Centralia — an exploration

Last weekend, Clio, Zoe and I drove to Pennsylvania to explore the mining town Centralia.

We explored the options of investigating Lynnewood Estate, and spoke with the real estate broker tasked with selling the house. However, he quickly told us we would not be granted access, and he already had drone footage of the house so that pitch didn’t work. As for Dudleytown, it also seemed obvious that for a three week project, it would take us too long to get permission and find people to talk to, so we thought it would make more sense to find a place where we would not require permission to access, and would have an interesting story to tell.

Welcome to Centralia.

This Pennsylvania mining town is known because it has been condemned due to a mine fire of 1962, leading to the abandonment of the town, with only seven residents remaining to live out their natural lives. It has inspired many horror tales, from Silent Hill to other manifestations of Hell, despite the fact that no one had ever died as a result of the continuous fire. However, the images of smoke emerging from the ruptured ground  and the wasteland of an abandoned township made it ripe for myth-making.

Our project is to explore how people’s fascination of an interesting myth shape the exploration of what is essentially a quaint area that is anything but terrifying.


Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 4.53.39 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.08.53 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.10.26 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.10.33 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.22.27 PM <—–working on meshlab to create a 3D map

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.30.15 PM also working with MapBox /open GL

J3R0K9S <—click this image for a demo

The palisades

The Palisades are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of New York City, forming a canyon of the Hudson north of George Washington Bridge, as well as providing a vista of the skyline. Palisade is derived from the same root as word pale, ultimately from the Latin word palus, meaning stake. The Lenape called the cliffs “rocks that look like rows of trees”, a phrase that became “Weehawken”, the name of a town in New Jersey which sits at the top of the cliffs across from Manhattan.



Travel logistics: route and information for getting to the palisades: We stopped at the first parking lot on this map at area 1

    • Map of the area 1.LINK


    • Map of the area 2.LINK


    • Map of the area 3.LINK

Post Production:


    • Artists who have been influenced by the palisades


    • Geological researchers / scholars of the palisades


    • hikers and nature lovers who come to the palisades on weekends to escape manhattan and what it makes them think and feel


    • Founders of the #StopLG movement leaders and politicians working to save the Palisades and prevent the large LG headquarters from being built atop the Palisades.




using the photos to create a 3D map of the pals aides that people can zoom into the geological formation below the water to see the enormous rock foundation of manhattan which is only this tiny little lump atop an enormous and ancient geological structure. Web based or browser based (OR just an animation that goes into the final video). Like this Map:


More History:

In the 1910s, when Fort Lee was a center of film production, the cliffs were frequently used as film locations. The most notable of these films wasThe Perils of Pauline, a serial which helped popularize the term cliffhanger.[14]

The Lenape called the cliffs “rocks that look like rows of trees”, a phrase that became “Weehawken”, the name of a town in New Jersey which sits at the top of the cliffs across from Manhattan.

The basalt cliffs are the margin of a diabase sill, formed about 200 million years ago[2] at the close of the Triassic Period by the intrusion of moltenmagma upward into sandstone.[3] The molten material cooled and solidified before reaching the surface. Water erosion of the softer sandstone left behind the columnar structure of harder rock that exists today. The cliffs are about 300 ft (100 m) thick in sections and originally may have reached to 1,000 ft (300 m).

During the 1800s, millions of cubic yards of Palisades basalt and diabase were extracted at the Englewood Cliffs quarry for railroad ballast and aggregate that helped to build New York City. A sandstone layer was also mined and used to construct many of the famous New York brownstone buildings.

From a Young Naturalist: Adjacent to Rockland State Park is the Tilcon Quarry, where I stopped to see what was currently being done with the diabase from the sill (Figures 9 11). Upon arriving at the quarry, I immediately noticed gigantic piles of different-sized rocks. Each pile was composed of rocks of a larger size than the one before. Continuing around the quarry, I could see the conveyor belts running through machines that break the rocks into the smaller pieces, which were then sorted by size and made into the piles I had seen earlier.

Tilcon Quarry

The Palisades is not only rich in geological history, but in economic history as well. During the 19th century, the durable diabase was used for constructing buildings. Many of the early homes in the area, including many of New Jersey’s historic Dutch farmhouses, were built from the red sandstones, as were the brownstones of New York City. Right after the Civil War, large amounts of rock were shipped to New York and other cities to become “Belgian” paving blocks. Most of these rocks were gathered from the talus slopes at the bottom of the sill.

Tilcon Quarry, sorted rock piles

In the late 1800s, when the streets of New York City were being paved on a large scale, there was an even greater attack on the Palisades. Because of the tremendous value of the ancient rock, the Palisades were in great danger. In Rockland County there were 31 quarries between Grandview and Upper Nyack. One firm alone was taking 12,000 cubic yards of traprock a day (Roseberry, p. 253). Today the rock is mostly used for large blocks in the construction of sea walls and as crushed gravel for concrete and pavement.

One mile north of Fort Lee, N.J., the Palisades formed two different profiles. One was called Indian Head and the other Washington Head. In September 1897, men from the quarries blew up Washington Head. Then in March 1898, a five-foot hole was bored a hundred feet into Indian Head and 7,000 pounds of dynamite were placed inside. Indian Head was blown up, leaving 350,000 tons of Palisade diabase intended for construction (Roseberry, p. 254).

Eventually, people began to notice the desecration of the Palisades and in 1900 the Interstate Park Commission was formed to save the Palisades. Today, thanks to the work of this commission, Tilcon Quarry is one of only a few remaining active quarries left. Most of the traprock today is taken from the quarries around the Watchung Mountains.

The forces that have shaped the Palisades are still going on today. Large chunks of diabase are still tumbling off the sill, due to physical weathering, and large portions of the exposed rock are becoming rusted and eaten away by chemical weathering. Despite man’s past destruction of the Palisades, it looks like our effect on the Palisades has become benign for the time being.

Story Idea: Bear Mountain State Park

I spent my last weekend in Bear Mountain State Park and find it would be a great location to make documentary on sports or nature. The park features a large play field, lake and river fishing access. Many people go there for hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails. Moreover, from its website, an outdoor rink will open to ice skaters from late October through mid-March. From top of the mountain, we can even see the skyline of Manhattan.

Following are the photos taken on last Saturday.




waste / environment feature ideas

I am excited by the prospect of using drones to capture environmental devastation! This could include stories like those I see previously mentioned on the blog (Sandy coverage, trash-filled coastlines along the Hudson, etc) which are great ideas, or:

Newtown Creek with its “15-foot-thick layer (in some places 25 feet) of polluted sludge that has congealed on the creek bed.” This particular inlet near my apartment is especially startling to see from above.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 1.48.12 PM


Dead Horse Bay‘s trash-and-horse-bone-filled landscape. Read about it.




Robotic Journalism Idea: Documenting Staten Island’s Ship Graveyard

Through my temporary expert class research, I became somewhat familiar and extremely intrigued by shipwrecks. Other than their historical value, most shipwrecks end up as accidental ecosystems for ocean floor species, including the critically endangered oysters.



One of the obvious things I had to research is whether there exists a publically accessible shipwreck site in NYC. I came across information about a lesser known ship graveyard that exists in Staten Island.

All my research about it indicated that the access to it is quite limited; there is a thicket around it that allows only for spectators to see the ghostly ships from afar. However, there’ have been some extremely great efforts to document the graveyard to amazing results, including haunting photos as part of a photography series by Miru Kim.

I feel that using drones, it would be really interesting to “explore” the ship graveyard, and possibly allow many other interested individuals to experience the eeriness of some of the ships that go back as far as WWII.

Trash trash trash

Potential Droney Project Ideas:

North Brother Island:

An abandoned sanitarium (and one-time residence of “Typhoid Mary”) in New York City. I think it’s illegal to enter the property and possibly only accessible by kayak but has always been a place I wanted to explore and is full of fun mysteries to see.




Hudson River Trash Warehouses:

I grew up on the Hudson River; in TriBeCa and then in Hastings on Hudson where most of the waterfront was covered in trash. The warehouses that were used to store the refuse from NYC have been largely cleared but their toxic effect is still felt on the coastline as well as some really interesting early industrial buildings


Pollepel Island:

Another abandoned island zone, also only accessible by boat and private.  Site of Bannerman’s Castle which was an armament warehouse.

Story Idea: Bicycle Safety in Manhattan

Before I forget, here is a recent article with photographs regarding the long-lasting effects of Sandy on Staten Island which I’ve read some of us are interested in covering.

Anyway, I’m interested in bicycle safety in Manhattan, which is a hot topic right now — this summer two pedestrians were killed after being hit by bicyclists in Central Park. I think this is a particularly appropriate story to cover in this class as an aerial view could possibly show the drastic speed differences between bicyclists and pedestrians in close proximity in a more striking way than a ground-level shot could. In my opinion, Central Park would be a particularly relevant place to film since so many tourists mosey around the area, as well as New Yorkers out for a leisurely escape. However, I see bicyclists maneuvering unsafely all over Manhattan: running red lights, going the wrong way down streets, riding through people-filled crosswalks and sidewalks etc. Again I think an aerial view could be extremely effective in showing just how dangerous some bicyclists can be.

I’m looking forward to hashing out this idea in class today if anyone else thinks it’s a topic worth covering.

Exploring the Brooklyn Bridge

I have always been fascinated by how elegant the design of the Brooklyn Bridge is. Despite being one of NYC’s most popular attractions, it is a bridge with a huge cultural and historical impact. I think it would be really cool to make a short documentary on it. The documentary would focus on the history behind the Brooklyn Bridge (the history behind its amazing design, why it used to represent ‘innovation’ back when it was built, and how it has now changed to represent NYC’s past and where New Yorkers came from); also it would focus on the cultural impact that it has had over the years (how it immediately became a cultural sensation, and how/why it has become one of New York’s most visited sights). The reason I think that a documentary like that suits well with this class, is because drones can offer us unique perspectives of the bridge (angles that otherwise one can only take with helicopters). I checked the map of where drones are allowed, and it seems that it is perfectly legal to fly drones near the Brooklyn Bridge (obviously we would not go on top of cars and people, but would only fly on the side of the bridge above the water). The only risk involved with a documentary like this is that we would have to fly the drone above water (which is kind risky in case anything goes wrong with the drone).

Story ideas

IDEA 1: Trapeze on the Hudson River

TSNY, the trapeze school on the roof of Chelsea Piers, could be a good location for filming circus aerials. The President of TSNY, Jonathan, is an interesting artist and person and more importantly, someone I could probably get in touch with (he’s a friend of friends).

I think Trapeze is visually pretty great, especially if we show skilled people and it would probably be suited to the flying camera angle.


The challenges would include:

-Finding a story worth covering, whether it centers on the location and sports complex, people learning to ‘fly’ or the community of instructors involved in the success of that unusual business.

-Negotiating the private property aspect of it. The potential for flying at night (they have lights) might help us avoid attention.


IDEA 2: This little slice of Rockaway/Jacob Riis

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.11.34 PMI love this area. I think the proximity to the city clashes with it’s geography and beachtown feel. There are interesting abandoned spaces and large container ships on the horizon. It would probably take some digging to find a story here but who knows: maybe people are doing polar bear swims right now.

IDEA 3: HouseBoats of NY

There are some interesting house-dwellings in the city and they immediately lead one to imagine life on the water here in the city. 72nd st boat basin has a rule that if you haul your boat out to fix it you will lose your place and have to join the wait-list which leads to decrepit boats resting on the floor of the hudson that serve as fairly affordable housing for the mysterious residents. The Gowanus canal and Newtown Creek are also sites of boat-dwellings.