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Three New Jersey Legends

for New Jersey Monthly

Old York Road

You start on York Street in Lambertville, heading north. The architecture here dates from the mid 1800s. When most of these houses were built, this road was already old. Just at the edge of town, the street sets off for distant New York as the Old York Road.

For about 100 years, stage coaches plied this track three times a week from Philadelphia to New York and back, crossing between New Hope and Lambertville on a ferry. The trip took two days. Fifty years ago, Henry Charlton Beck was able to interview men whose grandfathers had ridden this stage line. A long and bumpy journey, they said.

Immediately out of town, the road joins a superhighway, Route 179 North, the first of many disguises the modern age has forced it to wear. Yet every so often a digression of old gravel loops off from the concrete, one of the now cut-off meanderings of the old road, upon which the world of 1785 ghosts up from the mists of the fields.

Along these passes, the houses rush up to the roadside to greet the passing stage coach, many wearing beards of moss and vines, many gray and blank and tumble-down. Yet they seem happy as children to see you pass.

Further on the meanderings cease, 179 goes another direction, and Old York Road gallops alone across the brows of hills.

And, indeed, on these stretches it is possible to feel the world now 200 years gone, a time before grid coordinates and satellite tracking, when the passing land was mysterious, and filled with helpful and mischievous and sometimes evil forces.

At times it masquerades as a suburban street, at times a country byway, paved more for nostalgic reasons than practical. But it goes on and on, disappearing into glens, crossing old streams in deep woods, and climbing again the hills it has known for more than two centuries.  


The Jersey Devil

Two certainties about the Jersey Devil: 1. His stories have persisted for 250 years. 2. He has never harmed a human being. Mostly he's kept to the gray pines and lonely sand roads that have made his only home for nearly three centuries.

Yet every missing goat, every limping dog, every torn squirrel or stolen chicken--the guilt for everything unexplained and slightly macabre is lain at his cloven feet. It has always been.

Legend has him born the 13th child of a Mrs. Leeds, who cursed him. His birthplace was Leeds Point, Estellville, Gloucester or Batsto, depending who you ask. Neighbors of one reputed birthsite in Leeds Point grow weary directing weekend Geraldos to the remains of the old Leeds homestead, deep in a spooky section of woods.

His sightings have been consistent and sometimes frequent. In January 1909 he was seen in Woodbury, a white hissing thing in flight above a street. Then in Bristol, Pa, where he scratched the roofs of houses. Then in Gloucester, Collingswood, Pemberton and Riverside.

He was even seen in Pleasantville, where a lineman for the Delaware and Atlantic Telephone Co., encountered a sort of kangaroo horse in the woods west of town, a prehistoric lizard, with wings and a shrill bark. It left tracks but the dogs wouldn't follow them.

A shy devil, he has kept to the woods since then, for his favored place is forest, meadow and river--the Pan of New Jersey wilderness.

Which is why you will probably never see him, not if you look for 250 years. But any night when the stars shine on New Jersey pine trees, you have only to tell his story and he will be with you.



Someone just had to invent a game in which the winner bankrupted everyone else. Survival of the fittest, economic competition. But that was not the original intent of the game which became Monopoly.

Originally, the game we call Monopoly was only the first half of a two-part game called The Landlord's Game, designed and self-published by a woman named Elizabeth Magie around 1904.

Magie wanted everyone to understand the ideas of radical economist Henry George, who believed only land should be taxed. Hence, at the conclusion of the game we call Monopoly, a different set of rules took effect and the second half of the Landlord's Game began.

This half produced many winners, rather than just one.
Only the first half became popular, however, and college students across the country played it in various "folk" versions, supplying the names of local streets according to their own locations.

Historians now think the game came to Atlantic City sometime in 1929, brought by a woman named Ruth Hoskins from Earlham College in Indianopolis. In Atlantic City, Hoskins' friends Ruth Harvey and Jessie Raiford probably drew the first gameboard to employ Atlantic City street names.

They did this at a place now occupied by the Taj Mahal garage. The game caught on among hotels, which copied the boards and lent them out.
Three years later, Philadelphian Charles Darrow, an out-of-work heating engineer, made his own version of the game, cutting the hotels and houses himself.

Eventually he sold it to Parker Brothers and got rich. By the time Parker Brothers began mass production of Monopoly, the Atlantic City street names were forever fixed on its board.


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