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

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