As County Historian I often receive requests from people working on family genealogy. As the discussion progresses I learn more and more about the requestor. Such was the case with Jil DeMasi. As a youngster she had spent many happy summers in Haines Falls. As I sometimes do, I encouraged her to memorialize her memories. Today’s column captures Jil’s and her friend Lois Casalino-Hradil’s memories of one summer in Haines Falls during the late 1960s. While a collaboration, the story is told from Ms. DeMasi’s perspective.
A Love for Haines Falls
Once upon a time in the late 1960s, three 14-year-old girls met in enchanting Haines Falls, New York. Brought together as an escape from screaming boredom, they headed straight to the lovely in-ground pool owned by one of the families. After showing off bathing suits, obtaining a glorious tan or rather, sun poisoning, Jil decided they needed an adventure beyond walking her dog, Gwendolyn.
When the dog refused to move for another walk, makeup ran out for further experimentation, our debates ended about best books and boy talk became redundant; a plan was set to secure freedom. We would meet at dusk to attend a canteen dance in Tannersville.
Putting on what was left of the white lipstick, eye shadow that created a raccoon look (I still like that), teased hair and then donning a new pink gingham ruffled top, I eloped out of Aunt Betty’s summer rental to meet the girls. The canteen dance was held in a large, rather dark room with quite a bit of wood paneling. I could not see if there were refreshments because there was a sea of boys on one side of the room in front of the refreshment table, of course. Crossing the parted seas to get a cool glass of punch wasn’t going to happen. We would have to remain parched for the evening or faint from dehydration.
Finally, with nowhere else to go, the girls sauntered over to the other side of the room. The music started and we danced the night away to Light My Fire by the Doors and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita by Iron Butterfly. The spinning and dance moves forced the ruffles on my top to blow up like a parachute each time I danced. I remember getting asked to dance for most of the evening. I remember laughter and fun.
At dusk, the next day, we met again for a walk, up North Lake Road. Lovely white-washed cottages lined the right side. Out of nowhere and on the left side, emerged stanchions and a long, winding drive to an impressive mansion in ruin. We could easily imagine the grandeur and glory of this home in days past. Now a rather creepy, foreboding and empty structure, we questioned who lived there, what did they do to afford such a mansion and what did the interior look like? None of us knew the answers to our historical curiosities. So, we proceeded to explore the contents to see what we could learn.
Smart and level-headed Lois expressed a warning not to enter. I remember her saying a bunch of “what if’s…” several times. Her warnings became whispers as we ran to open the front door to enter a gracious and spacious foyer with endless ceilings. The rooms were gigantic. Sadly, the vacant and once magnificent mansion was now littered with debris. A very wide, steep and long staircase spiraled to the 2nd floor.
I suggested we tour the upstairs. We did, without any sense of caution. I remember our disbelief at the enormous size of the bedrooms. I am sure we would have continued our peeking into the past but, while we were together standing on the 2nd floor landing, we heard a loud noise. Hysteria and screams ensued. Losing balance, I remember sliding on my derriere ALL the way down the long and winding staircase which I now hated, and leaping out the front door, we rolled onto the massive grassy lawn. Actually, two of us ran out, I rolled.
We were pale with fear and then, laughter and certainly, relief. Under a sky of black velvet with twinkling stars, (Haines Falls was famous for such beauty), we walked and re-lived the experience and poignant memory. Giddy with laughter and thankful that we were not abducted or worse, we went to our respective homes.
When I arrived back at Aunt Betty’s house, she asked about our whereabouts and what we had been up to. I answered the typical, “Oh, nothing.” My wise Aunt replied, “Come clean!” After revealing the event, she was appalled that we were in Old Doc, so and so’s mansion. She warned that squatters or worse could have been living in that house and that it was an unsafe building in ruin and disrepair. She said we were lucky to get out alive! Aunt Betty was very well read, an expressive storyteller and a bit theatrical - all traits that I adored. After she finished with her admonishment, I reminded her that it was the most beautiful mansion I had ever seen, haunted with scary ghosts.
I remember a long pause of silence followed by a bellow of laughter but, she never disagreed with my proclamation. She gave me a hug and simply said, “Goodnight.”
To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail email@example.com or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”