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 


Nyack Sketch Log: Authors of Children’s Books Built Fairy Tale Home

nsl160_haders_featured_revisedby Bill Batson

Once upon a time, a couple who wrote and illustrated children’s books built this fairy tale house. Berta and Elmer Hader used the materials they had in abundant supply: imagination, stone from the quarry on the property, marital bliss and a love for the environment. An exhibit in the display cases of the Carnegie-Farian Room of the Nyack Library explores their life in Grand View-on-Hudson and their internationally celebrated work as writers and illustrators. Nestled into the steep slope of a hill above the Hudson River, the house still stands as proof that dreams do come true.

For over 50 years, the Haders held creative court on Willow Hill. The couple met at an artists’ colony in San Francisco in 1912. When Elmer went to Europe to fight in World War I, Berta came to New York to work at McCalls and Good Housekeeping magazines.

A lifetime of Art

The art and literature of Berta and Elmer Hader


The main room of Nyack Library is depicted in Little Town

An exhibit entitled “Berta and Elmer Hader – A Lifetime of Art,” is on display in the cases adjacent to the Carnegie-Farian Room of the Nyack Library through November. The collection of books, text and images was curated by Pat Condello, Karen Kennell and Betty Perry.

The couple illustrated over 100 books, including the Caldecott winning “The Big Snow.”  John Steinbeck asked Elmer to illustrate the jacket covers for “The Grapes of Wrath”, East of Eden,” The Winter of our Discontent” and “The Long Valley.”

“Berta and Elmer Hader, A Lifetime of Art” (Joyful Productions, 2013) is available for purchase at the Circulation Desk of the Nyack Library for $25.

Berta and Elmer Hader’s “Mother Goose Picture Book” is also for sale for $20.

The couple married in 1919 upon Elmer’s return from the war. Berta wore a wedding gown embroidered by the daughter of writer Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Haders helped Wilder publish the first volume of her seminal series, “Little House on the Prairie.

In a column for a local charity journal in 1962, the Haders described their love- at-first-sight reaction to Grand View-on-Hudson. “Every bend of the road disclosed green lawns, flower gardens and clapboard houses – Many of them like pictures in Godey’s Lady’s Book (the most widely circulated magazine in the period before the Civil War)…We sat down to rest on a low stone wall, where we could see the river. A few young people in canoes paddled along close to the shore..we decided this was just the place.”

The land was purchased for a pittance because it was believed that the grade of the hill was too steep for construction. According to Grand View historian Terry Talley, “part of the down payment was paid by Elmer by doing a portrait of the lady who owned the property.”

Between 1921 and 1925, the Haders welcomed a steady stream of friends to help build their story book home. When completed, the dining room/studio was, according to various estimates, 60’ by 40′ feet with a 25’ ceiling. A stage was installed at one end of the grand room for skits, readings and musical performances. Apparently, Elmer did not require much convincing to produce and pick his banjo, that like his bohemian bungalow, was built with his own hands.

NSL160_Haders_Dinner Table

Illustration of a massive dining room table from “The Little Stone House: A Story of Building a House in the Country”

During the week, the stage served the Haders as their illustration studio. The light from floor to ceiling windows illuminated their work space. Even though the dwelling was designed for the artist owners, the accommodations were also ideal for their myriad friends, of both the human and woodland variety.

Interior features included seven working fire places and a table that could seat 25, where Berta would ladle out her famous soup. Nineteen bird houses were built into the exterior walls of the house, encouraging their avian acquaintances to linger and perhaps pose. A hand-fed baby bird became the muse for “The Friendly Phoebe.” Field mice, squirrels and chipmunks also got their own titles.

NSL160_Haders_The Big SnowThe vistas, neighbors, flora and fauna that the Haders encountered each day became the motif for over 100 books. Nyack is the template for a generic village depicted in their book, “Little Town.” In “The Big Snow,” two pheasants, who may have walked through Willow Hill are in the foreground of one panel, with geese in flight above the iconic silhouette of Hook Mountain in the distance.

NSL160_Haders_Stone House IIFor the Haders, the house was like a painting that never left the easel. It was a work in progress that was always being revised and refined. In  a 1950s letter the Haders wrote, “Life moves along in the same groove in Hader’s Hovel.  A nicely balanced diet of work and play and work keeps us a step ahead of the sheriff and not too busy on book work to prevent patching and repairing the little cottage we started to build a quarter of a century ago. Just a little progress since you last saw the place..we now have door knobs and locks on most all of the doors.  Our friends have to be taught how to use them.”

In the fantasy world that the Haders created and occupied, you can just imagine a possum reaching into its pouch to pull out a key that the couple provided their marsupial friend.


Elmer serenading a portrait of Berta

For fifty years, the Haders held their ground in their forested fortress of creativity. For forty years they produced a book a year for MacMillan Publishing. In 1948, they won the Caldecott award for “The Big Snow.”

Elmer applied the same zeal into the protection of the environment that he put into its depiction. Hader became a vocal environmentalist, serving as the Vice President of the Hudson River Conservation Society and Zoning Administrator for Grand View for over 40 years. On September 7, 1973 Elmer Hader passed away at the age of 85. His wife, Berta, died three years later at the same age.


Illustration of Berta and Elmer from “The Big Snow”

Sitting above a well traveled road, the home that Berta and Elmer built tells a story to all who pass. Anyone who catches a glimpse of the little stone house is entranced and transported. The stones that form steps, wells, walls and the dwelling seem assembled by playful hands. In a seasonal game of hide and seek, the main structure is camouflaged by a forest of maples, ash, oaks, aspens, pines and tall sycamores. The ground concealed by a carpet of honeysuckle, elderberries and vines. For people who slow down and look closely, the fairy tale house reveals itself, affirming the virtues of a life dedicated to fable-making.

Special thanks to Historical Society of the Nyacks for mounting this exhibit. 

 A Nyack Toolbox – Implements from the Past is currently on display at the Historical Society of the Nyacks Museum, 50 Piermont Ave. located in the historic DePew House directly behind the Nyack Library and across from Memorial Park. Implements in the exhibit include hammers, chisels, and drills as well as a doctor’s stethoscope, a pharmacist’s mortar and pestle, a bootblack’s footrest and machinists tools.  The exhibit features work by William Rauschenberg. Open Saturdays through November from 1-4p.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” Authors of Children’s Books Built Fairy Tale Home” © 2014 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 


Nyack Sketch Log: Congregation Sons of Israel

NSL159_CSI_Featured_Final revisedby Bill Batson

Families around the world will celebrate Jewish New Year on Wednesday, September 24. In accordance with the Hebrew calendar, synagogues will welcome the year 5775. As congregations ponder the passage of time and seek edification from the stories that inform their faith, a document published in 1991 by Congregation Sons of Israel offers a detailed and intimate account of the history of the Jewish community in Nyack.

NSL159_Nyack in the early 20th century

Nyack at the turn of the 20th Century

Written and edited by Myra Dembrow, “From Generation to Generation, One Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Nyack,” provides a splendid and sweeping
glimpse into the formation of  the congregation that now worships on North Broadway in Upper Nyack. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, the centennial journal explores the evolution of the congregation and their interaction with the surrounding community from 1891 to 1991.

NSL159_CSI Rabbi Lehrman

Rabbi Abraham Lehrman escaped the pogroms in Poland to become the congregation’s first salaried spiritual leader

Dembrow describes the late 19th century village that attracted itinerant Jewish peddlers from New York City as “a bustling center of commerce, lying as it does at one of the Hudson River’s premier harbors and the intersection of the only two roads that completely cross Rockland County, the roads that are now known as Route 9W and Route 59.”

One of these early arrivals was founding member of Congregation Sons of Israel, Abraham Meyer Brown, who opened a tailor shop in Piermont. In March of 1870, a space in Brown’s shop, which had relocated to Main St. in Nyack because of a fire, became the meeting place for the Jewish Society of Nyack. On August 22, 1891, that group incorporated as the Congregation of Nyack, B’nai Israel.

NSL159_CSI_The GoldsteinsAs the congregation grew, services were held in rented spaces and homes. The Sifrei Torah (the sacred scroll on which the first five books of the Bible are written) was carefully transported to the various venues each week. In 1907, Jewish women of Nyack established the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society of Beth Israel.” One of their early projects was to engage a teacher to teach children how to read Hebrew.

NSL159_CSI_Hudson Ave

Drawing by A. Bretschneider

Gert Goldstein Mages recalled being the only Jewish girl at Liberty School in 1914. When prayers were read, Goldstein was sent to stand in the hall.

By 1917, the nascent congregation invited a shochet (ritual slaughterer), Hyman Schwartz, to help the community observe Kosher dietary codes. Around this time, Gert Goldstein’s parents brought a family to America that was fleeing the pogroms in Poland. The father of that family, Abraham Lehrman, was an ordained rabbi and became the first salaried spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Nyack.

NSL159_CSI_Bar Mitzvah

Marvin Waldman’s Bar Mitzvah, November 1945

On March 2, 1920 the congregation acquired a parcel of land next to the library from Tunis Depew for $100. After four years of fundraising, a corner stone was laid at the corner of Hudson Avenue and South Broadway. The building was completed in 1925.


A Star of David can be seen from the rear of the building that now houses Berea Seventh Day Adventist church.

When the congregation changed their name to Sons of Israel in 1936, the Jewish community in Rockland County was still so small, congregant Charles Barracks claimed that he knew every member. The entire social and professional lives of many of the families who belonged to Congregation Sons of Israel revolved around downtown Nyack. “Everyone lived, worked and played together. There was no other social life, there didn’t need to be. The women would work all day in the family store, then spend the evenings at the synagogue, cooking, planning and meeting about one thing or another,” Kenie Mittleman remembered.

During World War II, Rockland County hosted Camp Shanks, the embarkation point for troops in route to fight in Europe. Camp Shanks did not have a Chaplain for Jewish personnel, so Jewish soldiers were brought to Nyack by truck to observe their faith.

Meet Rabbi Russo

NSL159_CSI_Rabbi Russo

Rabbi Ariel Russo came to Congregation Sons of Israel in July, 2014.

“I love Nyack. It’s an idyllic place. There’s breathtaking natural beauty with many nearby parks for hiking and a charming downtown that has an urban feeling to it. I have been completely welcomed and embraced by the synagogue community and the community at large,” said Rabbi Russo.

Rabbi Russo shared her excitement about programs at CSI that support mothers and families. “We have a  mom-to-mom support group, run by a congregant who is a doula, social worker and perinatal specialist. We are creating a Mommy and Me program on Tuesdays from 9:45 – 10:45.

And we also have a vibrant pre-school, Hebrew school and an adult education program with many different options for learning.”

Rabbi Russo hails from Cherry Hill, NJ. She moved to New York City for college and graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Double Degree Program at Barnard College and List College, with degrees in Psychology and Talmud.

Rabbi Russo received her rabbinic ordination, master’s degree in education, and certificate in pastoral counseling from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

The post-World War II economic boom and the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge brought a period of growth to the region and the synagogue. The congregation now had about 100 families. This was also the moment when seeds of dissension were planted in the congregation. In 1955, traditionalists held separate Yom Kippur services at a nearby church hall. Even though the rancor died down, a fault line that would eventually become a full blown schism had emerged.

The 1960s’ were a period of social activism around issues of racial justice in America. A bond was built between Congregation Sons of Israel  and the African American community in Nyack during the 19th century. Founding members Abraham Brown and Moses Oppenheimer were active in the underground railroad in the 1860s. One hundred years later, in February 1963, 70 members of St. Philip’s AME Zion Church worshiped at CSI in a race relations sabbath. Rabbi Krantz and his congregation were invited to a service on a following Sunday at St. Philip’s by Reverend McKinney.

Like much of the country, the 1960s were a time of tumultuous change, with trends sometimes going in contradictory directions. For CSI, plans to obtain a new building reopened an old rift.

In June 1964, having outgrown their aging temple on South Broadway and Hudson Ave, CSI sold the building to Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church for $70,000. A property on North Broadway was acquired, a colonial style mansion was demolished and new construction undertaken.

By March 1965, the congregation broke in two. Here is how Temple Beth Torah, the new synagogue that was created from the breach, described the moment of separation in a document published in 1990 commemorating their 25th anniversary: “13 families gathered in a south Nyack basement to organize Nyack’s second Jewish congregation…The first Friday evening services were held in Eugene and Evelyn Levine’s basement, led by a part-time Rabbi and Cantor. Later, services were moved to the Bobin Bungalow Colony. As to a permanent home, plans were soon afoot for the purchase of a wooded track on Route 9W and the original building opened in 1966.”

Fundraising for the Congregation Sons of Israel’s new synagogue on North Broadway continued despite the balkanization. Hyman Schwartz, the shochet who had arrived in Nyack before there were any synagogues in the village was among the first donors.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.17.14 PMThe stone sculpture that makes the  Congregation Sons of Israel one of the most distinctive structures in the region was designed by Connecticut artist James Hennessy. Hennessy was commissioned to create a work of art depicting the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The firm of Marchese and Hamersma of Clifton, New Jersey created the massive wall that tells the story of the tribes of Israel in stain glass.

While construction was being completed, services were held in a carriage house on the property that was converted into a house of worship by congregation member and owner of Rockland County’s largest construction firm, Harry Degenshein. At noon on December 19, 1965, after a traditional Chanukah candle was lit, a motorcade brought the sacred Torah scroll from Hudson Avenue to 300 North Broadway.

In keeping with ancient tradition, a procession of elder members of the congregation carried the scrolls around the makeshift chapel seven times before placing the Torah into a ceremonial ark.  Another Chanukah candle was lit as blessings were chanted inside this sanctuary, where Rosh Hashanah services will be held this Wednesday.

Special thanks to Alan Englander for lending me his copy of Generation to Generation, One Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Nyack.

L’shanah tovah!

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Congregation Sons of Israel “ © 2014 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 


Nyack Sketch Log: Grandmother Inspired Goodies, Now Gluten-Free

MostlyMyrtlesby Bill Batson

A woman standing in front of a motorcycle with a tray of cookies is the logo for Mostly Myrtle’s, the purveyor of gluten-free baked goods at the Nyack Famers’ Market. The image is an homage to the grandmother of Mostly Myrtle’s owner and baker, Debra Sadowsky.  In order to keep up with the public’s growing appetite for gluten-free products, the former Occupational Therapist bakes up to 600 muffins a week for markets throughout the region. Let’s take a spin on Mostly Myrtle’s metaphoric motorcycle to a grandmother’s kitchen in Kansas City to see where Debra’s journey to gluten-free baking began.

Who Was Myrtle?

Grandma Myrtle

Grandma Myrtle

She was my very beloved grandmother, a strong, vital, and incredibly wise woman who was determined to enjoy everything that life had to offer. She was worldly and ahead of her time. But she also had this warm soft grandmotherly side. Her arms were always open for a hug and her hands were ready to create a scrumptious meal, or best of all, to make her cookies.

Why did you portray her as a biker?

I decided that we would have a likeness of her as our logo, but I wanted something that portrayed her whimsical and adventurous persona.

I worked with a young man who was in my son’s high school senior class at the time and destined to follow his own dreams of becoming an artist. I told him I wanted her to be riding a motorcycle while holding a tray of cookies to show that she could do anything!

What is gluten?

Gluten is a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, rye,barley and spelt, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough.

Who needs to avoid gluten?

There are basically 3 categories of people who avoid gluten.

1. Those who have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which can occur in genetically predisposed people that creates inflammation in the small intestine, and damage in the lining preventing important components of food from being absorbed.

Symptoms include digestive problems, skin rash, musculoskeletal problems, tingling sensation in the legs and other limbs.

Research suggests that Celiac Disease occurs in as many as 1 in 100 people, however statistics are varied and researchers believe that as many as 2.5 million people in the U.S. may have undiagnosed Celiac.

2. Those that have the symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity but test negative for Celiac disease.

3. Those that choose to avoid Gluten for personal dietary reasons.

For more information on gluten sensitivity visit celiac.org

What do you remember about her kitchen?

We lived only about 10 blocks away from her tudor style “gingerbread” house in Kansas City, Missouri. She kept a key hidden in the little “milk door” in the back so even if she wasn’t home, I could ride over and find a tin of cookies somewhere in her kitchen or pantry.

Tell me about your work before you became a baker?

Occupational Therapy was my first love. I’ve always been drawn to the service and health arena. The holistic nature of Occupational Therapy fulfilled my desire to help people regain or attain their independence.

I worked as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in Adult Rehabilitation from 1976 to about 1985 and then moved to Pediatric OT, working with high functioning learning disabled students until 2007.

Mostly Myrtle_Deborah at workWhen did you launch Mostly Myrtle’s?

When I decided to create a company in 2002, I went knocking on doors to find a bakery that would rent me space to make my dream a reality. I was living in Long Island at the time. Best Bagels in Great Neck graciously welcomed me.

No one thought that this Long Island woman would be able to take the “heat” that baking offers up on so many levels. The kitchen had this cavernous rotating oven, in which, on the very first day, I dropped a baking sheet into the fire. Their baking supervisor had to reach into the actual flames to retrieve the pan!

MostlyMyrtles201207Rob, the owner was a mentor to me and tremendous support as I made my way into small business. We remain friends to this day.

I essentially knew nothing about commercial baking or about running a business either for that matter. I took a crash course in Entrepreneurism at the local Small Business Development Center and watched the bagel guys do their thing and just went in and practiced and practiced and practiced. I read about formulas and food science, joined a pastry organization, went to Trade Shows, and walked down every bakery aisle in every store in every city I traveled.

Soon, I was less and less involved in my job as an OT. My fledgling company required all my efforts, so in 2007, I took a huge breath and quit my day job. At first, we were called “Nanny’s Cookies LLC “ but I changed the name to “Mostly Myrtle’s.” After all, Myrtle was my grandma and I am mostly Myrtle!

Mostly Myrtle's Grandpa's Rack

Harry Rubinstein Card Rack

Tell me about your signature product?

It’s called a Biskooky. It’s a Biscotti/Cookie. In keeping with my grandma’s panache, we changed the spelling to Biskooky.

Didn’t your grandfather invent something as well?

My grandfather, Harry Rubinstein’s company was called Atlas Wire Products in Kansas City. He invented and patented magazine racks & post card racks that became the industry standard. I worked there a couple of summers. My job was to  manage the old-fashioned plug-in switchboard.

What are some of the lessons from Occupational Therapy that help you as a small business owner?

Understanding the need to move forward one step at a time towards ultimate goals and to appreciate successes regardless of the dimension.

How many muffins do we make per week?

Mostly Myrtle's MuffinsNow that our business has grown into the production of gluten- free products with an unexpected emphasis on gluten-free muffins, we produce about 500 – 600 per  week during farmers’ market season. We started with our zucchini, carrot, roasted apple, and blueberry muffins, which later became our Heavenly Harvest. We now have 8 varieties with additional seasonal favorites.

I love getting inspiration from the Farmers’ Markets. We took those scraggy bulbous looking rutabagas from the market one week and added roasted onions and organic rosemary and created our most exotic muffin: Rutabaga Rosemary.

Later we coupled sweet potatoes, organic kale and roasted onions for our Sweet Potato Kale Muffins. Our newest muffin is our Mango Raspberry.

Mostly Myrtle's Henry

Little Henry

Didn’t you recently become a grandmother? Would you want your grandson to continue the family business?

You must know that my heart filled with love when you mentioned my grandson.  And… I giggled at the thought of little Henry carrying on this specialty baking business.

He’s only 19 months old and he’s already calling Grandma Kooky.

Stop by Mostly Myrtle’s every Thursday and Saturday at the Nyack Farmers’ Market for a gluten-free muffin or Biskooky. Starting on December 4, the market will operate indoors at the Nyack Center.

Visit Mostly Myrtle’s for more information. 

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Grandmother Inspired Goodies, Now Gluten-Free “ © 2014 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 


Nyack Sketch Log: Nyack Yoga Center’s link to America’s First Yogi

NSL157_Nyack Yoga Centerby Bill Batson

Nyack Yoga Center has a direct link to the man who popularized Yoga in America. Paula Heitzner studied with Blanche DeVries, the wife and business partner of Pierre Bernard, America’s first Yogi . Bernard founded an ashram on the grounds of what is now Nyack College in the 1930s. On Sunday, September 7, Heitzner celebrated her 40th year as the owner and instructor at Nyack Yoga Center at the corner of Broadway and Main Street.

“Yoga has withstood the test time. When the flash in the pans peter out, we will still have the solid and the sacred studies given to us by the ancient sages-the systems that nourish every aspect of life,” said Heitzner on the longevity of the practice of Yoga. Heitzner’s confidence is rooted in her connection to a family that established the study of yoga in the US in an atmosphere of skepticism and suspicion. A path that began in India and stretched through Lincoln, Nebraska, New York City and Nyack connects Heitzner to the rebirth of Yoga in America.

NSL_Helen Hayes MacArthur_Oom

Pierre Bernard

A midwesterner with a flair for marketing and business savvy, Bernard was the nation’s first spokesperson for yoga, a practice first mentioned in the Hindu Vedas written 3,500 years ago. As his teaching captured the imagination of enlightened European and American elites, he became a victim of his own success. The newspapers of the Hearst organization, fueling a xenophobic reaction to a wave of immigration, led a campaign to destroy Bernard’s reputation.

Despite a sensationalized trial that reeked of prosecutorial misconduct and well-funded private investigations and smear campaigns, Bernard never relented. He continued to promote and teach a regime of physical and mental conditioning that consisted of a set of specific postures, deep breathing techniques and meditation. Over time, his position prevailed. Hearst headlines went from describing his practice of yoga as an attempt to seduce “Young Girls with Hypnotic Powers” in 1910 to “Helpful to Mental, Physical Powers” in 1935.

The man the nation came to know as Oom was born Perry Arnold Baker in 1876 in Leon, Iowa. In 1889, Baker moved to Lincoln, Nebraska next door to a Syrian Indian named Sylvais Hamati. Hamati taught Baker the physical and spiritual practice of yoga and it was said the student kept a picture of his teacher near him for the rest of his life.

NSL106_Blanche DeVries

Blanche DeVries, center

NSL106_CCCmap_revisedBernard parlayed the teachings of his guru into an empire of schools, clubs and publications that would make him millions of dollars and introduce America to yoga. But controversy accompanied each step of his steep ascent.

Most of the complaints from the public against Bernard reflected the anxiety Protestant America felt when confronted with the odd and revealing exercise costumes his students wore, and with co-ed classes, ethnic music and chanting that were a part of yoga. There were also constant rumors of orgies. Governments and religious institutions of the period were either hostile or suspicious of the foreign origins of his eastern philosophy. He was literally driven from San Francisco, Seattle and New York City by overzealous moralists using the media and public prosecutors’ offices to protect conservative western values from the threat of the popular alternative teaching.

With two streams of attention converging around Bernard — muckracking journalists and affluent truth seekers — The Omnipotent Oom arrived in Nyack. The sustained harassment after his 1910 trial made Manhattan unbearable and the patronage of Anne Vanderbilt allowed him to obtain the lease for an estate in Nyack. The Hudson Valley village offered a secluded destination that was still accessible by car, train and ferry.

Bernard’s Local Developments

  • The Clarkstown Country Club, a sprawling network of lodges, bungalows, recreation facilities, art studios, classrooms, sports fields and animal enclosures that attracted celebrities and wealthy yoga enthusiasts.
  • The Clarkstown Country Club Sport Centre including a baseball stadium that would host sellout games with 3,500 spectators.  He installed lights for the night games in 1932 that could be seen from as far away as Sing Sing prison.
  • Rockland County Airport, which opened on Memorial Day 1928. A crowd of 2,500 witnessed aerial stunts and took turns taking their first flights. Even though the United States Department of Commerce leased the field, the airport project never took off as a commercial venture.
  • The Clarkstown Country Club Menagerie (Zoo) was home to four elephants, ten ring-tailed monkeys (one of which escaped and startled CCC neighbor Rose Fruauf by climbing in her bedroom window), two mandrills, a Ilama, a lioness, peacocks, pea hens, a bull chimpanzee and a Canadian golden Eagle.
  • Projects that failed to launch included a dog racing track and a yoga-based training camp for heavy weight boxers.

Even though he was welcomed to Nyack by a state police raid shortly after his arrival, eventually, Bernard became a prominent citizen and a successful, albeit eclectic, entrepreneur.

Nyack resident and star of stage and screen Helen Hayes MacArthur recalled “During World War II we had a number of war relief benefits together, shows and sports events that scrambled local talent and Broadway greats into a tasty dish.”

Despite the substance of his economic, civic and philanthropic activity, the gossip pages never left Bernard alone. But the target of the negative press coverage was learning the irony of infamy in America. “Everytime they rehash the old junk about the club, its membership increases from one to two dozen members,” Bernard observed.

Pierre Bernard left his estate to his wife and business partner Blanche DeVries when he died in 1955. DeVries, who taught side by side with her husband for decades, left Nyack after his death to open a successful yoga studio in New York City. DeVries taught into her nineties and is considered by some the First Lady of American Yoga.

DeVries and Bernard would be pleased that one of their students, Paula Heitzner was continuing their tradition in Nyack. According to their biographer Robert Love, author of The Great Oom, “the real business was training the next generation of teachers.” Established in 1974, Heitzner’s studio, Nyack Yoga Center, is the longest running yoga studio in Nyack.

After the birth of her fourth child, Heitzner knew she needed to find a good yoga teacher.  That’s when she found Blanche DeVries. What Heitzner learned from Devires and fellow student Elizabeth Spohn were “intangible things, like how to carry oneself with intention and grace.” Simply by watching them and keeping a record of each class in her notebook, Heitzner built the foundation that would lead to an esteemed career as a yoga instructor’s instructor.

Paula Heitzner Featured Portrait

Paula Heitzner

In 1956, DeVries sold 19 acres to what was then called the Missionary Training Institute and is now Nyack College. The parcel, that fetched $250,0000, included a theater, assembly room, music room, bell tower, garages and the building in this week’s sketch, the clubhouse, where Bernard spent his last days. The structure is now a mens dorm called Moseley Hall, this week’s featured sketch.

Before his death, in a gesture that united his belief in physical fitness and his fondness for his home of 27 years, Bernard  bequeathed the lights that illuminated the night games at his Clarkstown Country Club to the old Nyack High School sports field.

With dozens of buildings that housed his classes and followers still standing, his stadium lighting piercing the night sky and a veritable yoga district stretching across downtown including a studio operated by one of his widow’s students, Oom survives: not omnipotent, but in Nyack, through the limbs of his legacy, omnipresent.

Nyack Yoga Center is located at 1 South Broadway. 

Special thanks to Win and Betty Perry of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. The Historical Society  has published a facsimile of the original 1935 publication of Life at the Clarkstown Country Club. Copies are available at the society’s museum in the Depew House behind the Nyack Library.

Robert Love’s biography of Pierre Bernard, The Great Oom, is a masterful portrait of the man and his times. Copies are available at Pickwick Book Shop.

Map photo: this mural, once located in the main club house lounge of the Clarkstown Country Club, was painted by Olle Nordmark via omnipotentoom.com

Portions of list Nyack Sketch Log were originally published on September 13, 2013.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Yoga Center’s link to America’s First Yogi” “ © 2014 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 



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