Northern Westchester commuters traveling Metro North Railroad’s Hudson River line will recognize the name Philipse Manor as one of the stations along the route, nested in the town of Sleepy Hollow. For a passerby, what else is there to know?
Well, there’s this…
In the latter half of the 18th century, one Adolph Philipse owned a sprawling 52,000-acre provisioning plantation, anchored by a grist mill that fed his considerable wealth.
A copy of Mr. Philipse’s 1750 probate inventory documents his property. Topping the list is the name “Caesar,” identifying a human being, just like you and me, save for a singular, profound difference: Caesar, like so many others of his race, was treated as a piece of property—“legally owned enslaved property,” to be exact.
The history of slavery in America shouldn’t be a news flash to anybody. The history of slavery, and of enslaved people, right here in the Hudson Valley, however, may not sound so familiar.
PEOPLE NOT PROPERTY
That’s precisely the reason that Historic Hudson Valley (HHV), a non-profit education organization that is one of the jewels of our region, has undertaken a project that is as important as it is ambitious. It is called “People Not Property.”
Most people know Historic Hudson Valley (hudsonvalley.org) by the high-profile events and sites in its thick portfolio.
Most notable this time of year is the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. That autumnal spectacle has been a runaway public favorite since it started 15 years ago, made possible by the corporate largesse of Entergy. Since its debut in 2005, attendance at the Blaze has ballooned tenfold, with nearly 180,000 visitors in 2018.
In a recent presentation for the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, Historic Hudson Valley senior VP Peter Pockriss explained how the tourist organization uses entertainment events—like the Blaze and the Sleepy Hollow Experience—to entice visitors into coming back for its masterly produced and groundbreaking education efforts, such as “People Not Property.”
COMFORT FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“Our strategy,” he said, “is using popular events that encourage people to come back for other reasons, where we can give them some history. We call it the broccoli with the milkshake.”
Just as broccoli is undeniably nutritious, there is enrichment for the mind and the soul in learning about, and learning from, this area’s backstory building a thriving economy—and the personal riches that attend it—on the backs of enslaved people.
The Historic Hudson Valley’s state-of-the-art website, upgraded a few months ago, is a treasure trove of easily digestible information about “Slavery in the Colonial North.”
“Slavery was not just a Southern institution,” says University of Texas history professor Dr. Daina Ramey Berry in a video on the website. “It was an American institution.”
TEACHING TEACHERS ABOUT SLAVERY
The website includes easily navigable and absorbing interactive features that are ideal for students, who form a major segment of the HHV audience, both online and at its many event and experiential sites, which Mr. Pockriss says welcome 15,000 schoolkids a year. There’s even a special Teachers Institute for K-12 educators, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that helps them better understand “the institutional and personal sides of enslavement” in the colonial north.
The best way to understand that uniquely reprehensible stain on our heritage, though, is to visit Philipsburg Manor, which, says Mr. Pockriss, is “one of the few sites that tells the story of colonial-era slavery that existed in the northern colonies, which is news to many people.” He adds, “I don’t have to tell you how important the story is today with everything going on in the world.”
He said that Adolph Philipse’s probate inventory list mentioned above, proved to be “a touchstone” that enabled Historic Hudson Valley to unearth the local history of slavery at Philipsburg Manor and elsewhere.
As the cornucopia of photos and information on its new website illustrates, there is so much of broad interest that Historic Hudson Valley has to offer, the only way to appreciate it all and plan a visit is to peruse it online.
IMMERSIVE SLEEPY HOLLOW EXPERIENCE
In the meantime, here are some highlights Peter Pockriss pointed out…
• Among additions this year at the Blaze (one of whose biggest fans is actor Neil Patrick Harris) is the Museum of Pumpkin Art, suitable for Instagramming, as well as a multicolor-spangled Pride flag at the entrance to welcome visitors in more than 40 languages and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
• At Sunnyside, the Hudson River estate of Washington Irving, whom Mr. Pockriss called “the first professional author in the U.S.,” the 200th anniversary of the publication of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is marked by a new musical production, “The Sleepy Hollow Experience.” The audience follows the immersive story of the headless horseman through four locations.
• Union Church of Pocantico Hills houses an active congregation that worships there and has stained glass windows by celebrated artists Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse.
For more information, visit the Historic Hudson Valley website at HudsonValley.org.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar is a writer, publicist, actor, and civic volunteer. He is sole proprietor of regional marketing agency APAR PR. He also is a ghostwriter, whose new ForbesBooks title, “Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer,” by Bob Fisch, is available at Amazon, WalMart, Barnes & Noble, Target, and other online bookstores. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.