Why Women Pretended to Be Creepy Rocks and Trees in NYC Parks During WWI
July 21, 2017 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Imagine taking a quiet stroll through the expansive wilderness of Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, New York. You’re surrounded by a forest of oak trees, stony ridges, and a tranquil lake—completely isolated and alone in nature. But in 1918, visitors to the 1,146-acre park were unaware that they were in the company of a group of women hiding among the rocks, trees, and grass.

... The women disguised in special (and fairly creepy) dried grass or ”rock suits” were student military camouflage artists, or camoufleurs, of the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps, a forgotten division of the National League for Women’s Service.
posted by twilightlost (46 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
wait you need a reason to do this?

Anyway this is a great article!
posted by Hypatia at 7:44 AM on July 21 [24 favorites]


I take exception to the idea that there is an "expansive wilderness" where you can be "completely isolated and alone in nature" anywhere inside NYC, or any city for that matter. Methinks the author needs to get out more.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:49 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Don't mistake her for a wallflower — she's a camoufleur.
posted by Kabanos at 7:53 AM on July 21 [29 favorites]


I take exception to the idea that there is an "expansive wilderness" where you can be "completely isolated and alone in nature" anywhere inside NYC, or any city for that matter.

Have you been in the middle of Prospect Park?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:56 AM on July 21 [19 favorites]


Historical New York City was a very different place from what it is today.
posted by SPrintF at 7:59 AM on July 21 [9 favorites]


We had an interesting thread about Dazzle painting last year, and this is a nice addition to the info from that thread. Thanks!
posted by jacquilynne at 8:00 AM on July 21


Wonderful, and seconding the charm of the word "camoufleur." I hope to use it today.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:08 AM on July 21


Those photos look like they could be stills from a Maya Deren film.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:12 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


these women are a few archery lessons away from being Katniss Everdeen
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:14 AM on July 21 [8 favorites]


Well, I mean, it's a lot easier to hide in black and white. They had it easy in their day.
posted by Brockles at 8:20 AM on July 21 [50 favorites]


Are we sure ...

(Whispers)

Are we sure they aren't still there?
posted by maxsparber at 8:21 AM on July 21 [49 favorites]


I take exception to the idea that there is an "expansive wilderness" where you can be "completely isolated and alone in nature" anywhere inside NYC

There were objections at the time that it was too far from Manhattan.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:36 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I take exception to the idea that there is an "expansive wilderness" where you can be "completely isolated and alone in nature" anywhere inside NYC

It was 1918.
posted by cooker girl at 8:40 AM on July 21 [8 favorites]


Van Cortlandt Park is really quite large, and lots of it is forest. If "alone in nature" means "you can't see any other people or anything manmade", you can still do that very easily. I mean, if your standard for 'nature' is 'many miles of trackless wilderness', then that's not going to happen, sure.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:41 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I want a rock suit and I don't think I can trust anyone who also didn't have that reaction to reading this.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:41 AM on July 21 [34 favorites]


Historical New York City was a very different place from what it is today.

Yeah, this is pre-Robert Moses, may his name be forever cursed.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:42 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


This is an awesome story.

I am surprised, however, that I am the first one to link to this.

Have Monty Python references gone so stale? Or am I out of touch? No. No, it is the children who are wrong.
posted by nubs at 8:44 AM on July 21 [12 favorites]


Historical New York City was a very different place from what it is today.

I'm repeating myself, but Van Cortlandt Park is still there, and still has rocks and trees in it. If you wanted to dress up in a rock suit and hide, you could do it in exactly the same places with exactly the same success as in 1918. (Exactly? Probably some things have moved. But I bet I could find the rocks in those pictures without too much trouble.)
posted by LizardBreath at 8:47 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


I was half expecting it to be some kind of huge cultural rebellion. Like the men would wake up one morning and the women would all just be gone. They couldn't find them anywhere, and they wandered around like William H. Macy in Pleasantville, going "where's my dinner?"
posted by Naberius at 8:47 AM on July 21 [24 favorites]


1918, when there were three quarters of a million people living in the Bronx. Come on now, NYC is one of the greatest cities in the world and some of its parks are rightly quite famous but it's pretty much the antithesis of wilderness. And now I really am out of here because this is silly. Sorry all.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:48 AM on July 21


You can always tell a Milford woman.

(Fun fact: There are actually eleven women in the third photo down, if you can spot them)
posted by FakeFreyja at 8:50 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


this is silly.

Yes, arguing about the topography of a place you've never been to is silly...
posted by neroli at 9:00 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


One, I am surprised that the old-timey gendered word wasn't "camoufleuse" following chauffeur/chauffeuse etc.

Two, no mention of personal camouflage is complete without this comparison (it's one of the ones that includes a bunny suit (Christmas Story, not chip fab)).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:01 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


I'm repeating myself, but Van Cortlandt Park is still there, and still has rocks and trees in it. If you wanted to dress up in a rock suit and hide, you could do it in exactly the same places with exactly the same success as in 1918.

Disagree, your smartphone notification chimes would give you away
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:11 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Soundtrack ("The Seasons Reverse" by Gastr Del Sol from the album Camofleur)
posted by ardgedee at 9:14 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I have a visceral reaction to this article.

The operative notion is that you can be within a few feet of someone without them knowing you're there. You lie still, while they and their group stroll past you. You move only your hooded eyes, knowing that the first one of them that fixes his gaze on you will be shot by one of your brothers in the bush behind you.

Years removed, I've walked past a certain spot on the trail when a familiar whiff caught my attention. Investigating, I found a blind overlooking the trail which had obviously been used by a mountain lion. They have a distinct odor. I wondered how many times he'd lain there watching me or my small herd of horses and mules pass by on the way to the pond.

I imagine the women working on this project, and believe they transcend the usual bump and grind as they design, and then test their suits on passersby. This is worth a ticket to ride for anybody who's up to stepping a bit to the side of his daily daily.
posted by mule98J at 9:17 AM on July 21 [15 favorites]


For those about to rock, we salute you.
posted by dr_dank at 9:43 AM on July 21 [15 favorites]


Now I want to know why we stopped making military ships fabulous.
posted by BlueJae at 9:55 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


It's at times like this that I realize how ignorant I am about the geography of NYC outside of Manhattan (which I've visited) and select parts of the outer boroughs that I've seen in movies and TV over the years.

Like, I have no idea what the northernmost part of The Bronx is like as it heads up into New York state, or say, the easternmost reaches of Queens heading into the rest of Long Island. To me it's all just a mish-mash of shabby location shots as seen in the credits of TV shows like All in the Family and Welcome Back Kotter, or grimy 70s movies like Fort Apache, the Bronx and The French Connection.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:55 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


> Why Women Pretended to Be Creepy Rocks and Trees in NYC Parks During WWI

When I read this I honestly thought the answer was going to be some variation on "because they just wanted to enjoy the god damn park without dudes bothering them."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:12 AM on July 21 [35 favorites]


This is very cool.

The tangent about whether it is or has ever been possible to be isolated and alone in nature in "wilderness" in an urban park is really interesting, as well, and would be a great subject for a separate post.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


The plan to assassinate Cyrus was a lot more elaborate than I had previously realized.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:24 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Maybe they were just working through some stuff.
posted by bink at 11:02 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Now I want to know why we stopped making military ships fabulous.

They stopped doing optical rangefinding via human visual system.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:10 AM on July 21 [7 favorites]


I predict that Camofleurs will be the primary organization of the female protagonist in the next Wes Anderson movie.

That being said, it also works equally well as the name for my Camera Obscura cover band.

For people interested in this, I recommend researching Jasper Maskelyne and the Phantom Division of WW2. Best thing was the tank covers for Jeeps- inflatable rubber inserts that were used to make Jeeps look like Sherman tanks.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 12:04 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


I was surprised to read these women had to pay for their training before service. Any idea what that was about?
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 12:21 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


This is fantastic. Also (possibly obligatory), how not to be seen
posted by Mchelly at 12:30 PM on July 21


I was surprised to read these women had to pay for their training before service. Any idea what that was about?

[singing] EMM EYE ESS! OH GEE WHY! WHY-EYE-EYE ENN WHY! [/singing]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:49 PM on July 21 [16 favorites]


For people interested in this, I recommend researching Jasper Maskelyne and the Phantom Division of WW2

I'ver seen claims that Maskelyne contributed a lot less to the war effort than he's given credit for; i.e., he made what was a token effort, with anonymous boffins doing virtually all of the work. That his name comes up repeatedly is either because he was an exemplary self-aggrandiser or because the story of a famous illusionist saving the war effort is a heck of a good one, or both.
posted by acb at 3:29 PM on July 21


I have it on good authority that John Cena is also in every one of these pictures.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:01 PM on July 21


a forgotten division of the National League for Women’s Service

In other words, they excelled at what they did.
posted by maxwelton at 2:57 AM on July 22 [6 favorites]


WWI fascinates me. Even in this centennial time, it has such depths and resonance.
posted by doctornemo at 4:56 AM on July 22


a forgotten division of the National League for Women’s Service

In other words, they excelled at what they did.


How can you tell they did well at an important task? Because men took it over at the next opportunity.
posted by Etrigan at 5:59 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


> The tangent about whether it is or has ever been possible to be isolated and alone in nature in "wilderness" in an urban park is really interesting, as well, and would be a great subject for a separate post.

I sort of got lost in an urban park once upon a time. I was very drunk and my sister will never stop laughing at me because of it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:20 AM on July 22


I have been more alone in nature in NYC's Inwood Hill Park and in Philly's Wissahickon Valley Park than in Yellowstone National Park.
posted by basalganglia at 8:15 AM on July 23


the easternmost reaches of Queens heading into the rest of Long Island.

Depends on the area. For the most part it's far less urban than Manhattan, with many more single family homes and some big parks. Which also describes much of Western Nassau county.
posted by zarq at 2:50 PM on July 23


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