Superstorm Sandy and the Halloween That Wasn’t

011_Halloween_pumpkins[1]I was just thinking of last year’s Halloween experiences in my village and what was happening a year ago.  My friend Caroline was here from the Netherlands to see the sights and visit NYC.  We’d heard warnings of the storm, and my friends who worked in the city were hustling to get home before it hit.  It didn’t seem that serious until later in the day, when Caroline and I stood at my balcony door and watched the Hudson River overflow its banks.  No trains, no subways, no power in lower Manhattan for days–far beyond anything we had expected.

Fortunately up on my hill the power never went out, and we were safe through the storm.  All the Halloween attractions were shut down until the day poor Caroline was flying back home.  She did manage to get a couple of days of shopping in by taking a combination of trains and buses into Manhattan.  The only Halloween event she got was the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, which reopened the day she was leaving, so we saw the pumpkins and I took her to JFK.

This year the only storm has been an onslaught of tourists!  But on a weekday it’s fairly placid.  The leaves have finally turned.  The village Halloween parade was filled with revelers last Saturday, packing the streets afterward.  It’s fun to see your neighbors dressed as Annie Oakley or wheeling the mechanical spider they built on a gurney through town.  I discovered there are at least three Headless Horsemen currently working in the village, not counting the one on the Fox TV show.

So I’m counting my blessings this year as I look back at last year.  I hope we don’t see a storm like that again!  And a Happy Halloween to all.

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Halloween’d

320px-The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane[1]My village has officially become a tourist destination.  When I saw the first tour bus parked on Main Street a few weeks ago, my first thought was, huh?  The walking tour with a microphone-wielding guide kind of threw me yesterday.  Maybe it was the tourist carrying a chihuahua in his backpack (so not Tarrytown.)  Then I realized it was inevitable.

The first step was when North Tarrytown changed its name to Sleepy Hollow a few years ago.  In fairness, the area really was known as Sleepy Hollow long before the time that Washington Irving wrote about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.  But for some reason that village was incorporated as North Tarrytown.  It’s also not apparent to me why there ever were two villages (Tarrytown and North Tarrytown), but that has been the case for many years.  They have separate police and fire departments and each has its own mayor, village trustees and judges.   However, they do share a school district.

The name change was a smart marketing move.  There are a number of historic properties in each village, including Philipsburg Manor (Sleepy Hollow), Kykuit (Tarrytown/Pocantico Hills), Lyndhurst (Tarrytown), Sunnyside (Washington Irving’s home, also in Tarrytown), the Old Dutch Church (Sleepy Hollow) and the Old Dutch Burying Ground (Sleepy Hollow).  The Union Church at Pocantico Hills with its amazing stained glass windows comissioned by the Rockefellers is nearby.  And the Headless Horseman’s ride was reputed to be close by the cemetary.  Both villages began to market themselves in a small way, and Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit which owns and manages many of the historic properties, began to advertise a bit and get the word out.  Tourist traffic had been building slowly, and the local restaurants were pleased to see an increase last year–until Superstorm Sandy hit town.  Historic Hudson Valley also souped up the events at its properties and created new ones, like the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor.

But what really stuck a match to the firecracker was the new TV show, “Sleepy Hollow.”  Granted, it bears basically no resemblance to Washington Irving’s characters or to the real villages.  One of my neighbors was joking that the two villages between them don’t have enough police cars to fill up one scene in the show.  As a result of the publicity, however, we have tour buses, walking tours with guides on Main Street in Tarrytown, and foreign tourists showing up on the River Walk by the Hudson.

It’s kind of fun but a little weird when you’re used to living in a (really) sleepy albeit beautiful village like Tarrytown, named one of the 10 most beautiful in the country by Forbes last year.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling that it was our own special secret, living in such a historic, lovely and low-key place.  The big event of the Halloween season used to be the Ragamuffin Parade, when the little kids would wear their costumes and walk from Patriots Park to the Y (early years) or more recently the fire station on Main Street and see the fire trucks.  I’m told that years ago a person dressed as the Headless Horseman used to ride through the neighborhoods on Halloween and scare people.  Now the Headless Horseman figures in our Halloween Parade and appears at events.

The locals curse the traffic, but we’re all glad to see more revenue coming to town.  And with any luck, once Halloween passes and the autumn leaves have fallen, we’ll go back to being a couple of quiet, charming villages once again.

Stormy Weather

A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy
A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy

I still think of fall the way it was when I grew up in the South.  The weather grew gradually cooler, the leaves turned red and gold and brown, and slow, heavy rains washed them off the trees.  By late November the leaves were gone, the branches “bare ruined choirs” as the poem says, and we settled in for the chill of winter.  I don’t recall violent storms or tornados once we were past the summer.

Living closer to the ocean has taught me about hurricanes and tropical storms.  I always pictured them as a phenomenon of Florida or the Gulf Coast.  Picture Bogie and Bacall in “Key Largo” (a really great movie to watch during hurricane season.)  Until recent years I never realized those storms could do damage not only at the shore, but several miles inland.  They can even carry their violence and damage for hundreds of miles from the ocean.  Who knew?  I saw it last year outside my window, watching the Hudson River overflow its banks during Superstorm Sandy.

So now the fall brings with it a shiver of unease.  I hadn’t really thought about it until some friends were discussing the date of the village Halloween parade for this year and how it’s been cancelled for the last two years, due to a snowstorm (yes!) and then Sandy last year.  Another friend remarked about the storm that roared through yesterday, “Trees are not our friends.”

But today is a placid, blue-sky autumn day.  No signs of clouds or winds or witches on broomsticks blown past the window.  A perfect day to sky-write, “Surrender, Dorothy.”