Treasure Trove of History

Whatever happened to Ichabod Crane, the poor soul?  I often wonder about his mysterious disappearance so I paid a visit to my colleagues, Waddell Stillman and Peter Pockriss, at Historic Hudson Valley (HHV).  They have moved their offices to a brand new brick Georgian style building in Sleepy Hollow country, right across the street from Stone Barns. I was pleased to find their extraordinary research collections consolidated under one roof and covering some 400 years of history.  What a treasure trove! The collections are made up of rare books, very old, fragile documents, limited editions, manuscripts, letters, illustrations, maps, architectural records and local and family histories.  These materials are available to the public by appointment, but are used mainly by museum staff, curators, researchers, biographers and genealogists.  There are at least 50 copies, including two of the first edition of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was first published in 1820 as part of a larger group of short stories including “Rip Van Winkle.”  Karen Walton Morse, Manager of Library and Archival Services, told me that Irving wrote under three different pseudonyms, probably because he was “cheeky” and loved to play games with his reading public.

What’s interesting about the collection, aside from its sheer scope, is the variety of subjects that are covered, not so much by design but inadvertently.  So for example, one can get a glimpse into 19th Century landscape design, Early Dutch New York, colonial tenant/landlord relationships, or the lives of African Americans in Westchester.  “You also get to learn the personalities,” says Morse, who recalled a letter written by Irving to his niece after her marriage.  “Keep in mind that Sunnyside is your rightful home,” Irving sweetly wrote.  While you might not go to this library for a cure for a cold, to learn how to create a color dye or what to do about boils, you’ll find some of these tidbits in and among the pages.  Last summer, when they moved the collection to the new site, it was like “we rediscovered some things we forgot we had,” said Morse.  Among them were records of archaeological investigations conducted at Philipsburg Manor during the 1950’s.  Some 5000 clay pipes fragments were dug up from the Philipse property, indicating perhaps, that this was imported merchandise that didn’t find its way to a discount store. What’s fascinating about history, archivists tell me, is the joy of discovery, the lure of the unexpected, and the new interpretations that are possible.

But what about Ichabod, who didn’t get that girl, Katrina, and was chased out of town by a headless horseman?  He could be anywhere.  You could look for him this summer at any of the Historic Hudson Valley sites. If you find him, let us know and we’ll send you two tickets to the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.

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