Thursday, June 26, 2014

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

A few weekends ago, after eating at a diner in the Bronx, I decided to explore the northernmost borough, and ended up at the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage. Built in 1812, the cottage is the last home that Poe ever lived in — he died while on a trip in Baltimore — where his wife Virginia died after a battle with tuberculosis, and where he wrote Annabel Lee and The Bells.

It's a small and humble home, with only a few rooms, low ceilings and tiny windows. Poe was very poor during his life, and moved here with Virginia and her mother in hopes that the country air (yes, the Bronx was once considered the country) would be good for Virginia's failing health. Unfortunately that was not the case, and she died in first floor bedroom in January, 1847. There is a bed in that room today that they claim is possibly one of three beds in which Virginia may have died. Besides the bed, there is a gold mirror and a rocking chair that actually belonged to Poe, and the rest of the furnishings are period-correct, but not original to the cottage.

It's only $3 for students to visit, and there's an interesting, short movie to watch on the second floor that goes into detail about Poe's life in the city and the cottage's journey to its present-day state. A small park, Poe Park, surrounds the cottage and includes a visitors' center that was designed to pay homage to a raven in flight, with slate shingles reminiscent of feathers.

There isn't a ton to look at inside of the cottage, but it was still pretty incredible to stand in the space where Poe wrote so many of his famous works, especially Annabel Lee, which is one of my very favorite pieces ever written:
"But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee"

It should be no surprise that I love Poe because his writing is dark, mysterious and at times macabre — or that I delighted in finding two super creepy black handprints streaked down the side of the cottage. There's also a small merchandise counter at the entrance to the cottage, with postcards, prints, black cat keychains and bone-shaped pens.

Surprisingly I don't have any bone-shaped writing utensils in my possession, but in hindsight, I probably should have bought one because I'm definitely the kind of person to pull out a plastic bone to take notes during a creative meeting. I wasn't able to resist buying a postcard, though, if only so I could one day send it off and refer to it as a Poestcard, because the opportunity to pass along a groan-worthy pun is totally more than worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Coney Island: Mermaid Parade

On Saturday I met some friends at Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade, which is held every year on the first Saturday of summer. The weather was seriously perfection, and I have been wanting to attend the parade for years but I never had the chance until now. The Mermaid Parade claims to be the largest art parade in the nation and has taken place every summer since 1983. My friend Alisha told me to expect "lots of boobs and body paint" and that's pretty much all you need to know about the Mermaid Parade.

Dante and Chiara deBlasio (and his famous fro) were King Neptune and Queen Mermaid, and I later saw photos of the mayor himself dressed as a pirate, who we somehow missed. It's sort of telling that the 6'5" mayor of New York was able to dress up like a pirate and completely blend in with the crowd, but that's the gist of the Mermaid Parade, and to a certain extent, Coney Island on a normal day.

I was expecting more men in the parade (dressed as women), but the majority of mermaids appeared to be actual women. It is totally legal for women to be topless in New York, and I had no idea that there were so many different varieties of pasties available — sparkly cupcakes, tassels, starfish, seashells, sequins and of course, tons and tons of body paint and glitter.

There were the odd costumes that didn't seem to fit, like a Richard Nixon or a Popeye that you inevitably get with any parade, but the more nautical-themed, the better. I loved anyone with tentacles or a seashell bra and I said out loud that I wouldn't be happy unless I saw at least one King Triton and lo and behold he soon appeared (with Asian Ariel by his side). The parade was just incredibly fun, welcoming and celebratory— even if it was ridiculously long — and I have definitely added it to my growing list of annual New York traditions.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery: Part One

Two weekends ago I travelled by Metro North for the first time a little ways upstate to visit America's first pet cemetery, in Hartsdale, NY. None of my friends are as interested in cemeteries as I am (unbelievable), so it was a solo adventure but I didn't mind at all. In fact, as much as I adore all of my friends and explorer companions, there are a few adventures that are better done as solo endeavors and cemeteries just happen to be at the very top of that list. Cemeteries are so peaceful and contemplative, and I don't ever expect anyone to be as fascinated or as willing to spend hours poring over old tombstones as I am.

Harstdale Canine Cemetery and Crematorium was established in 1896, when a New York City veterinarian offered to let a friend bury his dog in his apple orchard. There are more than 80,000 pets buried at Hartsdale, and not just dogs — I also saw headstones for cats, horses, rabbits, birds, and monkeys. I somehow missed the lion cub, who lived at the Plaza Hotel before coming to rest at Hartsdale, and I'm sure there are other species that aren't easily identified by their headstones.

It is the oldest operating pet cemetery in the world, and the only pet cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's also the weirdest, saddest, funniest and most surreal place I've ever been. It was somehow exactly what I expected, yet so much more — it's kind of difficult to find words to describe how walking the grounds packed with stone after stone bearing names like "Jingles" or "Mr. Whiskers" made me feel, so it's probably just best to let the photos speak for themselves. Speaking of photos, I took so many (of course) that I will be splitting them into a few posts.

The first thing that hits you upon entering Hartsdale (besides how well-manicured the grounds are) are the names. If you missed the iron gate spelling out "Canine Cemetery," you will know as soon as you read the first tombstone that you're not in a regular "human" cemetery, but instead in a place where "Muffins" and "Buttons" are the norm. I didn't see any Mozarts (thankfully) but I did see a few "Sweet Peas," which is what I call Mozart most days, so those immediately caused me to tear up.

I noticed a lot of the classics — Fluffy, Rags, Spot, Sport, Rusty, Lucky, Sparky, Jingles, Princess and Pal, as well as a Grumpy, Lumpy, Souffle, Mignon, Fajita, Fudge, Winkie Barrymore, Mr. Thomas and (my favorite) Freckles Rutherford.

There was at least one Whiskers and one Mr. Whiskers, along with Snoopy, Woodstock, Lassie, Scooby, Petey, Morris, Bambi, Charlie (and Charlotte) Brown, Tweety, Toto, Lady AND the Tramp.

Gilmore Girls fans might understand my sadness at the Cinnamons and the Chin-Chin (no Paw Paw), and there were more than a few sequels including Muggsy I and II and Little Tinker and Tinker Too. I also paid my respects to Sam the Siamese, Jellicle Cat, Skimbleshanks, Buttons, Bows, Patches, Tinky, Toodles, Spuds, Sprouts and Fat Willie.

I even came across a simple stone with "Allie, My Love, Our Girl," which was the first time I'd ever seen my name carved into a tombstone before, so that was weird for me. I say Harstdale was a weird place because I've never been somewhere before that made me feel such conflicting emotions, and the names were a big part of that. I would be on the verge of tears, reading a super sweet epitaph and then immediately start laughing because how can you not when you pass by anything that bears the name Freckles Rutherford? It was completely disorienting in a way, but I was also grateful for the comic relief.

I have been to probably hundreds of "human" cemeteries and not once has any of them made me sad. I'm always fascinated by the history, the typography, the stories and the decay but I've never been the least bit sad or depressed being surrounded by the dead. Hartsdale was different though, in nearly every way, from any place I've ever been and it really hit me hard to be bombarded with row after row of departed animals.

Maybe it's because animals are so helpless and unconditionally lovable, or because I love Mozart like the kid I don't (or may never) have, but Hartsdale wins the distinction of being the first cemetery to actually make me cry. And then, of course, laugh because I am a human who will never not laugh at a name like Winkie Barrymore — may he rest in peace.