Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
Jersey City Free Public Library; Grover Cleveland Political Cartoon; 
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Historical Site Collection Peter Lee, former slave, ca.1880; 
Hoboken Historical Photographs Collection; Farm Map of Hillsboro, Somerset County, 1860; 
Historical Maps of New Jersey Collection; Bathing Beauties, 1890-1930; 
American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
Seabrook Farms Collection;
The Jersey Shore: More Than Just Words
By John Brennan, Digital Projects Coordinator
Rutgers University Libraries

Out of the thousands of words in the English language, it's remarkable what happens when three little ones are thrown together. They can jog long-held memories, elicit toothy grins or even invoke grand plans. It's been said a picture is worth a thousand words - and this may be true - but what are three words worth when they create images so vivid and alive, so full of color and texture, that they cut across generations, social classes and other flimsy boundaries? And no, I'm not talking about "Go for it" or "Fries with that?" although they do possess a certain panache. Instead we have (drum roll please) ...

The Jersey Shore!

Feel that twinge of excitement? Me too! Hold onto that for a moment.

It's equally interesting that when you take each of these three little words on their own, minus the nurturing comfort of the other two, they don't tell much of a story. Indeed, let's be frank. Alone they are rather ordinary. They don't fill us with the exuberance of possibility or give us the warm fuzzies. Alone they really don't do anything special. Let me illustrate.
  • The: The article "the" is the most commonly used word in the English language. Nothing interesting about that. Gosh, if I had a dollar for each time the word "the" gets used, well…so far in this little essay I would've netted fourteen bucks! That may seem profitable, but so does the lottery and I have a better chance winning the lottery than getting paid for using "the". When you forget about easy money all that remains is a blasé word.
  • Jersey: If you're not from the Northeastern United States or Great Britain, odds are in your world the word "jersey" isn't capitalized. That's not to say you don't have any uses for it, but those uses can be rather mundane. Something along the lines of "Gosh, how did I get this ketchup stain on my jersey?" or "What a lovely jersey cow!" Practical applications? Certainly. But to call them tantalizing is a reach even beyond the limits of the world's tallest ladder.
  • Shore: When the word "shore" is uttered some people may think of a chunk of land bordering a body of water. Others may think the conversation has turned towards a collapsing wall. ("Elroy, that barn wall is weaker than a goat on a liquid diet. Let's shore it up a bit!") Actually, depending on the accent of the utterer you might hear "sure" or "shaw", but that's a different topic for a different time. However if your average American does think of a chunk of land bordering a body of water it's quite probable no specific land chunk comes to mind. Therefore, not only does this word have multiple meanings and is sometimes mispronounced, it's not specific enough to focus your thoughts. Blah.
There we have three distinctly common words which don't do all that much on their lonesome. Sitting apart they plod along like Moe without Larry and Curly, Bed without Bath and Beyond. But you see, synergy is a remarkable thing. Toss 'em together as you would yeast, flour, milk and eggs. Knead, shape and bake and in time you've got something special! Of course this assumes everything was mixed in the proper order. It's the same with words. Maybe "Shore the Jersey" will make you think of salt-water, but "The Jersey Shore" will definitely make you think of salt-water taffy. And to most of us a definite is far more enticing than a maybe.

Ahh, The Jersey Shore. Chew on a piece of orange taffinated goodness and contemplate these simple words in that powerful combination. What the initiated quickly realizes is they represent something beyond vowels, consonants and syllables. They represent an experience that is uniquely New Jersey, a way of life that is as much a part of the Garden State as tired jokes about oil refineries and alleged political shenanigans.

Extending 120 miles from Sandy Hook to Cape May, The Jersey Shore provides a mixture of entertainment and relaxation, fine dining and fast food, grand Victorian buildings and modern seaside architecture. For well over a century families have made The Jersey Shore their summer vacation destination. Songs like "On the Way to Cape May", "4th of July Asbury Park" and "Wildwood Days" have burned The Jersey Shore into our collective musical consciousness. Lighthouses dot the coastline. Oddities like "Lucy the Margate Elephant" add whimsy. Warm sandy beaches double as the state's playground. And I don't even want to talk about Kohr's frozen custard!

For those who have had the pleasure of spending time at The Jersey Shore its enormous versatility is embedded in those three little words. Do you like history? Go to Ocean Grove, a planned community where for decades families have spent their summers getting spiritual rejuvenation. How about crabbing? Join the many folks who toss their cages in the waters up and down the coast…errrrr, shore…to capture a fresh treat from the sea. Does the thrill of a financial windfall appeal to you? Atlantic City boasts the country's first casinos outside of Nevada and remains a popular destination for those who love the 'Don't Pass' line. Perhaps you long to simply relax and soak up the sun? Head over to Long Beach Island, one of many destinations where it's all about sun and sand. You can even camp overnight on the beach in nearby Island Beach State Park.

When those three little words float into your ears you instinctively know fun times for people of all ages sits at your fingertips (or more realistically, within a car trip). The skee-ball arcades and the wealth of kiddie rides enchant children. Young adults bask in the robust nightlife and the freedom that comes from renting a house two blocks from the beach for a week with 20 of your closest friends. The preserved charm of places like Cape May fills older folks with nostalgia.

Many years ago this part of the Atlantic seaboard was nothing more than a string of islands and inlets, a place for fisherman and locals. It was simply where the ocean met the land. In 1800 practically the entire area we now call The Jersey Shore was undeveloped and sparsely populated. It wasn't even called The Jersey Shore. If people considered it at all they probably referred to it as "That yonder place next to the briny sea where no man, woman or child can easily reach without the hazards of hard overland travel" or some such nonsense. (They were quite wordy back in those days.) Transportation networks were virtually non-existent and the idea of vacationing anywhere, much less by the ocean, was a luxury beyond the means of most people. In those days you could say "The Jersey Shore" and be met with blank stares, followed quickly by an offer to shod your horse or a request to share your meal of salt pork, Indian corn and malt spirits.

But time changes everything. By the late 19th century people were coming from New York and Philadelphia, among other places, to experience a New Jersey seaside getaway. Summer homes sprung up. Entertainment venues were built. "That yonder place" began to mean something new and exciting to people. Although they didn't yet realize it, the three little words The Jersey Shore were fermenting in our "lingo to be" box like the flavors of grape, oak and fruit in an aging bottle of fine wine. In the 20th century the cork would be removed and the subtle and distinct spirit that we now know as The Jersey Shore would be released and savored.

So next time you see or hear what seem to just be three little common words, think again! Be prepared to jog your memory, smile big toothy grins and make fantastic fun plans. Be prepared to explore and appreciate. Be prepared to experience a unique piece of Americana for a very simple reason. In this case we're talking about more than just words. We're talking about The Jersey Shore.

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