Song of the Open Road: New Jersey and the Automobile
2015 Spirit of the Jerseys – NJ History Fair (www.njhistoryfair.org)
Saturday May 9th, 11:00 am until 5:00 pm
Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Manalapan, NJ
Image courtesy of the
Library of Congress
A foot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me…
O highway I travel…You express me better than I can express myself…
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine…
All seems beautiful to me… “Song of the open Road” by Walt Whitman
No words better capture the essence of what the open road, and the automobile, has meant to Americans expressing their freedom than these. Walt Whitman, the “Poet of Democracy”, may not have had the opportunity to own an automobile, passing on at the dawn of its invention, but certainly sang the praises of American ingenuity and technology that heralded the Automotive Age of the 20th Century.
New Jersey’s love affair with the automobile has been timeless. Think of all those favorite pastimes that would not have been possible without it: cruising the Circuit, stoplight racing, drives to the shore, mountains, or just simply through the countryside, road trips with stops at a diner, ice cream stand, or hamburger joint, the drive in movie, the list goes on and on.
Another great New Jersey writer, Bruce Springsteen, carried on the romanticism of the open road first put forth by Walt Whitman in many of his songs such as “Thunder Road”, “Night”, and “Born To Run”. In some of his other songs such as “The Promise”, “Racing In the Street”, and “Used Cars”, the automobile is both literal and symbolic for the opportunity it allows but also for the reality it represents. Both artists knew, and wrote to, the longings of the common man.
The “Song of the Open Road” exhibition presents the automobile as it drives down the highways of New Jersey and consists of vintage vehicles as well as a variety of displays that represent the impact that the automobile has had on the great Garden State. The story of the automobile’s important connection to art, culture, technological innovation, and life itself will be told not only by the machines, but by the men and women who are the caretakers of these important artifacts of history.
In addition to the displays, there will be a discussion on how both Walt Whitman and Bruce Springsteen have used the symbolism and imagery of the open road in their works. Beginning at 11:00 am in the Visitor Center Auditorium, Tom Cunningham, host of the world famous Bruce Brunch radio program, will discuss Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album, Born To Run and Darryl Blaine Ford, noted Walt Whitman scholar, will read from “Song of the Open Road”. The presentation will last for approximately one hour and include time for a Q&A session.
…Well, the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
Oh come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land…
“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen
Image courtesy of Eric Meola
Special thanks go out to our participating exhibitors and contributors:
Antique Automobile Club of America (www.aaca.org)
The Antique Automobile Club of America, established in 1935, is the oldest, and largest, organization in the world dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and maintenance of automobiles and automotive history.
Antique Automobile Club of America Library and Research Center (www.aacalibrary.org)
The Antique Automobile Club of America Library and Research center, established in 1977, is a world renowned resource for the collectible vehicle community. It continues to set the standard in celebrating, collecting, preserving, and sharing automotive legacy and has grown into one of the leading scholarly automotive facilities in the world.
Antique Automobile Club of America Museum (www.aacamuseum.org)
The Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, a proud affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a world-class automotive experience. The museum is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of vintage automobiles and their vast history. Located in Hershey, PA the museum displays motorcycles, buses, and trucks, in addition to automobiles, from the 1890s through the 1980s.
Flemington Speedway Historical Society (www.flemingtonspeedwayhistoricalsociety.com)
Flemington Speedway, with its origins as a 19th Century Fairgrounds horse track, hosted its first automobile race in 1915. When it had closed in 2000 it was one of the oldest operating motor racing tracks in the nation. Flemington Speedway was a place for heroes, where ordinary people did some extraordinary things. The Historical Society was founded with the purpose of preserving, protecting, and documenting the Flemington Fairgrounds and Speedway.
Hinchliffe Stadium Midget Car Racing (www.facebook.com/groups/127240140633682/)
Hinchliffe Stadium, located above the Great Falls in Patterson, was constructed in the early 1930s. Also known as City Stadium, the facility was best known for hosting Negro League Baseball. Through the years other athletic events such as football, boxing, and track and field would be held there. Auto racing, a popular pastime since the early 1900s, grew in popularity in the post war years and was among the most well attended events at the Stadium.
Mahwah Museum (www.mahwahmuseum.org)
Mahwah Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, when opened in 1955, was the largest auto plant in the nation. The first car rolled off of the assembly line on July 16 and would be followed by approximately six million more over the next twenty five years. The last car to roll off of the assembly line did so on June 20, 1980. The plant’s closing is referenced in the first line of Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Johnny 99”.
Mid Jersey Region Antique Automobile Club of America (www.midjerseyregionaaca.org)
The Mid-Jersey Region of the AACA has been in existence for over 45 years and is centered in Crosswicks. Its mission is the preservation of and education through, the automobile. The organization participates in shows and displays to raise awareness and funds for scholarships to students attending the Automotive Training Center, located in Warminster, PA.
New Jersey Antique Automobile Club of America (www.njaaca.org)
The New Jersey Region of the AACA was established in 1951 and has members throughout northern and central New Jersey. Its mission is the appreciation of the automobile through presentation and this is accomplished by way of parades, tours, car shows, and exhibitions that the organization participates in.
New Jersey Turnpike Authority (www.state.nj.us/turnpike/)
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority oversees and maintains the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. The Parkway, which opened for traffic in 1954, is the longest highway in the state, at 172 miles, and the busiest toll road in the nation. The Turnpike, which opened for traffic in 1951, connects the metropolitan areas of New York and Philadelphia, a length of 122 miles, and is one of the most iconic highways in the nation.
Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey (www.vintageautomuseum.org)
The Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey was established in 2002 with the purpose of providing an educational and entertaining family attraction while preserving and sharing an automotive heritage that encouraged and shaped the growth of New Jersey and the nation. The museum, located in Point Pleasant, exhibits a wide variety of automobiles and automobilia of different eras and purposes.
Wall Stadium Speedway (www.wallspeedwayracing.com)
Wall Stadium Speedway, located on Route 34 in Wall, first opened for automobile racing in 1950 and is still operational today. The 1/3 mile, 30 degree high banked banked asphalt oval is one of the oldest paved tracks in the nation and the last in the state. Saturday night racing, with up to seven different classes, is on the schedule from April through September.
Tom Cunningham is a Trenton native and was an award winning program director at WPST for 10 years before seguing into the record business. An aficionado of the music of Bruce Springsteen (he has seen close to 250 concerts), he began the Bruce Brunch radio program on the Hawk 105.7 in December of 2003. The show, airing on Sunday mornings from 9:00am until 11:00am, is a collection of music, stories, and interviews of Bruce Springsteen and other great artists that comprise the Jersey Shore music scene. Through the magic of live streaming, the Bruce Brunch can now be heard worldwide.
Darrel Blaine Ford
Darrel Blaine Ford, a native and lifelong resident of Long Island, New York, is a scholar and champion of Walt Whitman. Celebrating the life of the great poet, it has become his mission to reintroduce the “Good Gray Poet” to the masses and does so by offering first person interpretation by reading Whitman’s poetry to school children as Walt would have done.
The Walt Whitman Association
The Walt Whitman Association, originally assembled by a group of Whitman friends and supporters during the author’s lifetime in Camden, New Jersey, is the oldest existing society in the world dedicated to the memory of the poet. Its mission is to support the preservation of his home in Camden and to promote the life and legacy of America’s “Great Poet of Democracy”.
Batsto Citizens Committee, Inc.
The Batsto Citizens Committee, Inc. was founded in 1956 to aid the State of New Jersey in its development of Batsto Village as a historic site. Its purpose is to advise, assist, and promote the restoration and interpretation of the historical and natural aspects of Batsto Village. Reorganized in 1997, the Committee lends whatever assistance it can to the administration of Wharton State Forest and representatives of the State Park Service.
The Meeting of two Literary Giants in Camden – Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s admiration for Walt Whitman and his poetry is well-known. What is little known today is that these two literary giants once met right here in Camden, New Jersey. Although the meeting took place on January 18, 1882, two years before Whitman purchased and moved into his house on Mickle Street (at that time he was living with his brother George at 431 Stevens St.), the poet later recalled this momentous event in a discussion with his friend and biographer Horace Traubel. Come visit us on Mickle Street (today’s Mickle/MLK Jr. Blvd.) at the historic home of the “Good Gray Poet” on Saturday’s in January and February where we’ll discuss these reminiscences and more. For tour times and availability, call 856-964-5383.
While in Camden, enjoy another nearby literary landmark, Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library which will be highlighting the historical meeting of Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman:
"Everything is Going on Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia"
On display from January 23-May 25 at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. This exhibition focuses on the life and work of Oscar Wilde; highlighting his historic and ongoing connections and inﬂuence in Philadelphia. One of the most famous cultural personalities of all time, Wilde gave a series of lectures throughout the country in 1882 and made a lasting impression on the Philadelphia area. Wilde materials from several public and private collections will be placed alongside unpublished materials on display for the very ﬁrst time. For more information, visit here: http://rosenbach.org/learn/exhibitions/everything-going-brilliantly-oscar-wilde-and-philadelphia
Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration
Come join us on May 27th at 5:30 pm us as we celebrate Walt Whitman’s 196th birthday. We’ll be gathering at the historic home and garden of the poet at 328 Mickle Boulevard. Our guest speaker this year will be Vintner Scott Donnini of the Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery in South Jersey. Scott will be speaking about his love of nature and how readings of Walt Whitman lead to him on the road to discovery in his occupation as one of New Jersey’s foremost vintners. There will also be readings from the winners of the Walt Whitman Association’s Annual High School Poetry Contest. The theme this year is “Nature and the Human Spirit”. For more information call: (856) 964-5383
Walt Whitman in Mickle Street
When asked why he chose Camden as his home, Whitman replied, "Camden was originally an accident, but I shall never be sorry I was left over in Camden, It has brought me blessed returns." Join us for a tour of Walt Whitman's home in Camden on Mickle Street (today's Mickle/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Here we will explore the great writer's last residence, discuss everyday life and share the thoughts of the many visitors who came to see the aging poet in his final years. Admission is free. Call 856-964-5383 for tour times and to schedule a visit.
*Please Note: Tour times and availability are subject to change. Please call ahead to confirm site hours and tour availability. (856) 964-5383.
Song of Myself Marathon
In partnership with Rutgers University-Camden Whitman Studies Program and the Walt Whitman Association, the Walt Whitman House will be offering special tours all day for participants of a “Song of Myself Marathon” to be held on the Rutgers Campus in the Stedman Gallery on Thursday November 13th at 4pm.
Bursting onto the literary scene in July of 1855 with his first edition of “Leaves of Grass”, readers were introduced to the iconic poetic masterpiece, “Song of Myself” - a celebration of the importance of the individual in light of the new American Democracy. Whitman’s poem introduced the world to a new poetic form while casting off the intellectual chains of the Old World. With Song of Myself, Whitman started a poetic journey that continues to unfold today. Come join us!
Contact the Whitman studies program at 856-225-6306 if you wish to participate in the reading. For further information on tours of the Walt Whitman House, call 856-964-5383