Back in 1980, I was booted out of my apartment on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village (see my 11th Street downstair’s neighbor, Donald Barthelme’s December 4, 1978 Talk Of The Town piece about the building’s landlord — I’m one-half of trembling “…young cohabiting couple…” he mentions). Needing a break from Manhattan I took up an offer from an illustrator friend to rent her grandmother’s old stone farmhouse in Kerhonkson, New York, a very sleepy hamlet along the Rondout Creek about a hundred miles north of New York. And so, justlikethat, I went from hustlin’ bustlin’ Greenwich Village to a cow farm, surrounded by fields of corn.
Above: downtown Kerhonkson in better days
I spent five years on the farm, finally moving on in 1986, further north, and closer to the Hudson River.
Some years after moving away from Kerhonkson, I was reading through Harrison Kinney’s James Thurber: His Life And Times (Henry Holt, 1995) when I came across the below passage [Burton Bernstein’s Thurber biography, published twenty years earlier, mentioned Thurber repairing to a sanitorium, but did not name it or where it was. Kinney did both]:
“That March of 1935…Thurber admitted himself to Dr. Fitz Foord’s sanitorium at Kerhonkson, in the Catskill Mountains. Thurber had ‘discovered’ it, after hearing that O. Henry had used it as a drying out place, and later Thurber’s psychically exhausted colleagues would periodically turn themselves in there, too.”
Above: Foord’s in the late 1920s
For me, it was an unbelievable needle-in-a-haystack intersection: my hero, James Thurber, had once spent time in the off the beaten path, out-of-the-way, teeny tiny town I’d lived in. Adding to the electric jolt of this new information was learning that Fritz Foord rubbed elbows with many an Algonquin Roundtabler (here’s a great photo of Foord with Thurber, St. Clair McKelway, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs, Russell Maloney, and The Algonquin’s Frank Case — Foord is seated, bottom left). His retreat also listed among its visitors such New Yorker luminaries as Harold Ross, and E.B. White. So many of the magazines contributors visited it earned the nickname “The New Yorker Retreat.” In a letter Thurber wrote to his girlfriend, Ann Honeycutt:
“You’ll love it up here. It’s like a Longfellow Inn…with the kittyskills in the distance.” [Kinney, p.574]
The retreat is no longer, but the building remains (see below) looking much the same as it did in the Foord days. It is now The Soyuziuka Heritage Center, “dedicated to keeping and teaching Ukrainian Traditions.”
Jason Chatfield on tonight’s bout (scroll down to Daily Cartoon) Mr. Chatfield began contributing to The New Yorker in 2017.