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.
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.
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….
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”.
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.
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.”
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.