When I was growing up my father was a member of the Downtown Athletic Club on West Street in lower Manhattan. The D.A.C. was best known for awarding the Heisman Trophy to college football players beginning in the 1930s. The clubhouse was a purpose-built Art Deco tower with sports facilities, baths, dining, and guest rooms. Located near the Battery its membership mostly worked on Wall Street.
The club is gone now. It was in financial decline by the late 1990s when I graduated high school and it never reopened after 9/11. The landmarked building has been converted into condos and the membership were scattered to our midtown clubs.
For a time the D.A.C. boasted the longest bar in New York. Above it hung a mural based on Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle.” An article in the June 1931 club bulletin describes the artwork:
The first panel at the extreme left shows Rip Van Winkle going up into the Catskills with his newly found friend. In the center panel we see Henrich Hudson’s men bowling, drinking and having a general good time. Rip is partaking generously from the jug. The third panel shows Old Rip’s return to town where after twenty years no one seems to know him.
Aldo Lazzarini, the artist, spent about six weeks on the paintings and J. Schuyler Casey often visited the studio to watch the work as it progressed.
The only picture I could find of the mural is the low-quality scan reproduced above. It shows a detail from the center panel. I wonder what happened to the mural. I would like to think it found a good home.
Jacques Offenbach’s grand-opera of Les contes d’Hoffmann premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1881. Adapted from several outré fantasies by the Prussian Romanticist E.T.A. Hoffmann, the plot is framed by a prologue set in a German beer hall, Luther’s Tavern.
An illustration of the set design for the 1881 production reveals an enormous cask dominating the back wall.
It is a visual reference to the Heidelberg Tun, an enormous wine barrel housed in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle in Baden-Württemberg. There have been four containers bearing that name since 1541. The Calvinist pastor Anton Praetorius cited the first Tun as proof of the superiority of the Reformed faith since it was a product of Calvinist Heidelberg. He wrote a poem in its honor. The current Tun was built in 1751. It holds roughly 58,000 gallons. Throughout the nineteenth century the Tun was an attraction on the Grand Tour. It is mentioned in Raspe’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Irving’s The Specter Bridegroom, and Melville’s Moby Dick. In A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain jokes about its ubiquity, “Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt.”
“Over a deep part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by over-hanging trees, which cast a gloom about it even in the day time, but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favourite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.” — Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.
To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.
We recently moved out of New York City to leafier climes in the Hudson Valley. This is my favorite part of the world. I have roots here. My mother grew up in the town where we settled. My grandparents were ceramic artists and figures of some importance in Midcentury Modern design. They had their studio and factory here. I went to school about an hour north. My wife and I are expecting our third child now. I am grateful for this to be their home.
Fall is in the air. Cold weather seems to have followed me back from England. There is a fire blazing in the hearth. This is the finest season in New York: comfortable, nostalgic, melancholy, beautiful.
Washington Irving, our greatest writer, sets the scene:
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet…As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye…ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn.