by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
This fall, you can enjoy your favorite corn mazes, pick-your-own-fruit and vegetable activities, hayrides and haunted houses, plus farmers’ markets and craft beverage trails in New York State, albeit under special health protocols for low-risk outdoor outdoor arts and entertainment. You can also visit the state’s farmers’ markets and craft beverage trails, which have remained open under New York’s NY Forward guidance, supporting agriculture and tourism in the state.
Sleepy Hollow’s Iconic 16th Annual Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze Comes to Long Island for the First Time
The extraordinarily popular Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze event that takes place each extended Halloween season at historic Hudson Valley is coming to Long Island for the first time, as Nassau County’s Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR) hosts the iconic fall event in conjunction with the original Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze® Hudson Valley, kicking off this week, running for a record 53 select evenings from September 18 through November 21. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze® Long Island will run for 23 nights from October 2 through November 1. Both locations feature outdoor self-guided, touch-free walk-through experiences through the wooded pathways, orchards, and gardens of historic sites. A small team of local artists hand-carved more than 7,000 Jack O’Lanterns and elaborate pumpkin sculptures at each site. Nassau’s location will feature pumpkin sculptures that celebrate icons of Long Island culture – from the Apollo Lunar Module to the Montauk Lighthouse to the windmills of the East End.
Bringing the event to Nassau County is part of County Executive Laura Curran’s efforts to expand on the variety of extraordinary, cultural and memorable activities available to residents close to home – making the County a spectacular place to live, work, and play. OBVR provides a perfect 19th century backdrop for this magical and spooky event where attendees can safely socially distance across the property’s 209 acres. Advance purchase tickets are required; prices start at $32/adult, $24/child, purchase online (https://pumpkinblaze.org/blaze-long-island.html). (Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Rd., Old Bethpage, NY 11804)
To see the original, come to Van Cortlandt Manor. Meander through an 18th-century landscape and discover a breathtaking display of more than 7,000 illuminated jack o’ lanterns—all designed and hand-carved on site by HHV’s team of artisans. New for 2020, a fire truck—making a special rescue—and witches stirring up a spell. Tour the Museum of Pumpkin Art, where classic paintings get the gourd treatment, see who let the (pumpkin) dogs out, listen for the Headless Horseman—and watch out for swooping jack o’lantern bats. See the Pumpkin Carousel twirl and the Pumpkin Windmill whirl and step inside the Pumpkin Planetarium for a star show like you’ve never seen. Hold a torch for the 25-foot-tall jack o’lantern Statue of Liberty and get personal with Instagrammable signs of the zodiac. Social distancing and masks required at all times (no food and beverage on site and no outside food or drinks permitted). Tickets must be purchased in advance. (Van Cortlandt Manor, 525 S Riverside, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520, https://hudsonvalley.org/events/blaze/).
Historic Hudson Valley is also re-creating its famous “Legend” event for these times. Sunnyside celebrates its connection to Washington Irving’s classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, at this family friendly daytime event. Home of the ‘Legend’ includes a literary-themed scavenger hunt and a Legend-themed exhibit on the grounds of Washington Irving’s estate. Weekends through Nov. 6-8; tickets $12/adults, $10/seniors and children 3-17. (Sunnyside, West Sunnyside Lane, off Route 9 in Tarrytown, https://hudsonvalley.org/events/home-of-the-legend/).
Buy tickets online at www.hudsonvalley.org or by calling 914-366-6900 ($2 per ticket surcharge for phone orders).
Hudson Valley Bountiful With Farmers Markets, Pick-Your-Own, Biking, Hiking
Hudson Valley is full of farmers markets, pick-your-own, and tastings that show off New York State’s bounty.
After biking the River to Ridge trail in New Paltz, just off a Springtown Road, filled with apple and pumpkin farms and stands, just a few minutes away from the trailhead (and actually located right off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail), we found Coppersea Distilling, with beautifully laid out bar stands for tasting their wonderful whiskeys and brandies, made with “heritage” methods, and locally source (within 25 miles) all the ingredients. They even use New York State wood for their barrels (which actually shape the taste). They floor-malt grains, ferment in wood tanks, distill in direct-fired copper pot stills to crate spirits with “provenance.” (It’s fascinating to hear James explain these processes.) They also have resurrected a 250-year old process for “green whiskey” – the significant difference in method and taste is that the grain is still alive and has chlorophyll, which gives the whiskey a kind of green-tea flavor. (Coppersea, 239 Springtown Road, New Paltz 12561, coppersea.com, 845-444-1044).
“New York State’s amazing outdoor attractions and recreational opportunities are a boon for families and communities during the fall season each year, and we want New Yorkers to be able to enjoy this time with their family responsibly and safely,” Governor Cuomo said. “The new guidance will ensure that these businesses can open to the public, allowing families to enjoy their favorite fall activities while providing a boost for our farming communities and local economies.”
“As one of the nation’s top agricultural states, New York traditionally comes together in the fall to celebrate the harvest—from apples to grapes to pumpkins,” State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said. “This year, while things may not look exactly the same on your favorite farm, I am happy to say we can still celebrate agriculture’s bounty and the many family-friendly activities that go with it. With this new guidance, we hope New Yorkers will be able to enjoy some of the best of New York agriculture in a safe and socially distanced manner.”
The protocols include reduced capacity, face coverings, social distancing between individuals and parties, and frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, cleaned and sanitized between rides. (See https://agriculture.ny.gov/coronavirus).
Autumn in The Adirondacks
Autumn is always a fabulous time to visit the Adirondacks in upstate NY, but in a year when fresh air and wide open spaces are what we are all craving, the region’s natural landscape is especially nurturing. Travelers will find endless opportunities for adventure, exploration and relaxation, from hiking the High Peaks to scenic drives along the Whiteface Memorial Highway to fireside dining on outdoor patios.
The Adirondack Fall Foliage Meter provides up-to-the-minute fall foliage reports on where the leaves are prettiest and most colorful. In Lake Placid, the new Skyride, an 8-person state-of-the-art gondola, takes guests from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, where a new glass-enclosed elevator brings them to the top to enjoy the panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!). The new Sky Flyer zipline also offers unparalleled views of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. (https://lakeplacidolympicsites.com/todo/skyride/)
For a COVID getaway, which we just did over Labor Day, enjoy fall foliage colors and no quarantining required (if you live in the Northeast) in New York State’s Adirondacks State Park.
While in North Creek (Gore Mt ski area), visit and/or take a class with artist-in-residence glassblower extraordinaire, Greg Tomb — last day for classes this season is September 23, 2020.
In cooperation with North Creek’s Tannery Pond Center, Tomb has made hundreds of colorful, glass-blown pumpkins that will be sold at the “Glass Pumpkin Patch” weekend, September 25-27, 2020, from 10am – 6pm daily. Each pumpkin has been hand-blown by Tomb, giving them their unique and distinctive sizes and designs (starting price of $35). A sizable percentage of all sales goes towards the arts and operations of North Creek’s Tannery Pond Center, North Creek, NY. For more info, visit https://tannerypondcenter.org/event/fundraiser-glass-pumpkin-patch/). — Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin/Travel Features Syndicate
My getaway exploring the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills of New York starts at the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls, where you get an amazing view of Kaaterskill Clove (HRSAT Site #4). You gaze out over the gorge where mountain peaks seem to thread together and compare the scene today to the way it is depicted by Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand’s 1866 painting.
It’s a short walk along 23A (watch out for cars on the winding narrow road) to the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes, Kaaterskill Falls (HRSAT Site #5), a stunning scene that looks remarkably just as depicted in an 1835 painting by Thomas Cole, known as the father of the Hudson River School. “It is the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison,” Cole (who was also a poet and essayist) wrote.
The Kaaterskill Falls were a favorite subject of many of the Hudson River School painters and for me, is the quintessential combination of stunning scenery plus the physical pleasure of the hike – half-mile up to the base of the double-falls, then another half-mile to the top.
The two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, 175 and 85 feet, is the highest in New York State and was described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Pioneers” which Thomas Cole, a friend of Cooper’s illustrated.
There is a small trail through the woods to the very top of the falls. Signs admonish hikers that climbing the ledges beside Kaaterskill Falls is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. But the falls are not flowing when I come, so I get to walk on the ledges, giving me a really nervous view straight down and beyond, to the Valley and letting me look at the carved initials and graffiti from the 1920s and 30s, some even from the 1800s. You feel a sense of kindred spirit with those who have passed through and passed on. You feel the height and the proximity to the drop off, and it makes your heart flutter.
Later, I will recognize the view in Thomas Cole’s paintings and imagine how he must have stood in this precise place where you are standing.
It is a half-mile to the base, and another half- mile to the top of the falls, for a total of 2 miles roundtrip. There are some scrambles and it is uphill almost all the way (walking sticks are really recommended), and is thoroughly fantastic.
(The parking lot is just west of the trailhead and across 23A, so you park and walk back along the road, being very careful. Haines Falls NY 12436, 518-589-5058, 800-456-2267).
HRSAT Hikes in North-South Campground
For my second day, after an amazing breakfast at the Fairlawn Inn, I head to North-South Campground, where there are several of the Hudson River School of Art Trail hikes (as well as many other hiking trails) – the lake itself depicted in paintings such as Thomas Cole’s “Lake with Dead Trees,” 1825 (HRSAT Site #6).
The Escarpment Trail to Sunset Rock (HRSAT Trail Site #7) begins along the well-marked blue trail (you cut off to the yellow trail to Sunset Rock) that mostly wraps around the ledges, with the amazing views that so enthralled the artists of the Hudson River Valley. Close to the beginning is a fairly interesting scramble, then the trail winds through the woods along side fabulous rock formations before coming out again to the ledges. You reach Artists Rock at about a half-mile. Continuing on, you look for the yellow trail marker to Sunset Rock and from there, to Newman’s Point.
You can either reverse and come back on the Escarpment Trail, or make a loop, coming down the Mary’s Glen trail, passing Ashley’s Falls.
Mary’s Glen trail can also be the entrance to a more challenging hike, to North Point, a distance of 3.2 miles with 840 feet ascent. It is a mostly moderate climb but has some short, steep scrambles over rock, but you come to large open slabs and expansive vistas at North Point, a 3,000 ft. elevation with some of the most distant views.)
Back at the North-South Lake, you can follow around the shoreline to see the same views that inspired Hudson River School paintings.
You can also take the trail to the site of the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Site #8), one of the earliest tourist hotels. The majestic hotel, which was opened in 1823 and accommodated 400 guests a night (Presidents Arthur and Grant were among those who stayed here), burned down in 1963 but the view that attracted visitors still remains as one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region, and can be compared to Frederic Church’s “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849).
It is fun to see the initials carved into the stone ledges from more than a century ago. The Mountain House began drawing thousands of guests each season from all over the country as well as from abroad, who came not just for the cooler, healthier climate but for what had already become one of the most renowned natural panoramas in the young nation: the valley 1,600 feet below, stretching east to the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires, with the silvery thread of the Hudson visible for 60 miles from north to south. On a clear day, you can see five states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The hike is just a half-mile with only an 80-foot ascent.
There is a $10/car day use fee for the NYS DEC’s North-South Lake Campground from early May through late October, however the fee is waived for NYS residents 62 years or older midweek. The campground is open May through October; 518-589-5058 or call DEC Regional Office year-round at 518-357-2234, www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/north-south-lake-campground.
The Hudson River School Art Trail also features Olana, the magnificent and whimsical mansion home of artist Frederick Edwin Church. At this writing, the entrancing mansion was not yet reopened to visits, but the 250-acre grounds and the first-ever legally protected “viewshed” to the Hudson River are open (5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.)
Also, you can walk the grounds Thomas Cole Historic Site (the home has yet to be reopened, but is marvelous to visit, especially Cole’s studio). (218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org)
By Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Visiting New York State’s parks has been such a respite, a source of revitalization and renewal during this unprecedented public health crisis. Thankfully, they have been officially reopened as New York proceeds with its NY Forward phased plan, as New York has gone (miraculously) from having the highest-rate of COVID-19 infection in the nation to the lowest in just 100 days. That has been managed by methodical, scrupulous implementation of protocols, a “new normal,” that include reducing capacity in parking lots and cleaning restrooms, and requiring people to wear face masks when they cannot keep six-feet apart, even when hiking on a trail.
This weekend, I biked at Jones Beach State Park, where the bike path has been extended 3 miles along Ocean Parkway, then biked along the boardwalk which was surprisingly uncrowded and people were observing healthy practices (and there were plenty of monitors, as well as hand-sanitizing stations, and scrupulously cleaned restrooms), then continued the trail along Wantagh Parkway 5 miles to Cedar Creek Park and return – a 20-mile ride that is absolutely exhilarating.
Another weekend, I biked the sensational Bethpage State Park trail. The 6.8-mile trail, which is remarkably treed and natural-looking despite going through a narrow corridor between highway and residential neighborhoods has been nearly doubled in length, to 12.5 miles, from Woodbury Road, into and through Bethpage State Park and Massapequa Park (https://www.dot.ny.gov/bethpagebikeway).
I can’t wait to bike the newly opened 3.6 mile bike/walking path along the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge (former Tappan Zee), which affords views of New York City to the South, Hudson Valley to the north (mariomcuomobridge.ny.gov). Already, the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie has become one of the most popular attractions in the state (walkway.org), and this new path is expected to be a boon for local tourism as well.
I also discovered how easy it is to hike in the Catskills – within 2 ½ hours drive, to be amid sensational scenes immortalized in the Hudson River Art School paintings (and now on the Hudson River School Art Trail), making it a day trip (the rest stops along the New York Thruway are open and observing COVID-19 protocols). (hudsonriverschool.org)
A centerpiece of the art trail is the North-South Lake Campground, 2 ½ hour drive (but you can now book a campsite), where there are a number of hiking trails that bring you to the scenes depicted in paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. My favorite is the Escarpment Trail, which goes along the edge for breathtaking views over the Hudson including Artist’s Rock, Sunset Rock, Newman’s Ledge, Boulder Rock and North Point, through wilderness with dramatic rock formations, and down Mary’s Glen trail, passed the beautiful Ashley Falls. (https://cnyhiking.com/North-SouthLakeCampground.htm)
Make it into a real adventure, in order to enjoy all the outdoor amenities of North-South Lake Campground, and make it a camping trip. North-South Lake Campground is the largest state campground in the Catskills, with more than 200 campsites.
NYS Parks Campgrounds Reopen
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) has begun accepting new camping reservations for all available sites – including tents, trailers, RVs, cabins, yurts and cottages – for camping stays beginning on June 22. Reservations are expected to fill quickly. Reservations can be made in advance by calling 800-456-CAMP or http://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Online reservations are encouraged.
State Park Police and operations staff are patrolling campgrounds to ensure compliance with social distancing and crowd control measures. Anyone who does not adhere to this guidance will be requested to leave the facility, and will not receive a refund.
Upon check-in, campers will be asked a series of screening questions to determine if they may have been in contact with anyone suffering from Covid-19, or if they have any potential symptoms of Covid-19, including fever or respiratory illness. People who may be at risk will not be permitted to camp.
Campground density reduction and social distancing measures will be in effect, including:
No walk-up reservations will be allowed.
Each congregate restroom facility will be opened and cleaned per DOH protocols.
Rest rooms and shower buildings may have reduced capacity and may be closed periodically for cleaning.
Campground gatherings will be limited to immediate household members only.
All campground events and programs are suspended.
Park Social Distancing Ambassadors will monitor campgrounds, picnic areas, beachfronts, lawns, boardwalks and other areas to ensure park guidelines are being met.
COVID related signage has been installed throughout the park system.
For a listing of campgrounds operated by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, visit https://parks.ny.gov/camping/. Campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks overseen by the Department of Environmental Conservation operate on a different schedule.
If you are closed out, you can look to some of the private campgrounds, such as Kampgrounds of America (koa.com).
Beaches and day-use areas
In alignment with NY Forward, State Park beaches, day-use areas and historic sites are charging the normal entrance fee of $6-$10 as regions reach phase 2 of reopening. For information, visit: https://forward.ny.gov/.
New York is spending $2.9 million to improve new or existing trails and playgrounds in state parks across the state in the next phase of the NY Parks 2020 Plan. The plan is a multi-year commitment to leverage a broad range of private and public funding to invest approximately $900 million in State Park improvements. Under the initiative, Governor Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of modernizing 100 playgrounds, replacing outdated equipment with modern, code-compliant facilities, improving access for people with disabilities, and creating specific areas for older and younger age groups.
“We are continuing to invest in every corner of the state to ensure that New Yorkers have access to nearby family-friendly, top-notch facilities, with modern playgrounds and expanded or improved opportunities for hiking and outdoor recreation,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Our State Parks serve as community anchors as well as economic engines for families and business across New York, and this is why we have made their enhancement a top priority.”
Projects funded include:
Saratoga Spa State Park ($50,000) – Rehabilitation of stone dust paths.
Moreau Lake State Park ($20,000) – Design work started for a new gravel parking area at the Sherman Island boat launch.
Materials purchased ($5,000) for creation of new trail signs at the regional sign shop for all parks in the region.
Central New York
Fillmore Glen State Park ($60,000) – Completion of a new 80-foot bridge, rehabilitation of box steps and stone steps, and regrading of a mile of the North Rim Trail.
Chittenango Falls State Park (69,000) – Renovation of existing playground.
Chimney Bluffs State Park ($50,000) – Construction starting on a new 400-foot boardwalk and trail relocation, with completion expected in spring 2020.
Genesee Valley Greenway State Park ($50,000) – New drainage culverts are being added to improve the 90-mile former canal towpath and railway bed in Monroe, Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. In September, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $6.4 million in grants from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, in addition to $4 million in state funding, to support ongoing improvements to the Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail in Western New York.
Hallock State Park Preserve ($17,000) – A new .75-mile birding trail loop added from the upper parking lot through Harbor Hill moraine and rare clay hoodoos (a type of rock tower formation) along the north shore of Long Island Sound.
Taconic State Park ($158,000) – Expansion of playground to include equipment for younger children and a bear theme.
Lake Taghkanic ($245,000) – Expansion of West Beach playground to include new fish theme, along with increased shade structures and an ADA-compliant pedestrian trail to the beach.
Mills Norrie State Park ($405,000) – Bids opened for new woodland-themed playground, with construction to start next spring for summer completion.
Fahnestock State Park ($325,000) – Design work started for a new bird-themed playground at Canopus Lake, with completion estimated in 2020 or 2021.
Trail signage replacement ($75,000) throughout region, with work expected to be done by spring 2020.
Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve – New interpretive panels will be added to the Constitution Marsh Bird Conservation Area, with work expected to be done by spring 2020.
Wellesley Island State Park ($10,000) – Construction of new boardwalks at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center.
Robert G. Wehle State Park ($50,000) – Construction of a new playground shaped like a dog’s paw, to underscore Wehle’s history as a breeder of champion bird hunting dogs.
Higley Flow State Park ($50,000) – Construction of a second playground closer to the campgrounds.
New York City
Clay Pit Ponds Park Preserve ($15,000) – Trails have been improved at the 265-acre nature preserve at the southwest shore of Staten Island.
Buttermilk Falls State Park ($30,000) – Work begun on new 56-foot bridge at Scott’s Dam connecting the main parking lot to the Bear Trail, with completion expected in spring 2020.
Taughhannock Falls State Park ($10,000) – Construction completed of new box steps and stone steps on the South Rim Trail.
Chenango Valley State Park ($282,000) – Playground near beach area improved with upgraded equipment. Clearing work has started on the Chenango Lake Trail, with planning begun for a new ADA-compliant parking area near the trailhead, a new Oak Island bridge and a mountain bikes skills course.
Oquaga Creek State Park ($75,500) – Construction of new play area.
Western New York
Allegany State Park ($130,000) – Rehabilitation complete on the 25-mile Art Roscoe Cross-Country Ski and Mountain Bike Area, with work expected to be complete by October. Work is complete on refurbishing the Lonkto Hollow Trail and culvert replacement. Replace culverts, with work expected to be done by October 2019. Refurbish the Stoney Trail and replace culverts, with work expected to be done in summer 2020.
Midway State Park ($300,000) – Construction this winter for a new train-themed playground reflecting the park’s origination as a 19th century “trolley park,” with work expected to be done for the 2020 operating season.
Letchworth State Park ($300,000) – Design work underway for new Nature Center playground, with construction start anticipated for April 2020.
Backcountry Trails Program ($170,000) – Sterling Forest State Park: Repairs to existing trails, and construction of new Doris Duke Trail and seven-mile Red Back multi-use loop; Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve: Restoration and surfacing improvements to highly-used trails.
State Parks oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 74 million people last year. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.
On a grand night at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, five of the Apollo astronauts, including three of only 12 men who have ever walked on the moon, and two flight directors who controlled the Apollo missions, reflected on their experiences. It was an epic event in a year of events at the museum marking the 50th Anniversary of the first man to walk on the moon, inspiring interest in space science, which will climax on July 20 at the exact moment when Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind.”
Cradle of Aviation Museum has special meaning to the astronauts, many of whom
have come to the museum over the years to give talks and participate in events.
Not only is it home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Lunar
Modules,(LM-13, LTA-1), Lunar Module parts and Lunar Module photos and
documentation, but it also is home to the engineers of Grumman Aerospace
Corporation that designed, built and tested the Lunar Modules between 1961-1972
which successfully landed 12 men on the moon between 1969-1972.
Rusty Schweickartwas the first to pilot the Lunar Module, testing the craft on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969 before it was used on the moon in Apollo 11. He was one of the first astronauts to space-walk without a tether, and one of the first to transmit live TV pictures from space. He is also credited with development of the hardware and procedures which prolonged the life of the Skylab space station.
Schweickart reflected on a moment when he was essentially stranded in space. “I turned around and looked at earth, brilliant blue horizon. There was no sound – I was floating inside my suit which was floating. Just hanging out looking at earth, completely silent. My responsibility at that moment was to absorb: I’m a human being. Questions floated in: how did I get here, why was I here. I realized the answer was not simple. What does ‘I’ mean? ‘Me’ or ‘us’. Humanity – our partnership with machines allowed humankind to move out to this environment. 10,000 years from now, it will still be the moment when humanity stepped out to space. While we celebrate something we were part of, it’s one of the events in human history, , that if we don’t wipe ourselves out, we will still have this unique moment in time when life moved out to outer space.”
Fred Haise,the Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 13 mission, would have been the 6th man to walk on the moon. After the Apollo program ended in 1977, he worked on the Shuttle program, and after retiring from NASA, worked for 16 years as an executive for Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Haise reflected that when JFK made his challenge to go to the moon before the end of the decade, he thought this was mission impossible based on where the technology was. “I saw nothing at hand that would have accomplished that. By then, there was just Alan Shepherd who went up and down, the rockets were invented by Germans in World War II.”
When the disaster struck the Apollo 13 – an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the Service Module which supplied power and life support to the Command Module, he reflected, “We weren’t afraid. All of us in the program did the best we could. We were aware of the problems. Everyone was willing to pay the price to make the mission successful.”
situation was not immediately life-threatening . ”Clearly we had lost one tank. I was sick to
my stomach with disappointment that we had lost the moon. It took us almost an
hour to stop the leak in the second tank. “
The Lunar Module was pressed into service as a literally lifeboat and tugboat – a role never anticipated for it.
“The LM bought time. I was never worried. Not sure how it would operate past the two days. Nothing had been damaged in the LM, so I knew we had a homestead we could operate from, and people on the ground were losing a lot of sleep working through the challenges. We never really got to the cliff we were about the fall off.”
Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of cooling water and the critical need to make repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth. It was hailed as the most successful failure.
Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16, the 10th person to walk on the moon and the youngest, at 36 years old), reflected “Driving over the surface of the moon, we didn’t have TV. I was the travel guide for mission control, 250,000 miles away. So I narrated, ‘Now we’re passing on the right…’ – giving a travelogue – as we drove from point A to point B, and I was taking pictures. My job was to get us A to B and describe for mission control what seeing while John was driving…
“The rover did tremendously well, it revolutionized lunar exploration. Prior, we had to walk everywhere, not the easiest thing. Thankfully the rover was a revolution to see so much. Say to all the Grumman folks here who worked on that, you guys built a great machine. We shared the moon speed record because the odometer only went to 17 mph. Three rovers are up there – if you want an $8 million car with a dead battery.”
Harrison Schmitt(Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) was also a former geologist, professor, US Senator from New Mexico. He was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 17, the final manned lunar landing mission. He was the first scientist and one of the last astronauts to walk on the moon – the 12th man and second youngest person to set foot on the moon.
“The thing about our valley [where the
mission explored], Apollo worked in a brilliant sun, as brilliant as any New
Mexico sun, but the sky was absolute black. That was hard to get used to. We
grow up with blue skies. I never felt comfortable with black sky. But in that
black sky was of course that seemingly small planet Earth, always hanging over
the same part of the valley. Whenever I was homesick, I would just look up –
home was only 250,000 miles away.”
Milt Windler was one of the four flight directors of Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team, all of whom were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard M. Nixon for their work in guiding the crippled spacecraft safely back to Earth. Formerly a jet fight pilot, he joined NASA in 1959 during Project Mercury. Windler also served as a flight director for Apollo 8, 10, 11, 14, 15 and all three Skylab missions. After Apollo, he worked in the Space shuttle project office on Remote Manipulator Systems Operations until 1978. He is the recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
Reflecting on the Apollo 13 mission, he said, “It is a common misconception that flight control was one person all 15 days of a mission. But missions were divided into distinct phases – launch, lunar descent, EVA, rendezvous – and there were teams for each. Each team simulated, practiced problems. One of the things that worked well on Apollo was anticipating what would happen. After a flight, we would discuss lessons learned, to come up with improvements. By the time of Apollo 13 developed a real serious problem, we were a finely honed machine.”
Gerry Griffinjoined NASA in 1964 as flight controller in Mission Control during Project Gemini. In 1968, he was named a Mission Control flight director, for all the Apollo manned mission. Gerry’s “Gold” team conducted half of the lunar landings made during Apollo 14, 16, and 17, and would have conducted the landing of Apollo 13 but played a key role in the safe return of the astronauts. Later Griffin played several Hollywood roles in movies including “Apollo 13, “ “Contact”, Deep Space” and “From the Earth to the Moon,”, as a consultant and even an actor.
The astronauts reflected on the “perfect storm”
of forces and factors that resulted in the incomparable space program that put
a man on the moon within a decade – Griffin, quoting Neil Armstrong, said you
needed four things: threat, bold leadership, public support and resources. “He
said that most of the time, those are out of sequence with each other – you may
have the threat but not the resources. It was a perfect storm when Apollo
happened”: the threat from the Soviet Union taking mastery of space frontier; a
balanced budget not yet weighted down by national debt; bold political
leadership and public support. “You had the resources and human resources,
primarily from World War II from the aviation industry, with Grumman part of
it hadn’t been Apollo, it would have been something else. When the Soviets
launched Sputnik and then Gagarin [became the first man in space], the threat
was clear, and everything else fell into line. I think he’s right. Nowadays, we
have a threat now – China – those guys are good. There is a technological
threat now, and could be more later. Leadership? Draw your own conclusion. Resources?
We haven’t had them. Public support? … But I’m an optimistic. If we are going
to make 2024 – that’s awful tight, but I was like Fred, I didn’t think we could
land on moon in the 1960s, but we did. Maybe if things line up better, we could
do it by 2024, if not 2028.”
Asked why we haven’t been back to the moon, Schweickart said, “You need to be young, innovative, not an aging bureaucracy….
need technological, political courage. The moon was in exactly the right place.
The next steps are not quite that easy . There is a debate between going back
to the moon or on to Mars that has raged for years and still does. There’s not
the same opportunity that we had at that time. In many ways, the most important
thing in terms of a sense of challenge, moving out, moving forward is one of
age. Bureaucracy – corporation or government – where the average age increases
every year, you’re cooked.”
are much more encouraged by private enterprise taking over space exploration.
“You don’t see much about Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, but we will. When you see
[Elon Musks’s] SpaceX launch Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and bring back two stages
that land in formation, and the cameras show all these kids, 20 years old,
hooping and hollering, they did it! That’s what it takes. NASA used to be that
way. Part of the real juice in space exploration is encouraging private
activities in space. That today is where most of the juice is, getting young
people involved is the key, giving them the opportunity. Jeff Bezos says it
well. His fundamental motivating, commitment to space is to reduce the cost so
more and more can take part and therefore dramatically increase the quality and
opportunity for innovation. As the cost of getting to space drops, the
creativity will dramatically increase. That’s where it’s at in the future.”
Walt Cunningham a fighter pilot before he became an astronaut, in 1968, he was a Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 7 mission. He’s also been a physicist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author of “The All American Boys.”
“Our society is changing,”
he reflected the next evening when he gave a lecture at the museum. “Back when
Apollo was a story of exploration and adventure – my generation – we had te opportunity
and courage to reach around the moon and to the stars. We were willing to take
risks, didn’t shy from unknown. In those days, it seemed normal to do what we
were doing – exploring the next frontier. Today, the entire world takes pride
in this greatest adventure.”
Sixty years ago, “the
main drive was beating Russians to the moon. They beat us around earth. When
that started a technological fight to finish, not a single American had been in
orbit, but Kennedy was willing to take the risk – not just technological, but
human, economic, political. He took the initiative, the leadership. Today, that
goal is history. Fifty years ago, we never thought of failing –we had fighter
pilot attitude – common dream to test limits of imagination, daring.
“That attitude enabled
us to overcome obstacles. Any project as complex as Apollo required resources,
technology, but most importantly, the will. Driven by the Cold War, all three came
together in the 1960s and we went to moon. Think of it: only three generations separated
man’s first flight off the earth and man’s first orbit around the earth. Only
ironically, on the same day as the astronauts were assembled at Cradle of
Aviation, President Donald Trump was contradicting Vice President Mike Pence
and his own policy, which said that the US would be back on the moon by 2024.
Trump called another moon mission a
waste of money which should be spent, instead to go to Mars.
Trump also has called for the creation of a
Space Force, a new branch of the armed forces, effectively undoing the spirit
of international cooperation in space exploration to advance human knowledge,
with a shift toward militarizing space.
Just over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (#1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail), you see this grand mansion perched on the hillside, poking out from the trees. It is just a short ride off Rte 9G on eastern shore of the Hudson River to get to the long drive up to the mansion and farm, Olana, built by the Hudson River School artist Frederick Edwin Church.
Spanning 250 acres, Olana is one of the most intact artist-created landscapes in America, and “the most intact artist residence of its age in the world,” our guide explains. In fact, it is the artist’s last major work. Church designed, even decorated, every aspect of the house and landscape – digging out a 10-acre lake, planting some 50,000 trees. And today, virtually all the furnishings (95% we are told) are original to the house, even in the same places as when the Church family occupied the house, up until the 1960s.
Literally saved from a wrecking ball, the Olana State Historic Site is now one of New York’s premier historical attractions (HRSAT Site #2), drawing 20,000 visitors a year. You can only visit the house on a guided tour and they only take up to 12 per tour, so tours frequently sell out by 1 pm (advance reservations are recommended).
As I approach Olana, a sign on the road introduces me to a new word, and a new concept – “viewshed.” The word intentionally evokes “watershed” – a protected resource area. Here, Olana, chosen and designed by the artist Church for the views, successfully established a “viewshed” maintaining that this is a national cultural resource worthy of protection and preservation.
The notion of preservation versus progress is the very essence of Church and his Olana, taking up the key theme from Thomas Cole, his teacher and mentor.
Church’s background is very different from Cole’s. While Cole, renowned as the father of the Hudson River School art movement, America’s first, was an immigrant from England, Church was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1826 to a well-to-do family (his father, Joseph Church, owned several businesses including a silversmith and became a director of Aetna Life Insurance Company). Whereas Cole had little art training, Church’s father arranged for him to study with Cole for two years, 1844-46, when Church was 18 years old. Church then went to New York City to set up a studio. He became the youngest Associate of the American Academy of Design, in 1850, and within a few years, became one of the most successful artists of his generation – a veritable rock star.
And whereas Cole, the immigrant, was enthralled by the wildness of the American landscape, Church fell under the spell of naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who encouraged artists to travel the world. Church traveled to the Middle East, South America, Europe (one of his children was born in Rome), Labrador and Greenland. He brought these images and ideas back to the Hudson River Valley where he would build Olana, and his worldliness and world-view filled his canvases.
Ultimately, Olana became his canvas.
Over the last 40 years of his life, from 1860-1899, he designed and fashioned Olana into a three-dimensional work of art that includes the magnificent Persian-inspired home with its various collections, set within a 250-acre landscape, meticulously designed for iconic views of the Hudson River Valley.
What is most remarkable about Olana is that the home and grounds never left the family – the furnishings, the art, even the books, are all Church’s possessions, and we see them laid out in the deliberate living canvas that Church intended.
After Church died, in 1899, his son, Louis, occupied the house, and when Louis’ widow died, in 1964, the house and estate were saved from being sold off by virtue of a public-private collaboration between New York State Parks and a private nonprofit, Olana Partnership (similar to the collaboration between the Central Park Conservancy and New York City’s parks department). Olana opened to the public as a museum in 1966.
This is most fitting, since Church served as commissioner of Central Park (he was a distant cousin of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead). He also was a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Church was responsible for locating Cleopatra’s needle, the obelisk, behind the museum.)
And Church, who achieved national and international prominence with his seven-foot wide painting, “Niagara” (1857), was credited with creating the Niagara Reserve – New York’s first state park and one of the first in the nation, a precursor to the national parks movement.
The Olana grounds include five miles of carriage trails, managed by New York State Parks, and are open to the public at no charge.
The Olana Partnership has worked to restore Olana as well as the landscape. The physical landscape, in Church’s planning and today, is as much art as the landscape painting on canvas. As you walk the trails, the images are framed – markers here as along the other sites of the Hudson River School Art Trail, compare the scene today to paintings. And since my last visit, the view from the mansion to the Hudson River and Catskills beyond has been opened up.
Indeed, as I arrive at Olana, there a group of artists, in the area on a week-long workshop, are painting the scene.
Church’s Worldly View
While Thomas Cole was an immigrant from England who glorified America’s landscapes in a way that had not been done before, Frederic Edwin Church was one its most traveled among the Hudson River School artists, and he brought these images and this worldliness into his canvases.
Church finished his two-year study with Cole in1846 but Cole died soon after, in 1848. Church seems to have always maintained a connection with Cole – returning to the Hudson Valley to build his home close to Cole’s Cedar Grove, traveling with Cole’s biographer to Labrador. He found ways to help the Cole family – helping sell Cole’s paintings (he owned several himself, some of which are on view at Olana) and hired Cole’s son Theodore as Olana’s farm manager.
When Church was in his 20s, he became enamored with the renowned naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt who encouraged artists to travel and paint equatorial South America. In 1853, Church made the first of two expeditions following in Humboldt’s footsteps, chiefly in Colombia; the second, in 1857, to Ecuador.
The paintings he produced from these trips made him one of the best known and most successful painters of his generation.
The New York exhibition of his ten-foot canvas, The Heart of the Andes, in 1859, “was the most popular display of a single artwork in the Civil War era, attracting 12,000 people who paid admission in three weeks to its New York premiere alone, then traveling to Britain and seven other American cities on a tour lasting two years.”
The painting sold for $10,000 to collector William Blodget, at the time, the highest price ever paid for an American painting,” says Olana curator Evelyn Trebilcock. We get to see Church’s final study for “Heart of the Andes”.
Church set out again to travel to exotic places and intrigued by literature of Arctic exploration, in 1859, he hired a boat to take him to the north Atlantic between Labrador and Greenland to sketch icebergs, joined by Louis Legrand Noble Thomas Cole’s biographer. At the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, Church exhibited Icebergs: The North, another grand canvas, which also was a blockbuster hit.
With his career on the rise in 1860, Church’s married Isabel Carnes and came back to the Hudson River Valley, where he had studied painting with Thomas Cole, and bought a farm overlooking the Hudson River on the opposite shore from Cole’s house.
Touring Olana: ‘Thou Art Welcome”
You walk in through the threshold to Olana under an inscription in Arabic, “Thou Art Welcome.”
Most remarkable: all the land and the contents of the grand home are intact, because they had always been within the Church family, and everything you see was meticulous conceived and planned by Church.
That’s what makes the experience of being here all the more profound – there is an immediate connection to the man and creative process of this great artist, who until now, I had only appreciated through his canvases on view in art museums.
Olana is every inch Church’s creation. Church traveled the world (he is a worldly person in his reading and outlook) and went to Mideast, and when came back, wanted to create a “fantasy”. He actually never went to Persia but thought the Persian style could be fanciful. But he didn’t just fabricate the designs out of his imagination, he studied Persian art and architecture. He never visited the Alhambra, but bought photos in order to incorporate the Moorish design elements. He experimented with colors and patterns.
“The desire to build attacks a man like a fever,” Church wrote.
He built the house in two years (for about $90,000, or about $2.5 million today, fairly reasonable), and spent the next four years meticulously decorating it.
Church experimented with different designs; he mixed the colors; he based his patterns on a book of Persian architecture; the stencil designs on the door – in gold and silver paint – have a shimmering effect. The gilded patterns we see on the grand doors – Les Arts Aribe – are from original stencils.
“He meticulously arranged every room, choosing exotic items for their emotional effect, each room a composition. It took him four years to complete decoration.”
I ask whether Church produced much art during this time, and the guide explains that by 1876, when Church was 50 years old, landscape painting had fallen out of fashion and his career was on the wane, Church came down with crippling rheumatism. Home and family became more important and Olana became his primary canvas.
Most important to Church were the views. He oriented the house and the windows southwest to best capture the view.
“Our home will be a curiosity in architecture, but the view from every window will be fabulous,” Church said.
The paintings we see that decorate the rooms are Church’s own collections – his own paintings as well as painters he admired, including Thomas Cole.
There is also Church’s painting of “Petra,” 1868, with its unusual perspective (even for Church) – a vertical image of the temple, carved into rock cliff , as you come to it through a rock cleft, like a photograph.
The last time I visited, I was able to see Church’s library, and what he was interested in, what informed him (almost like reading a journal, it is so telling about values, perspective, world-view, what informed him). He was interested in natural science, novels, religion (Presbyterian), “Women of the Arabs”, “Popular History of the Mexican People” “Natural Law & Spiritual World.” He owned a copy of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” He was friends with Mark Twain, who also lived in Hartford, where Church was born.
In 1888, at 61 years old, Church devoted himself to expanding house and building a new studio within the house. He closed the New York City studio he had rented for 30 years.
Today, his studio seems just as he left it, with various items of folk art and pre-Colombian artifacts Church collected on his travels.
On the wall, “Christian on the Border of the Shadow of Death,” a dark, early painting, reminiscent of Cole. Here in the house, we can see the transition of his style, from largely emulating Cole to developing his own style and perspective.
“Church was a smart marketer of his art – people paid a fee to see just one painting. Lithographs of his work were successful,” says Olana curator Evelyn Trebilcock. “When Church studied with Cole, he painted in Cole’s style, incorporating Christian message, but Church realizes it is not commercial -not saleable- so he instead shows God in beautiful sunsets.”
We go up back stairs that would have been used by the servants – to the second floor family rooms, which were opened to the public in 2009.
Most impressive here are the tiles and the fireplace, produced by Ali Mohammed Isfahan which Church acquired in New York City (they know because they have the receipts).
In the dining room, set for a family meal, the walls are an art gallery – none of which are Church’s, but are the pieces he collected on his travels through Europe, artists he wanted to showcase and support.
There are also portraits of Church, his father, Joseph, who became a director of the Aetna Life Insurance Company and Church’s wife – all painted by other artists since Church never painted portraits. In my mind, it suggests the humility of the man.
After Church died, his art (along with the Hudson River School) fell out of favor.
In 1964 after Church’s daughter-in-law died, the fate of Olana was thrown into question. Then David Huntington, an art historian, got interested and reignited popularity in Church’s work.
Huntington organized a preservation group to buy Olana and got the heirs to agree to give the group two years to come up with the funds, $450,000, to buy Olana.
“The house was going to be dismantled – the items had already been tagged for auction at Sotheby’s,” Mark Prezorsky, landscape curator, says. “The Hudson School was out of style. You could buy a Cole at a garage sale.”
Indeed, the 1960s was not a good time for Victorian architecture – it was a time for sweeping away the “old” for the new, a period of anti-establishment frenzy. Cole’s home, Cedar Grove, for example, was put up for auction – all the possessions were sold off – and might have been knocked down altogether to make way for the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
The Catskill Mountain House which dated from 1824 and figured in many of the Hudson River School paintings, he pointedly notes was burned down in 1963.
But Huntington, the art historian, “was able to see what Olana was.”
The preservation group got the heirs to agree to a two-year “stay of execution” so that they could raise the $430,000 purchase price – they made the deadline with 10 cents to spare. But now that they owned the house, the problem was affording to maintain it.
New York State in astonishing short order had Olana declared a state historic site – the resolution went through three readings in the Assembly and Senate in a single day and Governor Nelson Rockefeller flew by helicopter to Olana for the bill signing. The site is now owned and operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Olana is one of first anywhere to have a preserved “viewshed” (Monticello is another) – arguing the need to preserve the view helped defeat a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the Hudson.
“The farm is big part or Olana,” Prezorsky, the landscape curator, says. “The way we experience it is how move through it –the views open up….. He composed his home as artistic masterpiece in midst of nature. This is one of the few farms where art and farming intersect.”
Church had a 10-acre lake hand-dug as part of the design “before machinery; he sold off “muck” for profit.” Church, he says, was a very practical man; he wanted the farm to be a sustainable enterprise. He planted some 50,000 trees.
Thanks largely to the preservation of Olana and the Thomas Cole House, the Hudson River School regained its place in American history and culture. Olana awakened a sense of pride in scenery and conservation.
Olana resuscitated an appreciation for Church’s art. In 1979, Frederick Church’s “The Icebergs”, discovered in a home for boys in Manchester, England, broke the record for an American painting, selling at auction for $2.5 million.
Olana offers house tours from April through October (closed Mondays), and on weekends November through March. Reservations are highly recommended; there is a car fee on weekends and holidays, and a fee for the house tour. Plan your visit and see a schedule of special events, at olana.org.
Olana State Historic Site, 5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.
The Hudson River School Art Trail, a project of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, has 8 trail sites; during the course of my three-day getaway, I get to experience six of them. Get maps and directions for all the sites on the Hudson River School Art Trail site, www.hudsonriverschool.org.
The first thing you notice about the Thomas Cole House, “Where American Art Was Born,” is the view from his porch – out to the ridges of the Catskills Mountains, the Hudson River curving around a bend. It is not hard to imagine that in Cole’s day, there would have been fields between his house and the river. But it is the same scene immortalized in paintings renowned as the “first American art movement.”
Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove, now the Thomas Cole Historic Site and Site #1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail, has been redone since I last visited – more of the house restored to the way it was when Cole, at 35 years old, married 24-year old Maria Bartow, the niece of the man who owned the house and farm where Cole was renting studio space for 10 years..
The guided tour has also been revamped with new innovative, multi-media features as well as personal effects – I love seeing Cole’s top hat, his musical instruments which he played and posed, his paint box, his traveling trunk with his signature and date, 1829 – and original paintings, and most especially his studio with his easel and paints and a room devoted to his creative process.
The presentation really personalizes the man, brings him into your presence. You start the guided tour in the parlor that Thompson, who really encouraged Cole, turned into a sales office for the artist. What appears to be Cole’s portrait – a video projection – becomes a slide show of his art as a voice narrates from Cole’s own journal and writings. Around the room are projections or digital reproductions of Cole’s paintings (some of Cole’s original paintings are in upstairs rooms we visit). He describes the inspiration and rejuvenation he feels from this wilderness, how he is “deliriously happy” at having his family, and his outrage over the “ravages of the axe” of progress.
These themes come together in his work: while primarily a painter of landscapes, he expressed his philosophical opinions in allegorical works, the most famous of which are the five-part series, The Course of Empire, which depict the same landscape over generations—from a near state of nature (depicting American Indians) to consummation of empire (Rome), and then decline and desolation, which is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society (and will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018); and four-part The Voyage of Life, which are reproduced in his studio. (“Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” will be on view at the Met, January 30-May 13, 2018, and feature some of his most iconic works, including The Oxbow (1836) and his five-part series The Course of Empire (1834–36, www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/thomas-cole,).
I appreciate Cole as very possibly America’s first environmentalist, the first to appreciate conservation and raise the alarm over the march of progress at a time when the Industrial Revolution was taking hold and technological progress was worshipped along with capitalism, as he railed against the “copper-hearted barbarians” and “dollar-godded utilitarians.”
“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly,” he says, as a projection of his painting, “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1828) appears.
Cole worried that America’s rapid expansion and industrial development would destroy the glorious landscape – in 1836, he could see the railroad being built through the valley and he bemoaned the loss of forest along Catskill Creek, “the beauty of environment shorn away.”
Cole recognized America as a land in transition – the settled and domesticated juxtaposed with the wild and undomesticated… He witnessed the changes taking place around him.. And in the early 1800s, America was still in process of creating own culture, distinct from the European settlers.
An Immigrant Dazzled by America’s Wilderness
Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, England, in 1801 and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister (his father was in textiles) in 1818, settling first in Philadelphia, then Steubenville Ohio, then New York City. He had little formal art training; he picked up the basics from a wandering portrait painter. Cole soon focused on landscape and ultimately, Cole transformed the way America thought about nature and the way nature was portrayed on canvas.
As an immigrant, Cole was dazzled by America’s vast stretch of untamed wilderness, unlike anything that existed in Europe. At this point in time, though, most Americans did not appreciate the wilderness – they thought of it as something to be feared or exploited. Instead, America was enthralled with industrialization, technology and progress.
Cole was 24 years old when he took one of the new steamships up the Hudson River (it was “the thing to do” at the time). He made a painting which sold immediately, came again to make another painting and that sold immediately, as well. He came so often he looked around for a studio in the village of Catskill. He came to Cedar Grove, John Alexander Thompson’s 110-acre farm with an orchard and a hilltop view out to the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains – the same view we see today – and for the next 10 years, rented a studio in a structure next door to Thompson’s house (where Temple Israel now stands).
Cole fell in love with Maria Bartow, Thompson’s niece 11 years younger than Cole, then 35 years old, and moved into Cedar Grove permanently, all living together in the modest house which Thompson had built in 1815.
Thompson provided Cole with the two parlors on the main floor to use as “sales rooms” for his painting, and built a studio for Cole, cutting out a window so he would have northern light.
Thompson also built a studio for him with a high window to bring in northern light, and we see his paints and easel as if he had just left the room for a moment.
Cole’s studio, which Mary’s uncle made for him, installing a high window to bring in northern light, has been restored. It is where he painted one of his most famous series, the four “Voyage of Life” paintings (he painted eight sets of four; one of the sets is in the New-York Historical Society and will be on display January 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). We see his paints and easel as if he had just left the room for a moment.
Alas, the studio probably contributed to his early death, at the age of 47, when his wife was pregnant with their fifth child – the studio in winter had little ventilation and he was working with turpentine and paints and had a respiratory illness. He died of pleurisy. Mary named their son Thomas Cole, Jr.
Frederick Edwin Church, recognized as a prodigy, was 18 years old when Cole, then 43, took him on as an art student. Cole would take his six-year old son Theodore out with them painting. Paintings by Church that have a small boy are likely Cole’s son. After Cole died, in 1848, Church, who built his Olana on a hilltop on the opposite shore of the Hudson, helped the family, even hiring Cole’s son Theodore as his farm manager.
Cole’s Creative Process
Touring the house is remarkable because it contains many of Cole’s personal effects including several of his paintings, like “Prometheus,” and his special items like musical instruments that he played and used as props for his paintings.
All of this is fairly miraculous because the house was sold in the 1960s and the contents auctioned off – the paintings, the furnishings. Over the years, many of the sold items have since come back, like “Uncle Sandy’s” chair, which we see today, which was purchased by a local postman who donated it back to Cedar Grove.
In a living room on the second floor, Cole’s letters “appear” on his actual writing desk (triggered by a motion detector); some of the paintings that decorate the room where they would have been are reproductions (the originals held in museums), but some are originals. There are black-and-white photos of his daughter in her later years, sitting in that very room. I am fascinated to see his “magic lantern” (an early slide projector with hand-painted glass slides) that drew its light from a candle inside. We appreciate Cole as a man of enormous talents –a poet, essayist and musician in addition to an artist and we see some of his instruments. We visit his bedroom and see his traveling trunk which he had made on Pearl Street, with his signature and date.
We learn that he was close friends with the novelist James Fenimore Cooper and provided illustrations for his work, including “The Last of the Mohicans” (1827) and “The Pioneers.”
My favorite room is his “Process Room” where we see his actual sketches, his paint box which he decorated with a beautiful painting and papers and his famous color wheel.
On my hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, I wondered how Cole would have captured the scenes – the sheer logistics of getting to these remote places that take us 20 minutes to reach by car along paved roads. Cole painted at a time before photography was a handy tool, before capped paint tubes made painting “en plein air” as feasible as it was for the Impressionists decades later.
I learn that Cole hiked with a pocket easel and pencil. He would get to a place like Sunset Rock by dark (a trail which I hike), camp and stay there a few days. He made copious notes of the smallest details – the light, color (he created a color-wheel for himself which we see), the atmosphere, the vegetation and natural forms.
But then he would wait before he painted the scene, for time to pass “to put a veil over inessential detail to turn it into beautiful and sublime…He had a vision of nature as an expression of the divine.”
It is important to realize that at the time, a painting afforded the only way for people to see places without actually visiting for themselves.
He began to turn his landscapes into allegorical exposition. Over a three-year period, he painted “The Course of Empire” a series depicting the same landscape over centuries and generations as civilization rises and falls, from savage to civilized, from glory to fall and extinction. He intended the series as a warning against American unbridled expansion and materialism. It took him three years to create and earned him a veritable fortune in commissions and fame.
Cole also became progressively more spiritual – coinciding with a rise in spiritualism in America. – and used his landscape painting as religious allegory. This is manifest in Cole’s “Voyage of Life,” a series of four paintings that show a pilgrim from infancy to old age, led by a guardian angel, which became Cole’s most popular work.
Each year, there are always special exhibits as well – in the Cole house, oddly juxtaposed with Cole’s 18th century works (we even see the wall trim that he painted himself) is a contemporary artist, Kiki Smith. In the New Studio, a separate building, this season is “Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills.”
Most days when you visit the Cole house, you take a guided tour, but on Saturday and Sundays, 2-5, you can tour the house on your own. The house usually closes at the end of October but this year, it is open for three weekends in November.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org (Normally open May-October, but will have extended season this year, three weekends in November).