Local Heroes and Villains

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

Vive Miss Liberty!

Some call her Miss Football, others Miss Liberty, Miss Millennium, former Miss Super Bowl, Miss World Series, Miss NFL, Miss Body Beautiful U.S.A., Miss Opening Day. But Sondra Fortunato is something beyond her many titles; she is bigger than life itself. Continue reading

Lord Whimsy: Weirdo Advocate

Fill a garden with carnivorous plants and you’re likely to raise Weird interest, though there usually has to be more to keep our attention. In the case of Lord Whimsy—long-time South Jerseyan; rider of highwheel bikes; raiser of moths and … Continue reading

Ed Jarrett: King of the Sandcastle

This year sand sculptor Ed Jarrett brought his castle building talents to Point Pleasant Beach on the Jersey Shore to help raise money for the relief efforts aiding Super Storm Sandy victims, and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest sandcastle. Continue reading

Sam Patch, the “Jersey Jumper”

In 1827 Paterson mill worker named Sam Patch announced that he would jump over the Great Passaic Falls 0n the day that the new Chasm Bridge was to be erected across the span. That day a large crowd gathered to watch launched himself from the 80-foot high cliff, arms at his side, and shot down into the turbulent river like an arrow, then swam to shore unharmed. The daring feat was reported in newspapers across the country, and the legend of the “Jersey Jumper” was born. So began the spectacular, though short-lived, career of Sam Patch. Continue reading

Seeking the Hide of Antoine Le Blanc, The Morristown Murderer

After being executed for the triple murder of one of Morristown’s most respected families, the story of Antoine Le Blanc should have been over. But his public hanging on the town green was really just the beginning of the tale. For after his hanging Le Blanc was skinned and turned into “charming little keepsakes” like wallets and bookmarks. Continue reading

Howard Unruh’s “Walk of Death”

On Sept 6, 1949, Howard Unruh, a deranged but decorated World War II veteran, loaded up with ammunition and a German luger and with a dazed look, walked down River Street in Camden and opened fire on people that got in his way. His 20-minute rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 3 others had become known in the media as “The Walk Of Death.” Continue reading