Westchester’s Ties to the Wizard of Oz and UFOs

Q: There’s a parking lot on South Water Street in Peekskill between Sole Man Shoe Repair and Homestyle Desserts Bakery that contains a strip of yellow bricks in the pavement. On a tour of Peekskill recently, the guides told me that that strip of yellow bricks was actually L. Frank Baum’s inspiration for the Yellow Brick Road in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Was it? —James Bowen, Croton

A: Did the ruby red slippers in the shoe repair’s window give it away? Declaring a man’s inspiration is difficult unless said man decides to tell you, but here’s what we know: Baum, born in 1856, left his upstate home in Chittenango at age 12 to attend the Peekskill Military Academy. We also know that young Frankie didn’t like the time at his alma mater. Some think that his difficult adolescence spent at the academy fueled his creative juices and that he laid on his bunk at night conjuring up images of a magical place far, far away, perhaps peopled with a Judy Garland-type, a horse of a different color, and trees that talked and threw apples, as a release from his teenage angst. 

There is a good chance that Baum got to school on a steamboat that came down the Hudson. It is quite possible that when he asked, “How do I get to the Peekskill Military Academy?” someone responded, “Follow the yellow brick road” because there was a yellow brick (actually yellow-hued Dutch pavers) road that led to the school. 

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A portion of the yellow brick road is indeed located at the spot referenced. The rest has been paved over, but a recent study did show that it led all the way up to where the military academy stood.

Unfortunately, Baum never wrote about Peekskill’s yellow brick road or any directions given to him by a steamboat employee, a little person, a singing and dancing scarecrow, a large feline with a generalized anxiety disorder, or a metalized man with intimacy issues. So, we can speculate about the road, and it does seem to make sense that it stuck in an impressionable teenager’s brain, but I think we have to stop short of saying it definitely did.


Q: I’ve read several accounts of extraterrestrial activity in the County and something called “the Westchester boomerang.” Can you shed some light on this? —Gayle West, Mount Vernon

A: I could, but then I’d have to kill you. Last thing I need is a bunch of men in black on my butt every time I head down I-87.

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From 1982 to 1986, there were allegedly as many as 7,000 reports of unexplained lights in the sky above Westchester, western Connecticut, and northern New Jersey. The light pattern was sometimes described as chevron-shaped, hence the “boomerang” moniker. Some said there was a massive city-like ship that hovered only 300 feet above the ground. In one such sighting, the starship was said to have paused over Unit 3 at the Indian Point Energy Center.

Cue The X-Files theme.

Now go ahead and make your jokes, but not every person who reported seeing something wore a tin-foil hat, lived in a parent’s basement, and favored the greeting, “Live long and prosper.”

The Journal News reported that Lt. Kevin Soravilla of the Yorktown Police Department was on duty on the night of March 24, 1983, when he saw a massive delta-shaped group of lights. Soravilla is still on the Yorktown force.

So, the official explanation?

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You guessed it. The Federal Aviation Administration said it has nothing to verify any of these sightings and offered that private pilots sometimes fly in formation, giving the illusion of a larger aircraft. Debunkers even claim that some pilots probably got together to create this elaborate hoax.

Lt. Soravilla has heard that explanation. 

“The best pilots invariably break formation and their engines are always audible from the ground,” he told the Journal News. The lights he saw were silent and never broke formation.

Let the FAA have their way. Next thing you know, they’ll tell us that it was a weather balloon that went down in Roswell and those creatures with the gray skin, big heads, and black eyes were figments of our imagination.


Q: I’ve read and heard multiple news reports about the village of Hasting-on-Hudson attempting to reduce its deer population through birth control. All kidding aside—is this possible? —Ed Stronconi, Yonkers

A: All kidding aside? You pitch a deer birth -control question down the center of Ask Westchester’s plate and you expect me to not swing at it? Would you tell da Vinci not to paint? Caruso not to sing? This should be my masterpiece!

Fine, all travesties of censorship aside, the village is getting help from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy this winter. The birth control involves a process called immunocontraception, which uses the deer’s own immune system to prevent it from getting pregnant. The deer have to be first tranquilized and then injected with the vaccine.

How do you know you’re getting a true Hastings-on-Hudson deer? Well, therein lies the problem, though the eggheads at Tufts say they can bet on 90 percent of the deer being true Hastings deer. It turns out doe tend to live a quarter-mile or so from where they are born. The scientists believe that a birth-control initiative can reduce the deer population by 50 percent. A population of five to 15 deer per square mile is acceptable, according to the scientists. Hastings-on-Hudson, which is just under two square miles, has between 70 and 120 deer. Last year, there were 16 auto/deer accidents in the village, which is no joke.

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