Monday, November 8, 2010

Hastings in Yonkers!

"View at Hastings-on-Hudson," painted by Jasper F. Cropsey ca. 1891, on view at the Hudson River Museum, and currently part of their Paintbox Leaves exhibition.

We have so loved working on this blog, dear readers, and sharing the wonderful stories and photographs that the Historical Society has collected over the years. But at the moment we don’t have the staff to keep up weekly posts. When we have an event or some great piece of news, we will still post on an irregular basis. And as soon as we have the people to carry forward a weekly blog, we will start up again. Thank you, everyone, for your support of this blog during the last two years!

But in the meantime, we encourage you to take a trip to the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers before January 16th to see Paintbox Leaves: Autumnal Inspiration from Cole to Wyeth. Among the many lovely representations of Fall are four by Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), two of them painted after he moved to Hastings in 1885. One in particular, “View at Hastings-on-Hudson,” gives a wonderful picture of what our village looked like at the end of the 19th century.

Looking at this painting, you can see just what Cropsey saw from his studio on Washington Avenue. There were fewer, and shorter, trees, and the artist had a wonderful view down through the Ravine to the river. In the center of the painting is the original Sugar Pond. A little stream leading off from the pond supplied water to the sugar refineries on the waterfront in the middle of the 19th century. According to the information that came to us with a turn of the century photograph, the buildings beyond the pond, on the east side of the train tracks, include McLave’s blacksmith shop, Schlachter’s saw mill and concrete block operation, and Ferguson’s livery stables. In the distance both sailing ships and steamboats float on the River.

Look for this painting and for “The Narrows at Lake George,” which Cropsey most likely painted in Hastings from earlier sketches. For museum hours and directions, see the Hudson River Museum website.
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Moonwatch and Open House this Weekend

Stereoview card made from photographs of the full moon taken by Henry Draper in the 1860s from his observatory at Hastings on Hudson. To read more about this card, which is in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum, click on the image.

On Saturday, October 16th, the Hastings Historical Society will be open from noon until 4PM. Come see our exhibition entitled "A Story of a Village: Hastings Maps from 1600 to the Present.

At 2PM astronomers will present an analysis of the Draper telescope parts here at the cottage.

At 7:30PM there will be a MOONWATCH in Draper Park, 407 Broadway. Large telescopes will be available, or you may bring your own. There are no lights in Draper Park, so flashlights are recommended.
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Postcards from the Edge (of the Hudson)

The Hastings Historical Society blog is on vacation.

To tide you over, here are a couple of postcards from beautiful and historic Hastings-on-Hudson, one from the 1960s and the other from around 1909.

Wish you were here!

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sails on the Hudson

I’ll bet many of you spotted the picturesque ships on the Hudson River on June 6th, 2009. Member Paul Duddy did, and snapped these great photos for us. This nautical parade, called the Great River Day Flotilla, was part of the 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Celebration.

Pretty as the ships were, when you know a little something about each one, you realize that they also represent the history of transportation on the Hudson River. For example, the ship you see above is a replica of Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon. The original was commissioned by the Dutch East India Company in 1609 to hold a crew of 20 men. In this ship, Hudson sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Delaware Bay before exploring our very own river in the hopes that it would connect with the Pacific Ocean. He sailed as far as Albany, opening up that spot for the first Dutch settlement in New York, which was established in 1614.

This replica of the Half Moon took a year to build. She was constructed at the Snow Dock in Albany and launched in June 1989. The vessel, based on extensive research on Hudson and Dutch East Indian Company ships, is 85 feet long on the deck and is powered by sails, with an additional modern motor. One of the flags flying from the masts is the flag of the original masters of the ship, the Dutch East Indian Company.

This ship is a replica of Adriaen Block’s ship, the Onrust, which means “restless” in English. The original Onrust was the first “decked vessel” built from the ground up on American soil. Block arrived from Amsterdam in the Tyger, but that ship was destroyed in a fire. Block built his new ship during the winter of 1614, possibly with help from the local Lenape tribes. It was in this vessel that Block sailed into the Long Island Sound and discovered the island later named after him.

The replica of the Onrust was built in Rotterdam Junction, New York, by New Netherland Routes, Inc. It is 42 feet long, and was built of white oak and pine using traditional 17th century Dutch ship-building techniques. Construction began in 2006 and was finished in 2009, just in time for the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Celebration.

The Clearwater is not a replica of an old ship, but it was modeled after the 18th and 19th century Dutch sailing sloops that dominated Hudson River trade until the arrival of the steamship. It was built in 1968 by the Harvey Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, Maine. The Clearwater organization uses the ship for its educational programs that teach school groups and the public about the Hudson River ecosystem. In 2004 she was added to the National Register of Historic Places for the important part she played in the environmental movement.

The Mystic Whaler is a reproduction of a late 19th-century New England coastal trading schooner. She was built in 1967 in Tarpon Springs, Florida and is 83 feet long, with both traditional sails and a modern diesel engine. This vessel is based in New London, CT, but she is regularly chartered by the Clearwater organization to help them reach more schools with their education programs.

And last but not least is the John J. Harvey, the only ship here that is not a copy of an earlier vessel. This fireboat was launched in 1931 and has been in service almost ever since. She is one of the first fireboats on the New York waterways with a combustion engine, replacing the 1920s steam-powered fireboats. John J. Harvey himself was a fireboat pilot who died in the line of duty at a fire on the North River Piers in 1930. The ship named after him fought hundreds of fires on ships and piers all along the west side of Manhattan during its long years of service, including the 1942 fire that destroyed the ocean liner Normandy. The John J. Harvey was acquired by a preservation organization in 1999, and in 2000 she, too, was put on the National Register of Historic Places for her role in marine history.

Now, there’s plenty of Hudson River history for you. And if you didn’t get a chance to see the flotilla, you can visit the Half Moon at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Albany, the Clearwater in Beacon, and the John J. Harvey at Pier 63 near West 26th Street.
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bringing History to Life in the 1920s

Pocahontas and John Rolfe, after their wedding in the Jamestown church, from Jamestown, one of the Chronicles of America Photoplays.

If you had been sitting in the Hastings school auditorium on Friday, September 16th, 1932, you might well have seen the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. It would have been in black and white, and without any sound – but at least there would have been movement, history brought to life on the silver screen.

How do we know what a high schooler would have been doing on that particular day? Well, we were recently looking through the public school handbook for 1932-33, which is in our pamphlet file, and we became curious about several entries in the school calendar. Sandwiched between the G.O. elections and the Aloha Club dance are three days where the scheduled activity is “Chronicles of America”. A quick google supplied the information that the Chronicles of America Photoplays were films on American history. This series of fifteen silent movies, with titles like The Pilgrims, Peter Stuyvesant, The Declaration of Independence, Dixie, and The Frontier Woman, was one of the earliest educational film series. It was produced between 1923 and 1924 by Vitagraph Studios in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a studio established in 1906 that has been called the “first modern motion picture plant in the country.”

The real Hastings connection here is a person – Arthur E. Krows, who was scenario editor at the Vitagraph company. Krows wrote the scripts for the first two films in the series, Columbus and Jamestown. Krows lived on Farragut Avenue, directly across from the school, with his wife, known to the entire town as an animal lover and host to all the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood. Krows’ brother was “Doc” Earl Krows, a local dentist, who lived on Euclid Avenue. It seems likely that Arthur Krows was the man responsible for obtaining, or encouraging the school to obtain, copies of the film reels to show to students.

The Chronicles of America Photoplays were based on a set of books called Chronicles of America published by Yale University Press between 1918 and 1922. “This series of fifty volumes,” declared the publishers, “is designed to tell the story of the United States, as it has never before been told… to present the entire history of our country in living form, so related that the reader will be given a real vision of his country from the beginning to the present day." And almost as soon as the first volumes went to press, the publishers had the idea of developing accompanying films that would further the goal of bringing history to life.

Director-General Peter Stuyvesant gives way to fury as the Councilors urge him to accept the English terms for surrendering the Colony of New Amsterdam, from the film Peter Stuyvesant.

The publishers contacted Krows at Vitagraph, who was enthusiastic about the project and agreed to become secretary of the Chronicles of America Picture Corporation, a joint venture between Yale University and Vitagraph. He set to work on the first two scripts and made arrangements for filming to begin. Richard Koszarski in his 2008 book Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff describes the process. “Production soon began on Columbus, and the company was lucky enough to locate a full-scale reconstruction of the Santa Maria that had been floating in Chicago’s Jackson Park Lagoon since the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Although the Nina and the Pinta were by now considerably beyond repair, the Santa Maria was towed out into Lake Michigan for a few impressive establishing shots. Back in New York, an estate at Mount Kisco doubled for the palace of King John of Portugal, the La Rabida monastery was shot in Huntington, and beach scenes showing Queen Isabella’s messenger overtaking Columbus were filmed along the shores of Montauk. Interiors were built at the Vitagraph studio in Flatbush.”

The book series took history from the Indians to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Vitagraph was able to produce only fifteen films out of the proposed forty, and only got as far as the Revolutionary War before the combination of incredibly high production costs, conflict between the historian/editors and the filmmakers, and the collapse of the Vitagraph studio brought an end to the photoplays. (Arthur Krows himself resigned as secretary of the Chronicles of America Picture Corporation after an argument over changes that the Yale historians wanted to make in his scripts.)

But though the films may not have recouped their costs, they were popular enough with museums, schools, and local clubs that they helped establish a real market for educational film. As late as the 1950s, prints were still being circulated by various institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Pathe company, and in 1941 the Chronicles of America Photoplays became the first documentary film series to be shown on American television.

Congress assembled in Independence Hall on June 7, 1776 to vote on a resolution for independence, from the film The Declaration of Independence.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Hastings’ First Female Doctor

Sarah Elizabeth "Lizzie" Curry, probably taken in the 1880s.

Do you find obituaries depressing? But you never know what fascinating lives lie behind these short paragraphs! Take a look at this obituary from the Yonkers Herald Statesman of 1932.

“Hastings-on-Hudson, May 31 – Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Curry, one of the oldest woman doctors in the country, died at her home here yesterday after a long illness. Dr. Curry, who lived at 219 Thompkins Avenue, was in her late seventies. Born in New York, the daughter of the late Francis M. and Mary Lane Curry, she moved to Hastings at an early age. Because the Curry home was on the Yonkers-Hastings line, she attended School One in Yonkers for a number of years before continuing her education in Chappaqua and Pennington Seminary. She was graduated from the Women’s Medical College in New York and after practicing in that city, returned here to enter general practice. She retired about 15 years ago because of poor health. She is survived by her brother, Town Judge Frank E. Curry of Greenburgh, and a number of nieces and nephews. ... Burial will be in the family plot in Mount Hope Cemetery.”

Bare bones, indeed—but intriguing! A few comments in the oral histories done for the Historical Society by Vira Curry McNiece, Sarah’s niece, fill in some of the details.

“There was a carriage house on the property that was quite a distance from the house. It housed a two-seater carriage and a buggy. It had a flight of stairs that wound upstairs where the walls were plastered. That’s where school was held. Some of the children around attended, as did my mother. My doctor aunt taught there for a while after my grandfather died while she was waiting for her inheritance.

Later she practiced somewhere in New York, and then she came home and commuted on the old Putnam Railroad, going down every morning and coming back in the evenings. Still later she had her office at our house in Hastings. She charged 50 cents for office visits. I don’t think she had too large a practice, but she made lots of house calls—for $1.00 each—in her horse and buggy. She had quite a few patients in northern Yonkers and on Washington Avenue in Hastings. [Both lower income neighborhoods (Ed).] She was a homeopathic doctor. She lived to be 76 when she died of cancer.”

We’d love to know more about Dr. Lizzie. Anything we discover, we’ll share with you!

June 1894 graduating class of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women, a homeopathic institution incorporated under the University of the State of New York in 1863. Sarah is the tallest woman standing in the back row, framed by the central arch. This was the first place in New York City where a woman could study medicine and, until 1918, the only hospital that accepted female interns. When Sarah attended it, the school was located near Carnegie Hall.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mystery Photograph: Church Ladies?

Remember the young commuter from the June 24th post whose name was Josephine Selvaggio? Well, the years have rolled by, and you see her here on the far left of a group of seven senior citizens, with one gentleman standing at the back. They are posed on Main Street, right outside the Youth Center. Behind them is the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka, where Josephine married Joaquim Dos Santos in 1926. This is another of the items given to us by Josephine’s son, Louis Dos Santos. It might have been taken in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Can you help us with the identifications? Is this a group of ladies from the church? It is a senior citizen group on their way to the Youth Center? Josephine did volunteer at the Hillside School. Could these ladies all be school volunteers? What are the names of the other women, and who is the man behind them? Click on the photograph to look at it more closely in Flickr. Any and all suggestions gratefully appreciated!
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Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Fourth of July Parade – 1910s style

In 1941, long-time Hastings resident Stephen Zebrock wrote a column for the Hastings News called “Main Street Through the Years.” In this column, he set down everything he could remember about his childhood in Hastings in the late 1910s. This week, we thought you might like to read what Stephen wrote about Fourth of July parades. (The photographs that illustrate this post are from the 1914 parade. For more information, click on a specific photograph.)

“Parades were really an event in our lives. A Fourth of July parade would have every kid in the village agog for weeks in advance. Who would march in it? Which band would lead? Where would they start? Ann and I and Margaret and Emma Rimar would awake at six A.M. actually waiting! Finally at eight o’clock or so we’d rush downstairs, wash up, dress, and dash out into the front yard.

My father had built a large picket fence insuring privacy and also a box-seat view of any Main Street proceedings. A hundred precautions to keep our clothes clean, and we’d finally hear distant drums beating…. The parade was coming! Across Warburton Avenue Bridge, we could see the gaily-colored stream of people marching toward us. There they were—going up Main Street.

Look! There’s Louie [Zebrock, Stephen’s older brother], and Steve Snyder, Joe Meyer, and other members of Hastings Brass Band. There too was Mr. [John] Prince, Kitty’s father. Next came Capt. [William] Cronell, looking like a general out of a history book, at the head of our police force. Then came the school children (no one under the fifth grade was allowed to march) all decked out in their finest, all the girls showing their newly-made curls (after a night of torture). …

Next in line came some of the teachers. I recognized Miss [Kate] Crane, Miss [Agnes] McLave, Laura Caffyn, Mae Devery, Emma Van Nostrand, Grace Harlow, Margaret Waldbillig, Grace Sylvester, Mary Toole, Miss Senn (my teacher) and Mr. Peters, the Manual Training teacher. Our new principal, Mr. [H.H.] Murphy, lead this contingent. Following the teachers came some of our well-known and most popular citizens: A.W. Bevers, C.C. Delanoy, John Lawler, Jas. Magee, Dr. H.C. Sherman, Frederick Zinsser [owner of Zinsser Chemical Company on the waterfront], Dr. W.J. Doerfler, Louis Limekiller, and Nicholas Cook.

The Hastings Girl Scouts following the Boy Scouts took a round of applause. The Hungarian, Russian, Italian, Irish, and other local societies were well-represented, their native flags side by side with the American Flag.

About this time my mother would leave the kitchen to join Aunt Vera, Uncle John, my father, Mr. and Mrs. Szabo, and, generally, the proprietor of our home, Mr. Wagner, and his family. The parade stretched on, there were four or five different kinds of bands—from Uniontown, the Manor, from ‘the Juvenile Home’ up the Hill, and at least two or three brass bands. Finally, only a gang of kids trailed by…. The parade was over.

At the holiday spread, the one topic of conversation was the parade. “Didn’t Captain Cronell look dignified. Didn’t our Louis play better than all the rest? Wasn’t Mildred Young pretty in that girl scout uniform. Bill Hogan looked like a real captain. And the new dress on Kathlyne Collins! Mr. Zinsser looked like a Major in that uniform. And did you notice Dr. Doerfler marching?” This was a sample of the talk around the dinner table. We didn’t know whether to eat or talk. After all, didn’t everyone in the village turn out? And hadn’t people come for miles just to see our parade? Darn tootin! A parade in Hastings was an event in those days.”

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Heads Up – It’s the Hindenburg!

On the 9th of October 1936, retired chemist and camera buff A.C. Langmuir of 383 Broadway set up his camera to take a photograph of the zeppelin Hindenburg hovering above the Anaconda Wire & Cable Company on the waterfront. The same day, the following article appeared in the Yonkers Statesman under the title “Thousands Here View Hindenburg.”

“Thousands of Yonkers residents, craning their necks skyward and shading their eyes against a blazing sun, got their first view of the giant dirigible Hindenburg today.

The glistening German trans-Atlantic air liner was clearly visible in detail, from beaming nose to the colorful Nazi swastika on its tail. Its motors humming, the Zeppelin dipped low over the city, after making a graceful crossing from New Jersey and entering over South Yonkers. The flying level was estimated at 700 feet.

The passage over this city began at 8:50 A.M., about half an hour past schedule. Aboard were a party of commercial men, making an observation tour of Westchester County’s western sector, and prepared to cruise over New England, returning down the Long Island Sound and eastern Westchester this afternoon.

The dirigible glided north, over Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Irvington, the Tarrytowns, Ossining, and Peekskill. Then it turned east toward Danbury, Conn. It was then to continue on a roughly elliptical course to Boston, and then return via Brockton, Providence, New Haven and Bridgeport, passing then over Port Chester and Mount Vernon.”

Map from the New York Times showing the route of the Hindenburg's 10-hour cruise.

The residents of Yonkers were not the only enthusiastic spectators – every inhabitant of every city that the zeppelin passed over was amazed at the vision of the Hindenburg hovering above them. Factory whistles blew to alert the residents to its arrival in a new town. Planes circled around the liner and dipped in salute. Schools recessed, and the children ran about in the streets shouting so loudly that they could be heard on the zeppelin itself. The New York Times reported that a Newark man had actually died after falling through a skylight while stepping back to get a better view!

And this was no surprise, for the Hindenburg was, and still is, the largest airship ever built. The Camden, NJ paper called her the “Queen of the Skies.” She was built for commercial passenger and mail service, and boasted a dining room, lounge, and writing room designed by the same artist who designed the interiors of ocean liners and luxury trains. The ship could carry up to 72 passengers, and for the trans-Atlantic service from Germany to the U.S. the tickets were $400 each (about $6,300 in 2010 dollars). As you might imagine, the passengers were mostly the very wealthy – politicians, athletes, entertainers, and industrialists.

The “Nazi swastika” on the tail end of the zeppelin may seem a little surprising for a commercial passenger carrier. It probably wouldn’t have been there if Dr. Hugo Eckener, chairman of the company that built the zeppelin, had had anything to say about it. It was Eckener who had insisted on naming his zeppelin after the former president of Germany, and not, as the Nazi propaganda office had instructed him, after Adolf Hitler. For this error, the German newspapers were not permitted to use Eckener’s name in any article they wrote about the airship. In Hitler’s Germany, the state ran the airships in partnership with Dr. Eckener’s company. Both the Hindenburg and the Graf Zeppelin were used for propaganda purposes in Germany, flying around the country dropping leaflets and broadcasting political speeches.

In 1936, the first year of its operation, the Hindenburg made 10 trips across the Atlantic. In October of that year it had reached the end of its official season. The flight over Hastings was part of a special 10-hour cruise before the ship returned to Germany for the winter. Its purpose was two-fold: to inspect sites for future airship air fields and to get the heads of America’s biggest corporations interested in the commercial possibilities of airship travel. Among the 84 passengers invited on the trip were Nelson Rockefeller, the presidents of Chrysler, Packard, and De Soto, and the president of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. (Could this ride have inspired Goodyear’s future affection for blimps?) Every guest was enthusiastic over the smooth and comfortable trip. When the ship returned to its birth at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, Dr. Eckener was able to tell the press that “progress had been made toward the financing of two big rigid airships in this country.”

But almost exactly seven months later, for reasons still not fully explained, the Hindenburg crashed at Lakehurst airfield, killing 35 of the 97 people onboard. This disaster was so horrific that it brought the age of commercial airship travel to an abrupt end. Two days later, the Graf Zeppelin was grounded, and in 1940 the brand new Graf Zeppelin II was dismantled.

But on that clear day in October when A.C. Langmuir set up his camera to snap the photograph at the top of this article, the future of the zeppelin looked bright. Langmuir and the thousands of other people who saw the Hindenburg must have thought they were looking at the dawn of a new age – the glorious hydrogen-filled future of air travel.

Photograph from the October 9, 1936 article in the Yonkers Statesman.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Josephine Selvaggio: Hastings Commuter

After last week’s post, it seems appropriate to introduce you to one of the Hastings commuters who brought the floors of Grand Central Station to such a state of disrepair. Her name is Josephine Selvaggio of 22 Main Street, Hastings-on-Hudson, and she is 25 years old. It is 1926, and Josephine works as a secretary for Commercial Investment Trust (now CIT) of Manhattan.

Josephine was born in Palermo, Italy, in 1901, and arrived in Hastings with her parents when she was nine. Her father was a shoemaker and opened a shoe store on Main Street. In 1921 she received a card in a handy holder, certifying to her expertise on the Remington typewriter (see below). It notes that she is a student at Hasting High School.

But Josephine left school before graduation so she could help her parents with expenses. Graduating from high school, as she would later write in her short memoire Reminiscing Hastings, was a luxury that not everyone could afford in the 1920s. And so she went to work for Commercial Investment Trust.

Certificate of Efficiency awarded by the Remington Typewriter Company to Josephine Selvaggio, a student in the Hastings-on-Hudson High School, on Nov. 14, 1921. The certificate notes that she "has written on a Remington typewriter at a net speed of 49 words per minute for ten consecutive minutes."
But it is not her job, but her train ticket (see below) that certifies Josephine as a genuine commuter. Like all the best things, the commuter is an American invention, brought about by the expansion of the railway system. In 1848 passengers on the New Jersey train were offered a convenient 8-trip ticket that was cheaper than 8 individual tickets would have been. It was called a commutation ticket, taking its name from the verb “commute,” meaning to exchange something for something else, in this case eight tickets for a single ticket.

By 1926, when Josephine was traveling back and forth to New York City, you could buy a “monthly commutation ticket”—in this case for the month of October. Why might Josephine have preserved this one particular train pass? The answer might lie in the date. On November 21 of 1926, Josephine Selvaggio married Joaquim Dos Santos at Saint Stanislaus Koska Church in Hastings. Just before their marriage, she took Joaquim to work with her.

“When I got married, I took my husband to meet everyone at work," she later told a local reporter. "They asked him ‘Why don’t you let Josephine stay here?’ But he said ‘No, she’s worked enough. She can be at home now.’ I came home and I cried.”

When Josephine was much older, she went into business for herself doing typing and typesetting under the name of the Hastings Letter Service. But throughout her life she preserved this, her last commuter train pass. This ticket and the typing certificate were donated to the Historical Society by her son Louis in 2009.

Monthly Commutation Ticket for J. Selvaggio for October of 1926 with holder including her photograph. The ticket was good only for travel between New York and Hastings-on-Hudson, and cost $8.31.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watch Where You Step!

Now we all know, of course, that the fabulous figures of Mercury flanked by Minerva and Hercules that frame the Grand Central clock were carved by Hastings sculptor John Donnelly. This week on the blog, however, we ask you to look not up, but down. We recently read this little article about the flooring of Grand Central Station in the “Mileposts” newsletter published by the MTA Metro-North Railroad. Wondering what this has to do with Hastings? Well, next time you are in Grand Central, think about how much pressure your feet put on the floor—and ask yourself how many Hastings commuters have been walking the same path since Grand Central opened in 1913!

At Grand Central, our five-year program to restore and repair the broken and cracked marble tiles and terrazzo sections of the Terminal’s floor continues. We’ve just finished the second year of this program; we are repairing about 5% a year to minimize disruption to the 700,000 people who pass through the Terminal each day. (We expect this rehabilitation project to be completed in 2012.)

Depending on the area of the Terminal that needs repairs, we have been replacing broken tiles with either newly quarried Tennessee pink marble ones or with custom terrazzo panels (a type of flooring consisting of marble chips set in cement or epoxy resin that is poured and ground smooth when dry). (About 25% of the floor needs replacement – we’re talking about some 45,000 square feet of Tennessee pink marble and 67,000 square feet of terrazzo that will be installed.) The very process of chiseling out the broken floor sections and then setting in new ones is difficult enough, but the hardest task is the acquisition, selection, and emplacement of the marble and terrazzo so that it is indistinguishable from the original, adjacent sections.

New sections of Tennessee pink marble in the center of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

To acquire an exact match of the Tennessee pink marble, we went to the quarry from which the original stone was cut. It had been closed since the late 1980s, but the owners agreed to reopen it so that Grand Central Terminal could attain identical marble to that of the original. The original slabs of marble were placed just 1/16th of an inch apart. This tight fit, however, left little room for “give” when the building vibrates due to trains traveling on the Terminal’s loop tracks (which actually run behind the famous Oyster Bar). The replacement slabs are placed with double the space between them. The 1/8th inch separation that is now the standard is invisible to the casual eye and will prevent cracking.

To duplicate the original terrazzo’s unique color and make-up is more challenging, as the original “mixture recipe” was lost to history. So a laborious and exacting process of trial and error ensued with multiple mixtures, combinations, and processes until, finally, a perfect color match was achieved. (Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, we keep the new written recipe for this perfect mixture a secret, and in a secure, locked drawer within Grand Central.)

The terrazzo slabs, which are actually softer and more prone to wear and cracking than the Tennessee pink marble, now have an almost imperceptible brass border on all sides. This stops any cracks that have developed in one slab, from transferring to the next slab … and then the next.

You can try looking for the new and shiny sections of the Terminal’s floor, but you won’t find them, thanks to the meticulous work of a our master stone masons.

(Reprinted with permission of Metro-North Railroad)

New sections of terrazzo in two different shades with brass border, set into the areas on the east and west sides of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mark Your Calendars! Moonwatch Friday, June 18, in Draper Park

Photograph of the moon highlighting the Mare Imbrium. The small white circle underneath the center of the Mare Imbrium is the Capricorn crater.

The Hastings Historical Society in conjunction with a group of local amateur astronomers presents a sky viewing for the whole family at 9PM on Friday, June 18th, in Draper Park. Draper Park is accessible via the Historical Society driveway at 407 Broadway, just south of Washington Avenue. Telescopes will be available, along with knowledgeable astronomers, but you are welcome to bring your own telescope, too. There are no lights in Draper Park, which makes looking at the heavens easier. But we do recommend that you bring a flashlight with you so you can see your way. The event is free and open to the public. If it is raining on Friday, the Moonwatch will take place at the same time on Saturday. For more information, call the Historical Society at 478-2249.

We are told by astronomers in the know that the conditions on Friday will be perfect for viewing the Draper crater, named after Henry Draper, whose observatory in Draper Park is the Historical Society’s home. (For more about Henry Draper and his landmark pictures of the moon, click here.) There are actually two Draper craters, referred to as “Draper” and “Draper C”. They are next to each other and of similar size and are called twin craters. These two cup-shaped depressions on the surface of the moon were made by the impact of an asteroid or some similar celestial projectile. Each of these craters is about five miles in diameter and one mile deep, so if we ever decide to move Hastings and Dobbs Ferry lunarside, we could probably squeeze them both into the Draper crater.

These two “small” craters are at the very southern edge of the Mare Imbrium, which, translated from the Latin, means “Sea of Showers.” The moon has many “maria”, inappropriately named by early astronomers who thought they were real seas full of water. They are, in fact, huge, dark basalt planes made by the eruption of lava onto the moon’s surface. The Mare Imbrium’s circular shape is the result of an object hitting the moon’s surface and leaving behind a crater, which was later filled with lava. This “sea” is almost 700 miles in diameter. On the Earth, a crater this size would encompass New York state, Pennsylvania, most of Virginia, and all of New England except the northern tip of Maine. The impact of this huge object on the moon created several ridges of 4-mile-high mountains along the edge of the crater, and is thought to have caused a series of faults across the entire surface of the moon. In 1971, Apollo 15 landed in the Mare Imbrium and, based on rock samples it collected, scientists have dated the original impact that created the “sea” to 3.85 billion years ago.

If you want to get a good look at the Mare Imbrium, the Draper craters, and other lunar features, join us for the Moonwatch next Friday!

Photograph of the moon showing the Copernicus crater, the “Carpathian Mountains” that mark the southern edge of the Mare Imbrium, and, at the very top of the photograph, the twin Draper craters. (Image used with permission of the Regional Planetary Image Facility, Lunar and Planetary Institute, University Space Research Association, Houston, TX.)

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Slideshow this Sunday: A Voyage up the Hudson in Historic Photographs

Palisades from Englewood Landing (repairing shad net), ca. 1870

The Historical Society’s annual meetings are important but painless affairs, generally lasting from 5 to 10 minutes. Then we get to sit back and relax and enjoy a great lecture or concert, which is always free and open to the public.

This year we are combining our efforts with the Friends of the Hastings Public Library, and we will both have our annual meetings at the Library this Sunday, June 6th, at 2PM. Our program will be a lecture by local author Tony Peluso, who will guide us up the Hudson River from Manhattan to Lake Luzerne using some of the many fabulous items in his personal collection of old photographs, stereo views, and ephemera, some as old as 1850 and as “modern” as 1930.

Tony, who lives in Yonkers, has been writing for the Maine Antique Digest for the last thirty years. Last year he lent us several items for our 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration exhibition, including two fabulous miniature replicas of Robert Fulton’s ship, the “Clermont.” And then, a few months ago, Tony showed us a PowerPoint slideshow he had put together on the Hudson River. Well, we were bowled over, both by Tony’s collection and by the fascinating information on the history of our river that he had pulled together. We know you will enjoy his presentation as much as we did.

The lecture will take place at the Library in the Orr Room. If you have any questions about the program, you can call the Library at 914-478-3307.

Breakneck from Cornwall (Sunday), ca. 1870

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

400 Turn Out For House Tour!

Noel Murrain (left), nephew of the present owner of 131 Pinecrest Drive, shakes hands with Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski (right). 131 Pinecrest was owned in the 1920s by Metropolitan Opera ballet master Alexis Kosloff. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

Last minute worries about the weather and a sufficient stock of cookies are behind us, and we can now bask in the glow of a terrifically successful event. The Historical Society’s house tour “Hastings Characters and Character” attracted approximately four hundred visitors this past Saturday and Sunday. And every one of them raved about the opportunity to peak inside fifteen of our community’s most historic homes.

Once again, we want to extend our thanks to all those many, many people who helped make the tour not only possible, but fabulous! Thirteen private home owners (including children and dogs) graciously opened their homes to the public. Two dozen researchers compiled histories of the houses and their notable inhabitants. One hundred and twenty docents guided visitors though the houses on the days of the tour. A special thanks goes to Jennifer Moore Smith, who did all the graphic design for the project. And our biggest thanks to the tireless house tour organizers Sue Smith and Liz Liebeskind, the duo whose imaginations were large enough to conceive of such a mammoth undertaking. We stand in awe!

And thanks also to everyone who attended! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. If you took a couple of special photographs or have any interesting stories of the tour – send them our way!

Docent Dick Ford greets visitors to 31 Sheldon Place, home of artists Rosetta and Herbert Bohnert. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

Our heroes: Liz Liebeskind (left) and Sue Smith (right), posed with the silhouette of actress May Yohe made for the house tour by Jennifer Moore Smith. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Title: House Tour Preview: May Yohe – Hastings’ Glamour Girl

Hastings has rarely been as close to the international high life as it was at the turn of the century when the actress May Yohe lived here. This weekend, May 22nd & May 23rd bewteen 1 & 5, the house she spent several years in will be on the Historical Society’s house tour. Her life is so incredibly like a romance novel that the wonderful 8-page article written for the Hastings Historian last year by Lilian and John Mullane was barely long enough to do it justice. This blog post, baldly cribbed from the Mullanes’ article, can only give you a hint of her extraordinary escapades. Join us for the house tour to find out more!

Mary Augustus Yohe was born on April 6, 1866 to a poor family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her father, most likely of German ancestry, was an ironworker and a commissioned officer in the Civil War. Her mother, Lizzie Batcheller, was an expert seamstress and amateur singer of English-Narragansett Indian ancestry. Aided by German friends of her mother, May was sent abroad to an expensive boarding school in Dresden and then to a finishing school in Paris.

By the time she returned to Pennsylvania, at age 21, her father was dead and her mother had moved to Philadelphia. There her mother ran a successful dressmaker’s business. One of her wealthy customers was Mrs. John Drew, a successful actress and manager of the Arch Street Theater in Philadelphia. Mrs. Drew, impressed by May’s poise, beauty, imagination, and musical talent, gave her a letter of introduction to Mr. A.M. Palmer, the manager of the Union Square Theater in New York.

Palmer gave May a job as a chorus girl at $9 per week. Less than a year later, she had her first role: understudy to the lead actress in Natural Gas, a musical comedy. May’s career flourished. Four years later, in 1892, she was introduced to Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton Beresford Hope at a dinner party at Delmonico’s Restaurant. Lord Francis, though May did not know it, was heir to a British dukedom and the Hope Diamond. After dinner, May had planned to go to the Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, and Lord Francis boldly asked to accompany her.

Shortly afterward, they met again, in London. Lord Hope apparently arranged for May to be cast in the starring role of the play, Little Christopher, Jr. May’s “foghorn” contralto voice, performing “Honey, Ma Honey,” created quite a stir, and she soon became known as “Madcap May, the toast of London.”

May appears to have moved in with Lord Francis before they were married, but the service was finally held, in spite of the bitter opposition of his entire family, on November 27th, 1894. Between her shopping and his gambling, the couple led an expensive existence. In 1899, they set out on a luxury round-the-world tour. It was on this trip that the couple met Putnam Bradlee Strong, a Harvard graduate and son of a former mayor of New York City. When the trip ended, Strong kept up his friendship with Lord Francis -- and increased his attentions to May. When May came down with pneumonia in New York and Lord Francis refused to cut short his fishing trip to Florida, Strong kept bedside vigil instead. When she recovered, May was in love.

The couple fled first to San Francisco, and then continued on to Japan, where their house became the meeting place for the local smart set. Their life was no less extravagant than it had been in New York, only now May had to pick up the tab. When the money ran out, the couple returned reluctantly to the United States -- and to Hastings-on-Hudson.

By then May’s mother, Lizzie Batcheller, was living in a grand house on Villard Avenue. Built in 1880 in the Queen Anne style, the house has not only wrap-around verandah and an open turret, but also a large domed tower. It is unclear exactly who built the house, and when it came into Lizzie’s hands, but the money for it had certainly come from May. And to this house, Lizzie brought her daughter, her daughter’s lover, their Japanese maid Yodi, and their 100 pieces of luggage.

On the surface, May and Strong lived quite peacefully in Hastings. May returned to the New York stage to bring in an income. But Strong had resumed his gambling. In July of 1902, Strong suddenly disappeared with money he made by pawning some of May’s jewels (which were said to be worth $250,000). May followed Strong to London, and there was a reconciliation, followed in October by a marriage in Argentina. May vowed never to return to the United States, but when her mother died she did come back to sell her mother’s house to Oliver O. Gribben, a buyer in foreign rugs and tapestries for Macy’s and B. Altman’s.

This was the end of May Yohe’s connection with Hastings, though hardly the end of an eventful life that included at least two more marriages and a 1920s silent movie series that she starred in and promoted called The Hope Diamond Mystery. May made the most out of her brief association with the Hope Diamond, which she referred to as a “life-long association.” She did her best to further the completely unfounded “curse” surrounding it. Lord Hope sold the diamond in 1901, and it passed through several hands before it was donated by an American jeweler to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC in 1947.

May Yohe in 1926. Around her neck is a necklace with a large stone suspended from it, probably the replica of the Hope Diamond made for the 1921 movie series. May apparently enjoyed wearing the stone in public -- and letting people think it was was the real one.

2010 House Tour: Hastings' Characters and Character
Saturday May 22 & Sunday May 23 between 1PM & 5PM

Tickets are no longer available online, but you can still buy them at Festivities on Main Street in Hastings during business hours, and on the day of the tour during tour hours at the Historical Society tent in Zinsser Parking Lot, across the street from the train station. Tickets purchased at Festivities before Saturday are $20 for an individual, $40 for a family, and $5 for a child 8 or older. Tickets purchased the day of the tour are $25 for an individual, $50 for a family, and $5 for a child 8 or older.
And here is a grand list of the Hastings personalities featured on the tour!
Actress May Yohe
Women's rights activist Margaret Sanger
Musician Arthur Abell
Artists Rosetta and Herbert Bohnert
Empire State Building architect Richmond Shreve
Social psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark
Federal judge Maurice Grey
Ballet master Alexis Kosloff
Local activist and photographer A.C. Langmuir
Scientists John William Draper and his son Henry
Admiral David Glassgow Farragut
Artist Jasper F. Cropsey
Tiffany silversmith Edward C. Moore
Join us this weekend to learn more about all these fascinating characters!
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

House Tour Preview: Jasper F. Cropsey – A View from the Artist’s Studio

Jasper F. Cropsey at age 24, painted by Edward L. Mooney in 1847. From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

Thanks to the generosity of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the house and studio of the painter Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), one of the leaders of the 19th-century Hudson River School.

The Hudson River School has been called the first truly American school of painting, a school that glorified the beauty and grandeur of the American landscape. Cropsey himself was known as “America’s painter of Autumn.” His paintings of the fall colors of the Hudson Valley were so brilliant that the English thought he was exaggerating when he exhibited his work in London. He had leaves sent from home and displayed them with the paintings to prove that trees could really show such colors. Cropsey began his career in New York City as an architect, but from childhood he had shown a gift for painting. He exhibited a landscape at the National Academy of Design when he was 21 that earned him an invitation to become an Associate Member—the youngest in the history of that organization. In 1845 he left architecture to become a full-time painter.

"View of Hudson River and Palisades from Artist's Home," an oil painting signed and dated, "J.F. Cropsey 1886." From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

His work reached the peak of its popularity in the 1850s and 1860s. During this period he travelled between Europe and America, painting English castles and abbeys for his American clients and the American landscape for the English. In 1861 he was presented to Queen Victoria, who greatly admired his “Autumn—On the Hudson River.” In 1862 the painting won a medal at the International Exposition in London and sold for the amazing sum of $2,000. Back in New York, Cropsey helped to found the American Watercolor Association in 1866. That same year Cropsey and his wife Maria purchased land in Warwick, NY on which they built a splendid house and studio that they christened “Aladdin.”

But during the 1870s the tide of fashion began to turn against the Hudson River School as the public became more interested in French landscape painting, and then Impressionism. The Cropseys, who were never careful with money, were forced to sell “Aladdin” in 1884. In 1885 they purchased a Gothic Revival cottage that had been built in the 1830s on Washington Avenue in Hastings. The couple gave the house the name “Ever Rest”, and they lived there together until Jasper Cropsey’s death in 1900.

Detail of a 1901 map of Hastings of the area between Main Street and Washington Avenue showing the Cropsey Estate, the house on Washington that backed onto the Ravine with its circular driveway, the stream running through the Ravine down to the industrial waterfront, and at the far right the "School" -- the 1863 Fraser Free School, the first school building built in Hastings.

As soon as they purchased the property, Cropey added a studio, a recreation of the one he had designed for Aladdin. The two-story room is paneled with dark wood and contains an Inglenook fireplace, modeled after one Cropsey had admired at Windsor Castle. Above is a square cupola whose windows can be opened with pulleys. The house and studio are full of his work, and you will also see Cropsey’s palette and easel there, as well as furniture and stained glass that he designed.

Interior of Jasper F. Cropsey's studio in Hastings.

Hastings, according to Cropsey, was “one of the finest passages of scenery on the river.” From 1885 on, the town began to figure prominently in Cropsey’s paintings and drawings. His studio overlooks the Ravine that begins behind Five Corners and leads down to the waterfront, under the Warburton Avenue Bridge that was built in 1899, the year before Cropsey died. The painting reproduced above shows the view looking west down the Ravine to the Hudson River. He also painted the view in the opposite direction, looking up the Ravine toward the back of Main Street. This watercolor, which you can see below, shows what was then the Fraser Free School (now the Hook & Ladder Company) and an axle mill in the Ravine, long since demolished, that was fed by the stream that ran through the Ravine. (For someone who had made his reputation as part of a group that prized wilderness above everything, it is surprising how many of Cropsey’s Hastings views include industrial buildings and steam boats.)

Cropsey also painted pictures of the Hastings waterfront and views looking down to the river from the Hastings hills, as well as scenes in nearby river towns. “I have no occasion,” he wrote, “to travel much since I am so surrounded with beautiful scenery – the rocky palisades – the ever changing marine “bits” of the Queen River; and inland, the lovely meadow and wooded hills of the Saw-Mill River Valley, and the grassy Sprain River – where the summer verdure is most luxuriant and the autumn color is as brilliant as any where in our country. … [I] find my recreation with my sketch book, in little tramps about my home.”

"View from the Studio (Overlooking Ravine)," watercolor painted by Jasper F. Cropsey in 1891. From the collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

House Tour Preview: Kenneth Clark – Neighbors and Guests

Our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the home of African-American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In 1950, the Clarks moved to Hastings’ Pinecrest neighborhood, the area west of the Andrus Memorial Home. They raised their children here and remained here until their deaths, Mamie in 1983 and Kenneth in 2005. In 1990, Historical Society Trustee Coleman Barkin interviewed Clark for the Society’s oral history collection. The following is an edited version of that interview, in which Clark talks about his house, his neighbors, his friendship with the Lithuanian-born sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and some of his more famous house guests.

(In the interview, Clark refers to “The Chances” who sold them their house. These were African-American lawyer Lucille Chance and her sister Sarah Grey. Their maiden name was Edwards, and under that name they ran a Harlem-based real estate business called Edwards Sisters Realty. Lucille was instrumental in bringing African-American families to Hastings. Her house will also be on our house tour.)

The view: the Hudson River seen from the Pinecrest neighborhood in 1929.

INT: Where did you first live?

KC: In New York City, in Washington Heights. As I said, [Mamie was] from Arkansas, and a home—she didn’t particularly like living in an apartment. So she said we ought to look to find a home, and this was the first place we looked -- Hastings. Our neighbors, the Chances, who have a home up here, were in real estate and they showed us this home. … She liked it, I liked it. I liked the view, and that oak tree in the back is really magnificent, and the fireplace. We decided to buy it. We didn’t look any further. …

INT: Was Hastings an integrated community at that time?

KC: As far as we knew. There were about three or four black families in this area. It seemed like a pretty integrated area. I had a very good friend, Robert Merton, who lived up the drive. … He’s a professor of Sociology at Columbia. … I’ll never forget the first Christmas we were here. We hadn’t yet fixed up the house. The bell rang, we went to the front door and there was Bob Merton and a group of neighbors who came to sing Christmas carols and whatnot. That was really a very impressive event for us. It told us, really, that it was a decent community … . One of the things that fascinated me was that in the Pinecrest area whites and blacks interchanged in selling. A white family would sell to a negro family, a negro family could sell to a white family. …

INT: What kind of reputation did Hastings have?

KC: A pleasant place, a pleasant suburb. … It seemed the type of place that one would like other places to be like. …

INT: Did you use the parks around here, or the aqueduct?

KC: Yes, sometimes. In fact, I used to walk down the aqueduct to [sculptor Jacques] Lipchitz’s studio on Sundays. We would sit and talk. We were quite friendly. … I walked down and I saw his studio, and, of course, I’ve always been impressed with Lipchitz. In fact, I have one of his pieces upstairs that I’ll show you. We’d sit and we’d talk. We’d talk about Picasso. He was quite a person, a very gentle man. …

INT: Was he working continuously? Was he sculpting all the time?

KC: He did quite a bit of sculpting, yeah. And he didn’t seem to mind taking time out for us to sit and talk. And I visited his home there … . He has a lot of African art.

The Old Croton Aqueduct running alongside Pinecrest Drive in 1931.

INT: What did you talk about besides Picasso?

KC: Events – what was happening in the world. We had similar ideology. …

INT: You had mentioned to me, when we last spoke, that you had different friends come up and spend some time here. [Singer] Paul Robeson, you said he’d been here, and [writer] Jim Baldwin.

KC: Paul Robeson had been up with the Chances. Martin Luther King had spent some time here with us as a guest. …

INT: Were they here just socially, or did you have meetings?

KC: Socially and meetings. Meetings with Roy Wilkins, Whitney [Young] [both prominent civil-rights activists], and others. …

INT: Why did you meet here, rather than in somebody’s office?

KC: That’s a very interesting question. It was a… I guess it was a secret. I think Martin was staying with us. As I told you it was fascinating, we had lunch upstairs and discussions down here [in the library]. …

INT: What was [Jim Baldwin] like?

KC: He was like Jim Baldwin. We had long discussions. We’d have more discussions with Jim than we would with Martin. Martin was easy going. I only saw him angry once. Jim was sort of voracious. I liked him. Mamie liked him. In fact, we would not have guests here, particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like … .

INT: You said you saw Martin Luther King angry once?

KC: Once he was angry with [civil-rights activist] Roy [Wilkins], who was opposed to his anti-Vietnam position. I must say Whitney was quite the negotiator. I admired Whitney’s ability to reconcile. … [But] I certainly was very much on [Martin’s] side in the anti-Vietnam. I guess I was a part of history – here in the Pinecrest area – although by no means publicized.

Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz at work in his studio ca. 1965.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mystery Photo: 1938 High School Fire Squad

"FIRE SQUAD: The fire bell rings and students are efficiently rushed out of the building by the Fire Chief Albro Rile assisted by those ten strong men on the fire squad: Eben Chabot, John Moser, Walter Bennett, Jack Galvin, Frank Wills, Bill Burckhalter, Bill Kaufman, Joe Janik, and Chris Rohrbach."

So says the 1938 yearbook. And, as for a mystery, this should be an easy one! All you have to do for us is match up the names with the faces. Albro Rile is the boy holding the white helmet. Joe Janik might be the one to the right of Rile. Chris Rohrbach might be to the right of Janik, and behind him holding the hose might be John Moser. What do you think? Click the photograph to look at it more closely in Flickr. Choose the "All Sizes" link above the photograph, and then select "Original Size" so you can see the faces. If you can help with the identifications or know anything more about the activities of the fire squad, let us know!

The photograph below appears in the "snapshot" section of the yearbook, along with images of football games and the marching band. Is the quality good enough to recognize anyone?

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

House Tour Preview: Margaret Sanger’s Window

Margaret Sanger in a photograph she included in her book My Fight for Birth Control with the caption "Suburban Motherhood."

In 1998, Margaret Sanger was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the Century for her relentless crusade for women’s rights, and especially for birth control (a term she coined) as the tool with which women could take control of their lives. The revelations that led her to this vocation came in the tenements of the Lower East Side in 1912, two years after she left Hastings.

Margaret came to our town with her architect husband in 1904, recovering from the birth of her first child and a bout of tuberculosis, but full of hope for a life of motherhood and stability. She left in 1910, healthy again and bored with suburbia, anxious only to return to her nursing career and “the great Pageant of Living” in Manhattan.

In her 1931 book My Fight for Birth Control, she said that, looking back, she could see how every detail of her past life contributed to her final calling. Margaret had a love/hate relationship with the house that her husband designed for the family in Hastings’ Locust Hill, a development just east of North Broadway that included lots along Edgars Lane, Sheldon Place, Minturn Street. For Margaret, the house represented both a happy family life and the narrow suburban values that she would later struggle to change.

“In looking about the suburbs for a suitable location in which to build and bring up our family, we decided that we needed something more than a mere house. We wanted space. We wanted a house with a view. We wanted a garden. At Hastings-on-Hudson we came across a new development consisting of about fifty acres of hillside land overlooking the river. The land had been purchased by a group of professional people with the idea of developing a colony of homes for men and women of congenial tastes, and to insure a proper environment for their children. We were delighted with its possibilities. We bought an acre of this land with high hopes. We were going to have our own home at last! We were going to settle down for life. We were delighted with our neighbors. We planned a large family; a comfortable serene, suburban existence. …

The Hudson River looking west from the Locust Hill development, ca. 1915.

Ours was but one of several houses then in the early stages of construction. We were brought in close contact with our neighbors who were facing similar problems, the two primary ones being the building of a home and the rearing of a family. The wives spent their afternoons together conferring on these monumental problems. Out of our informal meetings there sprang a “literary” club… . It was made up of the wives of the artists, professors, scientists, doctors, and high school teachers who made up our little colony. There was an inclination, among both husbands and wives, to sink back into a complacent suburban attitude, to enjoy petty middle class comforts. For the wives, the height of adventure was a day “in town”—a shopping expedition followed by a bargain matinee. This adventure would furnish conversation for us all. At the “literary” club we read papers on Browning, George Eliot, Shakespeare, closely following the suggestions of the courses given at Columbia University. But deep in my soul I could not suppress my own dissatisfaction with the futility of such interests.

Meanwhile our house was nearing completion. It was “modern” in architecture, one of the first of its kind in this vicinity. It was even called a “show” house, and people came from far to study its simple design and the unadorned surfaces of the fireproof stucco of its walls.

Great was our anticipation of the day of its completion. For weeks we both worked on our “rose window,” which was to surmount the open staircase which led upstairs from the library. Every petal had been cut, leaded, and welded together by our own hands. After the baby had been put to bed, we worked far into the night. It seemed to me as if this rose window was the very symbol of the stability of our future. …

At last our furniture was moved in. Carpenters and painters were pushed out. Everything was completed and finished. … Weary at last but like happy children on Christmas Eve, we tumbled into bed. We were rudely awakened a few hours later by a pounding at the door and the shout of the German maid—“Madam, come! come! A fire in the big stove!” The house was on fire!

There was no telephone within half a mile of the house. My husband ran in his night clothes to sound the alarm, but it was already too late.

The Sangers' house (background, right) in Locust Hill, ca. 1910.

I carried my terror-stricken son Stuart to the top of the staircase. Flames were then leaping through one side of it. I was confronted with a terrific danger: dare I venture down those steps? I knew I must. I put the bath robe over the child’s head, and pressing close to the other side of the wall I descended cautiously but finally to safety. I crossed the street to our nearest neighbor’s. I tucked the youngster into an impromptu bed with a prayer of gratitude that we had escaped with our lives.

In a few moments the flames that were consuming the staircase had swept through our precious beautiful rose window! This I realized as I stood gazing from the neighbor’s window into the night. … I recalled our cut fingers, our bleeding hands, our irritated nerves, our fatigued eyes, all the loving hopes and ambitions which had gone into that window. …

I stood there amazed, but I was certain of a relief, of a burden lifted, a spirit set free. … Somewhere at the back of my mind I saw the absurdity of placing all of one’s hopes, all of one’s efforts … in the creation of something external that could perish irretrievably in the course of a few moments. … My scale of suburban values had been consumed in the flames, just as my precious rose window of leaded glass had been demolished. …

Fortunately, the construction of the house was fireproof, and while the inside woodwork, doors and floors were badly damaged there was the possibility of quick restoration. Within a few months the place was renewed, and life went on apparently as if the fire had never been. But to me all was different. …

A new spirit was awakening within me; a strong, insistent urge to be in the current of life’s activities. I felt as if we had drifted into a swamp and had to wait for the tide to set us free. The fire, the destruction of the rose window, had done this. I was never happy in that house again. The first opportunity we had to sell it we let it go. We moved our three children back to New York to take our part individually or collectively in the great ‘Pageant of Living.’”

Teacher Jessie Trube and her kindergarten students, ca. 1908. The boy in the center of the front row is Stuart Sanger, Margaret's eldest son. The other children are neighbors of the Sangers, and "Bennett's Shack," where Jessie taught at this time, may have been an outbuilding of the R. Grant Bennett who lived on Sheldon Place.

Margaret and William Sanger’s house will be part of our May 22 & 23 house tour. For more information and to purchase tickets, follow this link.
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