Erie Shrines Proposal

I discovered a mile-long, abandoned rail line running through the Erie Cut, an excavated corridor in the heart of Jersey City. The cut, a significant technological feat of the time, operated from 1910 to 1959. Since then, it’s fallen into ruin. Barely visible from street level, it’s now overgrown with tall weeds and hosts several animal species. It runs beneath the city like a parallel, forgotten world—or a miniature oasis.

I will construct and maintain a network of shrines dedicated to this pocket of urban nature and the railroad infrastructure of Jersey City. I will use materials found on-site to build shrines formally and conceptually inspired by Japanese Shinto architecture. My process will be one of paying consistent attention over time, of growth and accumulation through repeated visits. I will ultimately lead public tours (pilgrimages), create a documentary video, and keep a project blog.

In many cultures, shrines are traditionally dedicated to natural phenomena. However, few landscapes are completely natural anymore. My shrines will establish symbolic and ritualistic connections between tour participants, the natural environment, and the built environment. They will act as focal points in the landscape.

This project will function as a meditation on place; focusing on the overlay of ecology, history, and technology onto current land use. The video will chronicle my process, showing how the shrines develop and grow over time. To convey the unique energy of the site in the video, I will push the audio quality so it carries equal weight to the imagery. The site’s rich soundscape includes birds calls, insects, and rustling vegetation; cars and sirens from the city above; the rumbling of nearby trains; water dripping, cave-like, and echoing under bridges.

In 2008, I realized a similar project in New Brunswick, NJ, in which I built shrines dedicated to the local drainage system (an artificial extension of natural waterways). I lead tours and maintained a website. With this new project, I’ll develop my relationship to the site over a longer period of time, construct more elaborate shrines, and reach a larger audience via the documentary.

Just submitted this to the Graham Foundation. Cross your fingers!

The Other Side

Last Sunday I went on a mission to find the other side of the path through the Bergen Arches.

I walked overland, following Hoboken Avenue towards the Grove Street area. More specifically, I was following a kind of cavern filled with greenery. There were layers of highways. I looked off the edge of one bridge and saw more cars below me. And beyond those, I could see tops of trees and a sense of depth: the Erie Cut.

So I followed it and found some interesting things on the way. This is truly junkspace.

There were a couple of bridges where I had a really good view. A pedestrian on one of these bridges could easily see an explorer of the arches making her way through the overgrown gorge.

Eventually I found the end: On the property of Dickinson High School. You cross to the far end of the parking lot, walk down a steep hill into a lower lot, and then turn sharply left into a wooded path with weeds growing in a line down the center.

After a distance, the road forks. To the left, I saw a reddish-brown shape amongst the weeds.

A piece of rusted machinery?

A human head. He was holding so still, it took me awhile to figure that out.

I gave a wave to show I meant no harm and took the path to the right. After two bridges, this brought me to the point I had stopped before: A branch blocking the way, overgrown with a three-leaved vine, maybe poison ivy. From the back, it seemed a lot less threatening, and I stepped through unscathed, into familiar territory…

…except for the new mural.

I’m happy to complete the path and to find it’s not a dead-end. This is the route for the pilgrimage.


Possible shrine site:

Brian’s shoes before they got muddy:

Brian with shrine & camera. (He’s going to make a documentary on this project!)

The Plot Thickens

Remember this note?

A friend of a friend translated it for me. It is, in fact, some dialect of Arabic. It’s numbered 1-10 and it’s a list.

1- ???
2-I think a brand of eggs called warah
3- warah sauce
8-half and half milk maybe?????
10-white sauce?


Today, Mike and I entered the Bergen Arches with the intention of following it to its terminus. We almost made it to the end-point (or what we assume, from our examinations of Google Satellite View is probably the end).

We were finally thwarted by impassable poison ivy just north of Palisade Avenue. Next weekend I hope to try to find the end and work backwards. It would be amazing if the route spanned the entire cut, emerging near Grove Street.

On the way, we encountered: dense vegetation …


… one very dark tunnel (tracks illuminated thanks to a long exposure photo) ….

… and … a shrine!

The sign says: “WELCOME TO EDEN / SACRED SPACE”. Inside the opening at the top, there is a note:

in Arabic? Can anyone read Arabic? Am I holding it upside down?

The Bergen Arches

Just discovered this Wikipedia article on the route I’ve been exploring. The excavation of the cut for the railroad (now abandoned) was finished in 1910 and last used in 1959.

It’s very cool to get some context. Here a links to a couple great articles:

Finish Erie Tunnel In Jersey City, NYTimes, June 12, 1910

Jersey City History: The Bergen Arches Of the Erie Railroad,

The latter article includes images of vintage postcards of the project. These views all still exist; just now they are overgrown with dense vegetation.

Bergen Arches/Erie Cut Postcard Bergen Arches/Erie Cut Postcard Bergen Arches/Erie Cut Postcard

St. Peter’s Cemetery

I can see if from my roof.

(ZOOMING IN) I can see it even better in the winter, when the leaves are gone.

(ZOOMING IN) For awhile, I couldn’t figure out how to walk there, though.

When Mike came walking with me last week, he scampered up this hill of loose rubble and there it was. So today I went.

No live humans allowed. (Plenty of groundhogs and birds, though.)

Looks like most of the stones are from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

I was walking down a road bordering one side of the cemetery. At first it was paved, but then it degenerated into an overgrown path before it was completely consumed by weeds. This might end up being a site for a shrine. Gravestones and cemeteries have a lot in common with shrines.

I remember reading in Graham Harvey’s Animism that when someone dies, he/she transforms from a subject to an object. For many people, a gravesite or a headstone provides the possibility of communion with the deceased; a kind of pilgrimage. With this shrine project, I am interested in recognizing objects and places (particularly those related to municipal infrastructure) that might exhibit subjective properties, given the right kind of attention.

Reservoir Number Three


The reservoir near my apartment is closed to the public, at least the human public. It’s reserved. I just found this image on Wikipedia, the first I’ve seen of what it looks like beyond the high stone walls.