PATERSON, NJ – For more than 50 years, Marcia Dente lived on Front Street, about two blocks from the Great Falls. During that time, the majestic national landmark was always part of her life.
“We always went down, played by the falls,” Dente, 67, remembered fondly. “My father lived there [in Paterson] his entire life. My father learned how to swim in the Passaic River 80 years ago. My cousin from George would buy these balsa wood airplanes for 10 cents, take them to the falls and toss them over. That was our big thing. The mist was great.”
In her high school years, Dente passed the falls every day. “We took it for granted,” she said. “It was there. But anyone who came to visit, we took to that area.”
Over the years, Dente watched, painted and photographed what she described as “water cascading over the rocks.”
Recently, the falls have inspired her in a new way. In 2010, Dente completed her first book, “Great Falls of Paterson.” It was mostly photographs and was written prior to the federal government’s decision to designate the Great Falls as a national historical park.
Now she has produced a second book, “Paterson Great Falls: From Local Landmark to National Historical Park.” This one is more in-depth with more than 36,000 words and approximately 75 images.
Dente was born and raised in Paterson and lived in the city for 62 years before moving to an adult community in South Jersey in 2007.
Dente devoted 45 years of her life serving the City of Paterson. In 1960, she went to work for the Paterson Free Public Library and remained there for 17 years. Dente was hired as a staff artist who worked on many Paterson projects, including poetry contests, publishing poetry anthologies and art contests. But mostly, she assisted Mary Ellen Kramer, wife of former Mayor Lawrence “Pat” Kramer, in creating the Great Falls Festival.
The first Falls Festival was Labor Day weekend, 1971. “I got involved with Mary Ellen Kramer and we got the festival going,” said Dente.
During that first festival, the legendary Duke Ellington performed. “The stadium was still in usable condition,” said Dente. “They had a lot of concerts.” Philippe Petit was another great spectator act for The Great Falls Festival in 1974 when 30,000 spectators watched the French aerialist cross a cable strung 100 feet above the falls.
“We had a lot of daredevils,” Dente said. “Motorcycle acts, helicopter acts … that was the big attraction.”
After working for the public library, Dente went on to work for Paterson’s Department of Public Works in 1977 and continued to be involved in the planning of the festivals with Ruth Hirshberg and later on with Paul Vetreno and Anthony Vancheri – former parks officials who are now retired.
In writing her two books about Paterson, Dente wanted to illustrate the historic importance and acknowledge the role they played in making Paterson and the United States an industrial giant. Over the many years Dente worked at the library, she had accumulated all kinds of information and photographs, which helped in researching her books.
When the book was finished Dente approached former mayor Pat Kramer to write the foreword. “Without hesitation, he wrote it,” she said. “He was very enthusiastic, very supportive.”
Kramer said he enjoyed reading the book. “Marcia does her homework,’’ Kramer said. “She really captured the gist of the Paterson falls story.
Dente is considering writing another book. “There’s a new series from Arcadia, ‘Legendary Locals from Paterson.’ I’m toying with trying to write something for that one,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who were instrumental in the forming of the city. Eventually I’d like to do something on Hinchliffe Stadium.”
Even though Dente is no longer a resident of Paterson, she does come back often. “I kept my doctors. I still have family and friends in the area,” she said. “November sixteenth we’re having our fiftieth high school reunion at the Brownstone. Paterson was a great city. I wish they could turn it around.”
Marcia Dente will be having a book signing at Well Read Bookstore in Hawthorne on Saturday, Oct.20, 2012, 6:30 p.m.