Originally created 04/27/04

New Jersey encyclopedia hits bookstore shelves

TRENTON, N.J. -- Nearly a decade ago, a new encyclopedia chronicled just about everything anybody would care to know about New York City, from its distinct neighborhoods to the Yankees to its scads of famous residents.

That gave Marc Mappen, head of the New Jersey Historical Commission, an idea: Why not produce a similar book about New York's often overlooked, underappreciated neighbor?

Nine years, 912 pages and almost 3,000 articles later, a new book detailing all the little nuances and outright quirks of the Garden State is finally complete. "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey," hits bookstores Monday.

For Mappen, his co-editor Maxine N. Lurie and the Rutgers University Press, producing the book turned into an effort almost as Herculean as New Jersey native John Basilone lugging a 90-pound machine gun 200 yards to stave off a Japanese attack at Guadalcanal (see page 60).

The editors raised about $1 million from numerous public and private donors, including the New Jersey Legislature, to pay for the project. A 30-person editorial board wrestled over what topics to include in the book, whittling from about 10,000 article ideas for the finished product.

The 800 or so freelance writers earned about 10 cents a word to cover topics ranging from brownfields redevelopment to the story of tomato cultivation in the state. Ever wonder if "Jersey Blue" is really a color? Well, it's in there, too (see page 422).

Packed with illustrations and maps, the book has sweeping entries on topics such as agriculture, immigration and even the history of New Jersey history books. But there are also articles on such Garden State novelties as the Jersey Devil - a legendary South Jersey creature said to have the head of horse and the wings of a bat.

"We wanted it to be a popular book, something people would keep on their coffee tables and next to their bed, something they would read," Mappen said.

All of New Jersey's 566 municipalities have their own entries, a decision the editorial board made early on because of the importance of local government in the state.

One contentious debate with which the editors grappled was whether to include living people. At first, they thought including the living could pose problems, making entries quickly outdated if, for instance, someone died or remarried. But then editors decided to include every New Jersey governor, even the living ones.

"And then someone brought up that you can't have an encyclopedia on New Jersey without Bruce Springsteen," Mappen said. "And then someone would say, 'What about Bon Jovi?' So we've got him in there, and Jack Nicholson, too."

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