The Land of Rip Van Winkle
In 1884 Mrs. A. E. P. Searing, wife of the secretary of the Overlook Mountain House Company, issued a very handsome book entitled The Land of Rip Van Winkle. This highly original work wove the threads of old legends into new stories which better reflected the spirit of the region and its fabled hotels.
She furnished Kaaterskill Clove with a hybrid tale joining the legend of Captain Kidd with that of an old Catskill story from a region farther north of the clove. A well-to-do local, William Salisbury, was charged in 1762 with the murder of a servant, Anna Dorothea Swarts. Her misdeed is unclear, but as a punishment she was tied by Salisbury to a horse's tail and dragged to her death. He was acquitted. Although the account appeared in documents from the Greene County Historical Society, a more melodramatic ending was provided by Colonel William Stone at the Catskill Mountain House. He divulged that Salisbury was sentenced to be hanged at the age of ninety-nine. Until then, he was to wear a punitive halter which was indeed found around his neck at his death.
In any event, Mrs. Searing's version was moved to Kaaterskill Clove where Anna has become Captain Kidd's beautiful Spanish wife. Salisbury is transformed into a certain villainous Ballridge who killed Mrs. Kidd while searching for Kidd's buried treasure. Quite a re-rendering!
Similarly, she lent Echo Lake her own original Indian legend about Iroquois and vampires. Apparently Overlook Mountain House Company owned the lake and an advertised three thousand acres surrounding it so that colorful legends about the area were a definite asset. Guests were often rowed out on the lake to blow horns and listen for echoes. Refreshments were sold on the shore.
Although Searing spared Rip Van Winkle himself, she did make Overlook the place where spirits of Henry Hudson and his men kept vigil over the mighty river. These same spirits were in Washington Irving's tale, so readers could certainly make the desired connection. Her most daring act of creative storytelling was the assertion that it was near Overlook Mountain House that Natty Bumppo--out of the pages of Cooper's The Pioneer--had once stood.
The true accounts of various Indian captivities with the subsequent torture and removal to Canada of the survivors are surprising in this work of fiction, but good accounts nevertheless.
Mrs. Searing's tales-as unabashedly refashioned as they are-still hold a fascination and charm for devotees of Catskill lore and, indeed, for the general reading public. For that reason we reissue her book with the sure knowledge that it will both inform and delight.
The Land of Rip Van Winkle Catskill Legends and Traditions
A.E.P. Searing. 147 pages b&w illus Hardcover $27.50
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Copyright © 1998 & 2002 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.