Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is the Monkey Man Real?

August 30, 2008

The post on the Hoboken Monkey Man is gathering more and more comments the older it gets. It seems to be time to revisit this phemonenon and share with you some of the new comments in case you're not following it.

First of all, Slezak felt the post should have a picture and he provided this one with the note, "The monkey man story needs a picture...half man half ape...and he's got blue eyes. HUMM ??? (Ol' Blue Eyes). He must be from Hoboken."

But with all the controversy, and having decided the whole story was not only a hoax but the hoax of a hoax, that is, somebody made up a story that had never even existed and said it happened in Hoboken. Are you following me here?

Then I got this comment from Jack D: "I was born and raised in Hoboken and I can unequivically tell you that there is, or at least was, something to the Hoboken Monkeyman myth.

"It was October of about 1981. My girlfriend and I were in my car on River Road, (what is now called Sinatra Drive), when something moving in the trees caught my eye. I looked up through the windshield and there it was. A monkey-like creature, dangling from a tree, grunting at us. Its hair was long and matted and it wore animal skins. It really appeared to be a Neanderthal man. I was shocked. I jumped from my car and yelled something threatening. The damn thing grunted at me, jumped from the tree and moved off into the woods. That was the only time I ever saw or heard of the Monkeyman."

I had to admit I was somewhat taken aback by this eyewitness account. I responded:

"Maybe this was some scary old homeless dude, or a drugged-out hippie left over from the 60s, or a monkey that made its way to Hoboken from some distant New Jersey circus. But Jack saw something, and he doesn't claim it abducted him and took him to a space ship to perform scientific experiments.

I don't think we've heard the last of this."

I followed this up by the rather rude observation that Jack and his girlfriend might have been doing something a little risky in a parked car on River Road in 1981, suggesting there might have been alcohol or controlled substances involved

slezak came back with:

"Seeing is believing...Jack D. seen 'im, that's proof enough for me. Altho where he saw him is in question. ? The woods on River Road adjoins STEVENS CAMPUS, the same place I saw the half buried statues from the old HAUNTED CASTLE. STEVENS had a secret passageway to SIBYLS CAVE. As a boy I had been in both places...spooky places back in the 50s, I must say.

"Parking on River Road with a girl, just enjoying the view of Manhattan (Yah right) was not a good idea. That's where the cops slept."

He digresses to suggest where parking might be safer: "Under the viaduct was not a good idea the old 7-Up factory was the best place to park in them days. (not to get off the subject)."

Seriously, folks. Slezak has this to suggest as the reality of the creature: "The monkey man (I THINK) lived in a Stevens campus dorm, a fraternity prank gone wrong...OR WAS IT??? You decide."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A New Name for Hoboken

August 23, 2008

Betty and I were having a wee drinkie at the Elysian last week, talking about what we liked and didn't like about Hoboken. She had done a little research on the Internet about the history, and I had too, a year ago, before I made the move here from Lower Alabama.

We admire the city's elegant old neighborhoods, and its gritty soul beneath. We're students of the days when it was a rough waterfront town, and its beginnings in the 18th century as a resort for the wealthy of Manhattan. We like the openness of its people, and we enjoy learning about its happier days. We admire its ability to withstand the changes of the 21st century with its raffish underpinnings unscathed. It harbors the paradox of its age contrasted to the youthful hormones walking its streets. It has survived corruption, graft and desolation; yet it is hardy, hopeful and always interesting.

There is so much going for Hoboken that the one thing we felt was working against it was its very name: Ho-Bo-Ken. It could be native American, referring to the peace pipe; it could mean an early manufacturer of pipes in the area. The original name was apparently Hoboke, which the Dutch settlers thought sounded funny. They added the "n" which really didn't improve matters, not to our midcentury American ears. Does it refer to hoboes? There is some evidence that the word "hobo" was coined to describe the guys living under the viaduct some 100 years ago.

Who knows? One thing is for sure, the name "Hoboken" is bound to get a laugh from those who have never experienced the city.

Betty and I tossed around names that might fit. We didn't see any reason to come up with a totally unknown new name like Elegance, New Jersey, but something that might have some meaning here. I remembered that the Stevens family, founders of Hoboken, chose the best spot in town to build their castle--an overlook with the best views of the river and of the Manhattan skyline. The castle has long since been demolished for a more utilitarian building at Stevens College.

However, their name for the spot on the grounds considered the high point of Hoboken remains, and I hereby put it forth for consideration for a more appropriate name for the town itself.

Castle Point, New Jersey. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Looking Back: Hoboken in the 1950's

August 19, 2008

An email from Jim B. is worthy of a post for you who remember the old days in Hoboken.

Late comments, but the whole area of Hudson south of 4th Street was all related to the ships and liners coming in to the Port. Most of these were removed before the 50's, when the Port Authority took over the piers and the area was really cleaned up.

Above 4th Street, Hudson was all residential (and Stevens) up to 11th Street. From 11th Street up on the river side, there was Maxwell House, the can company, the Bethlehem Steel shipyards. On the West side of the street it was residential up to 13th street, where there was a company that made aluminum pie tins, a gas station, and some bars. When they put out the garbage, it usually contained defective pie tins, that were great for skimming all over the street.

There was a very slow green and yellow train that traveled down Hudson to River Street, where it would pick up freight cars from a float bridge, meaning the freight cars would be barged to Hoboken. The tracks were right in the middle of Hudson Street, and the trains could do down River Street (now Sinatra Drive). If you placed a penny on the tracks the train would flatten it.

The train would blow its horn if it could not get through with cars double parked. Elysian Park looked out over the float bridge, and there were usually freight cars parked there. We often got in trouble by playing on the freight cars, jumping from one car to another, climbing on the ladders, and opening the doors. They were always empty when I was there.

14th Street had more bars, a pool hall, and some other stores. The pool hall was always very busy. There was a party fishing boat that came in at about 15th and Hudson and people could go out to the Bay to fish.

From 12th and Hudson to 14th and Hudson, by the shipyards, were the streets that we played basketball, football and stickball on. The basketball hoop was on the 12th Street gate to the shipyards, which was good since it was lighted during evenings. Stickball and touch football were played along the Machine Shop outside. It was narrow and hemmed in between the walls and cars. On the Northwest corner of 13th street, we played stickball, pitching from the shipyards to the wall, and hits depended on how far up the wall you hit. Of course it was an out of the pitcher could catch the ball on a fly off the wall.

Both Hudson and River Streets from Observer Highway to 4th street were historically the Barbary Coast. It was a very tough area, lots and lots of bars, not the kind that make martinis. Most bars in Hoboken only served beer and mixed drinks. A mixed drink is a beer and a shot. The shipyard often had people working three shifts, 8 AM to 4 PM, 4 PM to midnight, and midnight to 8 AM. The 14th street bars opened up for two hours before and after each shift to accommodate the workers. Bars in Hoboken opened earlier than bars in NY, and some drinkers would leave the NY City bars when they closed and then came to Hoboken to continue drinking. I don't remember wine at any of the bars uptown, however at some of the Italian bars and restaurants there was always wine, I only remember red wine in tumblers, not in stemmed wine glasses.

The Clam Broth House was different. There was a bar for men only, and a dining room for both men and women. The bar had pots with clam broth where you could fill ceramic cups with the broth. When you ate the steamers, you threw the shells on the floor. Usually you had beer with the steamers. They also served great sandwiches. I only ate in the dining room a few times, it was not memorable like the bar. (Believe it or not women were not allowed in the bar up to the 1970's). The Elysian and Helmer's look pretty close to how they used to look. The Elysian had the swinging doors you would see in Westerns, but real doors outside of that which could be locked. Behind the bar was a portrait of John Grogan, former mayor. There was a pool table in what is now the dining room. Beers were served in small glasses, not the pints they are served in today.

I'm here to tell you not much of any of it looks the way Jim remembers it today. Helmer's, I'm told has been completely restored since it burned some time ago. It has been brought back in exact detail. Work is being done to bring back the Clam Broth House, but of course they will not replicate its atmosphere, with those clam shell discarded onto the floor and the cups of steaming clam broth to take the chill off.

Everybody agrees you really wouldn't want the waterfront back the way it was--grimy, smelly, and dangerous--but it can't be denied the city had a style all its own. We newbies still get a sense of it, but we can never truly know.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Paradise on the Palisades

August 18, 2008

What New Jersey child born between 1898 and 1971 doesn't have a story to tell about adventures at the famous Palisades Amusement Park at Fort Lee? It seems it was a magical place for youngsters, teenagers on dates, and families with children of all ages.

A little research tells me it was started as a trolley park, but when amusement rides and games were added, it had no equal. The Nicholas and Joseph Schenck, also in the budding movie business in Fort Lee, bought the place and named in Palisades Amusement Park and never looked back, not even when they took their business to Hollywood and helped create another industry altogether.

Palisades holds many memories for people who grew up in Hoboken.

Here's what "Downtown Chick" wrote me: Palisades Park was a short bus ride away, and the times were slower. Many kids starting going without parents at a very early age.

I think I was 12 when a bunch of us hopped the bus with towels under arms and headed for that fabulous place. It was the only pool I've ever seen that had waves. It also started out like the ocean, just barely covering the feet & then just got deeper and deeper. It had an actual sandy beach. No seement pond there! This was our Riviera. Just a short bus ride from Hoboken to Cliffside Park & you were in Xanadu.
Just a bunch of high rises there now. I wish I could find the story my son wrote. He was born in 1961 so he had a few good years at the Park. It was a wonderful story about a young boy's disappointment upon finding out the Park was closing.

Slezak wrote of the park:
How can anybody forget Palisades Park, after eating a hot dog at Callahan’s? I seen PAUL ANKA there...the rock and roll shows...for parking!

Swimming was great with fake waves. As a kid, BUSTER CRABBE, remember him (FLASH GORDON)? He used to try to teach kids how to swim there. I cried too much. He left me alone. I still can’t swim.

Up the viaduct...climbing the 100 steps to North Street Park to swim, that’s where I almost drowned...I got pushed the deep part...great memories.

That Slezak. All memories are great, even almost drowning.

You can't stop me, even if you've heard this one (I ran it before on the post called Days of Ice Cream and Roses), from Dennis ("Rabbi"):

We were Mousie, Eddie, and Dennis. Poor Mousie had to get all his teeth pulled out due to a gum desease, but this also had a bright spot. While riding on the bus up to Palisades Park, we would spot some girls to go swimming with and maybe go on rides with, if we got a kiss, or two.

If Mousie thought they were ugly, he would take out his teeth and smile at them!! Oh! It really was a laugh. One time on the diving board, he dove into the water and lost his teeth! Don't ask me how he did this. We had to go diving for the darn things and we got them. We three were from different parts of Hoboken, yet were fast friends.

No doubt it was a wonderful place, with all the rides, the rock and roll shows in the 1950s, and those mysterious waves in the water! It had to come to an end. According to Wikipedia the park was a victim of its own success. It was too popular for its own good, with generations who had grown up there, bringing their families. In its last days it was just too expensive to operate and accommodate the crowds who never stopped coming.

But think of all the years of fun that kept it alive for so long! It will live forever in the memories it generated.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Beautiful Day in Barcelona

August 17, 2008

It is the latest Woody Allen film, enjoying rave reviews, and because I'm just a 15-minute subway ride from Manhattan, I had the chance to catch it yesterday, the day after it opened.

Since I live so close to the city, I much more hip than I once was about what I should wear to the movie.The chic-est attire--and this will be of interest to my readers in Alabama--is blue jeans with a black tee-shirt. It's the uniform that unites the beautiful people around me, but all summer I've felt more like living in my white slacks with little tops of various colors, and, God help me, the little floaty tops that look so cute on slender young bodies. The weather is cooler now that fall is thinking about coming to the neighborhood; it is crisply non-humid with a high of something like 79 degrees. Fashion decrees that I've waited long enough--it's time to break out the dark-washed jeans. I wanted to look somewhat casually elegant although bohemian and clever (it is a Woody Allen film, after all). I added a little makeup and my garnet earrings, and was probably overdressed for the occasion. It's not as if anybody would have noticed.

The movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is playing in a cineplex in Chelsea, just three subway stops from Hoboken, and just a few blocks from where I once lived. Walking to the theatre I passed the Chelsea Hotel and the sweet little library on West 23rd where I used to take my daughter just about every week. Going to see it brought up a combination of emotions--old home week and pleasure at pulling off a look that felt to me absolutely up to date. Plus, my feet didn't hurt, for a change. I've found a pair of sandals that are not flip-flops and feel good on my feet.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an elegant, offbeat romance with absolutely ravishing scenes of the quirky old city of Barcelona, and some pretty ravishing love scenes with Scarlett Johannsen, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz. Bardem, unknown to me until now, is a new male sex symbol on the order of television's character "House," as played by the shaggy and unconventional Hugh Laurie. I had also not seen the other star of the film, Rebecca Hall, who did an appealing job with the role of the uptight-but-conflicted friend of the more sexually adventurous Johannsen.

But in my mind the picture belongs to Penelope Cruz. We've seen her be beautiful, as in Vanilla Sky; we've seen that she can act, as in Volver, and in this one we see her in a spot-on portrayal of a passionate, neurotic artist who believes herself to be a genius, and before she's through with us we're convinced she may be right.

No doubt this is another chick flick. It's beautifully photographed, like a travel video of Barcelona, with plots and subplots about beautiful people falling in and out of love. It's Woody Allen telling us a rather complicated little story about people we're not likely to meet, drawing us into their tale and letting us go without making any particular statement about them, exposing us to a dreamy lifestyle, and then letting us go. I sat ensconced in my own chic-ness, wallowing in my aging chick-ness, and leaving with that wistful feeling that reminds me of who and where I really am as well as where I've been and where I'd like to go.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Hoboken Monkey Man

August 14, 2008

There was a time when a creature, half monkey, half man, stalked the halls of Hoboken's schools and held the student body in terror. Maybe he was a man with the head of a monkey; maybe he was just a guy wearing a monkey mask. It was said that he abducted children, threw them out the school windows, and even murdered a teacher.

The Hoboken police department took the story seriously enough to establish a task force to find and apprehend the perpetrator. It came to naught. Slezak put me on the story a few months ago when he wrote "lots of people claim to have seen him...but never caught him. (HE'S OUR BIG FOOT.)"

It has been said that he could be seen late at night, roaming the streets, spotted by barflies and inebriated little old ladies. Such tales exist wherever bars exist, so I tend to discount them, but there is something interesting in this one.

Since learning of him, I've been having a little trouble placing the monkey man in time. Slezak was in high school in the 1950s; the Internet says he roamed the streets in the '80s, and whatever it was seems to be dead and gone.

My readers are well informed of the legends and the reality of growing up in Hoboken in decades past. If anyone has a monkey man story, let it be known here -- or, if I get no comments, let us lay the story to rest once and for all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Avenue

August 11, 2008

I used to say that for a city to attract new residents it had to have water nearby. Now I say for it to have lasting appeal it needs a major gathering place, a central hotel like Wilmington, Delaware or a wide, cafe-lined boulevard like, say, Hoboken.

This is what I wrote on my old blog in June of 2007 after my first visit here:

Freeze, Hoboken! Don’t let the developers in to tear down your glorious old buildings on Washington Street and put up something cheaper and tackier. Stay as sweetly raffish and wise as you are today, with Italian restaurants, bakeries, and row houses all over. The casual observer sees Catholic churches everywhere, and a beautiful Tudor style Episcopal church (with an announcement on its board outside of a celebration of the history of Gay Pride Week) as the main street becomes residential and trees crop up.

The Hoboken "attitude" is well-known. The surprise after actually visiting is how small-town nice the place is. One short shot on the train and you're in the West Village, in New York itself, but ignoring that, the small city of Hoboken (pop. 38,000, one mile square and so tightly bound by Newark on one side and Jersey City on the other, unable to grow) has a personality all its own.

On my second visit, last fall when I came up here apartment-hunting, I continued my observation of the main drag: It was a perfect October day, a little breezy and the sky a bright blue, as I walked up Washington Street (it seems to be just about impossible to take a photo of that street without half of the street being in shadow, by the way) and saw the people chatting on the sidewalks, pushing baby strollers, and drinking coffee in the many sidewalk venues. There was a happy, outgoing American attitude in what was essentially a Old Town atmosphere -- a very appealing combination.

I had a salad at a restaurant with tile floors and again the dark wood walls, and walked up to the new building where I found a tenant going inside who let me in to look at my new apartment and investigate where the electrical outlets are and walk the room for rough measurements so I could decide what furniture to bring. I stopped in the office of one of the realtors I had spoken with on the phone to tell her I had found a place and wouldn't be needing her services. She had found a place she wanted to show me in Guttenberg, but I was sure I could never love Guttenberg. She gave me a map of Hoboken and when I told her the buildings I loved she recommended I look for the library. When I heard her say, "We have a beautiful library!" I thought of how many times I'd heard that exclaimed about the unappealing structure that is the new library in Fairhope, and my heart sank.

I needn't have worried. Historic preservation has a place in Hoboken. The library there was probably built in the 1880's; it is small, Victorian and cozy. It smells of books and only has two computers. I hope it has friends, friends that don't think the best thing you can do for a library is make it five times the size you need "to allow for growth."

Hoboken, known as the Mile Square City, is actually two miles square, but it cannot grow because it is enclosed by neighboring cities. It has a historical museum which is ironically in a new building, and the display there now is of Hoboken's musical heritage. There is a corner devoted to favorite son Frank Sinatra, of course, and displays of the poster from Hair (authors Gerome Ragney and James Rado, who were hippie actors in the 1960's, lived in a warehouse loft in Hoboken when they wrote the show.) Stephen Foster apparently lived in Hoboken for a time. It was an interesting show, and I had a good time browsing through it.

On my travels through town I actually did meet a bona fide curmudgeon, a man with shoulder-length hair who had set up a table with old books and records for sale on the sidewalk in front of his apartment. We talked about the books and records, and he told me "Hoboken isn't what it used to be," and he gave me an inside track about the corruption in politics and the snobs who have moved into town. I know where he lives and plan to stop by again when I'm in the neighborhood.

Since I've started posting about Hoboken here, I've gotten lots of traffic and lots of email from Hobokenians too. It's as if my new life is calling to me. Now for the next three weeks I've got a lot of packing to do.

The rest is history. I packed, I moved, and here I am. From real Hobokenites I've learned that most of them refer to Washington Street as "The Avenue," and don't know why. But it is undoubtably the heart of town, and, although not frozen, it is going to stay special as long as there is a Hoboken. Hoboken has water, too; the Hudson River which separates it from Manhattan and offers as beautiful a skyline view as you'll find anywhere in the world.

Oh, and as for that curmudgeon. I've been by his corner many times and never laid eyes on him again. I hope he still lives here and has another sidewalk sale in the fall. This time I'm looking for a Jimmy Roselli record.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


August 10, 2008

It was a shock to learn that the rantings on Fox News and The National Enquirer about John Edwards were more than that; that it was actually true that John Edwards had succumbed to the siren song of sex while married to an admirable and attractive woman. Not that he didn't seem the type, not that he should have been wiser or more careful -- just, well, damn it, I just expected more of him.

My friends warned me, he's superficial, he pays $400 just to get his hair cut, he smiles too much, he's too good-looking. But I was so impressed with his programs of help for the poor--never a vote-getting platform--his southern ease, his earnestness. I had high hopes for him, and now I can't help but think his career is over. I liked his wife, I liked his family, I felt I knew him, and I thought there was more there than met the eye.

Why would it matter to me about this brief dalliance? It would appear that it was an irresistible urge, the kind that it is human to give into and assume it's what one deserves. As Edward VII said when he abdicated for Wallis Simpson, "What's the good of being king if I can't have what I want?" The press is calling Miss Hunter his mistress, but that really doesn't seem the right term for it. It could have been a love affair, but it wasn't much of one. And it couldn't have been worth losing what he'd spent his lifetime working toward.

I usually don't judge people about such matters. These things happen. Elizabeth may have been furious, as he reports, but it was clearly up to her to forgive or not, and she did. I'm disappointed in the man all the same, and I regret that such a public humiliation had to come in such a tawdry way with this particular woman, that there was a payoff and a baby involved. I'm sorry, but there will always be a cloud over him. It was more than a momentary lack of judgment. It was a deal breaker.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Waterfront Revisited

August 6, 2008
It's been so long since I put a fresh post on this blog I'd almost forgotten how. Time to go for a safe subject that everybody in Hoboken can relate to.

On the Waterfront was one of those unforgettable movies that put Marlon Brando up in the top tier of movies stars of its day. But that's history -- the part of On the Waterfront that my readers relate to is that it is set in Hoboken. Not one of my emails from Hobokenites and/or former ones fails to mention what they were doing when the movie was filmed here.

This from Jim B: I don't have any real personal memories about On the Waterfront, but I always enjoyed watching it, It was based on a story of a priest from Xavier in NYC. There were so many real things in it, the pidgeon coops on the roofs, a lot was filmed at St Peter and Paul. Some scenes were pretty funny, from one view the picture was at the 10th Street Park, and another view from Church Square Park. The Holland American lines landed in Hoboken, and we sometimes saw the arrival, where photographers would take pictures of the movie stars on the ships.

Slezak adds: THE PIDGEONS was our city bird...pidgeon coops on our roofs...a hobby for them downtown, JUST LIKE YOU SEEN IN THE MOVIE On the Waterfront. Eva Marie Saint and Marlon (Bud ) Brando (BUD was the name his friends called him). That photo was taken on what is now called Sinatra Park...right on the waterfront, maybe 100 feet from the Hudson River’s edge. YES I skipped school that day along with my friends who did the same to watch them film parts of that movie. On the Waterfront was named best American movie ever made. The film crew was very nice to us. They just said to us be quiet and just stand back that was 1954. I was age 15 that part of the movie took about 15 takes and all day to do it. She did a lot of running. Brando had the easy part. He just stood there.

This came from Connie whose family has owned a bakery in Hoboken for generations:

When On the Waterfront was being filmed in 4th St. Park, I would stop by on my lunch hour to watch what was going on. My father was one of the extras in the movie (he worked on the docks and then was in the courtroom scene).

And writes Vincent, born and raised in Hoboken and a lifelong film buff: I watched a lot of On the Waterfront being filmed. The best time I had was when they were doing late night filming in the Court St. alley behind the Fabian Theatre. It was the scene where Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint were chased by the truck. I was right behind the camera while they were filming and it was great. At my last class reunion one of my friends recalled that during the filming most of the cast went to her house for her mother's cooking.

This will no doubt trigger even more memories of that event in Hoboken history. I wonder if everybody skipped school or Mr. Stover went ahead and declared it a holiday.