Friday, October 14, 2011

Penn Station eagles come to roost in the Highlands

Several eagles from New York left Manhattan in 1963, taking a strange migration to places far afield. Some roosted and remain in the same locations to this day. Others have disappeared, never to be seen again, despite the fact they weigh well over two tons. (Yes, when these eagles sit around the house, they sit around the house.)

Two are located in Ringwood, guarding the entrance to Skylands Manor, which is where Ivan and I found them this past weekend. Gotta love it when our interests converge.

Why are these raptors so darn big? Some odd breed? Perhaps escapees from an updated Jurassic Park?

Not quite. The Skylands eagles are among the last remnants of the old New York Pennsylvania Station, which was demolished in 1963 to make way for the new Madison Square Garden. The passageways and corridors beneath the Garden are still considered Penn Station, of course, but they're in no way equivalent to the grand marble structure that once stood there.  Based on the Roman baths of Caracalla, the old station stood majestically on Seventh Avenue at 34th Street, with 14 large marble eagles and a host of smaller ones perched high above at strategic positions.

When the original station was pulled down, the Pennsylvania Railroad was inundated with requests for the eagles. Two found homes in front of the new Penn Station, but no markers explain their history, leaving me to wonder if anyone makes the connection. Another is at Cooper Union in Lower Manhattan. Others are at train stations, and four even grace a bridge in Philadelphia.

All of the large 14 are accounted for, according to this informative website, but the eight smaller ones, well, no-one is sure where they are, apparently. These aren't the only vestiges of the old Penn Station to rest in New Jersey. Some of the other statuary atop the station were rescued from a landfill and brought to Ringwood State Forest. I seem to recall seeing them there several years ago, still resting in pieces waiting to be reassembled, but now they're being kept at a New Jersey Transit training facility in Newark, as reported on this website.

Other, less artistically-important pieces of the Penn Station facade remain in the same less noble resting places they were carted to nearly 50 years ago. Intrepid writer and explorer Robert Sullivan wrote about his own search for Penn Station in New Jersey in his informative and entertaining book The Meadowlands. He tells the story a lot better than I ever could, but he ultimately found several Penn columns in a truck yard off Penhorn Creek in Secaucus. It is true, it seems: whatever you can think of is or was, at some point, carted to the Meadowlands. Anyone else getting the idea for a Hidden New Jersey trip to Secaucus?

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