A Sunday in Appalachia

On the far side of the cemetery on this 90-plus degree day, a man stood with a shovel, digging a grave by hand, a pick-axe on the ground beside him. 

A woman sat on the ground a few feet away, facing him. I walked toward them. They were both probably in their fifties. The man stood knee-deep in the ground, sweating, and he paused as I approached. We said hello and I asked if they knew how to get to Putney, the long-abandoned coal town.

Read More

Windows Through Time: Along the Side of a Road

Lake Kiskatom formed toward the end of the Ice Age. It was a body of water that spread out across the lowlands at the base of Kaaterskill Clove. Long ago, its waters drained and now all that is left is a flat landscape that you can see from the intersection of Routes 23A and 32. We thought it would be fun to drive around its old shores and see what could be seen. 

Read More

To Dream of Mountains

If you had a family or something like that and you needed to work, you didn’t have to go on public assistance or welfare. You could go out and get a job. 

Pumping gas. You could go out to a factory—almost any factory—and get a job. But then, they closed the door on all of that and made it way harder. So that a lot of people would have to stay on public assistance. 

Read More

Thomas Wolfe's Rhinebeck

Thomas Wolfe, a titan of American letters in the late 1920s and ’30s, was well known for the lyrical quality, autobiographical nature, and sheer length of his novels. The recent limited-release film Genius committed to cinema the story of Charles Scribner's Sons editor Maxwell Perkins and his efforts to shepherd Wolfe's debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, to publication.  An obscure fact about this half-forgotten author is that a substantial portion of Look Homeward, Angel, perhaps as many as seven chapters, was produced in Rhinebeck, N.Y., on the Fox Hollow estate in the summer of 1927.  

Read More

On the Streets of Philadelphia

Just before 8 a.m. on the day of Hillary Clinton’s speech, some of the protestors were milling and others were waking up to a humid morning. One pair started to pack up their camping gear. A man slept in the open air and another slept with his arm over his face beneath a tarp tied from the ground to the fence of a baseball field. Two young men with mitts lobbed a baseball back and forth and talked. 

Read More

The Wreck of the Steamboat Swallow

She was one of the fastest steamboats on the Hudson River, but that night, April 7, 1845, you wouldn’t have known it. The Swallow, under command of Captain A. H. Squires, on its overnight trip from Albany to New York City was moving nowhere near her usual speed heading south towards Manhattan through a gale-force wind and intermittent bouts of snow and sleet being dumped from a black and angry sky. One passenger described the wind as “moaning with a terrible splendour” that brought to mind a Charles Dickens’ story, “Chimes,” in which the wind is personified as a malevolent spirit. 

Read More