The Real Story of Sleepy Hollow

HHV drew on many sources. They estab­lished an African-American advisory board to help advise them and implement change, and it continues to take an active role in the life of Philips­burg Manor. The monthly meetings of the advisory board and HHV staff "were intense and cathartic," Stillman says. "We forced ourselves to discuss inti­mately what no one wanted to address. The all-white paid staff and the African-American volunteers asked much of each other, sometimes too much, and yet each side delivered beyond all expectations." Overtime, there were long, often difficult training sessions and discussions, but the work paid off.

There were two principal goals: First, to educate people-including hordes of schoolchildren who come to the site-about slavery in the North. Second, to discuss cultural diversity, the relationships between Africans and European tenant farmers, and the entanglements of international commerce. A vital issue is the dispelling of myths about slavery and about enslaved people. Lynda Jones, who joined the advisory board early on and later also became HHV's director of human resources, says, "We wanted to make sure that they were shown as individuals. They were intelligent, they had families, they loved their children. We're trying to get people to understand that." Thom Thacker, the site director of Philipsburg Manor and Union Church as well as the program director at Kykuit, says, "History often portrays enslaved people as objects, the things done to them. We shifted object to subject, what they did."

As important as the information that the interpret­ers (guides in period costume) present is the way in which they do so. When they speak of the enslaved individuals at Philipsburg Manor, they refer to them by name-Ceaser, Abigal, Dimond, Susan-and that specificity both vivifies and gives enormous weight to the narra­tive. The interpreters know the names because the 1750 inventory of Adolph Philipse's property listed each enslaved person (see Fig. 11), just ahead of such holdings as oxen, sheep, and silver spoons. When an interpreter in the manor house picks up a delicate eighteenth-century cup and asks quietly, "What was it like for Massy to make cocoa for Mr. Philipse?" your heart drops. In that instant, you understand that Massy probably never savored such luxury, chocolate, that she never drank from anything so exquisite. Move on to the fully functional gristmill (Fig. 8), newly recon­structed but based on excellent documentation, and you can marvel at the thought of Ceaser, the master miller, who ran highly complex machinery and, as Jones points out, "had to understand higher mathemat­ics and other languages of tenant farmers."

There are few things as reprehensible or as cruel as enslavement, but some visitors at Philipsburg Manor are still stunned that it existed there. They may go on to insist, Thacker says, "that slavery was kinder and gentler in the North. But there were plenty of punishments besides whipping, including burning at the stake. Brutality was not only physical-a family could be separated and sold away at the whim of the owner."

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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