40 Reasons to Love NJ

For NJM’s 40th, we've rounded up 40 Jersey people, places and peculiarities that fill us with pride and joy.

The Garden State, though small, is big on character—and full of characters. In every field, even those planted in crops, we punch above our weight. For NJM’s 40th, we present, alphabetically, 40 Jersey people, places and peculiarities that fill us with pride and joy.

1. Bruce

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

No artist (of any kind) may be more closely identified with a single state than Jersey’s own Boss. At 67, Springsteen’s star is as bright as ever—the perfect metaphor for New Jersey’s indomitable spirit. On September 9, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, he set a record for his longest U.S. show ever—unofficially clocked at 4 hours, 3 minutes, 46 seconds—topping the four-hour show he played August 30 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. His new autobiography, Born to Run, is like his concerts—a blockbuster packed with power, passion, compassion, thoughtful reflections and unforgettable tales.—KS

2.+3. Brendan Byrne & Tom Kean

Illustration by John S. Dykes

Illustration by John S. Dykes

Pity those who think Chris Christie-style bullying is required to govern New Jersey. Brendan Byrne, a Democrat, and his Republican successor, Thomas Kean, each served two terms in Trenton with class, intelligence and wit. Byrne’s administration is remembered for the Pinelands Protection Act, the advent of Atlantic City casino gambling, expansion of the Meadowlands Sports Complex and, alas, the state’s first income tax. Kean is lauded for education and welfare reform, arts advocacy, environmental protection and the ubiquitous “Perfect Together” campaign. Byrne, now 92, and Kean, 81, though political rivals, remain perfect friends.—KS

4. Characters

Photo by Pete Marovich/zumapress.com

Photo by Pete Marovich/zumapress.com

The Garden State is fertile ground for colorful (often oddball) icons, real and imagined. Jersey has nurtured the likes of baseball legend and quote factory Yogi Berra, the eerily gleeful Tillie the Clown (above) and the mysterious Jersey Devil. And let’s not forget Lucy the Elephant (gotta love her), Tony Soprano (betta love him), the Jersey housewives (kinda can’t resist them) and reality star Snooki (feel free to credit her to New York). Up next: Newly minted Marvel Comics superhero Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager from Jersey City.—MM

5. Comedians

Photo by Photo by Pete Marovich/zumapress.com

Photo by Photo by Pete Marovich/zumapress.com

While there’s no shortage of Jersey jokes, there are even more side-splitting Garden State comedians, reaching back to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (natives of Asbury Park and Paterson, respectively).  They introduced their immortal “Who’s On First” routine on the radio in 1938. Through the years, Jersey has given the world Jerry Lewis (born in Newark), Ernie Kovacs (Trenton), Joe Piscopo (Passaic), Flip Wilson (Jersey City), Richard Lewis (Englewood), Janeane Garofalo (Newton), Chelsea Handler (Livingston) and Uncle Floyd Vivino (Paterson). Today, the late-night circuit seems to recruit from within our borders. Consider: Longtime Daily Show host Jon Stewart grew up in Lawrenceville and now lives on a farm in Middletown; Bill Maher spent his youth in River Vale; and Stephen Colbert lives in Montclair.—JB

6. Craft Beer

Photo by Eric Rank

It’s been more than 80 years since Krueger, one of the late, lamented breweries that once called New Jersey home, made history by selling the world’s first canned beer. These days—thanks to the state’s 2012 beer reforms—New Jersey is back on the beer map with established brewers like Flying Fish, High Point and River Horse, as well as widely respected and wildly creative newcomers like Cape May, Carton, Kane and New Jersey Beer Company, winner of New Jersey Monthly’s 2016 Craft Beer Showdown.—KS

7. Culture & The Arts

Illustration by John S. Dykes

Illustration by John S. Dykes

Large or small, Jersey’s museums offer deep dives into every one of the visual arts, as well as aviation, boating, doo-wop, glassblowing, minerals and more. The quality and range of theater and dance in the Garden State are just as remarkable. The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn won the 2016 Regional Theater Tony Award for its Broadway-quality musicals. The Two River Theater in Red Bank, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison and the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton are as adventurous in repertoire as they are thrilling in execution. But for astute selection of the cutting edge in dance, music and performance art, nothing tops Montclair State University’s Peak Performances series, held in the intimate, 2004 Alexander Kasser Theater, where every seat is $20 and there are no bad seats.—EL

8. The Devils

Photo by Christopher Lane

Photo by Christopher Lane

Of the three major professional sports teams that call Jersey home, only one actually identifies itself with the state by name. Yes, the Devils are in rebuild mode, but not long ago they consistently raised hell in the NHL, winning three Stanley Cups in nine years—with a goalie (Martin Brodeur) so dominant the league invented a rule to rein in his signature roaming around the net. Plus, there’s nothing scrappier than hosting your Stanley Cup celebration in a Meadowlands parking lot.—MM

9. Diners

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Several sources say we have more diners than any other state—njdiners.com lists 520. The appeal? Fast in and out; breakfast, lunch and dinner served at all hours; easy on the wallet. Diners come in all sizes and styles, from the fortress-like Mastoris in Bordentown to the chrome-and-neon Tick-Tock in Clifton, with its famous sign, “Eat Heavy.” Then there’s the tiny White Manna in Hackensack, famous for its $1.35 sliders. The oldest continuously operating diner is the Summit, a railroad-car design with 17 stools built in 1939 by the Jerry O’Mahony Company of Elizabeth—itself founded in 1913, when prefabricated steel diners began replacing horse-drawn lunch wagons for hungry factory workers.—EL

10. Diversity

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

New Jersey is more than a melting pot; it’s an effervescent beaker of racial and ethnic diversity. Italians are the state’s largest ethnic group, followed by Irish and Germans. In recent decades, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Muslims have added to New Jersey’s patchwork, transforming places like Paterson, Fort Lee, Edison and Elizabeth into pockets where distinct cultures can thrive. Currently, 57 percent of New Jersey’s population is white, but census data indicates that in less than 15 years non-whites will constitute a majority of Garden State residents. Already, we can boast the third-highest percentage of foreign-born residents among the 50 states.—JK

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