Day Trip to Paterson: Great Falls and Lou Costello Park
One of the great things about Newark is its central location in Megalopolis, the enormous metropolitan complex from Boston to Washington, which includes much of the most historically important territory of the Revolutionary War era. It also includes some natural wonders of note.
One such wonder is the Great Falls of the Passaic River, a 77-foot cascade in the middle of one of New Jersey's largest cities. How might one describe such a peculiar and astonishing phenomenon? "Wonderful" comes to mind, but does not nearly cover it. I ventured to the Great Falls last month, but my camera battery was so low that I could capture only a very short clip of video. So I went back today to do a more comprehensive video tour. While I was in Paterson, I made a point of seeing Lou Costello Memorial Park and its statue of the famed chubby half of perhaps the most famous of all American comedy duos, Lou Costello of Paterson and Bud Abbott of Asbury Park. I saw a small-scale bust in the Paterson Museum last month over a plaque that said it was a study for the statue in the park, and wanted to see the whole statue.
The keepers of the Falls have not fulfilled their responsibility to the site. They have let trees block much of the view from various parts of the periffery. They should cut down those trees, into fireplace lengths, and offer them for sale to raise funds for the park's maintenance, or give them free to economically stressed people who have wood-burning fireplaces or stoves; or burn that wood in a power plant that uses biomass for electricity and/or heat.
The Great Falls is a wonderful sight. It is not as scenic as it might be, in that it is hemmed in by the narrow gorge it falls into, a crack in the Earth along whose edge the water cascades. That configuration is much like that of other cataracts such as Iguaçu Falls (South America) and Victoria Falls (Africa). Here in New Jersey, you can see one advantage to such a waterfall, which waterfalls that have long views do not afford. Here, you can get quite close to one or more massive rushes of water from an overlook.
It's quite a surprise to find such a magnificent natural phenomenon in the middle of a city, right here in little New Jersey. If you didn't know it was there, you might just chance across it in driving around Paterson's historic district. There are few to no signs, that I have seen, to draw people's attention to the Falls, nor to direct traffic to its parking lot and scenic outlook. There should be. Is this part of New Jersey's think-small, don't-draw-attention-to-yourself attitude? It's worth remembering that the brash 'stars' of the MTV 'reality' show Jersey Shore are almost all from New York State. Sometimes NJ self-effacement drives me up the wall. Our working motto appears to be, "If you've got it, on no account flaunt it." Flaunting it would be, to choose a word used to great comedic effect by the late Peter Boyle in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, "unseemly".
The very heavy volume of the Falls this year is one good thing that has emerged from our extremely wet summer and regular rains in autumn to date.
I suspect the best time to visit the Great Falls is around noon on a sunny day. I had hoped to get there around noon today, but foolishly went online first — and got hung up on this and that — when I should simply have put computer work aside and driven to Paterson immediately upon waking. I would have been able to get to the Paterson Museum in time to ask if I could take fotos (or even a video or three) to show here.
Not to worry (as a Canadian friend from my UN days might say; I worked in the English typing pool for one General Assembly, in 1966). The Great Falls aren't (isn't?) going anywhere, nor is the Paterson Museum, one must hope. I will definitely be back to the Great Falls, one of my favorite places on Earth. I'm fond of Niagara Falls too, and would love to do a tour of all the world's great waterfalls (if I ever decide to travel far again). Does any travel company offer such a package?
A website about Lou Costello Memorial Park shows a fountain across the way as being in use. (My foto, above, shows it turned off, a sculpture rather than fountain.) That webpage decries the poor condition the park was in at the end of August:
City officials say it has become "the homeless park" and acknowledge they sometimes have shut off the water at the ornamental fountain because people were using it to bathe.
Neither LCMP nor the triangular park opposite looked that bad to me, and the fountain was off, perhaps because of October's cooler temperatures, rather than a homeless problem.
Another website about LCMP makes this suggestion, which I fully endorse (assuming the writer is correct about the origin of each of the celebrities he speaks of).
We think that Paterson has the right idea. Now maybe Asbury Park will erect their own statue of Bud Abbott, Newark will erect one of Jerry Lewis, Nutley of Robert Blake, Tenafly of Leslie Gore, Bayonne of Brian Keith, Passaic of Michael J. Pollard, Englewood of John Travolta, Teaneck of Ricky Nelson, and Jersey City of Flip Wilson? Get to work, NJ!
Newark has two tributes to Abbott and Costello. One is their plaque in the New Jersey Walk of Fame between NJPAC and its lite-rail station.
The other is a ground-level panel in the murals on the police station opposite NJPAC, which shows the duo in the same way as on the bronze plaque at LCMP, as Greek comedy and tragedy masks, with Costello as drama.
This fits into my observation above that New Jersey is much too modest about its place in U.S. and world cultural history. It's not just Thomas Edison whose NJ operations need to be appreciated. The one man regarded by the bulk of this planet as the smartest man who ever lived, Albert Einstein, chose to live his last 30 years in New Jersey (at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton — which was founded by the Bambergers of Newark!). Einstein could have lived anywhere. Every single university on the planet would have paid him handsomely to join their faculty. But Albert Einstein chose to live HERE, in New Jersey.
More people per square mile (1,196 per square mile) want to live in New Jersey than anywhere else in the country.
We don't have the romantic-sounding placenames of the Southwest, those exotic, elegant Spanish names like San Simeon, Los Angeles, La Jolla, and Santa Fe. We've got some clunky names like Hackensack, Hoboken, and Jersey City. But we do have some fine names like Essex County, Mount Laurel, and Spring Lake. Some NJ placenames are very historic, pre-Columbian American Indian, like Passaic (Pasaeck, "valley"), Patcong Creek At Peck ("Pond" and oak, "Place"), Weequahic (Wequa, "boundary" and ick, "land"), Wanaque (pronounced in English wón.a.kyùe, like "barbecue", tho I, with my Latin education, thought it should be wa.nók.wa), "Place where the sassafras tree grows"), and Watchung (Watschu, "hill"). Such Indian names are more authentic to this continent than the names that resulted from the Spanish conquest of parts of what is now the United States.
In regard to the video that ends this post, I apologize for not being able to keep the camera steady at many points in this little travelog. Even if I had rested the camera on, for instance, the railing of the pedestrian bridge near the cataract or my monopod, it might not have helped much, since people walking on that bridge made that shaky structure move. I do not pretend to be a professional videografer. But nor are you likely a professional tourist. I am just trying to give you a sense of what you will see if you go to the Great Falls and walk around to see that phenomenon from many different angles. Cameras are crude, and cannot finesse moving, shifting scenes the way the human eye-mind apparatus does. So you must expect that if you visit, what you see will seem much smoother and finer an experience.
If you live in Essex County or anywhere else near, but have NOT been to the Great Falls of the Passaic, you are cheating yourself of a very worthy experience. I was speaking to an employee of the Vauxhall Best Buy store when I was trying to buy a backup battery for my camera (they didn't have one; I'd have to order from their website), and he said he had not known that we have a major waterfall in our area until a few years earlier. Then he got to the Falls, twice, and took some pix to remind him of the experience. I have now provided you a little local travelog of the Great Falls, but intend it only as an incentive to you who can get there, TO get there and experience it for yourself. The video segments from water's edge are NOT what you might see in person, because I had to lift the camera up over a tall (7-foot?) chainlink fence. Paterson's tourism authorities need to walk every foot of the periffery of the Falls and decide what needs to change — what trees (many, many) have to be cut; what areas that people are to stand in need to be made dry, not muddy; what chainlink fences need to be replaced by less-obtructive safety barriers.
If you are nearby and like what you see from my video below, you can MapQuest or Google-Map 65 McBride Avenue, Paterson, NJ, for the parking area for the wide-perspective view of the Great Falls. Lou Costello Memorial Park is only a few blocks from there, at 50 Ellison Avenue (at Cianci Street), which you can get to extremely easily just by turning left when you leave the parking lot for the Falls and drive less than half a mile. If you were frustrated by my bad videos, you can see the Falls for yourself and take your own video. Should you create a magnificent video of the Great Falls, please put it online, alert me to it, and alert as well the Paterson tourism people. They might want to link to it from their website.
Paterson tourism should as well — and this is an urgent suggestion — put up a webcam that shows the crest of the Great Falls, so that people who are thinking about visiting but don't know if the water level is high enuf to warrant a visit, will know to trouble to get to the Falls right away, or wait for a more propitious time.
New Jersey tourism authorities seem to have the same problem as individual New Jerseyans, in not knowing whether to be proud or feel embarrassed for feeling proud. New Jerseyans as a group seem not to like to attract attention to themselves, even if that attention should be favorable. Is that because we assume that most attentions given us will be negative? Or because we have permitted outsiders to define us?
In any case, I will in time visit and revisit Paterson as to get good fotos of its City Hall, major churches, and other touristic sites. Promoting Paterson is of course not my primary function in this blog, which is more like promoting Newark as a place that deserves a lot more attention than it gets, and which visitors can derive great pleasure from visiting. The base premise of this blog is to show what life in Newark is like for someone LIKE me, using my own life as example. And daytrips to sights of interest is one of the things important to me.
Still, there seems a lot to tell tourists about, as regards Paterson. That city used to have an active tourism board, a couple of years ago. But now, it seems that people in power who discount tourism have vetoed funds and attention to Paterson tourism. I regard such anti-touristic impulses, be they within Paterson or Newark, as extremely STUPID. Paterson, like Newark, has an extremely distinguished history, and people who LIKE history should find North Jersey extraordinarily attractive. History buffs are a very significant portion of the tourist community, and we in NJ are well positioned to bring history buffs to our area, be it for the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution in Paterson; or the American inventor geniuses Seth Boyden and Thomas Edison, both of whom had workshops in Newark; or Revolutionary War sites in Princeton, Trenton, Freehold, Morristown, and elsewhere.
Now I present a nearly 20-minute virtual tour, by an obviously amateur videografer, of the wonder near and under Paterson, NJ. The video is a combination of 18 short videos taken at various points around the park that surrounds the Falls. Some portions of the video linger on the falling water. Impatient people may not benefit from the calming influence that that is meant to impart. The screenprint below should be clickable. The URL to go directly to the video is http://blip.tv/el-craigo/great-falls-of-the-passaic-circumnavigated-5650180.