Local Heroes and Villains

The Tiger Lady of Jackson

These days everybody seems to be talking about the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ and the eccentric character known as ‘Joe Exotic’. The series focuses on the little-known but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, exploring the private zoos and sanctuaries they’ve set up for these unusual and deadly pets. Long before anyone ever heard of Mr. Exotic though, there was a real life Tiger Lady raising 450 pound Bengal tigers and terrifying local resident in the suburbs of Jackson, NJ. Continue reading

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

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