We learn that the only way into New Jersey is by paying a toll. There is no way around it and I laugh at myself while thinking that it must be their way of keeping the cheap people out. Once we get past the tollbooth, we make our way to Matawan to meet with Captain Sean Loosen and his family. We had quickly become friends while we were staying with him in Alaska. He is currently on leave, and invited us to visit his hometown.
The entire Loosen family proves to be just as friendly as Sean, and we spend our first night talking until three in the morning. The next day, Sean and his friend Megan take us to visit the coast, while his parents prepare an impressive Italian feast. We visit Ocean Grove, which is a Methodist community that banned the right to drive in town on Sundays. It wasn’t until 1980 when this policy was finally lifted. The Great Auditorium can’t be missed, and is a meeting place for the church. We note the rows of tents available for people to come camp in. After a bite to eat at a local Pizza shop, we head to The Stone Pony, which is famous for early performances by Bruce Springstein and Bon Jovi. We also drive to Asbury Park, and Sean points out a piano shaped home built for Billy Joel. Returning to the Loosen home for an amazing home cooked meal, we are convinced to stay one more night before continuing on.
In Caldwell, we visit Grover Cleveland’s birthplace, home of the only president who served two nonconsecutive terms. He was also the only president in U.S. history to be married in the White House. A woman who works at the house tells us of Hawaiians who recently flew in on Cleveland’s birthday just to pay respect to him. We found this strange until she explained that President Cleveland was against annexing Hawaii, and many native Hawaiians are still trying to regain the monarchy. We decide to look into this more when we actually make it to the fiftieth state.
It doesn’t take long for us to discover that many great men and ideas have emerged from the state of New Jersey. Thomas Edison earned more than half of his 1,093 patents in Newark and Menlo Park with inventions such as the first incandescent lamp (light bulb) and first motion picture. These advancements may be responsible for the first town powered by electricity (Roselle, NJ 1883) and the first drive-in movie (Camden County, NJ 1933).
Aside from Edison, we find that several directors, actors, authors and musicians have all been born in or lived in New Jersey. Jerry Lewis, Stephen Spielberg, Kevin Smith, Zach Braff, Jack Nicholson, Danny Devito, Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen are just a few. Edwin Aldrin, who became the first person to spacewalk and second to set foot on the moon, was also from New Jersey. And Alfred Stieglitz, one of my favorite photographers, is on the list as well. Hands down, though, the largest star in the state is Lucy. She is a giant elephant house, found in Atlantic City! Growing up in New York, I am amazed at how little I knew about this neighboring, lima bean-shaped state. I suppose that it is easy for this small body of land to become hidden in the shadow of New England’s majesty and the bustle of New York City. Our eyes have been opened once again, and after hearing stories of the Jersey Devil, we doubt we will be closing them anytime soon!