Wednesday, March 31, 2010

D & D - an old school fan's dream come true

I was introduced to the original pamphlet-style D & D rules by Densel E. in the Boy Scouts back in 1977 or so. He had Blackmoor, Greyhawk, Chainmail, the whole bunch. I was hooked. Later me and the Neighborhood started playing D & D (which a bunch of us got for Christmas) and eventually moved on to Advanced D & D. I remember walking to and from Smilin' Sunny's on Forest Avenue to buy my copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Within a few years we had stopped playing D & D and moved on to other RPGs. We didn't like the class or combat systems in D & D. In DragonQuest and later in the Fantasy Hero we found better systems (if more complicated). Still, D & D was the first and definitely the one where the experiences, the fun and inventiveness were the best.

I recently was directed to a very cool fantast RPG site called Grognardia. Apparently, over the past few years a movement of "old school RPG" players has grown up. These people long for the simpler days when the first started playing and everything was fresh and very (very) uncommercial.

They remember and long for the days when the art was done by friends of the creators and the text type in rulebooks an modules was out of place. They remember umber hulks and displacer beasts fondly. The campaign worlds were the ones made up at night on pages of graph paper and with colored pencils. Dungeons ofter existed for no reason (except to garner treasure and magic items) in ridiculous locations. There were no endless reams of derivative and poorly written novels or an unending supply of modules set in somebody else's universe. Halcyon days.

As nostalgia overcame me I decided to see if I could download any of the old module covers just to see what I remembered. What I found was pure gold as they say (no, I don't really know where). Somebody posted EVERY old school TSR product. Every terrible Erol Otus picture, every superhero influence Jeff Dee picture. Every beautiful multicolored cover with sword wielding paladins, orcs and axe swinging dwarfs.

For about fifteen or sixteen years I played games on many weekends and countless days in the summer. Those were great times I can never go back to but I would never want to give up.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anger is an energy (one of those occassional political posts)

Gutfeld makes me laugh and he's right on target. I feel like I've taken crazy pills when Paul Krugman gets worked up over anti-Pelosi literature but earlier wrote that folks should hang Sen. Lieberman in effigy. I worked for NYC City Hall in the last years of Giuliani and constantly saw posters of him as Hitler (which was later done to Bush Jr.).

I'm not against all that sort of juvenile hyperbolic placard waving stuff. If you want to parade around with pictures of your enemy in Nazi garb and expose your dumbocity to the world, go for it. Just don't get your panties all in a twist when the other side does equivalent stuff.

And, NO, I'm not down with rock throwing, fires or going to some dimwitted politician's private home where his family's at. Though, again, seems I recall that was done to McCain, Rove and Wall Street people.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lost Iron Tower of Howard Avenue

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Like something out of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard, this tall cylinder can been seen peeking out from behind the trees on Howard Avenue next to St. John's. Of course when I was younger my friends and I decided we had to make an effort to penetrate the dense woods and find out what it was.
Well, as you can sort of see, security's pretty lax and the woods aren't really that thick. We simply slipped through a gap in the fence and walked up to the metal column. I guess it's about eight or ninety feet high. There's not really much going on with it. There was an oval hole in the side that we were able to look into and see the great nothing inside and the sky through the open top above. And that was it. We went home and never bothered going back.

Apparently it's just a DEP Water Department water tower. The old photo's from 1937.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vale Snowden

I wish I had a picture of Elizabeth Snowden Nichols' home. Named Vale Snowden, it stood on the lower southern slope of Grymes Hill.

I found this excerpt about it from "The History and legend of Howard Avenue and the Serpentine Road, Grymes Hill, Staten Island" by C.G. Hine on the Internet Archive:

"Vale Snowden", which corners on the
Clove road, is the home of Mrs. William
Snowden Nichols. The house was erected
by Satterthwaite about 1852-1854 and was
purchased by Mr. Nichols in 1864. The
architect was James Renwick, mentioned in
connection with the Davis place, and the
grounds were laid out by Frederick Law

Mrs. Nichols tells me that General Green,
one time minister to Russia, and who was
associated with Mr. Olmstead in the laying
out of Central Park, once said that Mr. Olm-
stead and Mr. Satterthwaite were friends and
that the former gained a large part of his
practical knowledge as a landscape architect
in the laying out of this place. Originally it
was a most unpromising spot, a mass of
soapstone (serpentine), and it required the
work of eight yoke of oxen almost a year to
haul sufficient earth from the top of the hill
to make a foundation for the garden.

A well which is situated almost in front
of the house and very near the road was, ac-
cording to local tradition, a regular stopping
place for the Philadelphia stages. Mrs.
Nichols does not know anything more than
that this statement came from Mr. Satter-
thwait. It is possible that there may have
been an inn on the Little Clove road here,
but if so there does not appear to be any
record concerning it.

^ Mrs. Nichols recalls that the Richmond
County Country Club grew out of an in-
formal riding and driving club which used
this place as a rendezvous, as the younger
members of her family took a lively interest
in its formation and development.

Today the house, and even memories of it, are lost in to the past. Now Wagner College's baseball field stands in its place.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why I Dislike Politicians

Rep. Alcee Hastings, (D) 23rd Florida
This is a man who was impeached and removed from the federal bench by fellow Democrats back in 1988 for taking a $150,000 bribe. He only escaped jail because his co-conspirator refused to testify against him (that man went to jail and later got a pardon from Bill Clinton).

Theater Fix

The Lyric Theater - in Rosebank at the on Tompkins near Clifton

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Apparently you can buy this bit of Staten Island theatrical history.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fox Hills Golf Club (and some cows)

Once upon a time Staten Island was a home and playground for the rich. Names like Vanderbilt, Barrett and Tompkins still mark our neighborhoods and street signs. Larger signs, like their homes and playgrounds, as I've often tried to illustrate, are long gone with overcrowded streets and shoddy housing taking much of their place.

Fox Hills, now mostly covered with Trump produced apartment buildings and bad reputation, the neighborhood once was the grounds of the Fox Hills Golf Club. There were also several large homes but the gold club seems to have been the primary point of interest.

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The best newspaper reference I found was about someone's cows grazing themselves on the golf club's greens.

NY Times Sept. 13, 1902


When I was a kid growing up on Cebra most of the kids around me who were Catholic went to Our Lady of Good Counsel for school and church. It also had a lenient policy about letting neighborhood kids use their schoolyard (really just a blacktop parking lot) for playing softball and just hanging around in so I spent a lot of time there.
There womens' guild or whatever they call it used to hold book fairs every year. My dad and I would walk up to Austin Place and buy tons of paperbacks for something like a quarter a piece. Good times.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Simon's Chapel - Episcopal

St. Simon's Chapel - demolished and rebuilt on Richmond Road

When I came across the Bethlehem Orphan and Half Orphan Asylum I discovered something new to dig into. When the Verrazano Bridge and the Staten Island Expressway were built they obliterated substantial parts of several neighborhoods. I don't know how much I can uncover from just tooling about the NYPL site but it's better than nothing.

Construction on the highway started in 1959 and was opened over the course of 1964. The bridge opened in 1964. Obviously Staten Island's never been the same.

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Before demolition and after - St. Simon's is the yellow building to the left of the pink car barn set where Clove and Richmond Roads meet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bethlehem Orphan and Half Orphan Asylum

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In perusing the maps of Rosebank and Fort Wadsworth I wander a little south of my usual hunting grounds and discovered something new: the Bethlehem Orphan and Half Orphan Asylum. A little quick digging revealed it was a Lutheran (yay) undertaking.
A little more research told me that the orphanage had been founded in 1886 by eleven churches in response to large number of children orphaned during a severe cholera outbreak in NYC. In 1915 they were able to buy about 20 acres of land on Staten Island from the Barrett family.

postcard showing the entrance to the orphanage

The establishment operated until it burned down in 1972. As the social services were turning away from orphanages towards foster care the Lutheran Social Services of New York declined to rebuild it and sold off the property. Today it's a huge tract of typically unattractive townhouses.

New York Times article from 1915

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Fingerboard Road


Nice little postcard of the intersection of Fingerboard and Tompkins looking south towards Fox Hill Villa (by then already a part of the Jesuit's Mount Manresa retreat). That towered building was taken down in 1963.
Based on some of the other postcards in the NYPL collection I'd guess it's from between the end of the 19th and the earliest part of the 20th centuries.
That bridge in the foreground is over the old South Beach Railroad. When I was a kid the old trestles of the line still existed along the overgrown right-of-way. In the mid nineties all that was lost when endless lines of far too small townhouses were built on top of the right-of-way. Progress.

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Beautiful Hues

Came across this beautiful bright blue New York harbor view. You can see the old Cromwell piers in Tompkinsville, the rail yards at the SI Ferry Terminal and the apartments around Curtis High School. And the V-Z Bridge. Great find. Thank you, NYPL.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

First Home

MacGregror Arms Apartments - 1925
In 1965 the late Richard and Jane Vredenburgh moved into this fine building following their marriage. A year later when I came along I guess you could say I moved in too.
We lived there until 1969 when the rent was raised (I think to $137) above what my parents could get a mortgage for. So they moved to Cebra Avenue and spent the rest of their lives there.
I have clear memories from living in the building and numerous stories told me by my folks over the years. I loved to greet my dad coming home walking up the stairs next to Borough Hall from the ferry. The ceilings were nine feet high and our apartment, not subdivided like some, was huge. There was a dentist in the ground floor (later home to Montezuma's, the Side Street and now a tapas place). There were tons of places for my mom to shop along the foot of Victory Blvd. and we were always going to the library.

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But then we moved to then quiet, paving stoned, tree-lined Cebra Avenue. In the summer horses from Clove Lakes Stables would come over Cebra steadily clip clopping along. The woods were filled with possums and pheasants. Strange abandoned treehouses made of doors high up in the trees on the hill rising above Cebra Avenue became visible when the leaves fell in the fall. Moving to Cebra in the summer of 1969 still calls me a back with a magical pull that I hope never fades completely away.

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Our computer died last night. Got a new Tb hard drive in the mail for tomorrow and after an XP install hope to salvage data from the old drive. I don't expect good luck with this.