His Specialty? Making Old New York Talk in Dutch
- ALBANY Henry Hudson bobblehead? Check.
One-legged Peter Stuyvesant statuette? Yes.
A mirror emblazoned with the logo of New Amsterdam beer? Absolutely.
These are office knickknacks that only a true connoisseur of Dutch
Americana could love. And there surely is no one who loves Dutch Americana
more than Charles T. Gehring.
How else to describe a man who has spent the past 35 years painstakingly
translating 17th-century records that provide groundbreaking insight and
renewed appreciation for New Netherland, the colony whose embrace of
tolerance and passion for commerce sowed the seeds for New Yorks
ascendance as one of the worlds great cities.
Toiling from a cramped office in the New York State Library here, Mr.
Gehring, as much as anyone, has shed light on New Yorks long-neglected
Dutch roots, which have been celebrated this year, the 400th anniversary of
Henry Hudsons exploration of the river that bears his name.
Mr. Gehring, by the way, only has about 4,800 pages left of the 12,000
pages of Dutch-era letters, deeds, court rulings, journal entries and other
items that have been housed at the State Library for decades. They paint a
rich picture of daily life in the colony, which the Dutch surrendered for
good in the 1670s.
Most historians dont think much of the Dutch; they minimalize the Dutch
influence and try to get out of that period as quickly as possible to get
into English stuff, Mr. Gehring said, explaining why he has spent half of
his 70 years mining Dutch colonial history. What you find out is how
deeply the Dutch cast roots here and how much of their culture they
transmitted to this country.
Mr. Gehring, whose official title is director of the New Netherland
Project, looks as if he has not trimmed his sideburns since he started
translating the records in 1974, and he seems like the kind of mirthful man
who would make a good Sinterklaas the Dutch forefather of Santa Claus.
Mr. Gehrings translations served as raw material for Russell Shortos
critically acclaimed 2005 book about Manhattan, The Island at the Center
of the World. The Netherlands of the 17th century, Mr. Shorto said in an
interview, was the melting pot of Europe.
It was a place that people fled to in the great age of religious warfare;
it was a refuge, he added. At the same time, they were known for free
trade; they developed a stock market and those things, free trade and
tolerance, are key ingredients of New York City. Mr. Gehrings translation
work, Mr. Shorto writes in his book, changes the picture of American
[more @ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/nyregion/27dutch.html?_r=1&emc=eta1