Photo by Arielle Sboto
Richard Haas’s optical illusion in Yonkers.
Q: There is a trompe l’oeil on the wall of a building in Yonkers on the way to X2O. Who did it, and why is it there?
—Edgar Norda-Pierce, Yonkers
A: The piece of art you speak of is known as Gateway to the Waterfront. It was painted in 1997 by Richard Haas and was funded b the Yonkers Downtown Waterfront Development Corporation. Why? As part of its master redevelopment plan, the city decided spending money on public art would accentuate all those spiffy new apartments and restaurants that have sprung up in the last decade. Indeed, millions of dollars have been spent on such projects. As for Haas, he’s rather famous. His work appears not only elsewhere in the county (e.g., inside the Arts Exchange at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains), but throughout the country including Chase Field, home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
Q: Did Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famed abolitionist, ever live in Peekskill? I have heard that both she and her preacher brother did and that he had an affair with some lady whose last name was “Beach,” which is why there’s a Beach Shopping Center on Route 6 in Peekskill.
—Logan Charles, Peekskill
A: Granted, we’re a socially liberal county, but even this ’burb wouldn’t name a shopping center after someone just for being a mistress. Financial con man, white-collar madam—maybe. But mistress? Bah!
Anyway, it appears you have your beeches and beaches all mixed up. Moses Beach, for whom the shopping center is named, was the editor of the New York Sun way back in the mid-1800s. Moses, indeed a Peekskill resident, garnered great attention when he organized a spiritual expedition/luxury cruise of sorts that drew the likes of Mark Twain and firebrand preacher Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher, also a Peekskill resident, was the brother of Harriet, and famous in his own right for his bombastic sermons, and for allegedly seducing a married woman despite denouncing the practice. The “Beecher-Tilton scandal,” was all the talk of 1870s New York. There is no evidence we could find that Harriet lived in Peekskill, though she probably visited. However, Henry’s mansion, known as Boscobel, very likely stood atop tunnels used as part of the Underground Railroad.
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Q: Is Westchester haunted?
—Noah Daniels, Goldens Bridge
A: Yes. Yes, it is. We’ll start with Buckout Road in West Harrison; avoid trick-or-treating there, as you risk attack from flesh-eating albinos that allegedly appear if you beep your car horn three times in front of a particular red house on the block (fantastic site on the subject: bedofnailz.com/buckout). Sleepy Hollow has had a headless-horseman problem for almost 100 years, and Pelham has dealt with a unicorn infestation for centuries, or so says Adriaen Van Der Donck, one of the county’s first settlers, who noted stories of Indians running into horses “having one horn in the forehead.”
Speaking of animals…Albert Fish, the notorious 1920s cannibal/serial killer, committed his most famous murder here, that of a 10-year-old girl, whose bones he buried at Wisteria Cottage in Greenburgh—though, there have been no official ghost sightings…yet. And in 1902, according to the New York Times, hundreds of Westchester residents spent “their evenings ghost hunting” for a mysterious white lady who hovered over a pond. Finally, Northern Westchester is so ghost-ridden, there’s a book about it—Lewisboro Ghosts: Strange Tales and Scary Sightings by Maureen Koehl. But fear not, the county has its own Paranormal Society whose founder, Jeffrey Roberts, assures us that it has “investigated lots of places that have given us very compelling evidence…that these sites are haunted.” Wait—that doesn’t make us feel better at all.