Henry Hudson and the Catskill Gnomes
(as told by S. E. Schlosser of Americanfolklore.net)
On September 3rd of 1609, Henry Hudson sailed the Half Moon into the mouth of the great New York river that later bore his name. The explorer and his crew journeyed north for several days, trading with the native residents and searching for the fabled northwest passage to the Orient. By the time he reached the area that would become present-day Albany, Hudson knew that he had not found the passage for which he sought. Reluctantly, he turned the Half Moon and sailed back down the river.
That night, Henry Hudson and his crew anchored the Half Moon in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains. Around midnight, Hudson heard the sound of music floating across the mountains and down to the river. Taking a few members of his crew, he went ashore and followed the sound up and up into the Catskills. The sound of the music grew louder as Hudson and his men marched up to the edge of a precipice. To their astonishment, a group of pygmies with long, bushy beards and eyes like pigs were dancing and singing and capering about in the firelight.
Hudson realized that these creatures were the metal-working gnomes of whom the natives had spoken. One of the bushy-bearded chaps spotted the explorer and his men and welcomed them with a cheer. The short men surrounded the crew and drew them into the firelight and the dance. Hudson and his men were delighted with these strange, small creatures, and with the hard liquor that the gnomes had brewed. Long into the night, the men drank and played nine-pins with the gnomes while Henry Hudson sipped at a single glass of spirits and spoke with the chief of the gnomes about many deep and mysterious things.
Realizing at last how late it was, Hudson looked around for his men. At first, he couldn’t locate them. All he saw were large groups of gnomes, laughing and joking as they sprawled around the fire. Then, to his astonishment, he recognized several of the gnomes as his crewmen! They had undergone a transformation. Their heads had swollen to twice their normal size, their eyes were small and pig-like, and their bodies had shortened until they were only a little taller than the gnomes themselves.
Hudson was alarmed, and asked the chief of the gnomes for an explanation. It was, the chief explained to Hudson, the effect of the magical hard liquor the gnomes brewed. It would wear off when the liquor did. Hudson wasn’t sure that he believed the little man. Afraid of what else might happen to him and his crewman if they continued to linger in such company, Hudson hurriedly took his leave of the gnomes and hustled his severely drunken crewmen back to the Half Moon. The entire crew slept late into the morning, as if they were under the influence of a sleeping draught. When they awakened, the crewmen who had accompanied Hudson up into the Catskill Mountains, aside from ferocious headaches, were back to normal
Hudson continued on his way down the great river, and by October 4th, the Half Moon had reached the mouth and Hudson and his crew sailed for home. In 1610, Hudson set off on another journey, searching for a northwestern passage to the Orient. Trapped in the ice through a long winter, Hudson’s crew eventually mutinied and set Henry Hudson and eight of his crewmen adrift in the Hudson Bay. They were never seen again.
In September 1629, twenty years to the day that Hudson and his crew met the Catskill gnomes, a bright fire appeared on the precipice above the hollow, and dance music could be heard floating through the mountains. The Catskill gnomes spent the evening dancing, and carousing and drinking their magic liquor. At midnight, they were joined by the spirits of Henry Hudson and crew. Merry was their meeting, and the gnomes and the spirits played nine-pins all night long. Each time they rolled the ball, a peal of thunder would shake the mountains, and the fire would flare up in bolts like lightening. The party lasted until daybreak, at which hour the spirits departed from the hills, with promises to return.
Every twenty years, the spirits of Henry Hudson and his crew returned to the Catskill Mountains to play nine-pins with the gnomes, and to look out over the country they had first explored together on the Half Moon. Now and then, one of the Dutch settlers living in the region came across the spirits as they played nine-pins. They claimed that any man foolish enough to drink of the spirits’ magic liquor would sleep from the moment the spirits departed the mountain to the day they returned, twenty years later. Most folks discounted the story, although several members of Rip Van Winkle’s family swore it was true. True or false, wise folks who walk among the Catskills in September do not accept a drink of liquor when it is offered to them. Just in case.
find all this info and more by reading Spooky New York by S.E. Schlosser