Journal Entries

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The Great Falls - Paterson, NJ

December 2017

Alexander Hamilton (yes, the same Hamilton from the Broadway musical) conceived the idea of Paterson becoming America’s first planned industrial city in the 1780’s, just at the start of the industrial revolution. Hamilton saw the potential of harnessing the power of the Falls and his vision eventually transformed Paterson into an industrial powerhouse that produced textiles, locomotives, and the famous Colt revolvers of the old West. At one point Paterson became know as Silk City due to the volume of the silk the city produced. Today, many of these factories are now abandoned or are slowly being repurposed. The city is a prime example of industrial decay, and as the manufacturing industry declined, poverty crept in and crime rose. Paterson now has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, particularly for violent crime due to all of the gang activity. It is a sad tragedy to see a city with such a rich history fall into such decline. In 2009 the Great Falls were officially added to the US National Park system. Renovations are underway to improve the site to accommodate more visitors. Hopefully this will give a much need boost the city’s economy.

Church of the Holy Innocents 

December 2017

A beacon of light (and salvation?) on w37th St. in Manhattan. It was a "dark and stormy" night when I caught a glimpse of this illuminated cross shining down 37th St in Manhattan’s Garment District. It stood out quite prominently on the type of dreary December night that turns the city streets into dark, hauntingly cavernous alleys. As it turns out, this Gothic Revival styled Catholic Church built in 1870 is the oldest building in the Garment District. It has quite a storied past and history. It is the only church in the city that still holds a mass in Latin, also referred to as a Tridentine Mass (I learn something new everyday). Interestingly, they hold a mass at two-twenty AM (yes in the morning) every Sunday. Confessions are heard at all times and all hours; very convenient since this is NYC and I'm sure sins are being committed at every conceivable hour. Supposedly, one will find worshipers here that vary from the poor (and homeless) to patrons dressed in minks and tuxes. Part of the attraction is a “Shrine to the Unborn” dedicated to children who died before birth. There's also a large mural that at one time hung in St Patrick’s Cathedral that now hangs behind the church altar. I’d love to go back and see the inside and perhaps attend one of those 2:20AM masses or maybe the one in Latin. I imagine that would be quite an interesting experience. I wonder if they would mind if I took pictures?

Ramapough Lenape Nation Teepee - Mahwah NJ

November 2017

Real teepees. Real Indians. Yes, there are still real Indians living in suburban NJ. And just like in the old west there is still fighting between the natives and the “settlers” who in this case happen to live in a wealthy housing development just adjacent to this land. A lawsuit was filed against the Indians claiming zoning violations. It seems the land is zoned for single-family homes and municipal facilities. So I guess you can build a house but not a teepee? Not sure I understand the logic here, but the law ruled in favor of the wealthy homeowners. The Indians were fined and ordered to remove the teepees. I recently passed by the site and the teepees are now gone. The teepees were erected as a protest to a proposed oil pipeline that is slated to cut through the Indian’s land. The homeowners took exception to the noise from the protests and filed complaints against them. I don’t think the Indians stood much of a chance in court, as they are a very poor people. This story has received a lot of attention in the news including a write-up in the NY Times. But what amazes me is how little things have changed in the last 400 or so years since the first European settlers landed on the shores of North America and to a larger extent the question of who has the right to a piece of land?

Ashokan Reservoir, Catskills NY

October 2017

About 100 years ago one dozen hamlets in the Catskill Mountains were literally swallowed up to accommodate New York City's desperate need for clean drinking water. Hundreds of houses, businesses, schools, and churches were dismantled or burned to the ground. Over 2,000 people were forced out of their homes and even the graves of the deceased were disinterred so the land could be flooded (residents were purportedly offered $15 to dig up the remains of their deceased). What lies there now is the Ashokan Reservoir holding 122 billion gallons of water, the largest in the world at that time. Needless to say, resentment can still run strong in the community; when visitors ask where is the center of town, locals will answer “under-water”. When the water levels get low (as it is now) you can find people along the shores looking for remnants of the old towns, such as stone foundations, pottery, horseshoes etc.. One thing everyone agrees on though is the beauty of the reservoir and the spectacular views of the Catskill Mountains it offers. It’s an interesting history and there are now 5 reservoirs in the Catskills supplying water to the city, the Ashokan is still the second largest. For me, I always make a point of driving past the reservoir whenever I am in the area, and I’ll usually take a walk along its pathways admiring the beauty of the surrounding area. But I often wonder what it must have felt like to get a knock on the door and be told that your home would be taken away from you in order to provide water for the city folks 100 miles south. A place you have probably never seen.

Ellis Island

October 2017

An image from Ellis Island coinciding with President Trump's third attempt to restrict entry into the U.S. for citizens of certain countries whose motives are deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United States”. And similar to previous attempts this one was also blocked by a federal judge, once again a judge from Hawaii (why Hawaii? Don't know, go figure..). Immigration seems to be a very hot topic and not just here in the states. Countries like Germany, Sweden, and a host of other countries are all dealing with similar issues. It’s a much different world compared to the days when Ellis Island was processing millions of immigrants into this country, and throughout history immigration has always been a complicated and emotional issue. The decaying ruins of the infectious disease ward of Ellis Island seen here seems to reflect the current state of affairs we find ourselves in today; as unsteady as this 3 legged stool. It seems odd we build a national monument to celebrate the history of immigration of the past, but live in fear of what it may foretell for the future.

St Michael’s Cemetery, Bethlehem, PA – (Walker Evans Redux)

September 2017

In 1935 Walker Evans made an historic image of this cemetery in Bethlehem Pennsylvania (see image: St. Michaels Cemetery). On a recent pilgrimage to this site I made the photograph you see here. I did not make the visit with the intention of re-creating Evans’ image, but merely to stand in the place that inspired that shot. And as I discovered, any effort to recreate that shot would be for naught anyway as the cemetery cross in the foreground of his image is no longer there, and the row houses in his image are now obscured by a large tree. So thankfully there can be no copycat images. But much of the scene remains the same; the same row houses still stand, the cemetery is mostly the same although with obvious signs of neglect and decay, and the south side of town depicted here is remarkably unchanged despite the closing of Bethlehem Steel in 2003. When Evans made his image it was a grim portrait of a steel town. In one remarkable image Evans captured the steel mill where the residents worked, the row houses where they lived, and the cemetery where they would be buried. And the cross that he chose to dominate the foreground in his image stood at the top of the hill almost as if God himself was looking down watching over the town. It was a powerful image. Times change of course, and fast forward 82 years and one will find that the steel mill has closed, the few remaining smoke stacks of the blast furnaces seen here are now a tourist attraction, and the grounds of what was once the largest steel manufacturer in the world have been replaced with a casino, a shopping mall, and various retail and entertainment venues. I wonder what image Evans would make today if he could re-visit the scene?

Coney Island, Brooklyn NY

July 2017

Perhaps the most famous picture of Coney Island is the one taken by Weegee in 1940 (found here: Weegee). I doubt there were any Puerto Rican flags flying back then, or many if any Puerto Ricans in the crowd he immortalized in his image. It was certainly a different time and country back then, but in many respects Coney Island still serves the same purpose as it did back in Weegee’s day; urban city dwellers finding refuge from the heat and escaping the hard concrete jungle they endure during the week. The main difference between now and then being the changing diversity of ethnicities you will find on the beach and boardwalk today. I wonder what flag will be flying at this same scene 80 years from today? I wish I could time travel ahead to find out…?

And to emphasize just how much times have changed, here is a quote from Weegee on his famous image from Brooklyn in 1940, it certainly was a different time: “And this is Coney Island on a quiet Sunday afternoon … a crowd of over a million is usual and attracts no attention (I wonder who counts them) … it only costs a nickel to get there from any part of the city, and undressing is permitted on the beach. … Some come to bathe, but others come to watch the girls. A good spot being the boardwalk. … Of the families, some manage to get through the day without losing their children … but the city is prepared and at the Lost Child Shelter the crying kids are kept cooped up behind a barrier of chicken wire ’til their parents call for them … also in this shelter are kept the peddlers who are arrested for peddling on the beach … seeing their merchandise melt, the peddlers give their ice cream to the kids.”

Coney Island Baby

July 2017

“Ahhh, but remember that the city is a funny place

Something like a circus or a sewer

And just remember different people have peculiar tastes

and the –  Glory of love, the glory of love, the glory of love, might see you through

Oh, my Coney Island baby, now (I'm a Coney Island baby, now)

Lou Reed – 1975:

Link to song:  Coney Island Baby - Lou Reed

NJ Meadowlands

July 2017

The NJ Meadowlands are many things: a toxic waste dump, a migratory corridor for over 200 species of birds, possible last resting place for the gangster Jimmy Hoffa, a national super-fund chemical cleanup site, home to the NY Giants and NY Jets football teams, a nature preserve with scenic trails and views of the Manhattan skyline, and so much more. Only in NJ do you get this kind of diversity, both good and bad, all in one place. I’ve read where tons of mercury had been poured into these waters over a 36 year time frame, and the fragile ecosystem still survives. I see people fishing down here regularly; I hope they don’t eat their catches.

Jane's Carousel - Brooklyn NY

April 2017

Jane Walentas spent over 20 years in her DUMBO studio renovating this 1920’s wooden carousel sitting in the foreground of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is now a central attraction to a thriving and revitalized Brooklyn Bridge Park. The carousel, installed in 2011, sits on what was once the Fulton Ferry landing, which served to connect Brooklyn to Manhattan before the Brooklyn Bridge was built (in the 1880s). Not long ago this area was an empty decrepit waterfront lined with deserted warehouses and factories, and the area’s residents were mostly poor artists looking for low-rent loft apartments. Today it is one of Brooklyn’s most expensive neighborhoods. I used to enjoy wandering around the seedy Belgian block back alleys, but today the gentrification of the neighborhood has turned those alleys from seedy to refined. I guess it’s a good thing to see so many people enjoying this revitalized area, but a part of me misses the old atmosphere.

As a final note, Jane’s husband David bought the entire DUMBO neighborhood back in the 1980s when it was just a dying industrial district for a paltry $12M. That investment is now worth over a billion dollars today. Not a bad return on his investment. And Jane has a place for her Carousel!

Dave's story is quite remarkable. You can read it here: Dave's Story

Arthur's Tavern - Greenwich Village NYC

April 2017

A landmark Jazz club in the West Village, Arthur's has been around since 1937 and has continuously hosted many of the greats of the Jazz world. Charlie Parker was once a regular and today still draws talents such as Roy Hargrove. The pianist Al Bundy (not that Al Bundy from TV) was a regular and has a commemorative plaque in the entranceway as you enter this shrine of the Jazz world. I wish I could build a time capsule and go back to those days for just one night to hear the Bird play.

Hope Town Cholera Cemetery - Elbow Cay, Bahamas

February 2017

Hope Town is a small town on a remote island in the northern Bahamas. The population from the 2010 census was 458. I doubt the population was much higher in the 1850’s when this cholera epidemic struck. British loyalists settled this area after the American Revolution when many of the remaining loyalists were forced to evacuate. I can only imagine what it would be like to live back then in a tiny isolated island community while a significant percentage of the population was succumbing to an incurable disease. The settlement survived and many of the people living here today are connected in some way to many of the people interred here. Just over the top of the hill, past the stone memorial (dedicated to those lost in shipwrecks from the area) is a beautiful and mostly undeveloped beach on the Atlantic Ocean. At least the victims of the epidemic have a beautiful last resting place.

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