Go to any book store in the country and look at their magazine section, and sure enough, you will find an issue of Weird N.J staring you in the face. It is truly amazing how much the weirdness of this state has captivated audiences around the world for more than twenty years. I always like to joke around with people, saying that New Jersey is very weird, and it’s not just the people who live here. On a more serious note, we can graciously thank the co-authors and publishers of the semi-annual magazine, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, for bringing the strange tales, legends, and more importantly for me, creepy history, behind the small towns of New Jersey, into the public eye; stories you would never be able to read or find elsewhere, or even think up in your wildest dreams. People are fascinated by our weird history, so much so that in 2004, the authors of this publication expanded their horizons for a book called Weird U.S, which went around to different states, with the same theme as their original series, which also became a compilation published as a book in 2003. Soon after the publication of Weird U.S, Moran and Sceurman were given a show of the same name by the History Channel, which lasted for two seasons, and went on to explore haunted and weird areas all over the country.
Since then, they have put out many different books, specializing on individual states besides New Jersey, with their latest coming out last May, on Tennessee. I was very happy to have been able to conduct an interview with one of the authors, Mark Moran, here today. We were first in contact about a year ago because of my paranormal work at the haunted Proprietary House in New Jersey. After all that time, though, I finally decided to actually ask him for an interview, and he was kind enough to accept the request. Below is our conversation, and he really gives us some fascinating back-story on the publication, methods, and where it all began. Enjoy:
GC: Weird N.J is now more than 20 years old. Did you ever think it would become this popular when you first started out?
MM: We had started the publication with the simple theory that every town in the state had at least one good tale to tell. What we’ve discovered over the years is that most towns actually have many really interesting and unusual stories—some that they would rather not admit to. But we love digging around and finding out about a town’s dirty little secrets. And there seems to be an inexhaustible wealth of material to uncover. This state has a long history and some of it is now all but forgotten. We try to find that part of it that has been swept under the carpet and drag it out into the light for all to see. Weirdness, in any of its many forms, is something that takes one out of their usual routine and shakes up their mind a little bit. And who couldn’t use more of that in their daily lives? As long as there are people living in New Jersey, there will be something weird going on somewhere in this state.
GC: What would you say is the weirdest place in weird New Jersey, and why?
MM: That really depends on what sort of weirdness interests you. Some people like spooky haunted hotels and other folks like seeing off the wall roadside signage and architecture. We’ve found that wherever you travel there is always something weird to explore in close proximity to where you are. You just have to know where to look for it and how to recognize it when you see it. Weirdness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And what might seem extremely strange to me today may just seem ordinary to me tomorrow because I have become more familiar with it. Weird is a sensation that happens when you encounter something unexpected and out of the ordinary. That’s why we are always investigating new leads, because the newest story is always the most surprising, and therefore the weirdest.
GC: Take us through the process of writing a book about an individual state, like let’s say, Tennessee, which just came out last year. How long does it take? What does it entail?
MM: We always try to locate kindred spirits in whatever state we delve into to produce a book on. We look for writers with the same sort of interests and sensibilities that we have…and a good sense of humor. We call that the “Weird Eye”, and they need to have that to find the kinds of stories that we are looking for. So far we have been very fortunate to find a group of incredibly talented, like-minded authors in ever state we’ve worked on. That’s really been the most rewarding aspect of this whole national project—collaborating with this incredible network of authors, artists and photographers that had never really had any connection before. We’ll give an author a working table of contents that we’d like them to research and write about and they will add subjects of their own to that list. Then they have to hit the road and visit every place on the list, interview people, take photographs, do research, and then write all about it. Then they send all of that material to me to edit and compile, illustrate and so on. The whole process of putting together a book usually takes about a year, from the early planning stages to completion.
GC: If you could only visit one place you have ever written about, which would it be and why?
MM: If I could only visit one place I wouldn’t bother getting off the couch. The point of what we do is not about recommending places for people to visit—it is about seeing the world around you in a different way and really appreciating how strange and unique this life can be. You can do that anywhere if you open your mind to possibilities. The places we write about are merely examples of a location where something weird has occurred or is occurring. They are catalysts for the imagination and demonstrate that something unique and unexpected can happen anywhere at anytime.
GC: Where did your interest in the strange/paranormal begin? Why do you think the topic is so popular today, when years ago, it might have been taboo?
MM: Some of my most vivid recollections from childhood are the feelings that I would get while exploring someplace where I knew I was not supposed to be. Abandoned places have always held a strong fascination for me, and possess a kind of mystery that becomes tangible the moment that you enter them. Trying to unravel the hidden (or forgotten) history behind such places can be a real thrill, and makes for some fun detective work. I’ve been to a lot of places that have been very frightening—not necessarily because they were haunted, but just because it is human nature to fear the unknown. That’s a self-defense mechanism that is part of out DNA that helps us survive. But danger also gives us a great rush of adrenaline and makes us tingle. And it’s not only places that do that to you, but weird and unpredictable people too. I think people like reading about those sort of encounters because they get to feel that same sensation of excitement and anxiety without actually putting themselves into a potentially dangerous situation.
GC: Lastly, what is your opinion of the excess of ghost hunting shows on TV now? Do they serve a good purpose, in your eyes?
MM: I think that there are a lot of charlatans out there making up false stuff to sell to people that don’t know any better. It all seems very staged and poorly acted to me, and I don’t know if these TV ghost hunter types are in on the joke or they really believe the hokum they are peddling. It’s just like professional wrestling—it’s fine if you enjoy it, as long as you realize that it’s all fake.
I would like to thank Mark for conducting this very informative interview! We are trying to work on a date for them to visit where I work at the Proprietary House, so hopefully that will happen very soon. Please visit their official website, and of course, check out their publication if you have not done so already!