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There's More to New Jersey than the Sopranos

Marc Mappen

Publication Year: 2009

An American tourist in Europe stopped at a restaurant in Gdansk, Poland, and struck up a conversation with a local. "Where do you come from?" he asked. "New Jersey," she said. He smiled and replied, "Ah, Sopranos!"

Even fans of that popular show, one that held viewers captive, may be a bit disheartened to discover that the first thing that pops into minds around the world about New Jersey is a dysfunctional crime family, just an exit or two off the infamous N.J. Turnpike. But there's no need to live in fear that the only culture and history that the state is known for is, well, let's say, a bit of bada bing. Actually, the echo of the Big Bangùthe cosmic event that marked the birth of our universe some 13.7 billion years agoùwas first identified by scientists from Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

In this lively romp through history from the primitive past to the present day, Marc Mappen's message resonatesùThere's More to New Jersey than the Sopranos. Real tales, wise tales, tall tales abound throughout the pages of Mappen's collection, filled with zest, humor, scandal, and occasionally tragedy. Annie Oakley. Ulysses S. Grant. Benedict Arnold. Ezra Pound. Shoeless Joe Jackson. These luminaries and many others share a common bond with the state that witnessed prehistoric elephants roaming its pastures, the explosion on the USS Princeton, a Martian invasion, famous firsts like the phonograph, electric light, and movies, and, well, step aside Tony Soprano: mobster Al Capone strolling along the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Providing a lens into American history through lively prose and more than twenty-five illustrations, There's More to New Jersey than the Sopranos is as much fun as a trip to the Jersey Shore and definitely more rewarding than a night home watching televisionù simply stated, this book is one you can't refuse to read.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction

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pp. ix-x

An American tourist on vacation in Europe stopped at a restaurant in Gdansk, Poland, where she struck up a conversation with a local at the next table. “Where do you come from?” he asked. When she said she was from New Jersey, he replied with a smile of recognition, “Ah, Sopranos!"...

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1. How We Got to Where We Are

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pp. 1-14

What was it like, some twelve thousand years ago, when the ancestors of the Lenape Indians arrived in the land that, hundreds of generations later, was named New Jersey? Did these Stone Age people have watercraft that enabled them to travel over the river that we call the Delaware? Did they walk down the Hudson Valley? Did they come as a clan, with men, women, and children, or was it a party of male...

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2. When Prehistoric Elephants Roamed New Jersey

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pp. 15-18

On a winter day in 1954, a workman dredging a pond in Sussex County came upon the enormous, grinning skull of some monstrous animal. The owner of the pond, Gus Ohberg, called the police, who called the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. After weeks of digging, scientists and volunteers unearthed the skeleton of a mastodon...

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3 New Jersey Was Paradise

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pp. 18-22

When outsiders make jokes about New Jersey, we get defensive. We talk about our beautiful woodlands and scenic shore. But let’s face it—we’re doing a pretty good job of fouling segments of our landscape with cheap strip malls, garish condo developments, decaying cities, traffic-clogged highways, bad air, and polluted water...

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4 Move Over, Betsy Ross

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pp. 22-27

Consider the flag of the United States, with its combination of stars and stripes. No matter what our political persuasion, region of the country, or ethnic group, we are united by Old Glory. It conjures up images of marines in World War II raising the flag on Iwo Jima, of Lincoln at Gettysburg, of immigrants coming to Ellis...

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5 Good Golly, Miss Molly

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pp. 27-38

Molly Pitcher is a name well-known in New Jersey and around the nation as the Revolutionary War heroine who, at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, brought water to the thirsty American troops and took up arms against the British enemy. An Internet search on Google turns up 15,600 results for “Molly Pitcher,” higher than for other notable...

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6 The Caldwell Murder Case

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pp. 38-42

In June 1780, a Revolutionary War battle took place in Connecticut Farms (now Union Township), New Jersey, when American Continental troops and militia clashed with a British and Hessian invading force...

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7 “The Cow Chace”

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pp. 42-46

Why did the British lose the American Revolution? There are all sorts of convoluted explanations about the length of supply lines across the Atlantic, eighteenth-century infantry tactics, British colonial policy, and so forth. But maybe the saga of the Cow Chase tells...

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8 Classical Gas

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pp. 46-49

This is a story about a pioneering scientific experiment in an unlikely place with a celebrity cast.
In the closing days of the American Revolution, in August of 1783, the commander in chief of the American army, General George Washington, established his headquarters at Rocky Hill, New Jersey, in order to be close...

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9 The Congressman’s Cold

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pp. 49-53

The French philosopher Pascal observed that if Cleopatra’s nose had been an inch longer the history of the world would have been utterly different. What Pascal was saying (apart from the fact that he found short noses sexy) was that great events are determined by...

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10 The First Flight

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pp. 54-58

On January 9, 1793,Monsieur Jean Pierre Blanchard traveled from Philadelphia across the Delaware River to New Jersey, accompanied by a little dog.What made his trip worthy of remembering is that he did it 5,812 feet in the air. It was the first human flight in the Western...

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11 John Adams’s Ass

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pp. 58-62

The year 1798 was an important one for human creative expression. In London, Wordsworth wrote poetry; in Madrid, Goya painted frescos; in Vienna, Beethoven composed piano sonatas.
And in Newark, New Jersey, Luther Baldwin expressed the hope that the president of the United States would get hit by a cannonball in his...

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12 Man Eats Tomato and Lives!

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pp. 62-66

The story of how Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a tomato on the steps of the Salem County Court House in September 1820 is one of the most dramatic and colorful in New Jersey history.
It seems that in the early years of the nineteenth century, Americans regarded tomatoes as “love apples,” charming to look at but poisonous to eat. Colonel Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem County and a man with...

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13 Explosion on the USS Princeton

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pp. 66-69

On February 28, 1844, the president of the United States, the secretary of state, and other Washington heavyweights went for what they thought would be a pleasant cruise on a brand-new U.S. Navy warship. This junket turned out to be a spectacular disaster that shocked the nation and crippled the government...

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14 Two New Jersey Soldiers in Confederate Prisons

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pp. 70-78

“War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, the hard-bitten Civil War general. He might have been thinking of the over two hundred thousand Union soldiers who suffered in Confederate captivity. Here is the story of two such POWs who hailed from New Jersey...

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15 General Grant Skips the Theater

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pp. 78-81

General Ulysses S. Grant loved his wife and he loved his children. He loved them so much that in order to spend some quality time with his family in New Jersey, he turned down an invitation from President Abraham Lincoln to attend a play at Ford’s Theater...

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16 The Jersey General and the Secret of Custer’s Last Stand

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pp. 81-89

You probably don’t think of New Jersey as part of the Wild West. But in fact our little East Coast state is where two of the great symbols of the American West originated—the Stetson ten-gallon hat and the Colt revolver. The first Western movie, The Great Train Robbery, was filmed here in 1903. The man who discovered gold in California and the man who discovered Pikes Peak in Colorado were natives of New

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17 Poor Mary Smith

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pp. 90-92

These days in New Jersey, Roman Catholics and Protestants get along in cheerful harmony; there is probably less antagonism between them than between fans of the American League and fans of the National League.
But in the nineteenth century it was a different story. Back then old-line Protestants who had dominated the state since the colonial era saw...

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18 Mrs. Stanton Steps Out in Tenafly

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pp. 93-97

In November 1880 an elderly lady shocked the citizenry of Tenafly, New Jersey, by attempting to perform a forbidden act in public. Had she been lewd? Drunk? No, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, sixty-four, had tried to cast a ballot in an election.
Stanton was born in 1815 to a wealthy family in upstate New York. When she was eleven, her older brother died. The body was placed in a...

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19 It’s About Time

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pp. 97-100

Without looking at your watch, do you know what time it is? Chances are you can come pretty close to the correct time.
But wait a minute. What, after all, is “correct” time? For most of human history, time was determined by the position of the sun.When it was directly overhead, the time was noon.
The problem is that noon occurs at a different time depending on...

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20 Leprosy in the Laundry

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pp. 100-105

Anyone deluded enough to think that the good old days were better than our own era should spend some time leafing through the yellowed pages of antique newspapers (or more likely, reeling through microfilm versions of those papers). The press in the nineteenth century delighted in running stories of human misfortune, the more grotesque the better. These sordid accounts, which usually appeared...

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21 Stephen Crane Gets into Trouble

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pp. 105-108

On August 17, 1892, the New Jersey chapters of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, a workingman’s organization, held their annual parade in Asbury Park. Among the spectators was Stephen Crane.
We remember Crane, who was born in Newark, as the author of a classic American novel, The Red Badge of Courage. But on that day in Asbury Park he was a skinny twenty-year-old kid, trying to break into the...

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22 The Ghostly Sphynx of Metedeconk

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pp. 108-111

There is another piece of Stephen Crane’s writing that deserves our attention. It is not great literature like The Red Badge of Courage, and it did not have the profound effect on his career as did his Junior Mechanics article. But it’s worth a look as Jersey-related entertainment. We’re talking here about two articles on the subject of ghosts on the Jersey Shore that Crane churned out in his hungry freelance days, when he was earning five dollars a column. The first of the ghost articles...

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23 Annie Oakley Lived in Nutley, New Jersey

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pp. 112-116

The name Annie Oakley may not mean much to young people. A bunch of grade-school children interviewed by this writer had never heard of Annie Oakley or, for that matter, of Wild Bill Hickok,Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, or any of the other legendary heroes of the Old West...

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24 Scandal at the Girls’ Reform School

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pp. 116-120

Back in the 1890s, a New York newspaper discovered a way to add a splash of color to the comics pages by using yellow ink, and so the “yellow press” was born. But the term came to stand for more than just a printing gimmick; it was used to describe a sensationalistic...

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25 Alice Goes for a Drive

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pp. 120-124

Some feminists look down their noses at “famous firsts”: the first woman astronaut, the first woman to swim the English Channel, the first woman senator, and so forth. And maybe it is a bit condescending to look at women’s history as just a game of catch-up...

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26 Billy Sunday Came to Trenton on Monday

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pp. 125-127

Billy Sunday was his real name, and he was America’s most famous preacher, bigger than all the modern television evangelists put together. And on a Monday in 1915, Sunday came to New Jersey to bring the word of God to the state legislature...

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27 Ezra Pound Insults Newark

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pp. 127-130

The year 1916 was Newark’s 250th anniversary, and the city put on pageants and parades to celebrate itself. As part of the festivities, the city fathers decided to hold a poetry contest. A prize committee was appointed, consisting of the mayor, a circuit judge, a Rutgers art history professor, a high school English teacher, a literary editor, and a poet...

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28 Cher Ami

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pp. 131-134

After the end of World War I, a scarred survivor of the Western Front came to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The veteran had lost a leg in air combat and had been honored by General John Pershing for saving hundreds of American lives.When this hero died, in June 1919, its body was stuffed by a taxidermist and placed on display in the Smithsonian...

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29 The Poet, the Athlete, and the War to End All Wars

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pp. 135-139

Few people are still alive who remember World War I. The Armistice Day holiday that was meant to commemorate the end of that war has become the generic Veteran’s Day, which for most of us is just an occasion for a shopping trip to the mall. But it’s worth reflecting on that first of the world wars, and how it shattered the ideals...

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30 The Applejack Campaign

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pp. 139-142

The feisty gubernatorial election of 1919 was a classic New Jersey political battle that has been known ever since as the “Applejack Campaign,” after New Jersey’s native alcoholic beverage.
It was a contest between the Prohibitionist “drys” and the anti- Prohibition “wets.” The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified, and beginning in the New Year, the manufacture or sale of...

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31 Swan Song for Shoeless Joe

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pp. 143-146

It was great ball-game weather in New Jersey on Sunday, June 25, 1922. The sky was clear, with afternoon temperatures in the seventies and a cooling breeze from the southwest. In Hackensack, two thousand eager fans packed a local field known as the Oval to watch the hometown semi-pro team take on a visiting club from Westwood...

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32 The Tragic Fall of the Mexican Lindbergh

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pp. 146-149

On a July Friday in 1928, an auto mechanic with the appropriate name of John Carr knocked off work early from the garage where he worked in the little Burlington County village of Chatsworth.He picked up his wife and mother in his family car, and drove out eight miles or so from the village to an isolated clearing beside the railroad tracks...

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33 On the Boardwalk with Al Capone

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pp. 149-152

Everybody goes to Atlantic City for a convention: teachers, plumbers, salespeople, and (until the departure of the Miss America pageant) beauty queens. So why not gangsters? Back in 1929, America’s leading bootleggers, hit men, and racketeers gathered in the...

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34 The Morro Castle Mystery

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pp. 153-156

It was a bit after 2:00 a.m. on the night of September 7–8, 1934, as the luxury cruise ship Morro Castle beat its way up the Atlantic off the New Jersey coast. Outside a fierce nor’easter was lashing the sea with wind and rain. But it was cozy inside the ship. In the main lounge on B deck, a few passengers were still up, and a steward, Daniel Campbell...

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35 The Rise and Fall of a Great Detective

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pp. 156-159

There is a classic type of mystery-story detective— Colombo, Jane Marple, and Rumpole are examples—who seems like a hopeless rube but who manages to solve the crime and confound the big shots.
Ellis Parker, the chief detective of Burlington County, was a real-life version. Parker was a big man who a smoked corn-cob pipe and dressed...

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36 Mommy Was a Commie

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pp. 159-162

A lot of celebrities got divorced in the 1930s, like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow.
But not all the famous marital breakups occurred in Hollywood. One of the best-known splits of the 1930s took place in an obscure home at 38 Lakewood Terrace in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The household consisted of...

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37 The Martian Invasion

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pp. 162-167

On an October night in 1938, a bunch of actors in a Manhattan radio studio convinced a portion of the American public that an invasion force from Mars had landed in New Jersey.
The central figure in this story is Orson Welles, the celebrated actor, playwright, and director. The twenty-eight-year-old Welles had a program on the CBS radio network entitled The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

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38 When New Jersey Was a Nazi Target

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pp. 168-170

The 1938Martian invasion of New Jersey (see chapter thirty-seven) was fictional, but a little over three years later came a real one. In the five months from mid-January to mid-June 1942, U-boats stalked American ships off the East Coast of the United States, sinking...

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39 Teleporting Penguin Lands in New Jersey

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pp. 171-174

Charles Fort was a very odd chap. A reclusive, pudgy man with thick glasses and a walrus mustache, he spent his days in musty libraries pouring through old newspapers and books searching for accounts of weird events that seemed to defy the laws of science. Thanks to a family inheritance, he didn’t have to worry about working for a living...

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40 The Serpent in the Garden State: A Brief History of Corruption

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pp. 175-190

There is a debate about whether a pervasive culture of corruption exists in New Jersey as compared to other states, or whether we are just better at exposing corruption and rooting it out. There was one person who had no doubt whatsoever about the answer to this question...

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Postscript: How to Write an Encyclopedia of New Jersey in Nine Easy Years

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pp. 190-196

If reading this book has piqued your interest in the Garden State and you would like to know more, there is another book I would like to recommend—the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, which can be found on the shelves of most libraries in the state. It’s a pretty hefty tome...

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 197-204

Index

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pp. 205-210

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813548449
E-ISBN-10: 0813548446
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813545868

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 27 illustrations. 27 illustrations
Publication Year: 2009