National New Jersey Day

This week we celebrated National New Jersey Day. Yes, that’s right. There’s an official day to nationally celebrate New Jersey.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate New Jersey and I thought I would share some interesting facts about our awesome state, which officially became a state in 1776.

New Jersey State Seal
The New Jersey State Seal (source: state.nj.us)

First of all, we are known as “The Garden State” thanks to Abraham Browning. He bestowed the nickname in 1897, the state was full of garden and farmers, and agriculture was the predominant occupation at that time. While many joke it is better known as “The Mall State” now, if you head to the western part of the state, you will still see plenty of farmland.

The state’s seal was created by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1777 and contains five symbols, each of which represents something about New Jersey. The helmet and the horse’s head crest represent New Jersey’s independence as a state. They also represent New Jersey’s status as one of the first states. In 1787 New Jersey was the third state to sign the U.S. Constitution. The woman holding a staff with a liberty cap on top is Liberty, who represents freedom. In ancient Rome, former Roman slaves saw a liberty cap as a badge of freedom. Liberty caps became popular again during the Revolutionary War. The woman on the right is the Roman goddess of grain, Ceres, and holds a cornucopia, filled with the many fruits and vegetables produced in New Jersey. The three plows on the shield symbolize the agricultural tradition of New Jersey. The state’s motto “Liberty and Prosperity” is written on the scroll.

The eastern brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is native to northeastern North America and being so, was designated in 1992 as the State Fish of New Jersey. Based on results of a genetic-research study conducted in 2008 by NJDFW, it was been determined that wild book trout in New Jersey are descendants of the native species that colonized this area of the northeast following deglaciation about 12,000 years ago. It is an incredibly beautiful fish and my favorite fish of all marine life. It is also known as an “indicator species,” meaning brook trout only survive in the cleanest, most pure water. So if you see a brook trout in the water, known that is some of the cleanest waterway in the state.

The state tree is the Red Oak, a perfect choice for New Jersey because it is just like us. Tough, strong, and durable.

New Jersey is one of the top blueberry producers in the country and blueberries were the top crop in New Jersey for 2020 with a production value of $85 million, according to the USDA. Farmers in the Garden State harvested 46 million pounds of blueberries on 9,300 acres last year.

Farmland on the way to Frenchtown

New Jersey played a pivotal role in our nation’s fight for independence from the British. More than 100 battles took place in New Jersey. In 1776, crossing the Delaware River into Trenton; George Washington fought with, and ultimately defeated the British forces. This was one of the first major victories in the Revolutionary War. 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. The park also maintains a museum & library collection related to the encampments & George Washington, as well as items relating to pre- and post-Revolutionary America.

We here in New Jersey have plenty to be proud of and love when it comes to our great state. For those who “think” they know us by what they see when they land at Newark Airport or some horrible television show about a bunch of idiots from New York and elsewhere, well, we know better.

New Jersey: The Cradle of Independence

When many think about Independence Day, they often think of places like Boston or Philadelphia. The truth is, New Jersey played an incredibly important role in the birth of our nation. There are plenty of great events throughout the long weekend of celebrate the holiday! Here are some of events that are taking place over the weekend.

Morristown National Historical Park

Morristown National Historical Park, where America survived, will celebrate our Declaration of Independence with July Fourth activities beginning at Noon on the park’s Washington’s Headquarters grounds, 30 Washington Place, with a “Warm-Up for the Declaration” followed by the reading of the Declaration.

The “Warm-Up” will feature a park ranger in period clothing entertaining the crowd and giving a “kids level” explanation of the Declaration. Eighteenth-century stories, jokes, and riddles are all part of the fun.

At 1pm, the “Public Reading of the Declaration of Independence” will commence. Attendees will be encouraged to cheer along with park rangers and re-enactors as they denounce tyranny and praise liberty. After the reading, attendees are welcome to participate in a mock salute called a feu de joie (musket salute).

Following the reading of the Declaration, the Ford Mansion will be open for self-guided tours with re-enactors in period dress, bringing life to the mansion once again.

Ford Mansion
Ford Mansion, image circa 1930. Credit: National Park Service

Visitors are asked to bring water to drink and a chair or a blanket to sit on the ground and are reminded to dress appropriately for the weather, including wearing a hat and sunscreen. It is a rain-or-shine event. Due to limited parking, guests are encouraged to carpool or walk to the event.

All activities will occur at the Washington Headquarters area and are free. The Jockey Hollow Visitor Center and Wick House will be closed on July 4th, but Jockey Hollow’s roads, grounds, and trails will be open.

Cape May Coast Guard Sunset Parade

U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May; Sunday, July 3 at 7:40 p.m.

Sunset Parades are free military displays of marching troops and the Coast Guard Recruit Ceremonial Drill Team. The recruit regiment will march in the parade and strike the National Ensign from the parade field at sunset.

The gates to the training center will open at 6:30 p.m., and visitors are asked to be seated by 7:40 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to use this extra time for security screening, parking, and seating.

Avalon: Bay Atlantic Symphony Independence Day Concert

Avalon Community Center, 3001 Avalon Ave, Avalon; July 3 at 7 p.m.

This free symphony fills fast, so be sure to get there a bit early if you want a seat! Those who don’t have a seat can still watch in the standing room section. Come see a fantastic symphony play a patriotic set.

Princeton: Morven Museum & Garden Fourth of July Jubilee

55 Stockton Street, Princeton; July 4th — 12pm to 3pm

Check out Morven on Independence Day for their Fourth of July Jubilee, a free celebration of our American heritage at the home-turned-museum of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

This year will will also feature the museum’s current exhibition, Ma Bell: The Mother of Invention in New Jersey, which features the original TelStar satellite and so many other technological innovations made right here in New Jersey that affected the entire world for generations.

Wall Township: Historic American Flag Collection at Allaire

Come celebrate the Fourth of July at Allaire! Allaire’s rare one-of-a-kind historic American flag collection on display this weekend only!

Your ticket includes admission (which by the way is only $5) to the Chapel to see Allaire’s unique and one-of-a-kind American flag collection on display this weekend ONLY! There will be over five historic flags on exhibition (rare and one of a kind!), the oldest flag dating back c. 1850 and authenticated by the Smithsonian Institute!

To visit the historic village, experience early 19th century industrial community life, and explore the village grounds EAST of the Mill Pond, a ticket for General Admission is from 11am-4pm.

In purchasing your General Admission Ticket, you will be able to see our historic trades in action including our blacksmiths and tinsmiths as well as tour our period homes to see how each class in the village lived. All of this in addition to other themed pop up tours and demonstrations are all available to you when you visit The Historic Village at Allaire! There are great events scheduled throughout the month, so it is definitely worth a visit!

Oxford: Celebration of Independence & Museum Day at Shippen Manor

Shippen Manor, 8 Belvidere Avenue, Oxford; July 3; 11am – 4pm

The newly formed United States Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in the morning of a bright and sunny day. John Dunlap printed the Declaration (known as “Dunlap Broadsides”). There are twenty-four known copies, two of which are in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. One of these was George Washington’s personal copy.

Beginning at 11 a.m., the Colonial Musketeers Junior Fife & Drum Corps of Hackettstown will begin our celebration with music from the era.

At 11:30 a.m., the Bachmann Players of Easton, PA will commemorate our celebration with readings and other activities that preceded the actual reading of the Declaration. The reading will begin promptly at 12 noon (the same time as the 1776 reading in Easton, PA).

Following the reading, the Colonial Musketeers Junior Fife & Drum Corps will entertain our visitors with colonial-era music until 1 p.m., when the museum will open for tours.

And plenty more!

Now let’s be honest; right now we are a divided country. There are probably many out there that don’t feel much like celebrating. I say not true.

Stick with me for a moment.

The founders of this great nation ensured the right for us to disagree with each other, and more importantly, to disagree with our government. To peacefully assemble and voice our concerns. This experiment in democracy has been challenged over the centuries. I use the following example:

The more populous and wealthy the United States have become, and the higher the position to which they have risen in the scale of national importance, with the greater confidence has it been maintained, on the one hand, that our institutions rest on a solid and permanent basis, and on the other, that they are destitute of inherent strength and cohesion, and that the time of explosion and disruption is rapidly approaching.

The previous quote is from New-York Daily Tribune, November 27, 1860.

We’ve been pushed and challenged before and we have survived. Sometimes bruised. But we are still here. I implore everyone to remember that we will do the same again.

Almost every community will have events this weekend, so I encourage you to get out and enjoy!

New Jersey Free Fishing Day: June 4

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an avid fly angler. My husband and I write, lecture, and teach about the subject whenever we can. Well, this weekend, we are hopeful everyone in New Jersey will give fishing a try on Saturday, June 4th during the Free Fishing Day.

Free Fishing Day

So what is Free Fishing Day? This means you do not need a license to legally fish. Not that I really trust the weather reports all that much, but it is expected to be beautiful on Saturday, so I encourage everyone to head outside and give it a try!

OK, you want to go but not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions:

Rod & reel: Get a basic rod and reel. You can start out with a spinning rod or go right to fly fishing. There are plenty of great basic combos available and the guys working in the fishing department are happy to help you pick something. Purchase a combo for simple freshwater fishing in your local ponds. Remember, every town has a local pond that is stocked with plenty of panfish and bass.

Pond in Morris Plains, NJ
A beautiful pond in Morris Plains, NJ in the fall.

Lures & flies: Just like your rod and reel combo, stick with the basics. Try a crawdad soft plastic with some split shot set as a weedless Texas rig to go deep. If you are looking to go just sub-surface, try one of my all-time favorites when I used to spin fish, a rooster tail with a gold blade. Want to go completely top water? Try a crankbait with a fat lip for maximum water disturbance. If you want to give fly fishing a try, think about muddler minnows, wooly buggers, poppers, gold ribbed hare’s ears, sponge spiders, and of course, Clouser minnows.

Now remember, when you go look at all these wonders, I always say they are there to catch the angler more than to catch the fish. Don’t go overboard. Get a variety, but you don’t need much.

Other equipment: There are a few other items you should have on hand. First, it may sound ridiculous, but have a good pair of sunglasses (polarized, if possible) and a hat. You will be out in the sun and want to stay protected. Polarized sunglasses will help you see down into the water by cutting the glare and will also protect your eyes from a wayward hook that catches air if a stiff breeze blows unexpectedly. Also pick up a good pair of hemostats. This looks like a surgical tool with a clamp and often a pair of scissors in it. Do yourself a favor and get the one with the scissors. Two tools in one. Have a bandana on hand to keep something wet on your neck to avoid overheating if it gets too hot. Also, keep water on hand to stay hydrated.

What happens June 5th?

Damage at Hedden Park, Morris County
Damage at Hedden Park, Morris County

So you have a great time on your Free Fishing Day. What happens on June 5th? Well, if you want to continue to fish, you will need to purchase a New Jersey state fishing license. I will tell you, sadly, many will continue to fish without a license. I ask that you do not. First, it is against the law. If you get caught, you will face a very expensive fine. Second, it is one of the few fees you will pay in the state where you are guaranteed to know where your money will go. The politicians in Trenton cannot access this money at all. The money you pay in fees will go right back into the resource you use. I implore you to spend the money and pay for your license.

Carry in, carry out

One more point, if I may. During the last few years, many people stuck at home due to the pandemic discovered all the wonderful parks in New Jersey. The bad news is not every visitor treated them with the care they deserve. In 2020 I wrote about Hedden Park in Morris County, which had to be closed for two weeks due to extensive damage from park visitors. So go out and take advantage of Free Fishing Day. Just remember to take your garbage with you. And if you see someone left something behind, grab it on your way out. Leave the area better than when you arrived.

I hope you enjoy your day outside!

It’s Spring; Be Bear Aware!

As the weather finally begins to warm up, we aren’t the only creatures starting to emerge from our homes. Bears are waking up and making a grand entrance.

Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them.

Black bears are appearing in more and more residential areas and people that are not necessarily used to seeing them may not know how to respond when they come face-to-face with a bear. Recently, a woman in Lafayette was attacked by a bear near her home. A few weeks prior, a bear killed two small dogs in Sussex County.

How to Prevent a Bear Attack

There are a number of steps everyone can take to minimize the chances of a negative experience with a bear.

NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Bear Safety Guidelines

If you come in contact with a bear, here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Yes, they are cute. They are also wild animals. DO NOT try to pet them. Yes, I really need to say that.
  2. Do not feed them. Don’t leave food out for them as a way to invite them on to your deck.
  3. Clean the grates of your grill after use. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will definitely want to check them out if they any kind of interesting scent.
  4. Keep your garbage well-secured.
  5. If a sow is with her cubs, give her extra space! You know the term “momma bear?” People use it for a reason.
  6. Never corner a bear. Always give them an exit.
  7. NEVER turn your back on a bear. Just back away slowly.
  8. Never make eye contact with a bear. It may consider it as a form of aggression.
  9. NEVER turn and run! Again, slowly back away.
  10. Make yourself look as large as possible. Yell, clap, whistle, etc. to let the bear know you are in the area so it is not startled by you.
  11. If you are going into the woods, keep a whistle and either Mace or bear spray on hand.
  12. If you are actually attacked, kick and punch the eyes, throat, and muzzle. That’s your best chance. Do not follow the advise of the Bugs Bunny cartoons we all watched as kids and “play dead” with black bears.

Seriously though, bear attacks are incredibly rare. Just use the common sense God gave you. For more information, check out the bear safety resources provided by NJ Fish & Wildlife.

Get Ready for Fishing Season 2022

After a brutal two years, we as a nation are starting to head back to some level of normalcy. And for many of us, that means spring fishing season.

2022 Fishing Regulations

The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is returning to a normal stocking schedule with three weeks of pre-season stocking and seven weeks of in-season stocking with in-season closures in effect. It is important to note, however, there will be a change in the stocking frequency to help minimize staff exposure to COVID-19 and to help ensure healthy trout by moving them out of the raceways faster than usual.

The change will shift 68,000 fish from in-season to pre-season stocking, with no change to the total allotment of fish per waterbody. Ultimately, a total of roughly 68,000 more fish will be available to anglers across the state on opening day.

Planned Schedule

The upcoming season schedule:

March 21 – April 9 at 8:00 a.m.: Waters closed to trout fishing

April 9 at 8:00 a.m.: Opening day of trout season!

It is important to note, the minimum legal size is 9″ with a daily limit of 6 trout in most trout waters from April 9 to May 31. Additionally, trout stocked waters will not be open to catch-and-release during the pre-season this year.

In addition to approximately 570,000 production trout, approximately 6,000 two- and three-year-old broodstock, ranging in size from 14″-26″ and weighing up to 7 pounds will stocked this spring. These trophy-size fish are slated for waters across the state which are suitable for fish of that size and which do not conflict with management goals.

Important Reminders for 2022 NJ Trout Season

According to the 2022 NJ Freshwater Fishing Digest, Brown and brook trout are still available, and regulations are in place to keep it that way (refer to the 2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest for specifics). There are several waters that remain open for catch-and-release trout fishing: Lake Hopatcong (Morris/Sussex), Mountain Lake (Warren), Prospertown Lake (Ocean), Lake Shenandoah (Ocean), Swartswood Lake (Sussex), and the section of Lawrence Brook from Davidsons Mill Rd. to Farrington Lake dam are open year round to fishing.

2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest
The 2022 Freshwater Fishing Digest

Catch and Release Only, Seasonal, and Year-Round Trout Conservation Areas and designated Holdover Trout Lakes are also open to fishing. However, trout caught in any of these waters during this period must be released immediately. Note that, fishing is not permitted on Seasonal Trout Conservation Areas from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. on April 10, 2022. Trout can be harvested from the state’s two Trophy Trout Lakes, Merrill Creek and Round Valley Reservoirs. Remember, check the Freshwater Fishing Digest for all the complete 2022 season regulations.

The “Hook a Winner” program is also in effect! Over 1,000 trout with a tag in its jaw will be stocked. Make sure to take note of the tag and send in your catch info!

Get a License!

It is also important to remember to purchase a NJ fishing license. Everyone knows it is all-too-easy to get away with fishing sans license, due to limited NJ Conservation Police staff, but just don’t. You are only hurting the hunting and angling community, and ultimately, yourself. The money from your license goes right back into our state’s open spaces.

So get out and enjoy!

Get Out!

Yesterday my husband and I took advantage of the surprisingly warm weather and took a ride to an area of Sussex County we’ve been wanting to explore for quite awhile.

I can’t tell you how happy we did.

If you aren’t a fan of the winter (like us), it is easy to just hibernate and wait for the weather to get above your age. When we heard the weather would be above freezing, we decided to make the effort to actually step outside. What we discovered is an area of Sussex County almost frozen in time with open space and houses that predate the Revolutionary War.

1977 map of New Jersey (source: Rutgers Special Collections)

We met someone who was quite knowledgeable about the area and owned an amazing home built in 1791. He freely shared information about the area and his ongoing effort to preserve as much of his property and the town’s history buildings. The town’s historical society works hard to preserve and educate on the area, from the time of the Lenapehoking to present day.

So why am I telling you all this and why am I not saying where we went? Simple. I want you to GET OUT! Grab a map (yes, a printed map) and take a ride. Is there an area in the state you’ve always wanted to visit? Plan a ride into your unknown. Visit the local historical society and ask questions. Patron their locally-owned shops and restaurants. Even consider joining their historical society (or at least make a donation).

I promise you; you’ll be happy you did!

2022 New Jersey Goals

As the calendar turns and we move ahead to 2022, most people make resolutions for the new year. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are usually all the same; lose weight, spend more time with the family, blah, blah, blah. While it may sound like semantics, I prefer to make goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, a goal is defined as, “the end toward which effort is directed.” A resolution (the third definition) is, “something that is resolved.” A goal is much more specific. A resolution is hardly exact.

Anyway…

My goal list here is specific to New Jersey. This is all about the effort I will direct to my own beloved state.

Search for Fossils

You may not realize it, but New Jersey offers a variety of opportunities to find fossils. Creatures that range from tiny cephalopods to huge wooly mammoths called New Jersey home. I have never found a fossil, but I will say I never really looked. My goal is to find one this year.

Hike the AT

No, I don’t expect to hide the entire Appalachian Trail, better known as the “AT.” I want to hike just the New Jersey portion of the Trail. The entire length of the AT traverses 14 states from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Georgia’s Springer Mountain.

The New Jersey stretch of the Appalachian Trail is 74 miles long and begins at Abram S. Hewitt State Forest in the northern most point and runs west and south through Wawayanda State Park, High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest, ending at Worthington State Forest. Now, I do not expect, nor do I plan, to traverse the entire 74 miles in one clip. I will, however, develop a plan to break it down into several short single-day hikes. A great resource to help get started on this goal is the New York New Jersey Trail Conference. This special organization is powered by a great group of volunteers that build, maintain, and protect public trails.

Fish a New Stream for the Heritage Brook Trout

Long before I knew the brook trout was the state fish, it was always my favorite species. The colors are amazing and they put up a wonderful fight. I absolutely love to fly fish in a stream and listen to the water rush downstream as I stand in the river.

The downside, sadly, is the most popular rivers in New Jersey are very well known and generally over-fished. An added frustration for me is that I see plenty of anglers fishing aggressively without a proper license. I regularly encourage those anglers to purchase their license. I explain those license dollars are put right back into the resource. Unfortunately, those anglers usually walk away laughing. It is personally frustrating.

So I want to find a new stream for fishing. But not just any old stream. I want to find a stream that gives me the opportunity to fish for the Heritage Brook Trout. According a study on brook trout genetics, wild populations of brook trout have unique genetic identities. Some Garden State brook trout populations are descendants from the original brook trout colonizers present after the last glacial ice sheet receded more than 10,000 years ago. The existence of these ancestral populations, dubbed heritage brook trout, is important for conservation efforts of this native species (learn more about brook trout genetics by reviewing the original 2008 article).

Advocate for my State’s Open Spaces

Mount Hope Park, Morris County, New Jersey
Mount Hope Park, Morris County

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an advocate for the ecology and preservation of the Garden State’s open spaces. Places like the water that the heritage brook trout have liked for thousands of years are threatened on a daily basis due to pollution, encroachment, and other modern-day challenges. From protecting the red knot to attending Environmental Commission meetings on the local level, we all have a responsibility to make sure our natural resources are protected. I plan to continue to advocate and take a more active role to protect those special spots.

Attend Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

In all my life, I am sad to say I have only attended mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, better known as Newark Cathedral, only once. If you have never been, it is a true piece of art built by the immigrants of Newark; many from the First Ward, the original Italian section of the city. Construction began in January 1898. While the Cathedral began holding mass in 1928, that labor of love was not completed until October 19, 1954. In 1974, the Cathedral was added to the New Jersey Historical Society. Two years later, it gained national recognition when it was listed as a National Historic Site.

On Wednesday, October 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the United States. During the visit, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Minor Basilica to Sacred Heart Cathedral, giving it its current name, Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I attended mass at the Cathedral the following Sunday.

This year I will attend mass at least once and sit in prayer and reflection, knowing the history and exceptional effort and craftsmanship that built that wonderfully artistic home of faith.

Head Back Down the Shore

The S. S. Atlantus, also known as the “concrete ship,” at Sunset Beach, Cape May

If you are from Jersey, you know that trek down the Garden State Parkway is known as “going down the shore.” It has been two years since my husband and I smelled the sea air or walked on a beach. It renews my soul and clears my mind. One of my favorite spots is Sunset Beach in Cape May. I love digging for Cape May diamonds and walking on the shoreline turning horseshoe crabs upright. After the last two years, I say it is important to head down the shore to replenish my soul.

Visit the Pine Barrens

The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. It stretches across seven counties and is over 1.1 million acres. In 1978, Congress created the Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) through the passage of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The Pinelands National Reserve is the first National Reserve in the United States. It is also home to the elusive Jersey Devil.

I am ashamed to admit, but this is another part of the state I have yet to experience in a meaningful way. I would like to plan a hike in the Pine Barrens and maybe get some fly fishing in as well!

Shoot More Film

A large majority of my hobbies are quite analog. I fly fish and tie flies. I crochet, spin yarn, felt, and weave. I really enjoy Geocaching. I also enjoy film photography. I regularly listen to a podcast called the Film Photography Project hosted by two guys from Jersey. Their entire gang of regular guests and commentators offer great advice for photographers at every level. Over the last two years, I have developed a terrible case of GAS (otherwise known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and am now the proud owner of a variety of film cameras. I plan to get out more and use them. With all my planned outings, I should have some wonderful opportunities to shoot more film!

Be Happy

Most importantly, I want to be happy. The last two years have been hard on all of us. For the most part we have been stuck in our homes. Maybe you lost your job, or worse, even lost a loved one. I shared the story of someone very dear to my husband and me, Dr. Michael Giuliano, who lost his life to the Coronavirus early in the pandemic when he continued to treat patients despite the risks.

It is time for all of us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and see our loved ones. New Jersey is a wonderful state and we are lucky to have so many different ways to enjoy it. So, get out and take a hike, go grab a ripper at Rutt’s Hut, or take a ride down the shore. Get back to living and be happy.

World War I Ended 100 Years ago… In New Jersey?

While many believe “the war to end all wars” ended in 1918 when the Armistice took place, technically the United States did not formally end World War I until 1921. Where did it end you might ask? You guessed it, New Jersey.

Allow me to explain.

The United States entered the Great War in April of 1917, almost three years after the War began. New Jersey would send 72,946 conscripts and 46,960 volunteers to fight. Camp Dix, later Ford Dix, opened in July of 1917, and the 78th “Lightning” Division was activated there one month later. Many New Jersey-born African Americans joined the 369th Infantry Regiment, a unit organized in nearby New York that went onto become the first black regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Force.

The women of New Jersey also made significant contributions to the war effort. New Jersey was the training site for approximately 300 women who served in the Army Signal Corps as bilingual long-distance operators. Jersey ladies campaigned in Liberty Bond efforts as well as volunteering to serve with aid organizations such as the Red Cross. Dupont hired countless women to work as munition makers at plants in Carney’s Point, Salem County.

From Salem County to Morris County, manufacturing was everywhere. In 1915, Hercules Powder produced 150,000 pounds of cordite per day at the company’s Kenvil plant (not far from where I live currently in Ledgewood). Even Singer Sewing Machine in Elizabeth converted their normal production to wartime materials. By 1918, New Jersey was the largest supplier of munitions in America.

Ultimately, New Jersey paid a heavy toll. Our beloved state lost 3,836 New Jerseyans to combat, accident and disease. You can find over 160 monuments dedicated to our brave fighters. A total of nine New Jerseyans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, including Marine Gunnery Sgt. Fred William Stockham of Belleville, my hometown, better known to those of us as The Motherland.

So, how did the United States officially end involvement in WWI?

On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the Armistice at Compiègne, ending World War I. In January of 1919, the Paris Peace Conference began. In June of 1919, Allied and German representatives signed Treaty of Versailles. The United States signs a treaty of guaranty, pledging to defend France in case of an unprovoked attack by Germany. However, the first time the Treaty of Versailles was presented to Congress in November of 1919, it failed. Yes, I’m serious.

The marker where the American involvement of World War I ended. Credit: atlasobscura.com

The Treaty of Versailles was presented to Congress for a vote again in March of 1920 and failed… again. No, I’m not kidding.

Ultimately, the Knox-Porter Resolution was signed by President Warren Harding to officially end American wartime involvement in July 1921. It was signed in Raritan, New Jersey on July 2, 1921.

I would love to tell you President Harding picked New Jersey to sign the Resolution as a thank you for all the contributions our great state made to the success of the war effort, but I would be lying. The President was visiting Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen of New Jersey to play golf. The papers were delivered to the Raritan Country Club, where the President signed the resolution and officially ended World War I… during a break from his golf game.

Now all that remains from that famous spot is a marker just off the Somerville Circle, not far from (you guessed it) a shopping mall. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

So what have we learned?

First, as I have always known, we are an awesome state. Our ancestors played a key role in the success of War.

Second, as I have mentioned in previous posts, it is important we protect our historic landmarks. A marker on the side of a busy traffic circle is undignified. Protect our Jersey history. Our future generations are depending on us.

Finally, and most importantly, our state paid a heavy price. We owe our vets a debt that can never be repaid. So make sure this Veteran’s Day to thank a vet. Shake their hand, pick up their check at the diner, or buy them a cup of coffee while on line to pay at Dunkin Donuts. We owe them far more, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion. May God bless them and their families.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: St. Lucy’s Church

If someone asked me what is the most important location associated with Italian heritage in New Jersey, I would say without hesitation St. Lucy’s Church.

Since its cornerstone was placed in 1891, St. Lucy’s Church in Newark has been a source of pride and devotion for the millions of Italian immigrants and the generations that followed. In 1998, St. Lucy’s Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The parish namesake, Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia), martyred in Sicily in third-century is the patroness of those afflicted with diseases of the eyes.

St. Lucy’s Church is the home of the National Shrine of St. Gerard. Every October, tens of thousands of the faithful flock to pay homage to St. Gerard. St. Gerard Maiella of Avellino was born on April 6, 1726. He was the only son of Benedetta and Comenico Maiella. Because of his frail health he was not immediately accepted into the Order but, due to his insistence and persistence he was finally accepted in May of 1749 and became a lay brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. St. Gerard passed away on October 16, 1755. In 1977, St. Gerard’s chapel in St. Lucy’s Church was dedicated as a national shrine. While it was never made official, he is considered by many to be the Patron Saint of Mothers.

The third pastor, Msgr. Joseph Granato, served the parish with dedication and faith in God’s providence for 54 years, until June 2009. For those of us who have met Msgr. Granato, he borders on rock star status. His dedication to St. Lucy’s and the community has earned him a spot on many prayer lists of families of the parish.

At its height, over 30,000 Italian immigrants lived in the one square mile around the church, known as the First Ward. For over 80 years, that neighborhood thrived and supported their beloved church. Sadly, the neighborhood came to its end in the post-World War II period. The main factor causing the disintegration of the neighborhood came in 1953 thanks to developers and the city government. They forced people give up their homes and move against their will, bulldozing in days what took over eight decades to build. City officials often referred to the First Ward as a “slum.” The Newark Housing Authority claimed its rebuilding efforts would slow or reverse the population shift to the suburbs, however, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Approximately 15 percent of First Ward residents left the city for good (including my family) the moment they were displaced. More than half the businesses in the clearance zone ceased to exist. Those homes were replaced with large buildings providing low-income housing. As the years continued, they were a great source of crime and an example of all that was wrong with Newark. Unfortunately, the damage was done at the point. The First Ward was destroyed and one of the most vibrant Italian communities in the country was history. All in the name of progress.

People with a connection to the area, and St. Lucy’s specifically, still return regularly for church. I am the fourth generation of my family that returns to St. Lucy’s every October for the Feast of St. Gerard. It is one of only two churches in the entire state where I feel truly at peace and able to prayerfully reflect and enjoy the silence.

I tell everyone I know, if you have never visited St. Lucy’s, take the time to visit this amazing church full of beautiful art and history, as well as a strong connection to the Italian community of New Jersey.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Joseph Rotunda

Many of us have passed by Rotunda Pool in Newark on our way to St. Lucy’s Church or coming out of Branch Brook Park and have not given it a second thought. It is, however, an important location in the community and New Jersey Italian heritage.

The Rotunda Pool plaque
Source: Newark Historical Society

Rotunda Pool is named after Private Joseph Ralph Rotunda Jr., the first soldier from Newark’s Italian-American community to die in World War II. The dedication of this pool stands a testament to his sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices of the countless Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian decent that fought on behalf of their new homeland. The official renaming from Clifton Pool to Rotunda Pool took place in 1966.

By the early twentieth-century, approximately 21,000 Italian immigrants made Newark the fifth largest Italian-American community in the country.

Private Rotunda was killed by a land mine while serving with Cannon Company, 168th Infantry, in Tunisia, Northern Africa, as part of the first invasion forces. He had only been overseas for three months. A letter to the family from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, dated June 9, 1943, informed the family that their son was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

On June 16, 1943, the Newark Evening News reported on an announcement from the War Department which listed the death of Private Joseph R. Rotunda, Jr. as one of four soldiers from New Jersey to lose their lives in combat. In total 229 U.S. soldiers were reported killed in action in North Africa and 630 more wounded, 11 of whom were from New Jersey.

In February 1944, after seeking permission from Joseph Rotunda, Sr., officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) designated the Pvt. Joseph R. Rotunda Jr. Post (No. 848) in honor of the “first soldier from the First Ward to be killed in action in this war.” This post became the ninth V.F.W. unit in Newark.

So next time you ride past Rotunda pool, maybe take a moment and bow your head or tip your cap to the memory of Private Rotunda.