The World Trade Center towering here over
the abandoned terminal had been open for business less than two
years that October. Only two months earlier, in August, French
aerial daredevil Philippe Petite staged his dramatic, unauthorized
high-wire walk between the towers. Ironically, Petite's stunt helped
the Trade Center it the community acceptance it had been
struggling to generate without success. In a darker irony, the Twin
Towers would fall in 2001 while the decrepit Jersey Central Terminal
would be restored as part of Liberty State Park, where it serves as
museum and administration office.
Many private sector railroads
collapsed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Jersey Central succumbed in 1967. Officially, it was called the Central
Railroad of New Jersey. Its terminal at the foot of Johnston Avenue
in Jersey City was directly across the Hudson from Manhattanís
financial district. The Jersey Central served a large commuter
population. But the Jersey
Central linked with many other railroads, the Baltimore & Ohio for
one, and so offered service to virtually all points west. Its
proximity to Ellis Island meant that many immigrants passed through
during the first half of the 20th century.
This picture was taken from a control tower overlooking what had
once been a web of tracks that served the terminal and nearby
freight yards. By the fall of 1974, all the rails had been removed
for salvage . The control tower itself was gone within a year as the
slow development of what is now Liberty State Park began.
When the terminal shut down in 1967 there was virtually no
transition. One day it was operating, the next day it was not.
Things were simply left as they were. In the Jersey Central offices,
that meant file cabinets, coffee cups, unopened correspondence,
rubber stamps, and typewriters. The inevitable scrappers took that stuff as
well as copper and anything else they could sell.
Another, different group descended on these buildings -- railroad
buffs. They stripped the walls and desks of anything that would
eventually become memorabilia Ė pictures, paperweights, and posters. By
1974, the place had been picked clean.
Even then, seven years abandoned, it was a walk-in. There was no
fencing. Nothing was boarded up. Ranger Dave, who you'll meet below, provided security of a
sort, but that was minimal. Thatís the way many
abandoned buildings were then. So few people tried to get in, I
suppose, that that it just wasnít worth expensive security.
Ranger Dave and the
Dave Caroff was a N.J. State Park Ranger from South
Jersey who had volunteered to guard what was soon to become Liberty
State Park. He and a small dog lived in a shack on the former rail
yard, now a eerie moonscape of torn up tracks, mounds of dirt, and
at least one old box car on cinder blocks. He worked alone and was pretty much on call even when not
officially on duty. Dave volunteered for the job, he explained, to
find some peace away from his quarrelsome family. That job
was to protect 1,200 acres of newly acquired state land that
included the old station.
Despite Daveís best efforts, one thief stole
decorative copper he estimated was worth $13,000. At the time of the
theft in 1972, scrap copper was worth 38 cents a pound. A year later
the price of copper climbed to nearly $1 a pound, and on the night
of July 22, 1973, a group of daredevils made off with the copper
When he did encounter thieves, all Dave could do was phone
the Jersey City Police; he had to return to his shack to do
that. He couldn't even to that when the scrappers turned out
to be off-duty Jersey City officers. They waved hello as they came
The copper was already gone from the cupola when I first came to the
old terminal. Ranger Dave must have been somewhere else when I
finally climbed the old steel ladder up through the roof and into
the cupola. There were no walls to block the 360 degree view. To the
northeast was downtown Manhattan and the original World Trade
Iím not sure how it happened, but while shooting pictures with my
Pentax, I heard the unmistakable sound of keys as they answered the
call of gravity, hitting the metal ladder rungs as they fell.
I had found my way up following the light from the open cupola.
There was no such light source down below, and I didnít have a
flashlight. The keys had to be found by Braille on the splintery
wood floor 30 feet down. It took time and sapped the fun from the
Of course, the terminal was restored and is now part of Liberty
State Park. .
This shot was taken from the same control tower vantage point as the
one on the previous page, this time with a telephoto lens and
a rare roll of color film.
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