By SJ Sam

Jeffrey Gibson

In SKIN OF THE WOLF someone asks where Spencer George and Michael Bonnard met.  The answer is, at an art opening of the work of Jeffrey Gibson.  Gibson is a Cherokee-Choctaw artist, raised in Europe, now living in Brooklyn.  He’s repped in New York by the Marc Straus Gallery.  SJ had seen a show of his work and been captivated by it right around the time that chapter was being written, so why not give the guy a little press?


Jeffrey Gibson's exhibition at Marc Strauss Gallery



Sherlock Holmes, the Paranormal, and The Diogenes Club

Some of you know the SJ half of Sam Cabot was invested in the Baker Street Irregulars this past January.  It was an honor unexpected and undeserved.  SJ doesn’t have nearly the required knowledge to be a Sherlockian.  But there you go.



Photo: Gruber Photographers

SJ was at the dinner in this photo but you’ll never find her.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, would have no truck with ideas of the paranormal.  Something supernatural seemed to be going on in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES — but no.  In Holmes’s world, everything had a rational explanation.

Not so in his creator’s, though.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a big believer in spiritualism — photographs of fairies, seances, that sort of romantic Victoriana.  If you click the link you’ll find the official biography supplied by his estate.  Interestingly, though it defends his spiritualism, it doesn’t mention it at all until page fourteen.  Of fifteen.

Down through the years there have been other takes, of course.  Some folks believe Holmes himself was a vampire.  The Noantri of Sam Cabot’s books like this idea, though they point out that Holmes was a fictional creation…

Another great approach is Kim Newman’s in his Diogenes Club series.  The Diogenes Club, you will no doubt remember, was founded by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft.  Newman’s thesis is, it exists to protect the British Empire from… forces.  Check it out.




Up the River

A couple of large mansions (what, as opposed to small mansions?) play roles in SKIN OF THE WOLF.  One is in Riverdale; the other house and its extensive grounds are up the Hudson River from NYC near the town of Esopus.  If you were to ask whether the house and grounds herein were the model for that place we would of course deny it.  However, for some reason we thought you’d find this estate interesting.

Although now the Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development of Marist College, the estate once belonged to Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne, one of the richest men in the world back in his day. In 1905 he bought the place from John Jacob Astor and hired Carrère and Hastings, the architects responsible for the New York Public Library, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Frick Museum.  Payne had the house built like an Italian palazzo but he never liked it and he never lived there, rarely even spending summers in Esopus.  In those days rich folks did half of what they did only to keep up with one another. Good thing times have changed, right?





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Michael Bonnard and his brother Edward, main characters in SKIN OF THE WOLF, are Abenakis born and raised at Akwesasne.  Akwesase is a Mohawk reservation, quite large, and spread across the US-Canada border.  Michael and Edward have a Mohawk father, but their mother was Abenaki, and Native American affiliation goes through the maternal line.


In the sixties and seventies Akwesasne produced a number of people and publications active in various movements for Native American rights.  In 1979 the Akwesasne Freedom School was established, where the entire curriculum is in the Mohawk language.  This link, from the Freedom School page, will get you to the text of the Thanksgiving Prayer, not a prayer for white people’s Thanksgiving Day but a prayer of giving thanks that opens meetings and deliberations in the Mohawk nation.


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Down by the River

A mansion in Riverdale is the setting for some major scenes in SKIN OF THE WOLF.  (But then, would we admit there are minor scenes?)  When SJ was growing up in Riverdale the neighborhood had various sections, as neighborhoods will.  The area on the west side of the Henry Hudson Parkway was always referred to as “down by the river.” (“Where do they live?” “Down by the river.”)  The translation, then and now, was: among the big fancy old-money estates.  The William E. Dodge House, now a conference center, was one of those.  Little-known is the fact that Mr. Dodge was the model for old Mr. Lodge, Veronica Lodge’s father in the Archie comics, and that the Riverdale of those comics is, in fact, this very Riverdale.

Another jewel down by the river is Wave Hill.  This large, fenced estate has two houses on the property; one was used for guests.  It’s now a public garden and arts center, given to the City of New York by its former owners.  We here at Sam Cabot Central would not want anyone to get the idea that the main house at Wave Hill was in any way the model for the house of SKIN OF THE WOLF’s reclusive art collector, Bradford Lane.  Banish that idea from your suspicious minds.



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Not Your Mascot

Everyone in the sports world is aware of the Not Your Mascot movement. It’s the idea that Indians, Braves, Mohawks, Seminoles aren’t reasonable names for teams; that Native images aren’t reasonable models for logos and mascots; and that these practices should end. But teams say it’s a way of paying tribute.  Honestly, is this really a big deal?


Take a look at these. Who would put up with this? Would Jews (my — SJ’s — people) or Asians be expected to consider these a way of paying tribute?


But when it’s Native names/nations/clothing at issue, it suddenly becomes “an homage.” Honoring the culture. Like this?


This is no homage. It’s a racist caricature, like the two above.

So why do so many people actually think it IS a way of honoring Native peoples?

Sport is ritualized violence. Teams attack and destroy each other, using superior strength and strategy. It’s war games. (Remember, I’m speaking as a jock. I love sports. So don’t start with me.)  We’ve built a myth of the Indian warrior based partly on the truth of the past. Damn, it was hard for whites to eradicate those guys! They fought like a sonuvabitch. Once the Native populations weren’t a threat anymore, though, white people began to romanticize them. We’re soft, car-bound, powerless. Our sports heroes do our fighting for us; we sit on the sofa and point the remote. But man, we admire those guys on the court, on the field. They’re fierce and tough. Like the stories tell us the Indians were. So let’s name them after Indians! What’s wrong with that?

Here’s what’s wrong with it: the part about “the stories tell us.” Native Americans aren’t a myth for the shoring up of our collective American identity — collective as long as it doesn’t include them. They’re real people, like, um, Jews and Asians.  We sports fans need to find something else — Giants, Hornets, Grizzlies — to project our fantasies onto.

The owners say rebranding would disrupt tradition. Yes, the tradition of racism. It would be expensive, but you can’t put a price on good will, or on the moral high ground. Some people are afraid it would be confusing, but really, we sports fans are smarter than that. The Washington Bullets managed to change their name to the Wizards without a single fan wandering around wondering where his team went.

Or maybe we could go in a whole other direction. Just sayin.’



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Union Square

Union Square gets only a brief mention in SKIN OF THE WOLF, but it has a storied history.  Though named for neither the North side in Civil War nor the labor union movement, it was the site of actions important to both.  After Fort Sumter fell to the Confederacy in 1861 a giant pro-Union rally was held there; and Union Square was the site of the first Labor Day parade, in 1882.  It’s also the site of the first Greenmarket in NYC, the first organized outdoor Holiday Market in NYC, and was the first place SJ ever saw a red-tailed hawk.  It was sitting on the head of the statue of George Washington, looking for something to swoop on.


Photo: Beyond My Ken

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Native American Music

A few days ago I blogged on the Thunderbird Dancers.  Dancers, of course, usually dance to music.  Music’s an integral part of Native American culture.  The point I made in that post, that Native American culture isn’t a museum relic, but a living, changing thing, is true of the music as well, as you’d expect.  There are traditional songs and dances, and new ones being made every day.  One of the best sources of today’s music is a program out of the University of New Mexico, KUNM’s “The Singing Wire.”  They play a mix of old and new.  Give it a listen.



On the subjects of tradition and change, as well as the vast variety of Native cultures, anyone who doesn’t know the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq needs to sit back and check this out right now.  Go to “Visuals” and click on the first video link, “Tanya Tagaq in Puebla Mexico.”  If you have never heard her, you have never heard anything like this.


Washington Heights

Continuing this blog’s tour of NYC:  A couple of pivotal scenes in SKIN OF THE WOLF take place in a bar, the Stonehenge, in Washington Heights.  We won’t tell you where, exactly, the model for that bar is located — not fair, since they didn’t know we were there doing research — but we thought you’d enjoy some images of this under-known neighborhood.  Where, incidentally,  SJ’s father grew up.  Particularly interesting is Audubon Terrace.  This grand — okay, grandiose — arrangement of classical-style buildings was developed by Archer Huntington on the theory that Manhattan’s residential and cultural centers of gravity would keep moving north, as had happened before.  He didn’t count on the bedrock of midtown and he didn’t count on steel.  NYC went up instead of out and Audubon Terrace was left high and dry.










Thunderbird American Indian Dancers

The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers helped out on SKIN OF THE WOLF way more than they know.  We’ve been to a number of powwows they’ve been part of and performances they’ve given, spoken to some of the members, and generally tried to embrace and communicate their message: that Native American culture isn’t a relic of the old days to be looked for in museums; it’s a living part of the modern world.

Case in point: One of the Thunderbird Dancers, Maria McKinney-Poncé, is a hoop dancer.  The Hoop Dance in its modern version is a relatively new dance in the Native community — meaning, it goes back decades but not centuries — and women dancing it is an even newer phenomenon.  It’s been taken up in a big way.  The Heard Museum holds an annual competition.  Check out the video; Maria Mckinney-Poncé is the sixth of the six.  If you want to learn how to do this, Mckinney-Poncé teaches at Lotus Music and Dance, one of New York’s many fabulous shoestring arts organizations.


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