“For most people, the Meadowlands is a place to pass through and forget on their way to someplace else. Not unlike a neglected child, the Meadowlands has grown up without guidance, constantly unsure of what the future holds.” – Joshua Lutz
I grew up in Northern New Jersey with “the swamp” a stone’s throw away. While out my window I could see the lights of the beautiful NYC skyline flickering in the distance, within the frame was also Giants Stadium – so close I could feel the rumble of a loud concert or the fireworks at the State Fair (same with MetLife Stadium). The remnants of Brendan Byrne Arena –> Continental Airlines Arena –> IZOD Arena (once home to the NJ Nets and NJ Devils) and the racetrack are still there, all surrounded by mud and reeds that blow elegantly in the wind. A sports and entertainment complex lost within the marshlands of the Meadowlands – where indigenous wildlife inhabited, chemicals and landfills stewed, and hotels/motels/trailer parks claimed their spaces.
In his 2008 book “Meadowlands”, Joshua Lutz captures the various aspects of the 32 miles of wetlands that, as Robert Sullivan describes in the opening essay “separates New Jersey from New York City, or, put it another way, from New York City and the rest of the United States of America.” Photos of the water, marsh, motels are among portraits of those who call this area home.
Also included is a picture of what could be assumed as a dead body face down in the muck, acknowledging the storied rumors of murders as moist lands positioned so close to an airport was the perfect formula for a Mafia “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” hit. (Lutz photographed the Meadowlands under the apparent pretext of searching for Jimmy Hoffa).
While the book is a fantastic monograph about the area’s character, it’s also a wonderful murky trip down memory lane for those from the region and for Lutz himself, as he states that the “loneliness and solitude … continues to bring me back year after year.”
After the hotel boom in preparation for the 2014 failure of a Super Bowl and the still incomplete mess that is Xanadu / American Dream – or whatever it is being called now – a lot has changed. The auto body shops that lined part of Paterson Plank Road are now abandoned and land that was once deemed too toxic for anything now supports buildings (examples from the Carlstadt/East Rutherford section of the Meadowlands). But it’s nice to know that a flip through Lutz’s book can instantly transport you back to a time before any of that happened.
And if/when Lutz releases his next book, it will do just the same for the current era.