“Beechwood” — Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

BLOG – “Beechwood” – Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

Beechwood – today, it’s a 37-unit condominium complex, on the corner of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road, but  Beechwood has a long and storied history.  First built in 1780, the main building has been added to over the years.  (Supposedly the original fireplace still stands somewhere in there.)

The first interesting connection (to my mind) comes to us from the 1830s, when it was owned by Benjamin and Ann Folger and named “Heartt Place.”  The Folgers got involved with a wackadoodle, self-proclaimed prophet (are there really any other kind?) named Robert Matthews who believed he was the resurrection of the apostle Matthias and named the house Zion Hill.   Wild and crazy doings went on here, with sex and murder and scandal hitting the local papers.  Check out this blog post by Miguel Hernandez for more.

Honestly, it sounds to me like a Charles Manson-like cult, and ironically, one of the victims of the Manson Family Sharon Tate Murders was an Abigail Folger.  Coincidence or curse?

Anyway, another fun fact is that Isabella Baumfree Van Wagener, aka Sojourner Truth, worked as a housekeeper here to the Folgers and the Prophet Matthias.   Yes, THAT Sojourner Truth, the former slave who, in the 19th century, became a well-known abolitionist and fighter for women’s rights. (Her likely-apocryphal “Ain’t I a Woman?”  speech is a favorite of the Common Core Curriculum during Black History month . . .)

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

We can be fairly certain that she really did live here because Benjamin Folger implicated her in the murder of one Elijah Pierson, a follower of Matthias and resident of Zion Hill, who mysteriously died after eating blackberries.  But though accused of murder, she went to court and sued Benjamin Folger for libel and, amazingly, won.  So there are plenty of primary and secondary sources to corroborate this story.

There should be a plaque here commemorating the fact that she lived here, don’t you think?  Let’s start a GoFundMe!!

Okay, moving on – the next occupant of this property who interests me is Frank Vanderlip — probably one of the most influential residents of Westchester you’ve never heard of.  Vanderlip, you see, lived here from 1905 – 1937 and was President of City Bank, once the largest bank in America.  He was also one of the creators of the Federal Reserve System, an Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Treasury, and a founder of the first Montessori school in America.

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Frank Vanderlip

So, where exactly is this place?  This storied Beechwood?  Well, running (or driving) south along Route 9, just past Sparta Cemetery and the Scarborough Church, you may have noticed a very long, red brick wall.  And the middle of this wall is broken by a gate bordered by two Ionic columns half-sunk into the ground.   That’s the old entrance to Beechwood.  Those columns were brought up here by Frank Vanderlip when the headquarters of the National City Bank at 55 Wall Street underwent some renovations.  (Wikipedia tells me that “55 Wall Street was being remodeled and the columns were re-spaced, with two left over.”)

Entranceway_to_Beechwood

South of the Vanderlip estate is the Clearview School.  This was originally known as the Scarborough School, founded in 1913 by Frank Vanderlip and his wife Narcissa and billed as the first Montessori School in America.

But back to Frank Vanderlip.  I mentioned that he helped create the Federal Reserve System. But because the history of monetary policy in the United States is pretty damn dull (to me), and you can just go to Wikipedia to read about the Federal Reserve System if you so desire, let me instead give you a cocktail recipe that comes from Frank Vanderlip’s autobiography entitled “From Farm Boy to Financier.”

First, know that Vanderlip had his own private train car that would collect him at the Scarborough station and whisk him to Grand Central station.  Nice, right?

Vanderlip writes that

On hot days, after a train ride from the city, from the Scarborough station I would walk, invariably, up the steep hill – not a short climb – to the lower fringe of the wide lawn.  After further hill-climbing, when I was in front of the house, beneath a tree as big as Charter Oak, I would be met by a man who used to be a London Omnibus driver.  For 16 years after 1910, Saunders was our butler.  When he met me on those hot days, he would have for me, in a tall and frosty glass, a fluid white and crinkly as lamb’s wool.  He called it a “Ramos Fizz” and he would assure me that for taking the curse off a stuffy day, it was the finest drink that could be concocted . . . If there was concealed in it a jigger of gin, that was entirely the fault of Saunders; I swear I never said gin to him in all the years of our association. (Vanderlip, 222)

Remember, Prohibition was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933, hence the coy reference to the surprise gin in his cocktail.

Here’s the recipe for the above  “Ramos Fizz” (note, I haven’t tried it yet . . .):

Juice of half a lime
Two teaspoons powdered sugar
2 oz cream
Ice
Vichy water
Jigger of gin

Cream AND Lime?  Blecch.  No wonder the result is “crinkly as lamb’s wool”!  Still, I will make it come summer.  Hmm, I wonder what sort of glass one should serve this in?

The Croton Aqueduct, Part I

The Croton Aqueduct is a favorite for local runners. It’s actually a 41-mile long narrow, ribbon of a park that stretches from the Croton Dam to mid-Manhattan. Unpaved, flat, protected, and with a gradual downhill incline, it used to bring water from the Croton Reservoir all the way into Manhattan.

It’s really one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, so I can’t let this opportunity pass without giving you a thumbnail sketch of this marvel.

Now, technically it is known as the “Old Croton Aqueduct,” hence the “OCA” signposts you’ll see periodically along the way. It was built between 1837 and 1842 and was in use until about 1890 when the New Croton Dam and Aqueduct were built.

Finding enough fresh water was a huge problem for 19th century Manhattan, as its population exploded after the Revolutionary War.  Also, despite the fact that the Romans had managed to invent and build sewers in their cities centuries earlier, this vital piece of technological evolution hadn’t made it to the New World and so their sanitation was not really up to snuff in those days.  Yup, early New Yorkers just emptied their chamber pots onto the streets, relieved themselves in cesspools, and had horses fouling the roads, all of which (and more) trickled into the wells, cisterns and underground springs that provided drinking water. Not surprisingly, people were getting sick and dying from all sorts of loathsome diseases that come from imbibing a side of e coli with breakfast – epidemics like yellow fever and cholera were rampant.

So, in 1833, the city engaged Major David Bates Douglas, formerly an engineering professor at West Point, to survey a route and oversee the massive project.  Imagine the bushwhacking his team had to do back then, coming all the way down from Croton on horseback, choosing a route, going through peoples’ farms and estates, making exact measurements, setting spikes. That certainly is a story in itself . . .

Anyway, for reasons I haven’t discovered in my sitting-on-the-couch-and-looking-through-the-Internet research, Douglas was fired in 1837 (and went off to become President of Kenyon College as one does), and an Engineer named John B. Jervis took over. He saw this project through to the end (and got his name on the plaques), building a dam (the Old Croton Dam), digging tunnels,  laying pipe, creating reservoirs, building bridges – when you stop to think about, this was a Herculean effort! And just think — it was all likely done entirely by hand – they might have had some sort of steam shovels/excavators back then, but probably not. Hey, the Irish were much cheaper.

The plan was that the water would come down to the city via the aqueduct and pause in the Receiving Reservoir. That still exists, and you’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever visited Central Park — it’s the body of water in the middle of the park, now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. No longer used as part of the water system, it’s just a cool, 1.8 mile jogging track around a manmade lake in the upper middle of Manhattan.

The water then traveled downtown to the Distributing Reservoir located on what is now the site of the New York Public Library — 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. This was a massive structure, Egyptian in both size and design.  Check out this drawing:

Depósito_Croton

And this photograph (not precisely sure what year this would have been, but likely circa 1895 – 1901):

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Fun fact: you can even see remnants of these reservoir walls embedded in the Library building today!  Lookie here:

Vestiges_of_Croton_Distributing_Reservoir_embedded_in_the_foundation_of_the_New_York_Public_Library

The Aqueduct began carrying water to the city in June of 1842, and officially opened on October 14, 1842 to great hoopla.

Lydia Maria Child, an author of some renown, wrote about this day: “Oh, who that has not been shut up in the great prison-cell of a city, and made to drink of its brackish springs, can estimate the blessings of the Croton Aqueduct? Clean, sweet, abundant, water!”

(It seems so quaint, her excitement at fresh water, but I bet the citizens of Cape Town, South Africa would echo these emotions today.   As of this writing, they’re about a month away from running out of water.)

Here’s a ribbon that was printed for the “Introduction of the Croton Water” to Manhattan:

Silk Ribbon from Croton Aqueduct Celebration

from the New York Historical Society website — Gift of the Virginia Historical Society

Okay, so this has become less of a thumbnail and more of a straight out history lesson, sorry about that. But can you tell I find the Croton Aqueduct fascinating?  (Here’s an excellent blog post about all of the above, with much more detail and lots of pictures.  Enjoy!)

Tune in next time to read more about the Aqueduct and the running project I’ve been pursuing (on and off) for the past year — to run the length of the Aqueduct.

Here’s the link to part II.

 

 

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Do you know who she is? Lorraine Hansberry? She was an African-American playwright whose most famous play, “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway in 1959.

IMG_1112Copy of Playbill from the original Broadway production on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

If you weren’t forced to read the play in high school or college, you’ve probably run across it somehow — the play was revived in 2014 with Denzel Washington.

IMG_1113Copy of Playbill  from the 2014 revival on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

There’s also a movie of it out there, starring Sidney Poitier.   It was pretty groundbreaking for its time.

Here’s the cover of the play, with a photo of Lorraine Hansberry taken in Croton-on-Hudson:

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Anyway, today I had one of those moments where the universe creates perfect synchronicity, and it all had to do with Lorraine and Croton and running.

At the first waterstop this morning (the Taconic Road Runners thoughtfully put out water and Gatorade every Saturday morning for the group run ), I asked my friend Fran if she would be up for changing up our route a little to run past what I thought was Lorraine Hansberry’s house. “It’s on Bridge Road,” I said, “Just down the hill from the Danish Home.”

“Bridge Lane,” corrected another woman at the waterstop. “It’s Bridge Lane — I know, because I live there!”

“Oh wow, what a coincidence!”  I said, while guzzling icy-cold orange Gatorade.  “Do you happen to know where Lorraine Hansberry’s house is, then? I think I’ve found the address but I’m not sure.”

“Well, funny you should ask – I live in her house.”

I was floored. What? WHAT? No way! I’ve never seen this runner lady before and yet there she was, overhearing my conversation with Fran and living in Lorraine Hansberry’s house!

We chatted for a bit, and then ran off in opposite directions, but we had her blessing to go and take a gander at her house. (To be honest, I’d done a drive by on Friday and snapped this picture with my phone.)

Hansberry House

Now, according to a recent PBS American Masters documentary titled “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” Hansberry supposedly called her home in Croton “Chitterling Heights.” All sorts of literati came up from New York City to visit.  (Croton has long been a haven for artists and activists – Lillian Nordica, Isadora Duncan, Gloria Swanson, John Reed, Max Eastman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Lorraine Hansberry are just a few who settled here.  Don’t worry, I’ll be running by their houses and blogging about them too!)

Hansberry and her husband Robert Nemiroff moved to Croton in about 1961. Not only were they both artists (he wrote “Cindy, oh Cindy,” a Top 40 song, among other things.  Here’s his obituary for more), but both were activists, especially dedicated to causes that promoted racial and sexual equality.   Fun fact – in 1964, Hansberry was integral in organizing and participating in one of the first fundraisers in the New York City area for the civil rights movement, held at Croton’s Temple Israel.   (The 1963 Birmingham church bombings catalyzed many on the East Coast.)   She was the MC of the event, and brought in other like-minded celebrities, including Ossie Davis, James Baldwin, and Judy Collins. They raised over $11,000 for organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality – Freedom Summer voter registration project (CORE), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP.

Some of the money raised went towards the purchase of a Ford station wagon for the Freedom Riders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, men who were subsequently murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. (More info here and here.)

If you’re so inclined, here’s a link to the PBS documentary.  Fast forward to about 1:19 in if you want to learn more about Hansberry’s Croton years and the fate of that Ford station wagon . . .)

Tragically, Hansberry died in 1965 at the age of 34 from pancreatic cancer.  She is buried in Croton-on-Hudson in the Bethel Cemetery.

Hansberry grave

 

 

 

 

 

 

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

BLOG POST:  116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 7.03.47 PM116 Hawkes Avenue is for sale. 13 bedrooms, 8 baths for $1,999,222.  Check out the link here.

This is also informally known as the “Lamont Estate,” once owned by the progressive activist and intellectual Corliss Lamont. It’s funny – I’ve had a draft of this post simmering for about a year now, ever since I joined the American Civil Liberties Union, but it wasn’t until this “For Sale” sign went up that I was inspired to post.

The realtor is pitching this as a “Wonderful opportunity to develop over 19 acres of rolling property. . .” – GRRR! Like Hawkes Avenue needs any more development right now! (See my blog 87HawkesAvenue.com for more on the topic.)

But the story of Corliss Lamont is one that deserves telling. Something about the idea of sub-dividing this estate makes me feel (irrationally, I admit) like his legacy is somehow being diminished. I mean, he was a deep thinking activist who fought long and hard to protect those liberties enshrined in our Constitution, as well as an intellectual who was forever striving to improve humanity.  His reach was long and his connections were extensive.

I’ll let his website start us off:

Corliss

Corliss Lamont (1902-1995) was a 20th century American hero whose independent thinking challenged prevailing ideas in philosophy, economics, religion, patriotism, world peace and the exercise of our cherished civil liberties.

 Corliss Lamont was born to Wall Street wealth, yet he championed the cause of the working class, and was derided as a “Socialist” and a “traitor to his class.”

 Corliss Lamont’s Humanist belief that earthlings have evolved without supernatural intervention and are responsible for their own survival on this planet caused traditionalists to label him a “godless atheist.”

Okay, first, how ironic is it that that Dr. Andrija Puharich lived right across the street at 87 Hawkes Avenue – a man whose life work involved proving that extraterrestrials have intervened over the centuries to help human beings evolve and survive. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out my blog post on Puharich here.) You have to wonder if Corliss and Andrija ever hung out in the 1960s and ’70s and just rapped until the wee hours  . . .   Can you imagine it?  Boy, would I ever have liked to have been a fly on that wall!

Anyway, let’s unpack the information from Lamont’s website: “Born to Wall Street wealth,” it asserts. Well, yes sir, that is no less than the truth. His father was none other than Thomas Lamont, a partner and later Chairman at J.P. Morgan. In fact, he was the acting head of J.P. Morgan the day the stock market began crashing in 1929, and famously rallied other Wall Street firms to join forces with him and purchase massive amounts of stocks in an attempt to stabilize the market.  Alas, the market was too far gone. (Earlier, in 1910, Thomas Lamont took part in a secret meeting on Jekyll Island to help create the Federal Reserve System. I know, financial history is a snooze, but Frank Vanderlip was there and he lived nearby in Scarborough! Blog post on him to come soon.) Let’s just say money was in the blood.

Son Corliss followed in his father’s footsteps to Phillips Exeter Academy and thence to Harvard, but that’s where the similarities end. No doubt Thomas would have welcomed his son to Wall Street, but Corliss had other interests. After Harvard, he studied at Oxford University (where he roomed with Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian), earned a Ph.D from Columbia University, and went on to teach philosophy at various Ivy League universities. Philosophy was also in his blood — his mother, Florence Corliss Lamont, earned an M.A. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1898. She later donated the estate that today houses the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Corliss’ avowed Socialist/Communist/Marxist leanings. It is true that in Corliss wrote an admiring book about the USSR describing how they had turned their feudal society into a modern one in a remarkably short time. It is also true that in 1937 he helped found a short-lived magazine called the Marxist Quarterly that delved into the theory and practice of socialism and communism. It is further true that he was the Chairman of the group “Friends of the Soviet Union.” But here’s some context on all this: the seeming failure of capitalism in the West, as evidenced by the enduring hardships of the Depression, caused many intellectuals to look positively at the Soviet Union and communism in general in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Worker’s rights and the ideal of a more equitable society was very appealing at the time.  However, Corliss and others gradually became disenchanted with the Soviet Union as stories of Josef Stalin’s brutality and events like the Moscow Trials came to light.

(Another Fun Fact: Corliss was a prolific pamphlet writer and one of them, “Basic Pamphlet 14, The Crime Against Cuba,” was distributed by none other than Lee Harvey Oswald on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, during the summer of 1963! According to the Corliss Lamont website, the CIA purchased 45 copies of the pamphlet and it was ended up as Exhibit No. 3120 in the Warren Commission Report on JFK’s assassination. Want to know more?   Click on this link.)

Okay, back to the chronology:  In the 1930s, Corliss became director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) You must have heard of it — it’s a non-profit organization founded in 1920 to, as their website says, “Defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” They’ve defended the rights of anti-war protesters, striking workers, teachers who teach about evolution (the Scopes Monkey trial anyone?) the Ku Klux Klan, refugees – basically anyone anywhere in the United States whose civil liberties are threatened.

In the 1950s, Corliss (and many others) were hauled in front of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous committee and asked the notorious question “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?” Refusing to answer, Lamont creatively invoked not the usual Fifth Amendment that protects a citizen from incriminating himself, but the First Amendment that guarantees free speech. He was cited for contempt of Congress and faced prison time. He sued the government and remarkably, after several years, won.   In fact, he successfully sued the government several more times, taking at least two of these cases to the Supreme Court. (Yet another Fun Fact: according to a neighbor, in the 1960s unmarked cars were often seen parked near the driveway entrance to 116 – keeping Corliss under surveillance for his anti-Vietnam war stance, and pro-Cuba leanings, I guess.)

In later years, 116 Hawkes Avenue was the location for anti-war concerts and gatherings – I’m told Pete Seeger played here, along with other like-minded folk artists. His foundation, the Half-Moon, hosted Humanist weddings and events there up until the 1990s.

Corliss Lamont passed away at 116 Hawkes in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

If you’re a member of the Taconic Road Runners Club, here’s a pretty typical Saturday morning discussion enjoyed at the 1st water stop, over a plastic cup of tepid Gatorade:

“Let’s run across the Dam, then up to Danish and back to the Pumphouse.  That should get us 11 miles and if anyone needs more, they can add on at the end.”

Yeah, that’s pretty inside baseball (to mix a metaphor), so let me explain.  The Taconics have a Saturday long training run every week, rain or shine. We start at the Pumphouse bridge just off Route 129, someone volunteers to put out water and Gatorade, and folks just show up and run anywhere from 6 to 26 miles. (Check out the link here for more details.) The fact that I run with the TRRC pretty regularly is the reason I started this blog.

But this is about area history, not my running habits.

The above-mentioned “Danish” means the Danish Home, a nursing home/assisted living facility nestled off Quaker Bridge Road East, just off Quaker Ridge Road. And that is all I know about it. It even sports a tiny, wee historical marker that I’ve never investigated until now.

Perhaps you’ve seen one of these little sign in your travels through the Town of Cortlandt?  (This one is located right by the Quaker Bridge.)

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Here’s the one installed in front of the Danish Home site:

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For someone who purports to be interested in history, it’s a pretty large oversight that I have not investigated the historical markers dotted around the Ossining History on the Run area. Because, thought they are practically invisible and take a few steps to access, they do exist. They’re part of a virtual tour organized by the Town of Cortlandt and hosted by Otocast, a free app you can download. (See here for the iTunes link and here for the Android link.)  The idea is that you wave your smartphone over the QR code on the marker (oh, did I mention you should also have a QR code reader app installed on your smartphone?) and it will link you to the Otocast app and give you a paragraph of information about the site.

It’s a nice concept, I suppose, but the fact of the matter is that a) You need a smartphone b) You need to have downloaded the above-mentioned apps, and c) You need to actually SEE these practically camouflaged signs. Of course, you can follow the tour online through the app, but the sites are not really ordered in a logical fashion, so it’s a bit tedious to figure out what and where the site is located. Give me those old fashioned Historical Register signs!!

Needless to say, these are my excuses for not having investigated this site before. But, better late than never.

So, let’s talk about the Danish Home, a retirement residence located at 1065 Quaker Bridge Road East in Croton-on-Hudson. According to the Otocast app, which links to Danishhome.org, the Danish Home is the “Former home of financier J.M. Kaplan. The Danish Home moved to its present location, in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, in 1954 . . . The picturesque buildings were modeled after the farmsteads of Europe.”

Hmm, okay. But who was J.M. Kaplan? Well, here’s a 1987 New York Times obituary about Jacob Merrill Kaplan that tells the story of his interesting life.

The Danish Home website also gives a pretty thorough accounting:

“The present-day Danish Home was originally part of the vast holdings of the Purdy family.  Francis Purdy was born in Yorkshire, England.  He came to this country in 1632 and acquired land in Fairfield, Connecticut and in Westchester County.  He died in 1653.  The Purdy family scattered far and wide. 

 Many descendants still live in Westchester County, one branch moved to Long Island, and one “Loyalist” branch of the family moved to Canada after the War of Independence.  In the 1920s, the Danish Home property was owned by Frederick Purdy.  In the period 1930-31, Jacob Merrill Kaplan (1891-1987) purchased a large parcel, including “The Old Purdy House” on Quaker Ridge Road.

J.M. Kaplan was a successful New York businessman.  He is credited with saving the grape juice industry by creating the National Grape Cooperative Association, Inc.  In 1956 he sold the Welch Grape Juice Company – where he held a controlling interest – to the Association.  In 1945, Mr. Kaplan established the J. M. Kaplan Fund, which was a major donor to the New School in Manhattan (where Mr. Kaplan served as board chairman for twenty years), Carnegie Hall (which he helped save), and numerous environmental and humanitarian causes.  He was also a supporter of the progressive Hessian Hill School in the Mt. Airy section of Croton, established in 1927 by Elizabeth Moos.

In 1934, the Kaplan family started building a classical farm on the property, while still residing in “The Old Purdy House.”  The architect, Alfred Gray, designed the buildings in the style of the chateaus of Normandy, France.  As it turned out, the building also resembles a traditional Danish farm with four attached buildings surrounding a central courtyard and an arched entrance.  From 1934-1938 the buildings were solely used for agricultural purposes, housing horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens.  The present Room 6 was a separate building used as a manure shed.  Farm machinery was stored in the east wing, where three impressive arches formed the entrances.

In 1938 the family converted the building into a residential home.  The cow shed became the dining room and the horse barn the living room, elegantly finished with a cathedral ceiling, parquet floors and oak-panels.  The manure shed was converted into a studio for Mrs. Kaplan, who was an artist.  The fountain in the cobblestone courtyard was imported from France, some of the stones came from Belgium, and some interior materials were from Germany.  A caretaker’s apartment had been established earlier on the second floor, above the entrance.

The gardener’s cottage used to have a large attached green house, the foundation of which is still visible.  There was a large vegetable garden next to the cottage, and an orchard was established in the meadow sloping down to the barn.

The Kaplan family split up the property and sold it in 1942.  The parcel, which was to become The Danish Home, changed ownership several times, until, in 1948, the Ramble Hill Resort Club, owned by Mr. Gualtorio Ullman, took over the approx. 50-acre property.  Mr. Ullman ran the establishment for six years as an exclusive holiday retreat and reception hall with horse riding, a tennis court and a swimming pool on the grounds.  Some of the stables and barns were converted into bedrooms to house the guests.  Reportedly, the resort also played host to Jewish refugees in the late 1940s.  However, the place turned out to be unprofitable, and Mr. Ullman sold it to the Danish Home for $180,000.”

And there you go. All you ever wanted or needed to know about the Danish Home.

I think my work here is done.

 

 

 

Glendale Racetrack

Glendale Racetrack

Did you know that there was a harness racetrack near the corner of Glendale and Spring Valley Roads?  I heard about it in passing a while ago, but was never exactly sure where it would have been located.  However, I figured it would have been set far back from today’s road and on private property, so I fought my inclination to bushwhack back there and see what I could find.  Plus, it was active in about the 1850 – 70s, so there’s probably not much left to see now.

Still, I’ve had this post simmering for a while now, but someone sent me this image of an old handbill they found on the Internets, so I just had to get serious about writing it up:

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If you have $1250 lying around, this poster might even still be for sale.  Check out the link here.

Imagine —  “The Trot of the Season”!!  Right here in Ossining (or is it New Castle?)!  A $2000 purse!  And a “Beautiful Shady Picnic Area”!

It’s so strange to think of this spot supporting what must have been quite a sizable event (remember, $2000 in 1853 dollars is about $58,000 today!) because now this is a very secluded, quiet area.  I can’t imagine hordes of people descending here for gambling and horse racing.  But obviously they did.

For those of you in the know, of course you’ll recognize Flora Temple — why she’s the horse mentioned in the song “Camptown Races”:

Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the bay

So, we weren’t the Camptown Races, and I don’t know if the Glendale track was five miles long, but old Flora Temple is in the Hall of Fame in the Harness Racing Museum located in Goshen, NY.  (I know, right?  This is a thing?)   According to their website:  “When Flora Temple had raced her last race in 1861, she had appeared in 112 events, won 95 of them, and raced to wagon in record time of 2:19 3/4 at Kalamazoo, Michigan at the age of fourteen. She became a national favorite and her docked tail inspired a famous folk-song refrain ‘bet my money on the bob-tailed mare.'”

And she was right here!!!

Take a look at this 1867 map from DeBeer’s Atlas.  See Glendale Park circled in red?  That’s where the race track was.

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Sadly, I’ve been told there’s apparently no sign of the racetrack anymore — “flooded by beavers,” is the story, so there you go.

But still, I’m trying to imagine that Wednesday in June, 1853, when Flora Temple raced Highland Maid for a $2,000 purse.  First, who would have been free to carouse at a racetrack in the middle of week?  Not likely the farmers in the neighborhood, who were busy growing things like peas, potatoes, barley, buckwheat, flax, apples and hops, not to mention raising dairy cattle for cheese and milk and butter.  (Check out the agricultural census from 1850 for this very area!)  Who, then, would have filled this bucolic corner with wagons and buggies, and have had cash lining their pockets and a burning desire to put it all down on a horse race?  I see women in bonnets, full skirts and and lace gloves, gossiping around a wooden stand selling cold lemonade, with ice sawed from the Hudson over the previous winter and stored in nearby stone icehouse.  Perhaps they are talking about the absence of the new First Lady, Jane Pierce, from the White House due to the tragic death of her 11-year old son Benjamin in a freak train accident.  (“I heard that both the President and the First Lady witnessed his head bounce down the aisle after their car derailed and plunged down an embankment outside of Boston.”)  Nearby, men in high collars and black frock coats are indulging in cider and beer and talking of politics:

“How about this new President, Franklin Pierce?  Gotta be an improvement on Millard Fillmore — that man was so dull and incompetent that even his own party wouldn’t nominate him again!”

“But d’you think this unknown Pierce can really deliver peace and prosperity like he promised? They all say that.  And what about war between the states?  Is the danger really over?”

“And can this slavery issue just fade away?  I’m so sick of hearing about it,”  said with a furtive glance to the black men hauling ice and tending to the meat roasting on spits.

The “refreshments” promised were likely an assortment of local delicacies, like freshly shucked oysters, clam broth and pea soup.   The smell of roasting meat must have filled the air, and the tables groaned with thick cuts of cornbread accompanied by jugs of maple syrup, bowls of mashed turnips and potatoes, spring peas in butter sauce, boiled spinach with slices of hard boiled egg on top, succotash and apple sauce.  On the dessert table, spice cakes and sugar cookies, pound cakes and strawberries for a few cents a plate.  But the most popular item of all would have been the vanilla ice cream from the hand cranked ice cream machine, and topped with stewed raspberries.

Perhaps.  Who’s to say for sure?

But who built the racetrack?  Who owned it?  Who came to watch the races, and from whence did they come?

I have no clue.  To be honest, I haven’t dug that deep into this specific site, save to find it on a map.  So, if anyone has any further information to add to this story, please comment below!

The Hunterbrook Rock Shelter

The Hunterbrook Rock Shelter

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I ran my first half-marathon eleven years ago, a race sponsored by the now-defunct MORE Magazine involving two soul-killing loops around Central Park. I ran it with my friend Lynette, and, as I recall, we did almost all of our training on a 4.5 mile loop around a section of the Croton reservoir off Route 129. We’d say “Hunterbrook tomorrow at 8am?” and would meet, rain or shine, in the tiny parking area at the top of Hunterbrook Road. We’d keep the reservoir on our left until we hit 129 again, then cross the bridge to complete the circle back to our cars. Fairly flat and generally shaded, it was a perfect introduction to training. When we needed to up our distance, we just did a second and (only once!) a third loop.

This, too, was the beginning of my habit of running by something unusual, wondering what it was in the moment, and then forgetting about it until the next time.

Here’s an inside view of that first unusual thing:

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It always looked like the mouth of a cave to me, but of course I never stopped running to investigate it. (Find the exact location of this odd group of boulders here

In the intervening years, I’ve mostly stopped running there.   So it was only recently, just by chance, that the answer to this mystery found me, in the form of a flyer for a talk being given by the Yorktown Historical Society on the “Hunterbrook Rock Shelter.” The flyer featured a photo of those very boulders I’d wondered about years ago and I immediately, unaccountably, recognized them.

Described as “a prehistoric site in our backyard which illuminates the science of archaeology and the deep past in the Lower Hudson Valley.  In 1976, Roberta Wingerson of MALFA (Museum and Laboratory For Archaeology) excavated a small cave of glacially tumbled boulders in Yorktown, not far from the Croton Dam. Her discoveries shed light on stone tool types as an indicator of culture and age, the local landscape of thousands years ago and the importance of small scale explorations by trained avocational archaeologists.”

A prehistoric site? In Westchester? The land of SUVs and Round-up and private SAT tutors? How very interesting.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the talk, but I rode my bike out there the very next day to finally investigate the boulders. I poked around inside, even though there’s really not much room inside there to poke. I took a stick and moved some leaves aside in front of the boulders hoping to find an arrowhead or something. I sat on one of the rocks and thought about eating a Paleo bar.

At home, I did some light Googling and almost immediately came upon Roberta Wingerson’s 1976 article on the dig.  (Scroll ahead to page 19.)

And oh, I really hate to tell you this, but the article really could not be more boring.

There. I said it. It’s my dirty little secret – pre-history is just too old for me. I simply don’t find it all that engaging and Roberta Wingerson’s careful, methodical article keenly highlighted this blind spot of mine. She meticulously and thoroughly described the site (except that the map coordinates are wrong, so don’t try to use them!) and the precise method of excavation. She exhaustively discusses the stratigraphy and the soil zones and the “scattergram of artifacts.” She hypothesizes about the direction of the Ice Age-era glacier that left these boulders. She tells of the faint remains of campfires found about two feet down – “charcoal smears and lithic debris scattered onto the hard-packed surface into which were dug five hearths.”

I found myself trying to get excited about these hearths — “Feature No.1: a hearth, basin-shaped, 16 – 22 in. by 4 in. deep, almost completely ringed with stones, with burned earth on the bottom.” Well now, that is a little interesting. People made that hearth, then they burned wood in there. To cook. Or to keep themselves warm. Yup, that’s probably what it was for.

Ms. Wingerson includes several pages of photographs showing all the different types of arrowheads found in and around the shelter. Arrowheads that have been systematically identified, classified and named, indicating a sophisticated field of study I know nothing about. There’s a Madison-like point, a Lackawaxen expanded stem point, Beekman triangles, a dwindle-stemmed point – well, you get the idea.  (See page 21 of her article if you’re really keen on arrowheads.)

The fact of the matter is that I simply don’t know enough about pre-history – that is, 10,000 BC – 1,000AD – to let it capture my imagination. In my limited study of this era, it seems that all we know about these Archaic peoples is gleaned from their leavings – fragments of pottery, or rocks chipped into points, or even the occasional skeleton.

Wingerson’s article, though comprehensive, gives us no concrete information about the actual PEOPLE who left all those arrowheads and hearths. All she can do is theorize that they were nomadic, that they were likely “post-Paleo hunters following game herds migrating through the valley,” who grubbed for wild turnip and dandelions, maybe ate some oysters and mussels while sheltering under the boulders, and moved on.

However, they remain just shadows – the only tangible evidence we have of them is what they left behind. There’s just nothing there there. These spectral nomadic peoples – what did they look like? What did they wear? How did they eat their nuts and berries and oysters? Did they just huddle miserably around their smoky fires, hungry and cold, dying young of starvation or untreatable diseases, or were they a cohesive, proud, strong people who told intricate stories and sang songs?  How were they related to the Wappingers and the Algonquins who greeted Henry Hudson in 1609?  So many, too many, unknowns about these ciphers who wandered through today’s towns and villages and camped and hunted on what are now backyards and parks and highways and malls.

But, even as I tell you this doesn’t interest me much, I still was able to fall down an Internet hole and find out about other pre-historic digs that took place in the area. Digs that show fairly conclusively that our very own section of Westchester has been inhabited for at least the last 10,000 years. (Check out this link that mentions the Piping Rock dig from the 1970s – it’s now the site of Eagle Bay condominiums in Ossining!)

We “modern” humans have done so much to shape and craft this world in which we live.     Coming up against actual evidence of ancient peoples who lived before me, perhaps literally right where I live, makes me stop and think for a minute.  I go outside and squint my eyes to try and imagine what all this looked like before the houses and the roads and the electric lines and reservoirs. I try to hear the birds chirping and the leaves rustling without that constant background hum of airplanes and lawn mowers and cars.  I think about living with so few things that I could strap them on my back and walk for miles.  Eating only the food I could find or catch.  Looking to streams and lakes and rivers for my drinking water.  Being grateful to find shelter under rocks and ledges,

Several years ago, I met a Native American artist who told me that he got antsy when he spend too much time indoors. The straight lines and flat, hard surfaces gave him a headache, he said.  “In nature, you see, there are no straight lines.”

Go outside and look around — he’s right.  Nothing is exactly straight or plumb.   But I know that I feel more comfortable within the lines, both physically and historically.  I want facts and documents and pictures to clarify and outline the past.  I want to know that this happened then and it happened exactly here and this person was involved.  Trying to piece a story together from wood crumbs and rock dust seems empty and dull. And unreliable.

But really, there are no straight lines in history except for the ones we put there.

 

Spring Valley Mine

Spring Valley Mine

Running along Spring Valley Road, I’ve always been intrigued by the big mound that’s at the corner of Spring Valley and Glendale. Do you know the one I mean?

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But, as is so often the case with these curious and intriguing sites I run by (and really, the whole reason I started this blog), I wonder about them in the moment,  but immediately forget about them as soon as I’ve passed.  In this case, however, someone else had noticed this mound and casually mentioned that the mound was the tailings of a silver mine from the 1800s. Wait, what? A mine? A SILVER mine? Right in our neighborhood? And when in the 1800s was it worked?  By whom?

Then, more recently, in the course of hearings for the expansion of the Sunshine Home, folks started protesting about proposed digging and blasting that would take place right above this mine. (Check out this link for more details.)   Hmm, so the mine extends from Glendale almost down to Cedar Lane Park?

One local affirmed that there is indeed a mine behind the houses on Spring Valley Road.  He told me that there was an entrance on his property, and years ago he’d poked around inside the first chamber.  Then the ceiling was about 5 feet high. However, now it’s filled with sand and mud with a constant stream of water running out of it — he said he’d even rigged up a pipe to take advantage of the mine to water his garden. He also told me that he had a neighbor who had been born there in the 1920s and told stories of swimming in the mine with his brother. Ah, yes, the good old days before the kiddies were tied to their tablets and screens!

But what was the story of this mine? Was there really silver in there? Who discovered it? How much was dug out, who did the mining – oh, so many questions!

First, mining was, if not a big business in Ossining, at least fairly well established. According to this New York Times article from 1856, a productive silver mine was located  “A few rods north of the State Prison, the entrance being only a few feet from the river and on a level with the railroad. It consists of a perpendicular shaft 130 feet in depth, having as many as nine chambers or galleries branching off in various directions, and severally of 80 to 100 feet in length.”

According to this same article, silver was first found at that site in 1770. Here the reporter gets quite purple with his prose, describing how “A fisherman found near the mouth of the present shaft what proved to be a lump of silver cropping out from a limestone rock. He subsequently tried to explore further by means of a powder blast but, unfortunately, his hopes themselves were blasted . . . and the poor fisherman received no other reward than that what beneficent Nature kindly bestowed, by silvering o’er his head with age.”

Ouch, New York Times! Who knew they were so punny back in the day?

I only share this story in such detail because I think the tone of it is pretty amusing and it shows that mining, specifically silver mining, was a going concern in the area since before the Revolutionary War. The article goes on to say that the ore retrieved from that particular mine there was turned into bars of silver bullion nine to twelve inches in length.  That’s a lot of silver!  However, many, if not all of the investors were members of the British Army, so the War put a stop to mining operations.   (Sorry Redcoats!)  It wasn’t until the 1850s that mining recommenced, when patent medicine maker Benjamin Brandreth decided to try to restart the mine.

Here’s an interesting article link and a photo of the now-blocked up mine shaft.  (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this from the train.)

Copper and lead had also been discovered in the nearby Kemey’s Cove area in the 1820s.  Called the Sparta Mine, it was excavated by the Westchester Copper Mine Company who   brought miners over from Cornwall, England to work the site.  Funny how much of Ossining seems to have been settled by people coming from far away — England, Portugal, Italy, South America, just to name a few.  But I digress . . .

Okay, these are quite nice stories, I hear you saying, but you’ve fallen into an Internet hole.  What do they have to do with a mine all the way across town on Spring Valley Road?  Well, I thought it interesting to think of Ossining, Sing Sing then, being a mining town.  Plus, it lends credence to the idea that mines were not uncommon back then.

So back to Spring Valley . . .

The Westchester County Historical Society has a photo of our Spring Valley Mine – well, at least a photo of the mine opening:

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They describe it as the “Old Silver mine on Rose property on corner of Spring Valley Road and Glendale.”  I think this is located at the bottom of that mound mentioned earlier.

Gray Williams, the Town of New Castle historian, has established that a Mr. Williams (a relative perhaps?) owned property with a silver mine at #31 Spring Valley Road in the 1850s and it seems that the mines were noted between 1850-1862 on local maps.

Further research led me to another local historian who has made an exhaustive search of Westchester County records, and sheds a bit more light on this specific area.

He’s traced land ownership back to 1784, when a Lewis Miller received property in Mount Pleasant (now Ossining) from the Forfeiture committee. (I can only assume that this means the land had previously been owned by Loyalists, was seized by New York State after the Revolutionary War and auctioned off. Check out this informative article from the New York Public Library site for more information on how that all went down.)

Now, the following is pretty dry — I’m reproducing what amounts to a chain of title in rather excruciating detail because I think it clarifies the location of the Spring Valley Mine, or at the very least establishes that a mine did indeed exist.   Feel free to skip ahead . . .

Lewis Miller died in 1831 and his will instructed his executors to sell his real estate only after the death of his wife. (Considerate fellow, no?)  His legatees were told to use money from the estate to support Henry Hunter, “a colored man.” Hannah Miller, Lewis’ widow, died in 1854. Henry Hunter lived in the house on the property until his death in 1864.  (I wonder if Henry Hunter was a slave or a freeman like his neighbors up the road, the Heady family.)

Though no record of land purchase exists, in 1864, a 40 ¼ acre plot was sold to Josiah Lewis by the executors of the estate of Lewis Miller.[Liber 536, p.91] The property was described as being approximately 158 feet from the road, and near the mouth of a silver mine.  The red outline of the map below shows the boundaries of this parcel:

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Basically, it looks like it encompassed what are today the Cedar Lane Park and Sunshine Home parcels.

Josiah Miller kept this property until 1893 when he sold it to Harry R. Miller of New York City. [Liber 1307, p.389] Harry Miller defaulted on his mortgage and the land was sold at auction to George H. Fowler in 1898. [Liber 1491, p.58] Fowler sold to Edwin McAlpin in 1905; McAlpin sold to Edgar VanEtten in 1912 and VanEtten to Russ H. Kress in 1917. (Russ Kress’ property was featured in this blog post.)

Then, there are three smaller properties along Spring Valley Road on the map above labeled R.E. Robinson, S. Lewis and J.B. Carpenter that make up the original property of William Edwards, who purchased it in 1856 from Martin W. Sanford. [Liber 360, p. 186.]  The names are hard to read, but you can take my word for it.

William Edwards sold the portion of the Edwards land labeled J.B. Carpenter, which borders the original Lewis Miller property near the location of the silver mine, to his daughter Elizabeth Ann Smith in 1879. [Liber 965, p. 366]   Neither of these deeds mention a silver mine, but in 1846 when Sanford bought the property from Richard Palmer, the deed refers to the same corner as being “near a mine hole.” [Liber 188, p. 134] When Palmer bought the land in 1843 from John Smith, the deed says that the tree at the corner is “a few feet south of the old mine.” [Liber 104, p. 213] Smith bought the land from John R. Swift in 1840, with the same wording regarding the mine in the deed. [Liber 92, p. 349] In 1837, John H. Hammond to John R. Swift – same language. [liber 72, p.107] 1833, Hammond buys from Henry Hunter (same Henry Hunter from above)[Liber 51, p. 179] 1828, Lewis Miller and Hannah, his wife sell to Henry Hunter, “a colored man” for $40 the approximately four acres of land, the western corner described as being “near the mouth of the mine hole.” [Liber 34, p.415]  This part is a little confusing to me, because earlier it was noted that Lewis Miller’s 1831 will instructed that Henry Hunter should be supported by Miller’s estate.  But I suppose they could have sold him a bit of land AND helped support him.  (Interestingly, the 1817 New York State Gradual Emancipation Act decreed that all slaves born before 1799, were to be freed by 1827.)  Perhaps this was Lewis and Hannah Miller’s way of emancipating and helping out a former slave?

But okay, okay, enough.   You get the picture.  There definitely was a mine (and probably some slaves too) in the neighborhood.

Sadly, I’ve not been able to uncover any information about the mine itself, just that it existed.  I don’t even know what was mined there, or when it was active.  I can only surmise, based on the comments from the titles and deeds listed above, that the mine was discovered and worked sometime before 1828, as that is the first mention of a mine or a mine hole.  But nowhere is there a mention of an active mine, and I’ve hit a dead end in my research.  (If anyone else knows more, please comment!)

Now, just to throw some confusion into our story, I discovered another New York Times article, this one from May of 1894, that seems to describe two mines in this general area:

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Hmm, where could this road over “Long Hill” to Yorktown be?  Is this our Spring Valley mine?

The article goes on to describe another mine in the area:

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Now, according to an old map I own (c. 1890s?), there was indeed an old church located at the corner of what is now Spring Valley Road and Blinn Farm Road.  Are there ruins of an old mine here, too?

Map 1890

This article is certainly clouding the issue of exactly where and what kind of mine(s) we are discussing.  However, my confidence in the reliability of this article is rather shattered by the last paragraph of the article:

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Am I reading this right?  It is almost as if this reporter is suggesting that since no records exist of these mines, they must have been built BEFORE the Native American settlers, by some “Race whose history is unknown to us.”  You don’t just think, anonymous 19th century New York Times reporter, that there are records somewhere, but you were just unable to find them?

But hey, why not assume that these mines were constructed by some unknown race?  Who knows, maybe the Nine were digging mines here long before Andrija Puharich moved here and communicated with them via cassette tape?  (Inside joke.  Check out this blog link for more info.)

However, as mentioned before, New Castle historian Gray Williams found that the existence of mines in this area were noted on maps from the 1850s.  And the various titles of the properties in question consistently refer to a mine or mine holes.  So many people seemed to be aware of these mines.  The only conclusion I can draw about the above article is that this New York Times reporter from 1894 didn’t research this very well.  Plus, I think it’s been fairly well-established for quite a while that Native Americans resided here for at least 3,000 years before Henry Hudson showed up in the 1600s.

This is turning out to be a rather unsatisfying post — I feel as if I’ve uncovered a lot of details, but ultimately don’t really know any more than when I started.  Which was that there was a mine of some sort that operated at some point in the 1800s along some section of Spring Valley Road.

If anyone reading this has anything to add, please write a comment!!!

 

George DeBarbiery — Ossining World War I casualty

George DeBarbiery — Ossining World War I casualty

Driving by, or visiting St. Augustine’s cemetery, have you ever noticed this grave, this statue of a World War I doughboy?

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This is one of those little local mysteries I’ve wondered about for years and have only just stumbled across enough information to inspire further research. So sit back, brew yourself a cup of tea, and let’s begin.

I happen to be a World War I history buff – “All Quiet on the Western Front” is seriously one of my favorite books. Plus, I had a great-Uncle who died in 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, so this grave has always intrigued me. All it says on it is “DeBarbiery” and it wasn’t until fairly recently that someone clued me in to the footnote at the base:

George Plaque“Sergt. George De Barbiery, 1890 – 1918, Co. A, 305th Inf’y, Died in France”

So, who was George DeBarbiery? And why did he rate such an elaborate grave?

Well, he was one of Ossining’s own who heard the call and enlisted. A member of Company A of the 305th Infantry who died in France just six weeks before the Great War ended.

Joseph George De Barbiery was born on July 17, 1890 and, according to the 1915 census, George lived with his parents Lorenzo and Louisa at 21 North Highland Avenue. Both of his parents were born in Italy – his father in 1854 and his mother in 1860, and both came to the United States as teenagers. By 1915, they were naturalized US citizens. George was a “natural born citizen” and, it seems, their only child, still living at home at the age of 25 and working as a roofer. By the time he enlisted, in 1917, he’d changed jobs and was a “master doorhanger” for the Chevrolet Auto Works in Tarrytown.

According to his draft registration card (signed by Danbury Brandreth, for you Ossining historians!) he was of medium height and build with dark brown hair and eyes. He was not bald and his Army serial number was 1,696, 987.George De Barbiery Draft card

(Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet??)

He enlisted as a private, was promoted to corporal two months later, shipped over to France in April of 1918, and was promoted to sergeant in August of 1918. He died in September from wounds received in action.

It’s often forgotten that WWI was not a popular war in the US. It began on July 28, 1914, a month after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. Then all hell broke loose – the Russians mobilized, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia, the Germans invaded Belgium and Luxembourg and started in on France, which caused Great Britain to get involved, the Ottomans jumped in and — No, wait, don’t doze off, it gets better!

Yet, while Europe was erupting in war of previously unseen scale, the US didn’t get involved until 1917. An attempt to raise a volunteer army was made, but it took the Selective Service Act of 1917, which instituted a draft for all able-bodied men between the ages of 21- 30, to amass enough men to fight.

Anyway, our man George was swept up in that draft, registering on June 5, 1917. I wonder how he felt about it – seems like he had a good job, though he was still living with his parents. His draft card notes that he had served as a “coal passer” in the US Navy for two months at some point, so this wasn’t his first experience with the military. (I just started going down an Internet hole to find more information on this previous service, but have restrained myself as I’d like to post this to the blog some time this year . . .)

On September 10, 1917, he got on a train heading to Camp Upton on Long Island for three months of basic training. (Today that’s the site of the Brookhaven National Laboratory.)

Now, all the rest of the information I’ve found comes from the difficult-to-read-but-fascinating-nonetheless “History of the 305th.” Take a gander here if you have the time.

Irvin Cobb, in the Saturday Evening Post, wrote of these recruits:

“I saw them when they first landed at Camp Upton, furtive, frightened, slow-footed, slack-shouldered, underfed, apprehensive — a huddle of unhappy aliens, speaking in alien tongues, and knowing little of the cause for which they must fight, and possibly caring less. I saw them again three months later, when the snow of the dreadful winter of 1917-1918 was piling high about their wooden barracks down there on wind-swept Long Island. The stoop was beginning to come out of their spines, the shamble out of their gait. They had learned to hold their heads up; had learned to look every man in the eye and tell him to go elsewhere, with a capital H. They knew now that discipline was not punishment, and that the salute was not a mark of servility, but an evidence of mutual self-respect between officer and man. They wore their uniforms with pride. The flag meant something to them and the war meant something to them. Three short, hard months of training had transformed them from a rabble into soldier stuff; from a street mob into the makings of an army; from strangers into Americans. After nine months I have seen them once more in France. For swagger, for snap, for smartness in the drill, for cockiness in the billet, for good-humor on the march, and for dash and spunk and deviltry in the fighting into which just lately they have been sent, our Army can show no better and no more gallant warriors than the lads who mainly make up the rank and file of this particular division.”

Our George was one of those cocky, good-humored men.

(An interesting tangent – Irving Berlin, who was gain later fame as a Broadway composer/lyricist, was a recruit there too, and wrote a revue in 1918 called “Yip, Yip, Yaphank” that featured this song:

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Of course, George deBarbiery didn’t get to enjoy the pre-Broadway tryout that took place in Camp Upton in July 1918 because he was already in France at that point.)

George would have trained at Camp Upton from September 1917 – April 1918, when he was shipped over to France. Apparently, that was one of the most brutal winters ever experienced on Long Island: “Many a day was spent indoors on account of the cold, the thermometer at times venturing to twenty below zero. The wind whistled through the chinks of the draughty barracks; the cannon stoves waxed red hot; the thud of rifle butts on the mess hall floor resounded early and late.”

So, the recruits spent much time indoors, singing company songs like these:

I took out ten thousand Insurance,
For bonds I gave fifteen bucks more,
To wifey and mother
I ‘lotted another
Ten dollars, and then furthermore.
I ran up big bills at the Laundromat
And finally payday was there.
I went up for my dough.
But the answer was “NO”
You’ve already drawn more than your share.

In April, the war began in earnest for George and the rest of the 305th:

“An ominous twenty-four-hour leave in which to attend to final business affairs was granted early in April. The advance party of the Division had sailed. On Palm Sunday, it seemed that every woman within a radius of a hundred miles came to see Johnny off; the camp never looked so decorative; tearful wives, mothers and sweethearts were there by the thousands to say “Good-by.” Yet the agony had all to be gone through with again, another week-end. At last, on Sunday morning, the fourteenth, we were told to line up and empty our bedsacks of straw and to pack the barrack bags— more fuss than a bride might have packing her trousseau. Repeated formations; repeated inspections, eliminating this and that. Yet some of the boys carried away enough to stock a country store. Then, in the night, barracks were policed for the last time ere the troops marched silently to the waiting trains — a secret troop movement which all the world could have known about. Not a man was absent from his place, a fact which speaks wonderfully for the spirit and discipline of these New York boys, about to leave home, the most wonderful city and the most wonderful people in the world— about to undertake the most difficult and heartbreaking job of their lives.”

I wonder if Lorenzo and Louisa, George’s parents, made the trip from Ossining to Yaphank to bid their only son goodbye. I know I would have.

Arriving at the docks in Manhattan, George and the rest of the 305th boarded two British troopships bound for Europe – the RMS Cedric and RMS Vauban. An account of that survives in the ever-helpful “History of the 305th”:

“Everybody gotta go below decks! Not to have one last, long, lingering look at the harbor — at Old Girl Liberty, whose shape adorns all our baggage? There was nothing secret about the way we boarded the Cedric and the Vauhan. Despite the fact that when our ferry-boats steamed from Long Island City around the Battery to the piers, the skyscrapers of lower New York waved countless handkerchiefs, and whistles tooted like mad, someone thinks that if we all keep below while the transport steams down the Harbor in broad daylight, no German Secret Service agent will suspect for a moment that American troops are crowded aboard! Oh, well, let’s try to get a thrill out of fooling ourselves even though we fool nobody else. And must even the port-holes be closed up tight? Phew! It’s stuffy enough below decks with ’em open. Just look at what we’ve got to sleep in, row upon row, double tier, scarcely room between those dividing boards for the shoulders to fit in, to say nothing of letting one roll over and be comfortable.

Perhaps it was just as well to preclude the heartaches which a free view of the receding coastline might have produced, to let the men focus at once all their attention upon the inconveniences and novelties of their life aboard ship. There were many of both. Though First Sergeants ate in the main dining-room of the Cedric, the messing accommodations for the men in general were awful — crowded, rushed, confused, smelly and disagreeable, two or three sittings necessary. The fish was particularly discouraging, and fish-day was by no means limited to Friday. Already there was ample proof of the food shortage in England, if the service aboard an English vessel could be accepted as evidence. Many were the arguments and the fist fights precipitated by the insolent little buss-boys and the stewards. Particularly grating were the attempts to sell privileges, extra portions or favors by the crews . . . Nobody was in very good humor those first days, anyhow. The Cedric was greatly overloaded, four thousand troops being jammed in where about eighteen hundred had previously been carried.”

Oh, I could just post the entire account but I will restrain myself. They had excitement but no damage when their convoy was attacked by German U-boats somewhere in the Atlantic. Also, there were a few civilians on the Cedric, the Archbishop of York and the famed explored Sir Ernest Shackleton. How’s that for random and strange facts?

The convoy landed at Dover and the US soldiers were transferred almost immediately across the Channel to Calais. In late April of 1918, the war was looking very grim indeed, and George and his regiment likely had very bad feelings about what was to come:

“Nor were hearts any less sober the next morning when we gathered on the quay for transportation across the Channel. A sentry striding the breakwater looked, oh, so realistic, in his full kit: helmet, gas mask, cartridge belt, rifle and fixed bayonet! He must have come right out of the trenches we had read so much about. Good old Chaplain Browne, too, had straight dope that morning, which he whispered in confidence to some of the officers; that the Germans were breaking through toward the coast; that before night we would be digging somewhere in the support trenches; that the British felt Calais to be doomed, and that we were simply being fed to the slaughter.

Through the rain and the confusion on shore, through a maze of ambulances, all driven by women, the Regiment found its way to Rest Camp No. 6, East, past swarm after swarm of tenacious urchins either selling their sandy chocolate, bitter candies and sugarless cakes, or screaming, “Souvenir Americaine; penny, penn-ee!”

The Regiment, it seems, spent the next couple of months marching around France, being shuffled around until a battle could be found. They finally ended up, it seems, in Lorraine, near the Vosges, where they fell into trenches and participated in a few skirmishes:

“Who will forget the first shell that came over, or the sudden barking of a battery of 75 ‘s seemingly right behind one’s left ear? Who will forget the Cierman aeroplane landing signal which, with indefatigable precision, mounted the sky at periodic intervals during the night? Who will ever forget the first ghostly flares rocketing skyward from numerous points of the German line or the fable of the old, one-legged German on the motorcycle dashing madly from one end of the sector to the other, setting off a bunch of sky-rockets now and then to fool us into thinking there were large bodies of troops opposed to us?”

Our George spent less than five months in France.

While I can’t be sure that the following is exactly how he perished, his regiment was involved in heavy battle on the date listed as his death, September 29, 1918. It seems likely, then, that the account below describes more or less when and where he met his end:

“The moon was rising when the Second Battalion, under command of Captain Eaton, filed out of Le Claon whither it had been withdrawn a few nights before into the woods, past the burning house and popping ammunition dump ignited by shell fire, through La Chalade, with its gaunt spectral church, through Xouveau Cottage, where the last hot meal was due and which was not forthcoming, through the winding bayous and up to the forward lines on the Route Marchand. 

Here’s a map of France noting the area in which George was likely killed:

The Second Battalion was to lead the attack followed in close support by the First Battalion and then the Third. On our left was the 306th Infantry, in column of Battalions also. The Division was to attack in line of regiments.All night the men clung to that steep hillside, or herded into the dugouts awaiting the “zero” hour, while from their midst heavy mortars in the hands of the French played havoc with the German wire. Back on the roads, paralleling the front, the artillery was massed hub to hub. Shortly after midnight their pandemonium broke loose; the steady roar of great guns was deafening terrifying. Jerry must have thought a whole ammunition dump was coming at him.

The chill September air was blue with fog and smoke and powder, the dawn just breaking as the silent columns filed up through the steep hillside toward the jumping-off places, ready to go over the top with only raincoats and rations for baggage, armed to the teeth.

This was just what we had all read about long before America got into the war; this was just what the home folks doubtless imagined us to be doing every day. Could anyone who was there ever forget the earnest, picturesque figures with their grim-looking helmets, rifles and bayonets sharply silhouetted against the eastern sky; the anxious consultation of watches: the thrill of the take-off; the labored advance over a No Man’s Land so barren, churned, pitted and snarled as to defy description; the towering billows of rusty, clinging wire; the flaming signal rockets that sprayed the heavens; the choking, blinding smoke and fog and gas that drenched the valley.

Despite the intensity of the shelling, the maze of wire revealed no open avenues and there was difficulty in keeping up with our own rolling barrage as it swept over the ground before us at the rate of a hundred meters in five minutes. Pieces of cloth and flesh staked with the rusty, clinging barbs: a number of men were impaled on stakes cleverly set for that very purpose.

With difficulty, the leading and supporting waves were reformed in line of “gangs” or small combat groups before plunging on into the ravines, there to become lost or separated from their fellows until after climbing to some high point above the sea of fog they might determine again the direction of advance by a consultation of map and compass and a consideration of whatever landmarks rose above the clouds. No concerted resistance was met with until about noon, after three kilometers of wooded terrain had been covered. There, a stubborn machine gun resistance and a heavy shell fire persuaded the Second Battalion, reinforced by companies of the First, to dig in while they spread their panels on the ground to indicate to the Liberty planes overhead the point of farthest advance. At last we were to get some assistance from the air!

Casualties there had been in great numbers from enemy shelling and from lurking snipers; but like North American Indians, we continued to stalk our prey from tree to tree.”

I can only surmise that George deBarbiery met his end somewhere in this battle, perhaps “going over the top” and crossing No Man’s Land to be felled by a sniper’s bullet, or perhaps immolated by a German shell. I just hope he wasn’t one of those unfortunates impaled on a stake.

But this is not quite the end of George’s story – it took three years for his body to be transported back home and buried in St. Augustine’s cemetery. Remember, this was the first time American soldiers had been conscripted to serve in an overseas war, and Americans were not buying General Pershing’s argument that to bury a soldier alongside his comrades where they fell was the greatest glory and honor that the grateful country could bestow upon them. No, as one mother from Brooklyn wrote to the War Department, “My son sacrificed his life to America’s call, and now you must as a duty of yours bring my son back to me.”

Facing this outpouring of feeling, the War Department polled each soldier’s family to find out if they wanted their son’s remains transported home.   Over 46,000 did, and it took over two years and $30 million to recover all the dead.

George deBarbiery was but one of them.

Ossining UFOs, ESP, ELFs and more!

UnknownDr. Andrija Puharich, c. 1949

Did you know that a group of extra-terrestrial beings (who called themselves The Nine) made regular contact with a past owner of 87 Hawkes Avenue through audio cassettes? And that the Russians may have directed Extra Low Frequency (ELF) radio waves to that very address to try and control the mind of its occupant? And that spoon-bender Uri Geller was a frequent guest there? And that a camp of “Space Kids” operated near there in the mid-1970s? And that in 1975, war between Egypt and Israel may well have been averted by this neighbor?

Well, if you’ve ever read any of Dr. Andrija Puharich’s books (and really, why would you have?) you would know all this to true.   Or at least stated in print.

I think now is the appropriate juncture to take the time to note the wild and woolly goings on that were reported to have taken place at 87 Hawkes Avenue in the 1970s. The white house in which Dr. Puharich lived and worked is now sitting vacant, waiting to be demolished to make way for Parth Knolls, a 53-unit rental apartment complex to be built by Anthony P. Beldotti Developers on the site.

Unknown-1Dr. Puharich and Uri Geller, c. 1973

Dr. Andrija Puharich (aka Henry Karel Puharic) lived at 87 Hawkes Avenue from 1961 – 1979. The American-born son of Croatian immigrants, he was born in Chicago in 1918. He joined the Army and they paid for his training at Northwestern Medical School. After graduation, he may or may not have participated in several top secret projects exploring ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception), mind-altering pharmaceuticals and ELF (Extremely Low Frequency radio waves.)  One such project might have been Project Penguin, a Navy undertaking whose purpose was to test individuals said to possess psychic powers. Another was the Stargate Project, a top-secret intelligence project whose focus was on how psychic phenomena could be used in domestic and international spying.

(As an aside, as I was writing this blog post, the CIA declassified a whole bunch of Stargate Project documents involving Puharich. No, seriously, they did. Check out the link here.  I have to wonder, did they know I was researching this? Did their ELF pick up my thoughts? Are the Nine still watching over Ossining? Is my microwave spying on me?? Excuse me while I make myself a tin foil hat.)

(And, as another aside, I wonder if Presidential spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway had heard of some of this recently declassified research when she said “There are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately.  There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”  Who knows, maybe the government DID do some experiments with microwaves and picture-taking?)

But back to Puharich – whatever you think of his research topics, it is undeniable that Puharich made a career of studying the paranormal, attempting to apply traditional scientific research methods to various phenomena to categorize and understand them.   There was Arigo (a Brazilian psychic surgeon who did impossible surgeries and cured impossible diseases with a dull, rusty knife), miscellaneous mediums who served as conduits to the extraterrestrial Nine, and Uri Geller. Along the way, Puharich acquired over fifty patents for items as diverse as miniature hearing aids and methods to use water for fuel.

But let’s talk about the extraterrestrials. As far as I can understand, and this comes mostly from reading Puharich’s book Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller, an extraterrestrial group called the Nine first contacted Puharich in 1952 through a medium named Dr. Vinod. They told him that they were the highest minds in the universe and rule over all. Later, through Uri Geller (also a medium for the Nine) Puharich learned that in fact the Hoovians are the direct controllers of Earth and other nearby planetary civilizations, but take their orders from the Nine. (You could call them the bureaucrats of extra-terrestrial government. But don’t confuse them with the Whovians from Dr. Who because they are different!) During the 1970s, a city-sized spaceship called Spectra hovered over the Earth and sent messages from the Hoovians fifty-three thousand light-years away to Geller, who was their emissary on earth.  And intermittently staying with Puharich at 87 Hawkes Avenue.

There’s more to it than that, but it’s all just so out there. Not only did the Nine communicate with Puharich through various mediums and through voices on a self-erasing cassette tape, they also directed the Hoovians to make the occasional visit to Puharich’s property. Below, is a description of an extraterrestrial flyover at 87 Hawkes Avenue from Puharich’s book Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller:

87 Hawkes Avenue, Ossining New York
August 27, 1972

At 1am, a large conch shell levitated and slowly fell to the floor. We waited for a voice to appear on the tape recorder monitor. Finally there came the voice of IS* on the tape at 1:03am as follows:

“We are Nine Principles and forces. The equation is Mi=m0c2/√(1-v2/c2) . . . One of your earth scientists, Einstein, knew about us. Just before he died, he knew the secret. You will carry on the work. Then in centuries, another and another, to keep the data rolling – until man finds infinity.” As the voice said “infinity,” the tape recorder was switched off. . . .Through the north window of my study a brilliant white light suddenly flooded the room. (My house is in a forest – away from any automobile headlights.) The light was very much the quality of moonlight, but much brighter. We rushed to the window, but could not see the source of the light, which was beyond some giant Norway Spruce trees. We rushed outdoors, but the light had disappeared.” (Puharich, 175ff) 

*In the interest of clarity and brevity, Puharich began calling the voices he heard on his audio tapes “Intelligence from the sky.”

I’ve really fallen down a research hole, haven’t I? But they had an EQUATION! And they visited 87 Hawkes Avenue in 1972!  But here’s a photo of some of those Norway Spruce trees that still stand on the property:

IMG_4698

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was a frequent visitor to 87 Hawkes in the 1970s, and even supposedly wrote a screenplay entitled The Council of Nine, which may or not be preserved on a recently-discovered cache of his floppy disks. (Also, don’t forget that one of the Star Trek series was entitled Deep Space Nine. The connection is so obvious, right?)

I recently spent an interesting afternoon with Andy Puharich, Dr. Puharich’s son. A sensible, sensitive, open-minded fellow, he moved to the Netherlands at the age of five when his parents divorced. However, he told me that he had many happy memories of spending summers here with his Dad – even attending Ossining High School for a year. Whenever he comes to visit his sister, who lives in Westchester, he always likes to stop by 87 Hawkes. He remembered a summer he spent at the Turkey Farm on Spring Valley Road when his father was running the “Space Kids” camp, or a New Age-y place for adolescents whom he believe possessed extra-sensory powers.

It all seems crazy, right? But you know what? As I’ve been researching and writing this, I’ve gone from thinking that Dr. Puharich was a fanatical nutjob to developing a grudging respect for him. Because he really seemed to believe what he was researching. And he did try to use traditional, scientific methods to study the mystical and magical. (He apparently had a Faraday Cage in his lab at 87 Hawkes Avenue!  That sounds legit, right?) To me, there’s something compelling about that kind of dedication and wildly imaginative thinking.

Dr. Puharich moved away from Ossining in 1978 or so, after his house had been severely damaged by arson. Andy told me he fled to Mexico in fear for his life and died penniless in North Carolina in 1995. At the time of his death (from falling down a flight of stairs) he was working on his patented process to split water molecules for fuel.  Check it out here.

He just never seemed to stop.

Just because it interests me, here’s an interview that he supposedly gave to “Reality Hackers Magazine” in 1988. I say supposedly, because “Reality Hackers Magazine” sounds, well, dodgy. But it’s an interesting read . . .

There’s also a documentary film in the works – check out the website here.

So, when you see that the little white house at 87 Hawkes Avenue has been demolished, and the Parth Knolls apartment complex begins rising, remember the history of that site!

IMG_4693Andrija Puharich’s home at 87 Hawkes Avenue