Weird NJ

East Brunswick doctor’s zany waiting room inspires Travel Channel show

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 3/28/17

If you step into ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Leitman’s waiting room in East Brunswick, you may spot a couple of magazines in the corner — but you probably won’t need to read them.

That’s because Leitman’s 300-square-foot waiting room is packed with over 1,000 colorful, zany, odd and intriguing objects — including minerals, dolls, clowns, butterflies, shells and photographs.

Leitman’s kaleidoscope of an office recently inspired the Travel Channel’s new show “Weird America” to stop by. On the show, Irish comic Kevin McGahern explores the weirdest sights in the United States.

The show premiered on Saturday, March 18, with a segment on Leitman, who lives in East Brunswick, as well as Margate’s Lucy the Elephant and the 50-pound Mount Olympus burger at the Clinton Station Diner.

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6 roadside curiosities in Central Jersey

Although the holiday season is synonymous with gifts, gatherings with friends and family and the excitement of ringing in the New Year, there’s another less-pleasant activity that also comes along with it – driving.

We’re all used to packing up the car and heading up and down the state to see our loved ones – stuck in traffic, crammed into seats with others, battling unfortunate weather.

However, by stopping at some of these roadside attractions – and curiosities – in Central Jersey, you may be able to make your trek a little more interesting.

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. Rising 131 feet above the tower’s terrace, the tower’s top is meant to represent an incandescent light bulb and originally included an audio system which could be heard from two miles away.

Today, the bulb shines nightly from the tower, which was constructed in 1937 from three tons of steel and 1200 barrels of cement. Recently refurbished and rededicated, the tower is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

For more information, visit menloparkmuseum.org or call 732-549-3299.

P.C. Richard and Son is the newest owner of the former Flagship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Google Maps)

P.C. Richard and Son is the newest owner of the former Flagship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Google Maps)

The Flagship, which was originally commissioned as a luxury cruise nightclub in 1938, now serves as a P.C. Richard and Son – which takes up an entire block as it forever “sails” from 2264 Route 22 in Union.

Four years after its building, it was destroyed by a fire, but locals weren’t ready to see their ‘ship in the harbor’ go. After World War II, it was rebuilt and hosted many of the celebrities of the day, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason. Later and into today, it’s been the home of various retail stores.

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. (Photo: ~File photo)

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. (Photo: ~File photo)

“Greek’s Playland,” or Garden Falls and the Stone Museum, which is at 608 Spotswood Englishtown Road in Monroe, isn’t exactly a Disney World or a Universal Studios. In its 87 acres of attractions, ranging from a Cobra helicopter to a 30-foot tall brightly painted clown constructed from an old oil tank, there is no apparent theme.

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. He told Weird NJ that he built the playland for handicapped children to come and have a fun day just like any other child. Today, entrance is free for those coming from state- and locally-sponsored groups.

For more information, visit gardenfalls.com or call 732-656-3333.

Northlandz, called "a fantasy journey" by the Travel Channel and a "breathtaking beauty" by the Discovery Channel. (Photo: ~File photo)

Northlandz, called “a fantasy journey” by the Travel Channel and a “breathtaking beauty” by the Discovery Channel.
(Photo: ~File photo)

Northlandz, called “a fantasy journey” by the Travel Channel and a “breathtaking beauty” by the Discovery Channel, is Flemington’s own wonder of the world, located at 495 Route 202. The world’s largest train museum, the mile-walk through self-guided tour includes hundreds of exhibits containing scenes such as a Civil War battle display, the world’s only toothpick farm and a plane crash site.

A doll museum and 2,000-pipe organ are also in the museum, which is filled with items handmade by Bruce Williams Zaccagnino of Flemington, the owner and founder. The museum has two new wings planned, including exhibits of the Himalayas, the Rockies and Hoover Dam.

For more information, visit northlandz.com or call 908-782-4022.

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone, located on the north end of the Rosedale and Rosehill Cemetery at 355 E. Linden Ave. in Linden, belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. But he died in 1981 when he was 15 years old.

His millionaire brother, David, commissioned a 36-ton granite memorial sculpted to resemble a full-size 1982 Mercedes Benz 2400 Diesel limousine in his honor, which reportedly cost $250,000. The vanity license plates read “RAY TSE,” although the hood ornament and side view mirrors are missing.

The location of the 1938 Martin Landing Site Monument plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton. (Photo: ~Courtesy of forensicgenealogy.com)

The location of the 1938 Martin Landing Site Monument plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton. (Photo: ~Courtesy of forensicgenealogy.com)

The 1938 Martian Landing Site Monument, located at Van Nest Park on Cranbury Road. in Princeton Junction, depicts a heated Orson Welles announcing the “live news broadcast” that an attack from Mars was underway, a hoax that occurred as an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. Of the 12 million people that listened to the broadcast, many believed it to be true.

The plaque also depicts a 1930s family as they cower near their radio, beneath a tentacled flying saucer. The location of the plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton.

Trekking your way back-and-forth during the holidays can take the seasonal cheer out of anyone’s day. However, stop for a pit-stop at one of these Central Jersey roadside attractions, and you just may miss some traffic and have an interesting story to bring to your next party.

Lucy the Elephant

“Are we going to a store?”

“No.”

“A bar? Restaurant?”

“No.”

“Is it outside? Do I need my jacket?”

“No.”

Although I’m a seasoned shore traveler, I truly had no idea where Ed was taking us as a stopping point on our way to Atlantic City. I was offered no clues to our destination besides a lined piece of paper with a meaningless address that was only titled “Middle Stop.”

Upon pulling up to a giant elephant parked facing the Margate beach, however, the dots connected to various Weird NJ pieces I had stumbled across in magazines. We were visiting Lucy the Elephant, a six-story gimmick of a tourist attraction that has been overlooking the Atlantic since 1881.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Lucy the Elephant was constructed with 90 tons of tin and wood by James Lafferty, who figured that a 65-foot tall elephant would be the perfect way to bring in tourists and sell some real estate. He got so excited about his idea that he also constructed two more elephants – the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island and the Light of Asia of Cape May, neither of which survive today. Unfortunately, Lucy wasn’t enough to bring in buyers and Lafferty sold her after only six years.

She then went on to serve as a restaurant, business office, cottage and even a bar (shut down by prohibition). However, even throughout all of her various occupations, it wasn’t enough to keep the elephant in business – she fell into disrepair and due to a new buyer interested in the land under her feet, she was scheduled for demolition in 1969 to make way for a condo complex.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Josephine Harron spotted the demolition signs outside of Lucy one day when she was at the beach and said to herself, “Someone should do something about that.”

She did.

Harron formed the Save Lucy Committee, which was given a mere 30 days to raise enough money to move Lucy or pay for her demolition. Volunteers fund-raised by going door-to-door, selling baked goods and enlisting local groups.

As you have probably guessed, the Save Lucy Committee miraculously raised the funds and she was moved 100 yards southwest and completely refurbished with the help of the only interested architect in the northeast area. The Committee’s efforts paid off in more ways than one – Lucy the Elephant was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

After paying $8 and hiking up the winding staircase inside Lucy, we emerged in the same area which Lafferty originally showcased his real estate parcels. Now, the cozy den houses whimsical paintings such as Lucy in Blue or The Gin Drinkers, fantastical paintings all featuring the celebrated Lucy the Elephant. We checked out the ocean through Lucy’s eyes and then further hiked up the staircase to Lucy’s summit, an Asian howdah carriage which is a replica of the original.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

New Jersey is stuffed with oddball roadside attractions which seem to emerge in particular frequency at the Jersey Shore. At first glance, these curious sights seem not only peculiar, but pointless. And maybe they are – except for the fact that they house various degrees of history that can only be contained inside a cartoon, colorful elephant.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

 

LUCY THE ELEPHANT

Where: 9200 Atlantic Ave in Margate City, New Jersey

Contact: 609-823-6473 or lucytheelephant.org

Cost: $8 ages 13+, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under

Tours occur every half an hour during open hours, which vary by season