This time last year I was combing through a forgotten cemetery beside a trailer park looking for a strange man’s grave. Benny Haven’s. The locally-infamous barkeep from the small town of Highland Falls/West Point, New York circa 1830.
His grave was unkempt, small, yet somehow maintained its glory with two small American flags that look like they’ve been there since the Union won the war. I expected his grave to be tall and with a long shadow in the midday sun. Instead I found his gravestone - smaller than a shoebox.
On his small faded white headstone is inscribed, “Benny Haven’s, Oh!” The title of the song that service men used to sing in his honor while drinking at his bar and later while marching in and out of the Civil War.
An incarnation of Benny’s old bar still exists on Main Street in Highlands Falls today and a good deal of us from that town have had many a whiskey there. Whiskey shared with the ghosts of all the West Point alum who went on to become Civil War Generals and Legends.
Grant, Sherman, Lee, Custer, Davis.
Even Edgar Allan Poe, before he left the Academy, also frequented the bar in his Cadet days.
Next week my entire piece on the legend of Benny Haven’s bar will be made available through WorldWinder.com. Tomorrow however, World Winder will be posting my first entry about one of my favorite spots in the Hudson Valley. A gazebo that was been built above the Hudson River, along the very trail that Benedict Arnold used to escape America just after George Washington realized he was a good-for-nothing traitor.
I am bringing my Backyard Landmarks column to this rather user-friendly travel website. My fellow Manhattanville alumni, Melissa Ruttanai and her husband started this great site and have been traveling the world over. World Winder offers useful resources for those that globe-trot. They just finished exploring the Galapagos. Expect to read their story and see their pictures from that side of the world soon.
My pieces for now will concern our domestic landmarks. I’ll be tackling New York in particular and then spread out from there. These places will be fairly easy for most New Yorkers and those visiting New York to make a day trip of.
Now that the rain has washed away most of the lazy summer heat, my need to explore has begun to consume me. I’m cemetery curious once again. Once again searching for old graves of local legends of the Hudson Valley while drinking what I wish was a bottomless cup of pumpkin coffee. Once again, tramping through forests with pictures from the 1800’s trying to match rock formations with old foundations to find where exactly a bar, or house, or fortress used to stand.
I have many landmarks lined up. If you’re interested, please feel free to email me at Shane.Cashman@gmail.com and I’ll send out an email to keep you updated on new postings. I promise not to flood your inbox with anything but a simple reminder every now and again. Also, if you have any ideas of landmarks you think I might enjoy visiting let me know. It would be much appreciated.
Thanks to this denim appropriate September weather I am writing this right now from the shade of my tree neighbors with the help of four extension chords, snaking out of my house and out to my beaten up rocking wicker chair next to the lively stream.
It’s that time of year where all I want to do is wear a denim jacket with a Converge hoodie beneath it.
Speaking of, two songs were played a few times while I wrote this.
The Valley – by Okkervil River.
The lightning crack snare of this song makes me want to use a spade shovel to dig an unnecessary hole to nowhere or inspires me to start building that rock wall I keep telling myself I want to build this year. There is nothing more rewarding than building a rock wall. I’ve built upwards of a dozen in my time, and usually finish them in September. Actually the stream I’m sitting by flows through a rock wall that was built around the same time as my house, dating back to George Washington times.
The other song - You Fail Me by Converge.
For me, the fall pretty much belongs to this band. Has for over 10 years now. This suspenseful song in particular, the album’s title track, is the song version of foliage. That is, if leaves fell from trees like an avalanche.
I have a lot of writing in the works for this fall. Stay tuned for new stories, fiction and not, to be posted on here and hopefully in various places over the Web soon.
This time last year I started researching and writing about these local landmarks that I grew up either going on family vacations to, hiding from cops in, drinking in, taking girls to, high school partying in, sneaking into at night, and pretty much being all around mischievous within, and almost always it was during the Fall. Unfortunately, a lot of these small landmarks go widely unnoticed these days and my goal is to help gain interest in these spots, so other people can go enjoy them. Mischievously or not.
I’m going to go buy more pumpkin coffee now and find my old Converge hoodie.