Showing posts with label New Jersey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Jersey. Show all posts

Sunday, October 31, 2021

October Surprise!

A séance has been held. That was the only way I could begin to describe the events of a recent trip to Atlantic City where I just may have participated in one of the greatest of all paranormal happenings.
A festive

Strolling by the boardwalk vendors, my friends, Tim, Vinnie, Vinnie’s wife, Bonnie and myself were somehow prophetically drawn to a neon sign-GREATEST PSYCHIC IN WORLD-MADAME OUSPENSKAYA $10 PER PERSON. My cynicism was firmly in check but Tim and Bonnie thought it was an experience we had to share before leaving the following morning. So, reluctantly I went along with it and the four of us entered the small shop adorned with peeling wallpaper and ubiquitous incense.

Atlantic City
An elderly woman in black garb with a simple string of beads greeted us in a seemingly Russian accent, collecting forty dollars from us with instructions to follow her to a small round table with three lit candles near a wall where she was apparently brewing some potent tea. We all sat down as we took a quick glance at our surroundings.

“Please to put away your cigarette. Then we begin.” She directed Vinnie.

“Come on, you’d do it for Ravi Shankar.” I quipped, realizing I probably should keep quiet.

He put his cigarette out in a nearby saucer and Madame Ouspenskaya seemed content to continue. My friends exchanged some glances and then waited to see what was next. No one spoke for almost a minute until Madame Ouspenskaya closed her eyes and asked that we join hands. As we did so she quietly uttered some words that we took to be invocations for the beginning of the ceremony.

“What are we here to do today?” No one answered. Our eyes were closed but we knew none of us had properly figured out any purpose for what we had come for, if this was, in fact, a séance. So, to avoid embarrassing our medium or my cohorts, I spoke up. I didn’t want to insult this nice woman but at the same time, I was trying not to say or do anything to get us tossed out. We should get something for forty dollars, right? I didn’t know what to say but began talking (I do that from time to time). On this occasion, it proved beneficial to my curiosities regarding the unexplained. I opened my mouth, from which the words came.

“Can we talk to someone’s spirit?” An uncomfortable moment passed as I thought we would all be shown the door amidst a string of Russian profanities. She quietly responded.

“Madame Ouspenskaya will try. That is what she does.” I wondered if that meant that she does it, or tries to do it. “Whose spirit?” she asked. More silence.

“I guess…” What does one say? Where do you go with something like this? My friends must have been rolling their eyes at each other. I had to get this going so we could finish up and get out.

“I guess I want to talk to someone that I could write about. I write sometimes for… well, it’s an online publication called Western Magazine Digest.” She interrupted me right there, her voice now more pronounced as though she had received something.

“I think… that someone wants to talk to you.” Really? Wow! I thought I’d have to tell her a name of someone I was thinking of. Maybe she had her own ideas.

“He rides a horse, yes?” Hey, Is she talking about who I’m thinking? “Near… a red… river?”

Woah! It seemed Madame Ouspenskaya knew who it was, or better yet, had him ready to talk with us, right there. Could it be?

“Yeah.” I responded, trying not to show obvious signs of excitement about this.

“He has grit… he has true grit, yes?” Do you believe this? She’s doing it. She’s contacting the man himself, I thought.

“Yes, Madame Ouspenskaya. Yes, indeed!” By now I couldn’t hide my exuberance.

“And he rides… tall in the saddle, yes?”

“Yeah. He does! He does!” I replied.

"His initials, they are J-W?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s right!" I exclaimed. 

She paused and proceeded with the portentous revelation. “He has something to say to everyone… all over the land.” We were in awe. What was he going to tell us?

She continued. “He says we need to remember … that even when so much is happening, that this land, America, it is strong. It is a beacon of hope and aspiration for all. Must remember our laws are good and they prevent tyranny. Also, dissent and free speech, they are good things because we make our decisions in elections. And… that we will always have freedom of religions and choices and it is a just land and those are things to be proud of and defend. We also must honor the people who defended them.”

Jackpot! We hit the jackpot… and we never even went into the casinos!

“What else? What else?”

“Nothing else.” She whispered. “But yes, he says one more thing.”


“He says when the road looks rough ahead, remember the ‘Man upstairs’ and the word ‘hope’. Hang on to both and tough it out, pilgrim.”


JW's horse

“Thank you, JW! Thank you for everything! Thank you, also, Madame Ouspenskaya. You really are the greatest in the world!” She simply blew out the candles and gestured us all to the exit. What was thrilling for us must have been mentally draining for her.

We walked out onto the boardwalk, speechless. We were still partly in shock from what had occurred in that place as our vacation resumed. Who would have guessed that I did the unimaginable? Did what others have tried in vain to do for so many years, actually communicate with the spirit of the one, the only… JACK WEBB! What he was doing on that horse, though, I’ll never know.

Jack Webb

Happy Halloween!

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Golden Woodsman

Perched majestically atop the Oregon State Capitol Building
in Salem, the 22-foot 23 carat gold leaf covered lumberjack known as Oregon Pioneer began his momentous cross-country trek in New Jersey.

Sculpted in 1938 by Ulrich Ellerhusen, the Pioneer was created for Salem’s new capitol building after their previous one was destroyed by fire in 1935. He allegedly traveled through the Panama Canal and reached Salem by railroad.

Facing north and clutching an axe and a tarp, he peers westward and strikes a pose that suitably evokes the rugged frontier spirit of the state of Oregon and its surrounding regions.

Who would have guessed that the brawny golden paragon of the Pacific Northwest was originally a Jersey boy? Now, if only we can find a Colonial-clad statue overlooking Trenton that was crafted in the woodlands of Oregon, a swap could somehow be negotiated by the appropriate authorities thereby aligning the moon and stars once again.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, April 18, 2021

No Garden Variety Oak

Adorning the seals of Mercer County and Princeton Township in New Jersey is a giant white oak tree. The tree has its own special story and that story is inextricably merged with the early history of America itself. During the War of Independence, Brigadier General Hugh Mercer and 350 of General Washington’s Continental Army were met by British regiments in an orchard owned by a Quaker farmer named Thomas Clarke.

During the battle, Mercer was wounded by a British soldier’s bayonet and was said to have rested at the trunk of the oak tree, refusing to leave his men. He later was moved inside Clarke’s farmhouse where he died from his wounds nine days later.(I previously thought the event had taken place in 1776 but later learned that it had, in fact, happened in early 1777, after making it through 386 pages of David McCullough’s book which was interestingly titled... 1776)

The tree came to be known as the Mercer Oak, a significant symbol and focal point for local residents, New Jerseyans and students of history. The orchard where the battle occurred is now known as the Princeton Battlefield.

The Mercer Oak conspicuously stood alone in the battlefield for almost 300 years until a storm damaged it beyond repair in 2000. Prior to that, it was immortalized in a 1994 romantic comedy, I.Q. That film centered around famed physicist Albert Einstein with key scenes that featured Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins sitting in front of the mighty oak, surrounded by a protective wooden fence.

Some years earlier, I shot my own footage of the tree, farmhouse and battlefield for a short video I created which compiled Revolutionary War sites and monuments throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. My video predated the anachronistic fence and, as such, remains the only existing film or video footage of the Mercer Oak in that natural state, according to John Mills, the curator of the battlefield park and Thomas Clarke Museum, which apparently keeps a copy of my video in its research library.

In 2010, Mills told me he was amazed at the changes in the Clarke house and the battlefield since the video had been shot with several other trees having also disappeared. Thinking back thirty years ago I recall Mills, then living in a wing of the Clarke house, lighting some antique candles and allowing my assistant and I to shoot throughout the house and barracks.

The Thomas Clarke House, off Princeton Pike (Mercer Road), is currently closed due to Covid rules but the park is open daily from dawn to dusk and there are outdoor weekend tours at 11am and 2pm on Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays; weather permitting.

When in Princeton, stop by and see for yourself where and how these events took place at that crucial moment in America’s history. Of course, the tree may be gone but that which it represents lives on in history as well as our minds and our memories.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Terror of the Hydro-bots

While driving along Route 206 in South Jersey on the outskirts of the Pine Barrens, I was deliberating what possibilities might befit the final subject to round out my series on New Jersey’s ‘Seven Wonders.’ Suddenly, off the road I noticed a vision so incongruous I began to doubt my own sanity.

Two stick-like figures appeared to overlook the highway with a tubular pet at their feet. Just who was responsible for this superfluous display and what in the world of artificial intelligence did it all mean?

Well, aside from the fact that the three objects were assembled from water tanks and stand before Water Resources of New Jersey, a water softening business, little else seems to be known of them. While admittedly curious and unexpected, they wouldn’t exactly cause Philip K. Dick to blush and, frankly, I don’t quite see why they are as moderately famous as they are.

In any case, to compensate for my scarcity of ideas for a seventh wonder, I’ll give an honorable mention to these space-age tin woodsmen instead. Besides, their creative owner was decent enough to offer his services to any of my readers interested in commissioning him to adorn their front yards with his artwork.

What has everyone said to that? So far, all responses have been a resounding, “Tanks, but no tanks.”

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Falls Without Flaws

Situated unexpectedly within one of New Jersey’s most urban and industrial settings, the Great Falls of the Passaic River or Paterson’s Great Falls or, more colloquially, the Paterson Falls are an historic and unique landmark to visit and appreciate.

Designated as a National Historic Landmark District, the Falls are 77 feet high, one of the largest in the nation and the second-largest east of the Mississippi.

Like the Delaware Water Gap, the Falls were the site of Dutch settlements in the 17th Century, in addition to those of the Leni Lenape Indians.

The engineering of canals from the Falls to power water mills in the town of Paterson was conceived and overseen by founding father and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

Later a wooden dam was installed in the employment of a paper mill. Today it boasts a hydroelectric plant generating electricity from the Fall’s flowing waters. As a testament to such aesthetic and technical marvels, over a hundred-thousand tourists visit the Great Falls of Paterson every year.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Truly 'Gap-tivating'

Between New Jersey and Pennsylvania one will find 70,000 acres of valley
along the Delaware River between the low mountains of the Appalachians that attract hikers, boaters, rock climbers, rafters and campers among many others.

Along the Appalachian Trail lies the Delaware Water Gap, in essence, the place where the Delaware cuts between the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania and the Kittatinny Ridge of New Jersey.

The resulting topography includes lakes, ponds, springs, ravines, overlooks, glens and forests which eventually helped to designate the Water Gap as a national recreation area of the East Coast.

The ubiquitous footprint of history is adorned in the Water Gap’s countless trails. One such example is the remains of 17th Century Dutch mines and villages from the French and Indian War which stand on its New Jersey side.

The region boomed as a resort town by the beginning of the 20th Century. Today vacationers still venture to the destination for its recreational activities and spectacular sight-seeing.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, January 3, 2021

No Mere Biosphere

Strangely situated within the otherwise populous state of New Jersey,
not far from adjacent cities Philadelphia and New York lies an ecological wilderness known as the Pine Barrens. It features its own unique climate, ecosystem, wildlife and history, not to mention a fabled winged monster- The Jersey Devil.
The dearth of development in Ocean County’s Pinelands stems back to the days of European colonization when the area’s sandy soil was deemed largely unsuitable for growing and farming.

Nevertheless, the Lenni Lenape Indians who inhabited the region long before their arrival used controlled fires in the pursuit of cultivation and hunting, a practice more or less still employed today.

Through the years, everything from iron, charcoal, paper, cabinetry, cranberries and blueberries were produced in the Pine Barrens. Some parts are said to have been the site of liquor bootlegging and smuggling by crime organizations. As a result, there remain not only ghost towns in the wake of those previously stated industries but, allegedly, abandoned remains of stills and the graves of victims silenced by Prohibition-era hit men(!)

Other areas feature somber reminders of tragedy. A monument to Emilio Carranza marks an area in the town of Tabernacle where the Mexican aviator was killed while returning to Mexico City from New York.

Campgrounds are readily available as are ideal opportunities for hiking, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hunting and horseback riding.

While over one million acres of the Jersey Pine Barrens have been designated as a National Reserve and International Biosphere Reserve, conservation continues to be a primary concern as well as that of potential forest fires.

Jersey Devil statue--no one dares tear it down!

Hopefully, the future will see the Pinelands remain the largely pure and undeveloped landscape it has managed to stay thus far. Of course whatever that future brings could be just as cryptic and inscrutable as the Barrens themselves on a quiet, dark and shadowy New Jersey night.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tip of the Ship

While driving around Cape May down the Jersey shore,
this blogger once stumbled upon a curious sight just off the shoreline in an area known as Sunset Beach. It appeared to be the rusted portion of some kind of structure poking up straight out of the water at high tide. As the people in the vicinity paid little attention to it, I concluded that whatever it was, it had been there for a while.

Later, I learned this haunting anachronism I accidentally encountered was, in fact, the wreck of the S.S. Atlantus, one of an elite few concrete ships built for World War I’s Emergency Fleet circa 1918.

The Atlantus was actually launched a month after the end of the war, built by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Georgia to serve as a transport for returning U.S. troops. They radically opted for concrete as an alternative to steel which was in short supply during the war. The availability of steel soon saw the decommissioning of the concrete ships after the war had ended.

In 1926, while awaiting a new role in a ferry operation in Cape May County, the Atlantus broke free during a storm and ran aground 150 feet from the coast where the eroded hull still peeks above water today. For a time, a painted billboard hung on the wreckage advertising boat insurance.

We will inevitably see less of the historic shipwreck as years go by, epitomizing the temporary nature of history itself. Perhaps it symbolizes our perspective in the overall scope of history where the salty waters of time continue to slowly wash away that which remains of the past.

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Christopher Robinson