New Jersey's River of Death

Five bodies, and counting, discovered in the Passaic this year

It has become known as "The River of Death."  New Jersey's Passaic River is the all-but-official dumping ground for the dead, be they murders or suicides.

"The river is so disgusting, the way it looks," says Eddie Morales, who lives in the city of Passaic on the banks of the river of the same name in North Jersey.
Over the 4th of July weekend it looked especially disgusting, as the body of a two year old girl was found floating in Clifton, and another, a middle-aged woman was found in the water in Elmwood Park, both on the same day.
But for this "River of Death," as some locals are now calling it, the latest gruesome discoveries are hardly a first, or second. So far this year, including these two most recent discoveries, a total of five bodies have been found floating in the Passaic. It's a disproportionate number of bodies compared with the Hudson River, a much larger river just seven miles away, with many more people living along or near its banks.
"My guess would be that the Passaic River has a long reputation of being a dumping ground," explains Kirk Barrett of the Passaic River Institute at Montclair State University. "The reputation lives up to this day, people have dumped bodies here, committed suicide here. They got a reputation of a place where that kinda think is done, it's kinda self-perpetuated."
The Passaic River was the cradle of America's Industrial Revolution. More than 200 years ago, Alexander Hamilton founded the city of Paterson below the Great Falls as this nation's first manufacturing center.
Two centuries of industry, and associated pollution, turned the river into an open sewer, with none of the majestic views that can be found on the Hudson.
Is there any hope for this "River of Death?"  Montclair State's Barrett thinks so, noting a recent focus on cleanups of the river. He adds that even rowing crews now use the Passaic.

"The more eyes you have on the river, the less undesired activity," Barrett said. "You got more people on the river, doing things on and around the river, it's going to be a safer place."
Only then, Barrett says, can the Passaic lose it nickname as "The River of Death."

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