Palisades

“A young lady is set adrift in a balloon high above Manhattan:” A real Cliffhanger Atop the Palisades

By Marcia Anderson

Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon

(Part three of a series on the Palisades)

Slightly old news, but still a lot of fun…  By 1910, the majestic Palisades cliffs had become a center of film production for the nation’s film industry, long before Hollywood was even a dream. During warm months, Fort Lee and the Palisades bustled with activity. Dozens of silent films were shot on location, complete with Wild West shootouts and railroad rescues. The cliffs were frequently used as a location for silent adventure films and were the source of the term “cliffhanger,” most notably coined from the 20 part serial: “The Perils of Pauline.”

‘Once upon a time,’ an adventurer, author and heiress, Miss Pauline Marvin, paid to accompany a balloon pilot on a journey across the Hudson River and to fly over New York City. While Pauline was having her photo taken in the balloon prior to the flight, a nearby horse bolted, causing the balloon crew members to drop the guy ropes and run in panic. Pauline was set adrift for several hours in the balloon, flying over Manhattan, where she landed safely, only to find herself in another predicament. She was the ultimate damsel in distress, as her guardian repeatedly plotted to kill the heiress so he could keep Pauline’s inheritance for himself. Such went the opening chapter of the 1914 serial motion picture “The Perils of Pauline” followed by over 20 chapters of adventure all starring Pearl White, as Pauline.

As time went on, the warm climate of California drew many of the film stars and much of the movie industry away from the Palisades, however, a number of recent Hollywood hits have come back to be filmed in the Palisades. Notably, in 1988, Tom Hanks became Big at a wishing machine in a carnival at Ross Dock in the Palisades. Then in 1990, Martin Scorsese had three GoodFellas –  Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta – bury a body, and then dig it back up in the woods of the Palisades. Later in 1996, Alec Baldwin with Demi Moore, went to Ross Dock in The Juror. He wrestled with, and later blew up a car full of, bad guys in the Palisades. Also in 1996, Mel Gibson appeared in Ron Howard’s film, Ransom, also shot on the Palisades.

How were the Palisades Cliffs formed? The sandstone layers of rock were deposited in the early Triassic Period by the weathering of mountains and erosion of material which was deposited by rivers in the area. Toward the end of the Triassic, about 200 million years ago, the earth’s crust diverged in many places forming rift zones enabling large quantities of molten rock, or magma, to be released from deep within the Earth. Much of this magma did not breach the surface of the Earth. Instead, it flowed horizontally between the layers of sandstone and shale – like meat in the middle of a sandwich. This intrusive river of hot magma is now known as the Palisades Sill.  (A sill is a body of igneous rock that is parallel to the layers of rock they intrude.) The overlying sandstone rocks were uplifted, weathered and eroded by repeated periods of glaciation, exposing the columnar rocks of the Palisades Sill.

Since 1930, when the George Washington Bridge was completed, New Yorkers can walk, bike, drive or take a bus ride from Manhattan to picnic or hike on the Palisades. Numerous trails and historic sites are located within the Palisades and in 1983 the Palisades was designated as a National Natural Landmark. (http://www.njpalisades.org )

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Palisades: Building blocks for New York City and the Nation

By Marcia Anderson

(Part two of a three-part series on the Palisades.)

The Palisades

The Palisades

Gazing to the west from Manhattan across the Hudson River we are greeted by the majestic Palisades. These cliffs are a 40 mile long geologic sill from Jersey City to Nyack, NY and, at points, several miles wide. The Palisades are 300 feet high at Weehawken, NJ and 540 feet high near Nyack. This mountain has both a significant role in the course of American history and a dynamic geologic history.

The Palisades were first described by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1541 as ‘looking like fence stakes’ along the river.

Why do the Palisades rock columns look like fence stakes? And how did they form? Natural cooling and contraction of basaltic magma creates the cracks and fissures found in diabase basalt. Basalt is one type of magma that has been extruded onto the surface as lava. Diabase is an intrusive rock formed by an identical magma to basalt; however, it cools at some depth in the Earth’s crust. When water collects in the rocks and freezes, it expands, exerting tremendous pressure on the rock (2000lbs/in2). Yearly cycles of freezing and thawing, weather and weaken the rock, creating enlarged cracks and sometimes late spring landslides.

On a rainy November night, in 1776, the invasion of the Red Coats into New Jersey began. Dozens of boats, covered by British warships, landed on a stone jetty in the Hudson River, just below the Palisades. British regulars, officers and German mercenaries disembarked and climbed the road up the Palisades sill. By 10 a.m., on Nov. 21, 1776, drums sounded and 5,000 men, led by Lt. General Lord Charles, Earl of Cornwallis, began to march south to take Fort Lee, the American rebel stronghold. The Cornwallis assault sent George Washington’s Continental Army into panic and they desperately retreated across NJ, all the way to Delaware. General Washington and his troops re-grouped over the harsh winter to later defeat Cornwallis …and the rest is history.

During the 1800s, millions of cubic yards of Palisades basalt and diabase were extracted at the Englewood Cliffs quarry for railroad ballast and aggregate that helped to build New York City. A sandstone layer was also mined and used to construct many of the famous New York brownstone buildings.

We can thank the NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs for helping to protect the Palisades from total destruction by mining interests.  Land was donated by the widow of E.H. Harriman (President of Union Pacific Railroad) followed by donations from George Perkins, John D. Rockefeller and J. Pierpont Morgan. This, along with state and federal monies was used to build Henry Hudson Drive and the Palisades Interstate Parkway (1947).

By 1930, the George Washington Bridge was built, enabling New Yorkers to walk, bike, drive, or take a bus ride from Manhattan to the Palisades.  Enjoy a hike on any one of the numerous trails and historic sites located within the Palisades.   The Fort Lee Historic Park Visitor Center, an 18th century soldier hut and campsite, is a great place to start.  (http://www.njpalisades.org )

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When Dinosaurs Roamed the Streets of New York City: Part One of a Three-Part Series on the Palisades

By Marcia Anderson

Rutiodon Manhattanensis

Rutiodon Manhattanensis

A little over 100 years ago, “Dinosaur Fever” hit New York City. On December 21, 1910, the front page of the New York Times announced the discovery of a crocodile-like dinosaur that once basked in the sun on the beaches of NYC and the Palisades. This was followed by a Christmas Day full-page article entitled, “When the Giant Dinosaur walked down Broadway.”

The well preserved skeleton of a 30-40 foot long dinosaur, standing 15-18 feet tall was discovered in the Palisades by a group of Columbia University students. The bones were found just south of the Palisades Interstate Park’s boundary in Edgewater, N.J., about a half mile from where the new George Washington Bridge was to be built. The bones were in a layer of soft shale at the edge of the Hudson River, embedded in a 5,000 pound block of stone that was eventually cut from surrounding rock and transported to its new home in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

He was of the genus Phytosaurus, an aquatic crocodile-like reptile with a long-toothed snout, a long flat tail and eyes and nostrils that were set on top of his head. The reptile was from the late Triassic Age, about 210 million years ago and was aptly named “Clepsysaurus manhattanesis.” Other Triassic brethren found along the Palisades were Coelacanth fish and Icarosaurus, one of the earliest winged reptiles. The NYC/NJ region was a veritable “Triassic Park” at that time.

The curator from the AMNH described the creature as “a cross between a crocodile and ostrich,” on mega steroids. A relative of an Iguanodon, he was originally thought to be an herbivorous dinosaur (a plant-eater), but is now believed to be carnivorous. The beasts roamed at will all along the banks of the Hudson, when most of North America lay near the Equator and enjoyed a sub-tropical climate.

Geology of the Palisades: The sandstone and shale layers of rock in which he and other creatures of the same period were found, were deposited in the early Triassic Period by the weathering of mountains and erosion of material deposited by rivers in the area. Toward the end of the Triassic, about 200 million years ago, the supercontinent, Pangaea, began to break apart.  That was when eastern North America began to separate from northwestern Africa, creating the Atlantic Ocean. The earth’s crust diverged in many places forming rift zones enabling large quantities of molten rock, or magma, to be released from deep within the Earth. Much of this magma did not breach the surface of the Earth. Instead, it flowed horizontally between the layers of sandstone and shale – like meat in the middle of a sandwich. The intense heat and pressure of the magma intrusion metamorphosed the surrounding sedimentary layers and thus preserved creatures trapped in them for us to find millions of years later. This particular intrusive river of hot magma cooled and is now known as the Palisades Sill.

Feel free to re-discover this early New Yorker for yourself and give the kids a thrill at the same time. He now resides in the AMNH Hall of Vertebrate Origins, as AMNH 4991,or Rutiodon manhattanensis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rutiodon_manhattanensis_AMNH_4991.jpg  His bones are still embedded in the black stone in which he was found, flanked by skeletons and skulls from similar animals. The American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/) is located at 79th Street and Central Park West, New York City.

 

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.