“What’s one fun fact about you?” If you’ve ever done an icebreaker, you’ve probably answered this question. Spending a few minutes telling bizarre and hilarious stories can bring classrooms, workplaces, and friendships closer. With thousands of people and hundreds of years to collect wild events, if the Garden State participated in an icebreaker, the stories just might get a little crazier. In its recent history, here are 5 of the strangest things that have happened in NJ.
Heightened Interest at the PNC Bank Heist
Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and turkey. As a result, most businesses are closed to celebrate the holiday. This was the case at PNC Bank in Montgomery Township, New Jersey in 2008. Strangely enough, despite the bank’s closure, witnesses spotted an individual behind the closed blinds.
An alarm alerted law enforcement, who responded to the scene of a very firm bank robber. They surrounded the bank, immediately identifying an individual behind the windows of PNC. Despite using everything from bullhorns to telephone calls to communicate with the robber, they weren’t able to make contact.
The standoff lasted an hour, with SWAT and local law enforcement on the scene. After numerous failed attempts to speak with the robber, the SWAT team decided to end the standoff. They rushed into the bank, adrenalin high, to stop the thief in their tracks.
Indeed, they caught the culprit.
However, instead of a person, it was a life-size cardboard cutout. A wonderful advertisement, but a pretty poor bank robber.
See You Later, Alligator
The Passaic River is home to many creatures. Historically a location used to manufacture Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, most in New Jersey consider the 17-mile-long river a bit of a wildlife desert. However, with a plethora of shellfish, birds, and lush vegetation, the Passaic River hosts a vast array of critters.
Yet, even with all the research devoted to cleaning and understanding this body of water, neither scientist nor resident was prepared to welcome a new visitor in 2019.
Early one morning in March, a fisherman set out along the Passaic River. Expecting his usual routine of collecting oysters and sturgeon, the fisherman was surprised to find something slithering along the current.
The creature was quickly identified. Somehow, a five-foot alligator had slipped into New Jersey’s waters. News circulated throughout the state, with residents both concerned and amazed by the reptile’s presence. Thankfully, wildlife officials and the Department of Environmental Protection captured the alligator, unharmed. A wildlife educational organization relocated the little traveler. And, while its origin was never revealed, it remains one of the most bizarre reptilian occurrences in the state––and one of the 5 strangest things that have happened in NJ.
“Jaws” Takes a Bite Out of New Jersey
Speaking of historic wildlife events, did you know that New Jersey inspired the movie “Jaws”? The infamous events took place along the Jersey Shore in 1916, in which one shark killed four people. Not only did the tragedy affect the state’s history, but it also changed the way the nation viewed sharks.
Up until 1916, these apex predators were largely considered powerful––yet mostly harmless–– marine creatures. But, as a result of the ferocious hunt, they were formally denounced as dangerous to humans. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson and the Coast Guard released statements and plans to quell the “man-eating sharks” in New Jersey and throughout the nation.
Attacks occurred in Beach Haven, Matawan Creek, and even Spring Lake, only increasing the public’s panic. Fishermen and the Coast Guard took to the seas, hunting sharks in an attempt to quell the horrifying threats.
Finally, they caught a 325-pound great white shark only several miles from the attacks. Its stomach contained 15 pounds of human remains.
Extreme Carb Loading
Have you ever had the urge to carb load? In May of 2015, four men in New Jersey planned to do exactly that––only, instead of one box of pasta, they grabbed a whole trailer full.
A little before midnight in Linden, New Jersey, police were conducting surveillance around the neighborhoods when they noticed something odd. Four men pulled up with a car and tractor. The tractor was tugging a large trailer, raising the officers’ suspicions. Upon noticing the policemen, the four men attempted to flee the scene.
Luckily, with the help of Linden detectives and the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft Unit, the contents of the trailer were seized. Inside the vehicles were several thousand dollars worth of pasta products, stolen from Bayonne several days prior.
To make matters more confusing, the event preceded another bizarre Linden robbery in which a truckload of mozzarella cheese was stolen. While they eventually solved the cases, one question still remains—where is the sauce?
A Not-So-Petty Theft
When Michael Jackson wrote the song “Smooth Criminal,” he certainly hadn’t predicted the Rahway burglary of 2019.
Early one morning, a man was working his way through homes in a local neighborhood. Committing several break-ins, he’d managed to stack several stolen laptops and an Xbox console into his backpack. He’d just hit his final house that morning, moving to return home. Yet, instead, he decided to return to the scene of his last crime. But this time, he wasn’t going to steal.
He was returning to apologize.
The burglar rang the doorbell, and was surprised when the homeowner opened the door. Stammering his remorse, the neighborhood thief apologized for his actions. Then, he disappeared.
Soon after his final act of remorse, the police arrested the burglar. And while his theft was inexcusable, at least it wasn’t petty.
Have you heard of other strange things that have happened in New Jersey? Share with us in the comments!
About the Author/s
Mary Sparago is 22-year-old creative writing and policy enthusiast who's always looking for new dogs to pet. In her spare time, Mary enjoys listening to K-pop and playing video games.