The Most Surprising Thing I’ve Ever Seen in New Jersey
I thought I had seen it all. I assumed I’d known everything there was to know about New Jersey. I didn’t think there was anything else that could surprise me.
I was wrong.
So what’s with all the dramatics? Well, I recently visited a part of the Armpit of America that I thought existed only in my nightmares. No, not a Jersey City whorehouse. Not a crack den in Camden either. Not even Chris Christie’s private bathroom. The place of horror was a farm auction. In New Jersey. About 20 minutes from cosmopolitan Princeton and at the confluence of three major highways.
The place is called the Camelot Horse auction, located in Cranbury, New Jersey. Despite being surrounded by the Jersey Turnpike, Route 130, and Route 33, one arrives at the auction by traveling over a deteriorating road through a dark cornfield to get to a gravelly parking lot. It’s still hard for me to believe that such a place could exist so close to the typical Jersey landscape of highways and strip malls.
I was invited to such a place by some friends who are just a tad more country than I am and certainly fit in better than I do. After meeting up, we went inside an old barn to see the animals up for auction. The barn was full of little stables, each holding a variety of horses, ponies, donkeys, sheep, and goats. In another room were a bunch of cardboard boxes containing various smaller animals, like guinea pigs, rabbits, and pigeons.
But the main attraction of the farm auction was, appropriately enough, the auction room. This section of the barn had bleachers along the walls, a big, rusty truck full of farm equipment, and a podium in the middle of the room for an Amish-looking auctioneer. Adorned with a straw hat and a big, bushy beard, he presided over the bidding on items like shovels and feed buckets with the typical auctioneer gibberish.
When everything on the truck was sold off, the auctioneer led everyone outside to bid on some larger items, like trailers and animal crates. And hay. Yes, there were three giant piles of bales of hay. As exciting as it was to watch a bunch of rednecks bid on hay, this was nothing compared to what happened next.
Everyone piled back inside to the auction room, as they were about to start auctioning off the livestock. The rusty old truck was removed, and the animal auction was underway. They began with the little animals; guinea pigs were going for a dollar each and a box of roosters (yes, a box of roosters) for as little as $10. Then the goats and sheep were paraded in. As these animals made their way to the auction floor, there was a burley guy in a John Deere hat cracking a bullwhip behind them, muttering to himself about how dumb the sheep were. Again, this was all happening in New Jersey.
After the smaller ungulates, it was time for the stars of the show, the horses and ponies. One by one, the animals were ridden into the room and made to run and jump around as the auctioneer rattled off the bids. It was just so surreal…sitting in a tiny barn watching a horse prance around to the tune of an Amish-looking guy speaking in tongues. But don’t take my word for it, take a look for yourself:
I hope you all appreciate these pictures and video; I pretty much risked my life to take them. You see, the people at the auction were real farm people who take their farm auctions seriously. Along comes along this nerdy-looking, skinny-jeans-wearing, quasi-hipster desperately trying to hide his goofy smile caused by the utter ridiculousness of the whole scene. So, yeah; each time I took out my camera, I scored quite a few dirty looks.
Though it wasn’t exactly my cup of fine herbal tea, it was a fun, and eye-opening, way to spend the evening. On top of that, admission to the place was free. Of course, if I wanted to spend a couple hundred dollars, I could be the proud owner of a shiny new pony. Maybe next time. But what I appreciated most about this adventure was that it was something I never would have expected to find in New Jersey. While it wouldn’t shock anyone to see such a scene in Oklahoma or Kansas, you just don’t see stuff like this in the Armpit of America. And the fact that I can still be surprised in the state that I’ve lived in for 28 years just makes me love New Jersey so much more.
Are there any odd places in New Jersey you think I should check out? Let me know with a comment below.