Imagine finding the bones of a dinosaur on your own property. One summer night in 1858 would change not only the lives of many but the course of history too. Farmer John Estaugh Hopkins invited scientist and fossil hobbyist William Parker Foulke and others for dinner.
Mentioning to Foulke in passing that his farmer diggers found some bones 20 years earlier in Cretaceous marl pit near the rear of his house would set off a chain reaction of events that would make history. Digging up the bones they found the Hedrasaurus. With the help of fellow academician Dr. John H. Slack these bones would be brought to life in a unique and special way. Secured in Foulke’s home, measured, wrapped and protected he contacted Dr. Joseph Leidy a member of the Philadelphia Academy of Nature and Science and believe it or not the very first confirmation that dinosaurs existed. Imagine discovering the first dinosaur, seeing its actual bones and creating the skeleton had to be exciting. Seventeen years before this discovery Dr. Richard Owens coined the name dinosaur from the Greek Word: Terrible Lizard. The excitement soared and on December 14, 1858 Leidy announced his findings and the skeleton was created. What happens to the original display and what a 13 year old named Scott finds 126 years later did to secure this discovery site. You need to read Chapter One, “In the Beginning,” for yourself. As author and freelance writing Fran Capo takes everyone back in time to learn the remarkable events that shaped history in this amazing book, It Happened in New Jersey.
The Mother of Middletown is the next story. Her name was Penelope Van Princess. Penelope and her husband wanted to travel to New Amsterdam but he was ill. Hoping he would not fall prey to the cruelty of the Indians she took care of him and tried nursing him back to health. But, what happens next was horrific as he was slaughtered and killed. Penelope was seriously injured and pretended to be dead. Hiding behind a tree for safety and comfort and living off of the land she hoped to survive. But when the settlers left her for dead she feared when the Indians returned and took her with them that she would be killed. But, their kindness surprised and eventually she remarried a man named Richard Scott. But, there is much more as her new husband and five friends founded the village of Middletown. But, danger came their way again as the Indians returned but this time the settlers as we might say today, faced them down, did not back down and the end result you need to read for yourself so that you learn what happens and why is remembered as The Mother of Middletown who lived to 110 years young.
There are so many great stories in this book that I cannot spotlight all of them. The next story is titled Top Spy for Washington, followed by The Rich Ghosts of Morristown. But, I want to spotlight a story that always interested me the story about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and that famous duel.
The story is titled “ Let the Leaders Duke it out,” and it begins in 1804 with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s rocky political relationship. I bet when you finish reading this book those living in New Jersey will be proud of the history, the events shared and the many contributions made by so many living there. July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New York where we meet Aaron burr and Alexander Hamilton and like typical politicians they mud sling and bad mouth each other. Hamilton was the first secretary of the treasury in Washington and Aaron Burr a New York Senator in 1784 and appointed as Attorney General of New York 1789. But, Aaron Burr had his own agenda in mind when it came to Hamilton. With the outburst of Yellow Fever and the fact that Hamilton and his Federalists had the strongest grip on the supply investment capital in New York, Burr had to find a way to get control himself. What he does, the deceptions he creates and the final outcome is really interesting and the end result THE DUEL and the TEN DOLLAR BILL!
The next stories are The Incredible Jersey Jumper, the next the history of baseball and Abner Doubleday, Santa Claus Is Born on A Desk in New Jersey and let’s continue by spotlighting The Legendary Blizzard. This brings back memories of living where I just moved from and never seeing pavement until the Spring. Imagine no paths, no streets, no sidewalks, lights, no calls, no guests and cities at more than just a standstill. Imagine people trying to get home and freezing to death. Imagine the fear that was in their hearts when they started out for home and wound up losing limbs and some their lives because of a nasty blizzard that the weather service never predicted that started on March 10, 1888, swept across many states and finally ended days later. But, not before streets were piled with so much snow that in order to move it both New York and New Jersey hired thousands of Italian immigrants to shovel the snow and dig out the railroads. Imagine the poor workers that had not choice, the lone milkman that delivered the milk and you would relive the blizzard of 1888. But, this might have been the legendary blizzard that claimed 800 lives not counting those lost at sea. But, there is much more to this tragic story that you can read.
Dr. Herbert M. Simmons was summoned to a house by the police to check out a death. Greeted at the door a woman dressed in black, Virginia Ward law escorted the doctor to a bathroom lying in the tub face down. A 24-year-old 80-pound nude woman was dead and a suicide note conveniently left stating why. But, upon examination the doctor realized that something was wrong and calling the police to investigate was the next step. Realizing the girl was dead for over 24 hours and the woman that claimed she found her was her aunt and stated her niece, who she stated was depressed should not have been left unattended. So, what was the real reason behind her death and was it murder? Since Virginia was the only material witness she was held in the Essex Country Jai. As the police investigation continued they learned the cause of death was drowning and starvation. But, from neighbors they learned about a second woman in black. This mystery and death became the lead story the author relates in all the local Newark and New York City papers. Ocey had left everything to her grandmother, Martha Eliza Wardlaw in trust for her young son. The second sister, 61-year-old Mary Sneak was found in a basement apartment with her mother in New York. Mary was Ocey’s aunt but also her mother-in-law. Ocey was married to her son who was presumed dead.
But, when you learn the truth behind her death you will definitely be more than horrified. Learning more about her from the doctor that took care of her when she was pregnant and sick would reveal that she was malnourished, weak and depressed. Added in was the fact that the doctor left specific instructions for her care and they were ignored. The end result and what happens to the three sisters in black will make you wonder what else was behind the murder. But, she was not the only victim. But, when the trial began Virginia died. This would make a conviction even harder for the police to get a guilty verdict for the three sisters. What happens, the real reason behind the death you have to read pages 90-91 to find out? If you see three women coming into a house dressed in black, I would call the police. This is one bone-chilling story.
When Terrorist Attack Blamed follows the Shark Bites on Mosquitoes, which sounds quite intriguing, and the next story that I found quite interesting Through the Eyes of A Dog. The stories and events related in this book are quite interesting and will keep the reader glued to the printed page and reading every story more than once. Some you might say I cannot believe that really happened and others you might have wished you had witnessed. This story happened in 1929.
One news article would change history and the lives of many war veterans. Dorothy Harrison Eustis helped to create the first guide dog school. But, the history behind it is quite exciting. Asked to write an article about her own facility and work Dorothy wrote about a school in Potsdam, Germany that trains and teaches German Shepherds to work with blind WWI Vets. Thinking that no one would read the article she could not believe the huge response and letters that followed. The end result would be amazing for all of those vets that lost their site and the first The Seeing Eye would be established in Morristown with the help of Dorothy and animal trainer Jack Humphrey. Read this story to learn more and why this school was the start of many more. The famous story about the Lindberg Baby Kidnapped in 1932 follows with an account of the event, the man who kidnapped her and the end result. Would you believe a woman created the first drive-in-movie theater? I never knew that. The mother of Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. was so large that she could not fit in the seat of a movie theater. So, along with his dad in order to make his mom happy and incorporate his two hobbies movies and cars you guessed it the first drive in Movie Theater was the end result. How they went about doing it and where they started you wouldn’t believe. Read the story What’s BEHIND the Invention to learn more. Next read the history behind the Hindenburg, The Halloween Joke that Scared the Nation and using his novel The War of the Worlds, Orson Wells created the biggest trick ever heard on Halloween and one that backfired louder than ten thousand firecrackers on the fourth of July. Finally, the author includes a story that shows that even baboons use social medias. Imagine a Clever Baboon using Twitter for her escape. This is hysterical as Liberty the baboon escaped from The Monkey Jungle and someone was tracking and reporting her progress on Twitter.
Why and how she managed to elude everyone you won’t believe. Just what those male baboons had in mind for this poor girl might explain why she left. Where she is now and the precautions they are taking to make sure it does not happen again you will have to read. Author Fran Capo has really provided so many interesting stories, events and history about New Jersey that kept this review glued to every story until she read it in less than two hours. This is great. Added for extra measure is A Potpourri of Facts about New Jersey, New Jersey Firsts, State Symbols and Odd New Jersey Laws, Famous Jerseyans and references. I bet you didn’t know that there is a cabbage law. I bet you did not know that you cannot frown at a police officer. I bet you didn’t know you can’t slurb soup. Be ware the next time you get a ticket make sure you smile and never buy cabbage on Sunday. To learn more about the Garden State read this great book.