Art, Time Travel and Sears Roebuck & Co.

November 4, 2013 § 10 Comments


“Legend of Watchung”, mural in Sears Roebuck & Co.

I think I time travelled today. If not that, at the very least I entered an alternate universe for about an hour.

It started innocently enough, on a mission to find vacuum bags. First I stop to pick up some pet supplies, (so far, a thrilling batch of errands, no?), and notice a Sears Outlet store next door so I think to bop in and see if they have said vacuum bags. No, but the regular Sears store across the highway will. I fire up the truck and head over. I’d forgotten there was a Sears in this location, but am glad, so I can wrap up all this domestic excitement sooner than later.

Pulling up to a parking space, I’m reminded that I used to come here as a kid. Haven’t set foot in this store for many decades, but in I now go ~ and as I’m directed to the appliance section, an odd déjà vu sensation starts to settle in. I turn a corner. I notice a huge mural on the wall and BAM, I’m sucked in to a vortex of sights, sounds and smells and the giddiness of my little 7-year-old feet exploring plaid flannel shirts and leather chairs and the shoes of friendly staff wearing glasses and I’m no doubt anticipating the promise of hot chocolate when we get home. And the painting. I’m enamored. I keep going back to it. It’s gigantic! It’s got Indians, and a dog and a canoe and a waterfall. It’s very special, and so unexpected, hanging in this store. It’s a piece of history, staring out from an open wall above a double stairwell, right here across from socks and coats and fur-lined hats. It’s a magical place for little me.

I realize I’m smiling. There’s an extra bounce to my step. I share a laugh or two with the salesman who sells me my vacuum bags; there’s a feeling of mutual satisfaction that comes from enjoying something pleasantly unmemorable with a stranger. A moment of connection that carries us more lightly to our next task.

On my way out, I snap a quick picture of the mural to capture this strip of memory lane. I’m not 7 anymore, but it sure was fun going back for a visit.


I couldn’t find the name of the artist (if and when I do, I will credit), but for the history buffs, this is the “legend” behind the painting (which of course I had to look up when I returned to my 2013 world):

Around 1670, a group of Dutch settlers was traveling from the Amboys up an old Indian trail which is now Somerset Street. They were under the leadership of Captain Michaelson. The Watchung tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Indians was traveling the same trail for their summer trip to the ocean to fish and collect shells for wampum.

During the night the settlers were camped near what is now the center of the Borough. Deer Prong, an advance scout for Chief One Feather’s tribe, was shot when he surprised a sentry. During the skirmish, Captain Michaelson was captured and was to be burned at the stake. Princess Wetumpka, who was traveling with the Dutch, and had some years ago saved the life of Chief One Feather, intervened and saved the life of Captain Michaelson. The Indians befriended the Dutch and allowed them to settle in the valley. The legend ends with the full tribal ceremony marriage of the Princess and Chief.


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