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About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Tag: history (Page 1 of 2)

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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“Seven Dollars in My Pocket”

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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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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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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.

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Havell as an elderly man

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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.

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Washington Irving

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Christmas Shopping in Days of Yore

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 

Irvington, Pocantico Hills, Sleepy Hollow, and Tarrytown. Where did folks buy holiday presents for children in the days of my early youth and before? In an attempt to begin to answer that question, I asked a contemporary who had grown up in a large family in the neighborhood of Philipse Manor in Sleepy Hollow. His reply, “What did I get for Christmas when I was a kid? Nothing.” That response made me feel pretty miserable; I can only imagine how he felt at the time. Today, regardless of how we feel about it, I think most of us accept prodigal holiday giving as the norm, but there was a time when any children’s gifts were not to be taken for granted, or, if they were given, it was on a much smaller scale.

flexible-flyer My old Sleepy Hollow High School friend, Jim Caposella, who grew up in Sleepy Hollow’s Webber Park, recalled a happy holiday with modest gifts. “Remember that song that goes, ‘…and presents on the tree’? Well, that goes back to the day when gifts were small enough to actually hang there.”

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Thanksgiving Past

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

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

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

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The Old Dam—Sleepy Hollow, Part III Favorite Places

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

So, after describing a couple of places in Irvington and Tarrytown, it’s time for me to turn to Sleepy Hollow…

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I would have a personal connection with this place if only because it offered me a convenient escape to tranquility and solitude. Today at the old dam, you will no longer hear the crank and sputter of the vanished millwheel; the Lister brothers ran a “bone and button” mill here in the nineteenth century. Nor will one hear the huff and chug of the Pocantico Tool & Die Works, the second mill that occupied this site, in the late 1800s. Nor will you hear the shouts and splashes of the Webber Park neighbors who plunged into the now vanished millpond on a hot summer day. It is a place that has been returned to nature, dedicated to the sound, sight, taste, and feel of a historic trout stream and its legendary valley.

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

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

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

The Old Cut – Tarrytown

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

 

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

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