Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sing It Again for Me

My daughter called me up to ask me querulously, “What is the 'Frozen Logger'?  I was singing to Zeke (my grandson) last night and he said Grandpa always sings ‘The Frozen Logger.’”

First, I was overjoyed that this seven-year-old liked my singing enough to remember it.  Second, that he liked the song, since he rarely laughs at my jokes and this song is one extended bit of humor.  Zeke does his best to appear sophisticatedly unamused.  (He did laugh as a four-year-old after he saw the garbage truck, and I said “Tell them we don’t need any more garbage.”) 

“Well,” I told my daughter, “it goes like this. ‘As I sat down one evening / within a small cafĂ© / a 40-year-old waitress / to me these words did say.’”

“That’s the song?”

“It gets better.  ‘I see that you are a logger / and not just a common bum / ‘cause nobody but a logger / stirs his coffee with his thumb.’”  I think I memorized this song because (a) the lyrics were funny and (b) I remember my Dad knew the song writer James Stevens up in Oregon or Washington.

I don’t know if I need to memorize more than one or two songs.  Just a couple seems to do just fine.  A few years ago I was at a wedding in Taiwan.  The reception was held along several blocks of a street covered with tents and with a stage for karaoke.  The emcee saw me as the only white guy meiguo ren at the affair and asked in Chinese if I’d like to sing a song.  I demurred, mostly because I’m not sure I remembered all the words to Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again,” the only other song I’ve kind of memorized.  “I’m back in the saddle again / out where a friend is a friend / where the longhorn cattle feed / on the lowly jimson weed / I’m back in the saddle again.”  

I think those are the words, but I’d better check because it’s important.

When I was six years old, I was seriously thinking of changing my name.  I asked my dad how you do this, and he said you go to a judge who will make the change legal.  “And by the way,” he asked. “What would you like your new name to be?”  

“Gene Autry,” I answered.  After all, a man should know more than one song when he has a name like Walter.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Hollywood on the Hudson

Pearl White in The House of Hate, filmed in 1918 in Fort Lee.

Sad to say, fewer people are going into a dark theater to watch movies as more people channel surf the TV or even cut the cable and pull up an on-demand film through Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. 

And with it, a part of our state’s history may be disappearing too. The film industry started here. We were the movie capital of the world, and it started in West Orange. William Kennedy Laurie Dickson was an employee in Thomas Edison's Orange laboratory, and it was Mr. Dickson who invented a camera and projector called a Kinetograph. A peephole on top of the large cabinet, called a Kinetoscope, allowed a viewer to look at moving pictures. 

By 1892, Dickson and Edison had finished versions of the products. They used flexible 35-mm film from the Eastman Company (Kodak) to take the pictures. 

Edison and his assistants then needed to produce things to show. In December 1892, the Kinetographic Theater, opened in West Orange. Only sunlight was strong enough to allow images to be seen on movie film at that time, so the roof of the studio opened to let in sunlight. Inside was a stage, barely 12 square feet. 

Movies Move Out to the World

The following year, Edison demonstrated the Kinetoscope at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. To his joy, the public loved it. The first Kinetoscope parlor opened in New York, followed by similar openings all over the country.

Quickly, some 75 films were made, each lasting about 20 seconds. They filmed many different people and actions , including vaudeville acts, plays, magic tricks, and dancing. The “stars” were Buffalo Bill, gunslinger Annie Oakley, and strongman Eugene Sandow. 

Then came The Great Train Robbery that viewers could see on a screen instead of a peephole.  The 14 scenes were shot on location in and around Patterson. (You can see this wonderful 116-year-old drama online through the Library of Congress at 

Stars Are Born

In addition to Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, moving pictures created “stars.” People like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Pearl White and Harold Lloyd built their reputations in New Jersey and called Fort Lee home.  Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, the Keystone Cops and Rudolph Valentino could be seen strolling through town. 

In 1907, Edison’s company came to Fort Lee to shoot “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest,” featuring D.W. Griffith in his first starring role. The cliffs of the Palisades and the town’s boulder-strewn woodlands offered a dramatic background for the short silent film. Competing motion picture companies quickly followed suit, finding that Fort Lee’s diverse landscape could double for a range of settings from exotic Algeria to Sherwood Forest. By 1918, 11 major studios were operating in the town, according to the Fort Lee Film Commission. 

World War I spelled the decline of movie-making in New Jersey.  California’s climate was too inviting, and there was cheap land. New Jersey is still a popular film location, and choosing New Jersey as a place to film a production will result in a 20% tax credit on production material purchased within the state. But. our state still had one more claim to fame coming. 

From the Comfort of Your Car

On June 6, 1933, motorists began parking their cars on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. 

Park-In Theaters (the term “drive-in” came later) was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father’s company, Whiz Auto Products. Reportedly, he was  inspired by his mother’s struggle to sit comfortably in traditional movie theater seats. His idea was for an open-air theater where you could watched movies in the comfort of your own automobiles. “He experimented in his driveway with different projection and sound techniques, mounting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, pinning a screen to some trees, and placing a radio behind the screen for sound,” according to the website, ‘This Day in History.’ 

Hollingshead was issued a patent in May of 1933 and opened Park-In Theaters, Inc. less than a month later. He charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person, with no group paying more than one dollar. The idea caught on, but Hollingshead’s patent was overturned in 1949. The craze had taken over, however, and drive-in theaters began appearing all over the country. 

This medium ran its course until the rise in suburban real estate, more walk-in theaters, color TV, and — finally — the introduction of video killed the drive-in concept. As of 2014, there were about 348 drive-ins still operating in the U.S. 

We’re Still Creating Movie Stars

You can’t escape the fact that some of the most popular film celebs come from the Garden State. Meryl Streep was a Summit native  James Gandolfini hailed from Westwood. John Travolta was an Englewood boy. Then there’s Bruce Willis from Penns Grove, Queen Latifah from Newark, Tom Cruise from Glen Ridge, Kevin Spacey from South Orange. Oh, heck, find your own favorites at the website

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ghost Towns of the Pine Barrens

I'm on the edge of the Pine Barrens that make up almost a quarter of New Jersey.  Yet few outsiders know about the dwarf forests, ghost towns, and the forests that rely on fire in order to generate new growth.  My friend and celebrated Pine Barrens author Louise Barton told me, “The Pine Barrens is unique, with different vegetation, trees and wildlife.  The vegetation rots as the rain percolates down.  Even today, the water in the many lakes is the shade of murky, iced tea.” 

This may have influenced settlers, beginning in 1674.  “The settlers used to collect rain water that pocketed at the tree roots and use it as a medicine.  Due to the rotting vegetation, the natural waterways often ran the color of blood and mists blanketed the forests.  This supernatural setting helped stir the imagination, and the Jersey Devil was conceived.  Further skullduggery was accounted for by the Moonrakers — land pirates who posted lights to lure ships onto the shore — and sea pirates and privateers prowling offshore.  Witch hunters were quick to accuse the early settlers, and Ben Franklin mentioned the witch trials held at Mt. Holly.”  

Towns like Atsion, Chatsworth, Batsto, Double Trouble, Harrisville, Martha, and Whitesbog Village were once thriving industrial and agricultural centers.  Now, except for a few residents’ homes, you may only find building foundations.  It’s estimated there may be as many as 100 deserted towns in the Pine Barrens. 

The earliest permanent European settlers began occupying the area in 1674.  Hamlets and coastal towns were based on shipbuilding, commerce and timber-based trades.  For a century after 1760 iron, charcoal, and glass industries flourished.  By 1830, there were 655 sawmills in the state; today there are about 75 sawmills here.   

And it all has virtually disappeared except for small towns and “Pineys” who share a unique culture.  

On a summer day, try exploring the ghost town of Friendship.  This was the heart of a 3,000-acre cranberry farm.  It was founded in 1869 on the site of a sawmill dating back to 1795.  For a time, the cranberry business here was the largest in the area, but it declined and was sold to real estate speculators in the 1950s.  A one-room schoolhouse is the only surviving structure, and it’s somewhere else.  Today, foundation ruins of the abandoned town can be found in the field to the east side of Carranza Road and south side of Friendship-Speedwell Road.
All that’s left of the Hampton Furnace operation.
Isolated deep in the Pinelands, Harrisville is a genuine ghost town from the 1800s.  Once a flourishing village, it was abandoned in 1891 after the great paper mill, the driving force of the community, closed. Today the mill’s evocative ruins can be seen, but are fenced off for safety and preservation reasons.  Harrisville is about 8 miles northwest of New Gretna, where the highway crosses the east branch of the Wading River.  Almost nothing remains except for a few crumbling foundations and canal remnants.  The area is covered with dense undergrowth.
Travel down to Hampton Furnace to find the ruins of a late 18th century furnace and, later, cranberry operation along the Batsto River.  Information on the Hampton Furnace is scarce, but it was opened about 1795 and was in operation until about 1850.  The furnace smelted bog iron found in nearby swamps and bogs.  This site may also have produced cannonballs and shot for the War of 1812.  To find Hampton Furnace, make your way to Hammonton and travel northeast out of town on Route 206 to Atsion (Route 206 at Atsion Rd.).  Go slightly beyond the town and take a right on Hampton Rd.  Follow this road for two to three miles until you get to Riders Switch and Glossy Spung Rd/High Crossing Rd.  The remains are in that area.   
 And this is just an introduction.  There are other “ghost towns”, like Hermann, site of a late 19th century glass factory on the Mullica River; Martha, and the ruins of the bog iron smelting furnace that flourished from 1793-1845; Pasadena or Brooksbrae and the extensive runs of a brick-making factory amid the encroaching forest; and Weymouth Furnacewhere the Great Egg Harbor River runs by grand stone arches, a towering chimney stack, and moss-covered foundations from the old mill – all that now remain of this historical landmark. 
Warning: If you choose to visit the Pine Barrens off-road, be aware of “sugar sand” in such places as Friendship.  Sugar sand consists of tiny grains and can be very slippery even when dry.  Your vehicle may get stuck.  More important, warns Louise Barton, “If you are lost in the woods, you may get no cell phone signal to call for help.  Hikers and hunters may wander aimlessly for hours, and two grown men cried with relief when I was able to direct them to the road just two miles down.”


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Where’s the Misery on Mount Misery?

Travel west in New Jersey on Rt. 70 to about mile marker 28 and you’ll see a sign for Mt. Misery Rd. on your left.  You may not have driven this two-lane asphalt before, but plenty of teenagers are reputed to take their dates down the creepy road that gets narrower and narrower as the trees form an overhead canopy.   

And then the kids begin to tell ghost stories.  In fact, many report strange tales like this one on chat rooms like  As I was driving…I didn’t realize how deep I had driven.  As a result of my stupidity, we became lost, trying all different ways, but could not find anything that pointed us in the right direction.  That’s when I noticed my three-quarter full gas tank was now was empty to a point where the E-light was on.  We were all starting to panic a little.  Then we saw this huge, slow-moving object in the night sky.  

“This giant thing in the sky was quieter than silence itself.  My two friends kept telling me to go, but I was not about to jet away from this amazing experience.  So I stopped the car (but left it running, totally disregarding the E-light), and stepped out to get a better look.  It was breathtaking. It was even bigger than I had originally thought and it was moving towards the car.  

“The underside was beautiful.  Four bright blue lights and two or three white lights.  The shape of the object…kind of looked circular, but not flying saucer.  Whatever that thing was it was moving too slowly and too silently to be anything manmade.  Then it was time to leave.  Gas supply was running really low at this point. Eventually, we made it back to the main road, and started on our journey home.  Over the tree tops we were still able to see whatever it was [until] it finally disappeared.  I looked at my gas-gauge.  It was once again three-quarters full.” 

Weird New Jersey magazine has written of similar experiences.

Curious thing is that there is no mountain and no misery on this stretch of road.  In the 18th century, according to the Pine Barrens Tribune, French Huguenots settled in this part of the Pine Barrens.  They named it Misericordia, a place of mercy.  Fast forward to 1947, and the Pinelands Center summer camp was established at the end of the road.  The United Methodist Church of New Jersey owned and ran the camp, open to everyone regardless of religious affiliation.  The 150-acre site is surrounded on most sides by cranberry bogs and preserved forestland, including miles of trails in Brendan T. Byrne State Park.  It’s now a place for camping, retreats and a conservation center.
 Year round, the Center offers camping in contemporary cabins with electricity and water, outpost cabins that are a bit more primitive, and field camping.  Nestled in the Green Cathedral is an area for worship or contemplation.  And, there are a range of activities, from swimming and boating on the lake, miles of nature hikes.   

The Pinelands Center is at 801 Mount Misery Rd., Pemberton.  The main office can be reached at 609-893-3352, and their Internet site is at  It’s worth your time to take a look, but there’s no guarantee you’ll encounter any ghosts or UFOs.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Last Stop on the Underground Railroad

Imagine running for your life, hoping the man whose wagon you’re in was an abolitionist and not a slave-catcher, not knowing where you were heading except it was north.  Away from family, friends, the plantation.  And finally you’re out — free! — in Timbuctoo.

The place half an hour south of Trenton, in Westampton Twsp., was sanctuary to runaway slaves.  Beginning in the 1820s, freed and escaped slaves formed a town.  They survived there through the end of slavery in New Jersey, the Fugitive Slave Act and the Jim Crow era.  The last families didn't leave until the 1950s.  At its peak, Timbuctoo was home to more than 150 people.

But it wasn’t a total sanctuary.  In 1860 the “Battle of Pine Swamp” took place in Timbuctoo, as reported in the New Jersey Mirror, a local newspaper.  It involved armed residents of Timbuctoo preventing the capture of Perry Simmons, a fugitive slave living in Timbuctoo, by a southern slave catcher.

Today, Patricia Markert of Temple University and about a dozen other archaeologists are digging and cleaning the site to confirm that slaves, and a few immigrants and native Americans settled this area.  No one knows if the name, “Timbuctoo,” was chosen by the blacks or by the Quakers who offered them assistance.  

So far, Markert and the diggers have found bricks that were cast off from a nearby Quaker brickyard.  And bottles, tools and toys dug up from the ground.  Near the dig is a van that has become a temporary museum.  Ziploc bags sit where the van’s seats would be, full of categorized artifacts, waiting to go to Temple University for cleaning.  The National Public Radio profile reports a lot of those artifacts are bottles for household products, like Listerine and Vaseline.  Most of the brand names on the bottles are national, because white-owned local stores rarely sold to the people of Timbuctoo.  Residents ordered supplies by mail so vendors wouldn't know they were black.

The Westampton website notes the village was located on the North Branch of Rancocas Creek in Burlington County, making Timbuctoo easily accessible from the Delaware River.  And made it a strategic location for the Underground Railroad.  Settlers there had access to tidal waters and wetlands for fishing and hunting as well as fields for farming.  Two major brickyards nearby offered employment.


National Public Radio profiled the recovery effort, noting one local volunteer is 75-year-old Mary Weston, who lives just down the street.  She says, “My great-great-great-grandfather actually purchased the land for, what was it, $38 dollars and 50 cents?  He was one of the original inhabitants of Timbuctoo.”  In her home,  she shows off her favorite piece of Timbuctoo history: her family Bible.  “It was passed down to me from the 1800s,” says Weston.  “I keep it together with a belt, because….  I am determined that my children and my grandchildren will know a lot more about not only their family, but about their heritage, who they are, where they came from.”


Westampton's mayor, Sidney Camp, was instrumental in getting the dig started and frequently visited the clearing before he knew it was Timbuctoo.  “When I was having a bad day, I would come out here and just stand in the middle of this field, because it’s so peaceful and so serene,” he says.  “To come out now and see what I've been standing over for so many years — it's amazing.  It's indescribable.”


Westampton celebrates Timbuctoo Day each May.  During this town-wide celebration, guests are invited to explore the original village site; a Civil War reenactment by the Sixth Regiment U.S. Colored Troops; walking tours of the 19th century village; visits to the church’s burial grounds with graves of Civil War soldiers; and an archeological exhibit and music by local church groups.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Horrors in My Oregon Hometown

Forest Grove in the 1940s
Nicholas Kristof wrote a horrifying op-ed piece in the Aug. 14 New York Times, describing teenage racial bullying.  A classmate tells a Mexican-American girl, “We’re going to deport your ass [when Trump is elected].”  And they chant “Build a wall!”  The divisiveness is only part of my horror; worse, Kristof was writing about the small Oregon town where I grew up. 

His descriptions challenged my memories because I was a product of Forest Grove’s Central elementary school and Harvey Clark middle school.  (Clark was founder of the town’s Pacific University who, ironically, created the first school to educate Indians, mixed-breed children and orphans in the 1840s.) 

In the 1940s and ‘50s we saw no prejudice.  But then, Forest Grove had no blacks, no Latinos, no more Indians and — possibly — only a handful of Jews.  It was accepted knowledge that these people were not allowed to spend the night in town.  Mexican migrants could work the fields, but no one knew where they stayed.  I saw the first and only blacks when we drove into Portland 20 miles away.  Pacific had a number of Hawaiian students, but they weren’t “townies” so they didn’t count. 

Forest Grove's Pacific Avenue today.
While Mom was descended from over 200 years of New Englanders, Dad was German-American, which raised a tiny bit of skepticism during World War II.  This white utopia ended when my family moved in 1954 to the Los Angeles area, followed by another move to New Jersey “back East.”  As we all do, I grew up and married a Taiwanese woman.  My younger brother married a non-observant Jewish girl.  A cousin married a black, but she was a folk singer who ran away to Greenwich Village.  We had left the provincialism of that farm and logging town.  We had begun to see the world in all its beauty and diversity. 

Will Forest Grove ever be exposed to people who are “different”?  Oregon has its legacy of the black exclusion law enacted in 1844 that ordered whipping of blacks — 39 lashes once every six months — until they left the territory.  Today, African-Americans still make up only 2 percent of Oregon’s population, Latinos 12 percent and Asians 4 percent.   

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Vote

Elections seem to get more baffling each season, but this isn’t the first time New Jersey has run into some curious situations. 

Biting the Voter in the Neck?  One of the most controversial candidates was Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, who filed to run for President in 2004 and 2008 as an Independent candidate.  He was familiar to Jerseyans, however, as reported by  He had run for Congress in New Jersey as the Republican candidate in 1999, in Indiana with the Reform Party in 2000, and once again as Republican in Florida in 2001, and governor of Minnesota in 2006. 

Sharkey proclaimed himself to be a Luciferian, vampire, professional boxer and wrestler under the name of Rocky "Hurricane" Flash.  He founded the Vampires, Witches and Pagans Party in 2005, a party officially recognized by United States Federal Election Committee. 

During his 2006 run, when asked about violent criminals during a press conference, Sharkey told reporters that he would impale murderers, rapists and other dangerous offenders on the capitol lawn, just as Vlad the Impaler supposedly did in Romania during the mid-1400s.   

Honest Abe Never Carried the State  The Democrats met in April 1860 amid great turmoil to select their candidate for President.  Northern Democrats felt that Stephen Douglas had the best chance to defeat the “Black Republicans” and nominated him.  Southern Democrats considered Douglas a traitor because he wanted to let territories choose not to have slavery, and stormed out of the convention.  At a separate convention, southern Democrats chose then vice president John C. Breckenridge.  But troubles were only beginning, according to the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia.

The Republicans met in Chicago and recognized that the Democrat’s turmoil actually gave them a chance to win.  They needed a candidate who could carry the North with a majority of the electoral votes.  To do that, they needed someone who could win New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania — four important states that remained uncertain.  Abraham Lincoln emerged as the best choice as the symbol of the frontier, hard work, the self-made man and the American dream.  His debates with Douglas in early 1860 had made him a well-known national figure.    

A number of politicians and citizens calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee, a wealthy slaveholder.  They were for moderation, deciding the best way was to take no stand at all on the issues dividing the north and the south. 

With four candidates in the field, Lincoln received only 40 percent of the popular vote, but garnered 180 electoral votes — enough to narrowly win.  Abe Lincoln failed to carry New Jersey, losing to Douglas in 1860.  (He lost again, four years later, to George B. McClellan.)  

A few weeks after the election, South Carolina seceded from the Union.

The states that Lincoln won are shown in red, Breckenridge in green, Bell in orange and Douglas in brown.  In 1864, Douglas won only New Jersey, Kentucky and Delaware.

Nominating the Birthday Boy  One of the unlikeliest of host cities for a party convention was also the scene of one the most unusual moments in convention history.  Democratic delegates attending the 1964 gathering in Atlantic City were greeted with the usual pomp and spectacle, but with one special twist, according to the History Channel website 
President Lyndon Johnson, never one to shy away from public adoration, had arranged for the final night of the convention to fall on his 56th birthday. His acceptance speech was followed with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd, and topped off not just by balloons but fireworks.
There’s no record of birthday cake being served to the thousands of attendees. 
Oops, There Goes a Vote  Because of the 2010 Census Reapportionment, New Jersey lost one electoral vote, giving it 14 through the 2020 presidential election, according to the political website
New Jersey, one of the 13 original colonies, joined the Union in December 1787 and has participated in all 57 presidential elections.  Thanks to the density of our population, the state has more electoral votes per square mile than any state except Rhode Island.  Our 14 electoral votes make it a rich prize.  New Jersey has gone Democratic in the last six elections, after voting Republican in eight out of the previous 10.  Barack Obama won the state over Mitt Romney by a margin of 58 percent to 41 percent in 2012.  
Back When New Jersey Women Voted.  Really.  The Founding fathers’ electoral college didn't do much for the Founding mothers, wrote Akhi Reed Amar and Vikram David Amar in a legal analysis, “History, Slavery, Sexism, the South and the Electoral College.”  
In a system of direct national election, any state that chose to enfranchise its women would have automatically doubled its voting power in presidential elections.  The era of universal white manhood suffrage in the early 19th century saw many other restrictions on voting.  New Jersey was the one state that had allowed women property holders to vote.  Women lost that right in the early 1800s with the introduction of universal white manhood suffrage.  
Under the electoral college, each state got a fixed number of electoral votes based on population, regardless of how many or few citizens were allowed to vote or actually voted.  As with slaves, what mattered was simply how many women resided in a state, not how many could vote there.