The Hudson River: 9 Alternative Facts | Chronogram Magazine

The Hudson River: 9 Alternative Facts

click to enlarge The Hudson River: 9 Alternative Facts
Sturgie revealed in a detail of Jervis McEntee’s View on the Hudson Near the Rondout.

Editor's note: To counter the current political climate, in which scientific and historical facts are derided by many as "fake news," we asked the writer of this piece to lend his considerable erudition to the sharing of some little-known factoids, the debunking of a few myths, and the correcting of several misconceptions regarding the Hudson River and its valley and environs.

A rarity among rivers, in that its lower half is a tidal estuary, the Hudson was dubbed Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk ("the river that flows two ways") by the Mohican people, although certain wits among the Wappingers referred to it as Ma-pipi-na-wee-ew, "the river that can't make up its mind." It was also thought by the Munsee to very occasionally flow, when no one was watching, from east to west.

The first European to see the Hudson River was Giovanni "Johnny the Map" Verrazzano, in 1524. As recorded in his captain's log, the Sicilian explorer was drooped over the taffrail of his flagship, La Cosa Nostra, when he glimpsed the fogbound estuary in between spasms of regurgitated shad. Eighty-five years later, the crew of Henry Hudson's Half Moon treated the river to its first sea chantey, of which an excerpt follows:

Henry Hudson he's a Britisher

—Way, away me Dutch boys!

Might as well be a New York Yiddisher

—Way, away me jolly Dutch boys

Blunderin' up the Hudson!

Thought we discovered a route to the Indies

—Way, away me Dutch boys!

More like a way to McDonald's and Wendy's

—Way, away me jolly Dutch boys

Blunderin' up the Hudson!

The American environmental movement was kick-started in 1858, when Henry David Thoreau, visiting from Concord, spent a tedious day along the east bank of the Hudson in Hyde Park, picking up discarded beer steins.

Lobster Newburgh, a world-famous seafood dish, was originally called Lobster Poughkeepsie. It took a lengthy, acrimonious lawsuit, along with an angry letter to the Woodstock Times, co-signed by every professor at the Culinary Institute of America, to settle the matter. Today, to truly qualify as Lobster Newburgh, the tasty crustacean must be certified as having been harvested in the murky waters just below the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Bone appetit!

What Champie is to Lake Champlain, Sturgie is to the Hudson River. Sturgie, an Atlantic sturgeon who is 100 feet long and weighs 5,500 pounds, has been sighted from Albany to Ossining, and can be seen in the background of countless selfies. He survives, barely, on a copious diet of industrial effluvia. This will eventually make for a problematic trade-off: the day the river is finally cleansed of chemical spillage is the day that Sturgie will go extinct.

Before the 1950s, the Hudson River served as the de facto Thruway for settlers, tourists, and commercial enterprises. Bluestone, timber, cement, and coonskin caps were shipped downriver to New York City from such thriving ports as Tivoli and Rifton. There were tollbooths at various stages along the way, and the tollbooth at Bannerman's Island is credited with introducing the EZ-Paddle payment option.

The Holland Tunnel, one of the greatest engineering feats of all time, follows the course of a long-submerged trail that was used by the Lenape to access the rich hunting grounds in what is now Jersey City. (Incidentally, the site of Jersey City was called Muh-he-skunk-ne-tuk, or "village that smells like a hundred skunks.")

The summer of 2013 witnessed the return of those periodic choristers, the 17-year cicadas, to the mid-Hudson Valley. The three species came forth from the soil to mate and die, and basically did no harm. But entomologists have recently discovered a fourth species—perhaps the original species, from which the others evolved—that also emerges according to a prime-numbered cycle, but one that is considerably, almost unbelievably, longer: 1,019 years, to be precise. These insects, which are the size of large pepper mills and have a wicked, disabling bite, are slated to arrive this June on both banks of the Hudson. Short of blacktopping every woodland, wetland, orchard and yard, we cannot stop them. And there is no negotiating with insects.

Contrary to most accounts of art history and tourist guides, the Hudson River School of Painting was not the first such art movement in America. That distinction would go to the Hudson River School of Mud-Smearing, whose anal-compulsive members convened in a cave in what is now Rosendale. Alas, mud being a medium that does not survive the attrition of time and tide, none of their works have come down to us. How, then, do we know of them? You may well ask—but please don't.