Let’s face it, America. New Jersey is one weird state.
Punch line to New Yorkers’ jokes and gibes. Home to the Jersey Devil and Tony Soprano. And when Orson Welles sent the Martians to attack, he sent them here.
For the past decade, two New Jersey natives named Mark have been compiling the state’s odd legends and cataloging its strange places for a magazine called Weird NJ. And just when you thought the Garden State couldn’t get any weirder, Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran have published a book.
“Weird NJ” is in its fifth printing since coming out in September, seemingly flying in and out of bookstores the way Martian space ships zipped around Grovers Mill in Welles’ classic 1938 radio play that thousands of people thought was real. Today the only visitors flying around the town are Canadian geese, which flock to a pond near a plaque that commemorates the broadcast.
The Martian landing site, about 10 miles northeast of Trenton, is one of hundreds of strange places described in the “Weird NJ” book. Its 271 pages are filled with folklore and ghost stories, such as:
—The Monkey-Man, an apelike man rumored to have terrorized Hoboken schools in the early 1980s.
—Cry Baby Bridge in Middletown, where people say a baby cries in the middle of the night at the spot where a baby drowned years ago.
—Albino Village, a section of Clifton supposedly home to a community of albino people.
—The Stone Living Room, a mysterious rock formation in Passaic County that was crafted either by native Americans or drunken high school kids.
For the authors, weird and New Jersey are a natural fit.
“When you just put the words together, people seem to instantly know what you’re talking about,” said Moran. He and Sceurman have backgrounds in graphics arts. They have wives and daughters. You might even say they’re normal.
“We’re not weird,” Sceurman said. “Everybody else is.”
Magazine to bookWeird NJ got its start in the early 1990s as Sceurman collected odd bits of information and produced a newsletter for friends. A cult following developed, and the newsletter evolved into a magazine mailed to New Jerseyans around the world.
Sceurman and Moran had long wanted to turn their material into a book and talked with several publishers before another Jersey guy happened along — Steve Riggio, chief executive officer of Barnes & Noble.
Riggio was visiting one of the bookseller’s stores in 2002 and spotted a display of Weird NJ magazines.
“In the instant I saw the magazine, I saw the book,” Riggio said. Barnes & Noble worked out a deal with Sceurman and Moran. The book was in print within a year and it has sold more than 100,000 copies.
“That’s a mind-boggling, astounding figure,” said Riggio, who described the book as a celebration of all that is weird and wonderful about New Jersey. The book is a star among the 4,000 active titles the bookseller’s publishing division has in print, he said.
Nancy Byrne, executive director of the New Jersey Office of Travel & Tourism, said the magazine is “making its way into the mainstream” and will be a good source for tour operators looking for places to take people.
And what of the demographics of Weird NJ readers?
“It bridges all ages,” Sceurman said. “Senior citizens to punk rockers to school kids.”
With the book a success, Sceurman dreams of someday having an office on Shades of Death Road in Warren County. In the meantime, he and Moran still work out of their homes.
Riggio thinks the “weird” concept can work in other places, and the authors are contemplating expanding to other states.
“We’re trying to see how they stack up against New Jersey,” Moran said. “We haven’t found any state that has the quantity of stuff that New Jersey has.”
Moran and Sceurman have files brimming with Jersey stories they have yet to publish, and more and more keep coming.
“It could go on forever,” Sceurman said. “That’s the scary part.”