A Case for
The Mystery of the Sunset Diner
by D. Michele Maki
(Image from TubbyGreat Day, LL #23, May 1950, © Marjorie H. Buell)
I was intrigued with the idea of Peekskill, New York, being Little Lulu's home town when I first read Brad Tenan's wonderful article in the Little Lulu Library when they first came out. I knew right away that some day I would go to Peekskill to check it out. I had that opportunity about a year ago, in October, 1998, when I had a free flight that I had to use by the end of December. Where else, but to Peekskill?
When I first got the LLL, I read about The Stanley Steamer and thought I would like to get copies of them, but then I got involved with my job, etc. and didn't get around to writing for them. When I finally did decide to try to contact Jon Merrill, I was too late - he had moved, so my letter was returned. But then one day last summer I saw an e-mail address that started with jonmerrill@ and I thought it had to be the same person, so I sent him an e-mail and was able to get all of the back copies of TSS.
Yow! What a find! I had mentioned in my e-mail to Jon that I was planning a trip to Peekskill soon, and he suggested I read Brad's articles before I go. Thank you, Jon! They were wonderful, and they gave me soooo much information.
After reading all of Brad's articles, I decided I would take the same tour through Peekskill that he and Jon took, the one Miss Feeny took them on, that Brad described so well in his article. To help me navigate the route, before I went I created a list of all of the driving directions (Turn right on Division Street, travel down hill toward Main - on right between two taller buildings) and also the sights I would see at that spot (Sunset Diner on sloping hill), so I could photograph all of the sights they found (you can see the photos along with my trip "diry" on my Little Lulu web page: http://MichelesWorld.net/dmm2/lulu/peekskil.htm .
What a day! I started out early in the morning, in my Little Lulu sweatshirt, and continued all day, without even stopping for lunch! I had a great time, seeing all of the sights, taking pictures of them, and talking with friendly people along the way. Of course, they all thought I was nuts, but some of them had fond memories of Little Lulu.
But I was disappointed, because when I drove down Division Street toward Main, there was no building like the one in Brad's article - no Sunset Diner! I thought there must be some mistake, maybe I misread the directions, but after going back several times to make sure, I finally decided I wasn't going to find the diner. I was really disappointed! But I continued my trip, and ended up the day just driving around the downtown area looking for more little shops to take pictures of the next day.
All of a sudden, when I looked to the left out my window, there it was! The Sunset Diner, exactly as it looked in the comics! Yow!! What a thrill! It wasn't where Brad said it would be, but there it was! Maybe it had been moved, or maybe Brad got the directions mixed up (which I doubted, because the others were all exactly right), I didn't know, but there it was! It wasn't called the Sunset Diner, it was called the Center Diner, but there it was!
It was already getting late, and I wasn't sure how safe it was to be walking downtown after dark, so I didn't stop then. But the next day I asked someone about it in one of the shops, and she said it was perfectly safe to go there. She told me the owners were in the process of renovating the diner back to the original look from the 30's-40's. So I went there for supper, and I had a great time. The owner wasn't there then, so I just ate and took a few photos.
Actually, I went there several times while I was in the area. I had to try some of Tubby's favorites to see why he liked them so much, so I had a chocolate soda, some apple pie, and some coffee in Tub's honor, and he was right - they were great!
The second time I was there I talked with the owner, Marie. She was very gracious, and she showed me some old photos she had of the diner in the 40's, along with some photos from the previous year before the renovation. She also showed me an old menu from 1947, and an old Coke ad.
The customers were enjoying looking at the old photos, too, trying to remember what was where as they looked at the pictures of downtown Peekskill in the 40's. Marie said the diner had been in her husband's family since it was built (he died the previous year).
All of a sudden, a big kid came into the diner with a Halloween mask on! I thought it was Tubby, all grown up, in his false face that he scared Lulu with. But when he took off his mask, I realized it wasn't Tubby.
I figured Brad must have made a mistake in his directions to the diner, but I was puzzled about his mentioning that the diner was on a hill (and his photo clearly showed the street at a slant against the diner) and this diner was on level ground. The diner I saw looked different from Brad's picture, but I figured that was because of the renovation, and there could have been some remodeling even before this recent work. I even asked Marie if the diner had been moved from another location, but she said it had been in that location since it was built. I didn't understand it, but I put it out of my mind.
However, when I was reading Brad's more recent article about his return to Peekskill in 1992, that first appeared in The HoLLy Ec #2, 1992: "Peekskill Revisited: A Retrospective" (thank you, Ed, for publishing THE!), I was really puzzled when Brad said the diner was gone, and he showed a picture of the old diner and a picture of the empty spot where it had been.
I knew then that the diner Brad originally saw in the late 80's and the diner I saw in 98 were two different buildings. I phoned the diner today to see if Marie could clear up the mystery, but the man who answered told me Marie had sold the diner and was no longer there. I called the Peekskill Chamber of Commerce and talked with a woman who had lived in Peekskill for 45 years. She said the diner Brad saw was the Orphan Annie Diner, and it had been torn down years ago.
So there were two diners in Peekskill: one that Brad saw, which has been torn down, and one that I saw. The Sunset Diner lives on in the Center Diner, or the Peekskill Diner as it showed in one of the photos, or the Bank Street Diner as it is sometimes called.
I put some photos of the diner on my web page. For anyone going to Peekskill and looking for this diner, after going down Division toward Main, I turned left on Main, then right on Bank Street, and the diner was on the left.
Well, Brad, looks like you might have to make another trip to Peekskill some day! Thanks for all of your hard work identifying Peekskill and describing Miss Feeny's tour so well so that I could take it!
Solved: The Mystery of the Sunset Diner!
Return to My "Diry" of my Trip to Peekskill
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Page last updated 22 Jan 2005.
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