New Jersey, my home state, is many things, but large is not one of them. At approximately 7,400 square miles, you can fit twenty-one New Jerseys in the state of California. New Jersey positively disappears within the boundaries of Texas, as you can fit thirty-five NJs in one Lone Star State. Almost eleven Garden States will fit in Minnesota, seven will fit in Wisconsin, and even nearby New York dwarfs my beloved Jersey by a ratio of six-to-one. New Jersey, home of so much of this blog’s adventures, is bisected by two major highways: the Garden State Parkway, which runs along the eastern coast, and the New Jersey Turnpike, which runs diagonally from the northeast of the state to the southwest, both roads passing through much of this diminutive state. Thanks to comedian and
Saturday Night Live alum (and NJ native) Joe Piscopo, those of us who call this state home are not usually asked what town, county, or region in which we reside. Rather, people from other states seem to delight in asking us one question: “Hey buddy, what exit are you from?”
Rather than be insulted by this slight, however, I have learned to take pride in “my exit.” Especially since the exit that means the most to me is the very last one of the Garden State Parkway… the one for my beloved Cape May: Exit Zero. No matter how many times I drive down to America’s oldest beach resort, I can always find something new to explore. Over the long Labor Day weekend, my wife and I headed down to Cape May for a relaxing few days by the beach, intending to do nothing more than lay on the sand, play in the surf, read, eat good food, and otherwise be a couple of beach bums. The town had other ideas for us, however, and we ended up on yet another adventure!
My blog posts often involve careful planning, packing my dSLR camera and lenses, and taking meticulous notes. This post involved no planning, all photos were taken on my phone, and my wife and I scratched our heads to try to remember all the details. Yet while this may not be the most professionally-written post in recent memory, it certainly was one of the most enjoyable. Here then, is a stop at
Our adventure would take us to Cape May, the southernmost town in New Jersey, along with a stop at a historic military base.
We left early in the morning and arrived in time for breakfast at Uncle Bill’s, my favorite Jersey Shore breakfast spot! A few months ago, Uncle Bill’s had a famous guest: Oprah Winfrey and her partner Stedman Graham had breakfast here! You can read more about Oprah’s Cape May adventure here.
As we left Uncle Bill’s, in the distance we spotted a B-25 Mitchell bomber climbing into the sky. Given that the plane was last built in the 1940s and only approximately 45 surviving aircraft can fly, we quickly searched the internet to get the scoop. Checking my phone, I discovered that the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum was hosting Airfest 2019, with food trucks, arts and craft vendors, live music, and a collection of aircraft from World War II. We quickly rearranged our plans to visit!
Naval Air Station Wildwood was originally built as a training base during the Second World War. After the war, it was converted into the Cape May Airport. Hangar #1, home to the museum, is on the National Register of Historic Places (via Wikipedia).
Despite having been to the museum several times, I always make time to stop in the exhibit on life in the 1940s. I recognize several of the items in this room from my grandparents’ own home, where I would visit during my childhood.
Drink Coca-Cola! This 1940’s-vintage vending machine is one of the highlights of the exhibit.
Although most of the museum’s airplanes had been moved outside to the tarmac for the special event, several remained in the hangar, including this Northrop F-5E Tiger, which is also a movie star: it played a Soviet MiG-28 in the film Top Gun.
Something I missed during previous tours of this museum – did you know that Marilyn Monroe was a “Rosie the Riveter?” Before she became movie star and cultural icon, she worked in the factory that produced this small target drone during WWII.
Another of the museum’s permanent exhibits: the F-16 Falcon. Fun car fact – when Honda was designing its NSX supercar, it used the canopy of the F-16 as inspiration for the roof and glasshouse of that iconic car ( Modern Classics, November 2018).
And of course, I had to spend some quality time with the fighter jet I worshipped as a child (and still hold in reverence today)… the F-14 Tomcat. Yet I could always come back to see the jets on display in the permanent exhibit – today’s trip was all about the special airplanes on display…
This was the plane that had brought me to the museum – the B-25 Mitchell. Over 9,000 of these planes were built during WWII, where they served in almost every theater of conflict. My family has a personal connection to this plane: my grandfather’s brother piloted a B-25 during WWII.
Not only did I see the B-25, I heard it too! As I stood looking at it, the plane started up and taxied to the runway, where it took off for a short flight. Heavily used during the war, it most famously was the bomber of choice for the Doolittle Raids. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American military planners sought a way to punch back and show the Japanese military and civilian population that they were not immune from the war. The plan? Launch 16 B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier 600 miles away from Japan, with the target of bombing Tokyo. Designed to take off from a 3,000-foot long runway, the B-25s managed to launch from the 467-foot deck of the USS Hornet. All 16 hit their targets in Japan before landing (or crash-landing) in China or the Soviet Union. Of the 80 pilots and crew members who participated, 69 survived (via Military History Now). The mission was led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, for whom the raid is named.
Next I went to tour the B-17 Flying Fortress. Over 12,000 of these bombers were produced from the 1930s until 1945. One of the most famous B-17s, Memphis Belle, was one of the first bombers to complete 25 missions during WWII. At a time when these lumbering planes were the targets of enemy fighter planes and ground-based anti-aircraft fire, 25 missions was an impressive achievement. I would highly recommend the 1990 movie Memphis Belle, starring Matthew Modine, Harry Connick Jr, and Sean Astin, which tells the story of this impressive plane.
One of the most important, and most dangerous, jobs on the B-17 was the tail gunner. From the small cockpit above the tail, this crew member was responsible for defending the plane from rearward attacks by enemy fighters. In the unheated and unpressurized plane, the tail gunner would spend hours manning this position, often in subzero temperatures, and breathing through an oxygen mask (via B17queenofthesky).
Nine O Nine, the B-17, was open for tours! The original Nine O Nine served in over 140 combat missions in Europe, dropping over 562,000 pounds of bombs. That plane was scrapped, however, and the Collings Foundation, which owns this plane, painted it in honor of its historic predecessor.
The B-17 was open for self-guided tours! As I slithered myself through the narrow openings of the plane’s bomb bay, I was struck by just how cramped the interior is – certainly not a place for anyone over 6 feet tall!
One of the most critical jobs on the B-17: the bombardier station. This crew member was responsible for sighting the target and releasing the bomber’s 8,000 pounds of bombs. The position also controlled the chin turret, which houses anti-aircraft machine guns. As a Star Wars fan, however, this reminds me of the gun turret of the Millennium Falcon.
Perhaps the most dangerous job on the B-17 – the ball gunner (or belly gunner). A small pod sits on the underside of the plane. Inside is a tiny space, barely big enough for the smallest of crew members. Once the plane is aloft, the gunner would be locked into the turret, where he would defend against enemies attacking from below the bomber. Only a bit of metal and glass separated the ball gunner from the ground, thousands of feet below.
“I was 5’8″ – a little tall for the turret, but I accepted the assignment, which some deemed a suicide mission.” You can read more about the job of the ball turret gunner in this excellent essay on the Huffington Post.
Next, it was on to the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. A US Army Air Force heavy bomber, over 18,000 of these were built during the war. This particular plane, nicknamed Witchcraft, served in the Pacific campaign against the Japanese. Despite the huge number of Liberators built during the war, this is the only restored and flying B-24J in the world.
Witchcraft is owned and operated by the Collings Foundation, which is based in Stow, Massachusetts. Collings sends its aircraft and military vehicles around the nation on educational tours such as this one.
The B-24 was also open for tours as well. These yellow pods aren’t bombs- they are oxygen tanks for the crew to breath in these unpressurized aircraft that would fly thousands of feet off the ground.
Before entering the bomb bay, I spotted this sign – it’s like the grandfather of those “WARNING CONTENTS ARE HOT” on your McDonalds coffee cup.
The bomb bay of the B-24. With a range of over 1,500 miles, the Liberator was especially valued for its ability to launch attacks across the enormous Pacific ocean.
Before leaving, I looked up at the cockpit of the B-24. While I had seen these bombers in movies and TV shows, I had never glimpsed one in real life, let alone stand inside one. This was an amazing experience!
The B-17, B-24, and B-25 all are available for half hour flights, at the cost of $450 per person. Although it seems expensive, consider this: each hour this plane is in the air requires over $4,000 of maintenance.
Cadillac of the Skies! Equal or superior to any fighters produced by the Germans or Japanese during WWII, the P-51D Mustang claimed nearly 5,000 enemy planes shot down during the war. This example is also available for flights, but be prepared to call your bank to raise the limit on your credit card – flights cost $2,400 for a half hour. As is the case for the bombers, you are essentially paying for the maintenance needed after your plane ride.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. Older than the Mustang, this fighter was at a disadvantage to its Japanese and German opponents. Despite its design limitations, its pilots were able to work hard to maximize their performance in battle. For instance, during the Pearl Harbor attacks, a few P-40s managed to take off and shoot down several Japanese fighters and bombers, despite overwhelming Japanese numerical superiority. This was also one of the planes used by the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous African-American fighter pilot squadron (that unit later used the P-51D Mustang as well). A ride in this P-40 costs $2,200 per half hour of flight time.
The museum even had a small car show!
I fell in love with this mid-1960s Corvette.
The interior of the Corvette was really nice. My uncle has a 1965 Corvette convertible, and over the years I’ve spent many weekends helping him work on his car. Watching all the blood, sweat, and tears he has put into his machine has made me appreciate how challenging it can be to keep a classic car in top shape.
“They don’t make ’em like this anymore!” This gorgeous little convertible, which my wife wanted to drive home, is a Studebaker Daytona. The Daytona was among the last cars that Studebaker produced before closing their doors forever in 1966.
I really appreciated the Daytona’s simplicity. In our current age of infotainment systems, GPS, lane departure watch, adaptive cruise control, and countless other driver aids, this old Daytona embodies simplicity and elegance.
Numerous food trucks and vendors filled the museum. We stopped to try out the Cape May Soda Company. My wife enjoyed the cranberry and raspberry seltzer, while I loved my cream soda (pictured). Yum!
On the way out of the museum, we spotted this display about female pilots, nurses, and workers in World War II. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was a program to train women to ferry and test combat aircraft, freeing men to be stationed overseas. Despite their service, members of the WASP program were not recognized as veterans until 1977.
After the museum, we spent the rest of the weekend in and around Cape May. One of the hallmarks of this town is the Victorian architecture of many houses and buildings, built after the great fire of 1878. Cape May is second to only San Francisco in having the largest number of Victorian buildings in the United States.
One house that did not burn down in the fire of 1878 was the Howell House, built around 1850. Owned by wealthy Philadelphia merchant George Howell, Howell then donated it to the nearby Macedonia Baptist Church which was part of a vibrant African-American community. In 2020, the house will reopen as the Harriet Tubman museum, who has her own connection to the town. Tubman worked in various Cape May hotels to earn money to support her activities in the Underground Railroad, aiding the escape of slaves from the South.
As we walked back to our beach house, we came across something I had never seen before – Fireman’s Hall. Located next to the Cape May Fire Station, the museum chronicles the history of the fire station.
The small museum is currently missing its centerpiece – a 1928 American LaFrance fire engine, which is undergoing a thorough restoration. The exhibits on various fires in Cape May, along with the equipment of firefighting for much of the town’s history, was really interesting… and free!
An Open Road Ahead Public Service Announcement: Check your smoke detector batteries and make sure they work!
As we walked home, we passed by the Southern Mansion. Built in 1863, it is said to be haunted by Ester Allen, the niece of George Allen, who built the mansion. Now a bed and breakfast, this gorgeous building is also a popular wedding venue.
The next day, we spent some time on the beach. Our efforts to take a dip in the ocean were thwarted by the rough surf. “No Swimming” signs were posted all along the beach, and lifeguards were quick to stop anyone who attempted to get in the water.
The rough waters were caused by swells from Hurricane Dorian, the category 4 hurricane barreling toward the U.S. coast. Despite the storm being over 1,000 miles away when this shot was taken, the storm was still strong enough to roil the seas in NJ.
After a lazy day on the beach, we headed to my favorite restaurant* in Cape May: The Mad Batter. Established in 1976, this restaurant began the resurgence of fine dining in the town. Cape May is now a “foodie” destination, and it has The Mad Batter, in part, to thank for that. (*Fortunately, Menz is technically in a different town, so I am not forced to choose between these two restaurants to determine my favorite… because I couldn’t).
Located on the first floor of the Carroll Villa Hotel, The Mad Batter is only a few blocks from the beach.
We began our meal with an appetizer of fried calamari. So good!
My wife ordered the pan-seared halibut with sides of lobster mashed potatoes (that’s right… chunks of lobster mixed into the mashed potatoes!) and roasted asparagus. I went with my favorite: the award-winning crab cakes with sides of macaroni and cheese, along with grilled asparagus. Yum, yum, yum!
After dinner, we took a walk around the Washington Mall area of the town. If you’re new to Cape May, I’d highly recommend taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around the town. It’s a great way to see the sites, and makes for a memorable adventure!
We skipped dessert at The Mad Batter to indulge in an East Coast summer tradition: Kohr Bros Frozen Custard! First established on Coney Island, NY in 1919, Kohr Bros has expanded to include locations in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey (including this spot in Cape May).
What do you call those sugary confections on my cup of vanilla ice cream on the left? If you’re from almost anywhere else in the country, you call them “sprinkles.” If you’re from South Jersey, then they are “jimmies.” Whatever you call them, they’re absolutely delicious. And you know what else was delicious? The orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream twist that my wife ordered (right).
We took our ice cream and ambled through Cape May, before strolling down for once last look at the beach. Goodbye, summer 2019. It’s been wonderful.
We gave my Accord a break this weekend, using my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee instead. While the Jeep doesn’t get driven nearly as much as the Accord, it is approaching a milestone of its own: 40,000 miles is right around the corner! Nearing the start of its third year of ownership, the Jeep has been a reliable and enjoyable vehicle.
Before ending, I also wanted to share a short video I created of some scenes from this weekend. While I thought about adding a musical track to cover up some of the wind noise, I did not want to lose the sounds, especially of the B-25 Mitchell bomber taking off. I hope you enjoy it:
This was truly a wonderful weekend in Cape May, and a great way to mark the unofficial end of the summer season. From April 1st until Columbus Day, the
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. From Columbus Day until November 30, the museum is open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. From December 1 until April 1, the museum is open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (closed Saturday and Sunday). Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-12, and free for children ages 2 and under. Active Duty US Military personnel can also enter for free. The museum makes for a wonderful, family-friendly activity that kids of all ages can enjoy. While this was by no means my first visit to the museum, it certainly won’t be my last! And who knows… perhaps next year my wife and I will mark our calendars so we can climb aboard a B-25 Mitchell and soar off, into the wild blue yonder!
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.