Starman

 

 

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Main Street High Bridge in the 1950’s…
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…and today.

 

In 1950’s America an interesting phenomenon occurred. Hot on the heels of the ‘flying saucer flaps’ (as they were then known) which had been occurring since 1947*, a small group of people went public with claims that they had both met and travelled with men and women from outer space.

These ‘contactees’, as they came to be called, began going public with prophetic messages and dire warnings about mankind’s future which they claimed originated with the men from Venus.

The first and most famous of these was George Adamski who went from dishwasher in a burger joint to millionaire after the publication of his book about his ‘encounters’ with space people but he was not the last. There was at least a score of others peddling pretty much the same line in space dust.

 

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Menger.

 

One of those who became almost as famous as Adamski was Howard Menger of High Bridge New Jersey. Menger claimed that when he was a young boy back in the 30’s he encountered a beautiful woman sitting upon a rock in the woods outside of town. The woman revealed herself to be from Venus and told Howard that he would meet her again at some point in the future.

Menger, in his book From Outer Space to You, claimed that this proved to be the case when, in the 50’s, he witnessed a spacecraft which landed in a field outside High Bridge. Menger alleged that one of the three figures that emerged from the craft was the very woman he had met 20 years before. Furthermore, he claimed she had not aged a day in the intervening years.

It seems amazing to think that people bought into Howard Menger’s tales of encounters with Venusian amazon women but many did. Howard claimed that many beside himself also witnessed the craft he frequently saw and filmed. However, even a cursory examination of his images leaves the modern viewer more than a little unconvinced and wondering what his so-called witnesses thought they were seeing.

Among Mengers more outrageous claims is that he was taken by the Venusians to Earth’s moon and that it had an atmosphere and horticulture. He even claimed to have brought back a ‘moon potato’.

If this all seems rediculous, it’s worth noting that Howard often spoke to very large gatherings of devoted believers (some of which took place right here in High Bridge) and he appeared often on the radio where he waxed lyrical about the teachings delivered by the Venusians**.

There are still people living in High Bridge today who claim that Howard was a hardworking and honest local businessman who was well liked and respected within the community. His own wife, Connie, met Howard when, as a local journalist, she came to interview him about his experiences with the Space Brothers. Connie was so impressed by him that she married him, quit her job, and started preaching the message too (something she continued to do even after Howard’s death in 2009).

The contactee movement has been chalked up largely to the extreme paranoia of the ‘A-Bomb Generation’. Many people (intellectuals among them) were convinced that mankind was on a fast track to annihilation and the thought of benevolent and technologically advanced beings intervening in our affairs like protective parents must have held a lot of appeal for those traumatised by their fear of the bomb.

I’ve watched some of Menger’s filmed interviews and there’s no denying he was charismatic and seemingly sincere. Perhaps he actually believed what he was saying or perhaps he just needed to believe it was true.

 

 

 

*It’s probably not a coincidence that these ‘flaps’ occurred as the paranoia of Cold War was gearing up.

**In later years (once space exploration had proven that the other planets in our Solar System were hostile to humanoid life) Menger and the other contactees claimed that they had misunderstood their Space Brothers as to their point of origin.

Menger claimed he now believed they merely had a base on Venus (or maybe Mars) and actually came from outside of our system.

 

©2018

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Iron men: Part 4

 

 

Part 3

 

The town my family are now living in is named for a bridge that cannot be seen. Despite its considerable height (34m) and length (400m), the iron trestle bridge is invisible to the eye.

It was built across the South Branch of the Raritan River by the Central Railway Company of New Jersey in the 1850s but saw almost no use in its originally intended form.

The official reason given for this was that the bridge was too ‘costly to maintain’ but the truth was that the bridge swayed whenever a train crossed and people were simply reluctant to use it.

This was a scandalous state of affairs but the solution chosen had a touch of genius about it. The railway simply buried the bridge supports under rail-truck loads of earth (and indeed even the rail-trucks themselves were dumped over the side to add anchorage to the mound).

 

 

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For scale, the painted flag adorns a full sized shipping container.

 

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Another scale comparison.

 

 

It took five years to complete the job but by 1864 the bridge had been replaced by a massive embankment. The only visible structure that now remains is a double tunnel through which a road and the river pass beneath the embankment. However, the bridge in some form still exists at the core of the mound.

 

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High Bridge was originally incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 29, 1871, ironically, named for a bridge which technically no longer existed as such.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

Charlotte sometimes (sometimes Lolotte)

 

In my last post, I mentioned that I had written previously about Napoleon’s niece visiting New Jersey. This turned out to be incorrect. I had researched it (based on a story I’d been told about her making a sketch of Lebanon, NJ) but never actually got around to writing a post. Situation rectified.

 

 

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Lolotte.

 

 

Charlotte Bonaparte (known to her family as Lolotte) was the daughter of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. After the Emperor’s fall from grace, Joseph, who at the height of his brother’s power had been crowned King of Naples and Spain, fled to America and settled for a time in, of all places, Bordentown, New Jersey.

After a while, his young daughter joined him there. Below, is an eyewitness account of the Princess’ arrival in Philadelphia.

The path to the carriage that awaited the princess was covered with a carpet. The dock was full of people anxious to see a princess in the flesh. She was very young, vivacious and, I believe, feeling free from the strict surveillance of her governess and of her devoted physician, Dr. Stokoe, exalted at the sight of the crowd. She took off the fur hat that she had worn during the crossing, to respond to the many greetings, and it fell out of her hands into the Delaware. She immediately took the captain’s from the bulwark and waved it. Then she put it on her head, where she kept it until arriving at the hotel.

The next day she returned to the ship…with a new hat for the captain, which she attempted herself to place on his head, telling him she would keep his as a souvenir of the cordial reception that the inhabitants of Philadelphia had given her, and of the incident that had deprived her of her own.

Life on her father’s New Jersey estate must have seemed a little dull to a girl who had visited some of Europe’s grandest cities but Charlotte was a gifted artist who travelled about the state with her easel, painting and drawing whatever caught her eye.

And one of the subjects that did catch the Princesses eye was the tiny village of Lebanon in Hunterdon County (which is where our family were living until our recent move to High Bridge).

 

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A view of Lebanon by Charlotte Bonepart.

 

Charlotte’s idle in the green pastures of New Jersey would be short-lived, however. After three years she returned to Brussels to be married.

Perversely, the instructions in Napoleon’s will stated his nieces and nephews should marry amongst themselves to “conserve the Bonaparte wealth”. Therefore, Charlotte’s sister Zénaïde married her cousin Charles and on July 24, 1826, Charlotte married their cousin Napoleon-Louis.

This marriage too was to be a short-lived affair. On the 17th March 1831, after just five years together, Napoleon-Louis died while fighting with the insurgents who were trying to drive the Austrians out of Italy.

Later Charlotte would fall pregnant to a married Polish Count, with whom she was having an affair. In February 1839 Charlotte set out by ship from Rome for Genoa with her physician, intending to have the baby away from the shameful scrutiny of her own society (her chief concern seems to have been keeping the pregnancy a secret from her mother).

However, a storm at sea forced them to travel overland and the rough roads caused Charlotte to begin to haemorrhage. She gave birth to her child in Sarzana via caesarean section but the baby did not survive. On March 2, 1839, Charlotte herself died from loss of blood; just 36 years old.

And so that is the story (somewhat truncated) of how members of what was once the most powerful family in Europe came to bide a while in Jersey.

 

 

 

Words but not images are my own.

 

©2018

 

 

 

Brave New Jersey

 

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8 factoids about New Jersey of which you may not be aware

Factoid 1. The first near-complete dinosaur skeleton to be discovered and mounted for display anywhere in the world was found in New Jersey. It was uncovered in a field outside the Town of Haddonfield and was named the Hadrosaurus foulkii in that town’s honour.

 

Haddy

 

Factoid 2. The oldest bridge in the US is located in New Jersey. The Kingston Bridge, in Somerset County, dates back to the Revolution when it was built to replace an older bridge that had stood at the same spot and which had been destroyed during the hostilities.

The stone arch bridge is no longer in use but has been preserved for its historical significance.

 

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Kingston Bridge (image: Wikipedia)

 

Interestingly, both Haddonfield and Kingston are situated along the stretch of road known as the King’s Highway Historic District. This forms part of the oldest road in the US which was built between 1650 and 1735 by order of Charles II and stretches from Charleston, South Carolina, to Boston, Massachusetts.

Factoid 3. Dr. Humphry Osmond (who coined the word “psychedelic” and guided Aldous Huxley on the mescaline trip featured in “The Doors of Perception,”) also inspired a group of CIA doctors working through Princeton University and the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute’s Bureau of Research to carry out MKUltra style mind control experiments on unsuspecting subjects in the late 60’s.

In subject, Paul Jeffrey Davids’, own words; “We knew we had volunteered for hypnosis and LSD research but the fact that it was being funded by the CIA and that the doctors we trusted … were working for the CIA — we didn’t know about [until] 10 years later, when MKUltra was exposed.”

Weirdly enough, Princeton is also situated on the King’s Highway.

Factoid 4. For fans of the original 1968 classic Planet of the Apes, you may be interested to learn that the city of the Apes known rather creatively as Ape City will be situated somewhere in New Jersey come the year 3955 AD. That’s right, Dr Zira’s a Jersey girl.

 

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It’s the high hair that gives her away. (image: 20th Century Fox)

 

How could I possibly know this? Simple deduction really. When Charlton Heston’s character, Astronaut George Taylor (presumably named for the Civil War General* who was also from Jersey) leaves the Apes and strikes out on his own, he follows the shore (that’s the Jersey shore) north and discovers the Statue of Liberty. It logically follows, therefore, that he’s spent the entire movie in post-apocalyptic Jersey.

Factoid 6. Speaking of movie classics, the first-ever drive-in was opened in 1933 in Camden New Jersey (which is also my nomination for the possible future location of Ape City).

Factoid 7. As I’ve already mentioned in a past post, Napoleon’s niece once visited New Jersey but she wasn’t the only ‘member’ of the Bonaparte clan to do so, his penis also came to visit and liked it so much it’s still here (if we’re being pedantic, Napoleon’s brother also lived for a time in Jersey).

After being “accidentally” separated from the ex Emperor’s body during his autopsy, it eventually ended up in the possession of a lady from New Jersey who kept it in a suitcase under her bed for 30 years. She still has it and has reputedly turned down an offer of over a hundred thousand dollars for it.

Factoid 8. And finally, for those who enjoy a good board game (or just torturing friends and family members) The original 1929 version of Monopoly was based upon Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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That’s all I have for now but my research continues.

 

*I wrote about General Taylor here and here.

 

The words (but this time not the images) are all mine.

 

©2018

 

Iron men: Part 3

 

Part 2

I mentioned in part one of this series that High Bridge and, specifically, Taylor Iron and Steel had produced a Brigadier General for the Federalist Army during the Great War Between the States.

General Taylor was to die from wounds received at the Battle of Manassas Station and be buried in nearby Clinton, NJ (one town over from High Bridge). At the time of writing that piece, I had not yet had the opportunity to visit Taylor’s tomb but I have since done so and I thought I’d share some images for those who might be interested.

Taylor’s nephew (who was killed in action a year after his illustrious uncle) is buried alongside the General.

 

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The General’s nephew.

 

I wasn’t expecting to be in Clinton on this particular day and so didn’t have my camera with me. These shots are off my phone and so a little basic.

In the fourth and final instalment, I’ll be exploring how the modern town of High Bridge got its name.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

 

Iron men: part 2

 

 

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The original building before the addition of a third story and the remodeling of the front. (image: Annandale Historical Society)

Part 1

New Jersey has a problematic relationship with her past. Most of the historically significant sites I write about on this blog are in a very poor state of repair and in danger of disappearing altogether. Some, such as the American Hotel, are already gone: lost forever.

Money and corruption seem to be the culprits here. History just doesn’t even seem to come a close third to development and profits.

Here in High Bridge, stands an extremely significant building that is very much in need of some kind of intervention. It can be found on the grounds of the old Taylor Iron and Steel Company. This was the first purpose-built office building in New Jersey and was the administrative centre for the 13th oldest continuously operating business (of any kind) in history.

According to the website of the nearby Annandale Historical Society, “The TISCO Office building dates to around 1725, and pre-dates the incorporation of the Union Iron Works. The structure had always housed the general office of the steel companies and contained the offices of the presidents William and Allen in 1742 through George R. Hanks in 1972.”

 

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As you can see from my pictures, the building is in a shameful state and, if left so for much longer, will probably need to be demolished.

I’m told by local historians that this is a common situation in New Jersey which is madness as this state (one of the original colonies) played an enormously important part in the history of the Nation.

The American Industrial Revolution was born in New Jersey and Taylor Steel played a very large role in that industrialization. It is to be hoped that, at some point, town and city officials will begin to take seriously the legacy left by their forebears and begin to make moves towards preserving what is left of the country’s rich past.

 

 

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The Building immediately after the remodelling in or around 1930. (Image: Unknown)

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2018

 

Iron men: Part 1

High Bridge, New Jersey has a long and colourful history. The area was established around 1742 when two men, William Allen and Joseph Turner, leased 3000 acres from the West Jersey Society and built an iron forge on the banks of the Raritan River.
The area was a remote wilderness but the men were attracted by the fast flowing river which they harnessed to drive the machinery of the mill and the heavily forested hills which promised a ceaseless supply of wood for the furnaces. The iron-works that they built and called Union Iron Works, ran continuously until 1971 making it the oldest foundry in US History and the 13th longest continually operating company in the world.
There had been settlers already farming in the area since 1700 but, with the granting of the lease, they all became squatters in law – a situation which lead to unrest and rioting. The situation was eventually resolved only by the intervention of the British Army.
When the American Revolution broke out, Turner and Allen – both loyalists – were forced to flee and Robert Taylor became superintendent of the iron-works. Taylor – a fierce patriot – was soon charged by the American Government with the incarceration of the loyalist colonial Governor of Pennsylvania, John Penn and his attorney-general, Benjamin Chew in the house attached to Union Iron Works.
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Solitude House today.

 

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These slave quarters at the rear of Solitude House are a reminder of darker times.

 

 

The two were held for seven months in reasonable comfort (they had their own Italian violinist for entertainment and were allowed to wander six miles from the house unescorted) and Generals Washington and Lafayette, Colonel Charles Stewart, and Aaron Burr all visited them in their captivity.
The Union Iron Works (which would soon be renamed the Taylor Iron and Steel Company was at that time (1777) busy producing cannon balls and musket barrels for Washington’s army.
Around the same time that the Allen and Turner mill came into being, an inn was built on what would later become Main Street. I don’t know what name it went by at that time but it came to be called the American Hotel and it existed in the same spot from the 1740’s until it was razed in 1979.
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All that now remains to commemorate the American Hotel.

 

 

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This bench should bear a plaque reading “General Washington slept here”. It would be both funny and accurate.

 

 

 

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This ‘artistic rendering’ is all there is at the site to give an idea of the building’s appearance.

 

 

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On the left of this image from 1917, you can make out the Hotel as it then looked. This is now the street that Jersey girl and I live on. (Image: The High Bridge Historical Society)
When Washington and his wife, Martha visited Penn and Chew at Solitude House (as the two prisoners had rather pithily named it and as it remains known to this day) he stayed at the tavern the original site of which I can actually see from my living room window.
Why such a significant piece of history was destroyed (replaced by a municipal car park no less), I don’t know but it is a sad state of affairs in my opinion.
The Taylors held on to both Solitude House and the Union Iron Works after independence had been won. They were still in possession when America’s next great trial came around.
New Jersey in the 1860s was by no means a strong supporter of the Union (industrialized New Jersey had many economic ties to the South) and had considered joining the Secessionist states before finally throwing its weight fully behind the Northern cause. Once committed to the fight, however, the men of New Jersey joined up in their tens of thousands.
Three entire New Jersey Regiments marched off to Washington fully armed and uniformed (one of the few properly outfitted Federal units at the war’s commencement). Over the course of the war, 52 N.J. Regiments would be formed.
When the 1st, 2nd, and, 4th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry were combined to make up the “First New Jersey Brigade”, it was a Taylor, Major General George W. Taylor, who lead them.
Taylor had been born at Solitude House and, after a stint at a Connecticut Military College, had joined the family business as a worker at Taylor Iron Works. But the young Taylor seems to have been possessed of a somewhat restless spirit. In 1827, he joined the Navy, serving in the Mediterranean before resigning his commission. Later, at the outset of the Mexican American War, He joined the Army and went off to fight.
By the time of the Civil War, he had been out to the Californian goldfields and was back working in the family business in High Bridge but he returned to military service to help organize the newly formed New Jersey Regiments.

In June 1862, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general of the 1st New Jersey Brigade. They fought under his command in the Seven Days Battles. On August 27, during the battle of Manassas Station, his brigade was surprised by General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s entire corps and routed. Taylor suffered a fatal leg wound from a cannon shot and died four days later.

His body was returned home by train and buried in the Riverside Cemetery in nearby Clinton. A large crowd gathered to pay their final respects. The poem “The General’s Death” by Joseph O’Connor commemorates the Death of George Taylor.

Continued

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2018