These racist signs should never appear in a state park

09 Dec 2020 | 02:05

To the Editor:

Kudos to Vernon’s historical society for putting up those hilariously funny signs in Wawayanda State Park. You may recall the historical society received a $13,000 state grant over five years ago to put up “interpretive signage” of the 10,000 year history of the Native Americans here in the Black Creek Valley. They obviously did years of very extensive research because all the words are spelled right; even the Chinese ones.

For a visitor to the Black Creek Historic Site who does not know the society’s sense of humor it becomes apparent on the second sign showing a bunch of bright red “Indians” playing lacrosse .... in the snow. Now depicting Native Americans as a bunch of redskins is a bit unkind and although the president of the Vernon Historical Society is an immigrant to this country, Mrs. Paladini has been here for a very long time and knows better. I suppose that is why the “Indians” in the rest of the pictures are slightly pink; except for two who are pure white. So visitors to the park have a choice of bright red, slightly pink, or pure white “Indians.” Take your pick.

One thing consistent on the expensive signs is the society “Indians” are depicted as barefoot, almost naked savages who don’t know how to make clothing. Oddly enough they seem to be living on a treeless prairie somewhere in what is now western Kansas. Maybe that explains it.

I can’t explain the moose. In the society’s Indian Fantasy World herds of moose roamed the Vernon Valley. Now it is slightly possible, during the 10,000 year history of the Black Creek site, for some horribly lost moose to stumble into the valley and get eaten. It is also possible the Native Americans in the Black Creek Valley were feasting on unicorn steaks seasoned with Chinese herbs and washed down with water from a non-existent lake, unfortunately the archaeological record does not support any of those fantasies. Every sign contains some very funny “facts” for your readers to enjoy. Such as the one showing the barefoot, pink variety of “Indians” mining veins of slate to make arrow heads while everyone else in north America was using razor sharp arrow heads made of flint. In fairness, it should be said that an arrow tipped with a chunk of slate would likely raise a very nasty welt on any unlucky moose, if it’s close enough.

Some of the six silly sign jokes are subtle, some are comic genius Sign number six claims Wawayanda Lake is glacial although signs at the actual lake say otherwise. If tourists reading the Black Creek signs have never been to Wawayanda Lake they wouldn’t know any better because they would not have seen the massive cut stone dam that created the lake in the 19th century to power the big iron furnace next to the spillway. Sadly, no Native American in 10,000 years saw that lake because it didn’t exist. To reinforce the gag on gullible visitors the society put a photo of the non-existent glacial lake at the bottom of the sign.

My favorite sign is #5. Here the society sign writers descended into slapstick comedy, promising a Native American herb garden for the tourists to see that has to be maintained by the park employees. Is there one? Nope. The sign shows drawings of plants used by the local “Indians,” including chamomile. No problem here? Well, yes, there is; chamomile is a European import that was never grown by the ancient people of the Black Creek Valley. But wait, it gets better! The next herb the society shows on the sign is dong quai. This bad boy grows in China, requiring an even longer canoe trip across the Pacific Ocean to get more unicorn steak seasoning.

I was told the historical society is going to hold a contest for Vernon residents with a prize to the person who finds the most mistakes, jokes, and racist sight gags on the signs. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll close by saying the funniest thing is the superintendent of the Wawayanda state park received complaints about the signs before she allowed them to be installed, including a written warning: “The signs contain a significant number of inaccuracies.....The signs are racist and the racism is pervasive; at times it is blatant. These signs should never appear in a New Jersey state park.”

Rick Patterson

Highland Lakes, N.Y.