This is Sleepy Hollow | Kykuit
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to “act like a tourist” in Sleepy Hollow. Partly because it seemed silly that I’ve lived here most of my life without seeing a lot of its attractions, partly to do more local/low-impact travel, and partly to reclaim this space as my own.
I’ve been questioned a lot over the past week about “Where I’m really from,” and I always staunchly answer “Sleepy Hollow,” perhaps in the hopes that discussing the headless horsemen will stave off thinly veiled (or pretty blatant) questions about my ethnicity. I remember one of my professors in college wondering with us, well, when does your “history” start if you’re the child of immigrants? Isn’t the history of this land also your own? So out of some kind of defiance – and the fact that a lot of tours end this week – I decided to finally go for it and explore.
I snagged the last ticket left for a 1:00pm Classic Tour online last night. Heeding the multiple warnings that I’d need to get there half an hour – nay, 45 minutes! – early, I walked down to the visitors’ center at Philipsburg Manor to pick up my ticket and wait for the shuttle that’d take us to Kykuit.
Around 15 of us got onto the bus, and it was pretty weird to finally be in that white bus I saw drive past my house all the time, and to go on my old school bus route as a tourist, catching glimpses of gorgeous buildings and ponds between gaps in fences and gates. Along the way, there was a recording about some of the history behind Kykuit, including the origin of the name, which means “lookout.”
We turned into this gate that I’d never really thought was much of anything the countless times I’ve driven past it. We drove past an “orangerie,” which used to house orange trees, and the Playhouse.
We then pulled past a huge fountain – that required construction of a new bridge and tons of horses to haul up the hill – and in front of the house, which our guide Laura explained to us was the Rockefellers’ weekend home for three seasons out of the year. We also learned a little about what various Rockefellers had done, including working on population control, donating land, and providing seed money for companies like Intel and Apple.
They also developed foundations for education and medical research; helped restore Colonial Williamsburg. Apparently, the Cloisters were built to house their collection of gothic art that the Met didn’t have room for. Abby Eldridge Rockefeller worked to start the Museum of Modern Art. The Olmsted Brothers, who helped design Kykuit, also designed the campuses at Williams and Vassar; it was interesting to find connections between all these different places where I’ve lived or visited.
We then entered the home; apparently it was built to prioritize space for family and not for entertaining, so it wasn’t as imposing as other mansions could be. Still, there were 1300 year old tomb figures from the Tang dynasty on either side of the front foyer, protected by plexiglass. It was built with electricity, an elevator, and central heating and vacuuming. There was no air conditioning in the top part of the house; instead, there was a giant glass window that could be opened like a garage door onto the most glorious view of the River ever.
There were also so many special rooms: the music room had an “oculus” that allowed sound from the self-playing pipe organ to enter into the bedroom. There was a flower-cutting room converted into a china room, where people could have sat to admire the collection. There was a butlers’ pantry with a dumb waiter and vice-presidential china, the seal placed conveniently off-center so that it wouldn’t be covered by food. We walked past the dining room, where the Reagans, Nelson Mandela, and others had dined. We passed by an electric panel with switches labeled as “stalactite pool” or “Aphrodite temple.”
The entire house was a mix of artistic styles, with modern art on the walls and intricate moulding around the rooms. And as our guide told us, sculptures were beautifully placed around the grounds, with a Boddhisattva facing out on the River and a melancholy eagle in front of another window.
There was a portrait of Lincoln that looked unusually gruff; apparently, it was one of the few that was painted of Lincoln in life. Most other paintings we see were done posthumously. The art continued through a gallery in the basement, including some by Andy Warhol, a Picasso rug (arranged with another sculpture as a “doormat”), and an entire room of Picasso tapestries.
The tour also took us around the outside of the house, where we got a better sense of just how big it really was. There was a garden surrounded by four “walls,” including a “green wall” made of shrubbery woven together.
Another wall was a tea room with a fountain in front of it.
As we walked around, we’d stop to take photos and our guide would tell us that the best views were yet to come.
She was so right.
The views over the river were stunning and I couldn’t believe that this was so close to where I went to school; it seemed like a completely different world.
Apparently, in order to protect the view upto the river, mature seventy-five year old trees were planted near the property, hiding the town below. To protect the view across the river, the family purchased the Palisades and then donated it back, a practice done at other locations like Acadia National Park.
We then hopped back on the bus to visit the Carriage House, which had…carriages and cars, along with a Model T Ford and a pretty cool, pretty old electric one.
The Pocantico Center is also used for conferences, including on green energy. We also got to walk around the tack room and check out info about how the Rockefellers helped restore French monuments destroyed during the way.
We headed back past open meadows with sculptures, reminiscent of Storm King Art Center, past my house, and back to Philipsburg Manor.
I’d been waiting for a couple of weeks for the leaves hit peak fall color, and a few days ago, it finally seemed as though they had. Then a rainstorm came through and I watched in dismay as leaves fluttered down and carpeted the ground, but fortunately, there was still plenty left by the time I made it to Kykuit!