Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking back on 2013: our Hidden New Jersey adventures

It's been quite a year for Hidden New Jersey, with hundreds of new friends, speaking engagements completed and planned, and, of course, a host of new discoveries. We've published over 100 stories this year, and as 2013 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to revisit a few of the amazing places and people we've learned about. I hope you'll check them out, if you haven't already!

Few people realize that the Meadowlands was the site of an explosive event in World War I-era sabotage. During a visit to Lyndhurst, we discovered the story of a 1917 munitions factory explosion and the heroism of switchboard operator Tessie McNamara, who bravely saved 1700 of her coworkers from harm.

Cumberland County's Seabrook Farms was not only a leader in agricultural production and distribution techniques, it fostered cultural diversity out of necessity during World War II.

Witnessing (and hearing) the mating of the woodcock is something everyone should experience. We spent a spring evening watching the show as twilight descended over the Great Swamp.

Who knew there was a uranium mine in Hunterdon County? Actually, there wasn't, but two brothers created quite a stir when they tried to start one not far from the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

Our visit to the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame raised several fascinating stories of little-known links between the Garden State and the history of flight:

  • Trenton sent hundreds of paratroopers to serve in the D-Day invasion of World War II. While they served valiantly, not one received a medal or ribbon, for good reason.
  • Aviator Marjorie Gray ran her own flying school at Teterboro after serving in the Womens Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She flew 19 different types of aircraft in support of our WWII fighting forces.
  • Lincoln Park Airport owner Ed Gorski was the go-to mechanic for everyone from Clarence Chamberlain, Amelia Earhart and Commander Byrd.

Speaking of flight, two Triton Regional High School students clued us into the landing spot of America's first manned air voyage. Tucked behind a new Walmart, the site of Jean Pierre Blanchard's 1793 balloon landing is also home to a historic 400+ year old oak tree.

Touring the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey gave us a new appreciation of the many ways our neighbors and forebears protect our state and the nation. Besides getting a more personal view of the demands of wartime, we learned about early conflicts we'd known nothing about!

Development pressure continues to endanger many places whose stories deserve preservation. Fort Lee's former Rambo's hotel and saloon was featured in several silent movies when the town was the film capital of the world. Fortunately through the work of community activists, it's been saved from the wrecking ball and will be repurposed by the town. Red Bank's T. Thomas Fortune house, however, is still in danger, with an active citizens group working to purchase and restore it. Once home to an eminent 20th century African American publisher and civil rights activist, the site tells a little-known story about the power of advocacy journalism.

Virtually everyone recognizes the power of the Ellis Island story in America's immigrant past, but few know that a smaller immigration station once welcomed floods of newcomers in Gloucester City. We found the building, still standing, and discovered why it was built in New Jersey when Philadelphia is just across the Delaware River.

Ridgefield's busy streets are lined with dense development, so it's hard to imagine that painters and poets once flocked there to escape the hubbub of New York. With roads including Art Lane and Studio Road, the town's Art Colony of Ridgefield attracted notables like James Maxfield, Man Ray and Marianne Moore.

And finally, in our continuing quest to explore the state to its farthest reaches, we traveled into New York to access the stone marking the point where New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania meet.

Many thanks to Hidden New Jersey friends Joe Bilby, Gordon Bond, Donna Brennan, Stephanie Espinal, Katie Field, Tom Meyers, Peter Primavera, Rebecca Vives and Craig Walenta for their contributions in making these stories come to life.

As New Jersey starts its 350th anniversary year, we look forward to sharing more of the state with you -- and hearing your stories, too. We think 2014 is going to be a lot of fun!

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