The lower Hudson Valley is spectacular in the fall. Especially October, when it seems to be in its most natural state—crisp, colorful, a little spooky, and full of fun. While the fall events in our towns may be less plentiful this year, there is still much to enjoy.
Experience Home of the “Legend” at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown. In this outdoor, touch-free event you will tour the grounds, go on a literature-themed scavenger hunt, and view a special exhibit about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. When > Weekends through November 8 (advance tickets required, limited capacity, masks required). > hudsonvalley.org
Hike Witch’s Spring Trail by torchlight, hear the tale of the woman who was said to be a witch, who may have emigrated from Bohemia, and who definitely lived in Rockefeller State Park Preserve, and enjoy snacks and drinks around the fire at Hulda’s Night. When > Oct. 22-24 (age 10+, reservations required, limited capacity, masks required). > friendsrock.org
Visit the historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for guided walking tours. The one-hour daytime tour focuses on Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and the south end of the cemetery. The Classic Evening Lantern Tour explores the cemetery’s history and residents such as William Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and John Dustin Archbold in the north end. When > Daytime tours: Mondays-Fridays in October; Evening tours (ages 10+) Friday & Saturday nights through Nov. 21, Sunday nights in October (advance tickets required, greatly reduced capacity, masks required). > sleepyhollowcemetery.org
Join the annual and adorable Goblin Walk in Croton-on-Hudson at Croton Landing. > When: Oct. 31 (no dogs; masks required). > crotononhudson-ny.gov.
And of course there is The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson. Enjoy over 7,000 hand-carved, illuminated pumpkins, accompanied by synchronized lighting and an original soundtrack throughout the grounds of the 18th-century Van Cortland Manor. When > Select dates through November 21 (advance reservations required, capacity extremely limited, masks required, no food or drink sold on site this year). > hudsonvalley.org
VISIT A FARM
Prospect Hill Orchards is a quick drive to Milton, N.Y. (GPS 12547), where the focus is on high-quality fruit and a relaxing family experience. They grow delicious cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and over 15 varieties of apples — all in their proper season. A tractor ride takes you right to the tree-ripened fruits of your choice, where low-growing trees make picking easy for the whole family. You won’t get “nickel & dimed”– you will just enjoy fresh air, delicious fruit in season, and a quiet, country atmosphere. When > Their two locations are open thru Oct. 18 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. > prospecthillorchards.com. 845-795-2383
While the bucolic Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills is currently closed to the general public, it is open for guided farm tours and Member Mornings, when members can visit the campus and explore at their own pace. When > Select weekday mornings (reservations required, masks mandatory).
PEEP A LEAF
Head to these spots to see some spectacular autumnal views: Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow, Eagle Hill at Rockefeller State Park Preserve (enter at Sleepy Hollow Road), Croton Gorge Park in Cortlandt, and the Bear Mountain Bridge in Peekskill. When > Anytime! > parks.westchestergov.com > parks.ny.gov > nysba.state.ny.us
TAKE A STROLL
Visit Lyndhurst’s stunning 67-acre estate. Take the two-hour guided landscape tour or view Jorge Otero-Pailos’s multi-disciplinary art installation Watershed Moment in the unrestored 1911 Swimming Pool Building. When > Every day through November 1; tours and exhibit open Fridays – Sundays (must pre-purchase a Grounds Pass, masks required, picnics allowed). lyndhurst.org
A-Haunting We Will Go …
Are you a fan of ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties? Then follow me. Do not be afraid. I will show you some things that go bump in the night.
The Church of St Barnabas in Irvington is the first stop on our tour. Over the years, many have seen the specter of an old woman knitting in a rocking chair in the rectory, as well as a man, thought to be a former pastor, hanging out near the organ.
About a mile north, then west, several ghosts are thought to reside at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s historic home in Tarrytown. His nieces have been known to clean up after busy tours, and can be heard chatting on the north side of the house. Irving’s ghost, however, is not as polite. It has been known to pinch female visitors. Tsk tsk, Washington!
Keep heading north to EF International Language Campus New York, formerly Marymount College at Tarrytown, which is allegedly haunted by the protective ghost of Mother Butler, its original founder, as well as a few former students. Some of the spirits calmly float through the hallways, while others like to shake beds and watch people in parking lots.
Now let’s go east, but not too far, to Raven Rock in the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, where three female ghosts haunt the area. An “Indian maiden” who was killed by a jealous lover has been seen wandering around, as well as a colonial girl who, while trying to escape an impassioned Tory raider, leapt from the rock to her death. There is also the woman in white who, according to Washington Irving, “haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock and often was heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow.”
Nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is, unsurprisingly, haunted. But this phantom is of the equine variety. Hoof beats have been heard throughout the grounds, especially near the Old Dutch Church. The church’s steeple is said to house a smaller, human-shaped ghost.
But the haunt of the Headless Horseman pales in comparison to Sparta Cemetery in Briarcliff Manor, one of the oldest cemeteries in Westchester. Dating back to 1764, it is the resting place of many Revolutionary War soldiers, as well as the mysterious Leather Man (a 19th century chap who wandered Connecticut and Westchester for 30 years in a clockwise circuit, wearing a leather outfit). Visitors have seen eerie mists and unexplained lights, and heard voices when they thought they were alone.
Now onto the Bewitched Mill! According to local lore, much of it told amongst shad fishermen on Crawbucky Point (the southern tip of Croton Point) and collected in The Crawbucky Tales, there was an old grist mill in Sing Sing that would come to an abrupt stop every night at midnight. No one could figure out why.
Finally, Old Man Morgan, the miller, decided to stay after dark and find out. As soon as the clock struck twelve, a black cat crashed through a window and the mill came to a halt. The miller shot at the cat, wounding its paw and scaring it away. The cat never returned, and the mill never again stopped working at midnight.
Let’s head up to Croton Point Park. Do you know the road that leads to the model airplane field? That used to be called Haunted Hollow. And that field used to be a fort, where a great battle took place between indigenous tribes. At the bottom of what was then a marsh was a bank of sand known as Money Island. Why? Because privateer Captain William Kidd buried his treasure there. Maybe. But it was also the burial ground for the Kitchawank tribe. Maybe. There have been sightings of witches, goblins, Chief Croton, even the Devil roaming around, guarding either the treasure or the sacred land. All we know for sure is that Money Island is no longer there.
Before we leave Croton Point, note the old vaulted wine cellars of the torn-down Underhill Mansion. In the mid-1800s, Dr. Richard T. Underhill set up one of the first commercial vineyards in the country at the tip of what was then called Point Pleasant Park. His ghost has been seen riding around the property in a horse-drawn buggy. And a thief, caught and decapitated when he ran into a wire stretched across the lane, still roams the vaults.
About a mile and a half away, you will come to the infamous Van Cortland Manor. In an article from December 1945 in the Croton-on-Hudson News titled “Manor House Ghosts Are No Trouble To The New Owners,” it is explained that the supernatural roommates are “nice family-kind of spirits that don’t cause any trouble.” Which is good, because there are many of them. Over the years, there have been reports of a servant wandering the grounds looking for the silverware she hid from the British, another servant who appears in the “ghost room” jangling a ring of keys, two British soldiers, a woman in a long gown that brushes the legs of visitors on the staircase, and a laughing lady who arrives by carriage and runs up the front steps of the house in the middle of the night.
Over by the Croton River is a place known as Deep Hole. Surrounded by cliffs, it is the deepest part of the river, once thought to be 150 feet but actually only 26 feet deep. Near where the old famed Nikko Inn and Playhouse used to be, it has been the site of many drownings and mysterious happenings throughout the years. People have seen Chief Croton walking along the river, and complained of hearing a couple arguing between midnight and 1 a.m.—the man chiding, the woman pleading. Then silence.
Our last stop is at Watch Hill in Cortland, where a British soldier is said to emerge from a crevice in a rock on the full moon. According to lore, the soldier fell in love with a local girl and was murdered by her unhappy brothers behind a rock outcropping near Route 9A and Furnace Dock Road.
And that is where our tour ends. For now…
Marc Cheshire, Croton Historical Society
Patricia Sacchi, Ossining Historical Society
Jeff Canning, Van Cortlandville Historical Society
Caedra Scott-Flaherty is a writer living in Croton-on-Hudson. Find her at Caedra.com.