Fort Lee’s has had many residents over the years. Originally Parker’s Pond, it saw the army of General George Washington erect huts around the pond in the summer of 1776 when the army encamped there to fight the British from atop the bluffs of Fort Lee’s nearby Palisades. More than 2,000 soldiers, including patriot Thomas Paine, encamped on the land adjacent to Parker’s Pond. Today that area includes the , the and the high-rise buildings from River Ridge to the Colony.
Parker’s Pond was ultimately filled, and in 1902, Fort Lee residents began the work of erecting a monument to commemorate Fort Lee’s Revolutionary War history.
On Sept. 26, 1908, the statue of the two soldiers of the American Revolution sculpted by Charles Tefft was dedicated, as was Monument Park itself. According to reports in The New York Times, 20,000 people attended the ceremony. The Battleship New Hampshire fired off a gun salute from the Hudson River as part of the dedication ceremony.
Almost as soon as it was dedicated, the burgeoning film industry in Fort Lee took advantage of the location. In 1909, DW Griffith shot his film The Cord of Life (Biograph) in Monument Park. Griffith also shot a scene for his film The Italian Barber (Biograph, 1911) in the park using the statue as backdrop for a chase scene. Child star Madge Evans starred in the film The Volunteer (World Pictures, 1917), a key scene of which takes place in Monument Park, the site of a World War I-era bond rally.
As recently as December 2011, there was a television shoot in Monument Park, when the crew of NBC Universal’s .
Since 1908, generations of Fort Lee kids used the statue and park as a playground, reenacting their own battles amidst the ghosts of the Revolution. For years, the park was the site of Fort Lee’s annual Ragamuffin Parade for Halloween.
Each year on the Saturday closest to Nov. 20, the Palisade Interstate Park and the commemorate (November 20, 1776). A Brigade of American Revolution reenactors march from and retrace Washington’s retreat route up Main Street. There is a ceremony at Monument Park to commemorate the historic event when Washington and his troops escaped capture, and Thomas Paine began to write The American Crisis.
More recently, the sonnets of Shakespeare have echoed in the park each summer during the annual , when on any given summer night, you might just see Henry V preparing for battle on the same spot where General Washington led his troops.
All of which brings us to our newest Monument Park resident, a visible ghost of the Revolution. He will be known as the Spirit of ’76; his message is to call each citizen of Fort Lee not to bear arms, but to contribute to a cause – the funding of a to be dedicated in our very own Monument Park.
Our Spirit of ’76 in 2012 asks each of us to dig not so very deep and contribute . We just need 2,500 citizens of Fort Lee out of a population of almost 40,000 to join this effort and contribute $17.76 to fully fund the cost of the Thomas Paine statue.
We need to complete the funding by the end of 2012 and have raised three-fourths of the funds to date. But we need one more final push to make this project a reality. So stop by Monument Park, greet our new resident and help him help us bring the spirit of Thomas Paine back to Monument Park.