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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 28: Princeton Americana

Seaweed Springsteen!

A very different look for New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.

Though we’d already toured one esteemed educational establishment on this vacation, we weren’t in Princeton to walk the halls or grounds of Princeton University. While in town, though, we complemented our historical stop at Princeton Cemetery with a few quick examples of the art in the vicinity, which gave life to memorable moments in New Jersey history from the American Revolution through 20th-century rock music.


Princeton U thataway!

Princeton U was more or less that-a-way, but its campus wasn’t among the structures on our to-do list.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

Their largest installation was the Princeton Battle Monument, a 50-foot sculpture dedicated by President Warren Harding in 1922 in honor of the Battle of Princeton. Once upon a time during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington entered the area on January 3, 1777, and led his troops into battle against General Cornwallis’ rear guard. Their victory was a good morale boost for a nation-to-be and helped encourage Continental Army recruitment.

Princeton Battle Monument!

A nearby plaque summarizes its dedication as well as the 2006-2007 project that added night lighting, funded by several locals including Jaws creator Peter Benchley.

War Poem!

Inscribed on the back is a poem by Andrew Fleming West, first dean of Princeton’s graduate school under the university’s then-president Woodrow Wilson.

Battle of Princeton memorials!

Smaller nearby memorials include one saluting American soldiers who died at the Battle of Princeton, and a larger one for Colonel John Haslet, who was part of Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware and who died moments after his commanding officer General Hugh Mercer, a good friend of Washington’s.

Captain Daniel Neil!

Another casualty was Captain Daniel Neil. an Irishman ordered cannon fire (in defense of Newark Bay) shortly after midnight July 4, 1776, the first shots fired after the Declaration of Independence had been, well, declared earlier that night.

Nearby in the same small park is a true historical artifact: the original bell from the U.S.S. Princeton, the first vessel to bear that name, launched in 1843. Unfortunately the Princeton is best known for an 1844 tragic accident when, during a reception party for the ship’s captain, an attempted cannon demonstration ended with a surprise explosion that killed said captain and several others nearby. Meanwhile below deck was President John Tyler, who came to the aid of a woman he’d been wooing named Julia. Tyler came up on deck and carried her to safety when she fainted — her father, New York State Senator David Gardiner, was among those killed in that explosion. Several months later Tyler and Julia were married, despite their thirty-year age difference.

Princeton Bell!

Maybe not the best “Love Boat” story ever.

Farther down the same sidewalk is a 1988 replica of The Little Vintner of Colmar by sculptor Auguste Bartholdi. The original is in Princeton’s sister city Colmar, France.

Little Vintner of Colmar!

You might remember Bartholdi from such works as the Statue of Liberty.

Walk down to the parking lot on the other side of the building, and there sits The Newspaper Reader, a 1975 work by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., grandson of one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson, and first cousin to actor Michael Douglas (their mothers were sisters).

Newspaper Reader!

In honor of those who stayed informed during that particularly intense time in American history.

New York Times!

The paper in his hands was created from an actual New York Times printing plate — the front page of the March 22, 1974, edition. Its headlines name-check Nixon, Kissinger, Watergate attorney James St. Clair, and New Jersey Congressman Peter Rodino.

1975 discard pile!

Atop the reader’s NYT discard pile on the bench is the big “NIXON RESIGNS” issue.

For an intermission we stopped at a convenience store across the street for snacks, bathroom, and post office use next door.

Princeton banner!

One side room in the store contained only spare furniture and a lonely Princeton banner.

A few more blocks northeast stood the most unusual sight of our morning — Sea Sea Rider: A Jersey Legend, a 2017 homage to Bruce Springsteen by sculptor Stephen Zorochin. Inspired by Springsteen’s 2016’s autobiography, Zorochin sought to capture the essence of the early years of “The Boss” when he was a penniless wannabe musician living down at the beach. He’s carrying a guitar and shrouded by a beach blanket with sand and sea life stuck to it. He’s a dreamer literally wrapped in his own native land.

Seaweed Springsteen!

His headband was bright red when he first saw daylight in 2017, but it’s faded from exposure to the elements. Faded American colors can always be repainted. while the dream within remains the same.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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