This will be my last post from the Rockland side of the Hudson, at least for a while. But this may well be the most spectacular hike of the two I’ve recently blogged — the first mile of the hike is a bit of a scramble, but the view from the top is not to be equaled:
High Tor has a long history — as the highest point on the Palisades, it likely was an important site for the Lenape (possibly the Rumachenanck?) tribe.
During the American Revolution, High Tor was apparently used as a place to send signals up, down and across the river.
In fact, if you look around carefully, you’ll see some very old graffiti carved into the rocks. Here’s a cool one:
Also, note the wavy, scratchy lines all over the rock? Pretty sure that’s evidence of the Laurentide ice sheet that covered this whole area up until about 20,000 years ago. (Here’s a link to another blog post about that time.)
Later, during WWII, according to Wikipedia, High Tor was used as an air raid lookout point. Supposedly Kurt Weill, the composer, was a volunteer air raid warden. (Fun fact: Weill wrote the score to Maxwell Anderson’s “Knickerbocker Holiday.” More on Anderson anon . . .)
Artistically, High Tor has been quite inspiring: The New York Historical Society has this John William Hill painting from 1866 — he is considered one of the “American Pre-Raphaelites,” devotees of England’s famed critic John Ruskin. He made this watercolor, likely whilst sitting atop High Tor, and then completed the larger painting in the comfort of his studio.
And then in 1936, Maxwell Anderson, a playwright of some renown at the time, wrote a three-act play called “High Tor” in which he describes the trials and tribulations of Van Van Dorn, the poor scion of a Dutch family who had owned the peak since the 1600s. Evil agents of a trap rock company keep trying to buy the land out from under him for a pittance to “chew the back right off this mountain, the way they did across the clove there. Leave the old palisades sticking up here like bill boards, nothing left.” (Actually, you will see a mountain that, sadly, looks EXACTLY like that just south of High Tor when you head back to 9W.)
The plot is melodramatic, with characters such as a ghostly, shipwrecked Dutch crew, an Indian, the evil trap rock men — oh, it’s a bit tedious to recount it all. Yet this play won the New York’s Critic Circle Award for the 1936-37 season.
Fantastic comedy? I think not.
I will say, though, Anderson gets in a couple of nice observations about the area. For example, Lise, the ghostly, shipwrecked Dutch lady who speaks in verse, laments the scourge of quarrying that is destroying the area:
Only five thousand for this crag at dawn
Shedding its husk of cloud to face a sunrise
Over the silver bay? For silver haze
Wrapping the crag at noon, before a storm
Cascading silver down the black rock’s face
Under a gray-sedge sky? For loneliness, here on this crag?
Anderson lived nearby in Rockland at the time he wrote this play, and was instrumental in saving the peak from certain destruction by helping form the Rockland County Committee to Save High Tor – they raised money, purchased the land, and turned it into High Tor State Park. (Fun fact, the actor Burgess Meredith, whom you might remember from the original “Rocky”, was a neighbor of Maxwell Anderson’s and played the character of Van Van Dorn in the original production of “High Tor.”)
One of my favorite bits about the play is the final speech, said by the dying Indian:
There’s one comfort. I heard the wise Iachim, looking down when the railroad cut was fresh, and the bleeding earth offended us. There is nothing made, he said, and will be nothing made by these new men, high tower or cut or buildings by a lake that will not make good ruins . . . When the race is gone, or looks aside only a little while, the white stone darkens, the wounds close and the roofs fall and the walls give way to ruins. Nothing is made by men but makes, in the end, good ruins.
Nothing is made by men but makes, in the end, good ruins.