Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Tag: history (Page 1 of 2)

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.”

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

“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.

Read More

The Celebrated Wife — At Home in Sleepy Hollow

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

AUT_5204

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.

Read More

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…

Read More

Artist in Residence: Robert Havell

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 If today you started out from Main Street in Tarrytown and headed north along Broadway (Route 9), you would pass the now vacant carpet shop of T. F Andrews. The shop sits at the corner of Dixon Street where the road intersects with Broadway. Traveling further north you would come to the Warner Library. Then, continuing on a few blocks, you would pass Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at College Avenue in Sleepy Hollow. If you strolled a mile further, you would come to the office of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and not far from that building is the grave of Robert Havell, an artist of the Hudson River School.

Havell lived the last years of his life in a house near the corner of Dixon Street. He took leisurely walks to the church at the corner of College Avenue (then called Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church). Two fine examples of his artistry and craftsmanship hang prominently in the Warner Library. His mortal remains lie undisturbed and virtually unnoted in the cemetery.

If, on a Sunday in the 1870s, you took the same route along Broadway, you might have seen an elderly couple strolling toward the church just mentioned. Robert and Amelia Havell were from England, and Robert had made his reputation and his fortune as an artist.

Born in Reading, England, about forty miles west of London, Robert Havell, Jr., was the son of an engraver and publisher, who in turn was the son of an engraver and publisher. Entering his father’s business at an early age, Robert learned the artistry and technology of aquatint and the business of publishing.

portrait-cropped

Havell as an elderly man

Read More

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.

irving1

Washington Irving

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.

1959-pink-ge-cropped

Read More

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén