The PepsiCo Sculptures, The Origins Of AA Meetings, Cannibal Albinos, And Other Westchester Q&A

Tom Schreck investigates this month’s Westchester County questions.

Q: What can you tell me about the sculptures at PepsiCo’s headquarters? Are they intended to have some sort of meaning or are they just a random collage of sculptures deposited in Purchase?  —Derek Allen, Ardsley

A: Do I detect a lack of appreciation for the abstract? Are you the type of guy who scoffs at wine tastings when people say things like, “It finishes with overtones of walnut and moss,” or, “It starts brave and bold without a hint of pretention”?

Well, aside from the beauty is in the eye of the beholder crap, let’s see if we can break this down a bit. The Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens consist of 45 large pieces on the grounds of the PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase.

When the New York Times asked Kendall about the gardens, which were created when PepsiCo moved to Westchester in 1970, he said that he wanted to create an atmosphere of stability, creativity, and experimentation. He wanted the ambience of a museum without walls—where art could be enjoyed by employees and the community. 

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And, no, this is not just some haphazard assemblage of pieces—many of the works are made by esteemed 20th-century artists, such as Henri Laurens, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Richard Erdman, Jean Dubuffet, and Claes Oldenburg.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly what the gigantic hunks of twisted metal mean, but it sounds like the guy in charge of making fizzy sugar water wanted you to take a stroll and venture a guess for yourself. (But not until late 2015—the gardens are temporarily closed while PepsiCo renovates buildings on the premises.)

Q: Is it true that the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, lived in Westchester? —Russell Coleman, White Plains

A: Yes, it is. In 1941, Bill and his wife Lois, with the help of a friend, purchased a home in Katonah now known as Stepping Stones. 

Bill was seven years without a drink when they moved in. It was where he and Lois did much of the important work that became iconic to AA followers. There he wrote AA’s Twelve Traditions, which continue to serve as a guide to how AA should function, and the more famous Twelve Steps. It was also where Lois founded Al-Anon Family Groups, the program for families, partners, and loved ones affected by alcoholism.

AA did not make Wilson rich. In fact, it was not a source of income for him at all, and the couple struggled financially. Before moving to Westchester, Lois claimed they had to move more than 50 times because they were in dire financial straits. 

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Today, Stepping Stones is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers programs that are well attended by AA participants and others.

Q: I feel silly even asking this, but what is there to the urban legends that surround Buckout Road in West Harrison—especially the one about the flesh-eating albino family? —Molly Guifre, Mount Vernon

A: I think it’s nice when a family has a shared activity, don’t you? It kind of brings everyone together.

Space won’t allow for a full rundown on what’s true and what’s false about this windy Harrison road, but suffice it to say there’s no shortage of rumors, innuendos, and legends.

Perhaps the favorite is the one you mentioned in your question. It goes something like this: If you stop in front of the red house and honk your car horn three times, a family of albinos will rush out of the house and eat you.

Why it takes three honks bewilders me. And my genetics studies tell me that a “family” of albinos is almost mathematically impossible. I’m also guessing that eating humans tends to be one of those things that might warrant a police investigation or two. So, the fact that there are no verified accounts of people-munching on Buckout Road leads me to believe it didn’t happen. Still, the red house was torn down—so something had to be going on…right?

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But seriously, enough real creepy stuff happened in that area that you don’t have to make anything up about it. On New Year’s Day in 1870, one of the road’s namesakes, Isaac Buckhout, shot and killed his best friend, shot his best friend’s son (who survived), and then walked into the kitchen and beat his wife to death. Apparently, Ike wasn’t big on positive resolutions. He was hanged for the crime in 1872.

Then somebody painted a bunch of X’s in the street, sparking several legends. One was that the X’s were intended to mark a house where several witches were burned at the stake in the 1600s. Another legend says they mark the house where a wise-guy teenager went to put an M-80 in the mailbox only to find a severed head inside. And, of course, some said it was just a courteous reminder that the cannibal albino house was just up the street.

The only things that really can be said with surety are that Isaac Buckhout killed two people on New Year’s Day 1870, there were X’s painted in the street, and there used to be a red house that has since been razed. 

Our Wine & Food Festival returns June 4-9!

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