Long before the fort took over the defunct race track up river ship spotting was serious business from the barrier beach that reached well into the wet spot where the Hudson and Raritan Rivers met.
Towers were built and manned by seasoned spotters who lived on the weather beaten dunes way out at the end of what we called “The Hook”. There was little reason to spot ships if the intelligence gathered could not be sold to the speculators in NYC.
My little spot in the estuary was at an elbow...NYC was north, and the fort was west. Both filled the rivers with effluent that we only knew as our normal. We got the message.
The technique and technology of ship spotting all but disappeared but the demand for what the papers called marine intelligence never went away. What washed up on the beach was news to just us. Dead stuff lead...as dinner table conversation went. Dead birds, fish, seals...creatures we never saw alive showed up in bits and pieces on our reach. The elbow was tough to drift around if the wind was right.
The spotting towers were gone long before I was born, and no evidence of optical telegraph was easy to find. Layer upon layer of craft and craftsman tossed together on a marsh where pigeons carried coded notes and doves were shot at sunset for sport by us teens.
The twin towers grew taller in the distance north of us as the Cold War raged west up our river. On a clear day we could see the towers rising from the bridge that connected us to the barrier beach.
Ship spotters sketched silhouettes of ships....they would spot a ship on the horizon and look through their sketches to improve the accuracy of the information they transmitted to Manhattan, not far from where those towers were rising as we were growing up in the effluent that they also would be adding to...partially treated.
It could take as much as a week from being spotted for a ship to reach the city ports, a cargo had made it across could have doubled its value...hence the importance of knowing. How long it took sewage from NYC to make it to our shores was not so important. The fort and everyone else up river were pumping thier waste into the estuary as well. None of us knew for certain the origin of any of any of what we played in and fished out of. There was no money in knowing, but we knew the rivers were not what they had been, nothing else was either.
The towers are gone, the fort is gone...and I am gone. The rivers are cleaner now then they ever were when I was a child. Soon enough rising sea levels will swallow up all I knew...the reach, the hook...and even the fort will be under water.