The annual Hall of Fame Essay contest, part of the curriculum for 10th graders at Sleepy Hollow High School, was won last semester by Maya Weitzen and Arya Glenn. The Tarrytown School District, The Historical Society Serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, and the Warner Library partner to conduct the contest.
Maya Weitzen, of Sleepy Hollow, chose Rafael Joseffy, a master pianist, classical musician and music teacher, as the subject of her winning essay.
Tarrytown student Arya Glenn wrote about John Anderson for her winning essay. Anderson was a wealthy tobacco manufacturer and merchant who owned a well-known shop on Broadway in New York City during the 1800’s.
Below are the winning essays:
John Anderson: The Man with Many Ghosts
As a child, I had a map of 19th century North Tarrytown. It consisted of a few roads and landmarks, but mainly large parcels of land labeled with the names of the owners. I used to read the unfamiliar names, wondering about the generations of people that lived before me. Every nook and cranny of our town hosts a different, and incredible story, and I’m glad to be able to tell one of the most colorful.
John Anderson was born in 1812, in New York City, and became one of the best known self-made men in New York. As a young man, he worked as a wool puller and a bricklayer, before opening a tobacco store in New York City in his twenties. His tobacco grew in popularity when he pioneered the use of tinfoil wrapping for tobacco to keep it dry, and he began expanding, even sending shipments to Union troops during the Civil War. When his business was developing, he shared his shop with a partner, who secretly renewed their lease under his name alone. Anderson discovered this, and wanted his former partner to pay. His lawyers saw no way of taking legal action, but, remaining determined, he read the laws himself and developed a case, and won, making his ideas on partnership widely established law.
Anderson was also a skillful investor, and one of the original stockholders in theBroadway and 7th Avenue railroad line, an investment that returned great profit for him. He was generous with his money, donating to many causes he believed in. He donated $50,000 to a natural science professor for a school, showing his passion for the sciences. Anderson also believed strongly in the cause for Italian unification, and was a close friend and financial supporter of Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader of the movement.
Anderson owned an estate in Sleepy Hollow, in what is now Webber Park. In his time there he donated to many projects, showing his love for the village. Most notably, he funded the statue of John Paulding that was added to the monument commemorating John Andre’s capture. This statue marks the border between Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, and one of the most famous events in our town’s history.
However, Anderson’s success didn’t protect him from scandal. His involvement in the Cigar Girl Murder of 1841 is what he is most known for. Anderson hired Mary Rogers to work in his shop, and being very attractive, she created a lot of buzz for Anderson’s business. In 1838 she mysteriously disappeared, and, several days later, she returned with no explanation. Concern over her well being had spread during her disappearance, and after her return, New Yorkers flocked to the shop to see her — buying tobacco from Anderson while they were at it. Later, many suspected that Anderson staged the disappearance to generate more business. Several years later, Mary Rogers disappeared again, and this time reappeared floating in the Hudson, the victim of a violent murder.
Anderson was one of the prime suspects in her case, which remains unsolved. Theories about Anderson’s involvement are sparked by suspicions he was behind her earlier disappearance, that Rogers lived with him, and that a witness claimed her death was caused by a botched abortion. The murder became the talk of New York City, inspiring a frequenter of Anderson’s tobacco shop, Edgar Allen Poe, to write a story based on the case, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” which some suspected Anderson encouraged him to write, considering that Poe cleared Marie Roget’s employer of suspicion in his story. Though the case was eventually dismissed, and Anderson retained his wealth and slightly damaged prestige, Roger’s murder followed him the rest of his life. As he aged, he slipped into insanity, paranoid that his relatives were after him, and that he was visited by ghosts, especially those of his late son Willie and Mary Rogers.
Anderson led a life of prosperity tinged with mystery. Though many might see his infamy as detrimental to his impact on our town, the mystique of a murder case brings intrigue to our town’s history. Anderson was eclectic, and when he believed in something, he didn’t hesitate to support it. He was able to build a tobacco empire from nothing, make hundreds of thousands of dollars on investments, and still have money at the end of his life to donate and give to his relatives. He shaped the map of our town, his life fills it with spirit, and shows that every story behind our map is worth telling.
Meier, Allison C. “Brooklyn History: Our Famous Dead.” Brooklyn Based, 7 June 2018, brooklynbased.com/2012/01/17/brooklyn-history-our-famous-dead/.
Steiner, Henry J. “The Ghosts and Mr. Anderson.” Headless Horseman Blog, 21 Dec. 2016, headlesshorsemanblog.com/ghosts-edgar-allen-poe-john-anderson/.
Sweeny, Peter B. “Long Article about a John Anderson, Tobacconist.”
Newspapers.com, The New York Times, 15 July 1885, www.newspapers.com/clip/87982/long_article_about_a_john_anderson/.
Other sources found on file at the Historical Society
Rafael Joseffy: A Piano With Many Keys
Upon scanning the Hall of Fame list of names, I came across someone who caught my eye immediately. Rafael Joseffy’s description construed him as a “pianist, teacher, and composer.” I sat there thinking, how could a person’s whole life be tapered to three, bare words? Soon I was on a quest, hunting down the humanity behind the ink and paper. I walked to the Historical Society where I found the holy grail of research. There I dug through newspaper clippings, correspondences, portraits, and autographed books by Joseffy. His life, and what can be gained by his story, deserve to be remembered.
Rafael Joseffy was born on July 3, 1852, in Hunfalu, Hungary. At eight years old, he began exploring his passion: the piano. He started on a local level and then continued to study in Budapest. In 1866, he left his home of Hungary to travel to Leipzig, Germany, where he studied the piano from age fourteen to sixteen. Following his stay in Leipzig, he moved to Berlin where he was educated by Carl Tausig and Franz Liszt, who were both commemorated and distinguished musicians. These two mentors greatly influenced his pianistic style and artistic ideals. At his 1870 debut in Berlin, his transcendent technique and colorful tone gained Joseffy acclamations of a master pianist. In 1879, Joseffy immigrated to New York and made his American debut in an orchestra. Soon after his original performance, he played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and was a soloist for the inaugural concerts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1891. Joseffy played the piano with brilliance and was keen on adapting classics, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms, and all were interpreted with equal mastery and enthusiasm. He also created books in order to teach others how to play the piano poetically.
I find his musical achievements incredibly impressive, however, what makes Rafael Joseffy truly compelling was the quirks in his life and the man behind the glare of the footlights. As a performer who had toured all over Europe and amazed many on the greatest stages of our country, Joseffy settled down in Tarrytown, New York, where his personality came to light. Professor Joseffy lived near Bedford Road and Webber Avenue and was a kind neighbor and village favorite who bustled about in a surrey with a fringed top. He opened his doors to struggling artists at all hours, helping them find their love for music. It was his firm belief that the study of music should never be forced upon the young, and love for the craft and willingness to work were necessary for success. Joseffy was amusingly in The New York Times as the defendant in a Supreme Court suit for damages done to his rented home in Tarrytown. He had converted the parlor to a dog kennel and, in consequence, the carpet was ruined. He loved animals, and in instances like those, one can see his true, lighthearted personality. Also, he went from playing at the Metropolitan Opera to the beloved Tarrytown Music Hall where, in 1894, he performed as part of a charitable function for the Hospital Association. The people of Tarrytown were thrilled by his performance, and the Tarrytown Argus proclaimed his concert as a “treat.” Many times he was offered great sums to tour the country after settling down in Tarrytown, however, he preferred the joy of teaching in his beloved home to any fame or applause.
Rafael Joseffy was a truly inspiring artist who was the epitome of success. He was an immigrant who, through practice and education, made a name for himself in a new country. He became a genius in his field and, instead of pursuing profit, he chose to spread his love for music through teaching. As a violin player, I understand the value of having a passionate and loving teacher, as well as the profound impact a teacher has on students. And although I do not understand what it is like to play at Joseffy’s level of expertise, I can imagine how much of a sacrifice it was to leave behind those prominent stages, but that choice was influenced by his love of teaching. Hence, one could say that Rafael Joseffy was a pianist, teacher, and composer, however, he embodied much more than that. He was a dog-lover, a muse, a philanthropist, and most of all, he was a kind neighbor and contributor to our town.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Rafael Joseffy.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 29 June 2018,
www.britannica.com biography/ Rafael-Joseffy.
Buxton, Wally. “Peerless Tarrytowns of Yesteryear Studded with Magnificent Estates.” Tarrytown Daily News, 13 Aug. 1955.
“Kept Dogs in the Parlor.” The New York Times, 21 Aug. 1887. “Rafael Joseffy” The Tarrytown Argus, 25 Aug. 1894.
Remy, Alfred. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Third Revised Edition. “A Tribute to Rafael Joseffy From One of His Pupils.”
“Sleepy Hollow: A Community of Beautiful Homes.” Tarrytown Daily News, 1917.