24 hours in Rye Brook, Nyack, and Sleepy Hollow

Posted on
Apr 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, we headed to New York for the weekend for a friend’s wedding. Eytan Seidman (of Oyster.com fame) was getting hitched, and we couldn’t miss it. Besides, the wedding was in New Rochelle, NY. And I had never been to New Rochelle. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere outside of Manhattan.

And believe me: we were far, far outside of Manhattan. Sure, it might have been only 20 minutes away, but the Hilton in Rye Brook, where we stayed, could arguably have been on another planet. Or another decade: just stepping inside makes you feel as though you’ve gone through a decorating time warp (Landing you in circa 1963. Seriously, the producers of Mad Men have got to shoot some scenes here).

And just in case that wasn’t enough weird, the hotel was hosting a girls’ dance competition.

Let me tell you: the sight of underage little girls dolled up like prostitutes, set against a backdrop of polyester and unfulfilled dreams is not one I will soon forget. In Eytan’s defense, the hotel we chose was not actually on his list of recommend ones. After all, why listen TO A GUY WHO FRIGGIN FOUNDED A SITE THAT PROVIDES REAL HOTEL REVIEWS? Why listen, when instead you can stay at the Hannah Montana House of Ill-Repute? HUH, RAND?

The craziest part of all of it? We had fun. We had so much damn fun in our crazy hotel in the middle of nowhere (when I wasn’t suppressing the urge to tell some 11-year-old to go wash the whore off her face). I can’t explain it. I blame Rand.

Self-Portrait, Rye Brook Hilton

Self-Portrait, Rye Brook Hilton

But regardless of the fun that was had, I don’t recommend eating at the Hilton. We had one meal, of which we ate roughly 1/4, at the hotel bar. When the waitress came to clear our table, she looked somewhat offended, as I’m sure she spent the better part of a minute microwaving that pizza for us. We tried in vain to go somewhere else, but the only place we could find open was this:

Whatever, we were desperate and hungry.

Whatever, we were desperate and hungry.

At least, we thought it was open. Apparently their hours are 7 am to “whenever those hungry people walk up to the door.”

The next morning, after an evening spent raiding the vending machine in hopes of supplementing our hotel-bar-meal, we found bagels. Glorious, fresh-baked, why-the-hell-can’t-we-get-these-in-Seattle-because-they-really-can’t-be-that-hard-to-make bagels.

Ignore the green bagel.

Ignore the green bagel.

This is the only exterior shot I could get of Hand Rolled Bagels. Notice the torrential rain. It would continue for the duration of our stay.

They also have awesome rugelach.

Convinced, after 2 bagels and a half-dozen rugelach, that we had enjoyed absolutely everything Rye Brook had to offer, we drove to Nyack. This involved us crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge. You can make up your own joke (my brother chose the angle of “Tappan Zat Ass Bridge”. He’s classy like that.)

We cross the Tappan Zee Bridge in the pouring rain.

We cross the Tappan Zee Bridge in the pouring rain.

Best read with a Valley Girl accent ... Nyack ... Sooooooo Nyack.

Best read with a Valley Girl accent … “Nyack … Sooooooo Nyack.”

Why, you ask? Why the hell would we drive to Nyack in the pouring rain? Because my husband has always wanted to go there, obviously. Specifically, to the Edward Hopper House Art Center. The bottom floor of Edward Hopper’s childhood home has been converted into a museum and gallery, and the top floor bedrooms serve as artists’ studios.

Notice, again, the pouring rain.

Notice, again, the pouring rain.

Don’t let Rand’s expression fool you: he was excited about the museum. He’s a huge fan of Hopper, and he’d always wanted to visit the museum. Plus, Hopper’s works are rarely on display, so the fact that we were going to a museum dedicated to his work was totally exciting and –

Err … sorry, what’s that you say, lovely little old lady who works at the front desk? You don’t have any Hoppers at the Hopper House Museum? That’s a joke, right?

No, no it’s not a joke? You’re being perfectly serious? You don’t have the budget for security, and therefore you aren’t allowed to have any of Edward Hopper’s work in your building, even though his effing name IS ON THE SIGN OUT FRONT? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Sigh. I am sincerely sorry, Rand. There was an upside to the whole thing, though. The inside of the house was kind of cool, and substantially drier than than the rest of Nyack.

Plus, we got to sneak into Edward Hopper’s bedroom. The artist who rents that space has been in Germany for forever and a day, so we were able to poke our heads through the door.

This is surely a way to set yourself up for failure, no?

Working in a legend’s bedroom is surely a way to set yourself up for failure, no?

And we got to see his bicycle, which was downstairs, and hear stories from the woman who worked there. She apparently grew up just a few streets away, and she knew Hopper’s sister (who would walk her cat up and down the street).

I know its frivolous, but I really liked seeing his bicycle.

I know it’s frivolous, but I really liked seeing his bicycle.

Alright, alright, I’ll admit, a rusty old bike, a messy studio, and stories about cats on leashes might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But after touring the gallery (which had the work of some legitimately talented local artists up), I left feeling not at all disappointed. Sincerely. It was nice. It just goes to show you that even if a place doesn’t meet all your expectations, it can still be great. Of course, I’m not sure if the gallery alone is worth a trip to Nyack, but hell, if you’re in the area (and I can’t think of why you would be), it’s not a bad stop.

We left Nyack, and noshed on some rugelach as the rain poured down on the car and we tried to figure out where to go next. We had joked briefly about going to Sleepy Hollow, and when we saw how close it was, it sort of became an inevitable destination. I’ve never actually read the short story by Washington Irving, but I watched the Disney cartoon at least a dozen times every Halloween in my formitive years. I even saw the sort-of-terribly-but-still-fun movie version that Tim Burton made. Without having ever really thought about it, Sleepy Hollow has been a fascination of mine since I was a kid. And now were were going.

I tried to remember the lesson we had just learned about the Edward Hopper House: how sometimes travel can disappoint you. You’ll have an idea in your head of what a place should be, you want the reality to match up exactly. Often times it doesn’t. In my mind, Sleepy Hollow was a spooky little town, full of expansive graveyards, Victorian homes, and, of course, the headless horseman.

In reality? It was exactly that.

No, I’m not kidding. It was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Sleepy Hollow: established 1640

Sleepy Hollow: established 1640

The town served as inspiration for Irving’s ghost story, and rather than shrug off that association, the town of Sleepy Hollow and its residents seem to embrace it. There’s hints to the story everywhere, along with silhouettes of a headless horseman.

Notice the headless horseman logo.

Notice the headless horseman logo.

I love that The Horseman (Family Restaurant and Pizza) has a murderous, decapitated specter as a logo.

I love that The Horseman (Family Restaurant and Pizza) has a murderous, decapitated specter as a logo.

The barren trees and Victorian houses made even the intersections seem a little spooky ...

The barren trees and Victorian houses made even the intersections seem a little spooky …

Not to mention the tombstone carver, whos located very near the center of town.

Not to mention the tombstone carver, who’s located very near the center of town.

Even the street signs are exactly what you’d expect of the town. Pumpkin orange and black, they’re instantly reminiscent of Halloween, and have a tiny little headless horseman on the top.

Other signs were burgundy and white – decidedly less scary looking, until you read the names of the streets. Seriously, some city planner had way too much fun …

If you think living on Van Ripper is bad ...

If you think living on Van Ripper is bad …

Imagine how the folks who live on the dead end of Gory Brook Road feel.

Imagine how the folks who live on the dead end of Gory Brook Road feel.

All of it was delightfully spooky, but none of it, absolutely none of it, held a candle to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. I will say that it truly is one of the creepiest, spookiest, coolest places I’ve ever been to. It was pouring down rain, and while this added to the overall mystique of the place, it meant that we couldn’t partake in a tour of the cemetery, so instead we just drove around it. A lot of my shots are blurry (either because of the rain, or possibly auras) so please pardon that.

Rand really liked the broken railing, because he said it looked like someone had escaped.

Rand really liked the broken railing, because he said it looked like someone had escaped.

This, by far, was my favorite grave. It creeped me out to no end. I had this idea that a woman had been trapped alive with his corpse inside that grave and she was depicted by the stone figure sitting at his tomb (what can I say? I have a healthy imagination) … It belonged to Edwin Lister, and while I couldn’t find that much information on him, you can read a notice about his will in the June 13, 1898 edition of The New York Times.

Likely due to the weather, we didn’t seem many other people out. A few other cars were driving around the cemetery (the place was huge). Eventually, we saw two figures dart across the path ahead of our car, and disappear, apparently into one of the masoleums.

“Holy crap. Did they just go into that tomb?” Rand asked.

I didn’t answer, as I was too busy peeing my pants.

We pulled up to the grave, and spotted a man and his teenage son hiding underneath. They explained that there were scouting locations for a movie the son was making for film class. The man explained that he would hang out as a teen with his friends in the cemetery. He said that up along the hill, an accused witch was buried. Supposedly, if you lie on her grave, you’ll die within the year.

“Is it true?” Rand asked.

“Well, I did it 30 years ago, and I feel fine,” the man replied, laughing.

We offered them our umbrella, but they declined. I guess they were already soaked anyway.

Having been sufficiently creeped out and charmed by Sleepy Hollow and its inhabitants, we left. I told Rand that I wanted to come back for Halloween, though. And, realizing we were starving, and that the weather was getting worse by the minute, we did the only thing left for reasonable adults to do: we ate at the mall food court.

This was actually fantastic. And way, way better than the food at the Hilton.

This was actually fantastic. And way, way better than the food at the Hilton.

As soon as the lights started to flicker in the mall, we decided to head back to the hotel. The idea of getting stuck in a huge line of traffic as everyone tried to leave the parking garage at once didn’t sound appealing to either of us. The ride back to Rye Brook remains one of the more legitimately frightening experiences of my life. Rand’s driving, as always, was flawless, but the torrential rain and winds were bringing down trees and powerlines left and right. We even saw bushes igniting on fire from the downed lines (fortunately, the police and fire departments were on top of everything).

Apologies for the blurriness: a downed power line ignites a fire.

Apologies for the blurriness: a downed power line ignites a fire.

Police re-direct traffic around a downed tree in the middle of the road.

Police re-direct traffic around a downed tree in the middle of the road.

We were starting to worry one might hit the car.

We were starting to worry one might hit the car.

This was one of dozens of scenes like it. Ive never seen so many police and firefighters in my life.

This was one of dozens of scenes like it. I’ve never seen so many police and firefighters in my life.

I’m pleased to report that after numerous detours (a serious hazard when you’re unfamiliar with the area) we made it back to the Rye Brook Hilton safe and sound. The next day, we talked to some other wedding guests who said they were flying in during the storm, and it was an absolute nightmare. The plane felt like it was, at times, in a free fall. People were screaming and yelling at the flight attendants, demanding to know what was going on. As soon as they landed (thankfully, safely) medical personnel were waiting to tend to the injured and the panicked. It was, even according to the seasoned travelers we talked to, the worse flight they had ever been on.

According to someone else, they had read that a few people had died in the storm (one was electrocuted, another was killed by a falling tree). It makes me incredibly grateful that all we suffered from was a bit of inconvenience and crappy hotel food … and a little bit of spookiness.

Which reminds me:

A very early Happy Halloween to you all.

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