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Raynham Hall – A Haunted Walk Through History

October 25th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor

To experience Raynham Hall (located in Oyster Bay, Long Island) is to transport yourself  back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Built in 1738, it played a center role in General George Washington’s spy ring. Focus your eyes on the house itself, letting the neighboring buildings blur. Imagine it in its original setting situated in lush fields and meadows, an apple orchard that once lay just beyond its front door. Succumb to the lazy drone of summer. The scent off the bay. Smell the hay drying in the sun. Submit to the changing season for it is now October. Shadows fall. A swish of petticoats is heard on the stairs and fades down the hallway with the lingering scent of roses. It mingles with the wood smoke and an apple pie spiced with cinnamon. The stomp of boots. Men in uniform enter, exit. The air pulsates with excitement for what is overheard is a plot to pay Benedict Arnold to surrender his troops to the British. The Townsend family are Patriots forced to house Loyalist troops. In exchange for their hospitality, they will ferry this information to George Washington who will foil the plan and expose Benedict Arnold for the traitor he is.
Meanwhile romance permeates the air; the pipe smoke wreathing a British soldier and young Sally Townsend in a first ever Valentine he presents to her. She will cherish it into her eighties, he having left her behind in the end. The page is creased in sorrow, the words taint the air. The very coldness of it affecting the temperature in her room. The remains of sweet nothings etched onto windowpanes for the love of Sally Townsend are still visible. Is it she who wanders the upper floors at night, candle in hand? Is it he, Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe, parading his white horse outside her bedroom window? Or is it Major Andre who was captured and hanged for his involvement with Benedict Arnold?
The house is literally alive with history. Every creak, sigh, and shuffle lays claim to what happened in the Townsend household. The smell of wood smoke when there is no fire burning. Apple pies baking when there’s none to be had. The whisper of secrets in love and war, all telltale signs of an ongoing venture. Time does not stand still here. It moves for all eternity. Don’t believe Raynham Hall is haunted? You don’t have to – the spirits will speak for themselves. But don’t ask the elderly gentleman cascading down the stairway. He’s looking for his lower half. Perhaps in life he was told he was only half the man he should have been !
So……………whadayathink? Is a ghost “nothing more than a piece of undigested beef”, as spoken by Scrooge to Marley? You decide. On Saturday, October 29th a live web-cam will be installed at Raynham Hall after 10 pm until the wee hours of the morning. Remember, the museum will be closed…log on to raynhamhallmuseum.org. Happy Halloween!

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Ye Olde Grinding Shop

July 10th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor

This morning the singular sound of a bell was heard proceeding slowly up the street towards the house. DING! (pause…. ) DING! (pause….) DING! I first laid eyes on the source of this attention getter years ago during our first summer or so after moving into our new home. The sound recalled childhood days of my old neighborhood but I couldn’t quite place my finger on what produced this distinctive tone. Images emerged of the old street vendors back in the 1950’s; the tiny marketplace of the fruit and vegetable man, although mobile, was more or less stationary once he wheeled it into place. But there was something else from that era that escaped me.  Upon hearing this sound again after all those years, I ran to peer out of the upstairs window. Having just awoken, I felt I might still be in dream state. What appeared was an old red truck from the 1940’s or 50’s. On it were the words “The Grinding Shop.” It was “the scissor man” as we kids referred to him back then but he sharpened all sorts of blades and tools, household and gardening implements. Apron clad mothers would rush out of doors with their scissors and kitchen knives to be newly sharpened. For those of you who grew up in the suburbs during this time, this was a blast from the past. Or was it a ghostly vehicle making its rounds? Was I stuck in some sort of time warp? DING! (pause….) DING! (pause….) And it was gone.
Over the years, this sound has been heard each summer. And each time I rush to the window to wonder and watch, immersing myself in a flood of memories. Today would be different. I would STOP the scissor man just to assure myself he was real. The old red truck crept slowly towards the house. Quickly – think! What did I have that could use sharpening? Scissors? No. Knives? No – too sharp. I envisioned a weekend lost at the emergency room having severed an index finger. I’ve got it! Pruning shears! (Remember last week’s ordeal? My frenzy dulled the blade down to a mere blunt so that now it couldn’t cut a wisp of grass). I motioned at the door for the scissor man to stop and ran out back to the shed to grab the sheers. Careening out the front door I made for the truck. “Take your time”, the scissor man spoke in a familiar old neighborhood accent. He was clean cut and shaven. Friendly. So why was I disappointed? What was I expecting? Of course he was real but I half expected to see an old timer with a handlebar moustache – a relic from a bygone era. He was just a normal guy.
I handed him the shears without asking the price. “These will be $9.00”, he said. “Wow”, I thought to myself. Certainly not 1950’s prices but I couldn’t back out now after flagging him down and making him wait. “Okay”, I said with a smile. After all, it’s the novelty of the thing, of getting my pruning shears sharpened by the scissor man, how cool is that? He buffed the blades on a wheel, stopped to oil them, then walked over to another gadget to straighten out the blades. He adjusted the screw connecting the blades, opened and closed them several times to ensure easy usage. Then he walked over to another wheel to sharpen the blades. I watched as the sparks flew. Finally he handed over the $9.00 job. “You don’t see too many of these around anymore”, I said eying the time worn vehicle.  He asked where I was from and acknowledged that the previous owner’s route was my old neck of the woods. “I’m  the last of the kind”, he said. “After me, it’s over”.
There will be no more scissor men. Nothing to jar the memory of my past. Little by little, the past fades into, well……….the past. Buried in the graveyard of the mind. Lets’s not get overly sentimental but I do enjoy the small snippets of what it is that makes me who I am – reminding me where I came from.
As if on cue, the church bells are chiming some old hymn.  Another sound saying “This is who you are”. A child of 6 or 7. A woman, timeless as the ages.

So………………..whadayathink? What gets you reminiscing about your lost youth? Does it make you feel a twinge of sadness or happy inside? Maybe a good old fashioned, healthy mixture of both.

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