Here to return to
ALONG SHORE IN JERSEY
I WOULD have been glad to spend my time in some rustic fishing village or old-fashioned farming community, but the entire Jersey shore seems to have become a suburb of New York and Philadelphia. It has not, at best, much scenic attraction, for the coast is uniformly low, and for variety it is mostly dependent on the numerous, wide marshes, and a network of saltwater inlets along the ocean borders. So far as humanity is concerned the region presents just two dominant features: First, the many palatial residences set in smooth, luxuriant grounds, where Nature is compelled to behave herself and to present at all times a tidy, dressed-up appearance, with none of the wildness and gypsy abandon which she prefers; second, a succession of summer resort towns.
I stopped at one of these resorts by advice of a florid, talkative man I met on the train. He had been taking some sort of liquid refreshment that made him effusive, and he described the place as a sort of heaven on earth. It was there he had lived at a former period in his career when he had been worth half a million dollars. He even told me what hotel I ought to go to — one kept by a certain John A. Casey. “It’s near the station and near the shore,” he said, “and you’ll get solid, old-time comfort there. John A. will make you feel at home. The food is set right on the table, and he carves himself. If you want more of any particular thing you don’t have to ask a waiter for it, because it’s right there before you. Yes, you go and put up with John A., and the food and the pure air and the sound of the waves will give you a splendid rest tonight, unless you’ve committed murder.”
But I did not find the town what I expected from the description of this enthusiast. Moreover, it was the month of May, and the hotels were not yet open for the season. I lodged at a boarding-house where the landlady only allowed me to stop after looking at me critically and asking various questions to determine whether I was trustworthy. Later she told me why she needed to be so cautious. She had been swindled more than once, and as recently as last summer a sporty gang of young men she had harbored sneaked off with their luggage without paying their bill. But she was glad they went as soon as they did, pay or no pay, for they had attempted to flirt with her daughter, and were a bad lot anyway.
“Do you see that little house across the street?” she continued. “It was built to rent by a neighbor of ours who’s a baker. When it was ready a family hired it for the season and paid the first month’s rent in advance, as is the custom. They had their servants and appeared to be rich and aristocratic, and the baker congratulated himself on getting tenants of such quality. They patronized the bakery freely and had what they bought charged. In fact, they ran accounts wherever they traded. Why! even the man who peddles fowls — Chicken Harris, we call him — had to wait for his pay. He’s waiting yet, and so are all the others. One autumn day the family packed up their belongings and went away. The baker dunned them as they were leaving, but they put him off with promises. Their city address that they gave him was false. So what could he do? Appeal to the law? That would have been too expensive and troublesome. He could n’t do a thing.”
The place was like many other of the shore resorts — a monotonous village of wooden houses that had among them an occasional big, ungainly hotel. The land was naturally a sandy barren that did not encourage grass or other greenery, and trees were a rarity. Few of the homes or hotels were occupied except in the burning days of summer, and the town was “dead” the rest of the year. Where land and sea met were ragged, yellow streaks of dunes, their bases assailed by the waves, and their upper portions worried by the winds.
Of all the places I saw along the coast, the one that I enjoyed most was Toms River. It was well back inland at the head of a bay, and had thus escaped the city invaders, and was tranquilly old, rather than glaringly new. The town consisted of a little nucleus of stores, hotels, churches, and other public buildings, including a solemn, high-pillared courthouse, and behind these were shady residence streets.
On my first morning there the weather was gloomily doubtful. Now and then the sun gleamed forth faintly, but for the most part I could only see low, foggy clouds scurrying along overhead. An old man, who had come up from the lower bay with a motor boatload of clams, remarked that he “would n’t wonder if the wind got around to the west and blew like a streak o’ gimblets point foremost.” But toward noon the mists suddenly melted away, and the sun shone forth with fervent heat.
The motor boat was tied just below a bridge, close to the town center, and the wharf there was a common resort for loiterers. Often a lounger or a customer would get into the boat, pry open a few clams, and eat the dripping bivalves right from the shell.
Near at hand, on the street, was a rude fishcart from which the horse had been detached; and its patrons and open air traffic seemed to furnish an attractive spectacle to the loafers and decrepit of the town. They sat or stood on the adjacent sidewalk and from time to time peered in at the back of the cart to watch the process of beheading and making the fish ready for customers.
“There used to be a covered wooden bridge where this iron bridge is now,” one of the men said to me, “and on the outside was a footway. One day a Sunday-school picnic come here on the train from another town. Let me see — mought ‘a’ been forty years ago. The whole crowd of ‘em got onto the footway, and it broke in the middle, and down they slid from both directions, like they was on a chute, into twenty-five feet of water. They were as thick as eels in there. It seemed as if a dozen boats were on the spot right off pulling the folks out of the water, but they could n’t get ‘em all. Five or six drownded, and it’s a wonder that no more were lost.”
One of my walks took me along the northern bay-side where the land sloped up into mild hills that afforded a pleasant outlook over the broad bay with its various islands, including among the rest Money Island, so named because long ago the half mythical Captain Kidd hid some of his wholly mythical treasure there. After a while I stopped to drink at a wayside well. It was an open well that had a wooden curb about it, and the water was obtained by lowering a pail hung on a crotch at the butt end of the pole. While I was drinking, a gray, stocky man accosted me from a neighboring dooryard. He evidently had the leisure and the inclination to talk, and I sought the shade of a convenient tree and we visited.
At the backdoor of the next house a woman with a black muffler about her head was chopping some rubbishy sticks into firewood. Near her a lank elderly man with streaks of tobacco juice down his chin was harnessing a horse that distinctly exhibited all its bony anatomy. “They’re the owners of that well,” my companion said. “That’s a pretty shabby lookin’ place of theirs ain’t it? But they’ve got plenty of land they could sell at a high price, only they’re so old-fashioned they won’t part with it. If they raise enough stuff to keep ‘em through the winter that’s all they care about. They never have a cent of money. The fact is, any one who’s lookin’ around for a job that pays big without workin’ don’t want to attempt farmin’ here.
“I’ve spent most of my life in New York, but I got tired of the city. It’s hubbub and everything there — up in a minute and down in a minute; and one day I said to myself: ‘Good Lord! what’s the use? I’ve only got one life to live;’ and I quit at once.
“You may wonder why I came here. The truth of the matter is there was a woman in it. My wife had lived down in this region and this was where she wanted to have a home. The first thing I did was to buy a farm. I don’t know why. I ain’t fit to work on a farm and never had had any experience on one; but I had the luck to sell out soon at an advance, and then I got this little place. I have an automobile, and when I’m tired of that I get into my motor boat and go fishing or down to the lighthouse clamming. That boat carries me around the bay like clockwork.
“I’ve never had the least inclination to go back to the city, but I must say I did n’t appreciate it here last winter. The bay froze over solid, and all these fellers that get a livin’ by fishin’ came near starving’ to death. I said to my wife, ‘If a man happens along and wants to buy this place, we’ll sell it and go to Florida to live.’
“But my wife said, ‘Well, Pa, don’t get discouraged. Most likely we won’t have such a winter again.’”
After parting with this contented individual I continued my ramble, but it presently took me into one of the summer resort villages, and then I went back to Toms River.
On another day I followed the road in the opposite direction. Here were little farms, and I could see peas in blossom in the gardens, and ripe strawberries. The sweet potatoes in the hotbeds were ready to transplant, and the “white” or “round” potatoes, as they called the Irish variety, were six inches high. The corn was up, and belligerent scarecrows stood on guard among the green sprouts. I was particularly impressed by one of these fake sentinels — a trowsered creature adorned with a woman’s hat. What could be better calculated to carry dismay to every crow beholder than this militant suffragette?
By and by the road entered a ragged tract of forest, and the woodland was so forlorn and apparently unending that I at length turned back. When I was again among the farms I observed two women visiting on a home piazza. I stopped for a drink of water and lingered to chat with them. They addressed each other as Emma and Harriet. The latter was making a neighborly call. The house was a bare, rusty-looking structure, and there was brushland across the road and close behind the dwelling. Yet the women seemed to admire the environment and called my attention to the beauty of the brushy ridge beyond the highway.
“That was burnt over a few years ago,” Emma said. “Oh my! it was a bad fire. You see that there oak tree in the corner of the yard. The fire killed the half toward the road, and we did n’t dare stay here. From the next house we could n’t see this one through the smoke. When the fire got to the swamp — wo-o-o-o! it made a great racket.
“In one way the forest fires are a great help. The year after a tract is burned over you find the blackberries and huckleberries growing there to beat the band. The children all go out in the woods to pick ‘em. That’s a way they have of earnin’ pin money.
“Cranberries are quite a crop here. The Eyetalians pick most of them. When they get good pickin’ they sing all day long. But if the pickin’ is poor they do more talkin’ and less singin’. They’re the happiest people on earth.”
“One of ‘em had an adventure with a snapping turtle last fall,” Harriet remarked. “He was tellin’ me about it just after it happened, but he could n’t speak English very well and did n’t know the name for turtle. So he imitated its motions to show what animal he meant and called it a son of a gun. He said: ‘That son of a gun, he got hold of my pants right here above my shoe, and I try to pull him off, and the more I pull the more that son of a gun won’t let go. I pulled till I tore my pants, and that son of a gun, he got a piece of my pants now.’ His way of tellin’ it was so funny that I laughed till I thought I’d bust.”
“I don’t know anything about snappers from my own experience and don’t want to,” Emma commented, “but if one once gets hold he never lets go, they tell me. You can’t even pry his jaws apart, and if you kill him he’ll live two or three hours afterward. They’re very good to eat. Snapper soup is considered the thing, you know, among the high-toned city people.”
This exclamation came simultaneously from both the women. A crow flying past had made a downward dip toward the chickens in the back yard. “The hawks and crows have lifted quite a number of my chickens this spring,” said Emma.
“My place is in the woods,” Harriet observed, “and I’m more troubled by the tramp dogs. They’re dogs that don’t belong to nobody, and they go in the swamps and run the rabbits. You can hear ‘em yelpin’ all night long. But no matter how much chasin’ they do, nothin’ is said; and yet if one of your own dogs was to get after the rabbits the game warden would arrest you, and you’d be fined twenty dollars. There’s seven of them tramp dogs. I know because I’ve counted ‘em till I’ve got sick of lookin’ at ‘em. They took twenty-two of my chickens one night, and they took my full-blooded cochin rooster. All I could find of him was a few of his tail feathers. Last night I lost six eggs right out from under a settin’ hen. Probably rats took ‘em. Yes, chickens are quite a care, but when you look to it the exercise you get makes it worth while. Keeping the big ones from fighting the little ones, scaring off the hawks and other enemies brings more stiffness out of your joints than anything else.
“We all raise chickens. When they get growed, if prices are high, we sell ‘em, and if prices are low we put ‘em in the pot for our own eatin’. Same way with eggs. We eat ‘em when the price is down, and stop eatin’ ‘em when the price is up. At present feed for the chickens costs enough to drive you to the poorhouse. But no matter how poor we are we all manage to have washing machines and a good share of the other latest conveniences. You may not find us a beautiful people here in Jersey, but we’re substantial.”
“I’ve only heard the Bob White four times this spring,” Emma said. “Looks as if there would n’t be many for the hunters in the fall.”
“Well,” Harriet said, “just the same, every man who’s got a dog and can handle a gun will be out the first day of the gunnin’ season to see what he can get. Rabbits are plenty. There’s no end to ‘em. They eat off the bark from the young trees and ruin ‘em, and if you have sweet potatoes or peas near the woods they’ll clean ‘em right off. Out there in my walk I see ‘em early every mornin’ and after four o’clock in the evenin’ playing tag.”
“Tonight there’ll be lots of mosquitoes,” Emma remarked. “The wind is in the south, and they’ll blow up from the salt marshes where they breed. They’re hateful things, but people who live here get used to ‘em and ain’t affected by the poison so as to get all blotched up as strangers do.”
“The first crop of mosquitoes are big ones this year,” Harriet observed,” and their instruments are long and sharp. Emma, ain’t you goin’ to have this porch closed in with mosquito netting? Most every one is doing it now.”
“What troubles me most is the pine flies,” Emma said. “They’re no larger than a house fly, but when they get onto you they’re enough to make you say your prayers the other way; and they’re awfully tormentin’ to the animals. Another pest is what we call the green-head fly. It’s much larger than the pine fly, and its bite is like the cut of a knife. They don’t bother much on cloudy days.”
“There’s lots of treetoads around my house,” Harriet said, “and they sing lovely when it’s goin’ to rain. Some claim they’re as poison as a rattlesnake if they bite you.”
“I wish our place was within sight of the ocean,” Emma remarked. “The hill back of us hides it, but we can hear the roar of the waves when there’s a northeast storm. In some respects, though, we’ve got advantages that can’t be beat. We’re so placed that we get three different kinds of air — sea air, inland air, and air from the pines. It’s a good region for invalids.
Those who’re afflicted and ain’t benefited in one spot can move a little way and get another sort of air that’ll help them. The balsam from the pines is just what some of ‘em need, and often a person who can’t sleep has a pillow made of pine needles to put under his head. Our climate is goin’ to build up this section wonderful in the next few years. There’s that big brushy tract across the road — it was all sold off for building lots once. The promoters drew a map, like they all do when they’re boomin’ such property, and they put avenues on it, and had pictures of a hotel on the land with trolleys runnin’ in front, and their advertising told what splendid railroad felicities we have here. The people up in New York bought the lots like hotcakes, but they lost all they invested, for the fellows who did the selling did n’t own the property; and the chief man in this hoax business was sent to jail.”
While we were talking a young man who was boarding at the house joined us. He was introduced to me as a person who was staying there a spell to recover from an attack of malaria. “But he ain’t got it the way they used to have it,” Emma affirmed. “They had it so they’d shake when I was a girl.”
“I been consultin’ a doctor,” the boarder said, “but he’s like all the rest of ‘em now — prescribes the fresh air cure for everything. There’s nothin’ worse in the world, I believe. It stands to reason that when you’re sick you ought to keep out of a draught, not get into one.”
“Old-fashioned people used to doctor themselves a good deal,” Emma observed. “To break up a cold they’d get you into a perspiration with hot poultices. But of course you ought to take doctor’s medicine, too, even if it don’t seem to make a great sight of difference.”
“I’m a draughtsman for a real estate concern,” the boarder said, “and I was interested in hearin’ what you said about the sellin’ of this property across the road. You was talkin’ about it when I come out of the house. The head of my firm is one of the pillars of the church he attends, and he claims a man can be a good church member and sell real estate, but I don’t believe it. I’ve seen too much of their doin’s, and the fancy literature they send out. Even the best of ‘em do some things that are a little off color. My firm has photographs made of their properties and then tell the photographer what trees, pavements, and other improvements they want put in before the final prints are made to sell from.
“At one time the firm advertised a property near Elizabeth in this state, and said it was within sight of New York. Well, it was, if you went high enough in the air. They sold to customers in Canada and all around. The lots looked like good investments if you believed the promoters’ statements. Some of the lots were right in the middle of a swamp where the water stood a foot deep after a rain.”
“I read in the paper,” Harriet said, “that a rich philanthropist had bought thousands and thousands of acres in Davenport just east of here and proposes to start a prosperous farm settlement there of poor people from the cities. It tells how attractive the region is, and says the land is first-class. That’s a big lie. It’s the most deserted, God-forsaken sand-place you ever saw.”
“If they want to get crops,” Emma said, “they’ll need to put other soil over that there land. It won’t hardly grow sandburs, and they say that even the mosquitoes starve to death there.”
When I rose to go Harriet asked me to notice a large, old-fashioned house I would pass on my way to town. “It ain’t built straight with the road,” she said, “but is placed so the sun at noontime shines straight in the front door. There’s lots of houses through the woods here that have real Dutch doors in ‘em — doors that are divided across the middle, and you can open the upper half and look out.”
By the time I was back in the town it was dusky evening. A full moon in the east was gradually growing golden as the twilight deepened. Swallows were twittering and darting above the village roofs and trees. Here and there were people strolling on the walks or loitering in front of the stores. On the piazza of my hotel the landlord and some friends were talking politics. The landlord’s manner was impressively assured, and he offered to bet on the rightness of his opinions a generous portion of a roll of bills he had taken from his pocket and was waving about.
A little later I called on a retired sea captain of whom I had heard. I found him in his parlor — a man of more than fourscore years, but erect and vigorous — playing cards with his wife in the waning light. It was a pleasing sight to see their companionableness as they sat there by the window in the serene twilight of the day, and the no less serene twilight of their lives.
In response to my questions he recalled conditions in the vicinity as they used to be in his youth. “This is naturally a wooded country,” he said, “and used to be covered with heavy pine timber, as pretty as ever was seen. The tree-trunks were as big as beer kegs; and there was fine cedar in the swamps. Some good cedar is still left over near Double Trouble. That’s a name was given to the place because the dam they first put in there went out right after it was finished and they had to rebuild.
“Perhaps you wonder about the name of this place. Some say it comes from an Indian named Tom who lived here, but that’s not certain. This used to be a great resort of the Indians. They came long distances to get fish and oysters. I’ve ploughed up a many of their spear heads and pieces of pottery, and dug up skulls. Now and then I’d find axe-heads, but I did n’t think anything at all of ‘em then and would throw ‘em up side of the fence. They’d be quite a curiosity now.
“Before coal became the common fuel they loaded vessels with cordwood at our wharves to go to New York. I was a good-sized boy before I ever saw coal. We shipped away timber and cordwood, and we made charcoal, and the fires run over the old forest lands and left nothing but desert. The topsoil has been burned off so that such timber as grew here in the past won’t be possible again under the most favorable conditions for hundreds of years.
“My father had about fifteen cows. In the early morning they fed on the salt meadows; but by ten o’clock the mosquitoes was usually bad and the cows went to the swamps. Animals get fat on that salt grass. It’s clean, with no garlic into it, and makes the nicest kind of butter. Plenty of cattle have never e’t any hay but that from the salt meadows. People mow what they don’t pasture, but it takes three acres to produce now what one formerly did. They cut it too late. They’ll go right onto the meadows with their mowing-machines in October, and that leaves the ground bare to freeze in winter.
“Our cows were always milked by she-males. The generality of men did n’t milk then, but they have to now. A girl would feel insulted if she was asked to milk a cow in these days. That’s what she would, and I don’t believe a cow would let a girl come near her.
“All the women and girls were workers when I was young, and in planting time and haying and harvest they’d turn right in and help a few days outdoors. A girl of twelve could drop corn as well as a man fifty years old. The housekeeping was simpler then than at present, or the women could n’t have managed it. Houses averaged smaller, and contained less furniture, and there was n’t so much ceremony about serving the food. Anyone coming to the table after others had got through would eat off the first one’s plates. That would n’t do now, but if in some way we could make our modern homes less of a care I don’t doubt that the women’s health would be better. They’d feel more comfortable in mind and body, too, if they could work a part of the time in the open air. But the human animal is naturally lazy, and as a rule we all avoid tasks that we’re not forced to do by necessity or fashion.
“When I began voyaging, about 1850, the New Yorkers who wanted to come to the shore in this direction would rarely go farther than Long Branch, and none of the other resorts were much developed. I’ll be darned if there was a single hotel at Atlantic City, and it was a lonely coast all along. Men who came gunning got any quantity of game — snipe and ducks and geese. I’ve seen the ducks fly up so thick they almost hid the sun. That would n’t be just one time, but day after day for three or four months. Now you would n’t see more than one or two game waterfowl in a week. The trouble is they get no chance to breed in a region so thickly populated. There’s seldom a mile of coast without its residence, and if you sail along of an evening you find it lighted the entire distance from Cape May to New York.”
NOTES. — The most conspicuous feature of the northern Jersey coast is Sandy Hook, which forms one of the portals of New York Bay. It is occupied by an old stone fort, 3 lighthouses, and a United States Army Ordnance Station where guns are tested.
An automobile route from New York follows the coast, as closely as the inlets and marshes will permit, even to Cape May. The roads are generally excellent. Near Highlands, at the southernmost nook of New York Harbor, is Water Witch Park, which takes its name from Cooper’s “Water Witch,” a novel that has its scene laid in the vicinity.
A seaside resort with an individuality of its own is Ocean Grove. It was established in 1870 by a Methodist association, and is now frequented yearly by over 20,000 people, both young and old, who elect to spend their summer vacations under a religious autocracy. The grounds have the sea on the east, lakes north and south, and a high fence on the west. At 10 in the evening, daily, the gates are closed, and they are not opened at all on Sunday. No Sabbath bathing, riding, or driving is permitted, and no theatrical performances are allowed at any time. Drinking of alchoholic beverages and the sale of tobacco are strictly prohibited. Innumerable religious meetings are held daily. The chief place of assemblage is a huge auditorium that can accommodate 10,000 people. The annual camp meeting is the great event of the season.
Those who prefer a more free and easy enjoyment of their vacations can find plenty of opportunity at the other coast resorts. There is Long Branch, for instance, with a permanent population of 12,000, and a summer population of 5 times that number. It occupies a seaward facing bluff which rises to a height of about 30 feet above the beautiful sandy beach. At Elberon, the fashionable cottage part of the resort, can be seen the dwelling in which President Garfield died.
Atlantic City, the most frequented of all American seaside resorts, is on a sandstrip separated from the coast by 5 miles of sea and salt meadows. In August the visitors who flock there from all over the country swell the number of inhabitants to about 200,000, and more than 50,000 have bathed in the sea there in a single day. It attracts visitors through the entire year, for the climate is comparatively mild and sunny even in winter, and the air is exceedingly tonic. The beach is surpassingly fine, and is bordered by the famous “Board Walk.” This walk is 40 feet wide and over 5 miles long, and is flanked on the landward side by hotels, shops, and places of amusement.
Cape May is a rival of Atlantic City in its natural attractions, but is not quite as easily reached.
A favorite inland resort is Lakewood, 63 miles south of New York. It is in the heart of the pine woods, and on account of its sheltered situation and mild climate it is much frequented in winter.