By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
If you thought you saw a Christmas tree in a PATH tunnel on the Hoboken-33rd Street line, it wasn’t your imagination. There really is a tree, at what’s known as Caisson 3, about 3,000 feet from Hoboken Station.
Propped up seven feet off the ground by a wooden timber and attended to by various members of PATH’s Signals Division throughout the holiday season, the PATH tunnel tree is a decades-old tradition — one of the Port Authority’s most distinctive holiday displays, if one of its best-kept secrets to the public at large.
The tale of the Christmas tunnel tree starts in the 1950s, when signal repairman Joe Wojitowicz decided to put some Christmas lights up in the window of the Signal Room located near the tree’s current spot. Passengers and employees alike were delighted by the sight of the holiday cheer in an otherwise dim tunnel, so he continued to decorate the room year after year. The tree became his pride and joy, and has been a holiday revelation for Hoboken-33rd Street riders ever since.
Over the years, various members of PATH’s Signals Division have shared the responsibility of finding, erecting and adorning the tree.
“Nothing prevents us from putting the tree up each year,” said Brian Hodgkinson, Chief Signals Maintenance Supervisor. “Even during Superstorm Sandy, the tree still went up.”
The tree tradition has endured despite an early issue that nearly derailed it. In 1963, just a few years after its debut, it was brought to Wojitowicz’s attention that the lights were causing the trainmasters who guide PATH trains some confusion. It looked like the tradition was going to have to end in order to continue assuring PATH riders’ safety.
But in a seeming twist of fate, a loose piece of concrete fell from the ceiling outside the signal room some months later. In response, PATH’s Ways and Structures Division built a large, floor-to-ceiling wooden timber, which the Signals Division quickly discovered could support an entire Christmas tree. And a new location for the Christmas decoration was born. All was merry and bright again along the Hoboken-33rd Street line.
The tunnel tree has become part of a special annual holiday tradition for the Port Authority – one that’s in the company of the PATH holiday poster contest and a variety of Santa visits and menorah lighting’s across the agency’s facilities.
PATH signal maintainers are working hard to both keep the tracks clear and the holiday spirit alive across New York and New Jersey. So next time you’re riding the PATH through Hoboken this season, look out the window. You might just see a piece of history.