"New Jersey, Come See For Yourself" is the official slogan recently selected to encourage tourism in the Garden State, and Down Jersey, that mostly rural portion of southern New Jersey bordering the Delaware Bay, is certainly what the current crop of boosters have in mind. A land of contrasts with a culture all its own, it's made for traveling in the slow-lane, and touring by scooter is a great way to see it.
Be Careful What You Ask For
The Abbott House B&B is haunted. Well aware of that upon arrival, my wife just has to know if anyone had ever spotted a ghost in our room. "No, not in this room," innkeeper Linda Maslanko matter-of-factly replies, "just all of the other ones." "Well, that's too bad," Karen says, "because I've always wanted to see a ghost." Their exchange contains a little more drama than I need at the moment - I'm more interested in finding a good place for dinner; so when I saw my chance to move the conversation from the paranormal to the gastronomic and ask Linda for a restaurant recommendation, I took it.
She suggested the Epic Grille and our experience there was most pleasant. Not only is the food quite good, particularly the salmon, they also feature live entertainment. Much to our delight, the singer really could sing! Motoring back to the inn in the dark, we notice there's a full moon rising.
We're back in our room only a few minutes when suddenly all three ceiling lights go out. I'm in the bathroom and the light in there starts to flicker on and off. Karen calls Linda immediately. Something has caused the breaker switch for our room to trip, she reports. But since we're the only guests, and no equipment is running in the house, she's at a loss to explain the sudden circuit overload. Later, as we retire in the canopied bed, an eerie clicking noise inside the wall next to my head also defies any obvious explanation. Karen, of course, is thrilled by the strange happenings and clearly wants more, but I'm tired and hope Casper isn't going to keep me up all night with his pranks. I get my wish and drop off to sleep quite peacefully.
Into the Heart of the Pine Barrens
Leaving Mays Landing the next morning, we follow SR 559 north into the heart of the 1.1-million-acre tract of land known as the Pine Barrens. In the middle of the megalopolis growing between Boston and Richmond, the Pine Barrens stand out as the largest contiguous wilderness on the eastern seaboard. After America won its independence, the Pine Barrens became a refuge from retaliation for many former supporters of the British Crown, the Tories. Since those times, this area and its people have been cloaked in legend and lore.
There are few curves and the roads are closely bordered by heavily wooded land and deep shadow. A four-wheel-drive truck in front of us suddenly swerves left off the paved road and disappears into the forest. As we pass its point of departure, there is only the hint of a dirt road through dense growth. The truck has completely disappeared, as if swallowed up by the Pinelands.
This incident reminds me of the Jersey Devil, a mythical creature once believed by some residents to haunt these woods. The origin of the legend dates to the eighteenth century, when the creature was described as having the head of a horse, large wings and claws and a four-foot-long serpent's body. Whoa! And I was only worried about avoiding road kill.