On the White Horse Pike in Magnolia, passers-by get a glimpse of “the tire guy,” a 20-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a man holding a tire. He’s one of a handful of “Muffler Men” still on display in South Jersey. Muffler Men were originally created by a Venice, California fiberglass company in the 1960s, and while they were once found outside businesses and restaurants across America, few remain. The Tire Guy’s been moved several times, and he’s gotten a couple of paint jobs over the years, but he’s still a South Jersey stalwart.
Mighty Joe’s original name was George, and for many years he was perched atop a go-kart track in South Jersey. Whenever Larry Valenzano drove past, he thought about his son, “Mighty Joe,” who died of a brain tumor in 1999. Valenzano eventually bought the gorilla, renamed him Mighty Joe, and placed the primate outside his Shamong gas station of the same name.
Today Mighty Joe holds a sign that says, “Hello, my name is Mighty Joe. My job is to look up to heaven from time to time and say, ‘HEY, JOE, WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.'”
Tucked behind Ozane Pest Control in Tom’s River, there’s a tiny building you should stay away from if you’re a sufferer of arachnophobia. Insectropolis is an “insect learning center” where you can see tons of insects and spiders native to New Jersey. Most of them are taxidermies, but there are also “live touching stations” where you can handle furry (non-venomous) spiders and even scorpions.
Mr. Bill, a goofy-faced muffler man, has stood along Route 73 in Winslow, on the way to the shore, since at least the 1950s. Mr. Bill’s is a restaurant that caters to hungry travelers with ice cream and pancakes, and the giant statue out front is a South Jersey mainstay. Even if you don’t plan to grab a bite, you’ve got to stop and grab a picture with Mr. Bill. It’s South Jersey tradition.
No trip to the Atlantic City area is complete without a visit to Lucy. Lucy the Elephant is a six-story, elephant-shaped building originally constructed in 1881 to lure potential real estate investors to Margate (then called South Atlantic City). By 1970, Lucy was crumbling and slated for demolition, but there was a huge community effort to restore her, and today Lucy is the oldest roadside attraction in America and a National Historic Landmark. Guided tours inside the elephant are available all year long.
Emilio Carranza Rodriguez was a famous pilot, the “Charles Lindbergh of Mexico.” He was 22 years old in 1928 when he set out to fly from Mexico City to New York and back. The return flight was to be a non-stop voyage, and Carranza’s departure from New York was delayed for three days because of bad weather. Finally, he was pressured into taking off by a Mexican general – straight into a thunderstorm. He only made it about 50 miles before crashing in the lonely Tabernacle Pine Barrens, where he and his wrecked plane were discovered the next day by blueberry pickers. The children of Mexico donated pennies to build a monument to Carranza, and today the spot where it stands is still a lonely stretch of sand and pines, but still well worth a visit.
Tom Peterson owns an automotive repair shop in Egg Harbor Township that keeps him pretty busy, but his real passion is a bit more artistic. Peterson made hundreds of sculptures from worn-out auto parts and other junk he collects. To see some of his work, including the most well-known—an 8-foot-tall Statue of Liberty—stop by the garage.
The first resident (well, the first non-native resident) of Atlantic City, way back when it was still just called Absecon Island, was Jeremiah Leeds. He may have been an ancestor of that Leeds family, or that may just be South Jersey lore. But one thing’s for sure: Jeremiah ended up somewhere kind of weird. His gravesite, which he shares with a handful of other people, is a traffic circle in Northfield today, though it still draws visitors. After all, Leeds was the founding father of the “Vegas of the East.”