Light Dispelling Darkness

Edison New Jersey is boring, don’t go there

I grew up in a small town called Metuchen, New Jersey. Metuchen is best known as the hometown of magician David Copperfield. In terms of interesting things to see, it has a haunted house and a Revolutionary War graveyard. Otherwise, it’s a safe, borning commuter town in the middle of New Jersey. Surrounding Metuchen is an even more boring place called Edison, New Jersey. Edison is a patchwork of strip malls, warehouses, and tract house neighborhoods, stitched together by a commuter rail line and several major highways. Boring. Folks call Edison the “donut”, and Metuchen is the “donut hole” — in other words, I grew up in the literal void inside, perhaps, the most boring place in the world.

It might sound like I’m trashing Edison, but I’m not (well, maybe a little). Boredom can be inspirational — it can inspire people to live more interesting lives, move to more exciting places, travel, or make the world a better place. But you’ll have to take the first step — boring never changes to exciting or interesting on its own. Boring will fight you to stay boring. Newton’s first law of motion states that “an object at rest stays at rest” — the same is true of boring. Something that is boring will stay boring. Either you need to exert some influence on it to make it less boring (often futile), or move to a better place (GET OUT).

Now you’re thinking “Dan you’re just playing with words”, I love Edison, it’s not bad at all, we’re close to New York City, surely Edison is less boring and soul-destroying than North Brunswick, New Jersey (touche) or the Mid-West. Well, news flash, every location in the Mid-West is less boring than New Jersey because the most of the Mid-West has legal explosive fireworks — right there, that’s more exciting. The Mid-West has better fast food as well.

So, what if you’re stuck in Edison (there on business, your family moved there), and you’re looking for something interesting to check out. There are two places.

Edison Light Tower at the Thomas Edison Center

Edison Tower

Go here to see a large tower with the world’s largest lightbulb at the top. Link to the website. The location features a small museum, a park, and a pond, where as legend has it, inventor Thomas A. Edison procured a fishing hook which he used as a filament for one of his blubs. The light tower and blub is impressively large, and from a historical perspective, the location is significant. Worth seeing if you’re in town.

Light Dispelling Darkness

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

Light Dispelling Darkness is an amazing fountain located in Roosevelt Park. According to Roadside America it was a Depression-era WPA Art project, unvieled to the public in 1938. The fountain portrays evil — in the form of greed, disease and other bad stuff — fleeing from good — in the form of industry, science, and other wholesome activities.

If you’re into weird or horrific things, this fountain is for you. The sculptures portraying “darkness” are truly grotesque. Intertwined, wresting octopuses; a skeleton riding a screaming horse; a horse with measles; naked dudes; dudes with 5 heads. Not what you would expect in a boring town.

Light Dispelling Darkness becomes a good metaphor for Edison, the town, except the town is Boring and the Bored are Fleeing it. Light Dispelling Darkness, Bored Fleeing Boring. In both cases, Edison is an inspiration for progress and change.

This is the GOOD: science, sports, zeppelins, etc:

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

I think this is WAR:
Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be GREED or PESTILENCE:

Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be DEATH:

Light Dispelling Darkness

I need to take some better pictures.

Bonus: Dismal Swamp

When I grew up, the most exciting thing to do in Metuchen or Edison — if you had no money — was to go hiking (drinking) down by the train tracks or in the woods. The woods with the best name in Edison is the Dismal Swamp aka the Everglades of New Jersey (no gators). Dismal can mean “dreary, drab, dull, bleak, cheerless, depressing, uninviting, unwelcoming”. Almost “boring”. If you like nature and hiking, this is probably the best place in town.

Also, once every 17 years (next 2030) they get a good crop of cicadas. Otherwise, don’t go to Edison.

Lucy the Elephant

Margate New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant

New Jersey prides itself on its weirdness, whether that be cultural, architectural, historical, or cryptological weirdness. There’s a magazine devoted to it: Weird NJ. We have a hockey team called the Jersey Devils, named after a mythological demonic chimera that torments the Pine Barrens.

But why?

New Jersey might be “weird” because is not an easy place in which to live — it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s polluted, it’s unforgiving, and I’m guessing the first human to be called an “asshole” was born here — the Garden State grows more of them than tomatoes, blueberries, and corn combined. Perhaps weirdness is both a product of and a refuge from the harshness of Jersey. I also think that a lot of what we Jersians label as “weird”, might actually be perfectly normal — we just call it weird as a defense mechanism to keep the assholes at bay.

I scoured Roadside America’s New Jersey page (Doug Kirby used to live in Jersey, btw) and my own memory, for the roadside attraction in Jersey that is both weird and magnificent. Something you might travel from another state to see. My answer is Margate City, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant (9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate City, NJ).

A square photo of Lucy:

Lucy. #icon #bucketlist

Lucy is a stunningly beautiful, 65 feet tall statue of an elephant that spends her days admiring the Atlantic ocean. She has lovely painted nails. You can visit her at her home in Margate City. You can take a tour, climb through her insides, ride her back, and get the best view of the beach and sea in town. She’s so wonderful that it pains me to call her “weird”, but since “normal” on the Jersey Shore is beige condo complex or a gaudy McMansion (with too many “voids”), weird is a compliment.

I was working on my “bucket list” on the 31st of March and realized that I’d never seen Lucy in the flesh. I thought “I can check this one off my list today”, entered my vehicle, and steered toward Margate City.

You have to pay a toll (“the Downbeach Express”) to get into and out of Lucy’s hometown. E-ZPass won’t work, so bring 4 singles. Seeing Lucy for the first time was an experience. Not cathartic, but definitely worth the trip — worth bringing others with you. There are a plethora of souvenirs to purchase — stuffed elephants, t-shirts, mugs, keychains, pens, candies — I got a fridge magnet.

I recommend stopping by the Margate Dairy Bar & Burger for a snack while you’re in town.

Lucy’s Toes (on fleek):

Lucy the Elephant’s Painted Toenails #roadsideamerica #jerseyshore #margate

A water tower featuring Lucy:

Lucy Watertower

It wouldn’t be New Jersey, without an asshole:

Lucy the Elephant in Margate City

Calico's Face

Calico, the “Evil” Middletown Clown

New Jersey has many massive & memorable business mascots, including Margate City’s Lucy the Elephant and Asbury Park’s Tillie. My personal favorite promotional character is Calico the Clown: an enormous, primary-colored clown, located at 853 Route 35 North, Middletown, NJ. Calico now stands before a Spirits Unlimited liquor store, but he once was the mascot of Food Circus Super Markets, Inc., a company that operates a bunch of Foodtown supermarkets (more info). I can see the connection between “Food Circus” and a clown, and … liquor makes folks “act like a clown” as well.

Calico has garnered the unfortunate name “the Evil Clown of Middletown”. The look on his face conjures up terms like wily, scheming, bemused, or vexed. His eyebrows are reminiscent of the Rock’s “people’s eyebrow” – but with both eyes. I don’t see “evil” when I look at Calico. I see a complex individual, often misunderstood and under-appreciated, stoic, with a healthy disdain and sense of humor about the world around him. I guess I see myself in Calico.

Middletown Liquor Clown

The clown has been profiled by Weird NJ and Roadside America over the years. There is a Facebook page dedicated to preventing his destruction (Save Calico, The “Evil Clown” of Middletown, NJ). There are even songs about him.

One “controversy” with the clown is: “what is he doing with his right hand?” Some dirty-minded folks say he is making a lewd gesture. He is — or at least he should be — holding a balloon string. The “SAVE” circle on the sign is actually a balloon:
The Hand

Also, note that the original drawing of Calico features all 7 chakras:
Clown with Chakras

It appears that his third eye was omitted or removed from his roadside manifestation. I also wonder why they chose to paint his finger red.

Vitos volcano

The Volcano of Middletown, NJ

When hard-working New York entrepreneurs want to relax they head to New Jersey. Mostly they go to the Jersey Shore. Vito “Don Vito” Genovese was no exception. Vito took his hard-earned money and invested it in an estate in the northern-most shore town: Middletown Township. Within the estate, Vito created a majestic botanical garden, featuring dozens of species of trees, a massive rose garden, a koi pond, a frog pond, and terraced gardens featuring pools, waterfalls, and a volcano.

That’s right: a volcano. Not a real volcano of course, but a model of the famous Mount Vesuvius in Italy.

Deep Cut Park

I’ve seen this Grimace-shaped stack of rocks a dozen or more times and never thought it was a volcano. A horribly misshapen barbecue or kiln perhaps. But now I can see it. It doesn’t really look like Mount Vesuvius, but that isn’t something I would ever say to Don Vito.

But in context of the beauty of the gardens, it’s pretty alright.

Deep Cut Park

Deep Cut Park

Deep Cut Park

Deep Cut Park

Did I mention the volcano has a side-hatch? A hidey-hole? A place to put stooges who say it doesn’t look like the real Mount Vesuvius?

Deep Cut Park

It’s also worth mentioning that I discovered that the volcano was a volcano thanks to the Roadside America app, which is the best app of all, and one of a handful of reasons to own an iPhone.

Also, important to note that the volcano is located in Deep Cut Gardens, which is now owned by the County of Monmouth. Go see it.

Grounds for Sculpture: the most interesting place in New Jersey

Trigger warnings: New Jersey, Nudity, Taxidermy.

New Jersey is simultaneously wonderful and horrible, and there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I’m generalizing, of course, but I’ve spent 95% of my life in the state, and struggle with the population density, high cost of living, close-mindedness, and rudeness every day. New Jersey is not 100% Sopranos & MTV’s Jersey Shore, but it is at least 50% that. Every now and then I have to take a step back and think “why do I live here?” It is then that I remember all the good people and places in New Jersey, and think “oh, that is why”.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” If there was one place in New Jersey that is an example of a better New Jersey, it is Grounds for Sculpture. Located in Hamilton, NJ, Grounds for Sculpture is a sprawling, peaceful, verdant park filled with hundreds of impressively-large sculptures. Visit Grounds for Sculpture and you will feel as if you’ve been transported to a new dimension, where people aren’t rude and have an interest and respect for art.

Grounds for Sculpture: The Shepard, The Sheep and Human Hill

Grounds for Sculpture: Sci-Fi sculpture

Heart's Desire

Grounds for Sculpture: Objects D'Art

Silhouette of woman and child sculpture

Yes, you will see some nudity:
Grounds for Sculpture: Sexy Lady in the Jungle

Happy Nudes

They have a few indoor exhibits as well:
Deer Lady

Superdeer

New Jersey should be more like Grounds for Sculpture. If you’re not from New Jersey, spend a day there — it will erase many negative misconceptions you have about New Jersey.

Disclaimer: I’ve only been there during the fall when there were no crowds. I’m hoping that it isn’t like a noisy shopping mall packed with rude, pushy people during the warmer months.