Monday, April 19, 2010

Bad ideas, like clueless bureacrats, never seem to fade away...

To those entrusted with responsibility for the protection and interpretation of our heritage:

I read that school groups are invited to tour the simulated Indian Village at Waterloo, starting April 15th. What values are you teaching these school children?

As you previously have been informed, the simulated Indian village at Waterloo stands atop the site of a prehistoric/historic cemetery. Not only has public money been spent on this pseudo-historical "simulation" that might better have been spent on actually preserving the decaying historic fabric of Waterloo or its tourist-related infrastructure---largely funded with millions of taxpayer dollars over the past thirty years---but those supposed professionals in the DEP, who are paid to protect our heritage, have actually allowed a compost toilet to be dug into this ancient burial ground, possibly one of the most astounding acts of desecration in recent memory. Did an archeologist monitor the excavation of this latrine?

In a recent historical discussion of this matter on the NJ History List Serve, the State Historic Preservation Office defended its decision to allow construction of these cement wigwams based upon a professional determination from a noted archaeologist in 1984, who decided the cemetery had been "completely looted" in the early twentieth century. Even if there was evidence to substantiate this claim, why would preservationists allow construction of a simulated Indian village, which could have been located anywhere else on less sensitive ground, to cover what should be interpreted as one of the most interesting and significant features of this "restored village," the actual resting place of those who "made history"? Furthermore, I wonder if this professional archeological determination was free of any and all conflicts of interest?

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his wife are supposedly buried there, based upon information imparted from my own grandfather, as transmitted from his parents. Furthermore, one of the few documented (John Reading's Journal, 1714-1719) Indian villages in northwestern New Jersey, the village of Allamuchahocking---from which we derive the place name "Allamuchy"---is likely located within the confines of Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Either through ignorance or possibly incompetence, we are missing the opportunity to preserve and interpret our "real" heritage, while misleading the public with such cultural legerdemain.

Waterloo should be developed as the premier interpretive center for the Highlands and the focus of a National Mineral Heritage Area, linking Andover, Wawayanda, Hamburg, Franklin, Sterling Hill in Ogdensburg, Lake Hopatcong, Ferromont, Ringwood, Long Pond, and other important sites, extending southwest to Oxford Furnace and Phillipsburg in Warren County. But first, those in positions of public trust need to distinguish between "entertainment" and "heritage interpretation."

While in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, I realize my concerns are not high on the list of priorities. This, however, does not mean they need go unnoticed. I believe in accountability. Clearly, we need to assess the qualifications of those responsible for what I consider an inexcusable act of cultural vandalism. From the heartbreaks over Kuser Manor, Lusscroft, High Breeze Farm and the Hamburg Lime Kilns, down to the present moment, something is very wrong with the "history establishment" in Trenton and its misplacement in the Division of Parks & Forestry.