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It’s after midnight, and one hour into December 24, 2011. For me, Christmas Eve has begun and I’ll be singing my heart out at two concerts and two masses later today at St. Ann’s on Jefferson, culminating in Midnight Mass 23 hours from now. Other local friends have been steeped in Latkes and Apple Sauce (even a bit of Sour Cream now and then – which is sacrilege I know, but some just don’t know what’s right and proper!) while lighting candles and spinning dredles for a few evenings now. A Pagan friend seriously lucked out this year as her annual sprint below the solstice moon with ‘nothin’ but the radio on’ had to have been relatively balmy this year compared to last, and I’m sure the Yule Log is now merrily crackling in her hearth. All over the village and the companion areas, old traditions are celebrated and new ones born… because it’s Nyack, and so we somehow manage to be over-the-top traditional and cutting-edgy all at the same time!  Though our individual traditions can occasionally bruise the toes of another’s traditions, for the most part they co-exist side-by-side relatively well and even find new and innovative ways to celebrate together or even combined… and always in our own unique, and frankly, quirky ways.

I’ve tried to explain to friends and colleagues who’ve never been here, that even in the worst of times, Nyack at Christmastide through the Nights of Chanukah and the Festivities of the Yule and the Principle Seeking of Kwanzaa still has a *suspicion*, a little frosting as it were, of pure unadulterated magic. All through the Season we light our homes and even the sky on New Year’s Eve with joy, with fellowship and with fun. Give Nyackers yet another reason to celebrate through the dark days and they’ll take it. Which is why you’ll find Haitians celebrating Sint Niklaus Day and Irishmen munching Latkes while a Russian Jewish lady puts ornaments on her friends’ Christmas Tree and an Italian Teen hangs with his bros at the Nyack Center listening to the Principals and a Catholic Nun joins her friend at a Sacred Oak.  Cause it’s Nyack. And we truly LIKE to share some of our fun with our neighbors who celebrate something else… and because we’ve never EVER done things the way any other place does. And that’s why only Nyack could have had these folks pictured below come by to help us celebrate the Winter Holydays for so many years… who knows, maybe some future December, Santa’s sleigh will once again be drawn by Elephants in the Snow…

Photo from the Bernard Collection, Hudson River Valley Heritage

Mom, Juno and Babe out for a frolic in the snow!

photo from Bernard Collection; Hudson River Valley Heritage

Back home for some Cocoa… by the gallon!
And so to all of you – in my tradition – a Very Merry, Very Nyack Christmas! May you have a Bright and Blessed Season no matter what you celebrate! Hold close to your friends and your family and remember THEY are the true gifts of the season… cherish them and it, and may all your holidays be Nyack-y! 

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“…having reported the ghosts’ presence in both a national publication… and the local press… defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”  New York State Supreme Court Ruling, July 18, 1991*

The house was a lovely Hudson River Victorian on LaVeta Place in Nyack.  For years, one of the owners had recounted tales of a benign haunting in her home to everyone – it was part of the Nyack Ghost Tour, it was on TV, it was in Reader’s Digest – around Nyack, we all knew about the ghosts (or supposed ghosts) in “that house by the river”.  We all knew it, but in 1989 when the house was put up for sale, buyers from New York City did not. They went into contract on the lovely home unaware that they might just have some permanent house guests they didn’t invite. Then they heard the story… from, well, everybody in Nyack. “Oh, you bought the ‘Ghost House!'” Thus began one of the oddest cases in New York Jurisprudence since we were New Netherland.

See, as a Realtor it is our duty to disclose any known defects of a home that might affect its’ purchase price, or its’ value thereafter.  But is a haunting an adverse condition? Could it be argued that no such thing exists? Could it be argued in Court that it DOES? The Buyers, the Sellers, the Realtors and the Justices of the State of New York would find themselves “through the looking-glass” trying to determine precedent on the unprecedented.

After first deciding that though it was obvious that the common perceived notion in the area was that the house was referred to as “haunted” and that perception could certainly affect the perceived value of the house, the Trial Court held that such a condition should fall under caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware” and no wrongdoing occurred.  An Appeals Court overturned that decision on the grounds that ghosts in a house are not exactly something that can be discovered in the average property inspection, nor is it likely to be an issue a buyer might ever think to ask about.  Therefore, the court noted that whether the house was truly haunted or not, the fact that the house had been widely reported as being haunted greatly affected its value – and that as a known perceived condition, it should have been disclosed.  They wrote: “Where, as here, the seller not only takes unfair advantage of the buyer’s ignorance but has created and perpetuated a condition about which he is unlikely to even inquire, enforcement of the contract (in whole or in part) is offensive to the court’s sense of equity. Application of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain.” * The Buyers had their deposit returned.

The house was purchased by a corporation who quickly sold it again (not due to any poltergeist activities that I can ascertain) and the next buyers were brought to the closing table by my compatriot and friend here at Nyack Rand Realty, Diane Smith.  The purchasers were an author, and her husband, an A-list Hollywood screenwriter.  (Other interested purchasers included “The Amazing Kreskin” who once told me the reason he had any interest was BECAUSE it was reputed to be haunted and he wanted proof, one way or the other).  Diane’s buyers weren’t fazed by the allegations of a haunting – but thought their kids might have an issue, and decided the kids needed to go there first, hang out a bit, and see if it scared them.  Diane was afraid the kids might be spooked and the deal wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance, but lo and behold, the kids loved the place and the whole family found the “vibe” of the house warm and inviting.  They still live there 15 or so years on, and I’m told that there have been no negative experiences… which doesn’t necessarily mean there have been no experiences, now does it? 

So, the next time you are purchasing property, maybe you might want to ask me – or some other realtor – “has anything ‘unusual’ ever happened in this house?”  After all, Home Inspectors can’t be expected to find EVERYTHING… 

* 169 A.D.2d 254, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672, 60 USLW 2070. New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department

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In keeping with the “spirit” of October, All Hallows Eve or Samhain (take your pick) I’ll continue with two of our local cemeteries reputed to come with a “little something extra”. For each, I’ll give the alleged haunting first with history second.


HAUNTING:  Since I was a kid, I’ve heard stories of people who SWORE they saw someone pass them as they were reading the stones, only to look up as they passed and find no one within hundreds of yards of their location.  A former resident of the caretaker’s house reports playing hide-and-seek type games when he was very little with children he only later realized could NOT have been there (no wonder they were so hard to catch!).  The caretaker’s home itself has had a certain number of reports of footsteps, doors opening and other haunting type phenomenon all around the structure – not a surprise perhaps as two different former caretakers suicided there.  One extensive reporting of “Phantom Walkers” regards a young woman in jeans who walks vacantly past in broad daylight.  This apparition began shortly after the burial of a young lady who’d been killed in a car accident, and her boyfriend told me the outfit that witness claimed the spectre was wearing sounded exactly like her favorite.

HISTORYFounded June 27, 1848 this large, beautiful, hillside cemetery winds up the side of the mountain ridge affording spectacular views of the Hudson from the upper sections.  A walk through this spectacular graveyard (still expanding, which cause a bit of controversy a few weeks back!) reveals elaborate tombstones, monuments, pillars, obelisks, weeping angels, and a large number of elegant mausoleums.  Most touching, perhaps, is the “Children’s Area” an area very close to the top of the ridge that for a time was limited to the graves of the very young. Recognizable permanent residents of Oak Hill include actress Helen Hayes and her playwright husband Charles MacArthur as well as his writing partner, Ben Hecht the screenwriter of “Gone With the Wind” and many other film classics; Americas’ greatest realist painter and Nyack native, artist Edward Hopper; Author Carson McCullers of “Member of the Wedding Fame”; Filmmaker and artist, Joseph Cornell; Nyack’s homegrown Civil War heroes Col. Edward Pye who commanded the New York 95th regiment at Gettysburg, Grant’s Overland Campaign and was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor in 1864 AND Brigadier General Daniel Ullman who was commanding general of the first black troops raised by the Union.  Also scattered among the well-tended rows are many other famous artists, designers, musicians, and several congressmen.  A free walking tour of Oak Hill is coming up on Sunday, October 24 from 2 to 4 pm sponsored by the Friends of the Nyacks – for info: http://friendsofthenyacks.org/2010/10/17/oak-hill-cemetery-tour-sundays-200-p-m-may-2-and-october-17/


HAUNTINGThe legend has remained the same for a long, long, LONG time.  I can find references to it in Nyack histories going back as far as the late 1800s.  A Revolutionary War era soldier sits his lonely sentry post atop one of the stones, musket forlornly held across his lap, awaiting a relief guard who will never come. I always thought it far more tragic than scary, and as a teenager we used to walk by on autumn evenings hoping to catch a glimpse of him… but we were perhaps too noisy, too intrusive, and perhaps too much WANTING to see something that a whole gaggle of us might have simply been too much, if indeed it is even possible that a solitary disincarnate guard WAS still protecting Nyack from the Redcoats.  I will say that it is a mournful, melancholy place at night – less frightening, more sorrowful. It was not until many years later when I was 40, riding by on my bicycle at dusk on my way from Marydell that something odd occurred. Braking hard to keep control on my way down Old Mountain Road, I noticed somebody leaning on one of the stones downhill from me in the old cemetery, looking like he was smoking or something.  Immediately I thought the police were going to be annoyed that someone was in there after dark, but wasn’t going to bother him.  That’s when I saw the sign – I had not seen the new historical marker they had erected and skidded to a halt to read it.  And noticed I was alone. No one was in the Burial Ground, nor was there a deer or a bush or anything that might have fooled me. Either I had been mistaken in the gloom of twilight and my subconscious mind chose the shape from my teenage love of the legend of the cemetery, or… well… or I finally saw him. The soldier. If he’d waited, I’d have relieved him for a while… it’s the least I could do for one of our original veterans.  You can check out the investigation of the Old Palmer Burial Ground by NPI –  Nyack’s own Father/Son team of Paranormal Investigators – that was performed in 2009 by linking over to their site (on another tab, of course!) at: http://64nywf65.20m.com/uncem/uncem.htm.

HISTORYThe Burial Ground began operation in the 1730s, on the land of Corneilius Kuyper who was the original settler of this area of Upper Nyack in 1686.  Kuyper himself was the first burial in 1731 and his wife Aeltje followed him 4 years later.  There are 66 graves, including 3 Revolutionary War soldiers. I do not know if “our” soldier is BURIED there, or was supposedly KILLED there… (which is entirely possible, if you read my “Today in Nyack History” post that will appear tomorrow, October 15). If he is buried there, then he is likely to be Corporal Philip Sarvent as neither a Captain nor a Major would have been on sentry duty along the only road from Rockland Lake to the Hudson during the Revolution.  The Old Palmer Burial Ground is on the north side of Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack between Midland and Broadway.  It is easily accessible from the road, but remember that cemeteries are generally off-limits at night (I stood at the gate to take my pics) and somewhat dangerous – not from spooks mind you, but from uneven ground, sinkholes, knocked over tombstones, exposed roots and sadly, deer ticks.  The Burial Ground is administered by the Town of Clarkstown so get permission if you want to do any kind of research there.  The nifty historical marker was a gift from another Nyack realtor, Russ Wooley.

All photos, J.P. Schutz

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Looking North to "The Hook"

Broadway, Nyack's oldest street

What is it that has drawn people to the Nyack area from all over the world, literally for centuries? Henry Hudson, Hopper, Helen Hayes… painters and playwrights, actresses and activists, ferrymen and financiers, politicians and preachers have all come to Nyack for a while or forever. In this blog, as both real estate agent and history and trivia enthusiast, I’ll be exploring the events, people and landmarks that made Nyack special and the unique homes that keep it that way!

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