Serial Killers, Satanists, and a Gorgeous River View: Untermyer Park and Gardens

October 29, 2013 — Untermyer Park and Gardens is a beautiful, unique, European-style park in Yonkers, New York, with mosaic-lined pools, classical sculpture, fluted pillars, and a filigree gazebo, all overlooking the Hudson River. There’s just one thing. If an infamous serial killer is to be believed, it was the seat of a cabal of the most vile monsters on the planet.

The 43-acre gardens used to be part of the larger estate of Samuel Untermyer. He was a wealthy lawyer whose green thumbs were only partly from counting all his cash. He also dug horticulture, and during the first half of the 1900s erected the elegant private gardens that today are an elegant public park.

But it had its dark days. The place fell into neglect at some point after Yonkers took ownership, and eventually it hit a dark patch. In the 1970s, the place was rumored to be the abode of occultists who conducted esoteric rites involving animal sacrifices and pitched cartoon ideas to Hanna-Barbera. The skinned carcasses of dogs were found nearby, and people reported seeing torch fire in the gloom. Nobody complained about Jabberjaw.

But the reputation of the place got a whole lot darker when the Son of Sam brought it up as part of his defense.

David Berkowitz, the gun-toting serial killer who got his serial killer moniker from a telepathic dog, claimed to have hung out at the park with a coterie of anarchists, witches, pedophiles, and murderers, all bent on destroying the world one dead German Shepherd at a time.

He said that terrible things went down in the ruins of the park and that the dark cabal was the real Son of Sam killers. He claimed that his role was just as lookout during the attacks that killed six and injured seven over the course of a year from 1976 to 1977. Berkowitz didn’t accuse anybody by name because he said the group was still out there and that he feared for his family.

And it was because of this story that I found myself in the graffiti-covered ruins below the park.

I had just visited the Pine Street apartment building where Berkowitz lived during the killings. It had changed its address to avoid some of the attendant infamy, but it was there that Berkowitz heard the commands from the demon-possessed black dog of his neighbor down the way on Warburton Avenue.

His place was only a mile and a half from Untermyer Park.

The park entrance is at 945 North Broadway. It was immediately apparent that the gardens are a relic of another time, and even though it was clean and well-kept on my visit, its decay was evident.

Unfortunately, the garden portion, with its tiled pools and sphinx statues was locked when I arrived. That part is surrounded by ten-foot-high walls, but I could still peak in through the metal latticework of the front door. I’d especially wanted to see the medusa head tiled into the basin of one of the pools.

I was, however, able to walk under the short man-made tunnel to ascend to the gazebo that they call the Eagles Nest. And I was able to take the 100 Steps.

The 100 Steps is exactly what it sounds like, although most of the steps are so long and shallow that it’s almost more like a ramp. It takes you to the edge of a cliff overlooking the Hudson, the view framed by a pair of freestanding pillars.

This was my jumping off point.

From maps that I’d found, there was supposed to be the ruins of a gatehouse just over the right side of the steps if you’re facing the river, so I jumped over the side about halfway down the stairs. It was a steep incline covered in trees and overgrowth, but after earning a few scratches and startling a few deer, I landed at what was left of the gatehouse.

It was completely roofless, but the interior maze of walls was still intact. The entire thing was covered in a coat of graffiti that seemed to be of the usual bored-vandal sort.

Just in front of the gatehouse were the gates themselves, guarded on each side by a lion and a headless equine form that could have been a horse or a unicorn. I guess technically it could have been a centaur, too. Every headless horse is a possible centaur. They say the creatures were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter, who did the Fortitude and Patience lions in front of the New York Public Library.

Poking around, I saw that the easier way to get to the ruins was just to take the prominent dirt path from the upper area of the park. The path parallels the Hudson, and the statues are just a dozen feet or so off that path…although still missable if you’re not looking out for them.

The gatehouse could have been the meeting place of the supposed cabal, but there were other structures nearby in the past that aren’t standing anymore that are probably just as likely.

But I guess anyplace is as good as the other for plotting the demise of the world.