"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edgar Degas

Monday, December 2, 2013

Four Dead in Spuyten Duyvil



Four people died outside my living room window yesterday. I sometimes use this space for fiction but this isn’t one of those times – I only wish it was.

I didn't hear the crash. It wasn't until I heard the sirens that I looked out the window and saw the fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, boats and helicopters swirling around my neighborhood.
 





The neighborhood was named Spuyten Duyvil by the Dutch because this spot, where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers converge, is a treacherous place and always has been.


The story goes that in the 1640s, when Peter Stuyvesant was Director-General of the New Netherland colony, he heard about an English expedition coming to seize New Amsterdam. He ordered the trumpeter of his garrison, Anthony Van Corlaer, to spread the message up to the Dutch villages along the Hudson River with a trumpet call to war. He made it as far as the northern tip of Manhattan.

From an account first published in 1856 in the United States Magazine of Science, Art, Manufactures, Agriculture, Commerce and Trade:
“It was a dark and stormy night when good Anthony arrived at the Creek, which separates the island of Manna-hatta from the main land. The wind was high, the elements were in an uproar and no Charon could be found to ferry the adventurous sounder of brass across the water. For a short time he vapored like an impatient ghost upon the brink, and then bethinking himself of the urgency of his errand, took a hearty embrace of his stone bottle, swore most valorously that he would swim across, Spuyt den Duyvel, (in spite of the Devil,) and daringly plunged into the stream. It seems that his Satanic Majesty had overheard the oath, and coming up from his vasty deep, discovered, in the person of a little fat trumpeter, the daring individual who had braved his power; and determined to exert it to the utmost to destroy the presumptuous mortal. Waiting until the luckless wight had reached about the middle of the stream, he stirred the waters into such a commotion that the poor fellow was obliged to yield the contest.”


Most of the emergency workers had left by the afternoon and been replaced by teams of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and by the eyes of the media world. They’ll try to get to the bottom of the tragedy and provide a rational explanation for what happened. 
 






For the families and friends of the people whose lives ended down there, I doubt that any explanation will ever suffice, and the hand of the devil is probably as good as any other.