The Greenwijk House

The Colonel Greenwijk House, Goshorn, NY

Contrary to most of the legends, the real trouble at the Greenwijk House didn’t begin until the late 1970’s. True, stories of ghosts and ghouls had always popped up around the edges of the old house, like bubbles in a witch’s cauldron, but they were mostly just cookie cutter tall tales, local flavor passed down and embellished upon by yarn-spinning aunts and garrulous men in taverns. There was, for instance, the spectral train that reportedly made nightly stops in the desiccated garden behind the house, letting off a pair of hollow-eyed children who cried for their mother. Or there was the ghost of the Lenape indian, Mister Three Owls, who was said to knock on the old front parlor door--the one that had been boarded up when the new addition was put on in the 1790’s--whenever there was a storm due in off the Atlantic. And one mustn't forget the local bogeyman, the Goshorn Snatcher, who grabbed naughty children and dropped them down the Greenwijk well, among other places.

Things took a turn from fanciful to ominous when the Critchfield family moved into the house in 1978. They were a rich Manhattan family, the patriarch had made his fortune in wartime plastics, and like so many others in that era, they claimed to be looking for a quiet home, an abode where they could replace the sound of sirens and the smell of garbage with cricket song and the scent of wild lavender. They said they were distantly related to an old local clan, long died out, though the name was common enough, and infamous enough, in some of the old Dutch colonial cemeteries: Crichenfeuld. The family never failed to put flowers on the grave of the founding Crichenfeuld, Wouter Chrichenfeuld, who left this earth in 1679. Legend has it that he again left in 1698, and again once more in 1704. The first time by pistol and ball, the second time by a hanging followed by a drowning, and the third time by an angry mob who, it was claimed, set the old warlock ablaze. Imaginative stories note that as unearthly blue flames consumed the elder Chrichenfeuld, he danced in glee and giggled like a child.

And so, not long after the 1978 summer solstice, an old man was noticed to be stalking about the Critchfield property. He wore a dark suit despite the heat, and walked very slowly. He was most often seen staring at his pocket watch, sometimes standing on the porch in the moonlight. Occasionally, he’d turn up at the Dutch cemetery, standing over old Wouter’s resting place. At dinner parties and social events, Emma and Allen Chritchfield said the old man was Allen’s great-uncle, Walter Critchfield, who, after serving as a field officer in the First World War, had stayed on in the old country with the Critchfield’s Dutch relatives, marrying and raising a family there. He was nearly one-hundred and two, and as he had no other remaining relatives, Allen had agreed to watch over him in his final days.

That autumn, the trees in the yard of the Greenwijk House burst forth with almost candy colored foliage, electric in the fading sunlight. And then the trees, the shrubs, all the grass in the yard, dried up and died. The old man still stalked the dusty yard with his pocket watch, now followed by Allen and Emma’s two newly arrived sons, who he said, “were home from college.” Then, all the wells in the nearby homes suddenly turned acrid. The neighborhood cats, once so robust and courageous, began to vanish. Those felines that remained were cagey creatures and they seemed especially skittish around Walter, who would look up from his pocket watch at them with what was described as hungry eyes. Power outages on the block became common. Cars wouldn’t start. Phones would ring and answer to dead air. Locals complained of a sluggishness and a sickly malaise in their children. Those who visited the neighborhood, from the mailman to curious townies, tended to hurry past the Greenwijk House, describing a sense of uncanny dread that could intensify to outright terror if they happened to spot the old man, who, it was noted, seemed to walk quite a lot faster than he did when he first arrived, moving with an almost youthful, lusty exuberance. The two sons had by this time “gone back to school,” although nobody saw them leave, and what school they went to was never mentioned.

On the night of October the 29th, the whole situation, whatever it was, came to a head. For years afterward, schoolchildren told the following tale: It seems that Mrs. Boyd, Mrs Eliza Boyd, who used to teach seventh grade before her husband died, and who lived a few doors down from the Greenwijk House, grew exceedingly upset as one by one, ten of her twelve cats vanished. After the second to last one, a tabby named Honeychurch, went missing she shouted “enough is enough!” and went in to her garage. At sunset, she came out carrying a bottle of kerosene and some branches wrapped in rags. The old woman lit her makeshift torch and marched up to the Greenwijk House, stamping across the dry hard earth to stare down old Walter.

It is said that blue flames, shimmering and bright, danced in the October night. The children who tell the story say that you could hear laughter, almost like a coyote’s howl, echoing down into the valley around the Greenwijk House.

November saw the Critchfields vacate the house, suddenly and permanently. Emma’s arthritis couldn’t stand a New York winter, they said. Old Walter had gone ahead to their estate outside of Phoenix, although they didn’t expect him to live much longer.

The next spring, the trees bloomed green again, and the grass grew back. The water in the wells was once again fresh. The cats are back as well, although to this day, they still seem to avoid the Greenwijk House.


Childe Roland to the bean burrito came

I wasn’t raised on fast food, and aside from an unending desire for pizza that continues to this day, I never found myself fascinated with it growing up.  However, had I been paying attention, I might have noticed the slow fade-out of the golden age of the fast food restaurant. By the 1980’s, it was already over, rendered inert by a changing consumer landscape, oil-crisis recession-era economic hatchet jobs, and general post-Nixonian decay. But the memory of the golden age was still there. On a family trip into the valley we might come across the occasional still-extant Golden Arch of an older McDonald’s franchise, or perhaps an over-sized ceramic mascot, some purple Sesame Street-ish creature or a gilded king, beckoning to us as we drove past.

The food was never good. Taco Bell, for instance, has never had a single item on their menu that wasn’t in one way or another either monstrous or horrendous, but there was a time when the Bell and its fast food brethren at least had some respect for their customers. A sense of showmanship. Once upon a time, they were mini, corporately financed P.T Barnums, dragging wide-eyed kids, parents-in-tow, into their cookie cutter consumer theme parks. “Let’s give them a show, an experience,” you can imagine them saying. “Otherwise, they might go to the Pizza Hut down the street. Or that Sizzler.”

Steve and Heidi

Back in November, an old friend asked me to paint a watercolor portrait of him and his fiancé based on their engagement photos. Here's the photo...

...and here's my take...