Opinion: New Jersey Renames Its Rest Stops As A Nation Rethinks Monuments
New Jersey will honor nine of its most illustrious citizens by slapping their names on rest stops along the Garden State Parkway. Scott Simon muses over what becomes a legend most.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
How do you honor historical figures? New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced this week the state will rename nine Garden State Parkway service areas after noted New Jerseyites - Judy Blume, Celia Cruz, Connie Chung, Larry Doby, James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston, Jon Bon Jovi, Toni Morrison and, ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra. They joined a few other Jerseyites already enshrined along the New Jersey Turnpike, including Alexander Hamilton, who was a rest stop in Secaucus before he was a Broadway musical. These service areas, where motorists can refuel their cars with gasoline and themselves with a Nathan's hot dog and a frappuccino and return to the road, will also include exhibits about their distinguished namesakes, with scholarly support from the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
The governor says this is about putting New Jersey greatness on full display. Of course, it's irresistible to ask, but what about Buzz Aldrin from Montclair? He was the second man to step on the moon. And really, doesn't going to the moon rate getting your name on a New Jersey rest stop? It's farther than Parsippany. Also notably absent - Bruce Springsteen. He reportedly declined the honor. The Boss doesn't stop and rest. Baby, he was born to run.
The naming of the service areas comes at a moment when we're reconsidering who to commemorate and how, as statues of some onetime heroes are removed and stowed away. History is not set in stone, Gary Younge, professor at the University of Manchester, told us. Our views are not the same as they were 50 years ago and will be different again in another 50 years. He says, even the most revered historical figures have human flaws and are shaped by their times.
As Elizabeth Samet, author of "Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace And War At West Point," reminded us, the unforgivable sin of one generation will be eclipsed by a new one. Maybe a rest stop exhibit will be easier to change around than a cast-bronze equestrian statue. But professor Samet points out that most people don't rush into rest stops in Bloomfield or South Amboy to learn history but just to get to the restroom and maybe buy a tube of beef jerky. I'm not sure those are the moments when we are the most attentive students, she tactfully observes. The distinguished scholar also asks, would you be over the moon about a Scott Simon service area? Would I?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY ME TO THE MOON")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on a Jupiter and Mars. In other words, hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me. Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
A previous introduction on this story incorrectly said New Jersey would be renaming rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike after illustrious state residents. There is no more room for rest stop honors on the turnpike; the nine new names will be memorialized on the Garden State Parkway.