September 17, 2010

The visual world of Edgar Allan Poe.

There is a world of mystery along the Hudson River, where picturesque mansions perch on tiny islands, and rainbows arch across the county’s most romantic river.  Here, dark fortresses brood on hilltops overlooking the wide river.

Along the 150 miles between New York and Albany, you find a spectacle of old buildings.  Vine-drenched gates hide splendor, untold luxury, and ghost stories.  There are hundreds of these historic estates, many still owned by descendants of the families who built them, centuries ago.

Originally, these vast tracts of land were granted by the British crown the Livingston family. It was Robert R. Livingston, chancellor of New York, who began the estate-building era in the Hudson Valley. In 1755, his property, Clermont, was passed on to his descendants, and it is now owned by the State of New York as a historic park.

The Livingston heirs have carried on the family’s traditions for nearly three centuries, and the Hudson Valley is the epicenter of their world. Although their names have passed from public attention, they value their lineage and ancestral homes and continue to pass on their descendants vast collections of crystal, china, paintings, and silver. Today some of the descendants of Dutch patrons and English land barons who remain on these estates have outlived their fortunes. Many are farming their lands again.

The largest and most impressive concentration of historic estates is located in and around Rhinebeck, New York, along eighteen miles of the east bank of the Hudson, where time seems to hover between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Everywhere houses rise dramatically from trees of fast overgrown parks, where deer and sheep graze and the past is still alive.

Though there is an air of departed glory, it has entered an age of appreciation and restoration.  Most of the properties in the Rheinebeck district remain in private hands and are considered to be among the most historically significant in the country.  Common among these grand old houses are enormous libraries, filled with thousands of rare books.  It has been noted, that the Livingston descendants have privately published more books than any other family in America.

It is hardly surprising that (according to the proud owners) many of the manor houses are haunted.  Restless phantoms may glide quietly among the ruins, reaching out to those who believe they can feel and see them.

 “House of Dark Shadows”(1970) picture from private collection

On the river, there are endless tales of phantoms who appear at night and depart in the morning.  It is a virtual graveyard for old ships and rotting scows.  River men say that you can hear orders shouted by long-dead captains of The Flying Dutchman.  The old Dutch vessel sank near Bannerman’s Island in the early eighteenth century.  At low tide, the spars from her hull can still be seen below the water’s surface.

High on the east bank of the river, in Irvington, stands a rare eight-sided Victorian manor house, aptly called the Octagon house.  Its resident ghost is said to be that of a beautiful French girl who, in defiance of her parents’ wishes, escaped and ran off to marry the man she loved.  Together they boarded the river ferry, but as the boat raced to New York, the boiler exploded, killing everybody on board.  The would-be bride’s body washed ashore, still glad in a wedding gown.  Legend holds that every year, on the eve of the tragedy, the faint specter of a young girl in a luminous white gown runs across the lawn toward the river.

What does the future hold for this enchanted but endangered world? It will always be a place beloved by painters and challenging to psychics. More important, funding has begun to bring about changes, and many of the neglected houses are at least being stabilized and protected from further damage.
Few places left on earth are blessed with as many surprises and mysteries as the Hudson Valley. It is a historic area, home to legends, ghosts, and banshees, as well as breathtaking architectural achievement. There is much here to be treasured.

For many years, I had the pleasure, and privilege, of visiting a good friend in the Hudson Valley.  I spent many hours photographing what remained of the great estates.  Here was a visual world worthy of Edgar Allan Poe.  There were poetic secrets at every turn: back stairs leading to deserted attics, hidden passageways, and faded treasures tucked away in old steamer trunks.

Many of these houses have remained vacant, untouched, and unchanged, for many years. These seemed the most fascinating, for in their neglegted condition they were no more than lost specters of what they had once been. However, the real dramas of these centuries-old estates manifested themselves after I spoke with owners many who were still in residence. I am grateful for their time and stories from which I have drawn so much inspiration.

Alas, our friend Elsie has turned into cosmic dust. This weekend’s visit is a found remembering of many things past.

In the words of the immortal Elsie: “Vhat vould Schtooby do?”


Clive said...

Interesting post.
You all are having a good time?

Charles said...

Just finished my morning sail and came home to your lovely post. Very nice. I can see you are much better? We all hope so. Regards to all. Enjoy your weekend.
Much love from Angela & Andrew.

UCLA fan (on night shift) said...

Very informative read. Thank you very much.

new york blog fan said...

thank you for the great post. after reading we decided to take our vacation stateside exploring the hudson valley.
thank you for your continued inspiration.

HVblog said...

thank you very much...

Sylvia said...

I remember so many summers of discovery, with relish.

Anonymous said...

Who is, was Schtooby?
This inquiring mind wants to know.

Ms Edna said...

“Vhat vould Schtooby do?” alludes to General von Steuben, the pronunciation is an endearment, and an imitation of my German accent.

Robert L. (your neighbor) said...

what a better way to spend this gloomy morning, than to follow-up on your postings. thanks.