In 2002 – 2003, Joanne published four articles in the newsletter of the New York-North Jersey Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Trails & Waves. Although not exactly “travel” articles, they are meant to evoke a memorable experience and sense of place.
A Hike into History
By Joanne Gerber
Vol. 24, Issue 1, Spring 2002
As a new AMC member going on my first excursion with the club, I decided to initiate myself gradually and start with something less physically challenging. So I didn’t paddle over a waterfall in the Catskills or hike up a mountain peak in Idaho. No, for my first AMC excursion I trekked over the vast reaches of…the Lower East Side.
The only nature you’ll see on the “Singles & Sociables Lower East Side” walk is the tired greenery of Washington Square Park. And it isn’t one of those get-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn sorts of trips. I met up with the group at one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon; a nice, civilized hour that left plenty of time for sleeping in. What this excursion will do is take you deep into history. For seven years, group leader Larry Stack has been heading excursions to places like lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park (at night!), and the Metropolitan and Natural History museums. He peppers his talks with fascinating historical anecdotes that fall into the category of “what your teacher never told you.”
The excursion started at the Arch in Washington Square Park. Our first stop was the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, where a fire in 1911 took the lives of nearly 150 14- to 16-year-old girls who worked there. This tragedy is a milestone in labor history, highlighting the noxious conditions in the sweatshops and igniting a major movement to reform working conditions. I knew about the fire, but had no idea that it happened right within the current precincts of N.Y.U.
The other sites we saw were also drawn from the immigrant Jewish and labor experience around the turn of the last century: Cooper Union, the site of labor meetings attended by the young Samuel Gompers; a townhouse on E. 11th St. that was home to anarchist Emma Goldman; the former headquarters of the Jewish Daily Forward, once the paper of record for the Jewish community; and the Eldridge St. Synagogue, the first built in the U.S. by Jews from eastern Europe. The decades of decay in the synagogue’s interior do not hide the majesty of its Moorish arches, carved mahogany altars and seats, and stained-glass windows.
The trip’s highlight was the Tenement Museum, where we walked through a building frozen in time. The museum is housed in a tenement on Orchard St. built in 1863-4 whose last resident moved out in 1941. We saw well-preserved apartments with period furniture showing how people lived from the 1870s to the 1930s. Nothing will prepare you for what you’ll see there, nor for the stories you’ll hear about life within those miserable walls.
Stack delivered his historical narratives with a depth of knowledge that could only have come from years of passionate study. A voracious reader, he has a wealth of stories about innumerable historical figures, often about their personal lives, which, he says, can reveal both their greatness and their weaknesses. “The real story,” says Stack, “is how they overcame their passions or how they failed to overcome them.”
Throughout the walk there was a feeling of camaraderie among the “hikers,” many of them evidently longtime fans of Larry’s. After the tour, the group went out to dinner in Chinatown, finishing with dessert at Ferrara’s. I learned a lot from that Sunday afternoon, but didn’t feel as if I had sat through a long lecture. Rather, I went away with a feeling of warmth and good fun.
Newark Culture and Horticulture
By Joanne Gerber
Vol. 24, Issue2, Spring 2002
We followed a shady path beside a quiet little river. Along the banks, branches of floweringtrees hung languidly over the water, the scent of their blossoms wafting delicately through the air. And to think that we were in the middle of Newark! If you want to see lots of blooming cherry trees, you don’t have to go to DC. A trip on the PATH train and a Newark city bus will suffice.
On one Sunday in April, the "Newark Culture & Horticulture" excursion took AMC members to the city’s annual cherry blossom festival and to the Newark Museum. This annual excursion is conducted by Dick Wolff, a longtime AMC leader who was born in Newark and has lived in the area all his life.
The festival took place in the city’s lovely Branch Brook Park. It offered a mix of cultures, with stands selling Italian sausages, a band playing jazz, as well as traditional Japanese dancers, a small Zen garden, and tents devoted to Japanese origami paper sculptures and Ikenobo flower arrangements.
After looking in on the festival, the group took off into the park, which is landscaped to show the trees to their best advantage. The paths leading deeper into the park seemed to take us away from the city altogether. We found ourselves surrounded by blossoms in various shades of pink, with fallen petals sprinkled on the grass.
We then went to the Newark Museum, which featured a "garden of remembrance" installed in the wake of the September 11th tragedy. Set in the museum’s central courtyard, the garden is done in the style of medieval Spain, with tiled walls, Moorish arches, orange and palm trees, and a fountain in the center. The museum chose this setting “to recall a time when three faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – lived together on the Iberian Peninsula in a humane and creative society."
Visitors who ventured upstairs discovered a Tibetan treasure: a fully reconstructed Buddhist shrine complete with a bronze statue of Buddha. The shrine’s walls and columns are painted with bright lotus flowers against a striking red background, the ceiling festooned with a multicolored silk tapestry. Here you really felt far away.
We stopped by the airy glass and brick lobby of the NJ Performing Arts Center and then saw the Wars of America monument in Newark’s Military Park, which honors American soldiers who died in World War I and all previous wars fought by this country. It’s an imposing statue in granite and bronze done by Gutzon Borglum, the same artist who sculpted Mount Rushmore.
When the excursion ended, the group scattered along Ferry St., the heart of Newark’s lively Portuguese section, where we chose from an array of Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants serving such favorite dishes as rodizio, paella, and mariscada. It was a delightful way to end a day of immersion in beauty – both natural and man-made.
A Walk Through a Vision
By Joanne Gerber
Vol. 24, Issue4, Winter 2002
The Victorians’ vision of heaven was “a beautiful, hilly, partially wooded countryside with charming architecture, whose inhabitants enjoyed a life of concerts and garden walks,” according to AMC leader Wilda Gallagher. “Not unlike Prospect Park,” she added. We were standing on the terrace of the park’s Beaux Arts-style boathouse. As I looked just beyond at the beautiful Lullwater – a tributary to Prospect Lake bordered by autumn-tinted larch and tulip trees – I could see her point.
This was during the AMC Ramble Around Prospect Park, in October. By leading the walk, Wilda felt that she was carrying on for her husband, the historian John Gallagher (author of The Battle of Brooklyn 1776), who had led AMC walks in Prospect Park and around the city for 25 years until his death last February. She always accompanied him on those walks. “It was the sort of thing we loved to do together,” Wilda said.
We wandered through the wide-open Nethermead and Long Meadows; along a forest path leading to a waterfall; past an old-fashioned carousel dating from 1912; and through the “Concert Grove,” a one-time concert ground dotted with busts of Mozart, Beethoven and other composers. At the end of the grove is the Oriental Pavilion, built in 1874 and still boasting elaborately carved columns painted red, blue, and green.
Deep in the heart of the park, we weren’t quite sure where we were, finding ourselves now in the woods, then suddenly in a field, with no city landmarks to guide us. But that was half the fun.
The highlight of the day was our ride on an electric launch from the boathouse through the Lullwater and Prospect Lake. We floated under 19th-century steel bridges and past wooden Adirondack-style gazebos rebuilt to their original design. The dark green of the thickly wooded shores was often splashed with red and orange, and sometimes the trees opened up to reveal
bits of meadow poking through.
We were the only ones on the water, except for some ducks, Canada geese, American Coots, and the occasional turtle. It occurred to us that autumn was perhaps the best time to visit the park. Although it was a sunny and mild Sunday afternoon, everything was quiet except for the birds, and we seemed to have the place all to ourselves.
The design of 526-acre Prospect Park began in 1865 (at the close of the Civil War). The landscape architects were Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same men who created Central Park. It has been said that they preferred Prospect Park to the one in Manhattan, largely because they were freer to follow their own vision: to recreate the atmosphere of an Adirondack retreat.
Prospect Park has been undergoing an extensive, ongoing renovation whose aim is to return the grounds as closely as possible to their original state. So far this has meant the restoration of the boathouse (now the Audubon Center) as well as other park buildings, the reclamation of park waterways lost to silt and overgrowth, the establishment of a network of nature trails, and new plantings everywhere, especially by the Lullwater, Prospect Lake, and ponds around the park.
Near the end of the day, we stood by one of those ponds, feeding mallards, seagulls and swans. Then we made our way to the main entrance, at Grand Army Plaza, where we re-entered the “Real World”.
[Editor’s Note: John Gallagher’s book, “The Battle of Brooklyn 1776,” is a fascinating account of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War, where Militiamen held off the British Army long enough for General Washington and his army to escape across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The book includes interesting maps of the battle and is available at www.amazon.com.]
Off Into the Sunset
By Joanne Gerber
Vol. 25, Issue3, Fall 2003
"Beautiful!" We were on Mount Taurus, above the eastern bank of the Hudson River in Putnam County, New York. The sun was getting ready to set, leaving behind layers of orange and lavender sky that dissipated into a mist over the mountain tops. "Across the river and to the left is Storm King Mountain," a hiker next to me said. "And on this side just to our right, Breakneck Ridge."
It was a special moment during the Nighttime Cold Spring to Beacon hike. We had started in Cold Spring around 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon in July, but we never did get to Beacon, about six miles to the north. Instead, we did a circuit within Hudson Highlands State Park, starting with the white (Washburn) trail, which took us to the summit of Mount Taurus, then to the blue (Notch) trail, the red (Brook), the yellow (Undercliff), and finally back to the Washburn. The leader was Richard Weinberg, who has led many hikes to Bear Mountain and Croton Point, but saw this trip as an opportunity to do something he hadn`t tried before: a hike at night.
At first our route seemed to veer well away from the river and deep into the woods. But now and then a break in the foliage would reveal that the Hudson was still just below. By the time of our first break, after an hour`s climb, the Hudson River had fallen some distance away. Another hour brought us to the top of the 1,420-foot-high Mount Taurus, also known as Bull Hill. There we had our dinner break while taking in a spectacular view of the valley, with Cold Spring on the near bank, West Point farther south on the opposite bank, and countless mountains beyond.
It was on the way down from the summit that we saw the orange and lavender sunset. That was somewhere on the blue trail, on a rocky knoll that had a wide-open view. Streetlights along the banks of the river were already lit, creating a glittering counterpoint to the tinted sky. We then turned back into the forest, crossing a small wooden bridge over a stream, and then passing some ruins of stone buildings. This last was once part of the turn-of-the-century estate of Edward Cornish, who owned the National Lead Company. He had a farm as well as a mansion on the estate, and those buildings were where they used to milk the cows.
After we passed the Cornish estate, we continued through a thickening forest, on the red trail. Here we could see the sun setting even when we couldn`t see the sky. Shafts of deep-orange sunlight colored the canopy of trees above us and the rocky outcroppings around us. Some of the light fell under stones along our path, giving the impression of smoldering embers.
Then night fell in earnest. Those lights along the river turned into pinpricks against total blackness. From here on, all eyes were cast downward; the lower halves of 28 bodies were intermittently lit by flashlights all aimed towards our feet. We maneuvered down hills and around loose rocks as much by feel as by sight, and were grateful to any hikers ahead of us who happened to be wearing white, as they were reassuringly easy to spot in the darkness. In any case, our string of hikers tightened up to ensure that no one strayed from the trail.
No one got lost, and at about 10:15 PM we emerged from the forest onto Route 9D in Cold Spring, just in time to catch a late train back to Grand Central.