The closest I have been to New Jersey is Philadelphia, but I liked to think that I had a good idea of what the area surrounding New York was like but Mr. Sullivan’s account revealed that Hollywood has not painted a complete and accurate picture of the land just outside the city that never sleeps. Even with the map at the beginning it was hard for me to visualize what exactly the meadowlands were. It seemed hard to believe that this piece of land that was both nature and industrial existed not too far away from New York City. As I moved through the beginning of the book it became more clear that the meadowlands were not this homogenous thing but 32 square miles of “wilderness.” Instead of having a kind of uniformity it seems like this is a place where some areas are an odd conglomeration of man-made things dumped there and the original marshland trying to reclaim the land. The Meadowlands really seems like a terrible place to be, there is no spinning words to be able to get it to seem better like how if you say a “deserted cabin in the woods” it sounds like the location of a horror movie but a “secluded cottage in the forest sounds like nice place to spend a weekend. With the Meadowlands, it’s mostly trash, literally. Between the dumps, rusty cars, demolition rubble and the fact that it is a swampy, mosquito infested jungle, it doesn’t have much market value.
I really thought Bob (i.e. Robert Sullivan) was going to shed some wisdom on the place and explain how the area was this lost jewel just outside the city. That never really happened and the Meadowlands seem to just get more grotesque with each passing chapter, especially Walden Swamp. I can’t imagine canoeing in a place where there is a visible trash, well pretty much everywhere. I’m curious to know what the meadowlands were like when they were still meadows and covered in wildflowers the way it is now covered in garbage. I also think that the decrepit state of the Meadowlands is not just the state of the land itself but the type of people who utilize it. Bob includes an entire chapter about the bodies that have been dumped in the Meadowlands. That sounds like something straight out of a 1940-esque mobster movie.
It is worth mentioning that there are some redeeming qualities about the Meadowlands. Not all the people are the type to use the swamp for “personnel disposal.” I thought this was especially true of Mayor Just. The mayor seemed to have incredible affinity for the land that he governed both environmentally and sentimentally or emotionally. He saw the value of the pig farms, albeit they were not totally great, he realized they reduced the waste from nearby restaurants. The mayor was attached to land, and realized that there was something special enough to save buckets of rocks from Snake Hill. Other residents of the Meadowlands are also quite resourceful. There seems to be a few usable means of production in the meadowlands. The main being salt hay which was used for banana storage, stables and ice houses among other things. Cattails and Blue Bent plants were used for caning and making chairs. Clams and lard were used for making lanterns. The Cedar forest, which was as large as midtown when it still stood, was important in boat making. Even though the Meadowlands is now a dump, there are some redeeming qualities for resources to help the people who settled down there.
Another thing that surprised me was the amount of inventions that had their origins somehow tied to the Meadowlands. The business in Newark even produced fashion for major runways, a replacement for plastic and patent leather. Seth Boyden had a slew of other inventions while he was based in the Meadowlands, which helps add to the truly rich history of the land.
The garbage, debris and mosquitos make the Meadowlands a neglected industrial swamp while the ingenuity of the people who have taken up residence or jobs there make it a place that isn’t a complete wasteland.