October 27, 2013

New Jersey Retrospective

I’m author Alan Moss and I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, the State capital.  During the 1950s and early sixties I remember the city’s watchwords, Trenton Makes the World Takes, when Roebling steel cables built giant suspension bridges, Lee jeans outfitted the country’s working class, and Lenox china set tables for fine dining.  All these firms were based in Trenton.  

I remember hot summer months when awnings and window fans were the main means of relief from dog day heat.  There were Sunday night concerts in Cadwalader Park, designed by the Frederick Law Olmsted firm, the same folks responsible for New York’s Central Park. 
My vacations were visits to the Jersey Shore with diversity in the nation’s third smallest state evident even along the ocean.  The southern tip, Cape May, provided Victorian homes as bed and breakfasts.  Walks along the boardwalk at night saw the sea sneak underneath imparting visions of potential doom.  In fact, a 1961 nor’easter wrecked the boards and washed the beach north to Wildwood where so much sand piled up that it made viewing the ocean from the town’s walkway an impossible task.  Today, Cape May is once again a thriving community with a beautiful beach and hotels that include the Congress Hall, an historic structure first built in 1816 that was visited by Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and John Phillip Sousa.  

Twice a year my family visited the Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City.  This was before the need for casino gambling.  Giant hotels along the beach offering salt water pools; the nation’s longest boardwalk; the diving horse and other amazing attractions on the Steel Pier; the Miss America Pageant; and great seafood restaurants were enough to keep the town prosperous. 
Further north, on Long Beach Island, we’d visit my Aunt and Uncle who rented one of hundreds of modest homes within walking distance of the ocean.  Years later, my wife and I and our two children would enjoy one of these homes for two weeks each summer.  No TV and no telephone helped to ensure that we’d get reacquainted away from the pressures of school and work.   

As summers ebbed, the Chestnut tree fruit ripened and began to fall to the sidewalk.  My buddies and I would spend hours collecting them and peeling the outer cover revealing the smooth and shiny deep brown nut.  We’d place them in grocery bags and forgotten until months later when my mother ordered us to throw them away.

Princeton University, currently the nation’s top ranked college, is located about half an hour from my hometown.  My dad would drive us to Lawrenceville’s Jigger Shop for burgers and fries and then on to Princeton for Saturday football games.  In fact, the very first college game was played in 1869 by Princeton and Rutgers, another fine Jersey university.

New Jersey winters were cold and snowy.  My dad would put chains on the tires so he could navigate the slippery roads.  Reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware emphasized Trenton’s role in our nation’s independence and our nation credits the Battle of Trenton as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. 

While most view New Jersey as an urban location, its Garden State label accurately gives credit to a large and prosperous agricultural sector.  As a kid, we’d visit the local farmer’s market where farmers would back their trucks to long tables to display and sell fresh produce.  Today, New Jersey ranks second among states in blueberry production, third in cranberries and spinach, and fourth in bell peppers, peaches, and head lettuce.  The state is also fourth in asparagus production.  

Located between New York City and Philadelphia, NJ was always considered a prime bedroom community with many working in its bordering metropolis cities and living in suburban areas.  This promoted a large service economy including retail, education, and real estate.  The state’s largest cities, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth, are all located in the northern half of the state.  We always considered these locations as outposts of New York City with heavy, fast-moving traffic and folks without the time to make friendly conversation with strangers. 

While these cities suffered the problems of most urban areas in the 1960s and beyond, growth of the State’s pharmaceutical industry, finance, chemical development, telecommunications, food processing, electric equipment, printing and publishing, and tourism have helped to compensate.  Innovative projects such as a neighborhood of waterfront condos in Jersey City and Newark’s Prudential Center for basketball, hockey, and concerts are beginning to bring the cities back.  New Jersey’s per capita gross state product is second in the nation while its per capita income is third.

A strong attachment to the Jersey Shore is reflected in my debut novel, Island of Betrayal.  When the protagonist suffers an unknown physical ailment, he and his wife move to Long Beach Island to speed his recovery.  Months later, on the Atlantic City boardwalk, he spots the woman who seduced him in American Samoa and was responsible for his current situation.  He begins to question what has gone before resulting in his wife’s murder.  Under suspicion for the crime, he escapes to the South Pacific where he attempts to unravel the conspiracy and get revenge.  http://www.amazon.com/Island-Betrayal-Alan-L-Moss/dp/0982081243/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379083119&sr=1-1&keywords=Island+of+Betrayal 

While my latest release, Insidious Deception, stays clear of specific New Jersey locations, the complexity of the plot and depth of its characters are unmistakably Jersey-born.  In the novel, a summer deckhand postpones medical school to seek revenge for the loss of his lover while a brilliant college professor promotes an innovative strategy for Middle East peace, democracy, and prosperity.  Both become entangled in conspiracies hatched by al Qaeda and a ruthless CEO. http://www.amazon.com/Insidious-Deception-ebook/dp/B00BNZ6WO4 COVER
For more information on my writing, visit my website www.alanlmoss.com.


  1. What amazes me is that New Jersey has seldom crossed my mind to visit - and how reading a brief simple description can trigger an interest. This has been very enlightening. Also, being an island dweller in Hawaii, the story line for Island of Betrayal intrigues me. I'll be able to read a plot that takes place in New Jersey and the South Pacific!

  2. Thanks for the tour of New Jersey. I have to say, I haven't really spent much time there other than 3 days in May at Cape May during the Horseshoe Crab run. That, in itself, was fascinating but I'm sure I could find a lot more interesting things to see and do if I took the time to come back.

  3. Thank you for posting this thorough description of New Jersey. It's amazing such a small, northern area is "The Garden State." Alan Moss's writing style is smooth and detailed, and his books sound intriguing.

  4. Jersey was where we Pennsylvanians went to find the beach, too, in the 50s/60s. As you point out, still lots to see and do in NJ.

  5. You make the state I had to live in for 37 years sound so lovely. I guess it was the New Yorker in me that rejected anything nice about NJ, although I must say Cape May and the Delaware Water Gap are beautiful. I remember Atlantic City before casinos, with the glorious snowball bushes and Victorian houses. I worked for NJ State Government, so I guess that skewed my view. I raised my kids around Exit 8 (you know what I mean) and my daughter still lives near Princeton, & loves it. Thanks for the memories of the nicer side of the Garden State. Good luck with your books.

  6. Hi, Alan,

    I'm a fellow New Jerseyan, born and bred. There are a number of NJ writers like ourselves. My latest co-authored novel is THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY. It includes the Jersey Devil right on time for Halloween.

    Best wishes for the success of your new book!

  7. Lovely piece on New Jersey, I really enjoyed it Alan. I can remember living briefly in an apartment (in NY) that overlooked the Palisades. I travelled the length of the state going to Washington and had a memorable holiday in Atlantic City. Like you before the gambling. It was a super hotel, really posh on the seafront. Very underrated State I think.


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