Among the many readers of this blog are people who are lucky enough to live in historic cities and towns; Gettysburg and Fredericksburg to name a couple. As for the rest of us, well, we are relegated to living in normal, boring towns, where the history has been swept away by the sands of time…or worse, the plowing of a bulldozer. Most of you know that I live in Hazlet, formerly Raritan Township, if you were to look at an antique map of the area. What annoys me is that there is absolutely no history here (made even more depressing by the fact that nearby towns such as Keyport, Middletown, and Atlantic Highlands are steeped in Revolutionary War and maritime history)—any landmarks or historic sites we had (operative word, had) have been destroyed over time by our own doing.
You may now understand why I was incensed when our local rag of a paper, the Independent (among other various outlets, but their story is the one I happened upon first), ran a story today about the new $4,300 project to paint a mural on one of the walls of the town’s library, in an effort to “trace Hazlet’s history” and “look into the past”. The amount of money that they are spending on this project is irrelevant, because it is being self-funded through their committee and annual book sales. They are also using local high school students to paint it, which is a great way for them to volunteer their skills on behalf of the community. The reason for my anger is that they are ignorant of the fact that this money-hungry town has erased all of the “notable landmarks” and “history from its agrarian past through the present day”. The fact that the people who commissioned this project are so misinformed that they actually want to pretend that these things still exist is mind-boggling. It’s nothing but a slap in the face to the actual memory of this town.
The only two landmarks that I actually remember seeing after my family moved here in 1995 were right down the street from us, near our train station. One was a red barn, a type of storage depot that used to hold goods to load onto the trains heading into New York City. That was bulldozed to make room for more parking spaces. This depot was massive, and I remember as a little kid wandering around it with my friends, trying to peer through the cracks in the walls. Across the tracks was the most notable, a single chimney remaining from a ketchup factory that operated there many years before we arrived. This chimney, though incredibly thin and not in anybody’s way (and was surprisingly never marred by graffiti or damaged, not that I can remember), was knocked down to make room for literally two additional parking spots for the train station. As a further insult, they then sold off the bricks to make even more money, and to trick unsuspecting townspeople into thinking that they should own a piece of history—history which was apparently so important, they had to destroy it.
There is one other place too, which was the mansion home of Dr. John Hazlett, the man who the town is now named after. His house, which was a real landmark, has absolutely no traces left of its existence, as a youth baseball field now sits on its location. I think it has been gone for decades, but would a historical marker be so much to ask? Just a little wooden sign? Also, I want to direct you to the spelling of his last name. Notice that it differs from the name of our actual town: Hazlett and Hazlet. So there you have it, a town so steeped in stupidity that they could not even get the spelling right for the man they named it after (or they were just lazy—who needs that extra T, anyway?). What a way to give the guy a tribute!
And so this mural, which has not yet been completed, will include exactly what landmarks? Paintings of all the places that have been torn down for the almighty dollar? I suppose the powers that be would rather show citizens what used to exist than actually have the places still standing to visit. What happens when children see these items up there on the wall, and ask what they are and where to find them? “Sorry little Johnny, we had to knock down that big one in the middle so people would have more room for parking at the train station.” The one item that is certainly going to be in this mural, according to the picture emblazoned in the Independent, is a train called the “Blue Comet”, whose cars span the entire length of the masterpiece and finish with the locomotive on the right, with the name of the train plastered right there for everyone to see. The significance of this train to the town of Hazlet, you are wondering? Not one damn thing. It is merely a train that happened to pass through on its way from Atlantic City to New York. Gee, doesn’t that reflect our history? Might as well paint a modern NJ Transit logo on it, or maybe some trees. Yeah! We have trees in Hazlet, maybe that should represent us!
I would now like to summarize with some quotes from the original article along with some rebuttals: 1) “Hazlet has a strong history as an agricultural area and you really don’t see that today.” No kidding! I wonder why. 2) “[The mural] will be here a long time.” Yeah, a lot longer than the buildings you are painting that were torn down out of greed and an utter disregard for our past. 3) “It could be here forever. All of these young kids that are asking questions about it now are probably going to bring their kids back and see it here someday.” Great. I hope people ask questions. How about, just where the hell are these landmarks, and how can you pretend to care now after all these years of ignorance? The damage has been done, mural or no mural. While they are painting, they might as well add a nice big wrecking ball and maybe some dollar signs. They want an accurate picture of Hazlet? That’s one right there. Money, greed, and stupidity—the Holy Trinity.