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.

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.”