Stone Faced

Alice is the tenth grade winner of this year’s Writing about Place contest. She and her English teacher, Maureen Ackerman, will host her classmates at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. Read about all the 2017-18 winners and watch this space for more student work from Writing about Place.

Stone Faced

Forever dancing
Trapped in stone
Laughing, yet crying
A silent moan
The flowers are full of life and hope
A chorus of colors around
The amount of joy that they possess
Will never cease to astound
Chained by a translucent gown
My prison is not made of steel
Instead I’m locked in a cheerful face
Unable to show how I feel
My tears form a pond in which lilies grow
My sighs are transformed into breeze
My words are silent, forever unheard
Except, perhaps, by the trees
The violets, the roses
Each one laughs inside
While beneath my smiling stone surface
I forever weep and sigh
Every year the flowers turn brown
While still I remain unharmed
Perhaps one day I shall crumble
Even then I’ll bear not a scar


Photo by Bill Urbin, Roosevelt-Vanderbilt NHS


Since I was 8 years old, I have found refuge in the Vanderbilt Gardens. During that time, my older sister, Mathilde, began to take flute lessons with a teacher in Hyde Park. While she was at her lesson, my mother and I would go for a walk in the gardens. I loved to sit by the pond and admire the vibrant flowers with their multicolored hues.

…. the one thing that fascinated me most about the gardens was the statue of the woman forever dancing underneath her brick archway. I always felt that she had an unsung story. As I attended middle school, I began to find myself trapped behind false smiles, as inside I was being swept away by a swirling river of emotions and hormones.

I worked through it, but when I recently went back to the gardens, I wondered what the statue was hiding behind her smile. Was she too trapped in her own false happiness? Was she too surrounded by a kaleidoscopic world of color and joy, while inside she wept with silent tears?

The words poured out of my fingers and soul as I tapped back into my middle school self. The untold story of the statue was not the only story being revealed with the creation of this poem. It also tells the story of anyone who feels alone and choked with tears, but every day arrives at work or school, smiling, laughing and pretending that everything is fine.


Learn more

Recommended reading — for students and teachers — from Vanderbilt Mansion NHS staff.

Vandebilt NHS trail map. Download it and get moving.

Videos (2-7 minutes each): Glacial Evidence at Bard RockBard Rock – 450 Million Years Ago, and Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Gardens.

This lesson, developed by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, includes maps,  information about the Vanderbilts, images, floor plans, and more.  Activities include How the Other Half LivedResearching Personalities from the Gilded Age, and Philanthropy in the Local Community.

The Vanderbilt Riverfront Podcast Trail Tour and the Hyde Park Trails and Garden Cell Phone Tour include information on the riverfront park, river and rails, water power, Lower Gate Lodge, playgrounds of the wealthy, Bard Rock and the Mooring Hook, inspirational views, the Vanderbilt home, Romantic landscapes, formal garden, and tending the garden. Click the podcast link or dial 845-475-3819. The cell phone tours includes all Hyde Park national historic sites; numbers 41-51 are specific to thee Vanderbilt site.

More student writing about the Vanderbilt Mansion

Paradise in the Hills, essay by Sydney Corwin, Newburgh Free Academy, a winner in 2016-17’s Writing about Place

Letter to Sweden by Zoë Henry, age 12, was prompted by contemplation of the lives of servants who cared for the Vanderbilt estate. She participated in Courageous Writers: Hyde Park a summer 2016 program made possible by the Hudson Valley Writing Project and the National Park Service.  Courageous Writers (for ages 12-16) is one of 15 writing programs being offered by HVWP this summer for youth from 7 to 17. Many are place-based being held for example at Storm King Art Center, Museum Village, Huguenot Street,  Sunnyside, and more.  Get details.

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