Archive for the ‘Essex’ Category

Catacombs beneath the streets of Newark

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I can’t recall where I read this, but I read somewhere that the only catacombs in the US were located beneath a church in the Portuguese section of Newark, NJ. I made some phone calls and found out this was true and that the church would give a tour if asked. So I asked.

Located at Lafayette & Prospect, the catacombs are beneath the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The church was established in 1927 in what was at the time, a mostly Italian neighborhood. The catacombs were constructed by church members in the late 1950’s, many coming after work to labor in the building. Eventually the neighborhood began to change, and now is primarily Portuguese. According to the woman who gave me the brief tour, there are 3 Italian families who attend the church, even though the service is given in Portuguese and (presumably) they don’t speak the language. I went to the rectory and gave a small contribution in return for the tour. No amount is specifically requested, it’s whatever you feel is appropriate. I gave $20 just because. The entrance to the catacombs are through this door….

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This door is probably the heaviest, most stubborn door I’ve ever encountered. The key would barely turn the lock, and the door as almost rusted into place. We finally got it open (please don’t ask how long it took to subsequently close it) and we entered into… the basement?

When I say catacombs, it probably conjures up images of old monks walking stooped over thru tunnels lined with brick led by dripping torches as rats squeak in the distance. Maybe you think of old bones wrapped carefully and preserved lying in cutouts along the walls of the passageway. Think again. Indiana Jones this wasn’t. It looked much like any other basement in any other building or house. The walls were finished, as were the ceilings and floors, which were as tall and wide as you would expect in any normal basement. Lining the walls were various paintings of saints and other holy things. In short this wasn’t so much a catacombs as a replica of a catacombs. It was interesting, but not at all what I was expecting.

Is it worth the trip? Probably not I’m sad to say.

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Montclair Art Car Parade

Montclair has had an art car parade 3 years running. I managed to grab some snaps before the parade but couldn’t make the parade itself.

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The aloha car was designed by a woman whose daughter has an art car. She said she wanted to do one, she loves the beach, so her daughter suggested the aloha theme….

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This heap tried 8x to park in front of me and his car kept stalling. Almost hit me.

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This guy collected license plates from every state and bolted them to his vehicle.

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yes, the instruments are meant to be played…

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A car of junk. Neat-o. but people tend to rip things off as souvenirs.

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I’m not entirely sure what these red things all bound up with wire are supposed to be. But it’s inventive, I’ll say that.

The Bicycle Lady of Bloomfield

I received the following email from Richard about the bicycle lady.

I was dropping my sons friend off by Brookdale Shop Rite in Bloomfield on Broad Street one night between 10-10:30pm and across the street we saw an old lady riding a banana seat bike on the sidewalk on Broad Street between Mountain Ave and Bellevue and she turned up Bellevue Ave. I have to say she looked really weird and the boys were freaked out. We all had goosebumps. Of course we checked it out another night between 10-10:45pm another night and there she was.. and it was freezing outside below freezing. Of course the kids wanted to yell out to her and I told the boys to be respectful. I am so curious about this woman..she has to be in her mid seventies. The boys swear she is a ghost. I just think that it is a woman who does her exercise nightly on the bike. Check it out and let me know what you think. My only concern about telling anyone about this is that I don’t want a lot of people to go watch her like a freak show or something. But I figured you would wanna check her out. I’m telling you man…it’s strange. I would say she is there every night around the same time. Contact me and tell me what you think…thanks. keep up the good work.

The collapsing mines of N Arlington

In June of 2003, an old problem resurfaced in North Arlington. The town sits over numerous copper mine shafts dating back to the 18th century. In the late 1980’s one backyard was swallowed up on Scuyler Ave and another on Forest Ave. 2.7 million dollars later, over 27 old shafts were filled in. Residents thought that was the end of it, but maybe not. On Morton Place a depression was discovered in a sidewalk, and when it was investigated, engineers found cavities ranging from 5 to 35 feet deep.

The dead end street was closed and the family whose home sat next to the sidewalk depression were evacuated for safety. Federal funds were approved to fix the problem, which further investigation revealed was related to the old Schuyler Copper mines. The $380,000 grant paid for the “voids” to be filled in with material and then the sidewalk to be rebuilt. Officials do not think any homes were in danger, as they were the last time this issue came up.

Town officials believe this to be an isolated incidents. Said Mayor Russ Pitman, “There are whole towns in Pennsylvania above working mines.” Local resident Linda Wicks wasn’t convinced though. “Two more years and I’m outta here.”

In researching the mines I came across this article which states that the first steam engine in America was used to pump water from one of the Schuyler mines in 1754.

Freak’s Peak

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Freaks Peak is a local name for a section of Mills Reservation which has an incredibly picturesque view of Montclair and even NYC on a clear day. The cliffs have a sheer drop off of 100 feet to the bottom, making for quite a sense of vertigo. There are reports of something strange lurking in the woods and growling. Two issues with this: One, the reports are by teens who admit that this spot was a great “place to party” and who would frequently go there to drink and smoke dope. Second, there are similar reports at Rifle Camp Park & Garrett mountain which are just across Route 46. As a matter of fact the author of an article about Freaks Peaks reference a previous article which was in fact, about the abandoned quarry below Rifle Camp Park. I think these tales are probably all in some HS kids imagination, there is probably nothing freaky in these woods, more then likely someone’s dog who was running off leash (as about 70% of all dogs do in this park it seems).

However… this is still a fantastic place to visit. The trails are mostly flat, mostly wide, and make for easy hiking. Lots of people walk their dogs here, and there are 3 different geocaches here as well. It is incredibly large and is centrally located to several major highways making it easily accessible. The views from Freaks peak are quite good, though not as good as those at Garrett mountain, but it’s still worth a trip.

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This is what is known to some as the sacrificial sundial, an incredibly laughable term, but I can see where it would get it’s name from. More then likely this is just a concrete foundation. But it is kinda creepy looking though…

Summit Nike Base

You can read more about the Summit Nike base here

Entrance to Nike Road

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Nike Rd was the entrance to the Nike Control Base in Summit just outside the Watchung Reservation. The military buildings are long gone, and only the name of the road remains to remind people of what once was a part of our national defense system. The road is blocked off to vehicular access but foot traffic is permitted. The control base was built in 1958, despite
concerns about being located so close to the woods of the Reservation. Interstingly the base was shut down only 4 years later. The launch control site is located where the Watchung Stables are located now.

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The JFK Church of West Orange

In a church in West Orange is a very unusual stained glass window. Our Lady of Lourdes wanted to honor JFK because he was the first catholic president, so they had a stained glass window created which depicted his swearing in. Pictured with him are his wife, Lyndon Johnson & Dwight Eisenhower.

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The Smallest House in NJ?

If this isn’t the smallest house in NJ, it’s still the smallest 4 room house I’ve ever seen. Located in Bloomfield, this tiny house measures approximately 10 ft by 16 feet, and yet has four rooms. It is situated on a slight incline and has a basement, and both floors have two rooms each. The fireplace and chimney is a nice touch.

The house is located 10 yards from a railroad and when I visited and spoke with the owner, they told me that speculation was that it may have at one time been a home for a crossing guard who operated the gates at the railroad crossing.

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The Boiardo House

The Boiardo family was one of the biggest crime families in NJ. It began with Ruggerio “Richey the Boot” Boiardo who worked in the beer trade during prohibition, before changing to running numbers after prohibition was repealed. With the housing explosion in NJ, homes are much closer to one another you can look down the long driveway and even approach the rear entrance if you dare. Is this advisable? Probably not. There is one story of a cub scout mom who drove up the Boiardo driveway thinking it was Riker Hill Park which is located a few blocks away. The armed guards outside the home not-so-politely advised the woman and her cub scouts to leave.

The following is a quote from the book, THE BOYS FROM NEW JERSEY, by Robert Rudolph.

In his prime, Boiardo was a bruiser who modeled himself after Al Capone ad who sported a $5,000 diamond belt buckle that earned him the nickname “Diamond Ritchie”.

Richie the Boot had been one of the true celebrities of prohibition-era NJ. Portrayed by the authorities as the reigning patriarch of organized crime in NJ until his death in 1984, Boiardo had risen from immigrant stonemason to become one of the most powerful and feared members of the state’s organized crime power structure.

A familiar figure in Newark politics, who as local ward leader mingled freely with both the prominent and notorious, Boiardo had slipped from public view when the Addonizio case propelled him and his son back into the limelight. In 1969, Hugh Addonizio a former 7 term Congressman who had been touted by those in the know as a potential candidate for governor of NJ, was completing his second term as mayor of the state’s largest city and preparing for a third run for that office. Amid the background of a heated mayoral campaign that as to mark the last hurrah for the old line white power structure in the increasingly black dominated city of Newark, Addonizio and 14 other persons were indicted by a federal grand jury on extortion-conspiracy charges that tied Addonozio to reputed mafia Boss Anthony (Tony boy) Boiardo, the son of the flamboyant gang lord Richie the Boot. Addonozio was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison.

But beyond exposing the corruption of Addonozio and his cohorts, the prosecution of the former Newark mayor had served another purpose. it made something of a household name of Richie the Boot and Tony Boy, and reawakened public awareness of the role of the mafia in NJ.

The public attention was heightened when the press began publicizing stories about Boiardo’s fortress like home and the goings-ons rumored to have taken place there. The estate was featured in a double page spread in life magazine, which described the home, aptly enough, as designed in “Transylvanian traditional.” For along the dark drive leading up to the main house was a bizarre collection of statuary: likenesses of the entire Boiardo family, their busts and name plates arrayed on pillusters surrounding the padrone of the dynasty, a youthful Richie the Boot, outfitted in formal riding wear, sitting astride a prancing white stallion

A less familial but grisly feature of the estate was a private crematorium. It was here, underworld rumor had it, that Boiardo disposed of his enemies, burning them on a huge iron gate after they had been murdered. Oh he just did it to show everybody what a great guy he is, that he had the guts,” one mobster explained. “He’d tell them he’ll take anybody’s problems…” Tony boy had been indicted along with Addonoizio, but was severed from the trial when he suffered a heart attack. Although he subsequently became a familiar figure at his favorite gold courses, he never recovered his health sufficiently to be able to stand trial.

On April 20, 1978 the younger Boiardo, who once adopted a more sedate and business like image then once-boisterous father, and who was reputedly fronting for underworld forays into the world of legitimate business, died at Community hospital in Montclair after lingering for weeks in critical condition since suffering a heart attack on good Friday.

In his declining years, the elder Boiardo had become something of a recluse, rarely venturing from the cloistered confines of his sprawling baronial mansion, which as located just over the crest of the West Orange Mountains in Livingston. Guarded by wrought-iron gates and stone pillars topped with bronze swans, the house was located at the had of a winding drive, hidden from the road by a forest of tall trees and shrubbery. The main house was constructed of imported Italian stone, resembling the dark brooding fortress of a feudal lord.

There, behind the walls of his private property, the once-robust Boiardo had passed his time puttering about in vegetable patch that, in a final glimmer of his once characteristic humor, had been marked with the sign GODFATHER’S GARDEN.

Boiardo outlived his son and heir presumptive by more then six years, passing away at the age of 93, a frail stooped, white hared shadow of his former image as a brawling gun-toting hood who had survived an assassin’s bullet in the early 1930’s.