Thanksgiving Basket for Old Saar

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

“On the way to the Cedars at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y.” Card postmarked Brooklyn, November 12, 1909. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

During the early years of the 20th century, the poet-historian Gertrude Ryder Bennett (1901-1982), who lived her entire life in the landmarked Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead (built around 1766, it stands proudly at 1669 East 22nd Street), went with her parents one Thanksgiving to deliver a charitable wagon-load of food and winter supplies to “Old Saar,” a woman thought to be a surviving Canarsie Indian. Old Saar was supposedly over 100 years old and lived in a dirt-floored shack in the section of Gravesend Neck called “Hog Point Cedars,” or sometimes just “the Cedars,” located in the marshy reaches east of Sheepshead Bay near Plumb Beach/Gerritsen Beach. Here is Gertrude’s poignant remembrance of that long-ago day. (FYI: “the cove” = Sheepshead Bay.)

Thanksgiving Basket

My parents took me with them when they drove

To Hog Point Cedars. Long ago that name

Sank to oblivion. Beside the cove

Our Blackie jogged. We knocked and Old Saar came

To ask us in her weather-beaten shack,

Her long, white hair in braids, her placid face

Like my dried apple doll. Her eyes were black

And keen. One single window pane. The place

Had only earth for floor. Her feet were bare

Although, across the dunes, the wind blew cold.

I had been told she always had lived there,

That no one knew her age, she was so old.

She wore a wrapper, with a brilliant stripe,

Of summer weight, and smoked a corn-cob pipe.

—————–

She spoke to me through wrinkled lips. Her hand

Caressed my hair. My parents brought the food

Out of the carriage and I watched her stand

Bright eyed. “My son’s out back. He’s choppin’ wood,”

She said, “and he’ll be eighty come next year.

He’s just been clammin’.” Then she proudly chose

The best to share with us while I could hear

Ax upon driftwood. When the inlet froze,

They would have staple food that bleak November.

“Canarsie Indians,” folk said. They were

The last. Though long ago, I still remember

A certain air of mystery in her,

Her walk, slow but erect, kindness to me,

And childish wonder at her dignity.

[From the chapter "Basket for Old Saar" in Turning Back the Clock in Gravesend: Background of the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead (Francestown, N.H.: Marshall Jones Company, 1982), 25-26.]

Despite the caption on this image from F.A. Busing’s Brooklyn Landmarks Calendar for 1902, “The Cedars” was located between Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach, in the eastern part of town, not at Gravesend Beach, in the western part of town. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

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8 Comments

Filed under holidays, Sheepshead Bay

8 responses to “Thanksgiving Basket for Old Saar

  1. Daniel Hotaling

    Joe thanks for posting this my grandfather was born in hog point cedars 1905.very few people even know the name of the place or it’s location anymore .Ive found another pic online of the hog point cedars crossing .this area has changed so dramatically in the last 120 years

    • Thank you, Dan. It’s a coincidence you happened to read this just now because only recently I came across evidence that that there were, in fact, cedars in the Gravesend Beach area, and that the caption to the 1902 calendar page is probably correct!

    • Can you share a link to the other picture you found online? I don’t think I’ve seen it!

      • Report of the Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn, … – Page 366 – Google Books Result
        books.google.com/books?id=t0Gm5…
        1897
        … around the eastern point and the whole of Sheepshead Bay as far east as Hog Creek, with Mr. Francis …

  2. Report of the Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn, … – Page 366 – Google Books Result
    books.google.com/books?id=t0Gm5…
    1897
    … around the eastern point and the whole of Sheepshead Bay as far east as Hog Creek, with Mr. Francis …

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