Local Heroes and Villains

Zip The “What Is It?”

One curious little fellow from New Jersey enjoyed a long and fruitful career as one of P.T. Barnum’s star attractions. Billed as “Zip The What Is It?,” he was gazed upon by millions of people and touted as the survivor of a lost tribe discovered in the Amazon during the exploration of the River Gamba. The truth is that Zip was born William Henry Johnson in rural Liberty Corners, NJ. Continue reading

Nazis and KKK Bund Together for the “American Fuhrer”

Today it’s hard to imagine that the following sentence is describing an actual rally that once took place in a rural Sussex County, NJ town: “Flames from the wooden cross, forty feet high, crackled into the night throwing lurid shadows on the participants below, some of whom were dressed in hooded white robes, others in the gray uniforms of the German-American Bund. The scene took place at Bund Camp Nordland in New Jersey on August 18, 1940, when the Klan staged a monster anti-war, pro-American mass meeting jointly with the Bund.” Continue reading

The Cult of Mysterious “Monks Castle”

In the late 70s and early 80s rumors of a “Sex and Drugs” cult residing at “Monks Castle” began circulating around Montclair. One resident described the reaction of the community as “panic stricken” in a New York Times article about the cult, which ran under the headline “Guru’s Cult in Castle Troubles Montclair.” Continue reading

A Nightmare Before Christmas in Trenton

Three days before Christmas, Jean strangled her 78-year-old mother to death in their home. Standing over Julia Zelinsky’s body, Jean took a kitchen knife and decapitated her. Tossing the head into a plastic shopping bag, Jean got into her car and headed straight for Trenton – but not before stopping to wave to a neighbor. Continue reading

Francois – A Man Out of Time

We are walking along Park Avenue in Rutherford talking with a 17th Century ghost. In the physical world of the 21st Century he goes simply by the name of “Francois” but his thoughts are not of this time, and his … Continue reading

There She Wasn’t – Miss America. The Ballad of Bette Cooper

Bette Cooper wound up being a 1937 Miss America contestant purely through chance. The 16-year old Hackettstown resident was at Lake Hopatcong’s Bertrand Island amusement park with a few friends when they saw a notice soliciting contestants for the “Miss Bertrand Island” contest. But her reign as pageant queen would be strange and short-lived. Continue reading