The World’s Most Famous Small Town exists in time as well as space. For devotees of local history, it is a vast place, with buildings superimposed upon buildings. Even now, the flaneur cannot pass the Chamber of Commerce information booth on Rock City Road without seeing, in his mind’s sharp eye, the elegant Longyear House that once graced the spot. (It was demolished in the early ‘70’s by its owner, a perfidious bank which sent bulldozers to flatten it after promising to spare it.) Those with good imaginations may be able to visualize the first building on or near that spot, a tavern. They may also be able to hear, however faintly, the ringing of the blacksmith’s hammer on Mill Hill Road, and smell the ripe odors of horse apples on Tinker Street and of early industry — the tanneries on Tannery Brook, an odor so strong it could make a razorback hog gag, and crows fall from the sky.
This fourth dimension is home to the flaneur, who stopped believing in “reality” about the time he learned that a table is not solid, but a whirl of atoms. He often thought of the periods in local history he wanted to travel back in time to visit. He wanted to see the first encounter, probably at Waghkonk, now Zena, of the sturdy Dutch settlers with the small, gentle Leni Lenape, who had hunted beneath the magnificent shadow of Overlook for thousands of years, sheltering in nearby caves, and growing corn in the Zena cornfield. Did the natives protest this usurpation, or were they hospitable? If the corn was high, who planted it?
The invisible history of Woodstock might be tracked by such encounters, the flaneur thought — the endless conflict between newcomers and those who considered themselves natives. City dwellers who came to escape the heat; (they stayed at the Riseley boarding house that is now Cucina); the artists drawn by Byrdcliffe and the Art Students League; the hippies; IBMers; the latest wave seems to be writers — successful professionals only, Woodstock has become pricey.
There are 34 places named Woodstock in the world. Seeing each of them was on his auxiliary bucket list. In 1987, the flaneur walked to Woodstock, Connecticut, west to east, in one week to publicize the Woodstock Bicentennial.
‘Woodstock Turf Accountants’
There is also a Woodstock, England connected to us long ago by a memorial stone in the foundation of our Library. While on a walking tour of England some years back, the flaneur made a point of visiting Winston Churchill’s home town.
The road to Woodstock offers no hint of the beauty that awaits the traveler in the village. The A34 from Oxford passes enormous fields and condominium developments, and at the edge of the village stands an Esso station looking like a space station put there by aliens. The bus passes Blenheim Palace, Sir Winston Churchill’s ancestral home.
Not wanting to walk A34, the flaneur has taken a bus which stops at the Crown Inn, at the corner of Oxford and High Street, in the center of the village. It is a gray day in October, with rain threatening. A stroll down Oxford Street, which is pleasant and very old and lined with tourist shops, is sufficient to demonstrate that Woodstock is Woodstock — even if we don’t speak the same language.
Here, for instance, is Bentlies of Woodstock, offering antiques and gifts, between Woodstock Turf Accountants and a fish and chips shop. Across the street stands the Woodstock Methodist church, a modest fifteenth century pile.
And look: There is Woodstock Design, and a slew of galleries dedicated to giving people the kind of art they like. There is a fruit and vegetable stand on the corner. Hanging from hooks outside above the apples and pears are three big hares, two ducks, and four bright pheasants. Then comes Town Hall, which is exhibiting the Woodstock Festival of Decorative Art. And Woodstock Library….
A Personal Woodstock
There are as many Woodstocks as there are people drawn here. When the flaneur first saw Woodstock and the northeastern Catskill Mountains, it was love at first sight. He has walked, hiked, climbed, biked, sauntered, and even driven — mostly under duress — in this paradise, and it has never failed to refresh and renew him. Perhaps this is because of the needs he brings to it…perhaps. But the flaneur prefers to believe that there is Magic here — he prefers to believe that here the earth is alive, that spirits abound, and that this land he calls Ashokan is one of the world’s sacred spots.
And if not, it will do until the real thing comes along.
Walking Man sculpture by Alberto Giacometti.