EH Out Loud
The podcast where we investigate how technology mediates what it means to be human.
EH OUT LOUD
Season 2, Episode 6: Ward Manor
Voice: Experimental Humanities
Anne Comer: Hi, and welcome to EH Out Loud. I’m Anne Comer, an alumni fellow here at Bard’s Center for Experimental Humanities, where we investigate how technology mediates what it means to be human. For this episode, I am pleased to discuss the topic of my senior project on Ward Manor, a former retirement community, which from the 1960s onward has been incorporated into the Bard College campus and Tivoli Bays. The community was in operation from 1926 to 1959. I graduated from Bard in May of 2019, and the Ward Manor research emerged from a collaborative project, and would not have been possible without fellow students, community members, and the Bard College faculty. In this episode, you will hear from Erik Kiviat, the executive director of Hudsonia, Helene Tieger, Bard College’s archivist, and Students, Eli and Stella, who will provide insight on what it’s like to live in the Manor as a dorm in 2020. Here’s what Eli, a sophomore at Bard had to say:
Eli: What I know about Manor is that it was an insane asylum once, um, which I think really explains how oddly the whole building is designed, where the rooms are, with like crazy little hallways. Um, I don’t think it’s haunted (laughs).
Anne Comer: Here’s what Stella, another junior at Bard, had to say:
Stella: What I know about Manor: I heard it was a hospital, an insane asylum. I heard that it was an old people’s home. I did not hear that it was haunted (laughs).
Anne Comer: I was surprised to learn that it was in fact a retirement community, started by the Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor. Later, the Community Service Society of New York, in 1926. Many residents who moved to the Manor in the early 20th century, chose to spend the remainder of their lives on the property. What they left behind, and the stories found in the CSS archives, informed us that the people who lived in the Manor property were from a wide array of states and Europe. For this podcast I interviewed Helene Tieger, who, before coming to Bard as an archivist, grew up near Bard, and was later a student. Here are her memories on the campus of that time.
Helene Tieger: I also grew up in the area, I grew up in Tivoli. So I’ve had a long, long, history with the area and some of the stories that have permeated, the land around us. So, when I was a child, I used to play and explore in the whole Ward Manor property, which we called the abandoned village. My friend’s father was a professor of Economics at Bard and he was also a passionate vocal and regional historian. And he began the Hudson Valley archives, which the college has subsequently inherited. But, my friend Kristen and I just explored the houses that were still, many of them, some of them were still standing at the time. And so, and especially the huge barn which is now in total ruins. But we would go and explore, there was still hay in the stalls, you could climb upstairs, there was a downstairs. It was really, just exciting to spend time there as a kid. We did know there was a cemetery, but we didn’t know where it was, it’s not in an obvious location, and it was pretty overgrown. So, we never actually sought it out when we were young. We used to babysit, we were all faculty brats and I used to babysit for another faculty member’s child, in the house that became what’s now called Ham House, which is in Tivoli. But during the time, the earlier period of Ward Manor, that you discussed, it was called the Homestead and of course I didn’t know that then. But I spent an afternoon with my charge one day and two elderly women, walked into the driveway and knocked on the door and told us that they had stayed in the house and gone to camp there as a child. And that sort of resonated a little bit with what my friend Kristen’s father had said, but I didn’t really know anything about that, until years later when we were allowed to digitize all of the photographs of the Donna Mathews collection. Years later, after I became the archivist for the college, and we were digitizing all of the photographs that she had and I came across a picture of Homestead and scanned it. And it was shocking because it originally had this beautiful wrap-around porch, and these tall, gracious trees. And as I was looking at the photograph, I remembered the two women walking up the driveway and knocking on the door. So it was a—really, it was a little bit of a jarring in time because so many years had gone by between those two events.
Anne Comer: Erik Kiviat spent a lot of time at Bard as a student, and now works [executive directs] at Hudsonia. Here are some of his memories of campus during that time.
Erik Kiviat: I think back in the 1970’s when I was doing a lot of biological fieldwork in Tivoli North Bay, I learned that the Ward Manor property had been a retirement home and that the structures that were still there at the time, the big barn, some other buildings, a swimming pool, some bungalows, and the cemetery, that we’re going to talk about, were all part of the retirement facility. And that there had also been a boy’s camp on Cruger Island nearby until about 1955. So, I don’t think I knew very much, I didn’t do any research—historical research, I don’t think I knew very much about Ward Manor and how it had been founded and what it was for, just that it had existed there. In the late sixties, and I don’t know how long this went on, there were some of the Ward Manor bungalows, between what I call the Ward Manor road that goes North/South through the middle of the property, between there and the marsh in Tivoli North Bay. There were several bungalows that were still in existence, and some students and some other people, probably friends of students, were living in those bungalows, squatting in them essentially, they didn’t have permission from Central Hudson. And they were all arrested or thrown off the property by the county sheriff’s office, at some point and probably in about ‘68. So that, you know, I saw some of that it wasn’t a rumor. But it’s just an interesting piece of information and I think all those bungalows have been removed. There was one very remote one, that, I don’t know if anyone got in there to remove but if it wasn’t taken away it’s probably rotted away by now.
Helene Tieger: You know, we all have had ghost stories circulating for a long time, you know, and the stories of the morgue and the insane asylum, never really went away, you know. What can you do? You can never really stop a rumor, right? But when you’re there, you can explore it. So, much later, Emily and Randy Clum— Emily Majer, Randy Clum and I went in search of the morgue, and worked our way down to the basement of Manor, and it’s a crazy staircase to get all the way down. There would be no way you could take a body down these very narrow-like stairs. It’s just not practical. And then we made our way in there and it was covered with graffiti, so somebody found their way in, but it appeared to be a squash court, not a morgue.
Eli: Well, okay, so I have heard of one, which I think is really interesting ‘cause it was experienced by both Niko and Lukas—
Eli: And so, like, they had the room different years and they both had their bed in the same exact place.
Eli: But what they both said they had was like, it was very similar to sleep paralysis, and they had never—neither had experienced sleep paralysis before. But basically they would wake up, and they would sit up, and then just like see a little girl that was like very like shadowed and it would always be at night so they couldn’t really make out that much but it would be like a little girl and then she’d laugh and get really close to them and then run away and the door would open like as—but then like that would be it. And they both said they experienced that once.
Erik Kiviat: I don’t know, or I don’t remember, any kind of student body rumors about Ward Manor although I am sure there were some, I do remember that in the seventies, probably the early to mid 70’s, there was a student, although I think he was a former student at the time, an ex-student named Charlie. Who got permission from Central Hudson to use the big pole barn, which is an unusual and was a magnificent structure, it’s falling apart now and I think it’s either been or about to be raised by the DEC because it’s just a hazard. Now they weren’t able to restore it. But Charlie got permission to use the barn to build a boat. He was building a sort of quasi-experimental concrete boat and he never finished it to my knowledge. He worked on it for years and I think he actually lived in the barn during a lot of that time. And I knew about— I met him because he was the boyfriend of a Bard student. You know, Bard was small. And I wanna’ say there were probably only six hundred or so undergraduates, six or seven hundred, if that. And so, many of us knew each other even though I was no longer a student. That was in between being a student at Bard. So that wasn’t a rumor, that was something that was actually happening. But I’ll tell you a couple of funny things that were student rumors about the Bard property and Rokeby, down River Road near Barrytown. One is that, you may know, back in the woods at Bard, it’s woods now, there is an old root cellar, do you know about that? It’s a little excavation in the ground with some old stonework. So there was a root cellar in what’s now the woods at Bard that evidently belonged to one of the estate owners at the time, and there was a practice of you know harvesting, I don’t know what, potatoes and other root vegetables and storing them underground in a special structure so they would stay cool and keep into the winter for food. And there was a legend about this— or folklore at Bard about this root cellar that it was inhabited by a bean that was called Catman who was half-human and half cat. And you could tell that Catman lived in the root cellar because there were fish bones scattered around outside the root cellar. Uh, I am not sure how that story got started. And then another story that was in circulation when I was a student at Bard in the mid-sixties was that the Rokeby gatehouse, on River Road, which was being rented to Bard students for many years was haunted. And that if— you know if you lived in the gate house you would see ghosts there at night.
Eli: It was a pretty small room, it was a weird little L-shape. And then the roof, since we were on the third floor, the roof was very seriously slanted which made the room seem a lot smaller.
Eli: And I, right when I moved in, the person who lived next to me had lived in my room his sophomore year and told my roommate and I that sometimes you hear banging on the slanted roof and that he thought it was a ghost. But also never experienced that so—
Stella: So, I kinda already said it but my room was very long, it was cut in half like the wall, you could tell there was like a fake wall that had divided it from the room that was next to me, which made it so you could hear like everything the other person was doing. My bed was like right next to the wall so I heard everything from the other room. And that room, the room next to me, had a bathroom and so that we assumed that it used to be a one room and that there was a bathroom connected to it. And it did not have a balcony but it had a window that opened up to this giant balcony that was supposed to be closed off. And it was also connected, it was like a fire escape but with a second floor like opening.
Anne Comer: Although our guests have had very different experiences of Ward Manor, you can tell that the residents and the surrounding property have made a big impression on all of them. When I conducted the research on Ward Manor, I had heard some of the rumors surrounding the Manor property but through fieldwork, archival research, and oral histories, we have been able to reconnect with the descendents of those interred in the cemetery. This project is still in progress and it’s important for us to ensure that the stories of Ward Manor and the people who called it home are recounted, in this next clip Erik and Helene discuss some of the changes to the cemetery.
Erik Kiviat: When I found that cemetery, quite by accident, you know, almost fifty years ago, I saw probably no more than twenty or thirty graves. And I saw—I recognized them as graves because each one had a very small headstone that was just a few inches above the ground. And also at that time when I first found it, each of those stones had a tree planted next to it. And those trees were— they were obviously planted as part of the cemetery. They were, what we call, northern white cedar, or arbivity. Arbivity is an American pronunciation of the Latin meaning “tree of life,” so I think it was symbolic, used symbolically in the cemetery as a memoriam to the graves, to the people who were buried there. And those trees were not very big, I’m vaguely remembering they were probably only ten or fifteen feet high. And it’s a beautiful, sort of peaceful looking evergreen tree. So the odd thing, the tragic thing that happened, was sometime after I first saw the cemetery and the arbivity trees, they were cut. By someone, by a duck-hunter who used them for camouflage on a duck blind in North Bay. And it was a bit of a shock to me, because you know, it was obviously a cemetery you didn’t have to look very hard to tell that. And I was surprised that anyone would go in and cut the trees in a cemetery. It seemed quite sacreligious to me.
Helene Tieger: The story is, Dick Griffiths, who was the former head of building and grounds, wanted to make sure that the cemetery was cared for. So the story goes that on his deathbed, Dick asked Randy Clum, who was going to succeed him in building and grounds and Jim Brudvig who was an administrator in the college. And he asked them to promise that they would see that the cemetery was cared for. So I know, I know, I’m all verklempt right. So meanwhile— so by 2016, Randy— they had done what they could, they would go back periodically and brush up. So Randy, Emily, and I met, and Randy again agreed to clear the area. And Emily and I went to Columbia where the archives of the Community Service Society are housed, and subsequent to that you and I also did that. But Emily and I went the first time and photographed our first stash of papers; it’s a very extensive archive in Columbia. And that day the thing that really stayed with me was the— we found a document from the late 1950’s that was a clinical description of every member that lived in the house, because the Community Service Society was seeking to sell the property and they were trying to find homes for all of the people that lived there at that time. So this was around ’58 or— ’57 or ’58, and there are so many pages, you know there’s almost a hundred people [who] were living there, I believe. And the stories are so poignant: this woman has a heart attack or diabetes and she is very friendly and her special friend is Mr. so and so, and moving her is almost inconceivable. As the descriptions go through they start out and they’re quite short and then by the end you’ll have a description that’s a whole page because the people got very involved in writing these and trying to imagine finding new homes for these people was very emotional for everybody involved, I believe. So it’s almost a blessing I think, I’m always happy when I find one of the names on that list in the cemetery, because I know that they died before they had to move them and they would suffer a final move which would be very difficult at that stage of their lives.
Anne Comer: I asked Helene why working on Ward Manor matters today.
Helen Tieger: Well, you know, you’re asking that question now, as we are quarantined in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, and you know this is a world-wide pandemic, so we are very aware of our own you know, mortality and our own you know, vulnerability in the world. And whenever I start to feel a little bit antsy or you know, distressed, it’s helpful to work in the archives because you look at the names and the dates of the people who were in the cemetery, and they— many of them were born in the mid-19th century or late 19th century and they made their way to the United States only to get here and live here through World War I and the Great Depression, sometimes World War II. You know these enormous, you know, crushing events that just terrified the whole world, right? You know? And— so it just puts things into perspective a little bit, about what we are experiencing right now. And— so if fifty years from now if somebody is— knows, I don’t know how they would know, but if they knew that I was in any way involved with this project, you know, it’s important to know that people care, that people care. And everyone that I’ve been involved with in this project has cared so deeply. And many of the people who were buried in that cemetery spent their lives in service, or you know, they might have been lonely— they weren’t famous people, but we care about them, and we want to see that they are remembered in some way.
Anne Comer: The archive can be a comfort in times of crisis. We are able to learn from history that we are not alone. I would like to restate what Helene just expressed. Some of the residents at Ward Manor, lived through the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. Their legacy can inspire us in these dark times. My hope for this episode is that it inspires you to work with your community to support those around you. Thank you.
Anne Comer: EH Out Loud is produced at Bard College’s Center for Experimental Humanities, by me, Anne Comer, Krista Caballero, Corrina Cape, Bird Cohen, and Ariel West. Sound editing and music by Ariel West and Bird Cohen. Special thanks to Erik Kiviat, Helene Tieger, Eli, Stella, and the Experimental Humanities Media Corps. Visit us at bard.edu to learn more about our Digital History Lab project and other projects at the Center.