Reading the Landscape: 45

DSC05116-001The Sears Roebuck store at the foot of the Watchung Hills near Plainfield, NJ has one of the most interesting murals I’ve ever seen in a nondescript chain store. Beneath the painting is a plaque. The type is too small for a blog sized photo, but I’ll cut and paste the words from the town of Watchung’s website.

Around 1670, a group of Dutch settlers was traveling from the Amboys up an old Indian trail which is now Somerset Street. They were under the leadership of Captain Michaelson. The Watchung tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Indians was traveling the same trail for their summer trip to the ocean to fish and collect shells for wampum.

During the night the settlers were camped near what is now the center of the Borough. Deer Prong, an advance scout for Chief One Feather’s tribe, was shot when he surprised a sentry. During the skirmish, Captain Michaelson was captured and was to be burned at the stake. Princess Wetumpka, who was traveling with the Dutch, and had some years ago saved the life of Chief One Feather, intervened and saved the life of Captain Michaelson. The Indians befriended the Dutch and allowed them to settle in the valley. The legend ends with the full tribal ceremony marriage of the Princess and Chief.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “Legend of Watchung” but the mural serves as an unintentional critique of American settler colonialism, a picture of what the surrounding landscape looked like before white people took it over and covered it with ugly suburban sprawl. Who wouldn’t prefer the waterfalls and the trees to strip malls, Route 22, and the car culture? It’s also part of my childhood. Traditionally, my father always took us shopping at the Watchung Sears the day before Thanksgiving.

The mural was dedicated in 1965, the year I was born. 

8 thoughts on “Reading the Landscape: 45

  1. This painting always captivated me, since it was quite hidden from the rest of the world. I’m really happy you took a high quality photo of the mural, as I was afraid Sears would close before someone got a picture of it. It surprises me that the mural was put up there in 1965, way before my time. I hope they put this painting in a museum if anything happens to Sears, as it is (quite literally) a work of art.

    • Last time I was in that Sears it was almost deserted so it’s only a matter of time.

      Only question is what will replace it:

      1.) Mixed use condo building?
      2.) A Walgreens?
      3.) A bank?

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