Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, publishers of the twice-yearly Weird NJ magazine, recently climbed the ruins of one of Weehawken’s ancient staircases and reported what they found in a five-page photo spread in their magazine.
The magazine frequently describes legends and abandoned sites around New Jersey, and has amassed a large following in its 21 years of existence. The May 2010 issue contains a story called “Climbing the Grauert Causeway.”
Made of concrete and steel railings, the grandiose staircase runs from Blvd. East, atop the Palisade hills, down to the Weehawken waterfront, but is closed off due to an unstable foundation.
The stairs were actually built into the side of the cliffs in 1915 under the administration of Weehawken Mayor Emile W. Grauert, an architect by trade.
“The stairs at one time were probably very majestic.” –Richard Turner
This is not the only long stairway in Weehawken leading down to the waterfront, but one of the others is already being targeted for renovations. The “Liberty Street Stairs” that lead from Blvd. East near Liberty Place down to Pershing Road have been closed for 18 months. Mayor Richard Turner said the stairs, built and paid for by NY Waterway, have no structural problems but need about a quarter million dollars of maintenance.
“They’re very sturdy,” said Turner. “They just need a good amount of maintenance and repairs, which we’re working on.” The town is also applying for grants and other funding.
The nearby brand new “Pershing Stairs” were built and paid for by Roseland Properties as part of an agreement when they build their waterfront development.
Deaths on the steps
The Weird NJ article is a personal tour, told in two parts from two different points of view, which details each step of the editors’ present-day climb of the vertigo-inducing stairway.
In the story, Moran ventures as high as the staircase will take him in order to snap a magnificent and eerie picture of its dead end.
Sceurman remains further below with cell phone in hand – ready to dial “911” if his buddy plummets to his death – and his interpretation of the structure is spine-shivering. He recalls a story sent into his magazine earlier by a reader who wrote about the possibility of the “Steps of Weehawken” being haunted after someone fell down them. Remembering that tale, Sceuerman ends his exploration and scurries off the walkway.
However, the steps referred to in the reader’s story may actually be the nearby Shippen Street Steps, which still lie in the “Shades” area of town. An internet search turned up details of haunting deaths which occurred on those steps, including an 1898 New York Times obituary for a man who shot himself to death and was found at the head of the steps.
In addition, an ancestry website tells the story of a woman named Anna Marie Kinn, who apparently died and lost her baby girl when she fell down the steps in the late 1800s.
Mayor: That’s quite weird
Mayor Turner was surprised to learn last week that anyone would want to spend their time hiking around the cliffs to find the decaying steps.
“They’re blocked off,” he said, adding that in order to see the remnants, one would have to climb through the Palisades because there are no usable steps.
And now that spring has sprung, what’s left of the steps is virtually invisible behind all of the vegetation along the cliffs. The editors of Weird NJ took their wily tour in February when the trees were barren.
Turner said that years ago the stairs were looked at to consider preservation, but there was nothing that could be done with them.
“The stairs at one time were probably very majestic,” said Turner. “Unfortunately they were built adjacent to the cliffs.”
The construction of the steps parallel to the cliffs in the early 1900s is something that would be considered unsafe by today’s building code standards, he said.
New staircases have since been built with materials that are independent of the rocks that may shift or fall.
Turner said that the “Pershing Stairs,” the staircase that leads to the Port Imperial light rail terminal, was built on a totally different part of the cliff that is less steep.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.