What’s in a Name? Halloween Special!

There’s nothing spookier than an elusive history, one that skulks in the shadows and hesitates to reveal itself. The secrets of Jamaica Bay’s rich history prompted our investigations into the mysterious monikers lurking in the Bay.

The first haunted history to explore is Canarsie Pol whose essence has drifted into obscurity. While ‘Canarsie’ is the name applied to the earliest recorded indigenous community along the Bay, there’s scarce evidence for the precise meaning of ‘Pol’ in this context. It may be a relic of colonialism, as the Dutch word ‘pol’ is defined as a clump of grass, a possible reference to the cordgrass which pocks the landscape. Another thought is that it is an adaptation of the word ‘pile,’ consistent with 20th century dredging projects which doubled the size of Canarsie Pol. Of course, without evidence, we’re reduced to mere speculation.

With jack-o-lanterns materializing on every stoop, our minds now turn to another riddle in the Bay: Pumpkin Patch Marsh & Pumpkin Patch Channel. The mystery is that pumpkin patches prefer warm, sunny meadows to the marshy, brackish waters of Jamaica Bay. There’s a possible connection to the Pumpkin Ash tree which is native to New York and grows exclusively in marshland. But, like pumpkins, they are not found in Jamaica Bay. You may need to catch the A-train to Central Park to spot one. Unfortunately, the history of these names is subject to conjecture.

Our next subject: The Raunt. It is with goosebumps and a nervous gait that we step back through time to explore its past. Historic maps locate this channel–which flows between Ruffle Bar and Little Egg Marsh–as having extended northeast between the now filled in Rulers Bar Hassock and Big Egg Marsh. It was there that a community, elevated on wooden stilts above a curved shoreline of saltmarsh, took its name from the waterway that surrounded it on three sides. In 1888, the New York, Woodhaven, and Rockaway Railroad created a stop to serve the isolated fishing destination. However, by the 1950s, the community was condemned to make way for the new Wildlife Refuge, where its rotting remains now extend from the murk of the East Pond. The origins of ‘The Raunt’ name remain enigmatic. In Swedish it translates to ‘round’ which may reference the landscape of the shore that the community was stilted over. Whereas in German, ‘raunt’ is the conjugated form of a verb meaning to whisper or murmur, especially in an eerie context. This aura of secrecy might be derived from the clandestine mission of keeping a good fishing hole shrouded in the Bay’s mist, unknown to outsiders.

Many names still evade our understanding, including the mysteries of Jo Co Marsh, Rulers Bar Hassock, and Elders Point. Perhaps remnants of these histories are scattered among the surrounding communities like puzzle pieces shuffled under the rug, waiting to be shared. We hope you might know a friend, a relative, or a neighbor who can tighten our grip on these slippery stories.

By Jared DeGroat and John C. Harris

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