Best Shore Towns in New Jersey

Jersey ShoreOct2009 014

Looking for gold at Ocean Beach

Here are the top ten, according to NewJersey.com:

  1. Cape May
  2. Harvey Cedars
  3. Manasquan
  4. Beach Haven
  5. Ocean City
  6. Bradley Beach
  7. Cape May Point
  8. Surf City
  9. Ship Bottom
  10. Island Beach State Park

Here is my ranking (I’ve been to just about every beach listed by NJ.Com and others that are not listed):

  1. Ocean Beach (Dover)
  2. Beach Haven
  3. Island Beach State Park
  4. Seaside Heights
  5. Ocean City
  6. Cape May
  7. Asbury Park
  8. Ortley Beach
  9. Wildwood
  10. Harvey Cedars

Review of James Gigantino, *William Livingston’s American Revolution*

GigantinoYou can read my review of Gigantino‘s new book William Livingston’s American Revolution in the recent issue of New Jersey Studies.

Here is a taste:

William Livingston (1723-1790) was a prominent Whig lawyer, prolific writer on behalf of the cause of liberty, member of the Continental Congress, and the governor of New Jersey during the American Revolution. His personal papers are widely accessible to historians. It is thus surprising that until James Gigantino’s William Livingston’s American Revolution, the only biography of Livingston was James Sedgwick’s hagiographical A Memoir of the Life of William Livingston, published in 1833.

Read the entire review here.

 

The Disarming of New Jersey Quakers, 1776

Shrewsbury

Friends Burial Ground, Shrewsbury, NJ

Earlier today I was reading the Journal of the Votes and Proceedings of the Convention of New Jersey (Burlington, NJ: Isaac Collins, 1776).  This is essentially the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress) in the weeks leading up to and following the Declaration of Independence.  (The NJ Provincial Congress is the body that sent delegates to the Continental Congress, endorsed independence, and wrote the New Jersey State Constitution)

On July 1, 1776, the minutes state:

Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress the several committees in this colony were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of publick affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still do refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same, and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed.  (Italic mine).

For those blog readers who know a thing or two about the American Revolution, have you ever seen a case in which a state legislature (or some other body, such as a local committee of safety) confiscates guns from those with a religious conviction against bearing arms (in this case, New Jersey Quakers)?   And if you have seen something like this before, were they reimbursed with vouchers or something similar?

Does “Central Jersey” Exist?

CentralNJmap1895

Anyone from New Jersey knows that there are actually two “Jersies”–North Jersey and South Jersey.  But is there a “Central Jersey”–a place that is not oriented to either New York City or Philadelphia?  Don Nosowitz makes the case in a recent piece at Atlas Obscura.  Here is a taste:

Central Jerseyans—rather like their state as a whole—define themselves by what they are not. They are not bridge-and-tunnel North Jerseyans. They are not cheesesteak-eating Philadelphians from South Jersey. So what exactly are they? That’s harder to put a finger on. A couple of people told me that they get both Philadelphia and New York City television channels: two of each major network. That’s interesting and weird, but maybe not enough to define a region.

There is (I think) some self-loathing involved in being a Central Jerseyan. New Jersey is a wildly stigmatized state; surely no other state, at least outside of Florida, is so widely mocked. Nationally known depictions of New Jersey—The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, On the Waterfront, Garden State—represent North Jersey, and not in a particularly flattering light.

Nationally, South Jersey has almost no pop culture profile, but it is still stigmatized—from within. As a Philadelphian who loves my home city but understands the national attitudes toward it, I’d suggest that South Jersey suffers from a double whammy: It is both New Jersey (bad) and Philadelphia (bad). “South Jerseyans really have animosity towards North Jersey,” says Murray, who is himself from South Jersey. “And what makes it worse for South Jersey folks is that North Jersey doesn’t have animosity for South Jersey; they just think it’s irrelevant.” South Jersey literally tried to secede from the state in 1980.

To say you’re from Central Jersey is to say, “Hey, whatever you know about New Jersey, that’s not me.” It’s a combination of pride and the acknowledgment of, or even agreement with, the negative view many people have of the state.

Yet negation is only half of a response. Take two small cities commonly claimed as Central Jersey: New Brunswick, on the outer edges of the New York City orbit, and thus North Jersey, and Princeton, on the outer edges of the Philadelphia orbit, and thus South Jersey. They must have something in common, right? Or is simply saying “Central Jersey” enough times enough to force it into existence?

Read the entire piece here.

Jersey Girls

I am reading Mark Lender’s and Garry Stone’s outstanding book Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016).  In 2017, the book was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.

Lender

In the authors’ discussion of Brigadier General Charles Scott’s march through Princeton on June 24, 1778, they write:

As it marched, Scott’s column found the public enthusiastic about the unfolding campaign; there was a perception that affairs were building toward a climax.  As the troops passed through Princeton–a town that suffered its share of pillage in 1776 and 1777–residents gave the soldiery a warm welcome.  As Private Joseph Plumb recalled, they dealt out ‘”toddy” to the men as they marched by, “which caused the detachment to move slowly at this place.”  Cheerful young ladies watched “the noble exhibition of a thousand half-starved and three-quarters naked soldiers pass in review.”  In this, the private’s memory lapsed a bit: the troops were actually in reasonably good condition.  But he remembered the “ladies” well enough.  “I declare that I never before or since saw more beauty,” he wrote.  “They were all beautiful.”  With sectional loyalty, the Connecticut soldier allowed that “Yankee ladies” were perhaps smarter, but he insisted that “New Jersey and Pennsylvania ladies” were “handsome, the most so of any in the United States.”  We can never know if his comrades shared his infatuation, but his paean to the Princeton belles suggests that on that evening, they were as much concerned with Venus as with Mars.”

Lender and Stone source this paragraph with footnote 54.    Here is what that footnote says:

J.P. Martin, Yankee Doodle, 123.  Joseph Plumb Martin’s rhapsody on Jersey girls predates that of Tom Waits by two centures.  And for those mystified by the reference, Tom Waits released the popular song “Jersey Girl” in 1980 on his Heartattack and Vine album; the Bruce Springsteen cover of 1981 made it even more popular.  Waits was clearly of the same opinion  as Private Martin.

To fellow Jersey boys Lender and Stone:  Thanks for making my Saturday afternoon with that footnote!

“Down the shore everything’s all right.”

Martin Joseph

 

Marc Mappen, R.I.P.

mappen

The New Jersey history community is mourning the death of Marc Mappen, the author of several books on New Jersey history, an administrator at Rutgers, and a former director of the New Jersey Historical Commission (NJHC).

I only talked with Marc face-to-face a few times, but over the last twenty years or so he has been a regular cheerleader of my work, especially when that work intersected with New Jersey History.  I met him when he was leading NJHC, an organization that helped fund my dissertation research, my first book, and my current work on New Jersey in the American Revolution.  I think I first learned about the Mount Holly “witch trials” from his book Jerseyana and I consult his Witches & Historians every time I refresh my lecture on the Salem Witch Trials.   I was also honored to contribute several articles to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, a major reference took he edited with Maxine Lurie.

Rest in peace, Marc.

Here is Marc Mappen’s obituary:

Mappen, Marc, Ph.D., 74, of Highland Park died on Sunday, January 6, 2018 after an illness surrounded by his family at the Francis Parker Home at River Road in Piscataway.

Dr. Mappen was born in Boston, MA and received his undergraduate degree in American History from Boston University in 1967. He continued his education at Rutgers University attaining his Master degree in 1968 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1976. His dissertation was entitled “Anatomy of a Schism: Religious Dissent in a New England Community, 1705-1765.”

He was a frequent speaker on National Public Radio, New Jersey Network, and the History Channel on the subject of New Jersey history and the author of several publications. These publications include Jerseyana: The Underside of New Jersey History, There’s More to New Jersey Than the Sopranos, Prohibition Gangsters: A Generation of Bad Men, Encyclopedia of New Jersey (co-editor-in-chief), Murder and Spies, Lovers and Lies: Settling the Great Controversies of American History, and Witches and Historians: Interpretations of Salem.

Dr. Mappen worked at Rutgers University from 1973 through 2000. During that time, he held a number of positions at Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-New Brunswick, serving as the Associate Dean for Administration from 1985-1990 in the Faculty of Arts and Science – Newark and as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1990 to 2000 at University College in New Brunswick. He was also extremely proud of his role as Executive Director of the New Jersey Historical Commission for the State of New Jersey from 2000 to 2010.

Dr. Mappen was predeceased by his brother, Felix Roth (2018) and a sister, Edith Ingall (1974).

He is survived by his wife of 48 ½ years, Ellen; a son, Benjamin and his wife Lily Whang of San Carlos CA; and a daughter, Rebecca and her companion Gavin of Somerset, NJ. He is also survived by his sister, Ina Schneider, a brother-in-law, David Ingall, and a sister-in-law, Fortuna Calvo Roth. There are also many nieces and nephews.

A public memorial service will be scheduled at a future time.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Highland Park Public Library or a charity of your choice in his memory.

Here are some Marc’s books:

witches mappen

gangster

 

nj ency

jerseyana

sopranos

 

Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

springsteen netflix

Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

Springsteen Exhibit Comes to Freehold, New Jersey

bruce-header

It is Bruce’s hometownMelissa Ziobro, a public history professor at Monmouth University, has curated an exhibit about Springsteen’s relationship with Freehold, New Jersey.  Read all about it at the Asbury Park Press.  Here is a taste:

The exhibit will be the largest drawn to date from the artifacts of The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University. The unveiling will coincide with the Boss’ 70th birthday (Sept. 23, 2019) as well as the centennial of Freehold Borough.

The items on display will include personal scrapbooks handmade by Springsteen’s mom, Adele Springsteen, to alternate album covers never before seen by the public. E Street Band drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez; early Springsteen manager Carl “Tinker” West; and “Born to Run” drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter are contributing oral histories for the exhibit.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Jim Gigantino

51TXFAw4vAL._AC_US218_Jim Gigantino is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. This interview is based on his new book William Livingston’s American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: In my first book, The Ragged Road to Abolition, I stumbled on William Livingston, specifically his interactions as a quasi-abolitionist and his wartime leadership in New Jersey in its relation to sustaining slavery. What stunned me about him was that he had a vast collection of papers, was a member of the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and a governor in a state central to the Revolution for fifteen years and no one had ever written a book about his relationship with the country’s founding since the 1830s. When I was thinking about a second project, Livingston kept coming into my head so I figured I should listen to him!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: William Livingston’s American Revolution explores how New Jerseyans experienced the American Revolution and managed a state government on the war’s front lines. It illustrates the operations of revolutionary era governments and those who guided the day-to-day operations, administrators, like Livingston, who served as the principal conduits between the local wartime situation and the national demands placed on the states.

JF: Why do we need to read William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: If you want to see how the war was prosecuted at the ground level, then this book is for you. As a wartime bureaucrat, Livingston played a pivotal role in a pivotal place, prosecuting the war on a daily basis for eight years. He is the perfect example of a second-tier founding father, those who actually administered the nitty gritty of the war. Through Livingston’s life and political career, we can examine the complex nature of the conflict and the choice to wage it, the constant battle over loyalty on the home front, the limits of patriot governance under fire, and the ways in which wartime experiences affected the creation of the Constitution.

JF: What courses do you teach at the University of Arkansas?

JG: Well, right now, I do not teach much of anything since after three years as our department’s Associate Chair & Director of Graduate Studies, I assumed the role of Department Chair this past July.  In the spring, I will get back into the classroom teaching a survey course but most of my courses are mainly upper-level Colonial America and Revolutionary America courses.  I also teach the first half of African American history when I have a free spot but with these administrative duties, that unfortunately is getting less and less often.

JF: What is your next project?

JG:  I am working on a project tentatively titled 1804: The Year that Changed America. Through five interconnected vignettes (beginning of gradual abolition in the North, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark’s Expedition, Haitian Independence, and the burning of the USS Philadelphia in the Barbary Coast War), 1804 illustrates how specific events in a single year influenced the course of American history. Each vignette explores one of three themes set into motion in 1804: sectional antagonism that culminated in the American Civil War, the destruction of Native American power in North America, and the economic and political expansion of American power globally. The book will integrate all of them into a single narrative that illustrates the domestic and international pressures that transformed how Americans saw themselves and their place in the world. It is still in its early stages but it has been exciting to explore a whole host of issues I have not touched for quite some time.

JF: Thanks, Jim!

The Gateway Tunnel Project and Donald Trump

Gateway Trustee Rich Bagger 
Amtrak CEO Tony Coscia
Senator Cory Booker
Senator Robert Menendez
Congressman Donald Payne Jr

Check out Michael Grunwald‘s fascinating article about power politics, partisanship, Donald Trump, and America’s crumbling infrastructure.  Trump is in favor infrastructure development, as long as it helps his base, his brand, and his party.  This is approach may be putting New York City, and the nation’s economy, at risk.

Here is a taste of Grunwald’s long-form piece at Politico: “The Tunnel That Could Break New York“:

By the end of the 40-minute meeting, it sounded like Trump was on board with the entire $30 billion Gateway program, not only the tunnel but a suite of related projects along the most congested stretch of American passenger rail. He delighted Gateway’s boosters by calling the tunnel vital for the economy, though he did note that it would be tough to get credit for, like an air conditioning project in the basement of one of his hotels. “Nobody’s gonna see it,” Trump told the group, “but you still gotta do it.” The politicians in attendance thought the president had even embraced an Obama administration commitment for federal taxpayers to foot half the bill. “Ask anyone on either side of the aisle. It was very upbeat, total agreement this needs to get done,” Christie told me. King describes the meeting as a love-in: “Not a single negative word, great body language, everybody on the same page.”

After the meeting, though, Trump asked Schumer to stay behind. He bluntly offered another deal, an offer suggesting he had a rather different conception of Gateway’s larger importance: Schumer could have his tunnel if Trump got his border wall with Mexico.

Schumer said he couldn’t make that trade. And ever since, the Trump administration has been doing just about everything in its power to derail the Gateway project.

Read the entire piece here.

Perth Amboy, New Jersey and the American Revolution

PerthAmboy

The Proprietary House:  Governor William Franklin’s home in Perth Amboy

Sometimes I posts links here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home because I want to return to them later.  WordPress makes it easy to search past posts.

As some of you know, I am working on a history of the American Revolution in New Jersey.  I will be writing more about that project once the Believe Me publicity campaign is over.  Stay tuned.

Today I learned about this great walking tour of revolutionary-era Perth Amboy, New Jersey.  Here is a taste of Bob Makin’s piece at MyCentralJersey.com:

Perth Amboy has many attributes officials and residents boast about, including a magnificent waterfront; a delicious, vibrant Latino culture; and the potential for economic development. But perhaps the most splendid jewel in its Bayshore crown is Colonial and Revolutionary War history.

Settled by Scots in 1683, Perth Amboy is one of the state’s oldest towns, which means its full of fascinating historic sites that often get overlooked compared to similar historic towns, such as Cape May, Trenton, Morristown, Freehold, Princeton, Bound Brook and Scotch Plains.

The reason it may get overlooked is because the city was Loyalist, with Colonists on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War, reasoned a city historian Anton Massopust, our guide, along with his childhood friend, local developer and history buff Barry Rosengarten, and the “Old Perth Amboy Walking Guide” by William S. Pavlovsky and the city Historic Preservation Commission. 

Read the rest here.

A Day with the History Department at Kean University

Liberty Hall Kean

Liberty Hall at Kean University.  Liberty Hall was the home of William Livingston, the first governor of the state of New Jersey. 

As I posted earlier this week, I spent the day on Tuesday with the History Department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.  I am working with Kean as a “public humanities consultant” for their National Endowment for the Humanities program “William Livingston’s World.

First, was very impressed with the Kean History Department and the hospitality I received during my visit.  Special thanks to Jonathan Mercantini (Acting Dean of the College of Liberty Arts) and Elizabeth Hyde (Department Chair).

In the morning, I talked about public engagement with the faculty and campus archives staff.  We had a spirited discussion about whether or not our public engagement as historians should be more political and activist-oriented than our classroom teaching.  I think it is fair to say that we were divided on this question.

In the afternoon, I met with four honors students who wrote papers and created websites on William Livingston.  During this session we watched the “director’s cut” of the Liberty Hall 360 re-enactment of the Susannah Livingston-John Jay wedding.  Several of the students worked on the script.  It was fun chatting with undergraduates who have traveled to archives with Livingston collections, read Livingston’s letters, and tried to make sense of the political, intellectual, and religious life of this New Jersey founding father.

One of these students approached me after the session with a signed copy of Why Study History?  My inscription read: “Caleb, keep studying history and I hope you do so at Messiah College.”  It was dated 2014.  Needless to say, we did not land Caleb at Messiah, but he certainly had a wonderful undergraduate career at Kean.  Caleb asked me to sign the book again with an inscription that began “four years later….”  It was a great encounter with a big undergraduate fish I was unable to land!  🙂

Finally, I met with five adjunct faculty members who teach the department’s general education course: “HIST 1062: Modern World Civilizations: Crises of the Contemporary World.”  We had a great discussion about how to teach historical thinking skills to non-history majors.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope to return soon to continue consulting on the William Livingston project.  As I noted in my previous post, I think this is a model grant for any history department interested in merging public history, public humanities, career preparation, and the undergraduate history curriculum.

Springsteen at the Tony Awards: My Hometown

I heard this live when I saw “Springsteen on Broadway,” but for some reason it hit me a lot harder this time.  Springsteen describes so much of my childhood growing up in northern New Jersey as part of a working-class immigrant family–Italian Catholic on my father’s side, Slovakian Catholic on the other side.

This makes me want to sit down with Bruce and ask him how he raised kids who experienced none of this history.

Doris Burke: A New Jersey Girl Makes Good

Doris

Doris Burke interviewing Kyrie Irving during his days at Duke (Flickr via Creative Commons)

If you are a basketball fan–especially an NBA fan–you know about Doris Burke.  You may recognize her as the sideline reporter during ABC’s coverage of the NBA finals.  But did you know she grew up on the New Jersey shore, was a dominant high school basketball player at Manasquan High School, and is one of the best point guards to ever play in the old Big East?

 

Check out Joseph Atmonavage’s long-form piece on Burke at NJ.Com.  Here is a taste: 

The story of Doris Burke becoming the best basketball broadcaster working today starts in the 1970s, when her family of 10 moved from Long Island to the Jersey Shore because her father wanted a shorter commute.

Basketball was the first thing that greeted the 7-year-old Burke when she walked into her family’s new Manasquan home at 23 Fisk St. A left-behind basketball was just sitting there, waiting for her to pick it up. A basketball court — just a few strides away — was her newest neighbor and would become the place to find young Doris.

“A little divine providence,” Burke said.

All she ever needed was that ball and that court. Burke would step in between the lines and lose herself for hours, finding a confidence and self-worth that would propel her career.

“The love of the game is something I found in Manasquan,” Burke, 52, said in a phone interview a few days before announcing Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals for ESPN. “I literally picked that ball up as a 7-year-old and I have not put it down to this day.”

Then, she was Doris Sable: the youngest of eight in a tough-as-nails Irish-Catholic family crammed into a minuscule home in the tiny, happy-go-lucky town. Just a basketball-possessed Shore kid people described as having a killer instinct on the court. Off of it, “there wasn’t a mean bone in Doris’ body,” childhood friend and teammate Tara Gunning said.

Now, she is Doris Burke: a trailblazer in the game of basketball as an ESPN color analyst — a role that is almost always filled by men and usually reserved for aging coaches and ex-players.

She was the first woman to announce a Big East men’s basketball game on TV, the first woman to do a New York Knicks game on TV or radio, the first woman to be a full-time NBA analyst on national television. And she’ll again work the sidelines at the highest levels during the NBA Finals, which start Thursday on ABC.

On air, Burke gracefully weaves her “I’m from Jersey” attitude with a humility and knowledge that the basketball world practically drools over. Within the hysteria of a basketball game, Burke is often the calmest person in the arena. She breaks down the game in a to-the-point fashion that both the sophisticated basketball viewer and someone watching for the first time can appreciate and understand. And when she transitions to the sidelines, Burke can put on a Ph.D.-level discourse of how to ask questions in a hectic, emotional environment, like she did at last year’s Finals. (According to Sports Illustrated, over 11 minutes and 25 seconds, she asked 13 questions of seven people.)

Read the entire piece here.

And in Other News: Police Caught the “Pooperintendent”

Holmdel

The scene of the crime

I saw this story today on Facebook.  It comes from NJ.Com:

The Kenilworth school superintendent charged Monday with defecating in public was caught in the act at the Holmdel High School football field and track after surveillance was set up due to human feces being found “on a daily basis,” police said.

Thomas Tramaglini, 42, lives about 3 miles from Holmdel High School in neighboring Aberdeen. He was running at the track on the athletic fields at 5:50 a.m. before he was arrested.

Track coaches and staff at Holmdel High School told the district’s resource officer that they found human feces on or near the football field and track daily, Holmdel police said in a statement Thursday. 

School employees began monitoring the area and on Monday police arrested Tramaglini at 5:50 a.m., according to Sgt. Theodore Sigismondi.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Brian Regal

51HcjrS6VnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Regal is associate professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Kean University. This interview is based on his new book co-authored with Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: Following Hurricane Sandy we lost power for over a week. When it came back on, I had a lot of TV watching to catch up on. One of the first things I saw was a show on monsters that was doing a segment on the Jersey Devil. It recycled all the old unsubstantiated clichés and nonsense about witches and bat wings. I began looking into the literature on the subject and realized it too was all crap. No one had ever bothered to do a scholarly investigation into the myth or its origins. It made me mad how lazy and slipshod so much of cryptozoological writing was (anger is one of the underappreciated catalysts to historical writing). I told all this to my Kean University colleague, and former teacher, Dr. Frank J. Esposito, a scholar of New Jersey and Native American history. We immediately decided we should write something together on the legend. That is how this book was born. We wanted to do something that had rarely been done before: approach a monster legend from a historical rather than a sociological or folklorist or biological angle. We went and found a large number of primary sources that had never been tapped or never used for what we used them for. I wanted to write something that might one day be thought of as a compelling narrative and that was sympathetic to the lead character, and maybe even a little poetic with a nice turn of phrase or two (I understand someone else will make that determination).

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: The story of the Jersey Devil is not one of a monster born of a witch mother. It’s the story of religious strife, bare-knuckled political in-fighting, and cultural scapegoating.

JF: Why do we need to read The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: No one really needs this: it’s not insulin. It would, however, be of interest to anyone interested in some of the little discussed cultural events that had a major, but unappreciated impact upon American history. If you are interested in where political monsters come from, the treatment of outspoken women, religious intolerance, and the origins of what we today call ‘Fake News’ than you should read it. The story centers on the life of Daniel Leeds, a man largely forgotten today, but who, had he lived a generation later, we might have called a Founding Father. A man who tried to bring the Scientific Revolution to North America; who became the first author in New Jersey and one of the first censored authors in America; and who helped invent the political attack literature that has become a part of modern society. We also placed the origins of the legend within western monster lore and how other such myths contributed to it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

BR: When I was a kid I wanted to be Jonny Quest. He travelled the world having adventures, he was smart, and he wore a cool, black t-shirt. I wanted to be Jonny, but as an historian. My guidance counselor, however, told me “kids like you don’t go to college” (My father was a construction worker and my mother was a waitress). So, I joined the army after high school. I volunteered for service in the armored cavalry and travelled the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. I kept reading and dreaming and later was fortunate enough to encounter people who helped me get into college and who supported my plans, and I began to think I might just be able to be an historian and a writer after all. I was especially fascinated by the history of science and the relationship between professional scholars and amateur investigators, particularly in the realm of the paranormal and monster studies, and realized there had not been that much done on this topic. I hope that if I ever do meet Jonny, he’ll understand.

JF: What is your next project?

BR: I am currently working on a history of amateur archaeology examining the various legends and myths about who ‘really’ discovered America. I am looking at stories about a Welsh Prince, Vikings, Chinese explorers, African adventurers, and others, and how these stories are largely the result of political and cultural wants and needs rather than any actual archaeological or historical realities, and that are tied to their historical times. It is tentatively titled Waiting for Columbus.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

More on the Bust of Richard Stockton

Richard-Stockton-2

Last week we published a post on Stockton University‘s decision to remove a bust of Richard Stockton from its library.  Stockton was a New Jersey revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The bust will be replaced with a more thorough exhibit that will apparently deal with Stockton as a slave holder.   Read our post here.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell offers his own thoughts on the remove of the Stockton bust.

Here is a taste:

This month brought news that Stockton University in New Jersey has removed a bust of Richard Stockton (shown above) from its library. The reason was not, however, because his iconic status in the state rests on a shaky legend of stoic suffering at the hands of the enemy.

Rather, the university removed the bust because Stockton owned slaves. Those people are documented in his will, in which the judge said his widow Annis could free them if she chose. (I’ve found no evidence she did so. Their son Richard owned slaves as an adult, as did their daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Rush—even though he advocated for an end to slavery.)

As a public university, and one founded to provide more opportunities for students who don’t have advantages in our society, Stockton University has good reason not to glorify someone who participated in slave-owning even while championing liberty for gentlemen like himself.

At the same time, I don’t see how removing Stockton’s bust will fix that contradiction when the institution is still, you know, named Stockton University.

The school started in the 1970s as South Jersey State College and evolved through Stockton State College, Richard Stockton State College, and the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey before becoming Stockton University in 2015. Has the Stockton name developed enough of its own legacy to leave the judge behind? Does Stockton’s documented interest in higher education (as a trustee of Princeton College) make him a good namesake for a university despite his other behavior?

Good questions.

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