State of independence

I’ve never spent time in New Jersey, but there are certain things I know about this state: it’s industrial, yet it has beaches; Atlantic City is home to the Miss America competition; and Bruce Springsteen is one of its famous sons. (I live in dread of the upcoming holiday, knowing that The Boss will be played relentlessly.) It’s dense and urban, its former governor is a gay American, and The Sopranos live there.

Most of my impressions come from driving up and down the New Jersey Turnpike several times a year to reach NYC. There’s an IKEA, suggesting much more shopping off the highway. There are lots of industrial plants belching pollution. And there are many famous New Jersey-ians who have been honored in a unique and lasting way.

Joyce Kilmer, Clara Barton, Molly Pitcher, Walt Whitman and others all have a better stab at immortality since the wise commissioners of the NJ Turnpike saw fit to name service areas after them. It made me feel quite sorry for Ozymandias who could have fared so much better a few thousand years later.


But who is Joyce Kilmer? I thought it was time to educate myself about Americans important enough to be memorialized on a highway. You probably know he was a journalist and poet killed in World War I who wrote a famous poem about trees. But did you know that, according to his granddaughter’s website, Val Kilmer is a distant cousin? And could you cultivate that mustache? I have often visited his service area on the way home as it offers both a Starbucks and Sbarro’s, which are good options for a vegetarian.

I was interested to learn that Clara Barton is the American equivalent of Florence Nightingale; Walt Whitman and Richard Stockton died in poverty; Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi died of cancer; and Henry Ford captured Thomas Edison’s last breath in a test tube.

Molly Pitcher (1754-1832) is now my all time favorite NJ resident. As illustrated below, she not only carried pitchers of water on to the battlefields during the Philadelphia Campaign of the Revolutionary War, but she manned the gun when her husband was wounded. Happily, she was awarded a pension in 1822 so presumably died in reasonable content. She is honored by the presence of many fast food outlets at her service area, including Starbucks, Nathan’s, and Cinnabon. There is also a flagstaff and cannon at her graveside.

I doubt I’ll ever be honored by the state of New Jersey, but my next iced 2% latte at the Joyce Kilmer service area will resonate with history.

7 responses to “State of independence”

  1. Lane says:


  2. i had no idea joyce kilmer was a poet killed in WWI who wrote a famous poem about trees. i thought he was a woman. who named their fricking kid “joyce”?

  3. Missy says:

    You totally know that poem, Bryan, though you may have blocked it out of your memory: “I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree . . .” He hated Amy Lowell because when he interviewed her for a newspaper article she told him what to write.

  4. PB says:

    Reading this exactly 18 hours before a road trip–perfect!!

  5. Dave says:

    And the poem is quoted in Superman II by the computer in Superman’s ice palace; obviously a key part of his education as a super-hero.

  6. shit — it was in a superman movie? now i really feel dumb. does the computer name the author? of course i know the poem, i just had no idea joyce kilmer wrote it.

    of course this has nothing to do with stella’s post, but if you get a chance to see superman 2.5 this weekend, do it. it’s good summer fun, and kind of weird in some delicious ways i’m still thinking about.

  7. Dave says:

    The computer says something like, “By Joyce Kilmer of the planet Earth: I think that I shall neer see…” I think it’s when Gene Hackman is bumbling around poking crystals into things and he triggers it.