I am very excited to be the first guest blogger on the St. John’s Libraries Weblog. The creative members of the STJLiblog team stressed that I could choose any topic as long as it was relevant to our users; the topic need not be a library-related issue. This invitation to blog reminds me of another invitation I recently accepted, one to present on any topic of my choosing to a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Any topic of my choosing? How do you decide what to speak about? Do you think about your audience alone; their interests; what they want to hear? Well, to some extent you have to. I mean, you do want to be listened to after all, don’t you?

I think it’s easiest if you choose something that you can speak about; something you have some firsthand experience with; something you know something about.

Here at St. John’s we offer a course called Discover New York which encourages students…well, let’s face it, the course REQUIRES students to explore the city of New York and to gain an understanding of the various communities that comprise our great city. The concept is really quite exciting. I wish I had been required to take a course like that in college; but then again, I was bitten by the road-trip-bug in my senior year so I have done my fair share of discovering New York, or have I?

It was in my senior year of college that I decided that I would drive to each of the 48 contiguous states before I turned thirty; the age at which I was sure you had to be grown up. I was just a few days shy of reaching that goal and a few years later I had the opportunity to add a great feather to my cap; I drove to Alaska. You’d be surprise how many people don’t think it’s possible to drive to Alaska. I blame that on cartographers. Every U.S. map that I have seen has Alaska cut out into its own little box, just floating there off to the side. That’s not really where it is, but I digress…

When it came to choosing a topic to present to the DAR I decided to share with them some stories from the road, answer some of the most commonly asked questions that I get, and give them a little bit of insight into how helpful the Internet can be when planning a road trip.

In preparing for my DAR presentation I discovered that I have never truly been a tourist in my own home state of New York. Oh, sure, I have been to Niagara Falls, spent a weekend in the Catskills, driven out to the Hamptons in summer traffic (a fate worse than death), and climbed the steps of the Statue of Liberty (a fate seriously close to death). And I have scanned Lake Champlain for New York State’s version of the Loch Ness monster, loving known as “Champ,” but I have never really been a tourist. I have never gone to a location in New York just to see what it’s like; just to learn something about the area. No, during my trips around New York I have often been the tour guide taking relatives from far away to see the sights that define New York.

This October, I decided it was high time to get my tourism on; to discover a part of New York that I didn’t really know. I charged up my camera, pulled up the black knee socks, and hit the highway for parts less known.

“In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, where they always prudently shortened sails and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town.”

Thus begins one of the greatest short stories to be born out of New York, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow written by Washington Irving in 1820. If you are not familiar with the ominous tale of the headless horseman and the ill-fated teacher, Ichabod Crane, which is set right here in our own backyard, I highly recommend you pick it up. We do have copies of it in the library and it is available on Google books [http://books.google.com/books?id=zAl0j_FUTnkC&lpg=PT23&dq=The%20Legend%20of%20Sleep%20Hallow&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false].

If you do have the opportunity to tarry while in the Tarrytown area, I recommend a visit to Sunnyside, home of Washington Irving. A visit to an author’s home gives you a perspective on his or her life like no writing ever could. You will be permitted to linger in his study, climb the stairs to his bedroom, hold the handrails he held, and look out onto the ever changing Hudson River which sweeps by his home. By the way, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the river that today bears his name, a good excuse to celebrate the beauty of the Hudson River Valley.

Up the road a piece from Sunnyside you can visit the grave of Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Like me, you might be surprised to learn that this is also the resting place of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie; cosmetics empress Elizabeth Arden; and the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley. This sleepy, little market town was the retreat of many famed and wealthy individuals. Irving himself was pretty much a rock star in his day, hosting guest such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and President Martin van Buren.

If you do happen to be in the area next October, plan ahead; purchase tickets online to an event called The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortland Manor in the town of Croton-on-Hudson. This year’s blaze consisted of a display of more than 5,000 carved pumpkins; 5,298, to be exact. Words and photos cannot capture the amazing glow of never-ending fields of jack-o’-lanterns.

For those of you who may never get to go to Tarrytown, I invite you to be a tourist in your own area. What is your hometown known for? How did your town come to be what it is today? And what do you really know about it? Can you separate the facts from the legends? If not, I know a few librarians who would love to help you with that!