Nyack, New York — Okay, so I didn’t run by here, but I DID bike by here, so that still seems in keeping with the theme of this blog.
I had the good fortune to be one of the first riders across the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge Bike/Walk path. (The path had officially opened the day before.)
Here’s a shot of it:
I rode from the Tarrytown side all the way over to the other side, and as I was biking through the picturesque town of Nyack, I remembered that Berta and Elmer Hader had lived here, so I needed to go find their house.
Who, I hear you asking, are Berta and Elmer Hader, and why should I care?
Well, they were popular and prolific children’s book writers and illustrators. A husband and wife team, they met in San Francisco in the teens, married, and moved to Nyack, New York, because they thought that to really make it they had to be near New York City. Over a period of some years, they built this glorious stone house perched high on the hill overlooking the Hudson. Big enough to accommodate many guests and their studio, they lived, worked and entertained here up until they died (Elmer in 1973, Berta in 1976)
Berta and Elmer Hader in their studio in Nyack, NY (Courtesy of Concordia University)
Here are some images of their work:
Here’s the cover of a book they wrote in 1944 about building their lovely stone house. (It even got a review in the New York Times):
Elmer also illustrated John Steinbeck’s first four novels – the story goes that Steinbeck saw the drawings for the book “Billy Butter” and was so impressed with it that he asked him to do the cover art for “The Grapes of Wrath.”
One of the things that strikes me about them, their work, and their house, is that it seems like they would have been magical parents. However, tragically, their only child, Hamilton, died at the age of two from meningitis. But Berta and Elmer soldiered on and brought joy to hundreds of thousands of children.
According to the research guide at the Concordia University Library, which houses an archive of their illustrations, the Haders once wrote this about their artistic philosophy:
“We write for children, not to preach, nor moralize, but to suggest that the world about them is a beautiful and pleasant place to live in, if they but take time out, to look. And perhaps in doing so, our young readers will develop an interest to save what is good of their world for others to enjoy.”
What a delightful and joyful way to approach the world, eh?
The Haders were active in their community, early supporters of the environmental movement, and committed pacifists (Elmer had served in WWI, though it’s unlikely he ever saw any action, leaving on a troopship for France as he did on November 10, 1918, the day before the Armistice.)
But I’m not going to lie – my interest in the Haders did not stem from books of theirs I read as a child. No, my interest in them comes by way of Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Little House in the Big Woods.”
That’s a whole other post unto itself, which I will take up at the proper time, but let’s just say that Berta flatted with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter Rose in San Francisco in the late teens. It’s during this time that Berta met Elmer, a fellow artiste and a former vaudeville performer, and they all moved to New York to live in that epicenter of artistic poverty, Greenwich Village, in a converted stable at 31 Great Jones Street. (Well, I’m not sure Elmer lived with them there, but he was certainly in the picture by then.)
(Courtesy Google Maps Street View)
Berta married Elmer in 1919, and they moved to Nyack, New York. This is their wedding photo:
(Courtesy of Concordia University)
Berta and Elmer would spend the rest of their lives in their eyrie at 55 River Road, watching the sun rise over the Hudson, and happily writing and illustrating books together.