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Voices Spring-Summer 2005:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the obituary, “Catskills Historian: Alf Evers, 1905 to 2004” by Janis Benincasa here.
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Volume 31
Spring-Summer
2005
Voices

Catskills Historian: Alf Evers, 1905 to 2004, by Janis Benincasa

Few folklorists, if any, have passed through the Catskill Mountains in the past sixty or so years without speaking to Alf Evers. And few Catskills households are without a well-worn copy of his definitive Catskills history, The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock (1972) or its successor, Woodstock: History of an American Town (1987). Alf Evers

From Alf Evers’ personal archives, photographer unknown. Courtesy of Overlook Press.


Sadly, the renowned regional historian died at his home at age ninety-nine on December 29, 2004. He had literally just completed twelve years of research and writing on his final work, Kingston-on-Hudson: An American Historical Town (forthcoming, 2005).

Alf was an early and active member of the New York Folklore Society. A prolific writer, he contributed dozens of articles about the Catskills to the New York Folklore Quarterly, first published in 1945. Alf served on the editorial board of the Quarterly from 1954 to 1972. In 1963 and ’64, he was associate editor under Bill Tyrell, a New York State historian. In a 1994 interview, Alf laughingly related that each Christmas he received a book to review for the Quarterly as a gift from Bill Tyrell. He described the Folklore Society and a related town historian network as a loose association of folklore enthusiasts and local historians “who felt we were in a very vital sort of movement with local history—sort of bringing it together in a relaxed way.” It was, he said, “a hell of a lot of fun.” Alf was NYFS vice president in 1968.

Alf’s interest in local history and folklore took root in 1914, when his family moved from the banks of the Hudson River in then-rural Bronx to a small family farm in Tillson, New York. It was there he met Charly Woods, a local farmer—a man of whom Alf would forever speak fondly and write often. His interests then blossomed when the family moved to New Paltz, New York, and his father Ivar Evers, an architect, set about renovating the historic Hasbrouck house on Huguenot Street. He attended Hamilton College in 1925 where, legend has it, he convinced classmate B. F. Skinner to become a psychologist. In 1926, despite an evident knack for writing, he left Hamilton for the Art Students League in New York City to study painting and drawing. It was there that he met his wife Jane, an illustrator. Beginning in 1932, the couple collaborated on a series of some fifty children’s books. Hugely successful, many are still in print.

Meant to be read and reread, referenced and re-referenced, Alf’s histories are dense and detailed, reflecting what surely must have been a photographic memory. An indefatigable researcher, his home in Shady, New York, outside Woodstock, became a veritable Catskills museum, library, and archive. His collection of local, state, and regional books, memorabilia, ephemera, and copious notes was moved to a special library in White Pines at the Byrdcliffe Artist Colony in Woodstock in 2001. His house has been listed on the State Registry of Historic Places.

Alf was universally respected and generous with his time and knowledge. Four hundred people packed the Bearsville Theater to overflowing for Alf’s memorial on January 9, 2005. A long and eclectic list of presenters included award-winning poet and Fugs founder Ed Sanders; folk singers and musicians Pete Seeger, Molly Mason, and Jay Unger; Leon Botstein, president of Bard College; Congressman Maurice Hinchey; and many notable others. Ed Sanders, who assisted Alf with Kingston for the past seven years, said, “In the end we all sang Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land,’ led by Pete—the controversial version.”

Alf is survived by his daughter Barbara, his son Christopher, nine grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. His daughter Jane passed away in 1995. Donations in Alf’s memory may be made to the Alf Evers Memorial Scholarship Fund, care of the Woodstock Guild, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock, New York 12498. The fund will promote the writing of local history.


Obituary


 









While Kingston has not affected the course of American literature, it has made up for that by being set in a landscape given distinction by its combination of mountains (chosen by Washington Irving as the site of Rip Van Winkle’s twenty year sleep), streams, fertile farmlands, and the noble Hudson River whose mythic quality has made it the goal of generations of admiring travelers. It is Kingston’s myth—the set of agreed-upon beliefs about their city—which sets the place apart not only from all the other Kingstons of our planet, but from all other American communities whatever their names might be.

—From Kingston-on-Hudson:
An American Historical Town

(Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2005).



This obituary appeared in Voices Vol. 31, Spring-Summer 2005. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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