Written by John Morzen
The human imagination has a seemingly endless ability for creativity and adaptation - case in point, Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands of New York State. Many people are familiar with its name (out of adaptation), but most don't know the creativity that went into how it acquired it. Long and short, this beautiful, captivating mountain we so love, is named after a goblin king.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch would travel the Hudson River during their exploration and subsequent colonization of our region, starting when the river's namesake, an Englishman named Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, spent 20 days sailing up and down it, in September of 1609. Originating from that trip and the ones that would follow, parts of the river would begin to gain a reputation, including the area of Hudson Highlands, in particular. When sailing in rough weather in that part of the river through the Highlands; the howling winds, rolling thunder and bolts of lightning, all maddeningly amplified and intensified by the steep rock mountain walls on both sides of the river, were thought to be the work of some evil force.
The sailors, being creative individuals with a need to understand the world around them, came to the most reasonable conclusion they could, given the information they had available to them. The atmospheric intensity and terror they would experience on this part of the Hudson River was obviously the doing of a displeased goblin king, who himself, also had subservient goblins, that did his bidding. Legend still has it that a tribe of goblins continue to live on Pollepel Island (also known as Bannerman Island - which, by the way, you can visit from May through October).
The Dutch sailors went on to name this individual who seemingly caused them so much needless strife with horrific weather, the Heer of Dunderberg. "Heer" meaning "King", "Dunder" meaning "Thunder" and "Berg" meaning "Mountain". As in, King of Thunder Mountain. They knew what they were talking about, too. They could describe this individual - a round imp-like being, who oddly enough wore Dutch clothing (that's a little strange), with a light colored sugar-loaf hat, and had a trumpet he could call out orders, such as when instructing his goblins to wreak this terrifying havoc on passing ships and summon lightning strikes.
It was understood that the Heer's northernmost boundary of influence was Bannerman Island, and once passed, the waters tended to calm and the horrors of the Highlands abated. The Dutch sailors believed all of this so much, that legend has it sailors who had never made the journey before were ceremoniously dunked in the water around Bannerman Island as to "immunize" them against experiencing the Heer's acrimony on the way back. The Island's other name, Pollepel, comes from the Dutch word for "ladle", as in, what the device that sailors were hoisted down into the water on looked like.
This brings us back to creativity and adaptation again. Over time, "Heer of Dunderberg" would become "King of Thunder Mountain" in English, which would shorten to what we currently know it as, Storm King Mountain. Storm King Mountain is creatively named after a goblin king, and we've all adapted to it.
"Goblin King" isn't a term you hear in every day conversation, though, ironically, many people who are familiar with the 1986 film Labyrinth think of only one thing when they hear it; that's David Bowie - and his portrayal of the Goblin King, in that film. Many people still refer to David Bowie as the Goblin King. Ironically, Mr. Bowie would go on to spend the last two and a half decades of his life in our region, between homes in New York City and the Catskill Mountains, both equidistant from our mountain that's named after the only other one we've ever heard of. One can only wonder if he knew the origin of that mountain's name.
The Hudson Valley
Posts from The Hudson Valley.