mrs. Worthington ordered a memorial chapel erected in honor of her husband and which would house his remains.  It was built in 1883 near the Saw Mill River, on four acres of land belonging to the Worthington family.  That parcel borders the east side of Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A) south of Elmsford, New York.  Given to the Episcopal Church in 1896, three years after the death of Sarah E. Worthington, the chapel is today known as Saint Joseph of Arimathia Episcopal Church.  The remains of Henry Rossiter Worthington (and presumably his wife’s) are entombed in the Worthington vault beneath the church.

 

 

[Copyright © 2018 Henry John Steiner]

Native Sons & The Battle of the Ironclads

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

The month of March marks the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia.  This naval engagement occurred early in the War Between the States; it was a two-day battle fought on March 8 & 9, 1862.  Two “ironclad” ship prototypes were involved in the action at Hampton Roads, and the use of that experimental technology made the battle particularly significant.  

The Battle of Hampton Roads

The Battle of Hampton Roads

This battle has associations with our area due the involvement of two men.  One of them I have been well aware of for some time.  The Union ship, Monitor, was commanded by Lieutenant John L. Worden, an early nineteenth century native of Sparta, New York, just to the north of us.  The second man was Commodore Hiram Paulding, one of the children of local Revolutionary War hero John Paulding.  Hiram Paulding made an early name for himself in the Battle of Lake Champlain, during the War of 1812.  By the time of the Civil War he was a seasoned and aged senior naval officer in his mid-sixties. 

Commodore Hiram Paulding

Commodore Hiram Paulding

At the beginning of the Civil War and about a year before the battle of the ironclads, the Gosport Naval Base near Norfolk, Virginia lay idle.  It was a major naval installation of the Union, and it was now effectively behind Confederate lines.  Among the warships at risk of capture there was a relatively new, propeller-driven, frigate named the Merrimack.  This was one of the largest, most powerful warships in the U. S. Navy, mounting forty guns.  The Union commander of the naval base proved to be infirm and impaired by drink, not up to the task of evacuating the warships and personal from the vulnerable port.  Finally, Commodore Hiram Paulding was sent with a relief force to put things in motion, but too late to save the base and its ships.  The best Paulding could do, given the time and resources at his disposal, was to hastily destroy the base, the warships, the ammunition, and the guns.  Paulding reported to headquarters that he had two choices, to leave the arms to the enemy, or attempt to destroy them.  Roughly ten million dollars worth of munitions were burned or scuttled in an attempt to deny them to the Confederacy. 

Upon the departure of Paulding’s forces, the South began to hurriedly salvage the sunken Merrimack and redesign her into a new style of armored ship.  Several months later, in September 1861, Paulding was in Washington.  As a senior officer on the naval board he met in conference with President Lincoln on the subject of a new armored ship for the North.  A controversial design had been submitted by Swedish inventor, John Ericsson.  It met with much opposition, but Paulding proved to be consistently supportive of Ericsson’s concept for the “Monitor.”  While the Monitor was under construction at Greenpoint in Brooklyn, Paulding was appointed Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  It was he who ordered the completed vessel to the seat of battle at Hampton Roads in March 1862.  The order he wrote was delivered to the commanding officer aboard the Monitor, Lieutenant John L. Worden.    

In the first day of the famous battle, Saturday March 8, 1862, the Confederate ironclad, now renamed the Virginia, was unchecked, spreading destruction among the wooden warships of the Union blockade fleet.  However, the second day was marked by a climatic confrontation between the Virginia and the Monitor, newly arrived from its homeport at New York.

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

Rear Admiral John L. Worden

John L. Worden was born on March 12, 1818, in today’s Scarborough.  In nineteenth century accounts his place of birth is generally cited as “Sparta, Mount Pleasant Township”—a potentially confusing place name in modern context due to municipal changes.  At the time of Worden’s birth, the name Sparta applied to a larger area than it does today. Sparta was an unincorporated hamlet in the Town of Mount Pleasant, embracing most of what is currently known as Scarborough.  The home in which Worden was born was known as “Rosemont”.  It once stood on the east side of Route 9, south of Scarborough Road.  A New York State history sign visible from the highway has long marked the site. 

Worden did not remain long in the locale of his birth; when he was still a child, his parents moved the family to Fishkill.  In 1834, he became a midshipman, later attending the Naval School at Philadelphia.  He was assigned to various tours at sea and to service at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.  At the commencement of the Civil War, Worden was sent by land bearing dispatches to the Union forces at Pensacola Florida.  On the return trip he was captured near Montgomery Alabama.  It is said that he may have been the first P.O.W. held by the South.  After seven months of imprisonment he was “exchanged” and released in poor health.

While still recovering from his illness, Worden was assigned to command of the Union ironclad Monitor.  He reported to Greenpoint, Brooklyn and supervised the final stages of the ship’s construction.  The Monitor was completed on February 25th, 1862.  Although the ship departed for Hampton Roads two days later, it was forced to return immediately for repairs.  It departed a second time on March 6th, 1862, towed along by another vessel.  The relatively unseaworthy Monitor barely survived its voyage to Virginia.  Lieutenant Worden and his ship arrived at Hampton Roads on March 8, too late to participate in the action of that day, which had been highly destructive to the Union fleet. 

The following day, Sunday, March 9, 1862,  the Monitor and the Virginia met in battle—it was a four-hour contest that ended in a virtual draw, neither ship sustaining serious damage.  At the three-hour mark, Worden, the commander of the Monitor, was wounded and partially blinded by a shell explosion.  He ceded his command to the ship’s  executive officer, Samuel Greene.

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

The Sinking of the USS Monitor

As fate would have it, neither ship saw battle again.  The Virginia was intentionally scuttled by the South to avoid its capture, and the Monitor was to sink less  than a year later, in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

In the North, Lieutenant Worden was acknowledged the Union hero of the battle at Hampton Roads, and his leadership was rewarded with proclamations and a promotion to the rank of commander.  In December 1862, he assumed command of a new Union ironclad, the USS Montauk.  After that assignment, Worden was ordered to supervise the building of ironclads at New York from 1863 to 1869.  He was then appointed to a five-year tour of duty as the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy.  He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and he subsequently commanded the U. S. Navy’s European Squadron.  Worden died in 1897, and his remains were interred at Pawling Cemetery in Dutchess County, New York.

One of the proclamations honoring Worden in the days after the famous battle came from his home state of New York.  A valuable, ceremonial sword made by Tiffany & Company accompanied the legislative proclamation.  Fifteen years after Worden’s death, the sword was donated by his son to the United States Naval Academy, but it was mysteriously stolen in 1931 and given up for lost.  After seventy-three years missing, the sword was recovered by the FBI and restored to the Naval Academy in 2004.

 

 

[Copyright © 2012, 2018 Henry John Steiner]

Herodotus “The Beginning”

By Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

A Personal Beginning

I have strange reading habits—more on that in another post…  As an undergraduate student, I studied literature—English literature—and I started out in a Catholic university named Saint Bonaventure.  I confess that, at the time, I had little interest in continuing my formal education. This was after graduating from Sleepy Hollow High School…

HJS—freshman

HJS—freshman

One of the things that most attracted me to literature, particularly the classics, was the historical component, be it the writings of Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, or pre-Shakespearian drama.  People who are aware of my role as Sleepy Hollow Historian often assume that I was a college history major.  History has always been a passion of mine, and I have searched for it in out-of-the-way places.  I don’t know specifically how I contracted the history “bug.”  It might have been my father’s early morning tales of World War II—he occasionally threw a war story off on his way to work.  He usually told me the funny ones—about his buddies in the army counter-intelligence corps—not the tragic ones.  Or maybe it was my mother who connected me with history, who had taught school in France, who sat telling me stories of ancient Greek myths and the “Song of Roland,” the stalwart knight of Charlemagne. 

Somehow or other history and stories of the past seeped into my veins.  Many years later I found a kindred soul in Washington Irving himself—his not so crazy mix of history and story.  Who can blame me for my history “habit,” seated as I have been with a front row seat on the lower Hudson River, with an unobstructed view on the scene of America’s War of Revolution?  Here I can easily see where so many of the players in that epic struggle left their footprints.  So little time, so many stories of the past!

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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.

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