It was an honor to perform the grand finale of my Walking the Old Boonton Line book tour at the Newark Public Library. The show took place on October 18, 2023, in Centennial Hall, one of the most beautiful rooms in one of the most gorgeous libraries in the state.
Leading up to the show, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself to the people of Newark and share a little bit about why I'm qualified to speak about their fine city. To this end, I created a series of social media posts that began on October 1st and counted down the days to the 18th. The theme of each post focused on specific Newark adventures I've had over the years, both on and off the abandoned rails.
The night of the event was amazing! I had an incredible time bringing the crowd on a virtual walk from Montclair to Jersey City on the abandoned Old Boonton Line. The audience was fantastic, and they asked a ton of thoughtful questions about the abandoned tracks and also some questions about the material I posted in my Newark Retrospective.
After the event was over, it seemed a shame not to do something with the retrospective pics and videos, so I collected the images and videos here. The posts are presented in chronological order for your enjoyment. If you want to see the original media, you can check them out at instagram.com/wheeler_antabanez
October 1, 2023 - The countdown begins! Eighteen days until my live performance of Walking the Old Boonton Line at the Newark Public Library. This is the grand finale of my book tour - last show - last chance.
This first post in the Newark Retrospective is from the Riverside Industrial Park, featured in my book Walking the Newark Branch. Originally known as the Patton Paint Company, this semi-abandoned superfund site has evolved into one of the sickest graffiti spots in North Jersey.
The buildings on the property are ancient and dangerous, the soil is highly contaminated from decades of industrial fallout, and there are underground tanks filled to the brim with toxic waste. This type of hardcore abandonment draws me like a moth to a flame.
Do you have any crazy stories from Riverside Industrial? If so, I would love to hear them! For more info on Riverside Industrial and the Patton Paint Company, check out Walking the Newark Branch by Wheeler Antabanez. The book is available on amazon, and the movie is free to watch on youtube.com/wheeler666
October 2, 2023 - The countdown continues! Seventeen days until my live performance of Walking the Old Boonton Line at the Newark Public Library.
Today's post is straight from the edge of the Passaic River in Newark's Ironbound, where, in 2007, I stumbled upon a cluster of discarded gravestones along the banks. This discovery led to an article in Weird NJ magazine asking for assistance solving the mystery of how they got there.
With the help of the Weird NJ fan base, I tracked down the final resting place of Nina Leskitz and Louis Holzer, which led to a second follow-up article answering many of my own questions and the questions sent in by readers.
As you can tell by the video, Frank and I had a blast trying to get this damn thing out of there. The stone was much heavier than I originally judged it to be, but since it was all for fun, it didn't seem like too much work at the time.
This gravestone mystery was one of my favorite Newark escapades, and I'm glad I finally get to share this video as part of my Brick City retrospective.
October 3, 2023 - Today's post is from a high-octane, adrenaline-fueled speed run down the lower Passaic River aboard my boat, the SEVAS NATAS. Captain Frank V was piloting his boat, the Jersey Tomato, alongside the Sevas Natas, while Rusty Tagliareni of @antiquity_echoes snapped photos and shot video.
We did this photoshoot in 2013 for my book and movie project, Wheeler on the Passaic, which is still in the works ten years later.
During the summers of 2012 and 2013, I docked my boat in the water at Rapp's Boatyard on the Passaic River to patrol the lower river and Newark Bay every day the weather would allow. The mission was to compile as much photo, video, and written material as possible to create a book and movie about the experience.
During the two years I kept my boat at Rapp's, I took over 50,000 photos and filled four composition books with accounts of my daily explorations. When I finally typed this ship's-log into the computer, it was over 300 pages long, and later, through the editing process, it bloomed into an 80,000-word non-fiction novel, which I am still tinkering with to this day.
Rusty did a great job documenting these high-speed runs up and down the river. I wanted to save the photos he took for the book I'm writing, but this personal retrospective of Newark wouldn't be complete without a post about Passaic River boating, so please enjoy the images. Man, those were good times!!!!!!
October 3, 2023 - One of the weirdest things I discovered when I started exploring the Passaic River in Newark was the mysterious doorway on the side of Route 21. I always wondered what it was for, and when I started docking my boat right across the river at Rapp's Boatyard, I asked Mr. Rapp if he knew the door's purpose.
He told me that there used to be an oil company across the river in North Newark that utilized barges to transport oil shipments to and from the facility. When Route 21 was expanded and modernized in the 1950s, this company was one of the strongest detractors of the plan.
To give up access to the river would kill their business, so they fought the eminent domain tooth and nail. According to Mr. Rapp, in a rare concession by the state, it was agreed that a tunnel would be constructed beneath McCarter Highway so the oil could be pumped out to the barges without disrupting the flow of the highway.
The oil company is long gone, and the tunnel is flooded and abandoned, but the doorway on the side of Route 21 is still there. The oil company property was recently redeveloped, and now, a new parking lot is creeping up to the edge of the entrance.
One other interesting fact about the doorway, if you love the Soprano's as much as I do, is that the tunnel beneath Route 21 marks the exact place where the film begins to roll on the WR Draw Bridge in the introduction to the show. I included a photo so you can see what I'm talking about. It's as if David Chase pressed record just as Tony drove over the tunnel. Pretty damn cool!!!!
This is another secret spot I haven't discussed because I was saving the photos and footage for my book and movie #wheeleronthepassiac. Still, as it turns out, I'm happy to be able to share it as part of my Newark retrospective leading up to my show at the Newark Public Library.
October 4, 2023 - When I tell people I love to explore the Passaic River, they inevitably ask if I ever saw a dead body. Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
It happened in 2012 when I was out on the boat with my wife. We were cruising past the Diamond Alkali cleanup in Newark, and for some reason, all the dredging was stopped, and the workers were standing around doing nothing. Then we saw a guy in a suit and tie, obviously police, standing by the bulkhead railing, staring into the river.
My wife and I looked at each other in shock, realizing that a dead body must have washed up alongside the Diamond dredge site. I cut the engine, and we idled around to film the police procedures as they unfolded. We watched the process of looping a rope around the corpse and towing it slowly to a landing area, where they put it on a stretcher and brought it ashore.
I wrote about the experience's impact on us in my book, 13 From the Swamp. We never did find out who the body belonged to or how he or she got into the river, but we mourned for them nonetheless. A tiny article was published online, saying that a body was found in the Passaic River, but no follow-up ever appeared.
October 5, 2023 - This building used to be located at the end of Blanchard Street on the Passaic River in Newark. It's now demolished, but I was lucky enough to get to know the layout pretty well before they tore it down.
When I acted as a guide for NPR back in 2010, the ship at the pier was sunk but still in decent shape, and the cars that eventually lined the property hadn't appeared yet. I took Art Silverman from All Things Considered to the spot, and he asked a truck driver parked on Blanchard Street what the building was used for.
The trucker told us he thought it was originally a brewery but wasn't exactly sure. Judging by the tanks inside, he was probably right, but I tried to find out more about the property and didn't have much luck.
Every time I walked through this building, a different car would be stripped to the frame and a new hole dug for environmental testing. There were also a couple of people living in there, so it wasn't exactly safe.
One time, while rewatching the Sopranos, I suddenly jumped out of my seat when I happened to catch the sunken ship and the white building on the show. If I remember correctly, they were all sitting around watching TV at Satriale's when Senator Zellman came on screen to announce the Esplanade.
I wish I could find out exactly which episode that was so I could go back and watch it again, and I would also love to learn more about that old brewery that used to stand on the banks.
October 6, 2023 - Another building in Newark that I loved and was torn down is the Mass & Waldstein factory. It was located right on the side of the Old Boonton Line, and I spent many days wandering the ruins. Every time I ventured onto this abandoned property, some part of the building would always be either actively on fire or smoldering. This place was a trip!
The property has been transformed into a truck yard, so I'm glad I got to check it out before the factory was torn down. Here's a short excerpt from my unpublished non-fiction novel #WheeleronthePassaic about infiltrating the plant:
"On the Newark side of the bridge, I was swallowed by thick woods growing alongside the abandoned NYGL. Here, the railroad is set atop a mountain of gravel sloping down both sides of the tracks. Below me, I gazed over a sprawling shell of a factory partially consumed by the forest, every inch covered in graffiti. Hanging onto tree roots for stability, I skidded my way down the steep slope of the gravel embankment. Entering from the back of the decrepit building, I crept silently through the overgrown ruins, wary of who I might meet.
I later learned that this sprawling complex was the Maas and Waldstein Company, a chemical factory plagued by fires and rebuilt several times since the early 1800s. According to various internet pages on the subject, there have been explosions on this site as a result of manufacturing accidents, some of them serious. One of the major catastrophes that took place here was an acid explosion that killed a worker at the plant and left others severely burned. Wandering through the red-brick ruins, it was easy to believe there had once been blasts within these walls. The ancient factory's twisted steel, pulverized brick, and shattered concrete spoke of violence."
I'm sharing this excerpt of my 80,000-word non-fiction novel Wheeler on the Passaic as part of a Newark retrospective leading up to my Wakling the Old Boonton Line presentation on October 18th at 6:00 PM. Every person in attendance will receive a FREE signed copy of my #WeirdNJ special issue #NightshadeOnThePassaic, so come out and get yours!
October 7, 2023 - Does anyone else remember when you could walk across the Stickel Bridge? I used to go up there all the time and look out over the Passaic River into Newark. It was also a great vantage point to watch the trains going over the Newark Drawbridge, which is basically a sister crossing to the Stickel.
Hanging out on the bridge deck of the Stickel was always wild, with 280 thundering past, but going underneath in a boat was even crazier. The middle span of the bridge lifts to provide clearance for ships to pass beneath. To reduce the weight of the span, the roadway is constructed of metal grating instead of asphalt, which means you can see right through it.
Looking up at the Stickel from beneath, the undercarriages of the cars and trucks can be seen through the roadway. It's a weird phenomenon, but I feel more vertigo looking up from the boat at the speeding vehicles overhead than I do when standing on the bridge looking down at the water.
The Stickel has been closed to pedestrians for years, but I hope they open it again soon. Having the Stickel available as a walkway opens up an alternate foot crossing of the Passaic River between the Bridge Street Bridge and the Clay Street Bridge. Plus, I just enjoy hanging out up there on the bridge deck. The view of Newark is amazing, and I think everyone should be able to access it if they want!
October 8, 2023 - The massive KID PK looming above the NJ Turnpike called to me like a beacon and drew me over the barbed wire. I was willing to risk everything to get a peek inside the Essex Generating Station on the Lower Passaic River in Newark.
In the early 2000s, when I was writing my Weird NJ special issue, Nightshade on the Passaic, I became obsessed with getting into every abandoned building along the river. Newark at that time was a treasure trove of forsaken architecture, but there was no higher goal than to infiltrate the well-fortified Essex G.
Here are a few pics and a video from one of the missions into the disused power plant. Though shaky, the footage I got that day inspired me to make one of my very first YouTube videos: "Abandoned on the Passaic River in Newark." You can read the full story in Weird NJ presents: Nightshade on the Passaic.
I'm including this post as part of my Newark retrospective leading up to my live performance of Walking the Old Boonton Line at the Newark Public Library on October 18th at 6:00 PM. Every person in attendance will receive a FREE signed copy of my Weird NJ special issue #NightshadeOnThePassaic so make sure to come out and get yours!
October 9, 2023 - Whenever I'm feeling especially spooky, I like to go for a walk around Newark's oldest graveyard, Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The elaborate front gates on Broadway first beckoned me to explore the grounds, but it was the ghost stories, witch tales, and accounts of body snatching that really piqued my interest.
There's a book called "Woodside, the north end of Newark, N. J." available as an archived text file online. Here is an (edited-down) excerpt that caught my eye:
"In the early days of the cemetery, there was considerable talk of body-snatching, and one of the men in charge of the grounds was strongly suspected. Old Mrs. Holt one night saw, standing in the darkest shadow, an old-fashioned undertaker's wagon. Soon, she saw three men against the night sky. One carried a lantern, while the other two had a long bundle shrouded in white. Now they lifted their bundle, placed it in the wagon, and rapidly drove toward Newark."
It's one thing to read accounts of body snatching from the 1800s that may or may not be true, but how about this excerpt from a 2015 Star-Ledger article:
"In 2004, a 50-year-old city man was found guilty of receiving stolen property after human remains, including two skulls, were discovered in a Bloomfield Avenue store. The bones had been taken from mausoleums in Mount Pleasant between December 2001 and July 2002 and used in religious ceremonies, the prosecutor's office said. Also that year, a 61-year-old city woman described as a 'high priestess' in the Palo Mayombe religious cult was convicted of ordering the theft of remains from Newark cemeteries."
Those are just two brief accounts of body snatching, but there are many more. The weird tales from this graveyard on the banks of the Passaic River run deep, and I guess it's easy to see why I love Mount Pleasant so much.
October 11, 2023 - A few years ago, station manager Ken @WFMU asked me to create an ode to the Pulaski Skyway video to be used as a supplement to his radio broadcast about the iconic bridge. Here are a few photos of the Skyway from my unpublished book #WheeleronthePassaic and also a clip from the #WFMU video that I made for Ken. If you want to see the full Ode to the Pulaski Skyway vid, visit youtube.com/wheeler666 and, as always, check out wfmu.org for the best in freeform radio entertainment.
October 12, 2023 - I love Newark, New Jersey, and I love graffiti. This Newark retrospective that I'm doing could never be complete without a post about graff.
Most of the pieces featured in this set are long gone, but you might recognize a few that have managed to persist. My usual spots in Newark are mostly on the Passaic River and along the abandoned tracks. These photos were taken primarily in the North Ward, but there's also some Down Neck/Ironbound stuff in the mix as well. Feel free to tag yourself if you see yourself. RIP #Asonthedon #define and all the fallen soldiers.
October 13, 2023 - The Newark Wall of Fame is a perpetually evolving open-air gallery for aerosol art. In 2012, I was hanging out on the Newark Branch tracks a lot and, one afternoon, randomly decided to take a photo of every single piece along the side of Route 21. I remember thinking at the time that these pics might come in handy one day, and it looks like that day is today.
The individual photos, seen in the slideshow, create an overall snapshot of the Newark Wall of Fame as it looked in the summer of 2012. In the eleven years that have passed since these pictures were taken, countless coats of paint have been added as new writers come along and cover each other's work. Newark graff is never stagnant, always pushing, and this wall is a living, breathing canvas.
October 14, 2023 - Weirdly enough, Second River is the first visible tributary upstream from Newark Bay on the Passaic River.
There is an actual First River, but it's almost entirely subterranean, running through culverts beneath Newark until it discharges into the Passaic River from two concrete outlets under the Clay Street Bridge. (1st photo)
Second River poses a threat for boaters on the Passaic. Heavy storms rushing down this smaller tributary have continuously pushed stones into the main channel, creating a shoal that extends far out into the Passaic.
This invisible outcropping has ripped the hull out of many boats over the years. When navigating here, it pays to study the most recent charts to safely find the narrow channel around the shoal.
The lower section of Second River, where these pictures were taken, serves as the border between Belleville and Newark. The streambed is teeming with historic millstones, and back in 2012, I found a bronze devotional candle holder half buried in silt.
I've looked around the local Newark cemeteries for a matching candle holder so far with no luck. I am willing to return it to the rightful owner, even if they are deceased, but for now, it makes for a great brush holder in my painting studio.
“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” - Ratty
October 15, 2023 - Writing about the Passaic River is a privilege, and the two years I kept my boat at Rapps Boatyard were the ultimate literary gift.
Rapps was the last boatyard on the Passaic and served as my headquarters on the river. While I had my boat docked there in 2012-2013, I patrolled the lower Passaic on a daily basis and hit my notebooks hard every single day with the intention of writing a book. The ship's log I kept became a detailed account of my boating missions and a place where I could recount each sojourn along the dioxin-laden banks.
My explorations took me into every backwater from Wallington to Newark Bay and beyond, up the Hack, and down past Shooter's Island to Raritan Bay. My crew and I investigated every abandoned building on the Passaic River, saw dead bodies, apocalyptic pollution, and came to know every tributary, bridge, and outflow pipe along the way.
The act of writing this book was a labor of love that attempted to capture every sight, smell, taste, and sensation associated with the Passaic River. As I opened myself to the rushing impressions, the words poured out of me onto the page. The ship's log I kept eventually filled four composition books and totaled over 100,000 words when it was finally typed in.
Through extensive editing, the Passaic River notebooks are steadily being streamlined into an 80,000-word manuscript chronicling two years of adventure in my boat, the Sevas Natas. I've been working on this book for over a decade, and I finally feel ready to start talking about it publicly and possibly start querying literary agents.
Is Wheeler on the Passaic a book you would like to read?
If so, let me know: WAntabanez@gmail.com
October 16, 2023 - I started photographing Newark because of my fascination with the Passaic River, but it wasn't long before the streets captivated me and attracted my lens. There is a special kind of elusive beauty in Newark that I seek to capture, and after seeing Brick City transformed into the set of the Joker movie, it brought on fresh waves of inspiration. I'm not a big superhero fan, but Joaquin Phoenix and the rest of the cast and crew nailed it when they picked Newark as the stand-in for Gotham.
It's hard to choose my favorite Newark street shots, but I'm including a few in this post as part of my Newark retrospective leading up to my live performance of Walking the Old Boonton Line at the Newark Public Library.
October 17, 2023 - One of the most positive sights along the Old Boonton Line in Newark is the rehabilitated Tiffany & Co Silver Factory. Opened in the 1880s, the silver factory operated for 100 years until it closed in the 1980s. Instead of being lost to abandonment and entropy, the building was transformed into luxury apartments, thus preserving this iconic North Ward building and putting it to good use.
WALKING THE OLD BOONTON LINE - LIVE - TONIGHT
10/18/23 - 6:00 PM- NEWARK PUBLIC LIBRARY
October 18, 2023 - For the last post of my Newark retrospective, I want to focus on the WR Draw.
Locals on both sides of the Passaic River call it the Cut Bridge because, despite efforts to fence it off, pedestrians frequently use the bridge to cross from Kearny into Newark and vice versa.
It's also called the Cut Bridge because it emerges from the Kearny Cut, a deep defile blasted through the living stone beneath Kearny to create a level train bed from the Meadowlands into Newark.
Rapp's boatyard is located just downstream from the Cut, and after years of watching people cross the bridge and even using it as a shortcut myself to cross the river, I developed a true affection for the ancient Erie structure. The deteriorated state of the WR Draw makes it extremely dangerous, but the views from high above the Passaic River are amazing.
On the Newark side of the bridge, where it crosses over Route 21, the elevated tracks have become a popular place for drug users to fix, and piles of used needles can often be seen along the rails. One time, I found a decapitated rooster in a jícaras de Santeria, which is a type of calabash bowl commonly used for ritual sacrifice.
Finding evidence of the occult while exploring is nothing new. Magic like this is a common occurrence along the Passaic River. I've found similar sacrifices before, but this one was notably gory and gave a spooky vibe to an already sketchy location.
I'm including this post as part of my Newark retrospective leading up to my live performance of Walking the Old Boonton Line at the Newark Public Library TONIGHT! Every person in attendance will receive a FREE signed copy of my Weird NJ special issue #NightshadeOnThePassaic so make sure to come out and get yours!