When we see numbers like 2 billion tossed around — unless they’re part of a discussion about New Jersey’s budget — our first reaction is a skeptical, “Says who?” As it turns out, some very smart people, like the scientists at LMNO Engineering, Research, and Software, Ltd., who offer a terrifyingly complex online tool that will “compute discharge, depth, or width for a horizontal rectangular channel with a sudden drop-off (free overflow) waterfall.” This app should come with a warning that staring at it for more than a few minutes will induce headache, tears and an overpowering urge to rest your head on your keyboard.
To get back to the falls: 2 billion gallons of water per day pour over that 260-foot-wide, 77-feet high stony lip in Paterson. Strangely enough, the World Waterfall Database refers to it as Passaic Falls, noting it’s one of 51 “mapped” waterfalls in the state. Even more quirky, the database says, “This waterfall has been confirmed to exist by the World Waterfall Database, but specific details and information may not yet be established.” What are they waiting for? Alexander Hamilton first got an eyeful of the falls in 1778. The Lenape Native Americans obviously knew about the falls for far longer.
How great are the Great Falls? About 65.5 billion gallons of water roar over Niagara Falls every day, which works out to about 70 Olympic-size swimming pools per minute. Niagara comprises three separate waterfalls: Horseshoe (on the Canadian side) is about 167 feet high and stretches over 2,700 feet at its crest; American drops between 90 and 120 feet and spans some 940 feet at its crest; Bridal Veil Falls also drops 90 to 120 feet but is only 45 feet wide. All told, average width of the entire falls is 3,950 feet.
Of course, you can’t have a waterfall without having a daredevil — or, to borrow Gov. Phil Murphy’s term, a “knucklehead” — jump off it. That would be Sam Patch, “the Jersey Jumper,” who went over the Great Falls unscathed not once but three times — the first being on Sept. 30, 1827. Unsurprisingly, Patch, who seemed compulsively driven to jump from great heights, only lived to be 30. He survived two leaps from Niagara, but met his match jumping from a 125-foot platform into the Genesee River on Friday, Nov. 13, 1829.
The Great Falls does have something no other waterfall can match: It is the presiding metaphor in “Paterson,” the brilliant five-volume epic poem by New Jersey’s William Carlos Williams. If you’re so inclined, you can buy a signed first edition of “Paterson” for $17,500. Or you can pick up a paperback on Amazon.com for $10.99.