Last weekend we had the opportunity to see our good friends Amy and Karen Jones playing with their amazing band, The Beautiful Distortion on our home turf, as it were. The band hails from Bethlehem PA but on this occasion, they were playing at a two-day festival at the Red Mill in Clinton NJ, which is right next door to High Bridge.
Sadly, Amy fell ill, literally as the band was about to go on and had to sit the gig out with Jersey girl and I but the rest of the guys closed ranks and braved the ninety-degree heat to give a fantastic performance (despite being one vocalist down).
TBD have a great sound which centers on the three lead vocalists. Both Amy and Karen have tremendous voices which (as is often the case with siblings) harmonise beautifully. The other fronter, Dave Doll, has a very different but totally complimentary vocal style and the three voices together are really something to hear. Dave can also shred the frets like the pro he is.
The rest of the lineup is equally impressive with Chris Reagle on lead guitar, Jeremy Aguiar on bass, and Tim Harrell on drums. All are terrific, rock-solid musicians who have been playing around the Lehigh Valley area for years.
Sonically, they’re like a cross between Fleetwood Mac (they do a fantastic cover of the chain if you yell loud and long enough) and Dream Theater, if you can imagine such a beast. That really shouldn’t work but it just does.
The exciting thing for me was that, at this particular show, I was able to bring my camera along and get some shots of the guys in action (sadly sans Amy). The setting was a cool natural amphitheatre behind the famed Red Mill and I had a great time capturing their performance.
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.
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.
The town my familyare 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).
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.
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.
Every small town, no matter how prim and proper has a darkness coiled within. It is expressed in actions taken behind closed doors and in the discarded detritus that gathers on the fringes.
Abandonment and decay. Secret violence and buried frustrations. The colour leaches out like toxic waste into a once pristine stream. It crawls slowly along disused rails til there is nothing but sun-bleached bone and rust to speak its name in gravely whispers.
Let your boots crunch loudly on the stones. And do not look into the shadows beneath the trees.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s all I have for now but my research continues.
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.”
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.
Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.