Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Susie Hayt Dibble, 1853- 1897

 In writing of my trip to Sleepy Hollow, NY last October, I had said I would come back for Susie Hayt Dibble.

 When you enter the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, by the gate nearest to the Old Dutch Burial Ground, you walk along a main road, and path, that calmly takes you deeper into the cemetery, up into the hills near the river, and the forest. When you leave the Old Dutch Burial Ground, and begin to enter the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery proper, you find a series of mausoleums built into the scaling, hilly terrain, and trees. Not long after that you come to Susie Hayt Dibble's monument. 

 From all the cemetery exploration I have done, I have found that there are monuments that immediately interest you, and draw you in. Many of them go deeper than initial impressions, and reveal a quiet kept trove of detail and meaning, that let you feel as if you know a part of the person who left this remebrance, the art-- and life-- behind. Susie Hayt Dibble's monument is without question one of these. 

 The Dibble plot is partially enclosed by a low, somewhat rusting, open rectangle of metal, laying close to the ground. Within the plot are four stones and a staue. You see the statue first. When looking at the statue, it is easy think this stands as memory only to Susie Hayt. Her name is clearly marked on the base of the structure. However, a much smaller marker, for her husband George Dibble, lays immeditately in front of the monument. Susie Hayt Dibble is in a section of the cemetery with many other statues, mausoleums and memorials from another era, another time of great wealth. Susie's-- just down the path from the Lister monument-- is one of the simpler ones, yet far more striking. In the monument's statue, a woman clings to a cross in what appears to be the act-- or attempt-- of pulling herself up by way of the cross. The woman in the statue stands with her back to the drop of the hill and path below, down to the woods and the river, not far from the unofficial Horseman's bridge. On the day I first saw the grave, a wind and chill bothered the trees, and you easily could hear the stream below. 
 Every memory I have of that day-- with special attention to my time on the hill with Susie's grave-- is of me feverishly snapping the shutter and taking as many photos as I possibly could. And yet from the time I first looked at the photos back at my hotel room that night, I wished I had taken more; from more angles, differing perspectives. I wish I had done more that showed her place on the descending hill. And I wish I had done more strictly black and white photographs. 

 I hoped that afternoon the evening's tour would stop by her. But I tried not to hope too much. Considering the size of the cemetery alone, I knew there would be a world of worthy stops the tour couldn't possibly make. So I hoped, snapped some more photographs, and left to take in more of the cemetery. 

 The Dibble gravesite was one of the earlier stops on the tour that evening. I tried to take more photos of her in the dark, but nothing major turned out. I tried to take a photo of my lantern with the monument-- and it looked like it had turned out in my camera's preview box-- but I know not what came of it, as no such picture was on my camera afterward. 

 When our great guide stopped at Susie Hayt, I was eager to hear her history. The following is paraphrased. "This is one of my favorite stops," he said. "Susie Hayt Dibble." This was when the first of the raindrops started, stopped. "What is known of Susie Hayt Dibble? Not much, I'm afraid." He went on to give a history of how little is known of her or her kin, yet the statue is one of the more interesting within the cemetery grounds. "It's actually quite creepy," he said, walking up to her from the path and shining his light. "I'll let you each come up and take a look in a moment, but the woman here is missing her nose, and looks a bit like Voldermort from Harry Potter."

 As he let people in pairs walk up to the statue and take a look around her, he and a few in our group hypothesized what the statue might mean. Our Ichabod-ish guide suggested that either she-- or someone-- was trying to hold on to a faith, in spite of doubts or struggle because of death or other strife. This was when the woman who never directly professed to have psychic abilities in our group spoke up. "That's exactly what it is. Holding on to a faith that's falling away, falling away from you because of death, too." 

 My first Internet searches the night of the tour turned up nothing on the Dibbles but their pages on Find a Grave, where I realized for the first time that while the woman in the monument appeared to be the one struggling, Susie Hayt died in 1897, some twenty years before her husband. Leaving it likely that he-- perhpas not she, though one never knows-- was the one facing the struggle, the uphill climb. Or nothing so simple. 

 In processing the photos for my first Sleepy Hollow post, I searched a little further for the Dibbles-- and as was the case with the Lister monument and their New York Times article-- it is amazing what the swirling mass of voices the Internet is can provide if only you weed through some of the louder, unecessary shouts. On the website of a historic preservationist, I found listed some information about the George W. Dibble Family. The Dibble family owned an estate in Albany County named "Nearwood," in Knox, NY. The Dibbles are listed because of their estate's proximity to and eventual ownership of the historic Octagon House-- which the information on the site concerns. According to the write up on the website, George Dibble married Susie Hayt Parish in 1877; a year later their only child, a girl, was born. In the 1880 census, Mr. Dibble's occupation was listed as "no business," and in 1882, Susie Hayt Dibble purchased the historic Octagon House, and the family moved there. Susie died in 1897 from tuberculosis at Sarnac Lake. She was 43 years old when she died. George went on to marry Susie's younger sister, and move from the Octagon House. Mabel, George and Susie's daughter (who is buried underneath her own, smaller stone in the Dibble lot) did inherit ownership of the Octagon House. However, she died of heart failure at only 24, shortly after giving birth to her daughter.

What there is no mention of, however, is the Dibble's "Baby Boy," who has a marker to the left of the monument inside the lot, which is the same size as Mabel's. One of the saddest things I see, so often, in old cemeteries, is the monument which bears the name "Baby Boy" or "Baby Girl." It was often common-- especially during the time the Dibbles lived-- to not name a child until they had lived for a year or more, as the mortality rate for young children was so high. Although this was a prevalent custom, it seems that, for those who were able and could afford to, families made certain that these nameless children be remembered, with a mark in stone of their own.

 All of which is amazing; this information is able to be found and so easily-- and yet it will always leave so many questions. Who designed the monument? And why? Is the woman trying to pull herself up on the cross holding on to a faith falling from her-- is she falling from her faith? Her salvation? Nothing so simple or able to be known? Even when one knows some of the sad details of what may have been a happy-- though short-- life of a family, one can never know, not really, the answers to these questions. Perhaps, that is a large piece of the point. Whatever the reasons may be behind Susie Hayt Dibble's monument, it stands, on that hill alone in the Sleepy Hollow, as a testament to everything I love about cemeteries and their graves within: the quietly left behind stories; the remembrances, the possibilities and the questions.

All Photos Copyright Bryan Ball Photography, All Rights Reserved. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

American Horror Story

Jessica Lange, as Constance in S1
 For a while now, I've been meaning to post about one of my favorite-- and one of the few I do watch-- television shows on the air right now: "American Horror Story." First premiering in October 2011, I caught the pilot simply because the show's name included the words "Horror Story." From the very first episode-- where the viewer is introduced to a house with a blood dampened past, and the family who is moving there during the present day-- I knew this was something special.

Zachary Quinto, S1
 As the second season of American Horror Story comes to a close tomorrow night, it is absolutely true that both seasons have shown us things we have seen-- often many times-- before. But what makes the show work so perfectly is the blending of American myth and horror legend that-- when put together in the hands of a talented storyteller, and immensely talented actors-- so clearly shows why these stories endure, and the urban legeneds and tales continue to scare viewers, readers and listeners. And often, as has especially been the case in this anthology series during the second season, we have numerous stories from American horror interacting with each other; in a way truly original, and never boring. The first season of "AHS" focused on one large house in California, the family who moved in and the community of past residents-- both living and dead-- returning to haunt the grounds. Anchored by the fabulous Jessica Lange as the next door neighbor Constance-- something of a rejected character plucked straight out of 1950's Americana, who would be at home in a number of horror stories-- the more than capable cast expolored a cornicopia of ghost lore and myth, and managed to create something fresh, and exciting. 

Jessica Lange as Sister Jude
 Season 1's story was completed solely during the course of Season 1. With our current and new season, "AHS" has started fresh-- with a new cast of characters, portrayed by many of the same actors-- and with a new setting, and new horror tales to feature. Moving from the haunted house dubbed the "Murder House" in Season 1, Season 2, titled "American Horror Story: Asylum" takes place in the Massachusetts asylum Briarcliff run by the Catholic church during the 1960's (while moving in time both forward and backward.) In "Asylum," we are not only treated to a new cast of storylines involving the mythos and often true horrors associated with the mental care of the recent past, but a number of new horror tropes absent in Season 1 (the serial killer, the UFO and the demon, among others.)

Frances Conroy, as The Angel of Death, S2
With this change, in my opinion, "AHS" has succeeded where John Carpenter was not so succesful, when he made "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" some decades ago as a depature from the story of the masked killer Michael Myers, and attempted to make the Halloween franchise about different stories with each movie. With "Asylum," AHS has given us a season of television as inventive and manic as the one which came before-- and beyond. While last season gave us the brilliance of Constance and her family of the living and the dead, this season has given us Jessica Lange in the role of Sister Jude-- the nun running an asylum for the insane while battling the demons of her past (and some very present and literal demons of her present); the inmates of the asylum; the perverse Dr. Arden and his horriifc experiments on the residents of the asylum; and those who haunt the skies above and firery realms beneath the asylum.

 If you are like me, and love the experience of horror-- and haven't yet checked this show out-- I highly recommend you do so. Season 1 is now available on DVD/BluRay and Netflix Instant Streaming. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Edgar's day, a visit from the dead.

 In honor of Edgar Allan Poe's 204th Birthday on this cold January 19 afternoon, I give you a piece of his work, mixed in with some of mine, in small tribute.

 "Spirits of the Dead" was first published in 1829 under the title "Visits of the Dead," in Poe's "Tamerlane and Other Poems." Edgar changed the title when publishing "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems" two years later. 

"Spirits of the Dead" 


"Thy soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne'er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill

Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries! "

-Edgar Allan Poe

All Photos Copyright Bryan Ball Photography, All Rights Reserved. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Nighttime Lantern Tour, October 2012

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, past the Horseman's bridge. Through the gates. Twilight sets in. A slight breeze comes on the dark, lush trees. The smell of rain on the air. Early October chill. A sprawling historical cemetery, laying over trees and hills and river-- just explored, to be explored.

 Children on Christmas morning don't have this much fun. I made sure I had enough batteries to last even repeated changes, and that I was carrying only my camera and my phone. From the time I bought my ticket, until I walked up to the group gathered for the tour, I wondered how the lanterns would work. Would each of us get a lantern? Would every few people get one to carry? The tours were sold out for the weekend, and almost throughout the rest of the month, so I wasn't expecting a small, quiet group.

 There were enough lanterns to use one for every two people. I had the lantern I would carry as mine on the tour, gray and warm.

 In the album, I made a decision not to delete any photos. If I had a hard time taking everything in during the afternoon, walking the cemetery at night amped the urgency to snap my lens up endlessly. As a result, I'm left with out of focus, blurred, rainy, over exposed and poorly set up snap shots-- but I don't think they are all so bad. I realize my limitations in changing light-- but I felt I learned a lot on my feet walking the tour. As the night progressed, and the rain began to drizzle and the cold set on, I'm very happy that I was still able to take some of the shots I did. And the light and condensation set up some interesting, misty effects, which I do appreciate.

 One of my highest hopes for the tour was that our guide be good. My preconceptions at first got the better of me, and when I saw that our guide was younger, I briefly wished that maybe someone--- older, perhaps--with more knowledge, was going to be the one doing the talking. But our guide-- a school teacher, not unreminiscent of Ichabod Crane himself-- proved me swiftly wrong with his wide breaths of knowledge, ability and willingness-- to keep on talking, expanding and answering questions.

 Our tour, starting just as dark had set in, first took us to the gravesites of Francis Pharcelleus Chruch (the author of the famous editorial to a young girl "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", and a mausoleum of an early 1900s couple with a tortured history. Oh, and we were also taken to the place where 80's band The Raomones filmed their video for "Pet Sematary" (from the soundtrack of the film version from the Stephen King's novel "Pet Cemetery").

When we came to Susie Hayt Dibble's monument, it began to rain, lightlty. I'll write about what our guide said of her in the post to come. But this was the moment that a woman in our group began to speak up-- not at the guide but loud enough to be heard-- about Susie Hayt, as if she knew her. She continued to talk as we walked the few paces down the road to the Lister monument which I wrote about in my previous post. Sadly, I don't have any nighttime photos of the Lister monument, because the batteries on my camera had just passed on to the next world, and I was quickly working to put fresh ones in, while listening to everything our guide was saying.

At the Lister monument, our guide was recounting what was known of the family. Edwin Lister, apparently, treated his widow quite badly in the will he left behind. She was left a small portion of his wealth, and his children were the benefactors of what remained. Because of this, our guide mentioned (while stressing the following is wholly conjecture) that many wonder if the woman in the Lister monument is his widow, clutching the will in misery. The woman in stone does appear to be in no state of grief, but rather shock or anger, even. Perhaps she or someone with a particular knowledge and agenda regarding the situation had some part in the creation of the monument, our guide supposed. Following the tour, when I tried reasearching the Lister family, an article in The New York Times from June 13, 1898 regarding the details of Edwin's will is easily accesible. The story of the will is true. "It gives to his widow $50,000, to be paid to her in cash when she vacates the Lister homestead, and the income from an additional $50,000 as long as she lives." Again, the woman, who had spoken up at the Hayt gravesite, spoke up. Paraphrasing from my memory, she said "Yes. That's exactly right. But she was hurt so much by what he did to her."

 For the rest of the tour, the woman was mostly silent, only occasionally commenting on a gravesite's energy. I do not know what types of abilities this woman may or may not have had, but I do know that while the tour couldn't possibility have been any more wonderful, it would have been far less interesting without her commentary.

 Something I may not have mentioned in my previous post is that I never found Washington Irving's grave during the day. Between being sidetracked by the cemetery's many beauties and sights, and fighting against my ever-draining batteries, I was looking for his section when the last of my daytime batteries gave out. I found it somehow fitting that I first saw his gravestone in the dark. A simple stone, set back from the road, among many others. With a veteran's flag. Behind his family's gate. Our guide was so informed on the life, work and legacy of Washington Irving, that I learned things I had never known about him, and wouldn't have gained from even my visit to his home the following day on the Hudson River. As a child, young Washington once met America's first president George Washington, his namesake. Irving first came to know Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow after he was sent there by his parents when the 1798 outbreak of yellow fever occured in Manhattan. I couldn't take enough photos of the man who is respobsible for one of the world's-- and certainly America's-- most enduring ghost stories, where he rests simply among the gravestones; just within sight of the Horseman's bridge, where his Ichabod met his fate.

 A number of stops after Irving's, our guide stated we would next visit the former holding vault, which was no longer in use, and had been built in 1900. We would get to see the vault, our guide said, up close. We would get to go inside, too. This had me endlessly excited. He fumbled through his keys, looking for the right one as we approached the door, and each left our lanterns outside. There was enough room past the open, creaking door in the vault for all of us, and we gathered around and listened to our very Ichabod-like guide speak. The valut had been used, when needed, to hold remains. When graves were unfinished before people passed on, or needed to be held in the receiving vault, for whatever the reason.

In 1970, we were told, segments of the film "House of Dark Shadows" were filmed in and around the vault. The film, a continuation of the popular supernatural soap-opera featuring vampire Barnabas Collins, used the receiving vault as the tomb of Barnabas and his family, placing the name "Collins" on the face of the vault. Other segments were filmed at the Lyndhurst Estate up the road in Tarrytown. In one of the open tombs of the vault are kept several "Dark Shadows" mementos, among which are a photo of Barnabas, as portrayed by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid. A part of me did not want to leave the vault.

Outside the vault, it began to rain harder, lightly.

The next notable gravesite we came to was Andrew Carnegie's. One of the late 19th century's most major philanthropists, Mr. Carnegie had what was to me one of the most striking pieces of propety deep in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. While several of the roads around him have mammoth masoleums (the largest I've ever seen; photos don't do them justice), from the dark road we could see only a few trees, bushes, in what appeared to be a thicket. A path leads from the road, to an open clearing where a large Celtic cross stands marking the resting spot of him and his wife Louise Whitfield. What perhaps interested me most, however, about his gravesite was that a member of his household staff is included. Agnes Locerbie, listed as a beloved member of Mrs. Carnegie's staff for 42 years (roughly half her own life) lies in the clearing, over to the side, in the back. Her stone faces away from Mrs. Carnegie's.

 The tour went on from there to several of the massive masoluems of some of Mr. Carnegie's contemporaries and peers-- giants of industry and wealth in their era of American history. We heard stories of their successes, and their fights with the labor movement, and were generally wowed by the scope of their monuments. These structures are larger than many houses. One of the final ones, where you could step up and look inside with ease, the stone structure was covered in all varities of religious symbolism. "Perhaps he didn't want to take any chances," said our guide.

 At the final monument, we heard of how the man who built the mausoleum died after having contracted pnemonia in the rain. As the chill ever increased and the rain became more steady, it was quite appropriate when our guide said, "On that note, we should start to head back."

 The two hour tour at that point had gone on much longer than scheduled. While we walked back to our starting point, we passed, in the shadow of the masoluems where those titans of industry lie, the modest grave of early labor activist Samuel Gompers, among other notables I was sorry we did not have more time to learn about, and ask questions.

 In the rain, we came back to the tree where we started, and had to surrender our lanterns. I so wished I could have kept mine-- but it would have been very conspicuous if I had stuffed a fully lit lantern under my jacket.

 One by one, the lanterns were extinguished, and we headed out into the dark of the Sleepy Hollow October night.

 Afterward, wandering out in Sleepy Hollow, I-- at long last-- met the Horseman. Or the Horseman found me. Not too far from the bridge. As hard as I tried to get my picture with him atop his horse, the horse was having none of it, apparently.

You can see my entire Photo Album of the night here:

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Nighttime Lantern Tour

All Rights Reserved, Bryan Ball Photography, Copyright 2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, October 2012

 At long last, I have organized all the photos from my Sleepy Hollow trip in October that I took during the afternoon, my first time exploring the cemetery. It would be no exaggeration to say I took hundreds more; at points, I was felt as if I needed to take photos faster than my shutter could manage. The photo album as it stands now is a mere 222 photos. For the record, I've left in some shots I normally would delete, if they were of some interest or no clearer picture existed for.

In recounting my Sleepy Hollow trip, I last left off here-- at the gates of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, after exploring the village on a sleepy, chilly October afternoon. Set up at the cemetery gates were tables for the cemetery to sell their wares to support their historic effort. (Among which truly were the best souvenirs to be found in town.) I bought the cemetery's main book, "The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow: Legends and Lore," and several other mementos, some of which bore the inscription "I lost my head in Sleepy Hollow."

The Dutch Burial Grounds
 The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery exists in two parts. The immediate grounds around the Old Dutch Church which Ichabod raced for is known as the Old Dutch Burial Ground; for it is the original, old Dutch burying ground. Immdiately adjacent to the Old Dutch stones is the greater Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. There are no fences or signs distinguishing the two-- and as I walked, map in hand, I had no idea how big the historic cemetery actually is. The grounds were impossible to cover in a day-- the hills, the trees, the forest, the bridge-- and try as I wanted to I could not see, take in nor photograph all the tombstone beauty I saw.

Lister Monument
 It's striking how vastly diffnerent the kinds of people who are laid to rest in Sleepy Hollow are. The Old Dutch Burial Ground houses some of the earlier settlers( and even a rumored witch.) Washington Irving himself, who wished the grounds to be renamed "The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery" during his life (a request honored some years after his death) is laid to rest there. As are a number of the earlier portions of the twentieth century's wealthiest players (Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden and father of the labor movement Samuel Gompers, among them.)

Susie Hayt Dibble monument
The timespan of the cemetery and the variety of nature, life and history that lives within the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery bears much similarity to my home cemetery of Forest Lawn's. The generations of people and their monuments that are left behind in such a rolling, secluded natural setting is at once like Forest Lawn, and distinctly different. In all my exploring of cemeteries, I had never, in person, seen the kinds of older, intricate stones that lie within the Dutch burial ground. And to see so many, up close and for my camera (as much as I wanted, I dared not touch them) was something special.

If you made me pick a favorite, or most interesting monument inside the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, I would easily pick Susie Hayt Dibble. I left Sleepy Hollow with a few photos of her monument, and some thoughts, which I believe I will post about separately this week when I have finished both this post and the next about the nighttime lantern tour that followed.

The traditional 'Horseman's Bridge' deep in the cemetery
 That afternoon in the cemetery, there were two things working against me and my quest of taking as many photos as humanly possible while I saw all the sights there were to see. One, was the daylight as it dwindled. I had tickets for a nighttime lantern tour that evening, but I wanted to see everything I could before the tour; and then have it explained to me. The second was power. I had charged the batteries in my camera all the night before in my hotel room. Normally, if I spend even a couple hours to a whole afternoon roaming Forest Lawn and taking pictures, my batteries always last. They may be slightly depeleted after a few hours, but would be able to keeep going. In the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, my fully charged batteries for the day lasted about twenty minutes before I had to run over to a gas station to get replacements that would work in my camera. Those lasted a little over an hour. The next batteries, from a different store, lasted a little less than that-- and my memory card, which I had thought would be able to take the afternoon, failed me, as well. Whether they were the victimn of the supposed draining that can occur around paranomally charged places, or the fault of poorly made or old batteries, I will never know. 

Toward the end, I had to furiously delete photos off my camera that I thought were less worth saving than any others. I did so until my batteries gave out. Once that happened, I took several pictures on my iPhone, before relenting to the chill which had now become cold and left to find more batteries, a new memory card and dinner in Tarrytown before the nighttime tour began at nine.

You can see my full Photo Album of the afternoon here: 

Exploring the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sunday afternoon