In Chappaqua, Railroad Fuels Life, and Takes It

New York Times
February 5, 2015
In Chappaqua, Railroad Fuels Life, and Takes It

Dr. L. Mark Russakoff, Director, Psychiatry, Phelps Memorial Hospital
 

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — In a hamlet that can seem sprung from a Currier & Ives lithograph, residents are drawn by many things: top-rated schools, safety, a picturesque setting — and the convenience of a train station.

Indeed it is the train, whose whistle sounds in the distance like a reassuring murmur, that makes life in this bedroom community possible. It whisks people to high-paying jobs in New York City and back home again. But the train crash south of here on the Harlem line on Tuesday evening that claimed six lives — three with Chappaqua connections — upended that well-honed routine, and sense of security, in a single, savage instant.

As news of the crash spread via emails, phone calls and social media this week, residents said they felt not just horrified and sad, but also anxious.

 “In Chappaqua, we’re fortunate to live here, but it makes you reflect, and it makes me realize we’re all in this experience together,” said Jan Bass, a retired schoolteacher who has lived here since 1987. “Life is so random.”

 Joseph Nadol was a parishioner at Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Chappaqua. Credit Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times The three victims had varied ties to the community. One man, Robert Dirks, a research scientist and father of two, lived in the hamlet. Another, Ellen Brody, who was driving the sport-utility vehicle involved in the crash, worked at a jewelry store in town. A third, Joseph Nadol of nearby Ossining, a father of three, was a parishioner at the Episcopal church here.

Scores of residents posted comments about the crash on a Facebook page called “Chappaqua Moms.” Many were particularly sorrowful because they knew Ms. Brody, who was a longtime sales associate and bookkeeper at ICD Contemporary Jewelry in the center of town.

“It’s devastating,” said Toby Richter, 55, who has lived here for two decades. “I knew her. A friend of mine said, ‘I just bought my daughter earrings from her.’

On Thursday, reminders of the crash shadowed the hamlet throughout the sunny but bitterly cold afternoon.

 Ellen Brody was a longtime sales associate and bookkeeper at ICD Contemporary Jewelry. Credit Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times In the Chappaqua Restaurant and Cafe, where the split pea soup is served in stylish square bowls, the waitress poured out her feelings along with coffee. Women parting after lunch hugged each other a few beats longer. Down the main street — past the bakeries, boutiques and real estate agents — a sign hung in the jewelry store window: “The ICD family mourns the loss of Ellen Brody, our beloved colleague, and prays for her family and the other families.”

The official website for the Town of New Castle, which includes the hamlet of Chappaqua, perhaps most famous as the adopted home of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, declared: “Our hearts are broken!” The town supervisor, Robert J. Greenstein, cited the three victims with a connection to Chappaqua by name, and alerted residents to the availability of counseling services at nearby Phelps Memorial Hospital Center.

Dr. L. Mark Russakoff, director of psychiatry at Phelps, said the train crash could have far-ranging psychological effects on the community, especially for those who commute by train. “It was a tragedy with a lot of drama and a lot of publicity,” he said. “So the exposure goes well beyond simply knowing people on the train.”

Nearly everyone here shares the experience of riding the Harlem line to and from Manhattan and meeting loved ones at the station. And on Tuesday many residents, it seemed, made calculations about the potential impact of the crash on Chappaqua.

 Investigating the Metro-North Crash Some assumed that there would be casualties from Chappaqua because it would have been the first stop on the ill-fated express train. But others, like Simon Whittington, an information technology consultant, reassured himself with the knowledge that most commuters from the hamlet sit toward the back of the train, because the front cars are a long walk to the parking lot.

“I was surprised that a Chappaqua man was in the first car,” Mr. Whittington said at the local Starbucks.

Kathie Swenson, 53, manager of a shop called Breeze, next to the railroad tracks, said the tragedy stirred a queasy mix of confusion and worry, and left her with a new resolution.

“Never ride in the front car,” Ms. Swenson, who has lived in Chappaqua for nearly 30 years, said. “I remember hoping and praying it wasn’t anyone I knew. But you’re selfish to think, ‘People I know ...’ You don’t want it to be anyone anybody knows.”

The Rev. Gwyneth MacKenzie Murphy, interim pastor at Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where Mr. Nadol was a member of the congregation, said that Westchester County’s three commuter lines were a constant.

“Many of these communities only exist because people are able to travel into the city for work and fun and to see family,” she said. “So this has hit us at a place that is just integral to our existence, and therefore in a place where we are very, very vulnerable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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