Throwback Thursday No. 36


Images from the Film Archives — 1996

Spring Birches - Liberty State Park, NJ  © jj raia

Spring Birches – Liberty State Park, NJ © jj raia

Through the efforts of local advocates, Liberty State Park was finally opened in 1976 as New Jersey’s largest urban park. Located on land previously used as a major railroad transportation hub by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, it is also home to the Liberty Science Center, a destination for students from all over the state to visit and truly experience science in a more hands on way, and includes the largest planetarium in the western hemisphere. The refurbished CRRNJ terminal building also resides in the park where countless immigrants passed through on their way to destinations throughout America from 1892 until 1954.

Additionally, the area was a vast railroad freight yard where long ago, freight cars from the west were loaded onto barges and floated across the Hudson River to Manhattan and Brooklyn, avoiding the long trip along the Hudson to Albany and back down the east side of the river. I actually worked in that yard in the late 1970’s loading those barges early in my railroad career, shoving freight cars onto the barges, and many times I thought the barge would capsize due to imbalances during the loading process! It’s not that it never happened, but I was lucky that it never did while I was working there. I found it pretty interesting to learn from one of the railroad “old-timers” that this yard was the staging area for the construction of NY’s Verranzano Narrows Bridge. Huge sections of the bridge’s roadway were contructed there fromsteel brought in by rail, then loaded onto barges and floated over to the site, where they were hoisted up into position. As a young boy, I actually watched all the bridge construction since I lived nearby.

It was during a visit to the science center with my kids that I saw an area within the park that contained a very large stand of young birches growing out of what appeared to be the old coal beds from the days when the railroad complex was in full swing and still using coal for steam engines. I thought to visit under a cloudy sky for the even light it would provide to photograph the brilliant yellow green leaves in early spring against the bright white bark of the birches. It was the closest thing that even came close to the mountainsides of aspens in the American West I’d seen only in photos, which years later, would eventually provide the motivation to travel out west to see them first hand.

I would subsequently return again to the park several times in winter, once to find many of the young birches bent over by the weight of a wet snowfall the previous day, and another time for a snow covered sunrise, each time coming away with some decent photos. The challenge here was to convey a sense of being in a pristine area of woodlands, and keeping the sky out of the frame since the area was flat. In addition, long distances also needed to be eliminated as well since it would most likely include some buildings or other man-made structures. It was also difficult to find some kind of order among the chaos of all the slender trunks and branches that would coalesce into a composition. The soft overcast light provided plenty of time to wander the area until something suitable came into view. It was these triplets that finally fulfilled the basic focal point in the final photo, and placing them dead center did not seem to be breaking any rules… but it did. And I do have to mention that I served 5-weeks of jailtime for that offense.

It was a beautifully open, natural oasis in an area completely congested with concrete and asphalt looking across New York Harbor to the crowded skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. It was an unexpected find in a state, and espcially in this area,  known for not being the “Garden State”.

2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday No. 36

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