Saying Goodbye to The Manor

This week all of North Jersey was shocked to hear The Manor in West Orange will close this summer after 66 years. That magical location has been the location where many wonderful memories were made. From New Year’s Eve black-tie dinners, to weddings, to proms, almost everyone from North Jersey has a story. All those decades, it has been owned and managed by one family.

The Knowles Family cited COVID-19s and continued high costs as the main two reasons why they came to this difficult decision.

We have not come to this conclusion lightly, but are resolved that it is the right and necessary decision. Often choices seem clear and easy from a distance, but when facing undeniable details, hard choices must be made. It is not for lack of want or effort. ~The Knowles Family

The Manor, West Orange
(Credit: The Manor website).

I was lucky enough to attend the 1986 Belleville High School senior prom there with a good friend when I was a sophomore. There was nowhere that felt more fancy. It was a perfect day in June and we would all wait and watch as everyone would arrive wearing their absolute best. We took pictures everywhere on the property. Even the bathrooms were beautiful!

This beautiful venue will close in July of this year. I can’t imagine being a bride and receiving this news just a few months before my wedding. Hopefully The Manor ownership is doing all they can to help reschedule these weddings at other venues.

Some may look at this as just the closing of a North Jersey formal venue, but to me it represents a bigger issue that is taking place in both West Orange as well as New Jersey as a whole. Just last year Mayfair Farms in West Orange, owned by the Horn Family, closed after 80 years in business.

According to Mayor Robert Parisi, “The West Orange Planning Board has received an application for a small subdivision of assisted living housing, and the existing building and property are to be occupied and utilized by Wonder Food Trucks.”

The Horn Family also owned the iconic Pal’s Cabin, also in West Orange. It opened in 1932, selling hot dogs for a dime each. Over the years it grew and became a fabled Jersey haunt. This awesome place was a favorite of Babe Ruth after playing golf at the country club down the road. An 18-year-old piano player from Wisconsin named Wladziu Valentino Liberace played at Pals for six months, earning $40 a week. Sadly, it closed in 2013. There is now a CVS perched in its place.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
~Joni Mitchell

We are losing all our great places that have been around for decades that we hold near and dear to our heart. I recently posted about the possible development of the old Hercules property in Kenvil, a portion of Roxbury Township. A few years ago, a favorite place of mine growing up, Rosebud’s, closed. Instead of making sure these places remain a part of our communities, it is harder and harder for them to stay in business. Whether it is due to increased local and state taxes, increased cost of doing business, or trouble finding good employees, we are losing far too many of these long-standing mom-and-pop-shops in our communities.

So if you have the option of going to a big box store to make a purchase or spending maybe a few pennies more at a local store, make the effort and shop local. These are the businesses that sponsor the ball teams in your town and gives our communities their unique character. Maybe our extra purchases here and there will make an impact and help keep them in business and that we support them.

Hercules and the Trees

“They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. ~Joni Mitchell

It feels like an everyday fight here in Jersey. Our remaining open spaces are constantly under assault. Paving paradise to put up a parking lot. From a decades-old fishing club space, to preserving open space in Princeton, to attempting to keep a community garden from being paved, it is an ongoing battle and you need to be ever watchful.

Many think the central point of power in a town is the town council. I am here to say not true. If you want to know where the true power lies, it is with a town’s planning commission. They have the ability to decide if an area can be as an area “in need of redevelopment.”

So why am I telling you all this? Stick with me.

My latest worry is for the approximately 1,000 acres of the former Hercules site in Kenvil, a neighborhood of Roxbury. There is currently a plan in front of the planning board to develop the site, which calls for low-income housing and (you guessed it) warehouses.

Proposed warehouses submitted to the planning commission for development at the former Hercules site in Kenvil
Rendering of proposed warehouses submitted to the planning commission for development at the former Hercules site in Kenvil. (Source: Hartz Mountain Industries)

Now let’s forget for a moment this will add tons of traffic to an already tight area. We are talking about taking down hundreds of acres of mature trees and open space. All in the name of “progress” and “ratables.”

I am going to attend the planning meeting on January 18th and I urge everyone that lives in the area to attend as well. Regardless of how you feel about this particular proposal, we as citizens have a right, and even more so a duty, to stay informed as to how these commissions plan the future of our local communities.

And you can believe I have a statement prepared.

Be vigilant. Don’t like a proposal in your community? Attend a meeting and make your voice heard.

What’s up with the Whales?

There are few places as lovely as the Jersey Shore. I have written about it extensively over the years. The history of Cape May. The wide-open beaches of Wildwood. Everyone who visits the special locations has a responsibility to protect it.

That is why so many people are upset about the rash of whale deaths recently.

Over the last month, seven (yes, seven) whales have washed up dead along the Jersey Shore. The most recent whale washed up just miles from where another whale was found in Atlantic City just a few days ago. This is just an unreal chain of events.

Many individuals, myself included, believe this is due to the the work taking place off the Jersey Shore to develop three wind farms.

“What a sad end to an animal in the prime of her life and an endangered species,” Cindy Zipf, executive director of Long Branch-based non-profit, Clean Ocean Action, told NJ Advance Media while walking on the beach. “The federal government should have been here with busloads of people really doing an examination if they were taking this seriously.”

Humpback whale in Brigantine, NJ
The body of a humpback whale lies on a beach in Brigantine N.J., after it washed ashore on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. (Sourcbe: AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Danish wind power developer, Orsted, has been hired to build two of the three approved offshore wind projects. According to the company, its current work does not involve using any technology that could disturb whales. However, I have been unable to identify exactly what work they are doing.

A variety of groups, politicians, and Jersey residents, like me, want to see these projects halted until a thorough investigation has been completed.

I’ll be honest; I was never a fan of the wind farms. I had serious environmental concerns about them, as well as potential fluid leaks that can occur from this type of equipment.

Questions about this project have been brought to Governor Murphy and according to the governor, the whale deaths have nothing to do with the offshore wind farm project, citing information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“They have said it’s been happening at an increased rate since 2016, and that was long before there was any offshore wind activity,” the governor said. “It looks like some of these whales have been hit by vessels.”

There are a variety of environmental group that still support the offshore wind farm plan.

“Blaming offshore wind projects on whale mortality without evidence is not only irresponsible but overshadows the very real threats of climate change, plastic pollution, and unsustainable fishery management practices to these animals,” said the Sierra Club’s New Jersey director, Anjuli Ramos-Busot.

As usual, there’s a political aspect to this story; like most things these days. However, this goes beyond politics in my opinion.We are blessed to have such a beautiful shoreline in our state. We all have a duty to protect it. Whether it is taking your trash with you at the end of the day or protecting the creatures of the sea, we all play a role.

Observe the Christmas Crossing

We all learned about the incredibly harsh winter General Washington and his men endured deep into the Revolutionary War. Throughout the entire war, time and again, Morristown was a key location for the the Continental Army. Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental Army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record.

Another well-known time period during the Revolutionary War that began in Princeton and ended in Morristown is known as Ten Crucial Days. The first day was on December 25th, when the Continental Army force of more than 2,000 soldiers crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey at McConkey’s Ferry. Once on the other side, they marched 10 brutal miles to Trenton in a blizzard to assault the 1,500 Hessian troops occupying the town. In this First Battle of Trenton, the Continental Army defeats the Hessians; their first major win in the Revolution.

Over the next 10 days, Washington and his Army crossed the Delaware back and forth with stealthy precision, which lead to multiple battles against Hessian and British troops, and more importantly, multiple wins.

Americans willing to cross a frozen river to kill you

That key first crossing of the Delaware River is reenacted every year on Christmas Day. Just as it was during that cold winter of 1776 and 1777.

This free event takes place from noon to 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Day. The actual crossing begins at 1:00 p.m. Washington Crossing Historic Park is located at the intersection of Routes 532 and 32 (River Road) in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. Please note drones are not allowed. Additional historical events during the annual Ten Crucial Days Patriot’s Week will take place from December 26th to the 31st.

I always thought it was fitting that New Jersey played such a key role in our battle for independence. I think that independent fighting spirit still lives in all of us that call great state home today. It’s what makes us known around the country as one really tough crew.

Merry Christmas.

Giving Tuesday in New Jersey

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday; a great reminder to give back whenever you are able. There are a number of wonderful non-profits and organizations in The Garden State that need support. Here are a few of my favorites.

A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue & Sanctuary

I may have never mentioned it in the past, but my husband and I had a fussy little cockatiel named Mendelssohn for just about 22 years. When he crossed the rainbow bridge, we couldn’t bring ourselves to just throw away his cage and bags of food. It was then I discovered A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue. We contacted their director and made a plan to bring her Mendelssohn’s cage, extra toys and feed cups, and food. Their director, Jeanne, gave us a tour of her sanctuary and it was simply amazing. Jeanne, her husband John, and her entire team care for an amazing number of birds. It is a monumental effort to care for all these birds and try to find homes for those that can be adopted.

The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you would know I am a proud American of Italian descent. If you would like to learn more about my heritage and the history of Italian immigrants in New Jersey, check out my other blog, Jersey Girl, Italian Roots. The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition is also proud of the Italian heritage of countless Americans who trace their roots back to the Motherland. The Coalition works to fight the negative stereotypes of Italian Americans through education of Italian heritage and culture. I am a proud member of the Coalition.

New Jersey State Library

I have loved libraries since I was a child. The smell of the bookstacks, the quiet of the space. I always found it meditative. There was a point in my young life I actually wanted to be a librarian. Maybe that’s why I love the New Jersey State Library so much.

This is a wonderful place that helps visitors find information as well as preserve New Jersey history. I’ve been there a few times to research family history. The librarians are incredibly knowledgeable and work very hard to preserve what is available to patrons.

Local Historical Societies

Speaking of preserving New Jersey history, don’t forget your local historical societies. These often under-funded and overlooked organizations work hard to preserve and protect local history. For example, my hometown, The Belleville Historical Society, is currently fighting to preserve the Irvine Cozzarelli Memorial Home, which was built in 1885 and is considered an architectural gem by preservationists. It was also the setting for many of the wakes and funerals on The Sopranos. We are losing far too much of our history to redevelopment. These small organizations are on the front lines of that fight.

If you Can’t Donate…

Morristown Green Statues
Statues at the Morristown Green wearing the latest styles from the Morristown Fiber Fairy. (Source: Morristown Fiber Fairy Facebook page)

I know it has been a rough few years for many, so not everyone might be able to make a financial donation. Instead, consider volunteering somewhere for a day (or longer!). Can you crochet or knit? Make a few hats and scarves and send them to the Morristown Fiber Fairy. This unknown group of fiber artists make hats, scarves, and mittens for the poor and homeless of Morristown and decorates the statues on the green with these items for anyone who is in need. Do you know how to do home repairs or carpentry? The Walpack Historical Society works hard to preserve multiple buildings in Walpack. Do you have a flair for creating interesting product displays or have great organizational skills? Check out the Trinity Thrift Shop that supports Trinity Church in Hackettstown.

There’s always a way you can help. Find a way that works best for you.

The Need for Trees

We interrupt Italian Heritage Month for this important announcement from The Land Conservancy of New Jersey

Volunteers Needed for Tree Planting

We had a great day planting trees at Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve. Twenty people came out to help create a young forest on the site where a dilapidated barn used to be.

But this is a big job, and we still need you! There are 50 trees still left to plant at Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve in West Milford, and 100 at South Branch Preserve in Mt. Olive.

Dates for these projects are Monday, 10/24 at West Brook and Thursday, 10/27 at South Branch, starting at 9am. The work consists of moving 3-gallon pots, as well as planting, shoveling dirt, and watering the seedlings. Our staff has dug the holes for the trees to go in, so that work will be minimal.

Please RSVP here if you would like to help the New Jersey Land Conservancy plant!

Planting trees is one of the best tools we have to slow the connected crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe. They reduce storm water runoff, which means less erosion and pollution in our waterways, and mitigate flooding in extreme weather. Many species of birds and mammals depend on trees for food, protection, and homes.

So when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered us 250 native hardwood trees plus various shrubs to plant at our preserves, we jumped at the chance. This planting complements the long-term conservation work under way at both locations, from the young forests and pollinator meadows at South Branch to the stream restoration on the West Brook.

A Want for Italian Immigration History Education

New Jersey is home to one of the largest collection of Americans of Italian descent in the entire country. Yet, if you ask any child if they learn about this important part of history, they would know very little. Luckily, there’s a solution to the problem.

A few years ago, the Italian-American Heritage Commission developed a full curriculum covering just this subject. “The Universality of Italian Heritage” curriculum is an infusion model which integrates Italian and Italian American cultural heritage throughout all content areas K-16. Ongoing professional development is provided to public, religious, private and charter schools statewide and beyond, as well as to colleges and universities at the undergraduate level.

This program includes extensive resources to teach about everything from the Roman Empire’s influence on the rule of law, to Leonardo DaVinci’s place in the arts and sciences, to Pinocchio’s role in literature.

New Jersey Italian Heritage Commission

It took a long time to develop this curriculum. The commission was first created by law in 2002 as a way to build up the state’s Italian heritage and dispel negative stereotypes. It is part of a long line of commissions in New Jersey with specific curriculum missions, including one for the Holocaust and another for African-American history.

“We are confident that The Universality of Italian Heritage will open the door to an educationally stimulating and rewarding experience for teachers and students throughout the country,” said Cav. Gilda Rorro Baldassari, Ed.D., who chairs the NJIHC Curriculum Development Committee. “Italy, through its art, philosophy, innovation and culture, heavily influenced and accelerated the development of the modern world, so it seems fitting that we use Italian heritage as a catalyst to create more enriching curricula for every student.”

Now I will fully admit I have no idea if this curriculum is being used currently. I know of two schools in New Jersey that have used it in the past – Little Egg Harbor and Nottingham High School in Hamilton. Additionally, I know schools are filled with state requirements, standardized test prep, and testing. Personally, I have always thought schools should teach the heritage of all our immigrants, as New Jersey is a melting pot full of ethnic pride and heritage.

Hopefully schools and civic groups will take full advantage of this curriculum and teach the full history of all Italians have contributed to the building of local communities, our state, and our nation. They need to go beyond the stereotypes of Jersey Shore and The Sopranos in order to get to who we truly are as a people.

Italian Heritage Month 2022

I always heard a saying growing up. “There are two types of people. Italians and people that wish they were Italian.”

I agree completely.

We grow up around three main concepts. Faith, family, and food. Sundays were extra special. We would start the day at church. Then head to the cemetery to plant flowers and clean the headstones. When I was older I got the job of picking up bread and pastries for dinner. Then there was a intoxicating aroma of Grandma’s Sunday gravy with meatballs and sausage. Long dinners sitting with family with the “kids” at the card table. The fact that I was still at the kid’s table even after I was married never really bothered me. After dinner was time to play cards, read the paper, or play a board game.

Italian heritage month

We learned to love our heritage, but remember we were Americans first. We pass down recipes, love, and pride.

We also don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes to a fault.

We know how to laugh at ourselves. As a result, many others think it is okay to laugh at our expense.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It is not okay.

We aren’t the dumb, mobsters you see in movies and on television. We aren’t the fist-pumping idiots from Jersey Shore. We aren’t hot heads that throw dishes. Let’s face it. We are the last ethnicity that is not only okay to stereotype. It is encouraged by Hollywood and the media.

I hope you will go on this journey with me this month as I share some of what is wonderful about Italian heritage.

Viva Italia!

Destruction, Degradation, and Death

Over the years I have shared my love of the Jersey Shore regularly. It seems like everyone has their favorite beach they visit year after year. For my husband and I it is Wildwood Crest.

When my husband was just a boy, his family would vacation at the Pan American every summer. When we began dating, he introduced me to this lovely area and that’s been our “down the shore” spot ever since.
This weekend our beloved spot down the shore was infiltrated by a group of thugs-claimed-car-enthusiasts known as H2Oi. This was an unsanctioned event and had nothing to do with the Classic Car Show taking place.

This group has quite the reputation of causing damage, having zero regard for safety, and creating problems everywhere they go. In previous years they would meet in Ocean City, Maryland. After long-term planning and a hard clamp-down on the group, they finally left the area alone.

Next stop – Wildwood.

They were warned to not to come to this lovely little area. That if they did, the behavior they are infamous for would not be tolerated.

They came anyway.

They caused damage, had no consideration for the residents or other visitors that were in the area to just enjoy a weekend at the shore. By the end of the night on Saturday, two people were dead, an unknown number were injured, and a car struck a building.

To say their behavior is shameful is putting it lightly.

Gerald J. White arrest statement
The arrest statement of Gerald J. White.
(Source: Cape May County Sheriff’s Office)

The police, fire department, EMS, DPW, and other town services and first responders did their absolute best to hold back the proverbial ocean. They called in support from the entire county as well as the New Jersey State Police.

Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, faces multiple charges and is currently being held without bail in Cape May County jail. Police say he crashed into a Honda Civic, killing its passenger, Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton and killing a pedestrian, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle.

During the 2019 H2oi event in Ocean City, Maryland one driver doing a burnout hit a child and adult with their car, according to a report at the time from the Baltimore Sun. In 2020, Ocean City police reportedly issued more than 3,500 citations and impounded and towed over 350 cars throughout the event – also unsanctioned.

The group moved on from Ocean City when they finally got the message. Sadly, Wildwood was next on their list. Like a gang of traveling thugs, they go where they want and do what they want.

This is a lovely little town and they wreaked havoc. For nothing.

Over the last two years the behavior of people, for whatever reason, has descended into utter chaos. It may sound old fashioned, but manners and decency should still matter.

I know this isn’t the typical post from me. My husband and I are heartbroken and our prayers are with those who suffered this weekend and the families of the two individuals who were killed.

These supposed “car fans” should be ashamed. This should be a wakeup call for every town in our beautiful state. They need to clamp down on these events no matter where they are. There’s a small one that takes place once a week in my little town and nothing will be done until someone either hits a pedestrian or wraps their car around a pole. Our Representatives in Trenton and Governor need to give police the support they need to stop these “clubs” right in their tracks.

Be better people. It’s not that hard.

Roxbury Mourns Former Fire Chief

One week after the nation commemorated the twenty-first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Roxbury Township lost one of its own to 9/11-related illness.

Former Roxbury Fire Chief Jeff Poissant passed away after a long battle with cancer attributed to his work at the World Trade Center site after the attacks.

Roxbury Fire Department Past Chief Jeff Poissant
Roxbury Fire Department Past Chief Jeff Poissant (Source: Roxbury Fire Department Facebook Page)

“It is with deep regret the Roxbury Fire Department announces the passing of Past Department Chief Jeff Poissant, who succumbed to his World Trade Center related illness on Saturday, September 17, 2022,” wrote Roxbury Co. 1 Fire and EMS on Facebook. “Jeff joined the Roxbury Fire Department in April of 1982 and was an active member for many years.”

In addition to his time with the Roxbury Fire Department, Chief Poissant was a local business owner. He owned the Succasunna Service Center auto repair shop in Kenvil and later started East Coast Towing with his brother.

Chief Poissant is survived by his wife Cathy, his two sons Zachary and Jeffery, his daughter Elizabeth, his two sisters Dawn and Tina and his brother Alan.

According to data collected by the CDC, almost 3,500 first responded have died due to 9/11-related illnesses.

Thank you Chief for your service to your community and for answering the call when you were needed at Ground Zero. We owe you a debt. God’s speed.