As a teen, I had serious doubts about a small town that wouldn’t let a girl quarterback the boy’s football team even though I attended Maria Regina, the all-girls school in Hartsdale, New York, and wore a uniform every day to school but not a football uniform. All I knew was that I wanted to push the envelope for equality, move gender roles forward, and explore the world. Little did I know I would go around the world doing just that but that the first and best expedition would be two towns away.
On borrowed bikes and ready for adventure, two friends and I set off for no place in particular and ended up in the woods of Irvington one spring day after school. The air, like us, was fresh with unlimited possibility. So fresh that when Brian, a humorist, doubled back saying he’d found an enormous blue-stone castle, we giggled. Yet to our disbelief and after running down a hallway of blossoming purple rhododendron six-foot-high into a field of weeds up to our waists, there stood Irvington’s Rochroane Castle built-in 1903. A loose giant belt of yellow “Do Not Enter” tape encircled it’s girth; an accessory we promptly lifted over our head and, in sneakers and shorts, stepped in to history.
Built for an oil and cotton millionaire and designed by Arthur J. Manning, a New York City architect who lived in Irvington, our sneakers gripped the wooden staircase flooded in a rainbow of colors from the spectacular stained- glass window on the second story landing. Designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and now housed in a museum, the 44 room castle seemed as if to be a giant picture book we time traveled in to. Situated on 37 acres overlooking the Hudson River, we ran wild across a burnished mahogany ballroom with or organ pipes as tall as the ceiling, up a six-foot wide staircase with hand-carved railings, into a large, working kitchen and explored room upon room painted in colors rarely seen today: gentile yellow, bluebonnet blue to cameo pink.
With the kind of luck that seems to shine down ever so briefly in childhood, we each took a different floor to explore. A room with floor-to-ceiling windows on the second floor contained caught my eye. Stacked with cardboard boxes, I opened one to find stacks upon stacks of canceled checks. Signed in delicate black ink a by Mrs. Halsey Taylor, research revealed her husband was famous. Motivated by his father’s death due to contaminated drinking water, Mr. Halsey Taylor invented the modern-day water fountain to provide safer drinking water and that they had purchased the castle in order for his father to heal in the clean country air of upstate New York.
On a wooden white table by the window was an ivory-colored dance card, sideways, as if it had been left there in exhaustion the night after a fancy ball and would be looked at again in a morning that never came. Originating in the 18th century to enable young ladies to make small notations about possible suitors, the small card still had the delicate and now yellowed wristlet string attached. Numbers 1-10 and annotated with dainty black script with words like “charming, humorous, handsome,” I realized going back in time was equally important as going forward.
We explored it for a few more days until it was boarded up and donated by Mrs. Halsey to a local church and said goodbye one day not long after, never to ride bikes together again or be a kid who could explore with wonder a castle overgrown with waist-high weeds. As for my quarterbacking dream, I watch football instead of playing it but went around the world exploring. I have never forgotten the past nor how it affects not only our present goals but our future dreams.
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