Nyack Sketch Log: Toni Morrison’s Bench By The Road

NSL167_featured Image_2nd revisionby Bill Batson

Nyack will soon host a monument to the painful period of history when African slavery was a global industry. Later today, November 18, 2014, at 1p, representatives of the Toni Morrison Society will be joined by Mayor Jen Laird-White, Nyack Public Schools Superintendent Dr. James Montesano and other local civic leaders in Memorial Park to announce the installation of a commemorative bench to honor Underground Railroad conductor Cynthia Hesdra. Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning author and Grand View-on-Hudson resident, will be invited as a special guest at the dedication ceremony on May 18, 2015.

Toni MorrisonThe project to reinterpret the ordinary park bench as a place to ponder public history began with a turn of phrase. In response to an interviewer’s question in 1989 about the inspiration of her novel Beloved, Morrison said:

“There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to” (The World, 1989).

Bench by the Road, Sullivan Island

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

The compelling comment became a call to action for the Toni Morrison Society. In 2006, the Bench by the Road Project was established and the metaphor was made real. Nyack will be the 14th bench location around the globe.

Other sites include:

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, site of Fort Moultrie, the embarkation point of nearly 75% of the slaves who entered America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bench by the Road_Oberlin Ohio

Toni Morrison in Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio, a community active in the clandestine resistance to slavery called the Underground Railroad.

Fort-de-France, Martinique, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aimé Césaire.

Concord, Massachusetts: The Walden Woods “Bench by the Road” Project honors former slave and Revolutionary War hero Brister Freeman, along Henry David Thoreau’s Path.

Underground Railroad shrineThe process that led to Nyack’s selection was set into motion when a shrine to the Underground Railroad near Main Street was condemned in late 2013. A meeting of leaders of the African American Community was held at the home of Village of Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White in December of 2013 to discuss the impending demolition. The group expressed their concern that an important chapter of the African American experience in Nyack was being erased from the local landscape if the commemorative structure created by Joseph Mitlof was lost.

Commemoration Committee_Mitlof

Joseph Mitlof

Mitlof, who passed away in April 2014, had established several historic markers, in addition to the shrine, that traced the path and celebrated the conductors of the Underground Railroad in Nyack. The Underground Railroad is a euphemism to describe a series of clandestine sanctuaries, located in private homes and other structures throughout the United States. The escape route allowed slaves to flee their captors in slave-holding states in the years before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Contemporaneous accounts and current scholarship cite Nyack as an important Underground Railroad location.

Even though Mitlof never claimed that his shrine was an actual Underground Railroad location, the absence of the building, with its signage visible from Main Street, created a void.  Furthermore, the demolition of the shrine was a painful reminder of the 1960s urban renewal project in Nyack that destroyed dozens of homes and displaced a vibrant African American community that lived in the area between Main Street, Depew Avenue, Broadway and Franklin Street.

Underground Railroad Historic MarkerThe remaining markers that Mitlof had erected remain, but were not considered an adequate alternative. Located respectively in an isolated parking lot and on sidewalks near heavily trafficked roads, the markers were uninviting.

The group resolved to harness the urgency that the loss of the Underground Railroad shrine represented and create a permanent monument. The Nyack Commemoration Committee was created by a resolution adopted at the April 10, 2014 meeting of the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees. I was later asked to serve as Chair.

Nyack Commemoration Committee

Nyack Commemoration Committee

The mission of the Nyack Commemoration Committee is to create a public commemoration of the experiences and contributions of African Americans in the Nyacks. This commemoration would be in the form of a substantive display in a public space, that would accommodate individuals and families who might want to comfortably linger to reflect on and celebrate local African American history.

The Bench by the Road Committee of the Toni Morrison Society approved the application submitted by the Nyack Commemoration Committee. The committee is composed of:

  • Village of Nyack Mayor, Jen Laird White
  • Bill Batson, co-publisher, NyackNewsAndViews
  • Anngela Vasser-Cooper, Women’s Veterans Association of Hudson Valley, Inc.
  • Constance L. Frazier, Retired Assistant Superintendent of Schools
  • Frances Pratt, President, Nyack NAACP
  • Willie Trotman, President, Spring Valley NAACP
  • Winston Perry, President Historical Society of the Nyacks
  • Wylene Wood, President African American Historical Society of Rockland County.

Nyack Bench_Hesdar SignThe Bench by the Road in Nyack will commemorate a former slave, who became an entrepreneur and abolitionist, Cynthia Hesdra. Hesdra (1808-1879) was enslaved at one point during her life, yet died a wealthy woman, accumulating properties and businesses in New York City and Nyack. One parcel was near what is now Memorial Park, at the point where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River, a landmark used by escaping slaves seeking safe passage to Canada. Hesdra is listed in Mary Ellen’s Snodgrass’ Underground Railroad Encyclopedia as a conductor.

Lori Martin

Dr. Lori Burns Martin,

Louisiana State University Associate Professor Lori Burns Martin, who was raised in South Nyack, was responsible for having a section of Piermont Avenue renamed Cynthia Hesdra Way in 2010.  She also authored the only scholarly account of Hesdra’s life, The Battle Over the Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra. Afro-Americans in New York Life and History and the book, The Ex-Slave’s Fortune.

The proposal calls for:

  • A multimedia presentation in the Nyack Center describing the backstory of the other 13 benches, so that our community can learn about the national and global context of this initiative.
  • The Ex-Slave's FortuneA procession to the Hudson River, in the manner of the African Maafa ritual (pronounced Me aapha) that commemorates the traumatic legacy of African slavery, the diaspora and the middle passage.  Marchers will carry yellow umbrellas and throw flower pedals into the Hudson River, a body of water that empties into the ocean that separates North America and Africa and to the North, carried escaping slaves to Canada and freedom.
  • A dedication ceremony in the upper level of Memorial Park where a drum circle will be formed around the perimeter of the park.
  • The location where the bench will be unveiled is Memorial Park near the section of Piermont Avenue renamed Cynthia Hesdra Way, overlooking a parcel of land owned by Hesdra at the point where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River.
Bench by the Road co-chairs

Dr. Carolyn Denard and Craig Stutman, Co-Chairs of the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project (far left and second from right respectively) with Nyack Commemoration Committee members Bill Batson and Constance Frazier

Toni Morrison Society founder Dr. Carolyn Denard, who serves as Dean of Connecticut College and her colleague Delaware Valley College, Assistant Professor of History and Policy Studies, Dr. Craig Stutman came to Nyack on October 20. Their first order of business was to attend a meeting with Nyack Public School’s superintendent, Dr. James Montesano and his key administrators. The Nyack Commemoration Committee selected a school day for the dedication ceremony so that public school students could play a central role in the installation of the bench. The meeting produced a collaboration that will introduce students in Nyack to the life and work of Hesdra and Morrison and the history of the Underground Railroad. The bench will also become a landmark that this current cohort of students can return to for the rest of their lives and proudly proclaim that they helped erect.

Bench By The Road LocationIn his recently published book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, author, historian and Cornell University associate professor Edward E. Baptist Cornell notes that America has not adequately remembered those enslaved in our country from 1620 until 1863. He observes that while monuments to Confederate and Union soldiers are scattered across the South and in places in the North, like Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, there is scant statuary recognition of the men, women and children who suffered through involuntary servitude, or those that sought to liberate them. In his book, published in 2014, Baptist makes the same argument that Morrison made in 1989 and that the Toni Morrison Society has sought to redress.

In Nyack and 13 other communities around the world, the Bench is more than simply a perch from which to feed pigeons, or a place to make a bucolic retreat. Our bench by Cynthia Hesdra Way will be, as Morrison said, “a place to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves,” and to honor the woman who risked her hard-won liberty and prosperity to shepherd others to freedom.

During the Civil Rights Movement, normally innocuous public accommodations, like water fountains and bus seats, were transformed by courageous action into powerful symbols of resistance to racial oppression in America. The Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project similarly modifies the meaning of the mundane park bench.

Special thanks to Enid Mastrianni

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Toni Morrison’s Bench by the Road” © 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: Jerry Donnellan Serves Those Who Served

Veterans Archive Image

My father, William Prime Batson, and his brother-in-arms in Italy in 1945

by Bill Batson

“When I was coming up, practically every adult male was a veteran,” said Vietnam veteran Jerry Donnellan. Over 30 million Americans fought in World War II, Vietnam and Korea. Only 2.2 million have served in our 13 year-long conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Veterans are treated better today than those who returned from the unpopular Vietnam War, but their position is tougher. The economy is the problem.” Donnellan is working to mitigate the impacts of this new dynamic as director of the County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency.

When Donnellan sits with a returning veteran, he asks if the vet is looking to go to school or to work. One option is much easier to address than the other. “When my generation came back, there was a Chevy plant in Tarrytown, and a Ford plant in Mahwah. There was a paper mill in Piermont, and U.S. Gypsum was in Haverstraw. As a 22 or 23 year-old coming out of the military today, unless you have a particular skill, you can only find work in a big box store or a fast food place.”

Jerry Donnellan_revised

Jerry Donnellan

“For those who want to study, there is still the GI Bill. As a solider, you pay into it and the military puts more money in. When you come home you can go to a state school without it costing anything. You get tuition, housing and books,” said Donnellan. “That gives the vet some time to look around, decompress and get a sense of what the vet wants to do.”

The other major issue Donnellan helps veterans address is the process of seeking compensation for injuries suffered during combat. “Post traumatic stress is something very hard to wrap your head around. Soldiers are asked to stand on a wall with weapon. Then they are told to put their weapon down and ask the person they were protecting for help. It’s a difficult transition. The other difficulty is that a person in the military is a giving person. The soldier who has all of his fingers and toes has an aspect of survivor guilt when asking for medical attention besides others who have lost limbs.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 1.22.19 PM

Burn pit

Donnellan suggests that there are other injuries that like PTSD might not be visible, but are very real. “Many develop respiratory issues while working in hot climates. Breathing sand that is like talcum power and smoke from burn pits where plastics and medical waste are incinerated is the problem.” Donnellan informs his brothers-in-arms that they can obtain free medical benefits within a five-year window. “But they have to apply.”

Camp Shanks

Camp Shanks

The lessons that Jerry
Donnellan shares were learned under fire. During the Vietnam War, Donnellan sustained three injuries in the same battle and lost the lower portion of his leg. For the last 25 years, Donnellan has led local government’s efforts to support veterans. Holding this post in Rockland County is a unique privilege. From 1942 until 1946, 1.3 million soldiers passed through Orangeburg’s Camp Shanks on their way to their deployments. Known as the “Last Stop U.S.A,” Camp Shanks was the embarkation point for 75% of the troops that fought on D-Day. Donnellan is the president of New York Vets, the non-profit entity that raises the money to operate the Camp Shanks Museum.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 2.05.37 PMDonnellan describes the origins of his military career in the most self-effacing terms. “I was Rockland County’s least successful draft dodger. When I got out of high school in 1964, we had advisers in Vietnam, but we were not at war. I wasn’t anti-war. I just didn’t want to get up early and roll around in the dirt. The alternative was to go to college, where there were girls, music and beer. Unfortunately, I ran out of college before they ran out of war.” He was drafted in 1968 and injured near the North Vietnam border a year later. He received three Purple Hearts for his injuries.

After the war, Donnellan returned to Rockland County working as a stage manager for venues like Rockland Community College, Theater-Go-Round in Nanuet and the Westchester Premier Theater. One night in Westchester in 1976, Donnellan was drafted again, this time by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s road manager Bob Keirnan had to rush back to Las Vegas to help Ann-Margret stage her act, leaving Donnellan to call the show. Jerry spent the next 11 years as Sinatra’s road manager.

When Donnellan talks about himself he is all laughs, but when he talks about his fellow vets, it’s strictly business. “I want to make sure that every vet applies for the benefits that they have earned.” Donnellan estimates the number of recently returning veterans eligible for assistance in Rockland County is approximately 2,000. “Many young people are computer literate, so I urge them to visit our website rockvets.com. You can ask questions without having to talk to some government guy in an office building,” Donnellan assures.

There are two opportunities to recognize the ultimate sacrifice and military service of others this month, both at the Palisades Mall.

Buffalo Soldiers Recognition Day, November 11
On Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11, Rockland County’s Buffalo Soldier’s Association, an organization of African American Veterans, will hold a recognition ceremony at Mount Moor Cemetery.  The historic African American burial ground is the final resting place of veterans from all the major military conflicts since the Civil War and is located on the southside of the Palisades Mall near the Route 59 entrance.

Toys for Tots, November 28
Help members of our military continue the humanitarian aspect of their service by supporting Toys for Tots. Since 1947, the Marine Corp Reserve League has collected donations of new unwrapped toys for less fortunate children in communities throughout America.  The Rockland County Detachment, Marine Corps League is the local organizer of Toys for Tots. Starting Friday, November 28, there will be a collection sites throughout the county including on the third deck of the Palisades Mall. Collections will continue every weekend through Christmas.

See also:

Jerry Donnellan photo credit: Bill Demarest 

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Jerry Donnellan Serves Those Who Served” © 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: Tools of Many Trades

NSL165_tools of the trade_featured imageby Bill Batson

The story of our civilization is told through our tools. There was a stone age, iron age, industrial revolution and now, a computer age. Each epoch is defined by what we have picked up and used with our hands.

An exhibit at the Historical Society of the Nyacks has assembled hundreds of tools. You are welcome to feel the weight of these wooden and metal implements that helped a parent earn a wage, or brought relief to an ailing patient. You have until November 29 to enjoy this orchestra of domestic and industrial instruments.

Here is a survey of some of what you will find if you visit this tool box on display. The text that follows is based on panels written by the individuals who loaned their utilitarian objects.

Variable Speed Reversible Manual Hand Drill

Today, a reversible speed electric hand drill is a normal tool, but 130 years ago, it didn’t exist.  All hand tools were manual. Speed differential depended on the operator, not drill mechanics. By adjusting the handle length and multi-position beveled gears, the drill speed and torque can be changed to suit the job at hand, bracing the drill against the shoulder or chest.

This 1880’s drill, featured in today’s sketch, was owned by William Rauschenberg’s great grandfather, W.T. Braswell.

nsl165_William Rauchenberg toolsRauschenberg uses tools from his “papa’s” tool box to create 3-dimensional works of art. The disassembled tools are decontextualized and transformed into bas-relief panels. The casting technique allows the viewer to appreciate the elegant form and ingenious function of each individual part of the hand operated and mechanical tools.

Papa’s toolbox and two of Rauschenberg’s casting are on display in this exhibit.

NSL165_FootrestsBootblack’s Foot Rest

Originally used at a shoe-shine stand at Grand Central Station in New York City, these foot rests were purchased at Donna Cashin’s yard sale before she and Marty moved south. Donna’s grandfather was a shoe-shine guy at Grand Central, and kept them when he retired. Donna was the school nurse at Nyack High School for many years, and Marty was a State Police Officer, who had a side job as the butcher at Reliable Meat Market when Al and Rhoda Fertile ran it.

Loaned to the Historical Society by Kathy Platy

A. Schechner, M.D.

Myra Starr’s parents moved to 103 South Broadway in 1930, the year her father graduated from New York Medical College.

NSL165_Dr SchechnerThey had the house at 146 South Broadway built in 1937/38, and her father, Dr. A. Schechner, practiced there until he died in 1967.

He was president of the Rockland County Medical Society, and later, Medical Director of Nyack Hospital.  He made house calls in the early days, and kept a general practice until the end, along with specialties in allergy and cardiology.

On display in the Nyack Toolbox exhibit are photographs of her family with the house/office in the background, as well as signs from her father’s practice and his sphygmomenometer and stethoscope, both in good condition.

Loaned by Myra (Schechner) Starr

NSL165_soldering ironsLouis Stein’s Soldering Irons

These are Myra Starr’s grandfather’s soldering irons (3) and a photo of him using them. The other photo is of the interior of his first shop in Nyack, the New York Radiators Works, at the southwest corner of Piermont Avenue and Burd Street, now a parking lot.  The building was first the site of the Rockland County Bank, built in 1860 by Azariah Ross, and the photo shows the decorative border and the bank safe.

Loaned by Myra Starr

Sally Savage’s Childhood Brownie

NSL165_Sally's Brownie“I loved this Kodak Brownie that my father gave me when I was fourteen, so when it became clear that I was not going up to Oxford or Cambridge to read history, my father said:  ‘you’ve got to choose a profession, ’ I chose photography.”  Thus began a successful career that has led to New York City, Piermont and Nyack, and to many other cameras.


NSL165_typewriterSteven Wexler (1945-2010) was born in Pearl River, grew up in Nyack, and moved to Tijeras, near Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was a teacher, carpenter and author, and typed early drafts of his book Scamming God on this typewriter before doing the final version on a computer. Typewriters, of course, were the main writing implements of our society throughout most of the twentieth century.

Loaned by Miriam Wexler

“A Nyack Toolbox – Implements from the Past” will be open through Sat., Nov. 29.  The exhibition is open to the public on Saturdays between 1-4p or by appointment. The Historical Society of the Nyacks Museum is located at 50 Piermont Avenue in the historic DePew House, across from Memorial Park. The entrance is under the front porch.  For more information, visit nyackhistory.org.

Special thanks to Win Perry and Jennifer Rothschild of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. 

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Tools of Many Trades” © 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: Halloween Edition: Hitchcock Meets Hopper in Haverstraw

Haverstrawby Bill Batson

This building in Haverstraw, the subject of Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting, House by the Railroad, maintains its vigil on Route 9W. Hopper’s haunting depiction of the three-story house came to the attention of the cast and crew of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie classic, Psycho. The painting inspired not only the design of the Bates Mansion in the 1960 production, but the mood of the film as well.

House by the Railroad captures the fading elegance of this victorian-style home, located just south of St. Peter’s Cemetery. His composition shows a solitary structure, cut off from the world by a set of railroad tracks. Today, the building is still visually incarcerated by a heavily trafficked road, power lines, a chain linked fence and the railroad that gave the original painting its name and theme.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 11.38.45 PMIn Hitchcock’s film, a newly constructed interstate highway isolates the Bates motel and mansion, stranding Norman Bates, portrayed by Tony Perkins, to stew in his psychosis.

During the 18th and then 19th century, the location of railroad lines and highways would pick economic winners and losers. If you didn’t have a trains stop or off ramp, businesses and families would relocate to towns more connected to regional transportation. Hopper’s painting and Hitchcock’s film reflect on how these abrupt disruption impact the human personality.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 12.11.48 AMIn 1919, Rockland County Attorney General, Thomas Gagan, bought the house. His daughter, Amo, lived there for 50 years. According to legend, as a 13-year old, she saw Hopper seated at his portable easel on the gravel sidings of the train track creating the painting that would become a masterpiece of American art and the prototype for an iconic image from American cinema. I chose the same perspective for my sketch.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 12.13.14 AMThe current owners have restored the exterior of the house to a pristine state that would have pleased Hopper and Hitchcock.  The lawn is manicured, the original clapboard and windows have been expertly restored.  With its widow’s peak, curved mansard roof, and shut blinds, I thought I had stumbled upon an architectural time capsule. The building came to life as the door swung open and I met the owner, Lori.

Lori and her husband, Edwin, are the loving stewards of this American treasure.  Edwin didn’t know the Hopper-Hitchcock connection when he acquired the property.  He soon noticed that cars would pull into his driveway to marvel in silence or snap photos of his house.  Now, reproductions of the Hopper painting, as well as renditions by friends and relatives, adorn the interior of the house (except in rooms formed by the hourglass-shaped roof with sloping walls that cannot accommodate hanging pictures.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 11.58.47 PMThe construction of railroads, highways and bridges have caused upheaval in American communities for over a century. In Nyack, a railroad has come and gone, one highway and two major bridge construction projects have taken homes, and our connection to the public transportation grid remains tenuous.

Thanks to the efforts of the Edward Hopper House Art Center, and artists like Kris Burns, who screened Psycho on the side of the Verizon building in 2012, the artist who was skeptical of the benefits of transportation developments, attracts the traffic of cultural tourists to Nyack.

On Friday, November 7 at 7p at the Edward Hopper House Art Center, artist Wendell Minor will discuss the process of creating “Edward Hopper Paints His World,” a picture book biography that introduces Hopper to the next generation. The Edward Hopper House Arts Center is located at 82 North Broadway, Nyack.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Halloween Edition: Hitchcock Meets Hopper in Haverstraw ” © 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: A Legally Haunted House

by Bill Batson

“As a matter of law, the house is haunted.” This sentence in a ruling by the New York Supreme Court in July, 1991 generated international headlines for a real estate dispute surrounding the sale of 1 La Veta Place. That a court entertained the notion that a house could be haunted has kept the debate alive, especially on the arrival of a full moon and All Hallows’ Eves. When I polled an informal jury of residents on La Veta, local realtors and Rockland’s own ghost investigator, Linda Zimmermann, their unanimous verdict surprised me.

Helen Ackley moved into the house at the end of La Veta Place in the early1960s. The imposing Victorian was built around 1900 and had been used as both a single family residence and a boarding house. Ackley, who shared the house with her children and grandchildren, reported to neighbors that her home was haunted. She described phantom footsteps, slamming doors and beds being violently shaken. Even though the stories that she told were unnerving, the Ackleys described a peaceful co-existence with the spirits, who reportedly left gifts. According to Ackley, the disembodied visitors were a Revolutionary War era couple, Sir George and Lady Margaret.

A neighbor who moved in a few doors down from 1 La Veta in the mid eighties was aware of the stories, but was always unconvinced. Any hint of skepticism did not stop Ackley from pitching her story to the media. Like any urban legend, the story grew with the oxygen of repetition and random events that seemed to buttress the original occult claim. When a relatively young and healthy guest at a dinner party at the Ackley home collapsed and died of a brain aneurysm, the story gained some creepy credence.

When Ackley decided to sell her home to Jeffrey Stambovsky in 1989, her ghost stories sank the sale.  After making a deposit, Stambovsky learned 1 La Veta Place was on a tour of haunted properties. It was as fact that Ackley failed to mention to the prospective buyer. In Stambovsky v. Ackley, New York’s Supreme Court agreed with the buyer that he had the right to back out of the deal because Ackley didn’t disclose any of the ghostly details.

Linda Zimmermann

The first person I approached to determine if the alleged apparitions existed was a former research chemist who has spent the last 15 years pursuing poltergeists as the Ghost Investigator.  Linda Zimmermann came to ghost hunting by accident. “Local history was a hobby. But at the end of my lectures, people started asking about ghosts and inviting me to visit their homes.”

I asked Zimmermann why La Veta Place had not made it on to her recently published list of the top 13 haunted sites in Hudson Valley. You might think it would be in her interest as a ghost hunter to keep the legend of La Veta place alive, but she was unimpressed. She told me that subsequent owners have reported no spectral sightings, something that current residents affirm.

Oak Hill Cemetery circa 1900

She does however assert that Nyack is the most haunted village in the most haunted county in New York State.  She attributes the ghoulish gridlock to the upheaval that has beset a region where an indigenous population with thousands of years of habitation was displaced by waves of Dutch and British settlers, and the military campaigns and practice of African slavery that they conducted. To Zimmerman, a haunting occurs when “a spirit is trapped due to some tragedy or an unresolved issue that is preventing them from letting go and moving on.” Our rich history of conflict makes Rockland ripe for incorporeal infestation. Among those places that make her list of local haunts are: Oak Hill Cemetery, Hook Mountain, Nyack Library, and nearby Mount Moor Cemetery, a final resting place for African Americans that was threatened with disinterment to make way for the Palisades Mall.

The monsters that once lurked in our psyche have become a potent force in our media. Vampires and werewolves are an adult and tween obsession and an ironic zombie was featured in a commercial for Starburst chewing gum. Thanks to Zimmermann, the “Walking Dead” are at our doorstep in her novel, Hudson Valley Zombie Apocalypse. But before Twilight, True Blood and Frankenweenie became franchises, there was the international publicity surrounding 1 La Veta Place.

After losing the court judgment, a disgusted Ackley moved to Florida. She was heard to declare that she was taking the ghosts with her. But the haunting of our popular culture creeps on. You might not believe in things that go bump in the night, but mere rumors of paranormal neighbors have created a genre that combines story telling, history and primordial fear, producing profits that are down right spooky.

Zombies, A Bag Beauty and the Bag Beast, A Monster Mash, And a Witchway 5K makes Halloween in Nyack a Horrifying Full House!

Zombie CrawlZombies Following Zimmermann to Nyack! Saturday October 25, 2014 5p

The first annual Zombie Apocalypse crawl is occupying Memorial Park. All zombies and zombie hunters are invited to join this crawl taking place right before the Halloween Parade. Based on her Hudson Valley Zombie Apocalypse novels, Linda Zimmerman is inviting the ambulatory undead to Nyack. All crawlers are asked to arrive at 4:30p and bring canned and non-perishable food items which will be donated to People to People. Memorial Park is located at Piermont Ave, Nyack. Visit CrawlOfTheDead.com for more information.

LAI_ruyle_Bag BeautySay No to the Bag, Feed the Bag MonsterSaturday, October 25 5:30p

If you are planning on attending the Halloween parade in Nyack, please bring your single-use plastic bags and feed them to the bag beauty and her escort, the bag beast. Volunteers from Keep Rockland Beautiful, Rockland Youth Environment Society, and Anthony’s Park Art and Re-cycle Center will collect and repurpose the bags. The tail of the beast and dress train of the beauty will grow as the problem of single-use bags is reduced. For more information visit saynotothebag.com. 

Witch Way 5kWitch Way 5K October 25: Saturday, October 25 9a

Registration is now underway for the Oct 25 Witch Way at 9a. The race will start in Nyack Memorial Park and will benefit the Nyack Center. There will also be a kids 1k fun run in costume! Register online at RaceAwesome.com.

Nyack Halloween Parade 2014: Saturday, Oct 25 at 5:30p

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.21.21 PMOur village is only second to The Greenwich Village when it comes to putting on a zombified to-die-for Halloween Parade. This year’s Nyack Halloween Parade will be held Saturday, Oct 25 at 5:30p. There’s still time to enter a float or create an original costume: there’s $2000 in prize money to be won! For details and registration forms, visit NyackChamber.org.

Monster Mash at the Nyack Center: After the Parade

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.19.51 PMImmediately after the Nyack Halloween Parade at about 6:30p families are invited to the Nyack Center for the eighth annual Monster Mash. It’s a great and ghoulish place to eat up, boogie and take part in spooktacular activities! Live music with Danna Banana.



Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: A Legally Haunted House ” © 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: Tourist Guide and Billboard Put Nyack on the Map

by Bill Batson

NSL91_Artists Put Nyack on the Map_Details

Propelled by an upcoming regionally distributed tourist guide and a strategically placed billboard on the upper west side of Manhattan, a coalition of business and civic groups is putting Nyack on the map.

More than 50 local business leaders attended a briefing by the Nyack Marketing Association at Nyack’s seaport on Wednesday, October 8. The group’s marketing director, Meg Mayo, presented an ambitious program, funded by local merchants, to bring more visitors to Nyack. “We intend to eliminate our best kept secret status,” said Mayo.

NSL162_On The MapOne component of the campaign is poised to reach a captive audience of millions. Mayo announced that the Marketing Association secured a billboard in one of the most sought after locations in outdoor advertising, 134th street and the West Side Highway near Fairway Market. For one month, grid-locked drivers will be tempted to consider Nyack as their next exit for a fall excursion.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 10.42.43 PMJust as commuters begin forming a notion of Nyack as a destination, the Nyack Chamber of Commerce is publishing a document that will seal the deal. On Wednesday, October 22, the Chamber will be release the second edition of their Map & Guide to Nyack. “We had such a strong response to the first map that we thought we should take the promotional vehicle on the road. We have more than doubled the circulation to 50,000 copies and expanded the distribution to southern New York State, Westchester and northern New Jersey,” said Scott Baird, Chamber President.

“We wanted a document that would be useful to first time visitors as well as long time residents,” said Baird. “Currently, tens of thousands of people visit Nyack each year for our street fairs, classic car show, year round farmers’ market, Halloween Parade, and our great shops and restaurants. We even get tourists from overseas to visit Edward Hopper’s childhood home and Carson McCuller’s grave in Oakhill Cemetery. Our combined, strategic efforts can make these numbers grow.”

Landmarks & Points of Interest Featured on Map & Guide

  • Carson McCuller’s House
  • Nyack Library
  • Nyack Center
  • Edward Hopper House Art Center
  • Pretty Penny
  • Cynthia Hesdra Way
  • Couch Court
  • YMCA
  • F.O.R. HQ, Shadowcliff
  • Historical Society of the Nyacks
  • Nyack Post Office
  • Old Stone Church
  • Van Houten’s Landing
  • Oak Hill Cemetery

Forty five advertisers supported the 2014/15 Map & Guide, an increase of 50% from last year. Map features include:

  • Local history resources
  • Local recreational information
  • Parking information
  • How to get to Nyack via car, bus, train and bike
  • Display ads and business listings
  • Universal list of businesses in downtown commercial district
  • Farmers’ Market guide
  • Landmarks and points of interest
  • QR codes that link to information about parking, the Farmers’ Market and the Nyack Chamber of Commerce

Map Cover RevisedI was one of three local artists commissioned to develop the Map & Guide:

Graphic Designer Loraine Machlin created the bold, colorful design and the easy functionality of the Map & Guide. For decades, Machlin has been the go-to-graphic-artist for many local non-profit organizations and arts groups.

Artist Kris Burns, who helped reinvigorate the legacy of Edward Hopper as the artist-in-residence at the Edward Hopper House Art Center and was the organizer of the Hopper Happens Festival, served as artistic consultant to the Map & Guide.

As the first artist-in-residence for the Nyack Chamber of Commerce’s Farmers’ Market and the creator of the Nyack Sketch Log, I was asked to coordinate the project, contribute my illustrations and writing to the map and serve as Managing Editor and Sales Director.

“Without our map committee co-chairs Annette Van Loon and Nancy Phillips, this unique collaboration between the arts and the commercial community would not have been possible,” said Baird. “The local economy will benefit from our Nyack Map & Guide, and the village’s reputation will be enhanced by the dissemination of this encyclopedic document.”

Starting on Wednesday, October 22nd, the Map & Guide the map will be available at:

  • Nyack Chamber of Commerce Members (look for a copy of the map in their window)
  • The Chamber of Commerce booth at Street Fairs
  • The year-round Nyack Farmers’ Market.
  • Or, contact the Chamber at nyackchamber.org or call (845) 353- 2221

 The Nyack Marketing Association, the group that produced the billboard, was founded by The Arts, Crafts and Antique Dealers Association (ACADA), Nyack Chamber of Commerce, Friends of the Nyacks, Nyack Hospital, Nyack Library and the Village of Nyack

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log Tourist Guide and Billboard Puts Nyack on the Map” ©: 2014 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: United Hospice of Rockland

NSL_UHR_Featured revisedby Bill Batson

The staff that work from this serenely situated suite of offices tucked away on a quiet cul-de-sac in New City have given great comfort to thousands. United Hospice of Rockland, Inc. (UHR) provides a wide range of services to individuals facing serious illness and their families. When my family was confronted with the challenge of making end-of-life decisions for two beloved family members, all of our most urgent personal and professional needs were met by United Hospice of Rockland.

Dame Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders

Hospice provides palliative care that not only eases the physical suffering of the patient, but also reduces the emotional and psychological stress of the caretaker. While the living have been called upon, since time immemorial, to witness their loved ones shuffle off this mortal coil, since the mid-20th century, the health care community has begun to pay more attention to the particular needs of the elderly and the terminally ill.

In medieval times, a hospice was a place of shelter for the weary or travelers who encountered medical misfortune on a long journey. British physician Dame Cicely Saunders first used the term in a clinical setting for her work with the terminally ill, creating the first modern hospice – St. Christopher’s Hospice – in London in 1948.

In 1963, Saunders was invited to lecture at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she introduced the concept of specialized care for the dying to medical practitioners in the United States. Six years later, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, published the seminal work, “On Death and Dying,” a book based on more than 500 interviews with dying patients.

United Hospice of Rockland

Executive Director Amy Stern

amy color photo

Amy Stern has led United Hospice of Rockland since 1989. She was hired in 1988 as their first social worker. Before UHR, Amy’s work included the establishment of a palliative care home care program at Good Samaritan Hospital and social work in acute care hospitals and foster care settings.

“We know firsthand from our observations and from what has been conveyed to us by patients and families that people reap the largest benefit from hospice when they access hospice services sooner rather than later,” Stern said. “We continue to be surprised by how many Rocklanders  are unaware of the services we provide or have inaccurate information about eligibility and the services we  provided. Studies have demonstrated that hospice patients live longer than  their counterparts that do not use hospice services.

Hospice care is not a death sentence.  We help to improve quality of life, reduce caregiver burden, and provide invaluable resources.”

For additional information visit United Hospice of Rockland.

By the late 1980s, there were three organizations attempting to offer hospice-like services in Rockland County. A strong desire to have a a true hospice organization, led these groups to form United Hospice of Rockland in 1988.

UHR envisions a community in which all individuals and their loved ones facing serious illness can retain their dignity and hope, while receiving quality care. UHR’s mission is to enable patients with advanced illnesses to live in comfort, and surrounded by those they love. The services they provide can take place in a patient’s home or at the Joe Raso Hospice Residence that opened in New City in 2012.

A patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness and have a six-month or less life expectancy to be eligible for hospice services. UHR works with patients and their families to develop a personalized plan of care. Guidance and support includes:

  • Nurses, including on-call nurses who are available 24 hours/day
  • Home health aides
  • Social workers
  • Physician care
  • Spiritual support
  • Nutritionist
  • Therapies (physical, respiratory, occupational, speech, music and massage)
  • Volunteers
  • Medications
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Bereavement counseling
United Hospice of Rockland_FAB

Frances Adeline Batson

Our family has prevailed upon the services of United Hospice of Rockland twice in the last four years. In our household, taking one’s last breath at home in bed is a time-honored tradition. My father, William Prime Batson, and his sister, Frances Adeline Batson, struggled to grant that wish to their mother, Frances Lillian Avery Batson.

When Frances and Prime, as their friends called them, requested that same consideration, my cousin Sylvia Peterson and I were compelled, by their example, to accommodate them. We both feel strongly that the services of UHR made it possible for us to fulfill that promise.

william prime batson

William Prime Batson

Since the cost of hospice care is significantly less than hospitalization, coverage is available from Medicaid, Medicare and most insurance carriers.

A team of people and a variety of equipment vendors helped transform a room in our home into a hospice setting. On a good day, that task would have been daunting. While overcome with despair, it would have been impossible. Hospice assumed the logistical and medical responsibilities, leaving our family to sit, dine and commune with our nearly departed.

If you want to be in the position to help ease the suffering of a parent and terminally ill family member, the time to act is now. If you want your wishes respected at the end of your run, commit those desires to notarized papers.

United Hospice of Rockland

Dancing with Our Stars

Join United Hospice of Rockland on Sunday, October 19 for their 2014 Gala at the Colonial Inn in Norwood, NJ. This year’s honorees are Rockland County District Attorney, Thomas Zugibe & family in memory of Dr. Frederick Zugibe and Vincent Abbatecola Jr. & family in memory of Vincent Abbatecola Sr.

Here is some of the local talent that will contribute to their theme “Dancing with Our Stars:”
  • Sharon Kantrowitz (dancing “One Night Only” from DreamGirls with Nolan Josephs from NY Dance Sport)
  • Lenny Birbrower (dancing “Mack the Knife” with Julia Ceccolini from Fred Astaire, Bardonia)
  • Sue Rutledge (dancing a contemporary hip-hop number with Michael Moraru from Fred Astaire, Bardonia)
  • Rob Fellows (dancing with Anna Moraru from Fred Astaire, Bardonia)
  • Rita Lombard (dancing “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge with Igor Sharapanuk from NY Dance Sport)

For tickets visit United Hospice of Rockland.

Legal and medical documents should be prepared in a timely fashion, while your loved one is of sound mind, or the patient and your family will lose control over major decisions. Make sure that older members of your family have a health care proxy, power of attorney and living will in place. UHR provides a free service to help families create and store their advanced directive online at assuringyourwishes.org.

No matter how prepared you are, the loss of a loved one is devastating. Being unprepared can expose the patient to unnecessary suffering and leave a family with a feeling of irreparable regret.

Three years and one month apart from each other, my father and his sister passed away in their beds, as they had wished. When the loss of a parent, a moment that we all dread, comes with such tranquility and dignity, the lingering impression is of your loved one slipping gently into the eternal slumber.

For those transcendent memories, we thank United Hospice of Rockland.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” United Hospice of Rockland” © 2014 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 



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