by Mark Stewart

New Jersey may be greater  than the sum of its parts,  but some of its parts are pretty darn good.

By Mark Stewart

Life, Hindu spiritual master Amit Ray once observed, is a collection of moments. I maintain that the same could be said for our state. In fact, I can’t think of a more effective way to capture its complex personality than through the unique touchstone moments, both big and small, that collectively define who and what we are as New Jerseyans. We’re not talking about best or worst moments, or even greatest hits; those are way too hard to define. Rather, think of these moments as daubs of pigment on the palette of a painter in the midst of a great (yet unfinished) work of art…   

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1877 • Mary Had a Little Lamb

When Thomas Edison uttered the words Mary had a little lamb… into his “talking machine” in 1877, it marked the first time sound produced by humans was recorded and played back. No one in his West Orange lab—Edison included— held much hope that their first prototype would work. When it reproduced his words perfectly, Edison later recalled, “I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial…but here was something there was no doubt of.”


The light bulb. Edison did not invent it, but his team made it cheaper and more reliable. Over a dozen versions of the bulb were in production when Edison threw his hat into the ring. The combination of a vacuum tube and the right filament produced the first commercially viable bulb.

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1883 • Taste of the Town

A summer storm in 1883 overwhelmed the resort town of Atlantic City, adulterating the water supply with ocean water. AC and its famous boardwalk drew more than a half-million tourists a year at the time, many of whom treated themselves to taffy. That summer, however, there was something wonderfully different about it: the unmistakable taste of salt. New Jersey’s iconic candy was born. In 1923, a storeowner trademarked the name “salt water taffy” and promptly sued the boardwalk’s other sellers. He lost the case in 1925, with the court deciding that the name had already been in common use for four decades. The taffy sold today contains salt and water, but no seawater.


1889 • Flexible Flyer

Sledding for most of the 19th century was fun but dangerous. State-of-the-art was the toboggan, which could not maneuver around trees, people or any other kind of obstacle. Samuel Leeds Allen, a manufacturer of farm equipment, came up with a less concussive option: a steerable sled that went on the market in 1889 and was an instant hit. He knew for a fact his product was safe—he had used the men, women and children of his native Cinnaminson as crash-test dummies in order to perfect it. 

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1919 • Alice Paul 

Protests, civil disobedience, hunger strikes—Mount Laurel native Alice Paul used every trick in the suffragette playbook to force President Woodrow Wilson into supporting the 19th Amendment. She was a thorn in Wilson’s side from Day One, organizing an 8,000-woman suffrage parade in Washington the day before his inauguration, which devolved into a near-riot. With America’s entry into World War I, Paul knew she had the president where she wanted him: How could Wilson ask Americans to lay down their lives to “free” countries where women had the vote…and not give the vote to their mothers, sisters and daughters?


1925 • Strokes of Genius

The 1920s are considered the Golden Age of Sports thanks to iconic athletes like Babe Ruth, Red Grange and Jack Dempsey. Every sport, it seemed, had its superstar and swimming was no exception. In 1925, 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle was among the dozens of men and women who took off from the tip of Manhattan on a 21-mile swim to Sandy Hook. She completed the journey in the astonishing time of 7 hours, 11 minutes—a record time that would stand for more than 80 summers. So powerful were Ederle’s strokes that she decided her next swim would be across the English Channel. The following year she became the first woman to make the rossing, once again in record time. “Gertie” had developed her remarkable strokes anstamina as a girl in her summer home of Highlands. Her parents tied a rope around her and set her loose in the powerful tidal currents of the Navesink River. 

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1946 • Martin & Lewis

In the summer of 1946, a run-of-the-mill crooner and manic lip-sync comic took the stage at Atlantic City’s 500 Club as the unlikeliest of pairings: Martin & Lewis. For the next decade, no show business act surpassed their fame, popularity or earning power. Their madcap, improvisational performances transformed live comedy. The original act featured the 29-year-old 

Martin attempting to sing while the 20-year-old Lewis—dressed as a busboy—dropped dishes and created general chaos and mayhem. Audiences literally laughed until they cried. Hollywood soon came calling and the duo made 17 pictures between 1949 and 1956, when they parted ways.

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1946 • Jackie Breaks the Color Line

Even the most ardent New Jersey sports fans are unaware that Jackie Robinson’s official debut in organized baseball came not in Brooklyn with the Dodgers in 1947, but in Jersey City as a member of the Montreal Royals one year earlier. The Royals were the Dodgers’ top farm team and they played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium on April 18 to open the 1946 season.  Robinson (whose middle name, coincidentally, was Roosevelt) gave a crystal-clear glimpse of the great things to come when he collected four hits and scored four runs in five trips to the plate, including a three-run home run. 

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1964 • Not Bird Poop

In 1964, a pair of Bell Labs radio astronomers in Holmdel—Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson—inadvertently discovered a “snapshot” of the early universe when they found cosmic microwave background radiation wherever they pointed their receiver. Initially, they believed this anomaly was caused by something “terrestrial,” perhaps pigeon or bat droppings on the huge antenna. When the results were the same after a big clean-out, they realized they were on to something: evidence that the “Big Bang” theory of the universe’s origin was correct.

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1967 • Glasnost at Glassboro

The Cold War took an important turn for the better on the campus of Glassboro State College—now Rowan University— when President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin met for three days at Hollybush, the historic home of the college president. Aides to both world leaders expressed grave doubts about the outcome of the summit, which was held in southern New Jersey as a compromise between New York and Washington (where the threat of protesters was problematic). The two sides had not held formal talks since 1963. In the interim, Vietnam, the space race, the build-up of nuclear arsenals and the development of anti-ballistic missile systems had ratcheted up tension to its most dangerous level since the Cuban naval blockade. The substantive portions of the summit involved Johnson and Kosygin alone in a room with only their interpreters present. Although no formal agreements were reached, both men gave ground and developed a respect and friendship that was called the “Spirit of Glassboro.” We may all still be here because of it. 



1978 • Springsteen at the Capitol Theater

Every New Jersey Bruce Springsteen concert has a can-you-top-this quality, including the recent four-plus-hour show at MetLife Stadium. But to the 1,800-or-so fans who saw him play the Capitol Theater in Passaic in 1978, the Boss could never, ever be better. The proof is on tape. The concert, which was a stop on Springsteen’s Darkness

On the Edge of Town tour, was broadcast over WNEW radio and recordings have been circulating ever since. The E Street Band’s renditions of “Prove It All Night” and “Thunder Road” are unimprovable. YouTube


1982 • Must Have Musto 

To qualify as a truly great political moment, you need a unique partnership between the people and the politicians. William Musto was a career politician, serving in the State Senate and General Assembly in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s—and occupying the Union City mayor’s office twice. In 1981, during his second term as the town’s mayor, Musto was indicted for racketeering, extortion and fraud. In 1982, with key testimony from a 28-year-old former aide named Bob Menendez, Musto was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison on May 10. On May 11, the people of Union City re-elected him mayor. The man he defeated was Menendez.


1995 • Pope John Paul II 

During his 1995 tour of the United States, Pope John Paul II celebrated evening prayers at the Sacred Heart cathedral—the fifth-largest in North America—elevating it to basilica status. The French Gothic style cathedral was first conceived in 1859, and built between 1899 and 1954. “This magnificent building stands in the heart of Newark as a powerful reminder of God’s steadfast love for his people,” said the Holy Father, “and as a sign of faith in Christ, our hope of glory.”

Grounds for Sculpture


1992 • Grounds for Sculpture 

In 1984, philanthropist J. Seward Johnson launched a plan to make contemporary sculpture accessible to the public in a comfortable and informal setting. Eight years later, the Grounds for Sculpture opened in Hamilton with an exhibit featuring the work of 13 prominent artists. An indoor museum opened in 1993. Johnson, the grandson of Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson, is an artist in his own right, known for his trompe l’oeil painted bronze sculptures. The 42-acre site is home to nearly 300 works of art.


1999 • College

In the Season 1 episode entitled “College,” Tony Soprano encounters a relocated mob informant while taking Meadow on a college visit. The following day he slips away to strangle the “rat.” It marked the first of many instances where Tony’s family life would collide with his professional life with brutal, deadly consequences—and demonstrated that the show’s writers were unafraid to plumb the depths of this dark dichotomy as the series unfolded.

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2011 • Foot-Swept

Jon Jones, a mixed martial artist preparing for a Saturday night Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavy-weight title bout in March 2011, decided to walk to nearby Paterson Falls to clear his mind before the fight. On his way he spotted a man breaking into a car. Jones shouted at the thief, who took off. Jones pursued him and took him down with perfect foot-sweep. He then double-legged the criminal and subdued him with an arm bar. Seven hours later, Jones stepped into the Octagon at the Prudential Center and employed the same moves to defeat Mauricio Rua in the main event of UFC 128.

U.S. Senate Democrat


2012 • Well Done

Newark mayors have experienced their fair share of heated moments over the years. In Corey Booker’s case, he had to rush into a burning building and break free of a police U.S. Senate Democrats detective’s grasp to save his neighbor’s daughter, who was trapped on the second floor. He fought back flames in the kitchen to reach the stairway, dodge an explosion on the second-floor landing, threw the woman over his shoulder and carried her to safety. Booker suffered second-degree burns on his hands and was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital. On the way, he tweeted that he was okay. The hashtag #CoryBookerStories immediately started trending on Twitter. 

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures


2013 • Thank God for Me

The “science oven” scene in American Hustle is Jennifer Lawrence at her absolute best. After nearly setting their home on fire by putting metal in the just-installed microwave, Lawrence’s Rosalyn turns the table on her husband Irving (Christian Bale) with an Oscar-worthy, expletive-laced Jersey tomato diatribe that makes all of their money and marital problems his fault—including the newly blackened cabinetry. She finishes with the classic line “Thank God for me.” Thank God, indeed. 


When the producers of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire decided to base their shows in the Garden State, it is quite likely that a staff member with knowledge of network television history pointed out that few if any scripted series set in New Jersey had ever succeeded. Charles in Charge (126 episodes) and House (177) were the most successful. According to TV Guide, one of the worst sitcoms of all time revolved around Sheffield College, a fictional school located somewhere in our state. One of the Boys ran for 13 weeks in 1982 before being cancelled by NBC—though not for lack of talent. It starred Dana Carvey, Nathan Lane, Meg Ryan, Mickey Rooney, Scatman Crothers and Cleavon Little. 

Was there a defining moment in any Jersey-centric network series? Unfortunately, the moment that defined the series didn’t say much about New Jersey. But here it is, anyway:  

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2006 • It’s Never Lupus

Fans of the medical drama House, which is set in a New Jersey hospital, lived for the show’s running jokes—above all the suggestion in virtually every episode that the mystery disease flummoxing the Courtesy of NBC Universal Television Princeton-Plainsboro team might be lupus. House’s response, invariably, was “It’s never lupus.” So when the painkiller-addicted doctor revealed where he’d been hiding his meds, an incredulous Dr. Foreman says, “You stash your drugs in a lupus textbook?!” 

Editor’s Note: Do you have a quintessential Jersey moment? Share it with EDGE readers on our Facebook and Twitter pages!