Monday, July 11, 2011

The Jessica Savitch Death Tour (aka My Idea of a Weekend Getaway!)

As regular readers know, I'm a city person. I spent my childhood dreading playing in the yard and listening to "Downtown" over and over, taking each word Petula Clark sang as a directive rather than song lyric. So while many New Yorkers long to "get out of the city" on weekends and holidays, it's with great hesitation that I leave my humble abode. (Lest you feel sorry for my common-law hubby, he's a city boy too.) But after missing our annual (city) vacation to Los Angeles this spring, Michael decided it was high time for us to go somewhere -- and with time very limited, he suggested we rent a car and drive to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a place he had enjoyed visiting about a decade ago. Having been told by a friend from Washington that it was "like Rehoboth in the woods" -- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, a place I grew up visiting and had always managed to enjoy -- I agreed, with the knowledge that even if the town turned out to be a dud, I could satisfy one of my many morbid curiosities, visiting the scene of Jessica Savitch's tragic death.

Country living, Bucks County style

After checking into the Wedgwood Inn -- a lovely bed and breakfast with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs in the rooms (so modern for 1870s construction!) that had been recommended to us by a blog reader during a planned trip that never got off the ground two years ago -- we walked down West Bridge Street toward the city's cute downtown.

We immediately came upon Love Saves the Day -- the "country" outpost of the East Village collectibles store where Susan famously swapped her pyramid leather jacket for a pair of boots in "Desperately Seeking Susan," which factored heavily in Roberta's mistaken identity. I was already beginning to feel at home.

You may recall the Second Avenue location closed shop a couple years ago, but the New Hope store is every bit as packed with fun memorabilia -- with everything from the Charlie's Angels board game and Farrah Fawcett magazines to Rosie O'Donnell Barbies and back issues of Creem and Circus.

River of no return?

After a rainy Friday evening -- dinner at Karla's was nice, the vanilla-peanut butter swirl ice cream down the street was delish and the Tweet lookalike at Farley's bookstore took me back to my childhood -- we had a gorgeous day on Saturday (all the photos are from then), with a relaxing lunch at Martine's, a trip across the bridge to antique-heaven Lambertville and, at long last, a drive out to Odette's, where the almost-golden girl of network news met her untimely fate.

Michael -- always one to play by the rules -- immediately got spooked by the huge NO TRESPASSING signs, but once I strolled onto the property, he immediately got into the moment, quickly pointing out the (eerie) "parking AT YOUR OWN RISK sign," and helping me to imagine how the tragedy unfolded.

While my peers were rooting for Baby Jessica, I was collecting articles about the tragic babe Jessica Savitch

When the proprietor of our bed and breakfast asked us during check-in if there was anything in particular we wanted to do while we were in town, I immediately told her I was here for the full "Jessica Savitch death tour." This seemed to amuse her, but immediately sent her into storytelling (and map-drawing) mode. When she mentioned that the night Jessica, boyfriend Martin Fischbein (vice president of The New York Post) and dog Chewy died was "a lot like tonight, wet and little visibility," that let me know she meant business.

After initially focusing on the Delaware River behind the now-closed restaurant, Michael realized the small canal in front -- which was hard to see and right "in" the parking -- was the spot we were looking for, as seen in the photos I had found online. Despite the rain Friday night, the canal was pretty dry when we got there. But you didn't have to use your imagination much to imagine the horror they must have felt when their rental car plunged 15 feet into it, landing upside down, trapping them in the the mud as the car filled with water, asphyxiating them all.

I'd always wondered how Savitch's estate had been awarded such a large settlement after what sounded like a driver-error accident, but after seeing the grounds and what New Hope is like at night in the rain, the payout suddenly seemed obvious. (Some of the money was used for journalism scholarships.)

The woman at our bed and breakfast said that another deadly incident had happened a couple years before, so the restaurant and the city definitely knew there was a serious danger.

The coroner reported that Savitch's boyfriend was knocked unconscious by the fall, but said Savitch had fought to pry herself out of the car -- a gruesome footnote that seemed almost fitting for this supernova whose life story would have been called "The Beautiful and the Damned" had it not already been taken.

After shopping and walking around most of Saturday, I heard from my cousin Kevin, who lives about 90 minutes away. He, partner Rick and their friend David decided to come to town for drinks and dinner at the Raven, the town's one "official" gay bar/club/hotel. (We had stopped by the Raven on Friday night and I was charmed by the cabaret action and welcoming crowd.)

With my cousin Kevin

After a couple drinks by the pool, we had a great dinner on the back patio -- our server was a hoot! -- with lots of talk about the extended Walsh family, which inevitably led to a few tears as we recalled loved ones we'd lost too soon to disease, tragedy and alcoholism, or a combination of the three. (Kevin's mother is my dad's older sister.)

David and Rick

On Sunday, Michael and I had our breakfast back at the ranch, then took the scenic route (part of the way) home. Although I'd never been to New Hope before, I was surprised by how quickly I'd learned the lay of the land -- I'm notorious for having no sense of direction while my guy is notoriously adaptable, yet I was the one who navigated everything while he seemed a little lost and a step behind -- and arrived in New York with the unusual feeling of having having just returned from a visit "back home," something Pennsylvania has strangely begun to feel to me over the last 20 years. (Just what I need, another place to call "home"!)

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Miche Rutledge said...

Thanks for sharing. It sounds like it was a perfect weekend getaway.

Chad said...

Glad you had fun in New Hope. Love the pics! I forgot to mention the Crucifixion Couture Jesus on the way out to the Raven. It's featured on a church that sits in the the big bend in the road. We thought this particular Jesus looked like some heroine-addicted, runway waif model striking a pose on a cross. It's become Cowboy lore now... Hopefully you took note on your own. :)

Funbud said...

So you finally made it to New Hope again! I suggested it to you a few years back (I live a stone's throw from the Raven). Glad you had a nice time and would've loved to have met you (I was actually out of town most of Saturday, anyway).

I have one more eerie story to add to your Jessica Savitch file. I worked years back with a girl who grew up in Lambertville. Her mom had been a private duty nurse, and she was taking care of Odette's mom (Odette herself was still alive then and they lived above the restaurant) around the time that Jessica met her grisly end. She was actually walking home that night, spotted the car in the canal, and called the police. She had to run to a pay phone (no cell phones then!) but didn't stick around for them to show up. She may have placed the first call.

Hope you come back to Bucks County again soon!
- Your loyal reader, Funbud

Anonymous & Smiling said...

Sounds like you two had a great time. The photo with your cousin is (just my opinion) the best photo I've seen of you due to that great smile, and love the goatee.

Peking Thom said...

Tragic Babe. That she was.

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