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Nyack People & Places: The Woman in the Glass House 

Newspaper Leigh

It can’t be, but it is. There was once a glass house built by a sun-worshipping naturist in Nyack. Evelyn Word Provost Leigh built a glass house in 1927 atop one of Nyack’s highest points on Central Avenue between 5th and 6th Avenues above Tillou Lane. Lady Leigh, as the local newspapers referred to her, was quite a personality. At least twice married, she was a model, movie star, dancer, sun worshiper, moon worshipper, horse-lover, and, whether she liked it or not, a headline-grabber. 

feature shot of Leigth
Lady Leigh posing.

She made headlines in New York City and Nyack while and after the glass house was built. Despite a six-foot wire fence, boys would try to peep into the house. A musician, as reported by his grandson, once played in a band during a nude party in the house. The band wore clothes. Lady Leigh said she came to Nyack to get away from prying eyes she experienced while sunbathing on the roofs of NYC buildings. It wasn’t the get-away she expected but then, for a naturist woman living alone in a glass house, who would be surprised.

Evelyn Provost

Evelyn Provost was born in Brooklyn on August 2, 1892, with a connection to Rockland County as a member of the Van Orden family of Spring Valley. She claimed to be a cousin of William K. Dick, an industrialist, and the husband of Mrs. Madeline Force Astor. Provost starred in some 18 silent movies using the stage name Adele Ray.  She may have acted in the Ziegfield follies. 

Even as young woman she was eccentric. As an early NYC ‘influencer” she tried to start a fashion trend in 1913 of long split skirts for winter wear with fur anklets protecting the legs. The fashion didn’t catch on. At some point after wintering in Florida, she became a sun worshipper stating that she worshipped Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Ultraviolet rays were the avenue to health according to Provost. She rarely wore shoes and often wore clothes with holes in them for more sun. She expressed personal philosophy as “the sun is the greatest beauty doctor. I worship the sun. It is my god.”

Lady Leigh as Adele Ray
Promotional photo of Lady Leigh as Adele Ray in the 1915 Paramount Pictures film The Moth and the Flame directed by Sidney Olcutt

She married Word Leigh, a wealthy Georgian 16 years her senior, around 1917 and soon divorced. She was briefly married to a Nyack taxi driver, Herbert Collishaw. The marriage was kept secret and only revealed when her horse was taken away for neglect during their honeymoon in November 1931. The marriage officiant stated they were in “love at first sight, they were very sweet.” Things didn’t turn out well. One evening a month after the honeymoon, Collishaw “went violently insane.” He was soon committed to the Rockland State Hospital. Lady Leigh skipped town taking her parrot, Jimmy, with her who momentarily escaped while traveling on the Nyack Ferry. 

She was often referred to as Evelyn Word Leigh but also in her full name Evelyn Provost Word Leigh Collishaw.

The Glass House

Newspaper photo of the south east side of the Glass House.

The glass house wasn’t made of 100% glass, but it still had way more windows than was common. The house, said to cost $30K was built int 1927 was a collection of five block-like glass structures grouped in a large U-shape. The interior of the U, on the northern side of the house was covered in wood. The other sides were covered in large panes of glass. 

During its building six women were reported to be working double time to compete it in the summer of 1927.The carpenters building it were enthusiastic. “I don’t know why someone didn’t think of this before. Why I would like to have a house like this one myself,” said one of the carpenters. The left wing was about 24’ x 18’, the room next to it larger. The front room was 48’ x 23’ and the right wing was a little larger than the left. The roof was glass as well as the side partitions so there was only one back wall. The living room had a spacious brick fireplace along the wooden wall. “And who knows,” said Lady Leigh in a prescient vision of Phillip Johnson’s iconic 1949 glass house, in New Canaan CT, “that the whole world will be in glass houses in 50 years.” The house was surrounded by a high wire fence.

Leigh intended to practice nudity in her house, and the neighbor kids confirmed that. There was enough glass that Police Sargent Charles Taylor stated that she would need to have curtains. “This is a conservative town. We wear clothes because God intended us to.”

Lady Leigh & the Glass House in Video

Outtakes of a video shoot of Evelyn in her glass house are shown in July 30, 1929 -Evelyn Word Leigh: Glass House Lady by Mark Hatala. Movies of Lady Leigh and the house begin at minute 3:23 of the YouTube video. Jimmy the parrot also appears.

Outtakes of a video shoot of Evelyn in her glass house are shown in July 30, 1929 -Evelyn Word Leigh: Glass House Lady by Mark Hatala. Movies of Lady Leigh and the house begin at minute 3:23 of the YouTube video. Jimmy the parrot also appears.

Her Horse

Lady Leigh hated cars and loved horses especially her bay mare named Lady. She was seen riding in the village or in her fancy basket phaeton carriage her rich auburn hair blowing in the wind. Leigh soon made a reputation in the village by ordering pants for her horse from a Nyack tailor. Her idea was that it would keep flies off the horse. Photos of the pants-wearing horse caused quite a stir in Nyack and pictures were splashed in newspaper all over America. Everyone had a good laugh at her expense.

In 1928, the horse bolted while pulling the phaeton on Midland Avenue. She ended up crashing near Nyack hospital. Nearby workers rushed to help her untangle the horse and help get the rig home. Every winter, Lady Leigh wintered in Florida. Lady traveled with her. She would return to Nyack in the spring.

Newspaper photo of Lady Leigh with he horse, Lady, in pants.

In 1929 she had to return early in March to settle a lawsuit. She was quite perplexed to have to return in the cold weather, her horse was sick, and she complained of having to pack in haste some 600 dresses 65 pairs of shoes, and 75 pairs of hose. She also complained to the media about the press making fun of her. She said she just wanted to live her life and be left alone.

In 1930 she supposedly pulled up in front of the Broadway theater and asked patrolman Frae if a place could not be made for her on the police force. She was known to ride her horse on the new cinder track at the nearby Nyack High School at night much to the annoyance of janitors who had to smooth out the track the next day.

Nyack Beach

Leigh at Nyack Beach.

Lady Leigh was a swimmer. When she showed up at Nyack Beach heads turned to stare. She wore fashionable bathing wear that was carefully described in the newspapers. Once, she wore a plaid suit with dainty ruffles that could have been seen in Paris. On that occasion in 1930, she played with children at the beach and tried to teach them to swim. When she went to the bathhouse to get dressed, she found her clothes tied into a knot. Even the kids could be mean to her. On another very hot August day she went to the beach wearing a black and white suit with large circles accentuated her figure. The auburn-haired woman was closely watched as she crocheted, sewed, swam with children, and performed her daily dozen exercises that kept her fit.

The same year she rode her horse to the beach, stopping in the middle of the road and started to sew. Traffic backed up in both directions. Officer O’Brien was sent to find out what was causing the delay and he made her move. She went on to the beach and offered to sell horse rides to the children for $0.25. The officer told her she had to be a concessionaire to do that.

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Asking for Help

Perhaps her rumored fortune from the marriage to Word Leigh was just a rumor. In 1931, she appeared gaunt and disheveled at the local newspaper office to plead for help. She was starving. When asked why she didn’t sell her house, she said she tried but no one wanted it. The newspaper agreed to publish the fact that she was looking for work.  By Christmas that year she was staying alone in Nyack not able to go to Florida.

Glass House Vandalized

Just as it seemed the village was becoming more tolerant of the lonely lady of the glass house including one letter to the editor supporting her, vandals struck.  When Lady Leigh returned to Nyack in June of 1936, she found her house vandalized. Windows were broken, locked doors were broken, and the glass ceiling above the kitchen was smashed. Woodwork and door frames were pried off, books were scattered on the floor, and her private papers exposed. She said, in a long message to the newspaper, referring to a recent Roosevelt speech about the sanctity of personality and neighborliness, if he knew of my miserable existence here, would he do anything about it?”

Leaving Nyack

Ad for the auction of Glass House contents.

In 1940 she left Nyack for good. Her personal property including her buggy was put up for auction. The house was sold for $1,000, the only auction bid, to Mrs. Anette Schofield. The house was remodeled into a conventional dwelling and the glass house was lost to time.

By 1944, Lady Leigh had made a full-time transition to Miami where she was espousing moon worship. She went about in a flowing red gown and her flowing auburn hair. There she held classes and sessions with dancers who focused on metaphysical healing, herbology, and the arts. She took on the title of Lady of the Moon, High Priestess of the Cultural Arts Comradeship Cult. Lady Leigh died in Florida in 1974 at the age of 82.

Michael Hays is a 35-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health, Nyack Fan Card, and Weld Realty.

 

 

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