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Matt Zolbe

Resident of Sleepy Hollow, New York
Sales and Marketing Director of the Waldorf Astoria

A Man Of Two Worlds

Matt Zolbe in Sleep Hollow Cemetery
Click on photo to enlarge

Matt Zolbe's personal and professional life are immersed in two vastly different aspects of American history. He travels back and forth, by train, to one of the world's most dynamic cities, pulsating with life and activity, to his place of work—the iconic Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Matt is the hotel's Sales and Marketing Director. At the end of the day, he returns to his home in the quiet, idyllic village of Sleepy Hollow, approximately 25 miles north of the City. As he disembarks from the commuter train, which was once used to service a GM plant, he is welcomed by the charming view of small boats rocking at anchor in a marina abutting the train station. Matt remarked, "I love that little ting-ting sound the sailboats make as their clips hit the masts."

Sleepy Hollow is a village of approximately 10,000 residents, located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River. It was first inhabited by Weckquaesgeek Indians. In the 1620s, the area was settled by the Dutch who arrived after Henry Hudson claimed it for Holland in 1609.

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over Sleepy Hollow. It is believed by some that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor during the early days of settlement; others think an old Indian chief, the wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before Henry Hudson arrived. To this day Sleepy Hollow continues under the sway of some witching power, propelled by local tales and activities. Halloween is a huge event in Sleepy Hollow and activities during the month of October include Sleepy Hollow Cemetery tours, visits to Gothic mansions, and haunted hayrides.

The village's history and natural setting has been preserved mostly through philanthropic efforts. Sleepy Hollow was initially an agricultural settlement which became a manufacturing center for a period around the turn of the century, producing items such as steam-powered automobiles, shoes, and batteries.

"My house is just a block away from the Old Dutch Church, adjacent to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery," Matt commented. "The church is documented as being the oldest church in New York State and seventh oldest in the United States. For years I've been running through the cemetery...my runs are not meant to be feats of athletic achievement, and I oftentimes find myself stopping to look at the various stones, memorials, and mausoleums."

Matt Zolbe is a taphophile, a "tombstone tourist" with a passion for learning more about the history of cemeteries and their inhabitants. This involves activities such as checking epitaphs, gravestone rubbing, photography, art, and researching histories of those interred in their final resting places.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is comprised of 85 acres with over 40,000 in-ground interments and structures. The works of well-known sculptors and American architects of the late 19th and early 20th century can be seen in ornate mausoleums and on monuments. The cemetery has a natural landscape design, featuring rolling hills and the meandering Pocantico River. Listed on both the National and the New York State Registers of Historic Places, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is an outstanding example of America's 19th-century rural cemetery movement.

"The folks in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, both individually and collectively, inspire me because many of them had a great desire to do things that helped to build America," Matt said. "I'm really taken by man's spirit of achievement. Our country was made great by individuals identifying and attaining remarkable things. There were giants walking among those early Americans who created so much--the railroad and steel mill owners and hundreds of other entrepreneurs. These were individuals who had great vision, many of whom figuratively and literally dragged themselves up to attain success and fortune. Some famous people including John D. Rockefeller and his descendants, Brooke Astor, Andrew Carnegie, William P. Chrysler, Leona and Harry Helmsley, Samuel Gompers, Elizabeth Arden, and Henry Villard, along with less notable folks, are part of this community."

"I find it interesting that some of the more famous inhabitants have some of the more modest markers and headstones, while many of those that had not achieved as much in life have much grander tributes to their memory. Brooke Astor is buried in a corner, not far from Chrysler. Her stone is very low to the ground and difficult to find. She lived such a long and graceful life, and with great humility. Her marker matches her approach to life. It seemed a little sad to me that she chose to be isolated and not within a family plot. She is just buried nicely next to her long-deceased husband. Andrew Carnegie was such a heavyweight--a philanthropist and true captain of industry--but was laid to rest in an area that looks lonesome...a Celtic cross in a nice-sized area marks the spot where he, his wife, and three household members are resting. A few rocks are strewn about among a copse of trees."

"I frequently photograph some of the more interesting stones and look up the names on the Internet to find out more about the lives of those who lie beneath. The first person I Googled was a temperance movement guy named Delavan, whose family plot is awesome. The second one I visited online was a general in the American Revolution--one of eleven brothers who fought in that war. The above photograph shows me standing next to a stone my wife and I really like. A successful fertilizer magnate by the name of Edwin Lister lies here—his factory was once part of the cemetery grounds."

Matt thinks about the book, Atlas Shrugged, when he walks or runs through the cemetery. He has always felt there is a correlation between the statuette above the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria in the City, called The Spirit of Achievement, and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. "The statuette was there before Ayn Rand wrote her book. In Atlas Shrugged, the Wayne-Falkland Hotel is prominent (that has to be the Waldorf Astoria!) Although I am not certain if the book used the term Spirit of Achievement, I feel that the theme of the book pertains to some of the residents of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Because of my work, perpetuating the significance of an important historic hotel and enabling guests from around the globe to experience its tradition and gracious hospitality, I feel a kinship with those who have had their own impact on American history."

One of the most famous residents of the Old Dutch Burying Ground, which is part of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, is Washington Irving, considered to be the father of the American short story. The Dutch Burying Ground is the spot featured in Irving's book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as the resting place of the legendary Headless Horseman. The names of the characters from Irving's story are fictional, but the inspirations behind them are very real. It is fitting that he rests a few feet away from those who live on through his story.

"Sleepy Hollow is not your classic tourist destination," Matt added, "but there is a strong correlation between the City and the Village. After a lifetime of hard work and accomplishment, making this nation great, the reward for all is eternity in one of America's most beautiful resting places."


Excerpt from Washington Irving's Tales of Sleepy Hollow

In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, [Ichabod] beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler. . . He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame."


















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