Here to return to
THE TAPPAN SEA
THE first portion of the name of this stretch of the Hudson comes from a tribe of Indians that inhabited the west shore, and it is a “Sea” because the river here is so extraordinarily wide. It is ten miles long and has an average breadth of two and a half miles. The water is brackish — a mingling of fresh water from the hills with salt water from the ocean. The graceful and varied horizon line and the silvery haze that commonly envelops the distance make its aspect very charming. At the southern end the Palisades rise in majesty, and near the north end, on the western side, are the superb cliffs of the promontory known as Point-no-Point, or Hook Mountain.
This little sea is a famous cruising place for ghosts and goblins, and all the region is rich with legends. For instance, there is the story of Rambout Van Dam, the unresting oarsman whom some witchery compels to never-ending labor on the tides of this inland sea. He was a roistering youth who counted neither distance nor exertion of any consequence when a pleasure was in prospect. His home was at Spuyten Duyvil, and yet when he heard there was to be a quilting frolic at Kakiat, a secluded hamlet hidden among the hills near the north end of the Tappan Sea, he rowed all that long way up the river to be present. Apparently he did not find this pull very fatiguing after all, for at the merry-making he danced and drank with a vigor that was not surpassed by any one else present.
It was a Saturday night, and the hour of twelve came before he had any thought that he had lingered so long. Then he started for home. His companions warned him against the perils of Sabbath-breaking which was considered a cardinal sin. But Rambout was confident and reckless and disregarded every warning. He embarked in his boat swearing that he would not land till he reached Spuyten Duyvil; and he has not arrived there even yet. Because of his desecration of the Sabbath he is doomed to journey on the broad river until the day of judgment. Often in the still twilight of a summer evening, when the opposite hills throw their purple shadows half across the river, a low sound is heard as of the steady, vigorous pull of oars, though not a boat is to be descried. The rower is Rambout Van Dam of graceless memory, but whether he is now a ghost, or is still flesh and blood, none can say.
Another apparition that frequents these waters is the Storm-ship. Some people have doubted the existence of this phantom craft and class it with fabulous monsters and mental hallucinations, but these are not people who have navigated the waters of the Tappan Sea at night. Irving tells its story substantially as follows:
“In the golden age of the province of the New Netherlands, when under the sway of Wouter Van Twiller, the people of the Manhattoes were alarmed one sultry afternoon by a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning. The rain fell in torrents. It seemed as if the thunder rattled over the very roofs of the houses. The lightning was seen to play about the church of St. Nicholas, and to strive three times in vain to strike its weather-cock. Garret Van Horne’s new chimney was split almost from top to bottom; and Doffue Middleberger was struck speechless from his bald-faced mare as he was riding into town.
“Great was the terror of the good old women of the Manhattoes. They gathered their children together, and took refuge in the cellars, after having hung a shoe on the iron point of every bedpost, lest it should attract the lightning. At length the storm abated, the thunder sank to a growl, the setting sun, breaking from under the fringed borders of the clouds, made the broad bosom of the bay gleam like a sea of molten gold.
“Then word was given from the fort that a ship was standing up the bay. It passed from mouth to mouth, and street to street, and soon put the little capital in a bustle. The arrival of a ship in those early times of the settlement, was an event of vast importance to the inhabitants. It brought news from the land of their birth, from which they were so completely severed. To the yearly ship, too, they looked for their supply of luxuries, of comforts and almost of necessaries. The good vrouw could not have her new cap or new gown until the arrival of the ship; the burgomaster waited for his pipe; the schoolboy for his top and marbles; and the lordly landholder for the bricks with which he was to build his new mansion.
“The news from the fort therefore, brought all the populace down to the Battery. It was not exactly the time when the ship had been expected to arrive, and the circumstance was a matter of some speculation. Here and there might be seen a burgomaster of slow and pompous gravity, giving his opinion with great confidence to a crowd of old women and idle boys. At another place was a knot of weather-beaten fellows who had been seamen or fishermen, and were great authorities on such occasions. But the man most looked up to, and followed and watched was Hans Van Pelt, an old Dutch sea-captain retired from service, the nautical oracle of the place. He reconnoitered the ship through an ancient telescope, hummed a tune, and said nothing. A hum, however, from Hans Van Pelt had more weight with the public than a speech from another man.
“The ship was a stout, round vessel, with high bow and poop. The evening sun gilded her bellying canvas, as she came riding over the long billows. The sentinel who had given notice of her approach declared that he first got sight of her when she was in the center of the bay; and that she broke suddenly on his sight, just as if she had come out of the bosom of the black thunder-cloud. The bystanders looked at Hans Van Pelt, to see what he would say to this report. Hans Van Pelt screwed his mouth closer together, and said nothing; on which some shook their heads, and others shrugged their shoulders.
“The ship was now repeatedly hailed, but made no reply, and passing by the fort, stood on up the Hudson. Trade regulations did not allow any vessel to go up the river without a permit, and a gun was fired by Hans Van Pelt, the garrison not being expert in artillery. The shot seemed absolutely to pass through the ship, and to skip along the water on the other side, but no notice was taken of it! What was strange, she had all her sails set, and sailed right against wind and tide, which were both down the river. Hans Van Pelt, who was harbor-master, ordered his boat, and set off to board her; but after rowing two or three hours he returned without success. Sometimes he would get within one or two hundred yards of her, and then in a twinkling, she would be half a mile off. Some said it was because his oarsmen, who were rather pursy and short-winded, stopped every now and then to take breath and spit on their hands; but this, it is probable, was a mere scandal. He got near enough, however, to see the crew, who were all dressed in Dutch style, the officers in doublets and high hats and feathers. Not a word was spoken by anyone on board. They stood as motionless as so many statues, and the ship seemed as if left to her own government. Thus she kept on, away up the river, lessening and lessening in the evening sunshine, until she faded from sight, like a little white cloud melting in the summer sky.
“The appearance of this ship threw the governor into one of the deepest doubts that ever beset him in the whole course of his administration. Fears were entertained for the security of the infant settlements on the river, lest this might be an enemy’s ship in disguise. The governor sat in his chair of state, smoking his long pipe, and listening to all that his counsellors had to say on a subject about which they knew nothing.
“Messengers were dispatched to different places on the river; but they returned without any tidings — the ship had made no port. Day after day, and week after week elapsed, but she never returned down the Hudson. However, the captains of the sloops seldom arrived without bringing some report of having seen the strange ship at different parts of the river; sometimes near the Palisadoes, sometimes off Croton Point, and sometimes in the Highlands. The crews of the sloops generally differed among themselves in their accounts of these apparitions; but that may have arisen from the uncertain situations in which they saw her. Sometimes it was by the flashes of the thunder storm lighting up a pitchy night, and giving glimpses of her careering across the Tappan Sea, or the wide waste of Haverstraw Bay. At one moment she would appear close on them, as if likely to run them down, and would throw them into great bustle and alarm; but the next flash would show her far off, always sailing against the wind. Sometimes, in quiet moonlight nights, she would be seen under some high bluff of the Highlands, all in deep shadow, excepting her topsails glittering in the moonbeams. By the time the voyagers reached the place, no ship was to be seen; and when they had passed on for some distance, and looked back, behold! there she was again, with her topsails in the moonlight! Her appearance was always just after, or just before, or just in the midst of unruly weather; and she was known among the skippers and voyagers of the Hudson by the name of ‘the storm-ship.’
“It would be endless to repeat the conjectures and opinions uttered on the subject. Some quoted cases of ships seen off the coast of New England, navigated by witches and goblins. Others suggested that if it really was supernatural it might be Hendrick Hudson’s vessel, the Half Moon. Indeed it had already been reported that he and his crew haunted the Catskill Mountains, and it seemed very reasonable to suppose that his ship might bear the shadowy crew to their periodical revels.
“The storm-ship continued a matter of popular belief and marvelous anecdote through the whole time of the Dutch government. Since that time we have no authentic accounts of her; though it is said she still haunts the Highlands, and cruises about Point-no-Point. People who live along the river insist that they sometimes see her in summer moonlight; and that in a deep still midnight they have heard the chant of her crew; but sights and sounds are so deceptive along the mountainous shores, and about the wide bays and long reaches of this great river that I have very strong doubts on the subject.”
Near the southern end of the Tappan Sea, just back of the west shore hills, is historic old Tappan where André was hung. As a rule American feeling toward that ill-fated youth has always been kindly and sympathetic, but when Cyrus W. Field erected a monument at Tappan a few decades ago to commemorate André’s association with the town in those eventful days of the Revolution some rampant patriot with more zeal than sense promptly applied an explosive and destroyed it.
Across the river is Dobbs Ferry. Its name dates back to the time when Jeremiah Dobbs, one of the first settlers in the region, had a shanty on Willow Point and eked out his modest living by carrying chance travellers across the river in his dugout. The modern inhabitants of the place are reputed to be burdened with a keen regret that this ancient ferryman did not have a different name to bestow on the town that has grown up there, and they have even made a number of efforts to get the legislature to authorize the use of a more euphonious cognomen. At the various public meetings held to agitate the question several substitutes have been suggested. For instance, it was urged that the town should take the name of one of the three captors of Major André — say Paulding or Van Wart. As to Van Wart, somebody proposed that they drop the Van and call the place “Wart on the Hudson.” The agitation thus far has failed of success, and Dobbs Ferry is still on the map.
Near the north end of the Tappan Sea is another town that has been much disturbed over its name. Here, by the shore, is the famous Sing Sing State Prison, and behind it on the hills is a village, also called Sing Sing until recently. Naturally the prison name does not arouse in the minds of the general public associations that are especially agreeable. Everyone knows of the prison, comparatively few have ever heard of the village; and a dweller in the latter could scarcely avow to a stranger that Sing Sing was his home without an explanation. The place itself was never a penal colony as outsiders have been prone to imagine. It has grown to be a populous and attractive suburb of New York, and from its slopes commands a very beautiful view of the river. The prison continues to be Sing Sing, this odd designation being a corruption of a Mohican word, Ossining, which is descriptive of the rocky nature of the site; but the town has adopted the original form of the name. Sing Sing prison was founded in 1826 when a state official brought one hundred convicts to the place and set them at work to wall themselves in. They were three years in completing the main building. Nearly two thousand persons now find in this great prison the quiet which complete seclusion from society affords.
Ossining’s northern boundary is the Croton River, chiefly important as the sole source of the water supply of New York City for more than a generation. The river is a mild, vernal stream emptying into a bay of the same name. Not far back is the reservoir from which the “old” aqueduct carries the water to the city. This aqueduct was finished in 1842. It is of brick and is placed on or near the surface, occasionally tunnelling under high ground and again spanning some ravine on arches. In the course of time it proved inadequate and a second aqueduct was completed in 1890. This is of brick also, but is laid in an almost straight line from Croton Lake to the Harlem through the solid rock at an average depth below the surface of five hundred feet. As many as ten thousand men were employed on it at times, and the cost was twenty-five million dollars. Nothing to equal it in magnitude of engineering had then been accomplished in any other part of the world.
Above the bay which receives the Croton is the old manor-house of the Van Cortlandts, which is not only interesting on account of its age and historic associations, but because it is haunted by two ghosts. One of them wanders through the ancient rooms with a sound of rustling silks, and the other treads heavily along the halls and up the stairways.
The site of the manor-house was once occupied by an Indian fort in which Chief Croton, the sachem who ruled in the immediate neighborhood, made his last stand against a foray of his fierce enemies from the north. He fought with desperate valor amid a shower of arrows, and half-hidden by the smoke and flames of his burning palisades. One by one his companions fell, till he stood alone and wounded. Then, as his foes rushed forward, he fell headlong in the blazing fire. He died, yet it is said that in great crises he has again and again appeared urging men to courageous deeds.
Across the river from Sing Sing is Point-no-Point, which, as its name indicates, is the bluntest sort of a promontory. Back of it, a mile or more from the river, is Rockland Lake, a large sheet of water whence comes a considerable portion of the ice used in New York City. The ice is conveyed from the lake to the river by a cable railway, and continues its journey in huge barges. At Rockland Lake the ice business of the metropolis is said to have originated. The delivery of the first shipments that reached New York was made in springless, one-horse carts, and the entire capital invested in the business was at the start only two thousand dollars.