by Bill Batson
On the evening last July when a lightening strike set his patisserie ablaze, Didier Dumas was watching the World Cup at Avida. “I saw a flash and heard a sound like a bomb, and I said, ‘I am glad that didn’t hit my building.’” But Didier and his beloved French bakery had not escaped unscathed. “An employee came in a few minutes later and told me that black smoke was pouring through the windows.”
This Thursday, after eight months of renovations, Didier will reopen his eponymous eatery. “I always knew I was going to reopen. I thought it would be three months. But then we found one problem after another.”
“I want to thank everyone who wished me well,” Didier said referring to the multiple posts on social media that pined for the return of his pastries. “I went through some tough and stressful times. Reading what people said has helped tremendously.”
A few weeks from now, when his operation is back up and running, Didier plans on holding a grand-reopening party. “Everybody will be invited. It will be like Bastille Day.”
This interview, published six months before the fire, reveals the inspiration that fuels this pastry chef as he rises, pheonix-like, from the ashes. Discover Didier’s “je ne sais quoi” that kept a legion of loyal customers waiting for his doors to reopen.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a pastry chef?
That was as far back as I can remember. As a child in Marseille, I was always looking in the window of the neighborhood bakery wondering how they were making these cakes. The shop was owned by Mr. Zeppini. He became my mentor.
After growing up in New York City with a French bakery just around the corner, I’m happy to have Didier Dumas right down the street in Nyack. I have tried almost everything in his cases and it’s all delicious, from his small sized desserts to his wonderful crepes and sandwiches.
Didier proves it’s not location, location, location, — it’s product. If you serve something authentic, people will come.
Nothing had succeeded there until Didier opened. I have never seen a business do that well so fast, and in the process, he has extended Main Street.
This man, this artist, has the hands of Monet; with butter and flour and sugar rather than paint. He does for pastry in Nyack what Monet did for water lilies in Giverny!
I would make a special trip up to this ‘burb’ of Manhattan they call Nyack just to enjoy Didier’s again.
American Woman M from Yelp
Was there anyone else who inspired you to enter the culinary arts?
One person who inspired me was my grandmother. She was always baking something, flan, or pies or tarts. My aunt was also always baking at my grandparents farm. I started by baking cream puffs and puff pastries with her.
What brought you to Nyack?
I used to work and live in Westchester. I came to Nyack to study Kung Fu on Main St. I fell in love with Nyack. It felt like a friendly neighborhood with a lot of people always going out. I said to myself, ‘ a French bakery could be a nice addition to this lovely town.’
When did Didier Dumas open for business?
November 2006, a few days before Thanksgiving.
How is Nyack similar to where you grew up?
In French cities, you have a lot of different little neighborhoods; where you work, shop, and eat. Each neighborhood in the city is like a little village.
Nyack reminds me of some of the neighborhoods in Marseille. People in Nyack walk around and say hi. They know each other. They are very warm.
I didn’t have this feeling when I lived in Westchester. I lived there for seven years and needed my car for everything. After seven years, I didn’t really know anyone.
What is the biggest challenge of managing a kitchen and a business?
Trying to spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like to, without neglecting the other aspects of the business, like spending time with my accountant, doing some paper work, dealing with the employees, talking to customers.
I noticed a lot of young people work at your patisserie. Are you passing on your craft to the next generation?
I do my best to teach the people at the counter to be familiar with the product, to try the pastries so that they can answer questions for the customers.
In the kitchen, I have them for a few years so I am teaching them to be pastry chefs from the beginning. I try to show them the love in a job well done. I train them the way that I was trained when I started.
What are your favorite desserts to prepare?
I don’t have a favorite anymore. I used to when I was younger. What I like the most to do now in the kitchen is create new recipes.
Is there a new recipe that you are particularly proud of?
That would be my signature dessert, the Royal Chocolate Cake.
What are your favorite desserts to eat?
It depends on my mood. I eat a piece of pastry on a daily basis, sometimes a macaroon or a slice of cake.
What is the busiest time of the year?
The end of the year is the busiest time for me. It’s like a three course meal: Thanksgiving is the appetizer, Christmas is the main course, and New Years is dessert.
What have been some of the challenges to having a business above Franklin Street?
At the beginning, people told me that it was not a good location, that it was too far from downtown. I did not see it this way. I think if people know that there is a French bakery doing a good job they will come.
I like my location. We have become a destination. At evening time, it is more quiet than downtown. In the summer, there is not that much noise so you can sit outside and enjoy your pastry. We also have parking right across the street.
Several people that I have spoken to describe your bakery as one of their favorite things about Nyack. What are some of your favorite things about the village?
My favorite thing about Nyack are my customers. From the beginning they have always come first. I have made friendships. I have been invited to New Years parties, barbeques, and Easter dinners, especially when my family from France is here.
Welcome back Didier! Bonne Chance!
Photo Credits: Didier Dumas (Nancy Eisen), Fire (Bill Demarest)
Patisserie Didier Dumas is located at 163 Main Street in Nyack, NY.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Didier Dumas Redux” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
On June 16, 2012, over 100 artists flocked to Nyack to join the Flash Sketch Mob. Situated every 12 paces along both sides of Broadway from Cedar Hill to 2nd Avenue, two hundred hands worked in concert to create a composite landscape portrait of the village. The art works were scanned and projected on the side of a building that night, and added to a digital map. This June 20, the Flash Sketch Mob returns to add Main Street to this growing visual arts atlas of Nyack. Register today!
The goal of the Flash Sketch Mob is to produce a self portrait of the entire village of Nyack created by the residents. Artists of all skill levels and ages are welcome to participate.
The Flash Sketch Mob concept came from a boast I made in a column posted in October, 2011.
Like John Henry, I am at war with a machine. My antagonist is not a steam powered drill, but Google Maps. What my nemesis accomplishes through satellite surveillance and cars equipped with periscope cameras, I endeavor to create with my humble sketch pad and pen. Just like the hero of legend Henry, I will never, ultimately, outlast the machine. What I hope to do is to complete a visual record of every inch, object, vista and structure in my village that will remind us that handmade, no matter how much slower, shakier or flawed, has a greater intrinsic value than the synthetic alternative.
Once I got that hubristic rant out of my system, I realized that I needed one hundred John Henrys to create a representation of our one-square mile village that would rival Google streetviews.
The last Flash Sketch Mob included seasoned artists and the entirely unschooled. Many lapsed artists were encouraged to pick up their implements again. Taking the solitary practice of art making on to the sidewalk inspired many to keep creating. For weeks after the first Flash Sketch Mob, people were seen throughout Nyack engaging in landscape portraiture.
This second Flash Sketch Mob is part of ART WALK 2015, a three-day arts festival organized by Paulette Ross, owner of p.ross boutique. This will be the 10th anniversary of the village-wide cultural event. “This year’s theme, “10 to the 10th power…a decade of art,” can take you back in time or to the future,” said Ross.
Flash Sketch Mob schedule: Saturday, June 20, 2015
- 10:00a: mob at Weld Realty, 4 Park St. to receive grid assignments
- 11:00a: flash to assigned locations along Main St and sketch
- 1:00p: return to 4 Park St. so that art works can be labeled and digitally scanned
- 9:30p: View a pop-up projection of art work created at Flash Sketch Mob 2015 at the corner of Park and Main St.
In large part, the Flash Sketch Mob is an homage to the Hopper Happens festivals organized by Kris Burns. These public art events celebrated the legacy of Edward Hopper on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Edward Hopper House Arts Center. Hopper Happens included flash mobs, pop-up projections and readings.
The premise behind the Flash Sketch Mob is that the unexamined place is not worth inhabiting. Our careful examination and hand made reproduction of our built and natural environment will create a unique human record. As we sharpen our powers of observation, by joining the Flash Sketch Mob, or examining the perspective that dozens of artists will present of our village, we might become more aware of her needs and more zealous in her defense.
Flash Sketch Mob is supported, in part, by a Community Arts Grant, a local re-grant program of the Arts Council of Rockland made possible with funds from the Decentralization program of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Flash Sketch Mob Gallery 2012
The Flash Sketch Mob members that created this poster are: Barbara Caress (collage), Joseph Giannella (pen and ink), Sue Barrasi (acrylic on board), John Papas (digital art), Tracy Kachtick-Anders (acrylic on poster), Loraine Machlin (pastel on paper), Kris Burns (pastel on paper), Jack White (pen and ink) and Bill Batson (pen and ink).
The Flash Sketch Mob poster and logo was created by Loraine Machlin. The Flash Sketch Mob digital map was created by Ben Falchuk. The Flash Sketch Mob slide show was created by Kris Burns with a soundtrack by John Gromada. Photos by Ray Wright.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Flash Sketch Mob: 2015″ © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
The walls of the Art Cafe celebrate drawing, painting and photography. The building is an exquisite example of the reserved Italianate architectural style. The food gets great reviews from guests. In form and function, Art Cafe lives up to its name.
The eatery on South Broadway is a family business. The owner and manager, Dan Kramer, drew on the experience of his family to launch the business in 2006. Dan’s mother, who was born in Israel to a family that has been in Jerusalem for nine generations, learned the art of cooking and hospitality from her mother, Pnina. Dan developed his business sense from his uncles who run enterprises in Toronto and New York. The menu is based on the health-conscious diet practiced by his entire family.
When they first opened, Art Cafe occupied only half the bottom floor of 65 South Broadway and had barely enough space to hang an exhibit. But visual art was not the creative discipline that inspired the cafe’s name. The canvasses that Dan sought to display were the surfaces of the hot beverages that he served. Baristas in Israel had been making elaborate designs on the tops of lattes for a decade. Dan introduced Latte Art to Nyack.
If location is a major factor in the success of a business, Art Cafe is a study in being in the right place at the right time. However, the building had to be relocated for the alignment to be perfect. Originally built in 1871 for Elise Depew Stevenson across the street, this house was moved sometime between 1903 and 1910 to make room for the Post Office. Where it now sits, the building is bracketed between the library and the Post Office, two public institutions that attract constant foot traffic.
The cramped circumstance of their interior space was vastly improved four years ago when the business they shared the building with, Klay Gallery, moved, allowing the Art Cafe to expand into the entire ground floor. The final location blessing comes from being situated on the path of the great bicycle migration route that runs through the village.
Dan draws inspiration from his customers to percolate new ideas, as well as coffee. A regular series of evening programs, called Smart Cafe, was an outgrowth of conversations that Dan had with his guests. “I was so invigorated by the projects that people were telling me about, I wanted to share that energy and those ideas with others.” On February 17, local writers will gather on the back porch of the Art Cafe for an evening of literary sparks and conversation hosted by Seranam Literary Arts. Writers of all genres are invited to read, listen and enjoy. You can attend these literary workshops every other Tuesday in the back room of the Art Cafe from 7-8:30p.
Art Cafe is now open late night Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm to 1am. Art Cafe After Dark offers a speakeasy atmosphere that encourages guests to bring their musical instruments and give impromptu performances. Games are also available including Connect 4, Chess, and more.
The current visual art exhibit is from the Rockland Living Museum (RLM). RLM is an art therapy program based at Rockland Psychiatric Center. “We try to spread the joy and beauty of art-making and being connected to nature,’ said Chris Randolph, a licensed art therapist and the founder and director of RLM. The therapeutic benefits of the program are not limited to the participants. Spending a few minutes admiring the work by RLM artists is elevating and enlightening.
Music, workshops and exhibitions are however, the hors d’oeuvres and dessert. The main course at Art Cafe is the food and drink. The menu is inspired by the all-encompassing Israeli-Kibbutz style breakfast, a meal that includes juices, eggs, bread, salads with cheese dips and olive tapenades and of course, coffee. Art Cafe recently added craft beers and wine to their offering.
Dan thinks that American cafes have become like self-service filling stations, where people are moved through quickly with take-out orders in hand. He has modeled Art Cafe on the European cafe custom where patrons are encouraged to sit unhurried, and savor aromas, flavors and ambiance for hours, not nano-seconds. The result is a vibrant venue brimming with excellent food, fine art and compelling conversation.
To learn more, visit artcafenyack.com.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Art Cafe” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
Dr. Lori Martin helped erect this street sign that honors the memory of Cynthia Hesdra. When she published The Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra in 2008, Martin saved an important figure in local history from obscurity. On May 18, 2015, a monument in Memorial Park will be dedicated to Hesdra as part of a global initiative sponsored by the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road project.
Martin, a proud product of Nyack’s public schools, believes “we all have a responsibility to be historical detectives, whether it is for our own families or our communities.” This intrepid and inquisitive spirit led her to uncover the story of Cynthia Hesdra.
At the time of the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River, Martin was asked to draft a report on the economic contribution of blacks during the last 400 years by Dr. Susan G. & Dr. Edmund W. Gordon. Her findings were to be presented to a group of middle school students at Rockland Community College.
“Most of the research that I do involves poring through census data; it doesn’t involve getting into the lives of real people. But once I stared doing the research for this project, I kept coming across the Hesdra name. I became curious about the mentions of Edward Hesdra and that Cynthia was curiously absent,” she described.
The fact that Edward overshadowed Cynthia was inexplicable to Martin, because according to her trained eye, it was Cynthia that amassed all the wealth that the Hesdra family accumulated.
Cynthia Hesdra was born in Tappan in March 6, 1808. Her father, John Moore, owned mills along the Hudson. Newspaper reports during her life suggest that she was held as a slave. After her freedom was secured, she went on to own and operate a laundry business in New York City and to acquire properties in New York City and Nyack. Cynthia Hesdra is listed as a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad Encyclopedia by Mary Ellen Snodgrass.
“What was striking about Cynthia was her ability, and the ability of many other people of African ancestry, to move from being assets to asset owners,” Martin observed.
When Cynthia Hesdra died on February 9, 1879, she was reportedly worth $100,000, the equivalent of 2.3 million in contemporary dollars. Allegations of fraud and forgery in the dispensation of her will against her husband Edward led to the first application of a law that compared known and disputed signatures in New York.
One of the Hesdra properties stood at the corner of 9W and Route 59. The house was destroyed by order of the Urban Renewal Agency of Nyack in 1977, despite the objections of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. A historic marker on the spot mentions only Edward. Subsequent research suggests that this was not the house that Hesdra used as an Underground Railroad station.
In order to set the record straight, Martin approached the village in 2010 to temporarily rename Piermont Ave. between Hudson and Depew for Cynthia Hesdra. Nyack’s Trustees agreed. Nyack Center Director Kim Cross, who was in attendance at the Board meeting, was so moved by Martin’s scholarship and Hesdra’s accomplishment and marginalization that she asked the Village Board to make the designation permanent, a recommendation accepted by the trustees.
Martin and Hesdra Honored at Upcoming Events
March 14, 2015
the 11th Annual Women of Leadership and Vision brunch at the Nyack Center will honor both Dr. Lori Martin and Cynthia Hesdra In Memoriam. Judith Johnson and Dr. Sharon Quayle will also be honored.
March 14, 2015
The Historical Society of the Nyack will hold an opening reception for our exhibition: An Underground Railroad Monument Comes to Nyack: Honoring Cynthia Hesdra. The exhibit is being curated by Bill Batson and Jennifer Rothschild.
Afternoon dedication ceremony for the Cynthia Hesdra Bench by the Road in Memorial Park.
Hesdra owned two properties on Piermont Avenue. After consulting Rockland County Archives, Historical Society the Nyack President Win Perry described two of Hesdra’s holdings:
“Cynthia was living in New York City on November 24, 1837, when she made her first recorded purchase in Nyack, a 42-foot-wide lot on the east side of Piermont Avenue with frontage on the Hudson River, from her father’s partner, Peter Depew. She bought the lot in the name Cynthia Moore, so it was probably before she married. The lot is now known as 93 Piermont Avenue and is in the Village of Nyack, with the Nyack-South Nyack boundary running along its south side.”
“In 1842 Hesdra purchased another 42-foot lot on the south side of her first lot, and in 1853 she purchased a third lot south of the second. We know exactly where her property was located because this third lot adjoined Diamond Street to the south which led to the river and is now the site of the South Nyack pumping station. These two purchases were also from Peter Depew, but this time she made them in the name “Cynthia D. Hesdra of Nyack”, indicating that sometime between 1837 and 1842 she married and moved to Nyack, perhaps building a house at 93 Piermont Avenue since no other purchases by her or Edward are recorded during this period.”
It is more likely that Hesdra used the 93 Piedmont Avenue location to assist escaping slave make there way to Canada, and freedom.
In August 2013, Martin took a position as Associate Professor at Louisiana State University. Her recent publications include Black Asset Poverty and the Enduring Racial Divide and Out of Bounds: Racism and the Black Athlete, a collection of essays that explores how racial ideologies are created and recreated in all areas of public life, including the world of sports.
After a dilapidated structure that Miltof had tranformed into an Underground Railroad shrine was demolished in 2014, the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees created a committee to establish a permanent monument to the presence and experience of the African American community in Rockland County. The goal of the committee was to develop a substantive display that would accommodate individuals and families who might want to comfortably linger to reflect on and celebrate local African American history. Dr. Martin submitted a proposal to the group in May, 2014.
Martin’s research formed the basis of the successful application that the committee made to the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project. On August 1st, Nyack was selected to join over a dozen other communities that host benches including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, Oberlin, Ohio, Concord, Massachusetts, Fort-de-France, Martinique and Paris, France.
For more information about the Nyack Bench by the Road, or to donate, visit nyackbench.org.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: cholar Puts Local History on the Map” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
Elegant hats have become the symbol of local civil rights icon Frances Pratt. But when she arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City 62 years ago, she wore a borrowed dress and shoes too tight for walking. On Thursday, April 16, Pratt will officiate the 56th annual Freedom Fund dinner for the Nyack branch of the NAACP at the Pearl River Hilton. From head to toe, France Pratt’s personal story is as bold and compelling as her sartorial style.
Pratt grew up with her mother, four sisters and two brothers in rural South Carolina. An incident from her early childhood shaped her future activism. “I walked into an ice cream parlor with my mother and the clerk said, ‘You can buy the ice cream, but you have to eat outside.’ I had never seen my mother demeaned in that way. If she had spoken up, the clerk would have called the police.”
In May, 1955, Frances, who was attending Friendship College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, learned that she would not be returning to school. “My mother sat me down and said ‘you are going to have to go to work for a while,’” Pratt recalled. “My brother Billy Powell and my mother were not well.” With the support of a teacher, Pratt found a potential employer in New York who would pay her $40 per month that she could send home to support the family. She first had to travel to Clover, South Carolina to pick peaches to raise the $17.50 for her bus fare.
Two years after arriving in New York City, Frances moved to South Nyack into the home of new husband Marshall Pratt. “I met Marshall in Mount Morris Park in Harlem while I was on a field trip with a group of children,” said Pratt. “I was working for a nursery school founded by Dr. Thelma Adair, the first women to serve as an elected Moderator for the Presbyterian Church. Marshall declared that he wore out four tires circling the park trying to see me again. When he found me, we made a date.”
When Pratt came to Nyack, she dreamed of attending the missionary program at Nyack College. “I wanted to go to Addis Ababa in Africa.” But responsibilities to family required that she find a way to serve the world closer to home, so she enrolled in Rockland Community College where she obtained her degree in nursing. Pratt went on to work at Nyack Hospital for 53 years, holding titles including Head Nurse of the Emergency Room and the Office of Employee Health.
This week’s sketch is based on a photo that currently hangs in the emergency room lobby of Nyack Hospital. The lobby as well as a scholarship and a Peace Rose Garden were named in her honor when she retired.
With her typical combination of candor and comic timing, Pratt remarked at the dedication ceremony, “What I appreciate most about this recognition is that it is not about the late Frances Ethel Powell Pratt. I can actually read the plaque and smell the roses!”
In 1981, Pratt was elected President of the local branch of the NAACP. On Thursday night, April 16, Pratt will host the organization’s annual fundraising gala at the Pearl River Hilton. While all eyes will be focused on this year’s keynote speaker, Reverend Curtis Everette Gatewood, a member of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and a founder of the Moral Mondays Movement, people will find it difficult to turn away from Pratt, who always appears in a hat more spectacular than the one she wore the previous year.
Pratt credits her husband Marshall, who passed away in 2002, for her memorable hats. “My husband designed all my hats. He was a talented artist and would always design my hats and coordinate my outfits.” Pratt’s collection of 250 chapeaus were on display at RCC in 2005 for a fundraising event for the NAACP.
One of Pratt’s greatest legacies might be the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program that has taken place at Pilgrim Baptist Church for the last 31 years. The interfaith, racially diverse event is consistently a standing room only affair.
Freedom Fund Dinner
On Thursday, April 16, at 6:30p, the Nyack Branch of the NAACP will hold their 57th Freedom Fund Dinner at the Pearl River Hilton.
I am humbled to be one of those honored this year. Please join me for a compelling program that features Keynote Speaker, Reverend Curtis Everette Gatewood. Rev. Gatewood is a member of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and works closely with Rev. William Barber II, the founder of the Moral Mondays Movement .
2015 Freedom Fund Dinner Honorees
- Apostle Dorian Elizabeth Alston
- Josephine A. Bailey
- Bill Batson
- John Castellano
- Pastor Mireille R. Desrosiers
- Dorothy Harris
- Barbara S. Williams, MSW
To purchase tickets contact Voncile Oliver at (845) 268-6626 or Maria Whittingham at (845) 664-8492.
“Frances Pratt is one of the most decent, thoughtful people I have ever known. Her fight for the rights of all and her clarity and fairness in pursuing those rights is astounding,” said Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White.
Pratt’s organizing style is as subtle as her fashion sense is striking. Most people who organize large public events always include themselves on the program, but that is not Pratt’s predilection. But even as she reserves the limelight for others, for many, Pratt’s aphorisms are as memorable as her accessories. When Pratt sets the agenda, her guests get the last word. Today, however, this Nyack Sketch Log will end with a few classic Prattisms:
If you see a turtle on a fence, you know he didn’t get there by himself. None of us got to where we are without help from someone else.
Your pennies you got to watch, the dollars take care of themselves.
You ain’t never seen a U-Haul following a hearse.
Public remarks should be like a lady’s dress…short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject.
Special thanks to Doria Hillsman for the hat photo and Dr. Lori Martin and Paul Adler for sharing some Prattisms.
Hat collecton photo credit: Lloyd Stansbury
France Pratt photo credit: Paul Adler
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: NAACP President Frances Pratt” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
Legend has it that when Helen Hayes MacArthur first saw this fine example of Italianate architecture on North Broadway, her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur told her the house would cost them a Pretty Penny. The name stuck. From 1934 until 1990, the actress who was known to the world as the First Lady of American Theater lived here in the Village of Nyack as a mother, wife, neighbor and civic leader –not as a celebrity.
The Hayes Era Ends on Broadway
When the Second Stage Theater finalized their purchase of 240 W. 44th Street in Dec. 2014, they announced that naming rights for what has been the Helen Hayes Theater would be for sale. Hayes has had top billing on that marque since 1982. Before that, a theater at 210 W. 44th had been named Helen Hayes since 1955.
To place her talent in perspective, Hayes is one of only twelve artists that have received all the major performing arts awards. Hayes has won; an Emmy in 1953 for Best Leading Actress in “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars,” a Grammy in 1977 for her recording of The Bill of Rights, an Oscar in 1932 for Best Actress in “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” and a Tony in 1947 for Best Actress in “Happy Birthday.” The term to describe this full-house of entertainment accolades, EGOT, was coined by Philip Michael Thomas, Tubbs from Miami Vice.
For several decades, Mrs. MacArthur, who insisted on being referred to by her married name, was an active member of the Thursday Reading Class of Nyack-on-Hudson. The class, that gathers each month at a different member’s home, has been meeting regularly since 1887. In Mrs. MacArthur’s day, participants made formal presentations to the group on a topic of public interest, assigned by the program committee.
This week’s sketch log is composed almost entirely from Mrs. MacArthur’s remarks from a Thursday Class meeting held sometime in the 1980s. A transcript of her speech, along with other extraordinary documents and artifacts, can be found in the Local History Room of the Nyack Library.
Our Courting Days
“During our courting days, Charlie liked to bring me, on a Sunday afternoon, to Tarrytown by train and then by the little snub-nosed ferry to Nyack – a good half hour’s river trip, complete with Italian serenaders, accordion, violin and tenor. Just right for lovers.
On our first visit we went directly to the frame house on South Boulevard which had been the last home of the MacArthurs as a family. It was near the Missionary Institute where the Rev. William T. MacArthur had been a preacher in residence and a mighty stirring one from all accounts.”
Starting a Trend
“We brought friends who would have us clinging with them to Long Island. We lured them with picnics by the river. Once they saw our future estate, they were invariably filled with wonder and envy.
Forces of Magic
“As we passed along South Boulevard, our progress was slowed to a crawl by four elephants, shuffling down the center, tail in trunk. They seemed to be alone and they seemed to know where they were going and seemed bored. That was the first inkling that we had that this was no ordinary, old-fashioned, small river town. There were forces of magic in our river valley. I had become so bemused by all that had come to pass in that day that my instinct was to ignore the whole thing and put those pachyderms down to an aberration, but Charlie, with his reporter training, had to track down the story.”
Oom, the omnipotent
“That is how we became acquainted with Dr. Bernard, ex-barber from Brooklyn, and then Oom, the omnipotent, the yoga big-wig. His Clarkstown Club was a huge compound, teaming with seekers after health and spiritual awareness. There was also a good sized menagerie. During world War II we had a number of war relief benefits together, shows and sports events that scrambled local talent, Broadway greats into a tasty dish.”
When the officers arrived at poolside
“There was a night when a neighbor, who had never relaxed her vigilance on behalf of the community’s propriety, registered a complaint to the Nyack Police.
Charlie and I were giving a bridesmaids’ dinner for the daughter of beloved friends. It was a warm June night and sometime quite late the wedding party donned the bathing togs we kept for guests and plunged, whooping and laughing, into the pool. The lady to the north phoned the station house and reported an orgy in progress. When the officers arrived at poolside, they were greeted by the bride-to-be, Bobby Boll, and the Bridegroom-to-be, Lew Herndon, and the wedding party, made up mostly of Nyack’s old families. Red-faced the police retired with the admonition, ‘Keep it down Bobby.’ Poor dears, those cops had missed out on a night when Katherine Hepburn, in bra and shorts, had given a superb exhibition of diving in the pool.”
Today’s sketch is not from life, or a photo, but from Edward Hopper‘s 1939 painting. Hopper was reluctant to accept the commission, considering the assignment ‘tradesman’s’ as opposed to ‘fine art’ work. The painting that Hopper produced is almost light hearted, a radical departure from most of his canvases.
If you would like to learn more about Helen Hayes MacArthur, visit The Historical Society of the Nyacks exhibit “Helen Hayes, the First Lady of Nyack,” on display in the Nyack Library’s Carnegie-Farian room (Broadway entrance). The exhibit, on display through March, explores the varied works of Helen Hayes, including theatrical playbills, books that she authored, news articles about her, photos of both the actress and her Nyack home, and text describing her life.
This display can be viewed during the Nyack Library’s hours of operation, listed at nyacklibrary.org. For more information about the Historical Society of the Nyacks and to become a member, please visit nyackhistory.org.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Helen Hayes MacArthur” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
There has been a health food store at the corner of Main Street and Broadway for over 30 years. The current incarnation, Sweetpea’s Market, is owned by David Collins. When not organizing Nyack’s annual Halloween Parade, or serving as the treasurer for the Nyack Chamber of Commerce, David can be found behind the cash register or stocking the shelves at his organic grocery store and restaurant.
What was your earliest health food store experience?
While awaiting a ride to rural Virginia to live in an ashram, I bagged bulk fruits and nuts at the health food store owned by that community. That was 30 years ago.
When did it become necessary to declare some food healthier than other food?
As I understand it, what we call conventional agriculture has only been around since the early 1900’s, when synthetic fertilizers began to be created. That could be considered one starting point. Additionally, the creation of interstate highways led to a boom in “fast food” production, helping move society away from traditional meals cooked with simple ingredients, to heavily processed, marginally healthy convenience meals.
What are some of your personal nutrition and dietary practices that your customers might want to follow?
I am a poor example to follow, although for 30 years I have eaten primarily foods from stores like my own. Critically, I encourage everyone to be careful when eating out, especially when ordering animal products, as easily 75% of antibiotic production is for use on the animals we eat! Additionally, a primarily raw foods diet for a few weeks can do wonders for weight loss and energy gain—if only I had the will power to do this more frequently.
You serve on the Chamber of Commerce helping manage the Farmers Market and the Halloween Parade. Where did you develop your interest in civic participation?
It’s funny, a fellow board member pitched my role on the Chamber as “consultative.” I quickly found that was not the case, yet once I got involved with direct projects, such as the Halloween parade, it showed me how great it feels to volunteer alongside so many other enthusiastic colleagues—and let’s face it, for all the hard work, when the parade steps off, it is awesome, and very gratifying to have played a part.
What brought you to Nyack?
As an account representative for a natural foods distributor, the then “Born of Earth” was a store on which I called, and I fell in love with the village from there.
Who is Sweetpea?
Andrea Cerullo, my beautiful girlfriend of nearly nine years, and a key provider of our delicious prepared foods.
What are some of the challenges of running a health food store?
In my case, adapting to a changing marketplace and economy. In general, keeping a business like this fresh and exciting is an ongoing challenge for most store owners.
How are you different from the bigger, retail health food stores?
In the positive sense, we can respond to trends faster, are often the ones who develop independently owned, smaller companies’ products, and particularly are able to provide more personalized service than larger stores.
How is the health food business different today than it was ten years ago?
Organic agriculture and awareness has increased several orders of magnitude, to the point where local drug stores and filling stations routinely stock organic milk and eggs. There is a much larger internet presence for these products as well, combined with door-to-door delivery options.
Are there any trends in health food that you are excited about?
While the non-GMO debate interests me greatly, I am actually more excited by the move to recognize fairly traded items on a large scale. Continued moves in this direction help ensure a fighting chance for farmers in the countries where many of our commodities are grown, such as coffee, chocolate and sugar.
Are there any trends that concern you?
I suppose the not so new “trend” of large companies to lobby for diluted agricultural standards and practices, especially as regards the organic label. Likewise, while I do not know if Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products themselves are dangerous to humans, the concept of developing a product that can withstand even larger applications of toxic pesticides is quite unnerving to me.
What should a consumer expect from something labeled organic?
Generally, the food so labeled will be grown without the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. Ideally the grower will move beyond that to encourage minimal erosion of topsoil, as well as crop rotation and diversity. The big three no-no’s remain no irradiation, no GMO’s and no human sewage sludge as a fertilizer (yes, it happens in the conventional world.)
What are some of the more popular items on your restaurant menu?
Tuesday’s Eggplant Parmigiana is the clear winner, followed closely by Friday’s Macaroni and Cheese. Our soups move quite quickly as well, especially now!
Some of the soups we serve are Black Bean, Chicken Vegetable, Red Lentil Cilantro, Chicken and Butternut Squash, Herb Vegetable, Vegan Chili with Quinoa, and Bison Chili.
Do you deliver?
We did just start testing a delivery program, and are eager to expand it further. We are still working out the details, and certainly would like more “beta testers.”
You can find out the daily special by visiting Sweetpea’s Facebook page.
Sweetpea’s Market is open Monday through Friday from 8a until 7p, on Saturdays from 9a-6p and on Sundays from 10a – 6p.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Sweetpea’s Market” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.