The Headless Horseman & The Billionaire



Our timing was perfect.

In search of turning leaves (the spectacle is late this year in NYC) my older son and I decided to drive out and visit the Hudson Valley last weekend. (I’ve been in NY, just in case you were worried about me!)

But wait-not so fast…everything  sold out. 🙁

Who’s giving up? pas moi.

With my boy having only one week day available, we managed to purchase tickets to tour famous Kykuit in Sleepy Hollow on Thursday morning.

Rain was forecast but said progeny was optimistically pessimistic about the weatherman’s ability to predict that far ahead.

Kykuit slimpaley.comThis was my Instagram photo of the moment we arrived, but in the space of a few minutes the mist lifted, the clouds dispersed and it turned out to be a stellar day.

So basically, my son is a genius.

Kykuit  slimpaley.comKykuit (Dutch for “Lookout”) is a stately stone home sitting high upon a picturesque knoll above the town of Sleepy Hollow.  After getting off to a very rough start, the house was finally completed in 1913.

Teaser; imagine taking almost 6 years and how much money(?) to build your dream home, finally moving in and having to move right back out due to so many design flaws. As I say, it’s always something…but that’s another story.

Kykuit was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family until Nelson R. bequeathed  his 1/3 share to The National Trust  for Historic Preservation upon his death in 1979.  The guide didn’t elaborate on who held the other shares.

Kykuit slimpaley.comIt was 1893, when John D. Rockefeller, encouraged by his brother William’s glowing reports of the Pocantico Hills, first bought the property. The family gradually acquired the surrounding land until they’d amassed almost 4,000 acres.

That’s on the Hudson people.

Did I mention money wasn’t an issue??

 Luckily for the public, the main house, gardens and carriage barn all opened for tours when the house transferred to the historic trust. The family still retains the rest of the property, keeping the huge “Children’s Playhouse” and other buildings dotted about the grounds for personal use. Happy Rockefeller, Nelson’s widow now in her 80’s, lives nearby.

Kykuit slimpaley.comImpressive, if not too surprising, the original landscaping plan was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) More surprising was that John D. was less than thrilled with Olmsted’s efforts and in addition to taking much of the garden design upon himself, commissioned William Welles Bosworth to finish the grounds more to his taste.

The truth is that I could go on endlessly about the history behind all these great estates; Kykuit, Oak Alley, Vizcaya, The Breakers et al.  Fascinating reading if you’ve the time and inclination, but what I truly love about taking historic tours are the behind-the-parlour-door rhythms, quirky little tid-bits and not so occasional scandals you take away from the homes and their ghostly inhabitants. Hence the popularity of “Downton Abbey”.

window detail, Kykuit, slimpaley.comHaving a really great tour guide is like getting your hair done by the best gossipy celebrity hair stylist. Buckle up and get ready to dish the dirt!

What was it really like to have been America’s very first billionaire?

Uh…helloo…is that linoleum??

Why was John D. Rockefeller so infamously ‘tight with a dime’?

( Legend has it John D. literally gave out rolls of nickels and dimes (an estimated 30-40,000  over his lifetime) plus a brief lecture on the rewards of working hard and saving money to poor people in the street in an attempt to dispel his less than ‘Generous’ reputation)

That being said, he and his heirs were exceptionally philanthropic, particularly when it came to the Arts, and Conservation. The amount of money, land, buildings and art bestowed upon the State of NY by the Rockefeller family could well be unmatched.

Kykuit slimpaley.comA side view of the house reveals that Kykuit is much larger than it appears from the front.

The Rockefellers were a much less ostentatious bunch than their neighbours the Vanderbilts.

Let’s just say I doubt the Kardashians would have made the guest list.

KykuitI found one small image of the interior of Kykuit, but unfortunately no photos are allowed to be taken in the house-and I bonded too much with the guide to sneak any iphone pics ( hate when that happens)

Vintage surrey,“Surrey with the Fringe On Top”

The  2 1/2 hour tour does include the massive old carriage house and stables where you are allowed to use your camera.

vintage CadillacWhat was it like to drive around in 40 ft long  Cadillacs? Check the separate windscreen for the back seat!

Kykuit Gardens, slimpaley.comA tour of the lower levels of the house features a pretty major art collection including works by Picasso, Lautrec, Calder, Giacometti, and Chagall. I must admit this was my least favourite part of the tour. I was underwhelmed, not by the art but the space, which isn’t very appealing. I couldn’t wait to get out and back up into the natural light, the gardens and the views, which are spectacular.

Kykuit, Sleepy Hollow, Slimpaley.comThe 9 hole golf course within the the 250 acres of walled and gated property surrounding Kykuit is gradually being forsaken. It costs $100,000 per  year to maintain…per hole.

That’s what the guide said. Pinky swear.

KykuitThe view from the front entrance.

The ‘flames’ flanking the urns are electrified. All the mod cons for Johnny D.

Fall Leaves slimpaley.comand the leaves were starting to turn in Sleepy Hollow. Does this look like a great Halloween street, or what?!


Sleepy Hollow Church, slimpaley.comThe Old Dutch Church

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, slimpaley.comA three minute jaunt uphill from the Kykuit Tour meeting area and you’ll arrive at the Old Dutch Church. One of the oldest cemeteries in the country, it’s chock full of famous residents, including  Brooke Astor, Elizabeth Arden, Walter Chrysler, Andrew Carnegie, Washington Irving, and William Rockefeller. That’s some after-party.

The Dutch cemetery, Sleepy HollowThe legendary characters of  Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow” are also buried here (including the ghost of the headless horseman who is said to ride nightly) We saw the tombstones of the Van Tassel family (Katrina from the story) amongst many other intriguing  headstones, ranging from Teeny-tiny to Wow-Now That’s Impressive. I imagine the guided walking tour here is quite lively. No pun intended.

cemetery angel , slimpaley.comNothing like a stroll through a cemetery on a beautiful day to remind you to seize The Moment.


Sleepy Hollow is aprox. a 4o minute drive from upper Manhattan.

Guided tours of the cemetery are held on Sunday afternoons from the last week of May through October.

The Kykuit tour is run by ‘Historic Hudson Valley’. Tickets are in high demand, especially at this time of year and should be bought in advance.  Trust me.

Kykuit.jpgFor more information click HERE

Don’t forget to roll your dimes, keep your head & sleep tight!




  1. Gorgeous! I love the old towns with the stone walls and wood architecture in NY and PA. The barns and churches there, iconic views of the U.S. Leaf color is late in Chicago area too. Nights were too warm for color!

  2. Gee whiz, you picked the right time of year to go as well. I am just upset I never made it there even though I lived in new york!! Absolutely stunning. But the maintenance fees are crazy. Per hole?? Must have been a lovely trip with your son!

  3. Husband and I were there in September. Great tour of that home, the Roosevelt’s and Vanderbilts. All worth a tour for sure and fell in love with the area and the insight..being from down south and all…

  4. I die! This would be my perfect vacation. Have read a ton on John D. and he was truly amazing–everything he built was built to last. He really was a visionary. Your pictures, as always, are simply breath taking. Hate to admit but exploring around really old cemeteries is one of my favorite things to do. I love the old miner one (they have 2 cemeteries) in Park City, Utah. Once my oldest son & I were there in July reading under the shade of a big ole tree and looked up to see a huge deer standing like 3 feet in front of us–we hadn’t even heard him come up–we just sat there in awe–and eventually he wondered off to another part of the cemetery–don’t know how he got in since it is all surrounded by an iron rod fence. Anyhoo, would love to see more posts of any historic stuff you visit. I also have loved reading Martha Stewart’s blog on the history of Skylands and all the many historic table cloths, dishes, furniture and everything else that came along with the old stone house. Love when she writes about David Rockefeller, his carriage rides and the trails in Maine that John D. originally created all with natural rock bridges and such and how many hundreds of people have enjoyed his hard work and creativity. I am happy that todays “evil” 1% have chosen to keep up these amazing historic sites as well as historic cars, paintings, gardens, etc for all of us to enjoy. The history of our country is worth preserving and enjoying for generations to come. Oh the good ole days. Could we go back to around 1900?

    • Kykuit is so wonderful and I attribute it to the wonderful woman Abby Aldrich Rockefeller!
      Her biography by Bernice Kert made me a great admirer. Her family turned out so well as she was an outstanding woman an without her we would not have MOMA or Williamsburg. Her sons all turned out
      as contributors!

  5. Love it, its the perfect combination of adventure, history, charm and nostalgia…i always say I was born in the wrong era….and this is proof! Thanks for reminding me of this great day trip not so far away…..your pictures are fabulous!

  6. Slim,

    As I always I enjoyed your fabulous post. I have been reading a lot lately about the Hudson River Valley definately on my short list as it is in driving distance for a long weekend. But as I write this I just enjoyed your recipe for curry from VJ’s and wish I was in Morocco. It came out great!!! We both loved it!!

  7. Fun times there. I agree about the guide advice. It is always the best way to see any city or buildings. They know things, those fabulous guides. never used them in my youthful past, the era of knowing everything. Now, I don’t go anywhere without one, even if I think I know the place. See every important thing in one day then you can go shopping

  8. Great photos! Mr. H and I visited this estate a few years ago and loved it — can we talk about the China Room? And the Giacometti lamps? Amazing. And if you haven’t been already, don’t miss the Glass House next time you are looking for some fun outside of the city. Simply one of the most perfect spaces ever. Thanks for sharing your visit!! xx

    • The Glass House designed by Phillip Johnson in New Canaan CT, is a splendid architectural outing. We went there on very rainy summer day, and It was leaking! Ah well, such is the price for near perfection! A must for anyone who loves to visit these iconic homes. An easy train ride from the city.

  9. Oh, how this post made me pine for the East Coast until I stepped outside to take in the absolutely gorgeous weather Santa Barbara was offering up today.
    Eileen Rockefeller Growald, daughter of David,and great granddaughter of John D., just published her memoir: ‘Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself: A Memoir’. I guess it wasn’t all finger bowls and cotillions. As always, Slim has impeccable timing.

    • Finger bowls & cotillions…perfect.
      We made our poor older son go to cotillion (much to his horror, but still some of MY favourite photos) and then were able to use the threat of it as a bargaining tool with the younger one 🙂

  10. Oh how I wished you had told me you were coming. I would have entertained you with a fabulous hudson lunch on my terrace. I live very nearby to Kykuit. It is spectacular. As always, love seeing things in your eyes.

  11. How wonderful to discover there is a real place called Sleepy Hollow! And that the church yard is the repository of such illustrious bones. The house and gardens are so beautiful and fascinating though it’s a pity the fabulous art collection is housed in such a non-sympa environment as you describe. Your photos as always are spectacular, especially the drama and moodiness you’ve captured in the first two pics of the fountain. Best wishes, Pamela

  12. Perfect and weird at the same time..I was advising my daughter on her English/History Newspaper project, which just happened to need a reference on Sleepy Hollow….I forgot about Ichibod and his horse Gunpowder until now…Hudson Valley so beautiful, I love the antiquing..(found my lovely iron/rock crystal sconces there)…my younger brother married on the Hudson at the most beautiful manse 20 years ago………history is very, very good for our soul

  13. Love the comments here! Thank you for a return trip along the Hudson, SP. One of my all-time favorite trips was a couple of Autumns ago, criss-crossing the Hudson with my husband who had never seen the Hudson River Valley. It is such an incredibly beautiful valley, with the important homes and sights, including West Point. Montreal Vieux was a treat and Lake Champlain…gorgeous… on the way back south through Vermont and Massachusetts to NYC! I used to frequent the area often in the 70’s and 80’s, antiquing. So close to the City but world’s away.
    Every American’s bucket list should include a trip there as it is one of America’s beautiful, historic corridors. It is a National Treasure Trove! Such incredible preservation of magnificent woodlands, historic estates and sites that thrill me to the bone, (no Halloween pun intended!) at every visit. Give thanks to Genius, Jr. for taking Mom so she could report back to us! Perfection, as always!
    You were missed!

  14. Wonderful post…once when back there on the Hudson Valley during a most glorious fall we toured the homes of the Vanderbilt’s and Roosevelt’s, such a shame we missed this one, so glad I’ve got you as a tour guide….another great place this time of the year is the Rockefeller home called Marsh/Billings farm near Woodstock, VT I absolutely love the NE during fall, the Hubs and I have done a half dozen trips up there in our RV over the years and coming from the Seattle area that’s not an easy trip to make, but it’s worth it!

  15. Great post! That first picture is amazing. Thanks, as always, for sharing your travels. Always a treat, especially right before Halloween!

  16. You’re a tour guide, teacher, entertainer and funny friend all rolled into one! I can’t count the times I’ve headed to Google after learning something here and wanting to know more. And my favorite line this time: “I bonded too much with the guide to sneak any iphone pics ( hate when that happens)”. I sneak too unless the tour guide is sweet. I was DYING to pick an olive and persimmon at Lotusland but the guide was so cute and friendly I would have felt I was stealing!

  17. It looks like a magnificent estate. Sweeping views and gorgeous grounds.
    Can you imagine living in the home? One would be always trying to figure out what project to tackle next….maintaining a place that vast must require a team of experts and round the clock staff.

    Olmsted designed The Uplands here in Victoria, it is a planned residential area with wide boulevards and lots of green spaces.

    Thank you for this wonderful tour.

  18. Another wonderful armchair travelogue.Thank you! A book by Suzanne Loebl called “America’s Medicis, The Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy” includes a chapter on Kykuit and their many other contributions to America’s artistic landscape. A great read. Living near Philadelphia, I have a trip to Kykuit on my 2014 calendar. Keep up your “research” Slim — travel, dine and experience all that a good life offers –and then share with us!

  19. Slim: Your life is blessed with much abundance. With great restraint, I practice the 10th commandment. But of all that you possess, beyond the bonds of family, I covet your sense of humor! Your sparkle of wit and merriness shine with a fervor and luminosity. Thank you for making the blogosphere a brighter and better place!
    Carry on!

  20. Slim, Oh my gosh I loved this. What a fabulous location too. I so laughed about the bonding with the tour guide! Isn’t it so true? Either they are fab or not at all…Hey have you ever visited Boscobel? It is also a historic estate overlooking the Hudson. I visited when I was in my 20s on a trip to New York and never forgot how charming and beautiful it was.. And I wasn’t even into houses then. Great post! Love to get there one day and to Sleepy Hallow!


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