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Archive for the ‘Nyack Red Cross’ Category

Yesterdays’ derailment in New Windsor of a CRX freight train carrying sulfuric acid – along the very tracks that run through Blauvelt, West Nyack, Valley Cottage, Congers, Haverstraw and Stony Point inspired me to renew and refresh this post about a frightening and deadly chemical explosion that happened right here in downtown Nyack – directly across the street from an occupied school building. The lower Hudson Valley dodged a bullet yesterday – had the tanks ruptured, or had that train been one of the many that daily cross our county carrying explosive shale oil in antiquated tank cars the results would have been unimaginable.

The balance between successful industry and public safety seems to exist on a fulcrum – tipping first to the one then to the other but generally resulting in a middle ground of “generally safe, generally profitable”.  However, when one or the other side goes too far, and like a playground bully jumps off the see-saw the result is a crash to the ground for the other party. So if safety measures go extreme, profits crash – but when safety is ignored for financial gain, PEOPLE DIE.

 Among the most foolhardy suggestions of our newly elected “slash-and-burn” politicians are the elimination of government-run product safety and consumer protection agencies. Really, haven’t we learned our lesson that industries allowed to operate without any public oversight tend to start sacrificing public safety in pursuit of more profit?  There are countless examples some of these “reformers” should bear in mind: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the R.M.S. Titanic, the Union Carbide Plant Explosion in Bhopal, the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and the BP Gulf oil rig explosion are some of the worst disasters that resulted from the drive for profit superseding safety concerns and common sense.  Closer to home, the brick industry in Haverstraw became so greedy that in 1906 they undermined the village itself, causing a landslide that took 5 streets, 2 avenues and 21 buildings with it, killing 19 residents.

photo: Hudson River Valley Heritage Archives

The American Aniline Products plant was located on Cedar Hill Avenue – the picture above shows what it was like prior to the morning of January 30, 1919.  It was just after 9:00 and the 400 plus students of the Liberty Street School across the street from the factory had already begun class.  (It’s hard to imagine the response of today’s parents if there was a factory manufacturing toxic chemicals literally across the street from their kids’ school!)  Overheating chemicals in the drying room of the factory’s first floor ignited and exploded the walls of the ground floor outward, another blast would rip a hole that tore through the upper floors and roof.  The hundred employees on-site fled for their lives as the explosion rocked all of Orangetown and plate-glass windows shattered all over Nyack.  All of the windows of the school facing the factory were blown into the school, covering the students with broken glass.  Amazingly, the force of the blast was so strong that the size of the glass shards were minute and miraculously only one student was seriously injured by the glass.  The 400 students evacuated to Hudson and School Street and joined what appeared to be the rest of the population of Nyack in watching the conflagration. 

photo: Nyack Library Parkhurst Collection

This was perhaps the greatest day for the Nyack Volunteer Fire Department.  Due to their heroic efforts, the ensuing conflagration was confined to the factory, one home and one garage.  Three of the factory’s employees lost their lives that day, with 15 others seriously injured.  What is not known is how many of the residents and workers (not to mention the firemen) would have their health affected by breathing the extremely toxic fumes of the burning aniline dye. See, in 1919, either no one knew – or possibly no one cared – that breathing aniline fumes was toxic and likely to cause cancers, particularly bladder cancers later in life.  (Having a father who suffered from asbestosis, contracted well AFTER the construction industry was well aware of the dangers, suggests that the second scenario though horrifying is indeed possible).  The factory owners would eventually be fined the sum of $2500 for their negligence, after the President of the company and the Superintendent of the factory pled guilty of  violating state labor laws and village ordinances in the storing of explosive chemicals – yet they violated those laws and regulations KNOWING there was a school across the street. 

photo: Hudson River Valley Heritage Archives

Though the families of those who perished or were injured might disagree, Nyack learned its lesson with a miraculously low loss of life.  Had the vector of the explosion been slightly different, the outcome could have been far, far worse.  So while our rhetoric-spouting politicians yammer and bleat about cutting government spending and government interference limiting “business possibilities” they might want to concentrate on the real waste, and not checks and balances put into place to keep our industries’ need to satisfy their shareholders from slipping into disregard for public safety and human lives. I wish more of our elected officials of all persuasions spent a little more time studying history and a little less time studying the polls, remembering that they were elected to do public service, not elected to get re-elected.

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I thought I’d return to discussing some of the previous “incarnations” of some of our most recognizable Nyack area buildings.

THE VANILLA FACTORY:  This quirky building on the corner of Piermont Avenue and Main Street is the oldest brick commercial building in the village, having been constructed in 1836. It originated as Ross’s General Store on the main floor with various manufacturing businesses occupying the upper floors. For many years all of the space above was a shoe factory (Nyack was for a time known as “Shoe Town”). A hoist still present in the building was installed during the tenancy of a furniture moving and storage company. In 1924, Seeley & Company began manufacturing of extracts and flavorings here, and the pleasant aromas would lead to the building being known forever after as “The Vanilla Factory”. One of the most interesting incarnations was from the early 1970s to the 1990s – “The Elizabeth Seeger School” an alternative High School founded by 5 breakaway teachers from the Dalton School in NYC. Currently the building houses offices and residential space, but the old hoist and other mercantile details can still be seen around this fascinating building that has changed so little on the outside!

photo by J.P. Schutz
CASCADIAN BOTTLING COMPANY: Ever been driving or cycling on River Road in Grandview and wonder what in the world that long low Grecian Temple was on the west side of the road approaching the bridge? That building and the large mostly unseen warehouse behind it were for years Grandview’s only industry.

photo courtesy of Rich Ellis

 
The first business there was the Onderdonk Stone Quarry, where brownstone for New York City’s luxury brownstones were mined going back to the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s. There had been a hat factory there in the 1800s that failed in the Depression of 1893. The old building was raised and the property purchased by none other than D.W. Griffith, my grandmother’s old boss, and one of the most important director/producers of the silent age. Think “Birth of a Nation”… yeah, THAT D.W. Griffith.  The city’s water was not in the best shape at the time there being a switchover from the old aqueducts to the new water tunnels, so spring water was bottled here and shipped from Nyack down to NYC under the name of Crandel Spring Water. Griffiths would bring his friends including the Gish Sisters up to Grandview for both relaxation and shooting of scenes in his films. My grandmother, Irene Lane Dunn, was Miss Lillian Gish’s stand-in for scene set-ups and also did what few “stunts” would be called on for Gish’s character; she would also play small or medium roles in the films as well. (I would later meet Lillian Gish several times when I would sing Christmas Parties at Helen Hayes MacArthur’s house, and she would always refer to me as “Little Irene’s Grandson”.) My Nana fondly remembered shooting several films in Grandview and Piermont and South Nyack and found them a nice change from Fort Lee and Brooklyn which were where the studios were mostly housed at the time. (If anyone is interested, the last film my Nana appeared in was “Bathing Beauties of 1922” – not kidding!) My grandmother would never leave New York and continued on the stage here, but Griffiths and the Gishes and the Studios all moved west, and the bottling company was sold in 1920 to become the Cascadian Products Company bottling carbonated water and later sodas.  From around 1930 to the mid-1960s their premier product would be ‘Cliquot Club Soda’. By 1960, the plant and spring were purchased by the Raso family and the name changed to Spring Water Beverage Company; and in 1968 another name change and a return to just bottling spring water, under the name Canaday Eagle Spring Water.  Operations ceased in 1975. The front building was converted to a unique residence and the rear warehouse in to a recording studio. Those remain the uses to this day, although one can still see the fountain on the lawn and a number of other remnants of the bottling and spring water days. The property consisting of house, recording studio and warehouse, spring, waterfall is currently listed for sale with Rich Ellis of Ellis Southeby’s Realty.
photo by J.P. Schutz
 

COUCH COURT: The building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Depew has been many things in past years, including the Orangetown Town Hall and the location where the New York State Supreme Court met several times when needing to do “downstate” business.

photo by Barbara Gill Porta

Built in 1854 for A.J. Storms of the Storms Tub and Pail Company, it would then pass into the hands of Captain Edwin Stillwell of the Nyack Ferry until 1882. In 1885 it was purchased by the Couch Family and gained its current name.  Dr. Louis Couch would use the building to house his Homeopathic Practice and his family, including his ground breaking daughter, Natalie. I’ve mentioned the formidable Ms. Couch in a number of prior postings – she was a suffragette and great proponent of women’s rights and she was in charge of the ambulance crew that were first on the scene of the Analine Dye Factory explosion.  Natalie Couch Williams was born in Nyack and graduated Wellsley College in 1907 and continued onto Fordham Law School where she graduated first in the class and became Rockland County’s first woman attorney. In Nyack, she organized the first women’s Republican Club in New York State immediately following passage of women’s suffrage in 1920. While maintaining a law office in Nyack, she would also go on to become Journal Clerk to the New York Assembly (another ‘first woman” achievement for her) and be legal secretary to NYS Supreme Court Justice Arthur S. Tompkins. She was nominated by the Republican Party and ran for the State Assembly as early as 1934 (and was defeated by another woman, Democrat Caroline O’Day who had the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, in the first woman vs. woman US election).  She was married to State Senator Lawrence G. Williams.

In her 66 years, she would become the first woman elected President of the Rockland County Bar Association, the first woman to be Vice-Chair of the Rockland County Republican Committee, and the Police Justice for Grandview-on-Hudson. She was considered a key member of the election committees of Governor Thomas E. Dewey and the failed Presidential bid of Wendell Wilkie. She was hosting a “Citizens for Eisenhower” rally in Nanuet when she was stricken with a fatal heart attack in 1956. In a story about her death, The New York Times would call her “New York State Republican Leader”.  Her law offices at Couch Court would become from 1942 to 1951 the Town Hall for all of Orangetown, and the Supreme Court of New York met there several times. During the time that she was the only female lawyer in Rockland, she had two male lawyers as employees of her practice. 

After her death, Couch Court would house a Medical Supply outlet and other healthcare related businesses. Later renovated and refurbished, the gracious building now serves as home to my own office – Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty of Nyack; along with the real estate investment company Rock-n-Real Estate; K.A. Consulting; internet designers Center Line Design; and a residential unit on the top floor.

photo by J.P. Schutz

 

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10 Years Ago Today: 9/11/2001 Nyack’s 9-11 Hero

I’ve been planning a post about a certain young man for almost a year – half out of the concern that perhaps he’d be forgotten in the crush of politicization of the event; conflict over the museum and memorial; bickering between New York and New Jersey over who should be “invited”; the inevitable conspiracy theories and an undercurrent of still simmering anger and unresolved grief. I was wrong.  Mercifully  he has NOT been forgotten in the chaos of this anniversary. People have remembered to celebrate and tell the story of this remarkable young man.  The mysterious and miraculous “Man in the Red Bandana”, a Nyacker who on 9/11/2001 lived – and died – according to what he believed and what he had been taught by his family, his church and his schools growing up among us. Welles Remy Crowther, NHS Class of 1995. He did us all proud.

The Honor Student from Nyack High and volunteer member of the Empire Hook and Ladder Co. in Upper Nyack graduated from Boston College in 1999. He was working at Sandler O’Neill & Partners as an Equities Trader. From his lofty office on the 104th Floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower it seemed that the world was literally and figuratively at the feet of this polite, dedicated, brilliant young man.  Then that dream exploded on the wings of hijacked planes and a religion hijacked by fanatical extremist devotees.  Wells Remy Crowther would counter those acts of crushing hate with acts of towering love. 

This athletic young man would have easily made it out, and could have. At 9:12 AM he would call his mother in Upper Nyack from his cellphone to say he was okay. His mother would never hear his voice again. For Wells Crowther (who had already somehow miraculously made it down to the 78th floor skylobby from the 104th) could not see the pain and fear and confusion in the Skylobby’s burning ruins and not ACT.  He led people to the only remaining usable stairwell to the lower floors and carried a facially burned woman down all the way to the 61st… and then he went back up for more people, and brought them down, then back up again… On March 19, 2002 Wells Remy Crowther was finally recovered in the company of several FDNY and EMS members – the group had been heading back UP with a ‘jaws of life’ device when the South Tower followed its’ sister in a slow cascade of doomed hopes and broken dreams. At least 18 people are known to owe their lives directly to the selfless acts committed by a man in a red bandanna. On December 15, 2006, through a Special Commendation by the NYC Fire Commissioner Welles Remy Crowther was made an honorary member of the FDNY.  This was the first time in history that the department had done that posthumously. The Crowther family was presented with a framed certificate of appointment which included a department badge and a red bandanna.

The word “hero” is sadly overused these days.  Pampered overpaid athletes simply doing their job are not heroes.  Politicians mouthing platitudes  and slogans of every variety are not heroes. Even those who survive an act of horrifying evil, or lose someone to it, are not heroes but victims of an assault on humanity. People who put their lives on the line everyday fighting fires, crimes and dire illnesses – or fighting in service of their country – are heroes. And people who go back upstairs over and over in a conflagration of staggering proportions, knowing full well that the edifice’s twin has already collapsed, and who are not even “official” rescue workers on the scene? Well to me, that’s the definition of a superhero, or perhaps, a saint. In the spirit of “No greater love than this…” , young Mr. Crowther laid down his life – not even for friends – but for perfect strangers. Strangers he believed were his brothers and sisters in the human condition. When I reach my last day on Earth, I hope that I can face it the way Wells Remy Crowther did – with courage, honor and love.

photo: Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust

 

10 Years Ago Today: 9/12/2001 Nyack the Day After

Of course, everyone over the age of 18 remembers where they were on “that day” 10 years ago – I was with most of the other Rand Realtors in Orangeburg at a conference that quickly came to a halt and we watched horrified as friends, neighbors, and even spouses died in front of us on TVs in the lounge of the Holiday Inn, before slowly singly and in pairs we slipped out and headed home to some perceived place of safety or at least of isolation from the horror.

But what about the next day? Do you remember where you were on September 12, 2001?

I do – I spent much of it at the Runcible Spoon cafe in the center of Nyack and just blocks from my house.  Still staggered by the events of the day before and sitting up literally all night watching the news and waiting for reports on loved ones and friends, we crept out of our homes and our modern-day isolation in desperate need of human contact. The first thing I noticed was the silence – not a single plane was traversing that blue sky. Almost no one was in a car, there were people on the street, strangely hushed and many with red-rimmed eyes. And there were… flags. In a trendy village that considered overtly patriotic displays to be inappropriate or gauche except on special holidays, suddenly Old Glory could be seen on flag poles, on porch railings, hanging from the terraces in my building the Ivanhoe and down the street at the Rivercrest, or tacked up in the windows of apartments or the few open businesses. I stifled an urge to cover my heart with my hand right in the middle of the cross walk.

Arriving at “The ‘Runce” there were some subdued greetings and some deep quiet hugs – assurance that YOU and I were still here, that there was some sanity left in this bad dream. And newspapers everywhere – I must confess, I still have not looked at that famous photo in the New York Times – it seems somehow obscene (and I mean that word in its’ original meaning) that the terror and horror of some poor soul’s last plummet to the ground could be tossed out like a vacation snapshot. I felt violated for that man when a friend reading the Times started to fold the paper back intending to show me, and I turned away. Looked around instead. Confusion. Muffled sobs. Inappropriate laughter. Then silence again. I heard a child’s voice ask “But when is mommy coming home???” and silently wept in my heart for the adult who could not answer that innocent question. A question that burned in my mind all day and that evening back home listening to Chuck and Sue continuing to give us more information on what was happening, I wrote a lyric for a children’s musical I was writing with composer Neil Berg. “Someone’s Always There For You” became the most loved song from the musical the HHPAC had commissioned us to write. 

The next morning there would be more flags, eventually every car would begin to look like it was in the Presidential Motorcade and bunting and banners were everywhere. On September 10 we were grumbling about parking, arguing over the Nurses’ lawsuit at Nyack Hospital and really oddly, on September 10, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was calling for a downsizing of the Department of Defense, giving it a grade “D” for business efficiency and comparing to “Soviet Central Planning”. The tragedy of September 11 put away our differences for a good long time – reminding us of our shared experience as human beings and as citizens of the United States of America.  We came together in a way that had not happened in some time – as shared crisis will always do.  Yes, as the tragedy receded into the past, the events of that day would be used over and over by numerous politicians of all stripes as a tool to be used to get elected; and religious denominations bemoaning perceived flaws in some other religious denomination or lifestyle, and yes, the makers of really tacky Americana kitsch would make a windfall on items that can be looked at now while shaking one’s head and thinking “how did I ever buy THAT?”  The tragedy has been used, and abused. But it did bring us together as a Nation when we had spent so much of the late ’80s and all of the 1990’s in a long era of self-interest and diffidence toward community.

Fast forward to September 11, 2011. When I was on the altar at St. Ann’s this morning (now yesterday morning, good grief!) singing “God Bless America” at 9:59AM – I found myself mentally and emotionally flashing back to the horror, the fear, the anger and the pain of that day and feared I would lose my composure before I could finish the song. Then I looked out at the congregation, many of the same faces I saw a decade ago, and I remembered the day AFTER – and the sense of community that saved us from despair in 2001 saved my song and tribute in 2011. One cable TV station chose to honor the 9-11 Anniversary by playing my favorite film “Casablanca” which puzzled me at first.  Then we got to the scene where everyone at Ricks is looking at the floor while the occupying Nazi army sings a victory song. One man with the courage to risk his life and resist – Victor Laslow or Wells Crowther? – goes to the bandstand and conducts the orchestra into playing “La Marseillaise” the National Anthem of then occupied and conquered France. Eventually everyone else in the cafe joins in the song – not a fist fight or exchange of shots, but a subtler battle for the heart and mind – the offensive Nazi battle hymn is drowned out by people realizing that they are more than the sum of their parts, and that when they join together they cannot be defeated.

Donations can be made to the  Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 780, Nyack, NY 10960-0780;  crowthertrust@aol.com. The trust endows scholarships for Nyack High School students and helps fund local music, environmental and educational charities.  

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The combined Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear tragedies the nation of Japan is dealing with this week led me on one of my searches only to find a tie-in to our wartime history here in Nyack, and fortunately, a memory we can all truly be proud of and cherish – Nyack’s WWII U.S.O. and their commitment to our Japanese-American soldiers. 

 

Photo by Toge Fujihira; Bancroft Library collection U.C. at Berkeley

 

It was not easy being a Japanese Immigrant living in the United States during World War II, and in a way it was worse being “Nisei” – that is, a United States citizen whose parents immigrated from Japan but was born here (if it was your grandparents who immigrated you are “Sansei”).  Naturally, those folks of Japanese heritage born here as citizens thought of themselves as just that – Americans – when suddenly their neighbors began to think of them as being enemies and foreigners – when they were already somewhat alienated from their parents’ generation having grown up in American schools with an American mindset. Though their parents, the “Issei” had to have been astonished, frightened and saddened by the seizing of their property and their imprisonment in internment camps during WWII, for the Nisei those emotions had to be joined by one even stronger – anger. Their own country had imprisoned them, seized their homes and their assets, and established laws that barred their presence on the West Coast and denied them the right to join their own country’s armed forces.  110,000 Japanese-Americans spent the war in these camps (along with about 10,000 German-Americans and about 500 Italian-Americans).

And yet, in 1943 – when the ban on serving in the military was lifted on Japanese-American men – those men signed up in droves.  The 442nd Infantry Regiment, made up entirely of Nisei soldiers, was sent to the European front and remains the most decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces including 21 Medals of Honor.  And all this while their wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and younger brothers were still held in camps back in the USA. So much for the supposedly “questionable loyalty” of Americans of Japanese heritage.  Ironically, the 552 Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Infantry would free the surviving prisoners of Dachau while some of their own relatives lingered in interment back home.

How does Nyack fit in?  By 1943, the largest of the military embarkation points on the east coast was built right over Clausland Mountain from Nyack in Orangeburg, named Camp Shanks, but nicknamed “Last Stop, USA”.  Over 1.5 million G.I.s would depart from Camp Shanks for Europe – and each night as many as 1600 young men from the Camp would find themselves walking the streets of Nyack (and we think the bar situation is somewhat outof-control NOW? Though to be fair, as mentioned in a prior post the Broadway Theater in Nyack held more than that number).  Some of the soon-to-be-decorated Nisei units would pass through Camp Shanks and those soldiers would head to the streets of Nyack looking for entertainment like any other American G.I.s.photo: Toge Fujihira, Bancroft Library UC Berkeley

The Nyack U.S.O. was located across the street from the Theater in what is now The Runcible Spoon (my favorite hangout attracted hoards of uniformed visitors back then too, only now the uniforms are those of bike teams…) and was extremely popular with the service men.  Many locals volunteered their time to feed and entertain the young men about to risk their lives  – and found it a very rewarding experience. Nyack U.S.O. hostesses in the pictures  include Mrs. J. Knapp,  Mrs. T. Rudden and Mrs. J. Maisseo. In March, with the first large group of new Japanese American soldiers due in Camp, A.L. Esplin and Helen Zolkis directors of the Nyack U.S.O. and Peter Aoki of the Japanese American Citizens League met and decided to make a special evening for them.  Through the Citizens League, Nisei young women living in New York City (WE didn’t inter thankfully!) were invited to join the U.S.O. in Nyack for a special dance evening for the departing Nisei soldiers – 125 responded and came up for the event.  The three organizers are seen below with Miss Kunimatsu of NYC and Private Kudo formerly of Los Angeles and whose family resided at the time in the Heart Mountain interment camp. Yuriko Amemiya, a Nisei modern dancer and member of the famed Martha Graham Dance Company and teacher at the NYC New Dance Group Studio was on hand that evening as well to perform for the 200 troops and 125 young ladies who attended the event.  Known as just “Yuriko” professionally, she too had originally been from the West Coast, sent to an interment camp but relocated to New York and Martha Graham’s company in 1943.

photo: Toge Fujihira, Bancroft Library UC Berkeley

For other towns and cities with U.S.O.s the event may have been radical, but… this is and WAS Nyack. It’s not that prejudice or discrimination does not or did not exist here – it is simply that it is seldom allowed to take too much of a hold, or to overwhelm the hearts and minds of this special community – especially in times of great need.  If you’d like to show the people of Japan that in this time of need that Nyack still cares about the Japanese people, contact the Nyack Branch of the Red Cross at 143 North Broadway (845-358-0833) or www.redcross.org and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. 

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