Notes about New Jersey

Moon Motel

A friend of mine was traveling to New Jersey, so I typed up some notes for her about what to see and do in the state. This is, by no means, a complete list, but in context to her winter-time travels it made sense. It was cut and pasted into a Facebook message.

If you’re from New Jersey, you’ll likely have strong opinions about the content of this article. It likely won’t feature your favorite places, and you’ll likely disagree. You’ll likely tell me about gramatical errors. But that’s New Jersey for you.

This article is written with a traveler in mind, so when I say things like “Jersey food is horrible” I’m thinking about how often I’ve gotten food poisoning from the average restaurant (a lot). Travlers need to avoid food poisoning. I’m sure your favorite — or your personally owned restuarant — is just fantastic.

Here is the message/notes on New Jersey.

Independent Reading

My expertise is mostly with West-northern and Central New Jersey.

Food

NJ has a lot of food choices, including some unique to the state. Those unique to the state are typically due to a regional business or the Shore (beach area). The diversity is due to NJ’s proximity to NYC. Generally speaking, if other states have it, they’re doing it better — for example, NJ is rife with great pizza parlors, but there’s better pizza in Brooklyn. Generally speaking, Jersey food is horrible — or at least no better than chain restaurants. With a few exceptions, the local Applebees is as good or better than the mom & pops.

So what’s unique to NJ?

Porkroll, which is ground up pork parts shaped into a bologna-shaped tubes that people sice up and cook with eggs and cheese, and eat them on a bun. A grab-and-go blue-collar belly warmer. These can be found anywhere. In the north they call it Taylor Ham, in the south it’s Pork Roll.

Giant hot dogs (found along the shore) and Italian Style Hot dogs (Newark area).
Giant hot dogs are large, thick-skinned hot dogs heated on a metal pan and served on a bun often with chili & cheese. Everyone will have their favorite place to get these, but Windmills are the most reliable — the Windmill in Longbranch is actually shaped like a windmill.

Italian Style hot dogs are hot dog served in an Italian bread roll, with ketchup, potatoes, and onions. I don’t know a specific place to get these. This is really a variety of the Jersey “Fat Cat” sandwich, with is typically a burger with EVERYTHING on it.

Tomatoes pies. A tomato pie is the inverse of a pizza, in that the sauce goes atop the cheese. That’s about it. Just as good as pizza — same combo of flavors.

Papa’s is the best known. https://www.papastomatopies.com They also have a mustard pie which I’ve tried once and actually liked.
It’s Nutts has a great name, and their tomato pies are pretty good as well http://www.itsnuttsrestaurant.com .

Disco Fries. French fries with gravy and cheese, but not curds like poutine. Found in diners.

Frozen Custard. This is a south Jersey shore thing. Basically soft serve ice cream, but instead of cream its based on custard (includes egg, which works well with vanilla). Very good, but not much better than plain old soft serve ice cream.

White Rose style burgers. These are essentially large White Castle burgers. Burgers with a lot of onions mixed into the meat, smash fried by allenged former convicts [this is not said for comic effect — it’s what I’ve been told time and time again]. Burger places have names like the White Rose System and are usually isolated from anything else interesting.

Baked eggs. Instead of frying eggs these hole in the wall mom & pop places bake them. The result is dry, not buttery, with a faint smell of burnt hair. Don’t recommend, but the places they serve them are are usually interesting as they haven’t updated since the 50s.

The Best City: Asbury Park

Asbury Park might be NJ’s most interesting city.

Wooden Walls Project. A couple dozen graffiti/street artist murals found throughout the town made by world-famous artists like Shephard Fairie, Squid Licker, and others. http://woodenwallsproject.com

The Silver Ball museum http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/

The Carousel/Casino https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/asbury-park-casino-carousel-house

The Steam Plant https://blogfinger.net/tag/the-asbury-park-steam-power-plant/

The Paramount Theatre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paramount_Theatre_(Asbury_Park,_New_Jersey)#/media/File:Asbury_Park_Paramount_Theater.JPG

Morro Castle Monument https://weirdnj.com/stories/mystery-history/morro-castle/

Good galleries [Parlor Gallery is superb], decent restaurants, music venues, and the boardwalk.

Roadside Signage/Figures

Interesting roadside sights are being rapidly destroyed as older businesses fail, so now is the time to see them.

Top of mind is the Clown in Middletown NJ. That’s going to torn down soon to make way for a Mall and Condos. It’s a giant plywood clown. https://weirdnj.com/stories/roadside-oddities/evil-clown-of-middletown/ . East-central Jersey.

Circus Drive-in sign. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/27279 I think it is still up.

Motel Moon sign. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dancentury/42446341480/in/dateposted-public/

Some Unique Weirdness

The Deep Cut Gardens mafia volcano in Middletown. https://www.dancentury.com/travel/the-volcano-of-middletown-nj/ Better in the summer, because the gardens are in bloom.

Light Dispelling Darkness fountain in Edison NJ https://www.dancentury.com/travel/edison-new-jersey-is-boring-dont-go-there/

Quick Stop groceries from Clerks. It’s a real place. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8659

Museums

Most museums in NJ are aimed at kids, and so a visit is 2 hours of high-pitched screaming and having strollers shoved into your ankles.

The Silverball Museum in Asbury Park is a pinball machine museum and you actually get to play with the machines. http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/ It is the “#1 attraction in NJ”. East-central Jersey.

Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock. In the 1960s and prior, this was the military base that protected NYC from Nazis and the US from Russian missiles. Now it’s a huge, disintegrating military base that’s semi-open to the public. The fact that it’s winter and the government shutdown makes a lot of it inaccessible. But the stuff in the woods, and that isn’t fenced off is accessible. It looks like something from a post-apocalyptic video game (admittedly, I’m not a gamer). Two lighthouses. East central Jersey.

Grounds for Sculpture is a gigantic sculpture garden in Hamilton Township. http://www.groundsforsculpture.org It is, however, closed in February. There are many sculptures in the surrounding area outside the grounds through. West-central Jersey.

If you know someone interested on model trains Northlandz https://northlandz.com in Flemington is worth enduring screaming children. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s amazing… if you like trains. West-central Jersey.

InfoAge Science Center. Deep historical science and technology nerdery. https://infoage.org East-central Jersey. I’ve been to a computer fair there, but never to their main exhibit.

Holmdel Horn Antenna. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/holmdel-horn-antenna

Closed in February, but the Franklin Mineral Museum quarry is neat because they have glow under black-light rocks https://franklinmineralmuseum.com West-northern Jersey.

It’s sister mine might be open though: Sterling Hill Museum https://www.sterlinghillminingmuseum.org West-northern Jersey.

Thomas Edison Center Boring, but the world’s largest light bulb. East-central Jersey.

Decrepit and Abandoned

Other than the aforementioned Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock, NJ doesn’t have as much decrepit and abandoned that is obvious. Because of our large and ever-growing population the old gets ground up and replaced pretty quickly. The stuff that doesn’t get rebuilt/processed is typically left alone because it’s a toxic dump, there are legal issues, or it’s far enough from civilization that it gets a pass. Weird NJ http://weirdnj.com chronicles the stuff that’s a little out of the way, and beyond Atlas Obscura and Roadside America.

What is a mystery to me is South Jersey. Pine Barrens, southern Shore, odd little downs. They’re probably interesting stuff there.

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.