The Official Jersey Bucket List – Part Two

After the publishing of my “Official Jersey Bucket List,” I received many requests for a part two. I will admit as soon as I published it, I continued to come up with more ideas. There is so much to see in New Jersey, it is almost impossible to include it all in one list.

Let’s face it, in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, many of us will staycation this summer, so why not turn into a Jersey tourist for a day and check out some of our great places right outside your front door! Some are currently open, while others aren’t quite there just yet. But that’s OK, as you will have plenty ideas as the summer continues. Here are some more ideas in my “Official Jersey Bucket List – Part Two.”

Visit a public farm: While many refer to Jersey as “The Mall State,” we are officially known as “The Garden State.” From the top of the state to the bottom, there are public farms, wineries, nurseries, and “pick your own” options available. I recommend you check out Hillcrest Orchard & Dairy in Branchville, the home of Jersey Girl Cheese.

Visit one of our great museums: In 2018, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City put in place a mandatory entrance fee of $25 for non-New York residents. Up until now, The Met’s entrance fee was by “suggested donation,” which made it accessible for all. Now it will be far from that for many. I can’t tell you how much this ticked me off. However, it was a good reminder that there are MANY great museums right here in New Jersey! I recommend you check out the Newark Museum, our largest museum in the state, which opened in 1909. A personal favorite of mine is the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, which focuses on 18th- and 19th- century craftsmen and artisans. If you are looking for something outside, visit the Grounds for Sculpture, which opened in 1992. It is a 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. These are just three museums in our great state. There is at least one museum in every county, so no matter where you live, there’s a museum nearby.

Check out the Jersey music scene: Bands like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes are known for that “Jersey sound.” What some may not know is that the sound is actually something we all know from the shore – the Calliope. Listen to the keyboard of those bands and see if your memory brings you back to The pipe organ and drum sound from the merry-go-round you couldn’t wait to ride when you were a child. Of course The Stone Pony is a Jersey icon, but there are plenty other music venues in the state. Check out the Count Basie Center for the Arts.

Visit Ellis Island: New Jersey has one of the most diverse immigrant populations in the country. And while New York thinks they “own” Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, they are actually in Jersey waters. Ellis Island is a National Park and offers an amazing amount of information about the story of immigration in the United States. Trace your family history in their genealogy database and you can even add your family information to the story of the Island.

Go to Fort Hancock: Another great National Park in New Jersey is Sandy Hook. While many people head to Sandy Hook just for the beach, there is a lot more to do on the over 4,000 acres of land that comprise the park. This piece of land has played a significant part of American History going back to the 1700s. One part of Sandy Hook is Fort Hancock. In 1895, the U.S. Army renamed the “Fortifications at Sandy Hook” as Fort Hancock. The installation would protect New York Harbor from invasion by sea. Its yellow brick buildings were constructed largely between 1898-1910, with the fort reaching its peak population in World War II. There is now a push on to preserve these old buildings that are, unfortunately, beginning to crumble. Hopefully, they will continue to persevere.

Visit the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park: Located in-between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey was able to play a part of the industrial revolution during the early 19th century. How? Through the Delaware & Raritan Canal (known as the D&R). In 1834, the D&R was officially open for business and was one of the busiest navigation canals in the United States. Its peak years were in the mid to late 1800s, primarily moving tons of Pennsylvania coal. By the end of the 19th century, canal use was declining throughout the country. In 1973, the canal and its remaining structures were entered on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now a beautiful place to fish, hike and bike along the 70 miles of the canal.

Visit Walpack, but please be respectful: Officially founded in 1731, the Dutch lived on the land known as “Wallpack” as early as the mid-1600s. The of the town’s name comes from the Lenape Native American content word “wahlpeck,” which means “turn-hole (eddy or whirlpool). It is not considered a “ghost town,” as about 20 residents still call Walpack home. The town is located within the confines of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The town has a sad history since the 1970s that includes a failed national project, eminent domain, vandalism, looting, and fires intentionally set. Many are afraid one day what is left of the town will be gone. During the lockdown, vandals broke into several buildings and left behind an incredible amount of damage. If you are so inclined, consider joining their historical society to help repair what was damaged. If you know anything about the damage, please contact NPS Dispatch at 570-426-2457. It is a beautiful place, but if you visit, please be respectful of the history of the town and its residents. Take only photos and leave only footprints.

I hope you enjoyed this “part two” of my official Jersey bucket list and it provides you with more ways to enjoy your staycation in our wonderful state!

Jersey Music and Down the Shore: Perfect Together

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Carousel at Wildwood. Credit: Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten

As it is now Memorial Day Weekend and many of us head down the shore, we often can’t help but think of our youth. Our first car, driving down after prom, windows open, and music blasting.

We have great pride in this state; especially pride for our music. Whether you come from the era of Connie Francis (from my hometown of Belleville), The Four Seasons (from the city of my birth, Newark), Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi, South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, or The Boss, just like everything else, if you live in Jersey, you have strong opinions about our music.

There is a special sound that comes from Jersey music. As soon as you hear it, you know it is must be a Jersey Guy. But what makes that “Jersey Sound?”

One word: Calliope.

What? Let me explain.

When you go down the shore, you may not head to the rides like The Scrambler anymore, but we all look forward to a ride on the merry-go-round. No matter your age, we all turn into little kids when we head to that special ride that has been on the boardwalk for generations. That unique music mixed with pipe organ and bass drum is one of those happy memories we think about in January when the temperature is in the single digits and the snow is above your knee. While the correct name for the instrument that provides that music is the band organ, most people refer to it as the Calliope.

Now with that in mind, listen to the last minute of Springsteen’s Jungleland or the first 30 seconds of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, thanks to Roy Bittan. Hear that right hand? That’s the homage to that wonderfully unique sound of the calliope. Add to that Danny Federici’s organ, glockenspiel, and accordion playing, and you have what is known as “that Jersey Sound.”

You can hear this same sound when you listen to Love on the Wrong Side of Town by South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. By the way another Jersey favorite son, Jon Bon Jovi also gigged with the great Southside Johnny.

Many will argue that the prominent use of a horn section is a big part of what makes up that unique sound, and they would be correct. After all, what is The E Street Band without Clarence Clemons? And the use of trumpets hitting the high notes in Southside’s band is a mainstay of his band. But that piano and organ combo is what makes up that special sound.

So as the weather gets warm and we all head down the shore, windows down, wind in our hair, remembering our youth and blast our favorite Jersey music, you can thank the carousels of our childhood for that special music that sets us apart from the rest of the country.