The Beekeeper of Inwood Hill

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Beekeeper Mike Fesslian in Inwood Hill Park, 1932, photo by Percy Loomis Sperr
Beekeeper Mike Fesslian in Inwood Hill Park, 1932, photo by Percy Loomis Sperr.

In 1925 five-year-old Fred Tarzian’s family moved into a rented apartment on Vermilyea Avenue between Academy and West 204th Streets. His mother and stepfather were both Armenian. Illness left Mr. Tarzian unable to work and the family was quite poor.  Fred, who would later attend P.S. 52, played in the empty lots and construction sites that were commonplace in the developing neighborhood.   There were no playgrounds.

In 1929, when Fred was 12, his family moved west of Broadway to an apartment building on West 207th Street and Seaman Avenue.   His new home, across from Inwood Hill Park, opened up a new and wild environment. He roamed freely through the park where he listened to the ancient tales of an “Indian Princess,” drank from the legendary Cold Spring and befriended beekeeper Michael Fesslian, a fellow Armenian, who lived in a shack just north of the ruins of the old House of Mercy.

The oral history that follows was collected from Fred Tarzian by Sanford Gaster and published in 1993 in a psychology dissertation titled “A Study of an Urban Community and Its Children, 1890-1991)

Percy Loomis Sperr took the photographs.

1925 New York State census showing the residents of River Road in Inwood Hill Park.
1925 New York State census showing the residents of “River Road” in Inwood Hill Park.

On Inwood Hill “there was this man—also an Armenian—who lived all alone in the park—a hermit. But he wasn’t really a hermit; he was a very sociable man. He lived in a one-room little house, a house he had built. He had several beehives and he would collect the honey and sell it to the people who came up there. He would also collect grape leaves and sell them, and a lot of the neighborhood knew about him.”

Beekeeper Mike Fesslian's hives in Inwood Hill Park, 1932, photo by Percy Loomis SperrBeekeeper Mike Fesslian's hives in Inwood Hill Park, 1932, photo by Percy Loomis Sperr
Beekeeper Mike Fesslian’s hives in Inwood Hill Park, 1932, photo by Percy Loomis Sperr

“I got to know him “by walking through the park. It also happens that I’m Armenian, too, and so I was able to converse with him in Armenian as well as English. He also had several cats, which was—he had several pets and was a very nice man. He had several fingers missing from one hand, but he was a very competent, sociable person.“

“And a lot of men in the neighborhood would like to go up to his house in the late afternoon when they came home from work, and they would build a fire outdoors, and they would cook their evening meal up there, and sometime they would share it with me.”

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