The Strange Saga of Howard Stern’s Rest Stop
By Nick Muscavage
Potato chips, soda and sex — what more do you need from a rest stop? Although it is admittedly not as weird as the Gates of Hell or Mt. Misery Road, the Howard Stern Rest Stop is bizarre in its own odd and offbeat way. Located off of Interstate 295 northbound in Springfield Township, Burlington County is a small building that is reminiscent of a 1990s fast food restaurant, constructed of tan bricks and a brown shingled roof, surrounded by barbed wire in a vacant lot — this was once the Howard Stern Rest Stop.
The story behind the rest stop and its closure is both weird and wonderful. In 1993, gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman promised the legendary radio show host a rest stop in his honor in return for his support. Soon after Whitman was elected governor, a metal plaque was inserted in front of the rest stop with a cartoon of Stern peeking out from behind an outhouse.
It has been widely reported by newspapers, bloggers and locals that following the placement of the Stern plaque came a wave promiscuity. So much, in fact, that the bathrooms had to be closed down and replaced with port-a-potties, according to local legend. Well, this didn’t stop the foolin’ around either, and in 2003, Gov. Jim McGreevey closed the rest stop. The official reason was based in finances and balancing the budget, but there still are many people who chalk up its closure to the many raunchy rendezvous.
The Howard Stern Rest Stop has been closed for over a decade, but when I arrived there and checked the place out, the air conditioning unit kicked on. For a building that has been closed down and shuttered off from the public for more than 10 years, its caretakers have taken a keen responsibility of guarding it.
You would think that there was a military arsenal of weapons stashed inside the old rest stop for now it is surrounded by barbed wire, has keypad-entry gates and master locks latching them shut. Some gates are welded and wired shut. If one were to pull up to the gate and enter the code into the keypad to gain access to the premises, he would still have to get out of the car to unlock the master lock to open the gate.
In addition to all of this, there is a yellow sign on the back door of the building that reads: AUTHORIZED STATE POLICE PERSONNEL ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY DIAL 9-1-1. Taped onto this sign is a hand-written note on yellow paper that says, “NO WATER,” and then there is a response written in fainter ink that reads, “For good?”
This is a strange sight for an old rest stop surrounded by tall grass and forlorn picnic tables. Perhaps the building is used to store equipment for the highway. Maybe the security measures are to keep out looters and scrapers. Or, perhaps, there is something sinister inside those darkly tinted windows, something that needs a cool and even temperature — why else would the AC kick on?
On the other side of the barbed wire fence is a grill that appears relatively new, definitely not as old as the building it sits in front of. Who is using it? Behind the building is a lot that leads to the back of the rest stop. This is where the fence has a sliding electric gate with the keypad-entry and master lock. Across this gate on the other side of the fenced-in back lot is a human-sized hole, like something or someone tried to squeeze through — or maybe squeeze out. This hole is now wired shut, giving the fence a sort of Frankenstein stich-job appearance. Next to this hole in the fence is a gate that has been permanently welded closed; the soldering now rusted.
It is the back of the Howard Stern Rest Stop that is the most eerie. The front of the building looks derelict enough to pass for just another piece of abandoned suburban architecture; the fields of uncut grass and aged picnic tables add to this appearance. But from behind, it looks like the building has never ceased its operations, whatever those operations may be.
Unfortunately, the sign depicting the caricature of Stern is no longer there, it has since been stolen or vanished into obscurity just like the rest stop itself.
Photos by Nick Muscavage / Weird NJ
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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