Weird New Jersey
Often treated like the red headed stepchild, New Jersey has been the target of ridicule of other states and contemporary conversation. And yet New Jersey has defined our current culture. From the light bulb, to the phonograph, to Motion Pictures, New Jersey has been a mutant gene in the double strand of America.
If anything, Chico, California deeply resembles the feel of Jersey. There is a certain brashness and authenticity of the people that seems to define the character of it’s citizens. And while Chico doesn’t get the severe winters of NJ, there’s something in the air that reeks of Jersey. Maybe it’s all the transplants. While we all struggle through the transition of summer into winter, I can only hope that people keep their wits about them.
I recall one time in good old NJ when I visited my friend Chuck. I was getting ready to move to California and had one more night in town. Most of my friends were in college and so it was off to Chucks for the last hooray. I was about halfway there when I realized that my bike had a flat front tire. Luckily it was all downhill from the point of the realized flat. I suppose I could have walked my bike the last mile but I threw reason to the wind as I shredded my rim on the descent.
At Chucks, I was back in the prototype Wayne’s World basement. As one friend slept groggily on the couch, we poured Tabasco and chili peppers down his throat.
Since he was awake, we all moved outdoors for some air. With a little help from my hand, my beer emptied its contents down my throat, and it was back into the kitchen for a refresher. It was right around that time, alone in a big old NJ house when I heard a strange noise from the attic. It sounded like someone rummaging through a silverware drawer.
I looked out the window and counted my friends, yup, they were all out there. I strained my ears and sure enough there was more metallic clanging from upstairs. As the hair on my neck stood up and started doing a little dance, I raced outside, and told the boys what I heard. Chuck said that both his grandparents died upstairs and that the attic was haunted.
I still like to think that someone was getting one back on me for a prank I might have pulled.
Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran of Bloomfield NJ have taken the folklore of NJ and put it together in a monthly magazine called Weird NJ. Within the pages of Weird NJ you get to hear more than ghost tales. This months issue features the fate of abandoned mental hospitals, a rail car graveyard, a host of strange cemeteries, the elephant house, an interview with a guy who saw something very strange in the skies of Paterson, weird NJ animals and more.
Always ready for a new adventure, the two Marks are more than modern day Ghostbusters, they are your travel guides to the local legends, modern folklore and sites throughout the state of NJ that are previously unrecorded. If you are subject to the bizarre side of life, take a trip with HUMP through Weird NJ.
HUMP- I got a copy of Weird NJ while I was visiting the East Coast this summer.
Sceurman- Well it certainly is causing quite a stir around here. I’ve been doing this for eight years now. I started off by doing it just for my friends. At first the weird things were just a sidebar, but as time progressed, the weird places you can visit became the highlight.
HUMP- I remember at sleep away camp there was always stories of creatures that lived in the Pine Barrens.
Sceurman- We’ve encountered about twelve different devils in New Jersey, from the Bigfoot sightings up in the Northwest, to the Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens, in Somerset there’s the Big Hairy Man that is seen wandering around in the great swamp area.
HUMP- Why are these creatures referred to as “devils?”
Sceurman- I think it came out of Puritan instincts. The first sightings were in the 1700’s and they thought everybody was the devil back then.
HUMP- when does the MTV feature come out?
Sceurman- it’s on November 30th. MTV gave us the cameras and said shoot whatever you want. We shot about five hours worth of film and it will probably be edited down to about seven minutes. But it will be action packed.
HUMP- Have you become a magnet for weird stuff?
Sceurman- People always stop me on the street and say “your that weird guy.” Somebody always has a haunted house they want us to go look at it and investigate it. That is not really what weird NJ is all about. We are set up more like a travel guide to odd places, just telling ghost stories doesn’t cut it.
HUMP- My dad used to take me to gravity hill.
Sceurman- Yeah, one is in Franklin Lakes and one is in Howell and one is in Hopewell. The one in Hopewell has a big X on the road where you’re supposed to stop, put your car in neutral and be amazed as it rolls up hill backwards. It’s really just an optical illusion. The thing is, that this magazine will always be around, because somebody always has a weird tale about their neighborhood, or something they remember being odd in their town. Really what we are after is stories that are not told outside the perimeters of a town and there is an abundance of tales in NJ.
HUMP- Why is NJ so weird?
Sceurman- I can’t really say, but we’ve found the more sparsely populated the area is, the stranger the stories get. People will tell us stories with very sparse directions and we head off to find them and photograph them. Usually people will say “go like twenty miles, past five telephone poles and hang a left.” Half of the fun is finding the places. With urban legends, you can say whatever you want, but in Weird NJ, there are tangible places that you can go visit.
HUMP- Did you go to school for journalism?
Sceurman- I always was into publishing. I started a zine called the Bonzo Dog Band Fan Club. It was based on the most obscure band we could find. We actually got to meet them and stay at their house in England. And that fizzled out and I went to this.
HUMP- Oh. How is the music scene in NJ?
Sceurman- Well there’s about 3 million bands with everyone trying to find their niche.
HUMP- has anyone ever come up to your office and blown your mind?
Sceurman- We interviewed this guy who has a time displacement machine and lives in a town that used to be called Sodom. He claims that he can displace time for up to two years. He also says that he has a car whose radio reports the news two days before it happens. The car I built out of wood and he claims that it can travel up to 350 miles an hour. We also received a letter form the celeberty stalker, the one who stalks Kathy Lee Gifford.
HUMP- Is he a stalker or a hero?
Sceurman- Well he’s in Virginia now and he wants me to pick up this time elliptic resonator he has to get him out of jail.
HUMP- What’s the latest great story you did.
Sceurman- We found the wallet man of Morristown that we’ve been looking for five years. When I say we, I mean my business partner, Marc Moran. There was a famous murder in 1833. Anton Le Blanc was a hired worker for a farm and he thought the owners had money so he killed them all and took off. The law found him in Jersey City the next day, brought him back to Morristown and hung him. While he was hung, they did experiments on him. They hooked up an electrical current to him to try and reanimate him. After that failed, they skinned him and made wallets and ladies handbags out of his skin. The legend was that that the handbags got into the possession of the very wealthy in Morristown. After five years of looking we finally found someone who had a wallet made out of Le Blanc. They also had his death mask. He found it at an estate sale. It just came rolling out of a box.
HUMP- That’s right kids, only in New Jersey!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Write to Weird NJ at POB 1346 Bloomfield, NJ 07003
Or e-mail them at HYPERLINK mailto:markatWNJ@aol.com markatWNJ@aol.com
And tell them HUMP sent ya!