I have been asked (several times) to provide a review of certain books and materials produced by the people who brought to you the “Weird NJ” fanzine, book, and magazine series. Having spent a great deal of time in New Jersey, and being someone who had in the past lived within a short walking distance from the shortest State Highway in the United States, I felt sufficiently qualified to do a review of these materials. Before we dig into this stuff I should disclose more about the particularly “weird” state highway that I used to live so close to, so as not to leave the patient reader hanging.
Route 59 is the shortest state highway in the nation. It consistings entirely of an underpass a little more than one tenth of one mile long (about 750 feet). Route 59 crosses underneath a railroad line at .07 miles at a point where bizzare as it seems an actual highway mile marker can be seen with “.07” printed on it! The entire highway is just one block long from end to end.
Although I have seen the Weird NJ books and magazines many times while browsing through libraries and the shelves of Borders and other book shops, I have never picked any of them up before. I decided to begin my background research into Weird NJ by going to their website at http://www.weirdnj.com/
According to their publishers Weird NJ is a “travel guide”, and right off the bat I thought that this was an intriging premise for a collection of weird urban exploration stories and interviews. Weird NJ is put out by a couple of Marks: Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran who have according to themselves traveled “the backroads of the Garden State in search of local unwritten history and modern folklore.”
Weird NJ deals with the usual haunted dwellings, graveyards, UFOs, strange sightings, and other oddities, but, there is much more to it than that it seems. According to Wikipedia “Weird NJ” started out in 1989 as a personal newsletter sent just to friends of its creators. From there it morphed into a fanzine at first then into a public magazine published twice a year in May and in October.
Original content consisted of explorations into Abandoned places, creepy experiences, unique people, and odd landmarks such as “The Eggomat” a 24-hour egg vending machine found in certain Warren County towns back in the 1950’s. New Jersey seems to have an abundance of “weird places’, and according to the two Marks “almost every town has their own unique brand of weirdness.”
What is very good about this approach to urban exploration is that this operation has its roots in a fanzine – something that people start because of a genuine interest in a subject rather than for just a commercial interest, which I find is rather dilutive of the experience. The two Marks seem to be true fans of the “weird”. The tone of Weird NJ is spot on. Everybody has some story to tell about something weird or unusual that they have run across in their lives and it is a joy to be able to share such a story with somebody who understands perfectly what you are talking about because they have seen it too! This is the sense that you get when you are reading Weird NJ. I remember many times driving along the Garden State Parkway near one particular town that happens to have a giant, obviously-fake pine tree standing next to a group of other pines. “What on earth is that for?” I asked myself many times before driving on and forgetting about it (it is a cell phone tower). Sure enough, the Weird NJ folks have documented this oddity and you can see a photo of it yourself on their website.
Here is how the New York Times described the fake tree in a printed Editorial: “One fake fir on the Garden State Parkway is so big it looks like an alien growth fed by a New Jersey sludge pile.” The Weird NJ treatment of the oddity is so much more fun (and muchless cranky). They deliever no opinion, whatever the subject they just show it to you and let you scratch your own head decide.
Of particular interest to me are the many YouTube videos that the folks at Weird NJ publish. I imagine that they help to promote the magazine and books that they put out. In a word, they are marvelous. I submit for your consideration this link to the YouTube video producted by Weird NJ about the most famous concrete ship in the world:
The Weird NJ YouTube offerings are one part “Mythbuster”, one part “History Channel”, and one part “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”. To my way of thinking they are required viewing. You can learn a little something about weird New Jersey history, and they are a hoot to watch. Subjects that they have touched upon include abandoned Nike missle sites leftover from the 1940s, haunted mansions, human skin wallets, ginger bread castles, tours of creepy obsolete mental hospitals, and ghost hunts. All in all, each is a delightful treat for paranormal buffs.
From time to time I will be viewing additional videos and reporting what I observe here. So stay tuned.