The Mysterious Rock Snake of Cooper Street

7
3149

Just south of 207th  on Cooper Street there stands an unusual rock outcropping that has somehow survived generations of urban development.   This however is not a lesson in geology, though there is likely a bit of glacial activity involved in the tale that follows.

Cooper Street just south of 207th Street.

Beginning as early as 1910 printed reports of a giant fossilized snake embedded in the rock began to emerge in the media of the day.

St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, 1910-1911 edition.

Soon “riding parties,” geologists, and throngs of children began to descend on Inwood to get a look at the “creature.

And, for nearly a decade, “The Cooper Street Rock Snake” became one of Inwood’s star attractions.  Whether or not the creature was real or an optical illusion seemed almost beside the point….

Cooper Street Rock Snake, NY Herald, October 13, 1913.


New York Herald
 October 13, 1913

“The huge figure of a snake embedded in a large rock in Cooper Street, near Broadway and 207th, is attracting the attention of hundreds of persons.  Since the discovery of the figure several weeks ago, hundreds of automobile parties have stopped to see the wonder.  Geologists say that the snake must have been caught in the rocks during an upheaval of the earth more than 2,000 years ago.

The head and body of the reptile are plainly discernible. The figure is twenty-five feet long from head to tail.  From the appearance of the figure it would seem that the snake was somewhat surprised at the earthquake, which preserved his form for the wonderment of future generations.

Steps are being taken to have the rock preserved by the Museum of Natural History”.

Cooper Street Snake, NY Evening Post, December 19, 1923.

An article written ten years later, in New York Evening Post, read like a treasure map to anyone interested in “discovering” the lair of the Cooper Street serpent:

Take Broadway subway to West 207th Street; walk in 207th Street, five blocks west to Cooper Avenue (sic)—first street after crossing Broadway.  There are not houses on that part of Cooper Avenue, but only limestone rocks.  Now walk on the West side of Cooper Avenue, about thirty steps towards 206th Street; look at the rocks on this side and you will find in the rock about eight or ten feet above the sidewalk the distinct impression of something very much like a big snake.”

Adults and children alike were mystified by the story of a fossilized snake being uncovered, so much so that one literary magazine for kids devoted nearly two columns to Inwood’s mysterious monster.

St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, 1910-1911 edition.
St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, 1910-1911 edition.
St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, 1910-1911 edition.

The next time you walk down Cooper Street keep an eye on the rock. There just might be a serpent keeping an eye on you.

Author’s note: After reading this post, frequent contributor Herb Maruska dropped MyInwood.net a line.  Herb writes, “Here  (below) is a photo of 54 Cooper Street from around 1900, and the original plans for the structure. The remaining rock ledge that you just posted is just to the right of this building, toward 207th St.”

54 Cooper Street, 1910 from Herb Maruska, who writes, here is a “photo of your Cooper Street site with the embedded snake, taken in 1910. The tall house in the exact center was 54 Cooper Street. The land which remains unbuilt is to the right of the house. Broadway (Kingsbridge Road) is at the bottom left corner of the photo. Emerson Street (now 207th Street) cuts directly across the photo, from left to right, about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. It amazes me how much rock was blown away to level Inwood.”
54 Cooper Street circa 1900 (Source: Herb Maruska)
Floor plan for 54 Cooper Street (Source: Herb Maruska)

The floor plan, dated 1927, states that 54 Cooper, a three-story frame house, “was erected by Julius Rockell, Architect of No. 233 Grand Street, corner of Bowery, for Henry Patterson, owner of No. 150 Mott Street. Erection began on the 20th day of September 1872 and was completed on the 30th day of June 1873, according to the report filed July 1, 1873 by Building Inspector Timothy J. West. Construction consisted of a foundation of brick with a wooden superstructure. A mansard roof topped all, including an installed hot air furnace. The cost was $12,000.00.

Thanks to Herb, for taking us off on this wonderful tangent. And, since we’ve wandered down this path, here is another shot of 54 Cooper Street seen from a perspective I’m sure you’ll all recognize.

Dyckman House in 1890’s with 54 Cooper Street in background (Source NY-HS).

7 COMMENTS

  1. If my memory is right there was wooden stairs going up to the top where there was an old house. We thought it was haunted. That’s Good Shepherd next to it and I would look up each time I passed it. I wonder if that house has been part of the Dykeman farm? Also, does anyone remember across from Good Shepherd School was a canon sitting on a stone slab?

  2. I remember that house well. It was abandoned in the 60’s and torn down. It was at the top of a long drive way above Cooper Street. It came down right around the time they tore down the Good Sheperd Chapel maybe a few years after. The neighborhood was going through a brief change as the girls department was built and the apartment building in 215th and Seaman was built.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!

Please enter your name here