Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tour by Candle Lantern Light

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey
It was a perfect evening for it. The air was crisp and frosty. The full moon, suspended in a clear sky, shone like a beacon to light the way. The tang of wood smoke drifted on the slight breeze from the campfires we would encounter along the way. A charming scene indeed, as we each picked up our lanterns burning brightly with a single candle and started our walk back into the 18th and 19th centuries.

We were about to take a Candle Lantern tour of the Long Pond Ironworks National Historic Landmark. Located in Hewitt (West Milford) and only a few miles from our house. We’ve passed the museum and out buildings many times, and each time we passed we vowed to find out what it’s all about. Ironmaking was really big in this area. Long Pond Ironworks was founded in 1766 and throughout both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, provided iron wares to the troops. I won’t go into the details now but if you are interested, a more detailed history can be found here.

We started off with our guide leading the way. We could see a a light burning on the porch of the nearest house. There we found a group of women in colonial dress sitting in a circle having their fortunes told. Our guide picked a tarot card from the fortune teller’s pack and she told him beware this night, there is trouble about. At about this time an eerie, piercing scream came from the woods in front of us.  The group oohed and aahed and we all smiled in anticipation.

The next stop was the Old Stone House where we could see a campfire burning brightly. Two cloaked figures ran past us while a woman in a mob cap yelled stop thief! you’ve taken my wood! She went on to tell a tale of how times were hard. She was cooking possum stew. Another woman joined her with a basket of laundry from the manor house [do you remember my blog entry on Ringwood Manor?]. They were going to take advantage of the full moon to get some work done. [Please, please let me come back as gentry and not a peasant if there is an afterlife!]

Screams still continued to pierce the frosty night air from time to time, sending shivers up and down our spine. [or were we just starting to feel the cold settle in?]

Our next stop was a barn where a gentlemen in wonderful full revolutionary soldier garb came to fetch his wife and take her somewhere safer for the night, as he was going out to hunt down the thieves that had robbed the manor house just a short time ago. Indeed, bad things were afoot tonight.

We started down the forest path which used to be the old main road to the center of the original town of Hewitt. The Wanaque River flowed at a fast pace over rocks and boulders to our right. It’s force was once harnessed to help operate the furnace and large iron forge.

Our next stop was found to be the source of the blood-curdling screams. Black Meg: a scary woman swathed in a black cloak from head to toe, holding a scythe and burning pungent-smelling herbs over a fire. She didn’t want company and told us to move on, strangers. According to our guide, Black Meg is a documented character from here. She shows up in several old writings, and he proceeded to tell us one of the tales about her. Probably a healer-type person misconstrued as a ‘witch.’

We met a German worker trudging down the road from the iron works. His face and clothing were covered in soot. He told us how hard he worked and how long his days were. But, he was grateful to have the chance for a new start in the New World.

The moon shone down on us, the river rushed by and we walked in peace until our final destination, the area where the furnaces had been. Here a true delight awaited us: Chief Wahoo’s Medicine Show and Phydeaux’s Flying Flea Circus Theatre [a humorous re-creation of the traveling medical pitchman’s “pipe” performed as it may have been seen and heard on a street corner at the close of the 19th century].

I felt like an expectant child again as I watched the magic of the show unfold before me. Our host was very, very good. He had us clapping and yelling for a deaf flea making a plunge from a balloon into a a cup of water; won audience participation to catch a flea shot out of a cannon, and made us laugh at his explanations of the ‘elixirs’ he had for sale. Thoroughly entertaining. All the while sitting on wooden board seats placed around a roaring fire. We reluctantly got up when the show was over. My neighbor, Kim, stated that she didn’t know when she had been more entertained in West Milford! She’s lived here some 20-some years which is saying something.

On the way back we encountered a couple of inebriated souls by the bridge. One was passed out; the other was still tipping the jug to his mouth. Poor things. Likely to freeze in this weather. We also came across a older lady pushing a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and squash. She said she was on her way to market and had to get an early start or she wouldn’t be there in time to sell her wares. Alone, at night, with only a lantern? But in those days, most people didn’t have horses or any other means of conveyance except for their feet. Lastly, we encountered a woman concerned over her poor dear husband that was not at home as yet. Could he have met with danger, such as the robbers that were about that night? Naw, we told her, most likely he’s one of the men drunk by the bridge. She took off in a hurry to find him.

At long last we had to relinquish our hold on the past and rejoin our own century.  It certainly was fun while it lasted. I hope you’ve enjoyed your journey into the past with us as well. We’ll be taking another journey back as soon as they offer another one.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Welcome, I'm Lynne. You know me better as a 'new' Jersey Girl. But now I've moved once again, this time to North Carolina. Here I write about my thoughts, good food, and of course, dogs.

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