When I was young, my mother used to take her entire gaggle of 5 kids on day trips around the state of New Jersey. One of the places we visited was a small theme park called The Land of Make Believe. My recollection of this trip is faint, but I remember the story of “Jenny Jump” as told to us by a tour guide while in the theme park. He spun a yarn of a girl being chased by evil Indians that had to jump off of a mountain into the arms of her father to escape her attackers. I figured researching this myth was as good of an excuse as any to go for a ride into the forest of New Jersey. I found there was an actual area named after the legend called Jenny Jump State Forrest. I made that my destination.
It was an easy ride out with the exception of the fuzziness left from the last night’s debauchery at The Wall performance by Roger Waters I attended at Yankee Stadium with my band mates. I shot westerly along route 80 and took exit 12 a few miles south to the forest. The canopy roads were cool and desolate. I arrived at the park and headed directly into its heart. I found myself on East Road that was barely wide enough for one car. I took it all the way until the end where it turned into dirt circle. I retraced my route and found the office for the park. I was seeking somebody to help me answer my questions regarding the myth. I walked into the office and met a pleasant elderly woman. We smiled at each other and I said, “My mom took me to the Land of Make Believe when I was a kid and I am curious about the legend of Jenny Jump. Where exactly was the point of her jump?” The woman smiled at my interest, but told me the house where Jenny’s family resided was actually within the Land of Make Believe park. “I’ve never been there myself to tell you the truth. It’s more of a water park nowadays,” she added. I thought about entering the theme park to recapture this memory of my youth, but the entrance fee was $23, and I didn’t want to shell out that kind of money to stare at a house. I thanked the kind woman and went on my way.
I found a trail named Jenny Jump Trail and decided to go for a short hike. The weather was hot but the shade from the dense forest protected me. I wandered deep into the woods and heard something I have not heard in a long time. Nature. Dead quiet nature. Not the cars, screams, and gunshots of my Harlem neighborhood. It was so peaceful and I felt relaxed. Relaxation is a foreign feeling to me. I blame the constant din of NYC. Everywhere I go there is noise. On the subway people use cell phones like radios, and performers turn the subway cars into mini stages, plying their wares on captive audiences. The noise of the city is inescapable, but here in the woods I have broken away for at least a few moments. As I traveled deeper into the nest of the forest, biting bugs began to feast on my flesh. I had no insect repellant and my only choice was to turn back. I snaked down the trail and traversed a tiny babbling brook. Again, a small slice of peace, the sound of running water over rocks and the chirping of birds. That’s why people do this.
I got back on the Brick and drove to an overlook facing down the side of a mountain. I took a seat on a lonesome bench. I thought of the legend and how much has changed in my lifetime. When I was a boy we called Native Americans “Indians” and their people were usually considered bad – the residue of many films portraying them as crazed killers of the white man. I believe the swing began when Iron Eyes Cody played a crying Indian saddened by pollution in environmental commercials of the early 1970’s. It was a tip to the television audience that they were here first and we had ruined the land they held as sacred. I was also a Cub Scout as a boy and we learned about the ways and lives of the Native American. I remember troop meetings with visits from waning tribes, their members talking to us about their honor towards the land. What prompted this change of perception regarding the Indians? Was it because we pushed them off of their land and we needed to absolve ourselves from manifest destiny guilt? I thought deeper on the subject and wondered why the Cleveland Indians use a stereotypical logo even when the Native American people want it banished. I’m sure the story of Jenny is still being told in the park, but I am curious how they word the text now. Has it been changed or altered to fit the changing times or do they cling to it original form like the Cleveland baseball team not wanting to let go of their commodity?
I let these thoughts dissolve, as I wasn’t going to solve these problems sitting at the side of the mountain. I realized why conservationists defend untampered land with such ferocity. The theme park is a commodity. Even the story of Jenny has been commodified. Upon later research I discovered Iron Eyes Cody was not even a Native American, but an actor of Italian descent. Even the image of the native American also commodified and farmed out to an actor. So few things presented to us are real but looking down this majestic mountain proved to me that nature cannot be faked. No matter how many fiberglass trees and astroturf lawns The Land of Make Believe installs, they will never approach the beauty of the genuine article. Well, at least they got the name of the park right.
I left the park relaxed and Yelped a place to eat. I found a bar that specialized in wings called Marley’s Gotham Grill in the neighboring town of Hackettstown. The bartender was friendly and the Old Bay garlic wings were just what I needed after a long day in the saddle. I overheard one of the patrons talking about The Wall show he regretted missing. He mentioned trying to see it in Philly. “You have to go” I blurted it uninvited. “I went last night and it was unreal”. I guess what I should have said was that it was “real”. The themes contained in the music on the album created in 1979 are more important than ever. I hoped this person would go to the concert based on my suggestion, and maybe his life would be changed by the performance that calls out oppression so blatantly.
I headed for home and thought about the day’s events. The traffic was thick but not unbearable. I went hunting for clarity of a childhood legend and instead came to a dead end and an overpriced water park. I did find other things along the way, namely a small chunk of peace in Jenny’s arms.
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The forrest of Jenny Jump
|Bear warning||Jenny Jump map||Peaceful trail|
|The Brick at rest||Park Entrance||Post ride meal|
Seeking the myth of Jenny Jump