by Bill Batson
Cemeteries were segregated in America until the mid-20th century. Even black veterans of America’s armed conflicts were dishonored when buried. Today, Mount Moor Cemetery stands as a monument to the twisted logic of racial discrimination. But the cemetery of approximately 90 veterans and civilians also serves as a symbol of perseverance and defiance. The gravestones at Mount Moor endure, despite the initial efforts of the developers of the Palisades Mall to obliterate the burial ground.
(l.-r.) Hezekiah Easter Jr., Ruth Easter, Hezekiah Easter Sr.
The exploits of men who fought and died to preserve a democracy that did not grant them citizenship is one of the greatest tales of self-sacrifice in American history. Hollywood attempted to tell the story in the 1989 film “Glory,” staring Denzel Washington. However, our monument to this expression of epic heroism, Mount Moor, would not exist if not for a hometown hero, the late Hezekiah Easter, Jr.
United in BattleDivided in Burial
There are 28 Civil War veterans known to be buried in Mount Moor. They served in the 26th and 45th New York Regiments of Colored Volunteers and the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was the regiment that was recognized for their valor in the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina on July 18, 1863, the battle that was depicted in the movie “Glory.”Daniel Ullman, one of the Union Army officers who convinced President Abraham Lincoln to mobilize African America troops during the Civil War, is buried in Nyack’s Oak Hill Cemetery. He organized five regiments known as the Corps d’Afrique and was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General.
Hezekiah Easter, Jr. became the first African American elected to public office in Rockland County when he won a seat on the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees in 1965. His connection to Mount Moor Cemetery was deeply personal. In 1945, he helped bury his brother Linwood, who died from a ruptured appendix at age 15. His father, Hezekiah Easter, Sr., a World War I veteran who owned a wood yard near the cemetery, was buried there in 1986. If the developers of the Palisades Mall had had their way, Hezekiah Easter, Sr. would have been the last burial at Mount Moor.A copy of Mount Moor’s successful application for placement on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places documents how the cemetery was a significant landmark for a black community that has called Rockland County home for over three hundred years.The recorded presence of African Americans in Rockland County began at the same time that Europeans arrived in the region. African slaves and free blacks were a part of the Dutch community that settled here in 1687. According to census records from 1723, nearly one fifth of the 1,244 inhabitants of the county were African slaves. Mount Moor was established in 1849, 22 years after the New York State Legislature abolished slavery in 1827 and 13 years before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.James and Jane Benson deeded the land that became Mount Moor Cemetery to William H. Moore, Stephen Samuels and Isaac Williams on July 7, 1849. The land was purchased for the purpose of creating of a non-denominational final resting place for black families that were excluded from cemeteries where whites were buried. The name of cemetery captures the rugged topography of the location and the language of racial exclusion. The property is a wedge-shaped parcel on a steep hill and the term Moor was commonly used in the 18th and 19th century to described people of African descent.The area around the cemetery had been, until recently, undesirable marsh land. So much private and commercial refuse was dumped nearby, the site was eventually dubbed Toxic Alley. Lacking the revenue and resources of traditional cemeteries, and with only a meager budget for maintenance, the grounds became overgrown. A lack of complete records and missing headstones have made determination of the exact population of the cemetery impossible.
The cast zinc obelisk monument that is the subject of this week’s sketch is an example of the funerary arts that helped secure Mount Moor a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Also called a catalogue monument, the ornate marker elegantly records evidence of life, death and tragedy. Two of the people buried under the tall metal sculpture died as children, one as a young adult. This is also the resting place of one of the Civil War veterans, Samuel Gulfield, Private Corporal in the 26th Regiment and his wife, Christina.
- Gulfield, Charles P.4/18/1873 – 8/26/1877
- Gulfield, Christina1/29/1841 – 3/1/1907
- Gulfield, Jane F12/9/1870 – 8/24/1884
- Gulfield, Samuel10/14/1831 – 5/18/1886
- Gulfield, Susan O2/4/1863 – 7/28/1884
In 1940, a group of leading African American Rocklanders established the Mount Moor Cemetery Association to maintain the burial ground. The first president was Rev. William Clyde Taylor, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church. Hezekiah Easter, Jr., who had been elected to the Rockland County Legislature in 1970, became president of the association in 1977.Easter’s tenure as President of the Mount Moor Association coincided with the beginning of the battle against over-development chronicled in the documentary film Mega Mall. A Syracuse, New York based developer, the Pyramid Companies, announced their plan to build the second largest shopping mall in America next door to the cemetery in 1985. Using his extensive experience in public office, Easter sought to secure local, state and federal recognition of the historically important site. As a World War II vet, Easter helped coalesce support of his brothers-in-arms to protect and maintain the site. Veterans from every major American conflict are buried in Mount Moor including the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and II and the Korean War.Even though the Pyramid Companies had amassed their own army of lawyers and public relations specialists to overcome community opposition to the mall, Easter did not relent. Joined by his colleagues Jacqueline L. Holland, Leonard Cooke, Wilbur Folkes, Charlene Dunbar, Bea Fountain and their attorney Alicia Crowe, the group stood their ground, even when confronted by bulldozers and belligerent security guards.“The families told me they did not want the Pyramid Companies to dig up their ancestors,” said Attorney Crowe. Proposals from the company included burying the plots under 100 feet of soil or disinterring the bodies for reburial elsewhere. “We were not going to allow them to disturb these rightful resting places in order to accommodate more parking spaces,” Crowe recalled.At a meeting at Depew Manor in 1994, a representative of the Pyramid company surrendered to the group’s demands. Once it was granted a place on the Federal Register, the cemetery could not be buried or dug up. The Pyramid company agreed to construct a fence around the original wedge-shaped survey lines from the 1849 deed, and also agreed to maintain the grounds of the cemetery.There would also be one final tombstone.On March 13, 2007, Hezekiah Easter, Jr. was laid to rest beside his brother and his father. The man who saved the cemetery is the last man buried at Mount Moor. A parking structure and the facades of box stores loom in the distance, held at bay by a solider and statesman who will forever keep his silent and solemn vigil over these hallowed grounds.
Color photos by Jennifer Rothschild
Special thanks to Brian Jennings, the Local History Librarian at New City Library.
by Bill Batson
“Dying to Bloom is the first of its kind – Natural Burial Boutique!” According to owner and green burial advocate Kerry Potter. The retail store at 48 Burd Street in Nyack specializes in natural burial products for people and pets. Items include biodegradable caskets, urns, cremation jewelry, tear bottles and unique sympathy gifts.
This week’s Nyack Sketch Log interview with Potter explores issues that are both of public interest and deeply personal. The weight of the ecological and economic implications of funerals and burials are shattering the taboos that prevent candid conversations about death. For those ready to confront the inevitable, Dying to Bloom has options for those who want to be better custodians of the planet that we all inherit and must bequeath to future generations and for people looking for alternatives to the traditional funeral service industry.
What’s the definition of a green burial?
A green burial is returning to earth naturally, which means a body is buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud without embalming. It is going back to they way we used to bury our deceased and it is the most environmentally considerate way to go. This is in contrast to being embalmed with formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), sealed in a steel or varnished wood casket, placed in a leak-proof concrete vault.
Are green burials an option for low-income families?
Absolutely! The average funeral costs approximately $10,000. By foregoing the embalming process, which usually means forgoing a viewing of the deceased (a funeral home rule) that cuts on the expense. In addition, many green cemetery plots are more affordable. Greensprings in Newfield NY is an amazing majestic natural cemetery with plots costing $1,000. Rosendale Cemetery in Rosendale, NY is a hybrid that offers plots for $800. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and Maryrest in Mahwah also have natural sections. Dying to Bloom sells simple white cardboard caskets that can be painted or decorated by the family for $365. We also have shrouds, hand woven willow caskets, simple pine and artistically made Greenman Casket (which is poplar bark with a live edge cherry lid). You do not need to purchase the casket from the funeral home. Even though it is an emotional purchase, people should price shop! Prices can vary tremendously from funeral home to funeral home. Know your consumer rights – visit the National Funeral Consumers Alliance at funerals.org In lieu of a viewing you can create your own memorial service at home, at a park or at the cemetery. The amount of money you spend DOES NOT reflect the amount of love you have for your beloved family member.
The Ecology And Economics of Funerals and Burials by the Numbers:
Each year we bury:
- 8 olympic-sized swimming pools of embalming fluid
- Enough metal to build the golden gate bridge
- Enough concrete in burial vaults to pave a two-line highway from New York to Detroit
- The average funeral costs $10,000
- There are 109,000 cemeteries in the United States
- There are 93 registered green cemeteries
- 76 million Americans are projected to reach the current age of average life expectancy, 78 years, between 2024 and 2042.
- If they were all buried in standard burial plots, it would require roughly 130 square miles of pure grave space, not counting roads, trees or pathways. That’s an area about the size of Las Vegas.
What brought you to Nyack?
When I wrote my business plan I knew, if I was going to stay in Rockland County, the boutique had to be located in Nyack! Nyack has a reputation for being earth-friendly, open-minded and progressive. Nyack is also the center of Rockland’s art community, many of our products are handmade works of art themselves.
What were you doing before you became a green burial advocate?
I have been a green burial advocate for over 10 years. I incorporated my passion for it into my previous work at WRCR radio by hosting a monthly show called “Dying to Bloom”. Topics included cremation, donating your body to science, consumer rights and related issues. In addition to being a mother of 3, I have held various administrative & marketing positions that have helped prepare me for running a business.
How long have you had the shop and what can we find inside?
Dying to Bloom has been open for a little over a year! The boutique is in the historic St. George Building in Nyack. It is a small quaint shop charmed with a lovely antique funeral bier and late period morning dress. They reflect the concept of going back to simpler days when families cared for their own deceased in the home. The gentle sounds of water flowing from the wall fountain represents a connection with nature. Several caskets are on display including burial shrouds, Sweet Goodbye Pet Burial Kits, Urns and cremation jewelry.
Are people sometimes shocked to hear that you run a burial shop?
We live in a culture that denies death, we have distanced ourselves from it. With many dying in hospitals and nursing homes followed by a move to a funeral home we have become unfamiliar with what it looks like. It is a taboo topic and many reformers are working to change that. Some people seem very intrigued by my business. I try to encourage & reflect the benefits of acknowledging our own mortality – live in the present, take chances, keep things in perspective – be happy for life is temporary – you will die.
What’s the most popular product that you sell?
With cremations now outnumbering burials, our most popular product is Scatter Tubes. They are biodegradable urns that come in a variety of sizes and prints engineered to help scatter ashes. Basically like a large salt shaker. Our biodegradable water urns are also popular. They float for a while then sink and biodegrade in the water.
Have you always been interested in the funeral industry?
From early childhood, I have had a fascination with defining life and the supernatural. I wish I was capable of understanding quantum physics and the string theory. Meanwhile, losing my parents to cancer in my 20s inspired me to become a Hospice Volunteer. Years after they died I learned about green burial and became passionate about wanting to bring a land conservation green cemetery closer to Rockland County.
Could you describe some of your products and how they are different to what you get in a traditional funeral home?
We offer a lovely selection of caskets from willow, bamboo, cardboard, pine in addition to a selection of burial shrouds. We encourage creative personal choices that reflect the deceased and compliment nature. I am not a funeral director. New York is one of ten states that require the use of a funeral director for issuing a death certificate and transporting the body. I think it is important for consumers to know FTC regulations state that all funeral homes must accept a coffin from a third-party seller without additional charge or penalty to you. Even though NY has some of the stricter regulations, home funerals (caring for your own deceased) is legal and possible for most situations. Visit the Home Funeral Alliance (homefuneralalliance.org) for more information.
Do you have eco pods available? If so, could you describe how they work?
Eco pods are caskets made from recycled paper. While I do have access to them, I think you are referring to the Bios Urn. Many folks are talking about turning into a tree when buried. There are quite a few concepts out on the internet and some of them are still in the concept phase. Currently, we do have the Bios Urn. That is an urn where you put cremated remains in the bottom half with a tree seed on the top half. We have Pine, beech, maple & red maple in stock. We also have a product called “Let your Love Grow”. Created by a funeral director that realized cremated remains do not break down and nourish the earth. This product neutralizes the cremains and helps them become nutrient rich so you can produce your own memorial planting.
Do most cemeteries permit green burials?
No, however, the interest in going out green is on the rise. We do carry several books including “The Natural Burial Cemetery Guide” by Ann Hoffner. Ann’s book is a state-by-state directory of where, how and why to choose green burial. There are different levels of green cemeteries. A land conservation cemetery is all preserved open space that also serves as a burial ground utilizing the income to continue preservation. A natural burial ground follows the principle of green burial and a Hybrid cemetery is an existing cemetery with headstones that opened a green burial section. Our caskets are suitable for all cemeteries as well as cremation.
Are you still planning on opening a green cemetery in Rockland County?
I did initiate “The Green Cemetery Fund” through the Rockland Community Foundation (rocklandgives.org) to help bring a land conservation green cemetery to our area. I also have a donation box in the store and I will continue to pursue this mission. Of course a land donation of 30 acres would be nice or an alliance with corporate owned land or parkland. Remember the land remains natural and continues to serve the wildlife as well as enjoyment for nature lovers. It just also happens to serve as a final resting place for those that choose to nourish the earth.
I heard you have studied how to do home funerals. Is that something you plan to do in the future?
I did take a course on home funerals by Olivia Bareham from Sacred Crossings. I am interested in continuing to learn from current practicing home funeral guides and would consider working with funeral homes willing to help families that want to experience the sacred act of a family led funeral. We have an array of home funeral guides and death doulas in our area and the field is growing. I am also pursing a certification as a Funeral Celebrant and will graduate in August!
Do you just have products for humans or do you make arrangements for animals as well?
We do carry products for pets as well. We recognize pets as family members and believe they deserve the same respect with final disposition. We are proud to be the first US retailer to offer the “Sweet Goodbye Pet Burial Kits”. These are lovely handmade wool biodegradable shrouds. The kit includes a burial guide with ceremony ideas and an up-cycled wood marker. They can be used for burial or cremation and are the most dignified option I have come across. That is why I also became a US wholesale representative. Additional services include pet shrouding and delivery to the crematory.
How do you open up conversations about death in a society where it is taboo?
As I mentioned earlier, there is a growing movement in the US to become “Deathpostive” (popularized by Caitlin Doughty & “The Order of the Good Death”). In addition, a growing number of Death Cafes are taking place all over the world (56 countries so far)! We host the Nyack Death Cafe, here at Dying to Bloom on the first Sunday of every month. Death Cafes were started in the UK by John Underwood per deathcafe.com “Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.” At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. As a host, I found them to be intriguing and no two have been alike! This is a free event with interesting conversation! You can find out more and learn about Nyack Death Cafe by visiting deathcafe.com.
For more information, visit Dyingtobloom.com
48 Burd Street, Suite 101
Nyack, NY 10960
Thursday-Sunday 12:00 noon -5:00pm
Also by appointment
Cultivating vegetation and historic preservation are two of the organizing principals of Florence Katzenstein’s life. As the founder of historical societies on both sides of the Hudson River, Katzenstein has dedicated the last 45 years to preserving the region’s past for the benefit of future generations. On May 19th, Katzenstein will host the annual plant sale of the Nyack Garden Club, welcoming the public to view her picturesque property and support the club’s public planting projects.
Walter and Florence Katzenstein moved to their Upper Nyack home in 1985, so that Walter could be closer to his factory in Congers. Florence founded the Hastings Historical Society in 1970. When she saw that no such organization existed in Nyack, she founded The Historical Society of the Nyacks in 1994.
Garden Club of Nyack
Annual Plant Sale
Saturday, May 19
507 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack
10a – 2p
Every May since 1993, the Nyack Garden Club has held a plant sale.
Proceeds from the sale fund the public gardens that the club maintains that include:
- the Butterfly Garden,
- Hopper House,
- the Old Stone Meeting House
- as well as maintaining a plot in the community garden to help feed the hungry.
A selection of annuals and perennials from Bumps nursery and bulbs from the International Bulb Company will be available.
There is a bake sale table with home-baked goods.
For more information visit the Nyack Garden Club.
Historical Society Yard Sale
Also on Saturday, May 19 from 10a – 3p the Historical Society of the Nyacks will hold their annual Yard Sale at the corner of South Broadway and Clinton Avenue.
History and horticulture have found fertile soil on this riverfront estate. From 1751 to 1905, six generations of the Williamson family occupied the land that is now the 500 block of North Broadway. The land yielded fruit, flowers and vegetables that, for a period, were harvested by slaves.
In 1905, the property was purchased by Joseph Hilton. Hilton’s wife, Ida, founded the Nyack Garden Club in 1912. The Hiltons added cottages for their two daughters.
In 1925, Pierre Bernard, also known as the Great Oom, started an ashram utilizing half a dozen old estates in the Nyacks that his devotees bought for him, including the Hilton estate, called “The Moorings”, with its main house, two cottages and carriage house. The South Cottage is now the Katzenstein home.
Those who attend the plant sale will see a landscape of man-made and natural features that have been immortalized in a major Hollywood film. The Katzenstein home caught the eye of Woody Allen. Scenes shot in the garden and patio appear in Allen’s 2014 oscar winning effort, “Blue Jasmine.”
In a recent interview, Florence Katzenstein reflected on her garden, some local history and the mercurial movie director.
How did you create your oriental garden?
The garden area was the previous owner’s garbage dump. There were old tires, branches, leaves, no steps, just clay soil. The trees were so overgrown, you could not see the river from the house.
I looked at the stone bridge, waterfall and stream and thought it had an oriental aspect. I started with a plain old privet. It’s a plant people use for hedges. It had grown to about 12 feet high high so I cut it into an oriental shape. It was the start of my version of an oriental garden.
How many hours a day do you garden?
I could not begin to tell you. I can come down meaning to pick a flower and three hours later, I realize I am still in the garden, hot and dirty.
No. I did not even know that Upper Nyack existed. We moved here from Hastings. Back then, people in Westchester thought of Rockland as someplace you go through on your way to get somewhere else.
My husband built a factory in Congers after leaving the South Bronx. He wanted to shorten his commute. His company, Star Kay White, is 125 years old. Their first location was where the World Trade Center once stood. He makes flavoring for ice creams. If you eat vanilla ice cream and there is a chocolate ripple, he made the chocolate ripple. He’s 84 years old and he still goes to work everyday.
Pierre Bernard was a total phony. His wife, Blanch DeVries, saw the potential in what were white elephant properties that no one could pay the taxes on.
He made up quite a history for himself. But he really did own elephants and monkeys. Many celebrities of his time thought he was terrific. Greta Garbo and Leopold Stokowski paid him to teach them yoga. He then gave them a rake and a scythe and said ‘go out and cut the grass.’
What is your favorite plant?
My father gardened and my grandfather gardened. One of my earliest memories of gardening is when I was four and a half, either my father or my grandfather helped me grow corn. You had to put the fish guts and fish head in the hole first and then add four kernels of corn. They corn started to grow right away. Everyday, I would race home from Kindergarten. I was thrilled. Then one day they were gone and a neat row of flowers were in their place.
We were living in a two family house in Mount Vernon and the landlord came by and he said that corn was not a good thing for a little girl to grow, so he planted me some pretty flowers. I remember the feeling of rage to this day. That was my first memory of gardening and my attachment to it.
I understand that you started the Butterfly garden?
In 1999, the Nyack Garden Club wanted to celebrate the new millennium. Trish Schroer and I thought we should do something that was
permanent. The Hudson is a flyway for butterflies from Canada on their way Mexico. It is a long journey and they need places to rest along the way. We chose the spot near the river that had a large glacial boulder, and planned our garden around it. When the rock heats up, butterflies land on it to rest and dry their wings.
So you must have some Woody Allen stories?
I had agreed to let them come on to the property, to film “Blue Jasmine.” They were filming in the fall and I said they could not go into the garden past a certain point. Then I see that two men are walking past that point. I said, ‘excuse me, but you can’t go down there,’ and they said, ‘Woody told us to go down there.’ So I said, ‘Florence says you can’t.’
I explained that they were standing underneath a sixty foot high black walnut tree. The walnuts fall like bombs. They come down with a bang, almost burying themselves in the ground. All I need is for Woody to be hit in the head. So, I said, ‘unless you’re wearing hard hats, you are not going down there.’
Within an hour, six or seven men, and Woody Allen were all walking around wearing yellow hard hats. They left the hats when they were done filming.
On Monday, May 19th, 2013, one of Florence’s garden companions, her 110 pound American bulldog, Little Louie, passed away. “I called him ‘Little Louie’ because he was rescued from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Louie was short for Louisiana.”
In a secluded area that she can see from her home, Little Louie joined five other family dogs and one cat in repose.
Florence is now shadowed by her surviving pet and planting partner, her dog Punjik.
When I asked Florence her favorite spot in the garden to sit and reflect, she replied “I don’t sit.”
Surrounded by projects that need her attention, Katzenstein keeps busy, with Punjik at her side, considering what tree or plant needs pruning, or what civic organization needs cultivation.
Garden photos by Jennifer Rothschild
Special thanks to Betty Perry.
The Nyack Garden Club‘s annual plant sale will be held at the Katzenstein home at 507 North Broadway, Upper Nyack on Saturday, May 19th from 10a – 2p.
by Bill Batson
While the name of Nyack’s only record shop has changed, the staff, stylings and singer/songwriter owners remain the same. Amy Bezunartea and Jennifer O’Connor announced this weekend that their store will no longer share the name of their record label, Kiam. Main Street Beat is now emblazoned on the door where music fans can find new releases from the indy label, previously owned classic vinyl records and an eclectic offering of books and clothing, curated by Amy.
Main Street Beat has become a fixture in the cultural life of a village where creatives have lived and worked for decades. In January, their storefront window served as a street-level recording studio for an oral history project launched on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. On April 21st, an around-the-corner line formed for National Record Store Day, where local R&B legend, Sam Waymon, sold out a re-release of his soundtrack to the classic 70s cult horror classic Ganga & Hess. They’ve even signed a local hip-hop duo, Tron! & DVD to their label for good measure.
Running a retail business, (that they co-own) a record label (Jennifer’s baby), and maintaining their individual careers as composers and performers is no mean feat for the couple, who were married in 2014. As proof of their scheduling savvy, they found time for a quick interview with the Nyack Sketch Log during the hectic first week of their rebranding blitz.
How did you two meet?
Amy: I was playing music with our mutual friend Clint Asay/aka Clint Michigan…and the rest is history! That was over a decade ago.
Jennifer: We met through a mutual friend – Clint. Amy had started playing music with him and he and I were friends because we bartended in Brooklyn together.
Coincidentally, Clint released a new album last week on the label – called Centuries. It’s beautiful and Amy sings a lot on it!
Your label is still called Kiam. Where did you get that name?
Jennifer: When I was a kid my dad used to say, “I Am The Kiam” a lot. In a very passionate/joking/fun way. I knew it wasn’t a real word but my dad was kind of funny that way. Always inventing made up words and just being a goofball in general. “Kiam” always stayed with me. I always took it to mean “I am the boss” but a kinder, gentler boss. 🙂 When I put out my first record, I decided to name my label after it.
Why the name change?
Yes, the store has grown into more than just a record store, so we wanted a name that befit it. Also, it was getting confusing with the label being the same name.
Second favorite record shops?
Amy: Zia Records in Arizona. I spent a considerable amount of time endlessly browsing the aisles of these stores in the pre-internet, pre-streaming days of my youth. It was wonderful. They’ve been in business for over 30 years and managed to weather all the crazy ups and down of the music industry.
Jennifer: I like Academy Records in the city – all three locations.
And now the obvious question, favorite records?
Amy: We both like Jay Z 4:44. I like everything, can’t name a fav. Too many.
Jennifer: Prince, Sign of the Time and Blue by Joni Mitchell.
How did you like hosting an oral history project in your window?
Amy: It was such a great project to be a part of! I met so many wonderful people and it was fascinating to hear their stories. It was a really fun to have people coming in and out of the store to record their stories.
Jennifer: It was really wonderful. It’s such a great idea and important thing to do and I’m glad we got to be a part of it.
New Releases and Performances from Kiam Record Artists
“I always joke about ‘trauma folk’ as being my genre,” says Asay. “But I didn’t want to make music that was just subjecting listeners to my terrible experiences for the sake of doing it. I think the reason it took me five years to make this record is because it’s so hard for me to call something finished, but it was also about trying to be honest. People will hear these songs and, hopefully, feel some comfort in them.”
Clint Asay/aka Clint Michigan
Tron! & DVD
Local hip-hop artists Tron! & DVD aka Norvin and Darian Van Dunk will perform at The Nyack Park Conservany’s Spring it Back Old School Hip Hop Dance Party at Prohibition River, 82 Main Street, on May 11, at 8pm. $10 Donation at the door to support their upcoming Skateable Nyack event. Cash bar.
Tron! & DVD – Afraid of the Dark
Amy and Jennifer Rock
…Literally. Here are their most recent releases:
Amy Bezunartea – New Villain
Jennifer O’Connor – Surface Noise
With the store and tours, when do you have a chance to write music?
Amy: It has been really difficult. I had no idea how hard it would be to juggle everything while trying to get a business off the ground. But it’s getting easier all the time and I’m looking forward to having more time to write again.
Jennifer: Hahaha. Here and there. I write on my computer a lot now at night after work. But I’m trying to make more time for it.
How did you meet the Tron! & DVD?
Jennifer: In the store. They were customers. Their dad came in first actually. And then we met them. It’s been really fun getting to know them and working with them on their music too.
How did you find Nyack?
Amy: We were looking for a change and Jennifer had played a show here and liked the town so we decided to check it out. We ate at The Art Cafe and went to the library and walked around and decided to give it a go! I ended up working at Art Cafe for nearly two years before we opened the shop. It was such a wonderful place to land after moving. Met so many great people there and really got to see what the town was all about.
Jennifer: I played a show here when RiverSpace was still open. Melanie Rock-who is now a friend-was the booker there at the time and she booked a show with me and the musician Chris Brokaw. Amy and I wanted to move out of our last apartment in Brooklyn, we decided to expand the search outside of the city limits. We found an apartment we loved here and just went for it figuring we’d try it out for a year. It’s 6 years this December.
Amy: In the distant future.
Jennifer: Nope. Writing first. 🙂
Any label news?
Jennifer: Yes, Clint Michigan – Centuries – out this week!
What’s it like running a business with your life partner?
Amy: It’s been really hard, but I think it also forced us to grow up and I’m really grateful for that. It’s this huge hurdle that we cleared and we’re definitely a better couple for it.
Jennifer: It’s hard but very rewarding. I think we’ve both grown a lot since we opened this place. It kind of kicked our asses. But we’re still here and better for it!
Is Vinyl here to stay?
Amy: Absolutely! It seems to be the format that people always come back to.
Jennifer: Yeah, it never left!
by Bill Batson
Where in Rockland County can you find the Thorny Passage or the Gate Leading to Nowhere and Everywhere. In a fantasy written by J.R.R Tolkien or J.K. Rowling on the shelf of a local library? On a stage, as the name of an obscure work by Edward Albee or Samuel Beckett? If you guessed a converted turkey farm in West Nyack, you’d be right. These landmarks, christened by children, are on the grounds of the Blue Rock School, a K-8 learning community where kids play and imagine as hard as they study.
The main building at Blue Rock has a fairy-tale quality. Once -upon-a-time a turkey farm, the property was purchased in the 1930s by Clare Potter, the fashion designer credited with creating American Sports wear and her architect husband, J. Sanford Potter. They called the place where they designed clothing and buildings Timbertop, which became the name of her clothing line. Residue from their sartorial and architectural endeavors must have enchanted the soil. Found object sculptures, a totem pole, and the rough-hewn seats of an outdoor amphitheater have risen up on the land where turkeys were once raised.
Blue Rock School is the fourth incarnation of the educational vision of Margaret Flinsch, the grandmother of the current Director Caty Laignel. Flinsch created her first school in Princeton, New Jersey in the 1920s. She was inspired by the needs of working class women. Flinsch sought to “help mothers who had to make a choice between the income they so desperately needed and the care of their children during working hours,” according to the Princeton Nursery School website. When African American families registered, initial funding was withdrawn. “My grandmother was horrified. She confronted that prejudice. She forged ahead and was able to found the school,” Laignel said.
Decades later, while working with parents and teachers in North Carolina in 1982, Flinsch incorporated her humanistic and creative approach into a school that took its name from the blue rock face on the mountain above the original school house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a progressive and teacher driven educational model, when many of the transplanted New York staff members longed for home, the school was relocated; first to the historic one-room school house on Oak Tree Road in Palisades in 1987 and then, to Clare’s turkey and fashion farm in 1990. Flinsch remained active in the school throughout her life, attending meetings up to the age of 102.
Laignel has been at Blue Rock for 18 years. Her background is with arts education and performance organizations. In addition to running the school, Laignel leads the drama program. “Teachers strike the philosophical tone of the school. They are passionate people, continually invested in how children learn across all subject areas,”Laignel said.
In keeping with some of the best practices in education that prioritize problem solving and play, Blue Rock students can be found outside year round, no matter the weather. Even on clear days, rain gear is on stand-by, in case skies turn gray. “The children are very hands on at Blue Rock. Working hard. Raising chickens. We have a garden. We participate in clean up. It’s about having agency and making an effort, feeling your own power to make change,” Laignel described.
While you can track mud into the classrooms, digital devices must be left at home “Already, around the founding of the school in the 80s and early 90s there was a lot of concern about children and television. About children becoming passive, and being exposed to commercial interests, about children searching externally for happiness apart from their imaginations and play,” Laignel said.
This philosophy also addresses our current age of ubiquitous online media bombardment. You won’t find children staring at screens anywhere on the Blue Rock campus.
Their stated goal is to create a secure setting where children can discover, for themselves, the relationship between ideas, skills and expression. Their literature describes the school as a place where thoughts, feelings and aspirations are developed through relationships with teachers and peers.
Flinsch was informed by Marie Winn’s “Unplugging the plug-in drug.” A television producer, Winn argued that watching too much television can be detrimental to a child’s development and to family life. “I grew up with passion for books. I was brought up on story telling,” Laignel said.
Blue Rock 30th Anniversay
On Saturday, April 28th the Blue Rock School will celebrate its 30th Anniversary in Rockland County. Free and open to the public, the teachers will host workshops and collaborative art experiences, older students will share their projects and alumni will speak. In the evening there will be a Moonlight Masquerade Dance and Silent Auction at the Nyack Center. For more information on the day and tickets for the dance click here:
Summer Play Camp
A refreshingly simple and creative approach to summer fun, Summer Play Camp at Blue Rock School offers a variety of hands-on activities for children ages 3-12 on our charming, wooded campus. Children can engage in puppetry, woodworking, swimming, cooking, sewing, chess, science & nature, art, music, drama, outdoor games, water play, hula hooping and much more! Five-week program, M-F 9:30-3. Click here for rates, campus tour and registration details.
Each year at Blue Rock starts with a story, told by Laignel, that is based on a theme developed by the faculty. Last year the theme was India. This year’s theme is indigenous people all over the world. A recent play was staged that explored, Native American, African and Mayan cultures.
“We focus on the self and the community, on emotional health and collaborative skills, the ability to live with others, what we call grit, the effort muscle, resilience and powering through. Learning is when you make mistakes and keep trying and figure it out. This approach has led our graduates to excel in various fields. They are interested in learning and have the essential skills that apply whether they become scientists, writers, doctors, architects or artists” Laignel said.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy provided Blue Rock a lesson plan in resilience. “Our school lost eleven trees, a van, and a well-loved tree house built by the Middle School,” Laignel told Natural Awakenings Magazine. “Given that no one in our school community sustained injuries, we felt extremely grateful as we put the school back in shape over the next week. On our first day back in session, the children and teachers gathered together for a story that highlighted the importance of cherishing our time on earth, the need for change in the cycle of life, and the impermanent nature of all things. Everyone then headed outside to help clear the play areas and grounds. Wishing to get their play spaces in order to return to favorite games and activities, the children took on the clearing of brush with great gusto and camaraderie,” she continued.
The environs of the school, shaped by the winds of extreme weather and the hands of current or former students was the model for a collective landscape portrait project in April 13. On that day, I organized a Flash Sketch Mob at Blue Rock School, a public art event that was inspired by the Nyack Sketch Log.
On most days, the energy at Blue Rock is a throw-back to the time before technology relegated children into their own digital silos, when summer vacations and weekends witnessed a pack of indefatigable children in perpetual motion. But when given the task of observing and recording the school, the intensity of each student’s focus was astonishing. “There was a happy buzz all day about how quiet, focused and peaceful the children all were during the sketch mob,” Laignel said.
The photos taken of the Flash Sketch Mob by Kindergarten teacher Lucia Gratch begin to capture the playful and profound spirit of Blue Rock School. I suspect that every day in this magic kingdom imagineered by 89 students and 20 staff members has a similar vibe.
When you visit Blue Rock School, you’ll be startled at how quickly you’ll find yourself transported to that recent analog past, where learning meant getting your hands dirty building a fort, crawling through a thorny passage and opening up a gate to nowhere and everywhere.
On Saturday, April 28th the Blue Rock Scchool will celebrate its 30th Anniversary in Rockland County. Free and open to the public, the teachers will host workshops and collaborative art experiences, older students will share their projects and alumni will speak. In the evening there will be a Moonlight Masquerade Dance and Silent Auction at the Nyack Center. For more information on the day and tickets for the dance click here:
by Bill Batson
Sam Waymon did Nina Simone, his late sister, proud when he came to the microphone at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony on April 14th. “They said I had three minutes, I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I’m going to take the time necessary to say what I got to say,” Waymon declared. Any Nina Simone fan knows that if she hadn’t passed away in France in 2003 and been in Detroit for her induction, she would have said the same thing. But the job of taking the stage was left to Waymon, whose own legend as a singer and composer, and a defender of his sister’s legacy, continues to grow.
You can welcome Sam home from Motown on Record Shop Day, Saturday, April 21 at Kiam Records Shop at 95 Main Street at 1p. (Kiam will open at 8a with free donuts and coffee from Boxer donuts. Traditionally, lines form early) Waymon will be signing deluxe color vinyl editions of the original soundtrack for Ganja & Hess, a groundbreaking film from 1973 that Spike Lee remade in 2015.
Over the last three years, Waymon has been on a (rock and) roll. Picking up an award for his sister at a nationally televised event one week and attending an album release the next are just two dates on his R&B renaissance timeline. Here are a few more of Waymon’s recent triumphs:
- Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
In February 2015, Spike Lee’s remade of Ganga and Hess titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus premiered. The reboot featured Waymon’s song, You’ve Got to Learn. Ganja & Hess, released in1973, and directed by Bill Gunn, contains Waymon’s music and his performance in a scene shot in the Nyack Center when it was an active church. Ganja & Hess is the story of a black vampire. The film was honored as one of the ten best American films of the 1970s by the Cannes Film Festival.
- Hell-bound Train, Heaven-Bound Travelers and Verdict: Not Guilty
In July, 2015 Waymon wrote the music for the new Library of Congress/Kino Lorber released restoration of these pioneering African American films, made by an evangelical Christian couple, James and Eloyce Gist, during the 1920s through the 1940s.
- Personal Problems
Billed as the first all-black soap opera and shot in the 1980s, Bill Gunn and Ishmael Reed’s Personal Problems, had its first U.S. theatrical release in March of 2018. Waymon stars as a character described in one review as a “smooth-ass musician”with mellifluous tunes and dapper charm.
- Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Sam Waymon in Nyack
Waymon moved to Nyack in the 1970s with the independent filmmaker Bill Gunn where they commenced a creative collaboration that produced the script and soundtrack for Ganja and Hess, a classic cult movie that blends afrocentric themes and vampirism. They lived in a house in Upper Nyack.
Sam Waymon’s R&B Renaissance
Record Store Day
StrangeDisc Records will release a deluxe color vinyl edition of the original soundtrack Ganja & Hess, 1973, a groundbreaking film that Spike Lee remade in 2015 – Waymon wrote the music for the film and gave a powerful performance as a preacher from the pulpit of the church that is now the Nyack Center. Only 1000 records have been printed. Waymon will be at Kiam to sign copies. Free donuts and coffee from Boxer Donut. Doors open at 8a. Line forms earlier. All this fun on Saturday, April 21 at 1p at Kiam Records Shop, 95 Main Street, Nyack.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Broadcast
The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will air on HBO at 8p EST on April 29
Go Fund Me
Concurrent with these professional triumphs, Sam is having some health and housing difficulties. In addition to his search for stable and affordable housing, last month, Sam found out he would need to undergo a second round of radiation treatment for a very rare form of skin cancer. Visit Sam’s Go Fund Me here.
The home overlooking the Hudson was built by Daniel Perry in the 1830s. Perry operated a boat building business from the property. Perry’s descendants sold the home to screen writing legend, Ben Hecht in 1929. Hecht came to Nyack to be close to his writing partner Charles MacArthur. In a confluence that foreshadowed the activities of Waymon and Gunn, Hecht divided his time between cultural and political activities. Hecht was a major supporter of the Zionist cause and used the home for fundraising events and strategy meetings.
When Waymon and Gunn arrived in 1969, one of their first visitors was Charles MacArthur’s wife, Helen Hayes, who regaled the newcomers with stories of pool parties held by the former occupants. Hayes’ welcoming gesture is remembered fondly by Waymon as one of the most meaningful days at the residence, on a par with their audience with the President of Nigeria and literary gatherings that included Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, and Gunn’s closest friend James Baldwin.
But the most memorable and certainly most choreographed visit was from the heavyweight champion of the world. In 1975, Minister Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, learned that Gunn was being considered to write the script for an autobiographical film of the life of his disciple, Muhammad Ali. Before a deal could be struck, Gunn and Waymon were flown out to Chicago to meet with Minister Muhammad. Upon their return, they got a call from the boxer. Even though the spiritual leader had given his blessing, Ali would not agree until he met Gunn at his home. The visit was a success and work on the project proceeded.
During this period, Gunn wrote and directed Ganja and Hess, a film that was honored at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 as one of the best American films of the decade. Waymon’s multidisciplinary talents are on display in the film in which he composed the score he performs. As a low budget effort, many of the props and furnishings, including the Rolls Royce and the Jaguar, belonged to Waymon. Gunn’s prolific career as a playwright, novelist, actor and film director ended in 1989 when he passed away at Nyack Hospital.
Waymon developed as an artist along side his sister, celebrated songstress Nina Simone. Sam and Nina (Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon) were raised in Tyron, North Carolina with six other brothers and sisters. Their parents, Mary Kate and John Divine were both ministers of the gospel. Both Sam and Nina started piano lessons at the age of three.
Simone recorded 40 albums and has influenced artists as diverse as Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Alicia Keys. During their partnership, Waymon was her manager and organist. They traveled the world performing, but they also found time to lend their talents and efforts to the Civil Rights Movement. Waymon still has scars from a march where non-violent demonstrators were set upon by a mob with bricks and batons. Sam and Nina performed at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968.
As a surviving sibling, Sam was an outspoken critic of the recent Hollywood production based on his sister’s life. He was particularly critical of the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone. Over 11,000 people have signed an on-line petition that echo his objections. For Waymon and others, Simone’s dark skin and African features defined and circumscribed her life. They are incredulous that actors of Simone’s racial identity were passed over for a performer who is reportedly using facial prosthetics and skin paint to portray the singer.
The auditorium where the Nyack Center holds after- school programs, Rivertown Film screens movies and the Chamber of Commerce operates the indoor winter Farmers’ Market was a set for Ganja and Hess. The opening and closing scenes of the film were shot there when the space was a sanctuary for a church. Waymon was cast as a pentecostal preacher, singing and stomping in front of extras who were members of the congregation that worshiped in the space at the time. Waymon shared the scene with Duane L. Jones, the actor who played the leading role as Ben in the classic 1968 horror film that launched what is now a national obsession with zombies, Night of the Living Dead.
Through his music, the enduring legacy of his collaboration with Gunn and his defense of his sister’s name and memory, Waymon acts as a guardian of the African American cultural universe. Waymon has expressed a concern that history has a way of remembering the battle but forgetting the blood. Through his composing and performance, Sam Waymon won’t let us forget either.
by Bill Batson
Every month for two years, she guided parents and their children through Harriman State Park, sometimes for full moon hikes. Those forays into nature flowed into Strawtown Studio, a popular nature arts program, that includes a summer camp, afterschool and community programs, now offered along both sides of the river in Rockland and Westchester. Meet environmental artist, educator and advocate Laurie Seeman.
How did you become a nature and art educator?
When I first arrived in Rockland County in 1997 with my two small children, 5 and 7, I wanted to gather folks to spend time together outdoors. The Little Feet Hiking Club was started for children and parents. For two years, we went out for hikes every month of the year into Harriman State Park during the day, and also at night under the full moon. I saw how much it meant to the children to have creative exploration time in nature with community. I also saw their natural tendency to create art with nature.
What was the first step?
The hiking club came to the attention of the Director of the Nature Place Day Camp in Chestnut Ridge, and I was invited to develop an art program for the camp. Over three years, I developed the first Earth Art with Children programming with a talented staff of 5. Based on the great success of the Earth Art program, and the camp leadership training I gained, I saw the need to take it further and turn it into a full summer program.
In 2002, I formed Strawtown Art & Garden Studio and held the first summer nature arts program on the grounds of the Marydell Faith & Life Center at the base Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack
For two years we held family workshops, and an after-school program there, with woodlands, grassy meadows, wetland habitat, and the Hudson River, with all it’s life to inspire us. In 2015 we returned to Marydell and are now expanding our programs!.
Marydell is where I met Joanna Dickey. She first came on board as a summer staff artist, and now 15 years later we have spent thousands of hours outdoors together leading programs and developing Strawtown.
Joanna grew up in Upper Nyack within blocks of the river and she always says that she never knew the amazing things about the river before she came to Strawtown.
Why do you call your program Strawtown Art & Garden Studio?
I was living on Strawtown Road for many years, in West Nyack. I liked the word Strawtown. Straw has since become symbolic for us. When you peel the dry outer layer off straw you find shining gold inside! “Straw” also represents nature, and “town” the people.
I understand that you were in the art world before you became an educator?
I worked as a contemporary Art Dealer and Curator in NYC with my life long friend Wendy Cooper during the art boom in the 80’s and 90’s. Known as Cooper Seeman, we curated shows, and advised clients in building their art collections. I thought it was the greatest work in the world, but does not compare to working outdoors with children.
What kind of art do you make?
My own art is all about listening in and responding to the natural world around me. I create art from plants, make pigments from rocks, look closely at the ever-changing forms of nature. I also stage the outdoor studios that we spend time in and design the lessons. Creating and developing the programs is my art too. Then there is the distinction between earth art and environmental art, where the environmental art aims to communicate, educate, activate.
What life experiences informed your environmentalism?
When I was 7, we moved to a neighborhood in Endwell, NY on the edge of a meadow where a creek meandered below. The creek became my best friend.
A half-mile south there was a shale ravine with tons of fossils. I have now come to realize I grew up in the Marcellus Shale area.
When I was 10, bulldozers appeared one day and they engineered my creek to accommodate a big tunnel for a nearby road overpass. It was shocking.
I have since learned a whole lot about creeks and waterways, and that straightening a stream is detrimental to the health of the stream. I advocate for two streams in Rockland in particular right now.The Sparkill Creek, with the Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance, which I was founded in 2010 in response to a Strawtown class experience in the creek, when a young student remarked about her concern for the creek. You can read the wonderful story on the website sparkillcreek.org. I also have a strong relationship with the Minisceongo Creek in Haverstraw, it’s one of our outdoor classrooms. This creek is the site of a citizen science eel migration monitoring project with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The youth of Haverstraw have joined us in this aquatic study for 4 years, and it’s the greatest way to learn. This is s a two-month project each spring, opened to all interested, and it is underway now.
What can you tell me about the life of the Hudson River near here?
We live in the Wide Bays area of the river with Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bays. The widest span of the river is Haverstraw to Croton, 3.4 miles across. Haverstraw Bay and has been designated the most “Significant Coastal Fish & Wildlife Habitat” of the Hudson River” by the New York State Department of State Division of Coastal Resources.
So few people know this, or know that this region area holds 5 of the 40 rated significant habitats, the others are; Piermont Marsh, Hook Mountain, the Hudson Highlands, and Iona Marsh.
When I learned this I advocated to have this area listed in our County Comprehensive plan, which never before had never listed the Hudson River as one of our precious natural resources.
Strawtown teaches on both sides of this extraordinary river area. We love giving the river kids and their families the opportunities to explore and learn right along with us. No two days or outings are alike!
What do you see is important about the role of art in nature education and advocacy?
Art provides a way to come to a greater understanding of nature. When making art we can realize more than we would by breezing by on a walk. We take time to look closely, to take materials into hand, to observe relationships, and then to respond. Through time for reflection with nature and art we can discover our “ecological self”. So important for these times.
Art is also a way of seeing new possibilities. It opens up the way for new thinking, problem solving, strategy and communications. It also can brighten the difficult day!
In many ways the importance of the nature and art connection travels out of the classes. What we learn with the children is what informs my ability to speak for the natural world in public places, and with decision makers. When I go out regionally to speak for our waterways I always think, “It’s not enough to take care of the children, we have to take care of the world they live in too”.
What are your plans for this year’s Strawtown Summer Program with Children?
To go out to discover the world with friends, create all kinds of art, and find answers to our three leading questions Where are we? Who are we here with? How are we all doing together? The questions nearly say it all!
Space is still available for the Strawtow’s After School Program and Summer Program for children ages 7 – 12. The summer program runs for 6 weeks from July 2 through Aug. 9: Mon. – Thurs., 9:30a-4:00p (1st week is Mon-Fri, skip 4th July).