Tag Archives: Weird NJ

Jersey Derby story online

I updated the “My Work” page with a link to the article I wrote about New Jersey-based roller derby, in case you’re interested in checking it out.

If there is a sport I was healthy and badass enough to participate in, it would be roller derby.

I spent a year or so traveling to games all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania (the pictures taken above come from a tournament held in PA). And what I saw were players working together to come up with strategies and score points. They were athletes; either starting out as “fresh meat” or seasoned veterans of the sport. And like any sport, there were rivalries and in-fighting, players splitting off to form new teams, gossip. But I never once got the impression that these people (they were women, men, transgender) didn’t take the sport seriously. Any professional wrestling-type vibe is fading away, fast. There is discussion of making it an Olympic sport – at least on an exhibition level.

And there’s this:


Those are kids, they play co-ed, and they are awesome.

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Filed under Roller Derby, Weird NJ, Writing

Following Annie

Yesterday I took a trip to two New Jersey towns–Blairstown and Hope–that were featured in scenes from the 1980 horror movie, Friday the 13th. Both appear early in the film, when we’re following the perky and independent Annie, who signed on to be the cook at Camp Crystal Lake and is getting there on a combination of foot power and hitchhiking.

My visit was for research, as I’m working on a story about the Blairstown connection for the next issue of Weird NJ. The museum in town has hosted movie-themed events for the past three Friday the 13ths, with the next one on schedule for April 13, 2018. So the story is about those events, but also a little bit about why these locations got their screen-time in the fall of 1979.

And yes, there are spoilers here for anyone who has never seen the movie.

I re-watched the movie twice in preparation for my visits. The last time I saw it was decades ago, probably on cable TV. But back then I just watched it for the scares, and even if I was aware that some of it was filmed in New Jersey I didn’t make it my focus. So now I watched as Annie stops at some old gas pumps to pet a dog, walks over a bridge, and walks past a few storefronts that have clearly seen better days. Today, it’s much nicer and has a variety of shops you can visit, plus the Blairstown Museum.

She goes through this cool walkway at one point. It looks like only the tiniest of people can walk upright in it, but it’s kind of like a Tardis.

And she walks down this street, past a performance venue called Roy’s Hall. In the movie, Roy’s Hall is painted red.

She stops in a restaurant (interior is from a location in Hope, I think) and asks how far it is to Camp Crystal Lake. The locals all look at her like she’s crazy, and one woman encouragingly refers to it as “Camp Blood.” But the friendly local oil tanker driver is willing to drop her off a little closer to her destination, so they leave. But only after Crazy Ralph comes up to them and tells Annie that she and the rest of the camp staff are “all gonna die up there.”

Annie is dropped off in front of this cemetery, which is in Hope.

I’ve been past this spot it many times before, as a kid on my way to my grandparents’ home in Knowlton, NJ. And it never clicked in my head that it was THAT cemetery. Or that we probably visited my grandparents in the fall of 1979, when they were filming the movie (though in Hardwick – at the camp where most of the slashing takes place).

This is the last we see Annie among people she can trust. She soon hitches one last ride, and despite her sweet charm, she can’t make the driver, aka Pam Voorhees, aka the killer, aka not Jason, understand that. She’s just one of a new crop of teenagers that must die. I didn’t visit the locations where these final scenes from Annie’s life were filmed – there’s nothing really distinct about them that would stand out today. Wooded roadways are wooded roadways.

This most recent viewing of the film has established Annie’s character as one of my favorites. I suspect that if she had been a counselor at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958, she would have kept an eye on Jason.

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Filed under Cemeteries, Horror, Movies, Weird NJ

Home State Hauntings now in print

Today I was surprised to find out that an eBook that features a lot of my writing and editing has become a printed “special issue” of Weird NJ. Home State Hauntings: True Stories of Ghostly Places in New Jersey is available through the magazine’s online store, as well as their Amazon store. As you can guess, it’s about ghosts in New Jersey.

I believe it has the same content as the eBook: Just a different format for you luddites out there. With illustrations by the always amazing Ryan Doan.

Trees have died so that you may have this.

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Filed under Ghosts, Weird NJ

Rabbit Tree Redux



It’s been 18 years since some photos I took of the Rabbit Tree in Vernon Township were published in the May 1998 issue of Weird N.J. These photos taken last weekend show that it hasn’t changed that much, except that somebody unhelpfully decided to spray paint over the “eyes” and “nose” of the rabbit, in case you couldn’t figure that out from just standing there looking at it. *Sigh.* Anyway, it looks pretty surrounded by the phlox.

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Filed under Weird, Weird NJ

Leo the MGM Lion

The Asbury Park Press recently published another story I wrote for the “Last Exit” special issue of Weird NJ: This one is about the original Leo the Lion, one of a number of roaring lions that MGM featured at the start of its films. This Leo in particular lived on a farm/animal sanctuary in Gillette, NJ, and is rumored to be buried at the foot of this pine tree.


Kinda looks like a roaring lion, right? Photo by me, 2009.

Here’s a closer view of the alleged burial site.


Leo the MGM Lion: Buried here? Photo by me, 2009.


Filed under Cemeteries, Weird NJ

More of Edison’s talking doll recordings restored

In 2011, I wrote a story about the talking dolls that Thomas Edison produced and sold briefly in the late 1800s.

One of Edison's talking dolls, on display at the Thomas Edison National Historic Site. Photo by me.

One of Edison’s talking dolls, on display at the Thomas Edison National Historic Site. Photo by me.

The dolls had tiny record players in them, and they played wax discs onto which nursery rhymes had been recorded. The discs were very fragile and broke easily, which was one reason why the dolls weren’t on the market for very long. They came to be known as “Edison’s Little Monsters.”

One of the recordings that existed at the time I was doing my research was of “Little Jack Horner.” You can hear it here.

The tiny record player that was stashed in each doll. Photo by me.

The tiny record player that was stashed in each doll. Photo by me.

The other day, the New York Times published a story with great news: thanks to technological advances, other recordings used with the dolls were captured. So there are now eight examples in total.

Just like with “Little Jack Horner,” the other recordings have a distant, ghostly quality that makes them somewhat creepy to hear. And from what I’ve seen on social media, I’m not the only one who feels that way. The voices, people reliably report, are the stuff of nightmares-something I know would horrify the young women who lent their voices to the recordings. But you can tell they didn’t use their normal speaking voices for the rhymes. They instead affected an overly dramatic style that reminds me of Dan Ackroyd’s Julia Child impersonation. So the combination of age and weird style can be disconcerting to the modern ear.

Close up of the doll at the National Park. There's a little glare on the image from the case. Photo by me.

Close up of the doll at the National Park. There’s a little glare on the image from the case. Photo by me.

Adding to the creepy effect is the rumor that once Edison stopped production on the dolls, the parts were buried beneath a water tower on the factory property. I interviewed a park representative who said this wasn’t true, and I agree: I suspect that the parts were instead sold to another manufacturer who made plain old non-speaking dolls with them.

But it’s still fun to think of what could have happened to those parts. It inspired me to write a fictional short story about one possibility a few years back, which I’ve been meaning to shop around to different publishers but haven’t gotten around to for various reasons. This new development in the recordings gives me a little nudge to get going on that.


Filed under Little Monsters, Talking Dolls, Thomas Edison, Weird NJ

The Mother of Action Park Stories

The New Jersey Herald is my local newspaper and the other day they reported on two different television production companies approaching Action Park about doing a reality TV show. (Chances are this link will be dead or under a subscription wall in a few days, so click now.)

Action Park, if you don’t know, is a notorious water park located in the Northwestern NJ town in which I live. The park has been through several incarnations, but its first, from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, was the worst. If you visited the park during that time, it was likely that you would leave it with some kind of injury. Mostly of the minor scratch kind, but four people died there, and more were seriously hurt. There were the usual lawsuits and newspaper stories as a result.

Eventually, Action Park closed, and then was taken over by another company. It became Mountain Creek Water Park for awhile and supposedly was a much safer experience. This past April, the new owners (who are also the original owners) decided to return to their roots and call it Action Park again.

Action Park rises again.

Action Park rises again.

They did so to capitalize on the huge amount of nostalgia people have for the place. Even the injured get all misty when they recall the days when you could risk it all at an amusement park–when the world wasn’t ruled by class action lawsuits and people could introduce the craziest ride concepts and get actual volunteers to test them out. They gaze lovingly at their scars and share a strange kindred spirit with their fellow victims.

Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a story about Action Park for Weird NJ that highlighted this same nostalgia. Continue reading

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Filed under Action Park, Nonfiction, Weird, Writing

Whimsical failure part 2

So this happened today. The interview I wrote about in my last blog post was published online.

I don’t know how well, if at all, the interview will be received by Lord Whimsy. And though I wish it had gone differently six (!!!) years ago, I do feel good that a long unpublished interview that has been weighing on me for so long is finally out there.

Don’t try this at home, kids. Trust me on this one.

UPDATE: I think Lord Whimsy is okay with things. And on that note, I’m going to go back to reading his new book, which even smells fantastic.

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Filed under Weird

In which I am a whimsical failure, of sorts

In July 2008, I had just finished assembling my second anthology of ghost stories, Weird Encounters. And despite my efforts to complete the book in time for the publisher to get it on shelves in time for Halloween that year, they were all for naught. Thanks to the financial crisis, the publisher said it might never be published, along with many other books that Weird NJ had diligently produced as part of its contract. Not the greatest tragedy of those days, I know, but I worked hard on that book and was disappointed it might never see the light of a remainder bin.

But I was trying to keep busy and ran across an article in the online edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer about one Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy: a gentleman living in Mount Holly, NJ who lived the life of “an affected provincial.” No mere dandy, an affected provincial goes beyond superficial appearances to a deeper aesthetic and appreciation of all manner of worthy topics and pursuits.

Lord Whimsy

Lord Whimsy by RyanDoan.com

Lord Whimsy had published a book two years earlier called The Affected Provincial’s Companion that outlined this aesthetic, and while reading it and perusing lordwhimsy.com, I realized that he had the “weird eye.” A perfect candidate, I thought, for an interview in Weird NJ, and after clearing it with Mark and Mark, I set forth to make arrangements with Lord Whimsy, himself. Continue reading


Filed under Weird, Writing

Contact List

It was a while ago, maybe two years back, when I had to stop by the Weird NJ office for some reason that has long been lost to me. But I didn’t have a key and I needed to make sure that somebody would be at the office so I could do the thing I needed to do, as I was already in transit and had to go to my full-time job immediately after. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the new office number: The magazine had moved its headquarters and their number had changed…and I kept putting off updating the number that is saved to my phone.

So I did the next best thing. I called 1-866-WEIRDNJ, which I figured somebody would be staffing, and I could ask whoever answered. And sure enough, when I called, I got Rich Moran on the phone. Rich, who is Mark Moran’s brother and someone I had worked with in the Weird office for a few years. Rich, who knew all kinds of things, relevant to Weird NJ and not. And Rich said that he’d give me the new number, and since I was driving (bad me) and could not write it down, he said that he’d text it to me.

Which he did, and I was able to call the office and make sure that someone would be there.

Rich’s text, which I assume he sent from his own cell phone, is still on my phone. I long had planned to transfer the office number to my contacts, and to add Rich’s number, even though I never had reason to call Rich. But it was one of those “just in case” things. And true to my usual procrastinating form, I still have yet to get around to putting either number in my contact list, and the text still sits on my phone.

Except now, I don’t know what would happen if I called the number that Rich had used, because he died suddenly last Friday. I assume that it was closed out by his family or a close friend, or maybe someone is still answering it to give people the bad news that he died way before the time that anyone thinks he should have had on this planet. Maybe it’s a direct line to some greater or lesser divinity, now. I don’t know. I’m not calling it.

But I do know that now, I’m conflicted about deleting the message from my message history, like doing so would be vanishing one more thing that establishes Rich on this planet as a living, breathing, human being. I think I’m going to leave it, and when I do eventually get around to deleting it, it will be a somber occasion.

Rich, who was in charge of retail sales and marketing management for the magazine, is the second of my Weird NJ office mates to die way too early. He joins Sue, who was Weird NJ’s office manager and who died almost two years ago. In the second book of ghost stories that I compiled for Weird NJ, I acknowledged their work behind the scenes, and it’s an acknowledgment that I would make all over again, in a nanosecond. I will miss them and I hope to see them again one day.


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Filed under Death