Bury Me in Sleepy Hollow

Headless HorsemanJust in time for Halloween, here’s a letter from Washington Irving — author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — about the founding of a cemetery in Tarrytown, New York. Organizers planned to build the new resting place near the Old Dutch Church because its small burial ground was too full (even if its most famous denizen, the legendary headless horseman who pursued Ichabod Crane, was so often up and about).

Washington IrvingWhile Irving approved of creating a new, nondenominational cemetery, he lobbied the organizers to name it Sleepy Hollow rather than their more more prosaic choice, the Tarrytown Cemetery.

Alas, it was still called Tarrytown when Irving was buried there, but six years after his death, the town renamed it the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

In 1996, the small village of North Tarrytown actually changed their town name to Sleepy Hollow.

Here’s what Irving wrote to Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine:

My Dear Clark:

I send you herewith a plan of a rural cemetery projected by some of the worthies of Tarrytown, on the woody hills adjacent to the Sleepy Hollow Church. I have no pecuniary interest in it, yet I hope it may succeed, as it will keep that beautiful and umbrageous neighborhood sacred from the anti-poetical and all-leveling axe. Besides, I trust that I shall one day lay my bones there. The projectors are plain matter-of-fact men, but are already, I believe, aware of the blunder which they have committed in naming it the “Tarrytown,” instead of the “Sleepy Hollow” Cemetery. The latter name would have been enough of itself to secure the patronage of all desirous of sleeping quietly in their graves.

Sleepy Hollow CemeteryI beg you to correct this oversight, should you, as I trust you will, notice this sepulchral enterprise.

I hope as the spring opens you will accompany me in one of my brief visits to Sunnyside, when we will make another trip to Sleepy Hollow, and (thunder and lightning permitting) have a colloquy among the tombs.

Yours, very truly,

Washington Irving
New York, April 27, 1849″

And a Happy Halloween to one and all.


jackpot035My daughter used to pick up the mail, walking down the two short flights of steps to our mailbox.

Now that she is away at college, the job is once again mine, and I fear I’m a bit of a laggard at it.

I’ll forget for days on end and then will unlock a box stuffed to the gills with supermarket specials, credit card solicitations and bills.

But yesterday the build-up yielded a JACKPOT — an assortment of four honest-to-goodness cards, largesse I never receive outside of Christmas anymore, and even that holiday has been migrating to email.

So hurrah for a throw-back day of good, old-fashioned snail mail. I may have to trot down those steps more often!

A World War II Wager

bettingIt’s such a small folded scrap of paper I’m surprised it has survived 70 years. I found it tucked among family photos and letters. Actually, I didn’t find it on my first rummage through the pile. It fell out of a stack of pictures I had set aside for scanning. When I pulled an image from the bag, out dropped the paper, as if through a crack in time.

It’s the marker for a bet, a wager made by U.S. Army Private Clarence E. Fisk on what date World War II would end. Fisk wasn’t feeling too optimistic when he scribbled the note. He promised to pay $50 only if it ended on or before April 14, 1947.


dad in army023I assume he made the bet with my dad, Gunnar Lendroth, who also served in WWII. Fisk’s army records (LOVE the Internet) indicate that he enlisted on November 10, 1943. By that time, Dad had been posted to India where he worked in the photography corps. Was Clarence Fisk one of his army buddies? Or did this marker change hands in a floating game of craps, which Dad dearly loved to play?

I’ll never know, but perhaps the bet remained uncollected because everyone was so relieved that the fighting ended two years earlier than Fisk predicted. Or maybe Dad hung onto it just in case he ever again crossed paths with Clarence Fisk!

Film Friday: Steal a Pencil for Me

Steal a Pencil for MeSteal a Pencil for Me is a love story set in a time and place when love was in very short supply, and hope almost non-existent.

A documentary, the film tells the wonderful, stranger-than-fiction tale of Jaap (or Jack) Polak and Ina Soep, who met at a party in Amsterdam in 1943 and again in two different concentration camps.

Jaap described the first time he saw Ina, “I remember coming into the room and seeing a beautiful girl sitting there and thinking I wish I was married to that girl.” Except, he was married to Manja, who was flirting with other men at the party. Within months, all three were deported to Kamp Westerbork.

“I’m a very special Holocaust survivor,” said Jaap. “I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend; and believe me, it wasn’t easy.”

Steal a Pencil for Me 3The documentary details their lives in the camp as well as their growing romance. They held hands and walked in the dark between the barracks. They waited in dread for the weekly announcements of who was to be shipped from Westerbork, a “model” work camp, to the death camps further east. And they wrote letters to one another.

“Im writing with a pencil stub. Darling, try to steal a pencil for me somewhere.”

In February 1944, the Nazis sent Jaap and his wife to Bergen Belsen. Three months later, Ina arrived in the same camp. And somehow, through all the horror and all the death, Jaap’s and Ina’s love flourished.

It’s an amazing tale with a happy ending — Steal a Pencil for Me will steal your heart.

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Steal a Pencil for Me 2

Postcards to Pets

socks029OK. Yes. I once sent a postcard to my cats. My parents watched them while I visited England, so, to vary the mail routine, I addressed one postcard to Piwacket and Mickey 3 (pictured below).

The postcard featured Socks, the White House cat. Most presidents have brought pets to the White House, primarily dogs, but Thomas Jefferson kept two bear cubs, Andrew Jackson had a swearing parrot and William Harding boasted Pete the Squirrel.

Teddy Roosevelt is famous for his menagerie that numbered a barn owl, badger and guinea pigs among more mundane dogs and ponies. But Calvin Coolidge gave him a run for his money with a large assortment that included a goose, bobcat, pygmy hippo, and lion cubs named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.

Cat boys 2Besides the Clintons and Socks, other cat-loving presidents included Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln, who once remarked that his cat Dixie was “smarter than my whole cabinet.” The Carters, Fords and Rutherford B. Hayes all kept Siamese cats in particular. In fact, Hayes’ Siamese cat — Siam — was the first of its breed in the United States.

But all of these fascinating facts stray from the point that I mailed a postcard to my cats, and since it was from England, I have to wonder where I found one of Socks, an American pet of renown. Did I carry it with me for the express purpose of writing to Mickey and Pi? That’s a slightly embarrassing thought but not outside the realm of possibility.


Film Friday: Il Postino

Il Postino 5Il Postino, The Postman, is about love — love of a woman, love of poetry and love of words.

Set on a tiny Italian island, where fresh water is delivered by supply ship, the film centers on Mario Ruoppolo, Massimo Troisi’s last film role. Mario is the shy son of a fisherman, who detests fishing. Instead, he finds a part time job delivering fan mail to the renowned Chilean poet and dissident, Pablo Neruda, who has been exiled to a remote cottage on Mario’s remote island.

An unlikely friendship develops between the world-famous poet and tongue-tied Mario, opening a new world of literature and metaphor for the timid, part time postman. The two have a wonderful exchange sitting on the beach, where Neruda quotes a few lines from his poem “Ode to the Sea” and asks Mario what he thinks.

THE POSTMAN“Mario: I can’t expIain it. I feIt llke…llke a boat tossing around on those words.

Neruda: Like a boat tossing around on my words? Do you know what you’ve done, Mario?

Mario: No, what?

Neruda: You’ve invented a metaphor.”

Il Postino 2Eventually, Mario asks Neruda to help him find the words to woo the exquisite Beatrice, played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta.

Il Postino is a beautiful film that celebrates language, letters and love. The actor Troisi was so committed to the project that he postponed heart surgery and died of a heart attack the day after filming his last scene.

Film Friday: Do you give Il Postino your stamp of approval? 

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What’s in a Code Name?

Jefferson Coded Letter to Madison

Coded letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison.

Long before computers or Enigma machines, diplomats and spies sent coded messages to colleagues. Just as some people are far better working crossword puzzles than others, some historic figures embraced code more readily than their compatriots.

As a diplomat in France and Holland during and after the Revolutionary War, John Adams was urged to encode letters, even private letters to his wife.

Abigail_AdamsHowever, Abigail Adams declared to code-maker James Lovell, “Thank you for your alphabetacall cipher tho I believe I shall never make use of it. I hate a cipher of any kind and have been so much more used to deal in realities with those I love, that I should make a miserable proficiency in modes and figures.” She also felt that her husband John was not much of a code-cracker either. ” Besides my Friend is no adept in investigating ciphers and hates to be puzzled for a meaning.”

Below is a list of coded names that Adams, Francis Dana, and James Searle used in correspondence during their diplomatic missions in Europe.

Note that Benjamin Franklin is referred to as D.D. and his grandson D.D.J. (for junior), while John Adams is Steady.

D.D.J—Franklin Junr.
Joseph YorkeAngelica—Vergenes
De Novo—De Castres
Grex—States General
Steady—Mr. Adams
Funn—J. Searle
Dortje—Regency of Ams.
Knobb—Van Berkle
Swivel Eye J. D. Neufville
V—Arthur Lee
Brux—Mr. Izard
Fornicatio—Sr. Jos. Yorke

I love some of those names. The British minister to The Hague, Sir Joseph Yorke, must have been quite a character to inspire the moniker Fornicatio. And I have to wonder why Amsterdam merchant, Jean de Neufville, was known as Swivel Eye. I just wish the chap tagged Indiana had been named Jones…

james searleJames Searle, known in the list as Funn, was indeed a fun guy. He once engaged in a cane fight at the Continental Congress with Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress. Searle claimed that Thomson misquoted him, and the fight resulted in slashed faces for both men. 

I took a course on the history of espionage in high school where we had to choose code names. A classmate and I split Mata Hari between us, with me taking one half and her the other. I can’t remember now whether I was Mata or Hari, but I think I prefer either to the choices on that list.  However, if I have to go with one, I’ll take Snapo!

Read the text of a letter from Francis Dana to John Adams (dated 1781) that includes code names from the list.

Doodles and Doodlers

doodle025When letters were common, they made good scratch paper. My mom, Carlyn Lendroth, doodled on the back of this envelope, and because she saved the letter, she saved the doodles.

Like an insect trapped in amber, her notes and drawing capture a slice of time from life at home.

Newporter’s on Jamboree Rd was a hotel in Newport Beach. My parents weren’t the kind of folks to stay overnight somewhere that was less than an hour’s drive from home, so perhaps they were meeting someone at the restaurant.

I have no idea what Mom was calculating with her columns of figures, but I hope it had nothing to do with my college expenses (it was my letter home in that envelope).

As for the languid torso of a woman, that was typical Mom. She studied fashion design in her early 20s and never stopped sketching women. When I was a little girl, she drew ladies in fluffy gowns for me to color with crayons.

I inherited the doodle bug from Mom and still idly draw on margins and scratch paper. Except at work. I’ve tried to stop doodling there after I once looked around a conference table and realized that no one besides me had drawn a single star, cat or leaf on their notepads.


fashion sketch

My Fall New Year

Hampshire summer Hampshire fall
View from window in summer
 View from window in autumn

In September, my daughter began college back east. She shares the changing scene in photos from her phone, letting me compare the view from her window now with the image I took in late summer when flowers bloomed in the tall grass.

fall letterI tried to capture the seasonal transition around my college campus in letters home to my parents. A bit overblown and earnest to be sure, but it was all so new to me, a California girl, whose seasons slipped casually from hot to warm to cool and back again.

But I am captivated by fall for another reason: it’s when I would don a party hat and shout “Happy New Year!” if I could change the calendar. My New Year’s cycle resets annually with the first day of school, no matter that it has been decades since I slammed my final locker door and closed my last textbook.

fall leaves 2Every August, my pulse quickens at the sight of pencils and notebooks piled high in drug stores and the aisles of Target. Long before the first leaf falls anywhere, stores drape mannequins in the earth tones of autumn, and I revel at the sight of plaids and woolly sweaters. Summer may still burn hot and bright, but somewhere deep within a voice exults, It begins.

For years, no matter how wrung dry I felt in June, come September I was ready for anything, renewed and burnished by the summer sun. When school began, the days shimmered with potential. Nothing was impossible. Classes would be different. I could be different. Tabula rasa, the clean slate of the future, stretched ahead, brimming with promise.

Fall leavesYears later, that promise still whispers in my ear when fall nears: It begins.

Fresh starts, untried paths, turn over a new leaf in life’s journal. Harvest moons, cooler days, longer nights. The wheel turns, and the world is new.

From the time I was five until I graduated from college, the ebb and flow of the academic year patterned my life. At some elemental level I am as imprinted to heed the call of the school season as geese are to fly south with the autumn wind.

When my daughter started school, I shared her dawning wonder at the cycle. I understood that it was more than a school list she filled when she piled our shopping cart with folders, markers, pens and paper. The year’s renewal coursed through her veins.

It begins.