Thursday, July 27, 2017


One Saturday, my friend Loretta invited me to take a drive up the Hudson River so that I could see New York state distinguished from New York City. We stopped in Dobbs Ferry for brunch and then drove to Irvington (part of Tarrytown) to visit Washington Irving's property there - Sunnyside Farm. The house sits on 10 acres and the tour includes the working part of the farm.

Aside being famous for his fiction, Washington Irving and an older brother created a satirical magazine called Salmagundi in which Irving used the term Gotham to refer to New York City. Gotham, an old Anglo-Saxon term, means "goat's town." Irving published a couple of books under the pseudonym Deidrich Knickerbocker and soon the word knickerbocker was applied as a nickname for all New Yorkers. Go Knicks!

There's a "Washington Irving House," complete with plaque on the corner of Irving Place and 17th Street in Manhattan that has been preserved as a historical landmark. However, that designation is from a rumor started by an interior decorator who lived there and wanted to gain some publicity for herself. Mr. Irving never lived in that house at all, but Irving Place that runs from 14th Street to Gramercy Park is named for him. [Lady Mendl's Tea Room, which I recommend, is sort of catty-corner to the Washington Irving house that Washington Irving never lived in]

At any rate, Loretta and I stopped at Irving's farm in Westchester County and looked around his barn and house. It sits against the bank of the Hudson River and has a beautiful view. The house has a Dutch appearance with the stepped decoration at the roof and a fairy-tale, unreal cottage feeling on account of the shape of the roof of the addition (which he called Spanish castle). Irving died in his bed, which remains in his bedroom. That's something to consider.

After we left Sunnyside Farm, we drove north through Sleepy Hollow. Irving wrote down one of the legends of ghosts and hauntings of this place and made it famous. We didn't stop there. Instead, we drove on to Ossining, home of Sing Sing Prison. Ossining is ranked #2 in the best places to live in Westchester County. This is based on such things as housing cost, proximity to NYC, safety, and nightlife. We were there during the day and I have no way to judge nightlife, but for me, the town gave off a feeling like old, crusty food. The downtown streets were basically empty and the few stores that were open were selling t-shirts with sayings about Sing Sing. It felt anything, but lively, and the fact that it was dominated by a maximum security prison may have weighed it down.

The Quakers invented the penitentiary and solitary confinement. They felt that if prisoners were given time alone to be penitent, they would change their mentality and become productive citizens. What the Quakers found was that solitary confinement led to insanity - and that has not changed. The supermax prisons where inmates are in their cells 24 hours a day (like John Gotti, for example) inevitably go insane withing 3 months. What's worse is that solitary confinement might be preferable to what could happen in general population.

Sing Sing Prison was built before indoor plumbing, so one presumes that the inmates had chamber pots in their cells.  In this picture, there is a trough running along the floor.  This may have been in the event that rain came in through the windows or it could have been where the prisoners emptied their chamber pots in the morning.  At any rate, imagine the smell before indoor plumbing with all those people housed overnight.
We drove by Sing Sing prison because it's famous. It was surrounded by a solid wall that seemed 50 feet high. We couldn't see over it even after we parked and stood on a big boulder. We did see the guard towers - creepy - and saw people going in the front gate who looked like visitors. I suppose we could have asked if we could visit, but we were not that curious.
by acroterion
I hear there is going to be a Sing Sing museum created from one of the earliest cell blocks. I think it would attract a lot of people. 

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