Visitors to the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry often provide stories as intriguing as the house itself, offering a reward to those of us who work as docents there. Here are a sample:
Echoes of Downton Abbey
At four o’clock one winter afternoon, I was about to close up when a lone visitor arrived. When I learned that he had come all the way from Astoria, Queens, of course I said, “I’ll stay open for you.” And when I heard his German accent, I couldn’t resist a chat to practice my own German. I asked, “Was ist ihr Beruf?” (What is your profession?) He answered, “Ich bin Haushalt Meister.” I didn’t understand, so he helped me out: “Butler to you.” I asked, “You mean like Carson in Downton Abbey?” “Yes.”
His name is Niklaus. He is, now, as far as I know, the only butler on our membership list.
The Bearded Santa Claus
In early December, a walker arrived who had a long straggly beard, carried a walking stick, backpack, and was wearing sturdy boots and a heavy, well-worn jacket. He deposited himself on a chair, saying he needed a rest. Then to my astonishment he pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills, saying, “I need some maps.” He needed $200 worth of maps, “To give as Christmas presents.”
“You must be Santa Claus!” I said. He answered, “I can’t be because I’m Jewish,” then handed me another hundred dollar bill as a donation.
I learned that he is a mathematician who, as he put it, “haunts the halls of MIT.”
How Many Walkers Come from Iceland?
So far only two. Recently, an attractive young couple arrived at the House and were fascinated by our story. Of course, I had to get their story. They were doing a short stem-cell research assignment at Sloan Kettering. But how did they find the Keeper’s House?
The answer was: “If you are Scandinavian, or European of any kind, you love to walk. And so you Google ‘Interesting walks’. And the Aqueduct pops up.” Their explanation made sense; no wonder we get so many European tourists.
The Best-Dressed Bikers in the World
One afternoon, a couple walked in looking as if they’d stepped out of a Gentleman’s Quarterly for international bikers, with the correct gloves, shoes and gaiters, and matching vests and helmets.
Recently retired from the medical world in Bremen, Germany, they had flown, with their fancy bikes, to Toronto to bike the Lake Shore and then the Erie Canal. Someone on the Erie Canal route recommended visiting the Keeper’s House. That’s a hop, skip, and a jump!
While his wife was in the bathroom, the man said to another visitor (from Quebec, as it happens), “Don’t tell my wife, but I’m planning a tour of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec next year.” We’ll see.
The Trespassers of Decades Ago
Local teenagers had possessed the Keeper’s House long before we did. We called them our happy trespassers. When we started restoring the broken-down house, we were thrilled to discover, written on the wall of an upstairs room, “The Explorers’ Club.” There followed a list of rather childishly written names of neighborhood kids who had hung out in the abandoned house, perhaps climbing in through a cellar window. We took a photograph of the names on the wall before we painted over it. It was as much their house then as it is ours now. I discovered, with a bit of sleuthing, that one of the “explorers” is still in the neighborhood. I asked if we could take a photo of her and her cousins — fellow “explorers.” She declined, not wanting to be labeled a trespasser. But she understood our pleasure at finding the list before we painted the walls.
The “Lazy Walkers”
One quiet afternoon, a diverse group of 30 walkers, of various ages, straggled into the House. They obviously needed a rest, having walked almost all the way to Dobbs Ferry from Manhattan. I asked if they were a special group, and they said, “We call ourselves ‘The Lazy Walkers.’ ” And to think they walked all the way from Manhattan. They said the name gives them permission to dawdle. (But they left the house at a gallop.)
I encourage readers to pay a visit to the Keeper’s House and leave a story behind. And if you’d like to be docent, call Mavis at 914-693-0529.