The Amazing Emile Brunel

I've found that repetition often results in making the extraordinary rather ordinary. I remember being tickled over this totem pole the first time I saw it - and a dozen or so times after that - but then it became just another blurred form on the passing landscape, a sign post telling me how much longer we'd be on the road before reaching our upstate getaway. After nine years I finally decided it was time to stop and investigate. I'm glad I did - what I found out was indeed extraordinary!

The totem was erected in 1933 by photographer/sculptor Emile Brunel. Each segment represents key moments of his fascinating life. Brunel was mostly known as a celebrity portrait photographer and the founder of the Brunel School of Photography. His interests led him to cinematography and in 1916 he released the silent film, The Hand of God. He also dabbled in invention, creating a one-hour film development process that (surprisingly!) didn't take the world by storm. When he built his Catskill summer home in Boiceville he surrounded it with his eccentric sculptures. It is said that after his death in 1944, his ashes were interred within one of his creations. Behind the totem is a now-defunct trading post, which during the 20's and 30s was operated by Brunel's daughter, Gladys. The trading post was hugely popular and saw much traffic, even into the 1990's when Brunel's granddaughter took over.

Around the corner from the trading post sits Brunel's impressive home. A stunning bas relief adorns the full length of the structure.

The home and its surroundings have been placed on the Register of Historic Places. These impressive pillars flank the path that leads to the park.

This stony fellow acts as doorman, keeping an eye on the place. Rowdy behavior will not be tolerated.

I was the only person there on this beautiful fall day. I felt a calming sense of peace amid these powerful, silent figures.

Until I saw these freaky heads!

Just yards from a main thoroughfare, Brunel Park transports you to another world, to a holy place.
Statues erected and dedicated to the Great White Spirit and to the grandeurs and mysteries of nature. By Emile Brunel - 1933

You put a spell on me...

Driving through the town of Shady I spied this rather, um, phallic structure jutting out onto the road.
As I got closer I saw that it wasn't at all what my dirty mind had suggested. It was Albus Freakin' Dumbledore!! Apparently with half of Hogwarts stuffed into his wizard hat.

But that's only half the magic. He greets drivers from the opposite side as well. He seems a touch sad that no one stops to say hello.
This is a wonderfully creative example of what to do with a dead tree in your yard. It really is a rooted tree, not just a placed sculpture like you see all over the Catskills of bears and what have you. Kudos to the carver of this magnificent Dumble-duo!

The Eagle Has Landed... Phoenicia!
This majestic birdie is perched at the Rte 28 entrance to Main Street in Phoenicia. His provenance is quite interesting. Over a century ago he and his buddies were guarding the towers of Grand Central Station in NYC.
The Town of Shandaken threw a huge party for his 20th anniversary in the mountains. I'm glad I was there for the fabulous parade and fireworks. It was a blast, but I think the eagle prefers his downtime, silently welcoming visitors to Phoenicia.
For more information about the eagles of Grand Central Station and their current whereabouts go here.

Cold Duck

Huh? What? Let me get this straight. A group of manly hunter men gather around the hearth to discuss the perilous situation confronting ducks and the sport of killing them. Because the ducks' best interest lies in the continuation of the sport, right? This does not compute. We need to ask a duck.
click on the picture to enlarge

Caveat emptor

Driving home from a hike in West Kill, we spotted this cool sign on Rte 42.
Yup, just the sign. No meat market. On the opposite side of the street sits the aptly named Stuff & Nonsense.
That's an old gas pump out front. Peering in the windows, all I could make out was a pile of stuff, a smattering of nonsense and to my great pleasure a sign for the Flowbee haircutting system. The shop appeared to be unoccupied (for decades), unless you count that dapper gentleman, no doubt propped up as a lookout for naive downstaters in search of the perfect haircut.

Hollerin' Hearths

Last month we spotted an angry fireplace on our drive to a hiking trail in Andes. I suppose he's sore that his house done left him.

This was propped up nearby. I like to think that Tommy is the fireplace's name (and he's very possessive of his spread). It was kind of spooky and lonely, and well, I just wanted to get out of there before Tommy started spitting stones and ash at me. Yes, I anthropomorphize everything.
We soon found the trail, nestled in the Little Pond Campground. It's a gorgeous area, yet I couldn't fully enjoy the hike. I had a nagging sensation that something evil was in the woods....lurking....and watching...and seething...and hating....


Happy Halloween!

Stoney Clove Lane in Chichester

Rte. 214 in Chichester

Frozen in time

This mysterious mannequin has been peering out from the window of the Phoenicia Pharmacy for ages. Local lore has it that back in the early 70's a girl entered the pharmacy with a group of her friends. On a dare, she attempted to stuff a pack of candy cigarettes in her book bag. She never made it out the door, and thereafter her friends always walked on the opposite side of the street whenever they passed by.

*Just getting you in the mood for Halloween. The pharmacy, on Main Street in Phoenicia, is run by very nice people who would never think of turning their customers into mannequins. 

Pratt's Peak

The other day we went up to visit Pratt Rock Park.
The serpentine path leading up to this marvel in stone is off
of Rte 23 in (where else) Prattsville.
Zadock Pratt (1790-1871), the mastermind behind this oddity, made his fortune as a shoe tanner. He also dabbled in farming, building, banking, politics and the pursuit of wife gathering. His fifth and last wife was 50 years his junior! The old studmuffin was all about self-promotion, and these carved images, dubbed the Mount Rushmore of New York, tell the story of his life.

Pratt had a deep admiration for horses and in his lifetime he owned more than a thousand. One of the first images you see when making your way up the trail is this tribute to his equine friends.
As you get closer, a carved hemlock tree is revealed. Tannin, the bitter extract of the plant, is an essential ingredient in the tanning process and provided Pratt with his fortune. His shoe leather tannery became the largest in the world.
Many sculptures can be found along the trail, including a bas relief of his son (killed in the Civil War) and the Pratt family coat of arms. Another curiosity serving to fill a place in Pratt's boulder-etched biography is the odd duo below. The scroll reads "Bureau of Statistics, 1844" which references Pratt's Congressional contribution while in office. The beefy arm gripping a sledgehammer is a tribute to the working man, whom Pratt so esteemed. Legend has it that Pratt met a jobless stonecutter who begged for a handout. Instead, he put the man to work for the next 28 years to carve out Pratt's sculptural dream. I wonder if this "arm of labor" is more a tribute the stonecutter made for himself rather than any ideal. Further up is a bust of the eccentric captain of industry along with his name and birthdate, where underneath he wished to be buried in a tomb hewn from the rocks surrounded by these symbols.

Only a small grotto remains of that idea, however, presumably because the tools available were not up to the job. Water also seeped into the area making it unfit for a burial place. Today it serves as a cozy rest area before ascending to the summit.

The trail leads up and around the carvings to a ledge with a spectacular view of the Schoharie valley. To think that I was standing in the same spot where Zadock Pratt once gazed upon his empire!

My favorite part of the hike is this discovery at the base of
the mountain - a tombstone in remembrance of all the dogs and horses he loved in his lifetime. Nope, no mention of any wives.

More info about Pratt and his rocks can be found here.

Road Thrill!

We came across this dazzling array on the side of a garage off of Rte 23 up in Jewett.

The New York City street signs are a fabulous touch and that Verrazano Bridge sign is going on my list for Santa.
The display is awesome, although I kind of wish the license plates were arranged geographically. I counted 31 different states along with the U.S. Virgin Islands. 
The subway's just around the corner on Francis Lewis Blvd. Watch out for the dogs!

Gets out tough stains, too!

Last weekend we went to the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties. It's a great fall festival but lacks any noteworthy oddness, unless you count a scoop of garlic ice cream in a waffle cone odd (because I don't). Luckily, we came across this oddity a few blocks away. Yes, those are soap bubbles. Every year we go to the Garlic Fest and every year there are soap bubbles cascading from this fountain. The addition of flags, scarecrows and a Virgin Mary give it a little extra oomph, clearly setting it apart from all those other soap bubble fountains one always comes across.

Ghost Drive-In

We were driving up to Hunter for a hike when we glimpsed this along the way. A huge outdoor screen...could it be what we thought it was?
Excited, we pulled over to investigate. Yes - a drive-in movie theater!
It looked like it had been abandoned in a hurry.
The box office was wide open and there were marquee letters strewn about.
Along the remnants of the surrounding fence were light fixtures spaced about 20 feet apart and set low to the ground. The arrows baffle me. What are they pointing to?
It's a sad, desolate setting. The listing speaker posts bring to mind neglected tombstones, occupying a space that was once full of happy people enjoying an evening under the stars.
Online info indicates that the Mountain Drive-In opened in 1948. It screened its last film on October 8, 2006! I'm as surprised as you!

Don't wear white after Labor Day...

...unless you're a caterpillar.
I just got back today after a long weekend in the 'skillz and have lots of oddities to post...all in due time. For now, enjoy this fuzzy fellow who was inches away from our next oddity.

Dark Roots

There's something very eerie (if not awesomely willful) about a root creeping across a rock to reach the soil on the other side. I made sure not to linger here.

Fit for a King!

There's a great trail in Tannersville (off of Elka Park Rd) that leads to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. If you get tired on the hike, you can sit on this nifty blue stone throne.

This area was once a thriving quarry owned by a dude named Dibble. His sons created this unique space adding several rooms throughout the years, complete with firepits, tables, chairs and even a privy! This is the view when sitting on the big throne. There's a cooking area and several smaller chairs. It's truly a special place. One of these days I'll hike up at night for a cookout and some stargazing.

We brought our friends up here over Labor Day weekend. Their kids loved it!

Blue Plate Special

I've stumbled across cabins in the woods, 
but never a diner! 

This oddity was found off of Route 212, just past Main Street in Phoenicia, NY. Although it's situated on a small residential lot (there's a house on either side) it's in a sad state of neglect and serves as a dumping ground for other people's garbage. I wonder where it came from. Imagine if it were restored and used as a residence - what a cool place to live!