Let’s Wake Up the Dead

By Ella Gordon—

Walk down the crooked concrete road. Tonight, it’s an oddly warm night for the end of October 2012 and this place is as it’s has never been before. It’s a bit spooky as the Frankenstorm is approaching and the air and night sky take on an eerie feel multiplied by the atmosphere of this place. It’s packed and there are people everywhere. Charles Manson, a sailor, a circus ringleader, Gold finger, war veterans, a baby hanging from an umbilical cord. The Ring Leader, as she is known tonight, announces the next cover band up to play Black Sabbath played by Cold Fur. Everyone goes crazy even if they don’t necessarily like the music, they love the live sound and even more so, love supporting their friends and neighbors. Jumping around, spilling their drinks. The music gets louder and louder with each band that plays into the night. The ground shakes. The dead is waking up. In between bands and getting a drink, everyone listens to music spun by JC Resident DJ ScottFREE while sitting up on the hills next to slabs of marble with names like “Franstein” engraved on it. They are everywhere; all around and you can’t help but think to yourself- “This is where they now lay to rest.”

Everything spins around you. Suddenly remember in your drunken daze that we’re all here to support this cemetery.

The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery and its land have a very long history. The land served as a battleground for British Forces and General Marquis de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War in 1780. During the War of 1812, the land served as an ammunition bunker. The land was converted into a cemetery in 1829 after Jersey City’s Old Bergen Church Cemetery raised the prices of plots to $12. The Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery became one of the new ages “Garden Style” landscape cemeteries and the first non-denominational cemeteries founded in and by the State of New Jersey. Most interesting about this cemetery is that legend has it that the cemetery served as a pathway of the Underground Railroad and the tunnels may still exists. In 2007, the cemetery was neglected and abandoned after running out of land to sell their plots. In 2008, a new board was formed with Jersey City born and raised Eileen Markenstein as the President of the board.

Markenstein’s efforts have included preservation and upkeep of the cemetery. She estimates that it cost nearly $3,000 a month to maintain the grounds that also houses two war veterans. However, after falling into some financial woes, what was the board to do? Markenstein reached out to the local and close knit Jersey City community for help. As so, the festivals were born, paving the way for more arts and culture to help raise funds for ground maintenance.

According to the New Jersey Cemetery Regulations board if a cemetery is not owned by a religious group, it is required to be operated by a not-for-profit-organization. Aside from putting money in a trust, cemeteries that have run out of plots to see have also turned to creative ways to fundraise such as tour guides or themed productions in which they charge an entrance fee or membership fee. A new trend across the nation, taking a queue from Markenstein, has been cemetery parties. These parties are meant to warm the hearts of party goers with the thought that when they pass, they will feel comfortable being laid to rest in their new home.

With the cemetery trying hard to maintain the grounds and always at risk of closing, different and creative ways to raise awareness needs to be used.

Enter the man you just can’t get away from – in a good way at least. Standing tall with his 5:00 shadow and all black ensemble opened just enough to let his curly chest hair and gold chain stick out. If the name Anthony Susco doesn’t ring a bell, “Dancing Tony” certainly will. Local promoter and blogger on Rock-it Docket, he is the center all of happenings in Jersey City from “house parties to cemetery jams” as fellow DJ ScottFREE calls them. Tony has been running parties in Jersey City for many years, but his most notable work is his fundraising efforts for local organizations such as Groove on Grove, 58 Gallery, and The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery.

Of course, he is faced with some problems during these fundraisers, just as anyone else would be, but in the end, it all manages to run like Jersey City’s finest hours. Hey, a little grit and scrambling never hurt this town.

Take, for instance, The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, Pre-Halloween 2011, which is a fundraising effort for the cemetery. It just so happened that, after an amazing week of weather, the night of The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s welcomed snow for the only night of the year. The outdoor party had to, quickly, be thrown into an indoor space whose capacity was about a third of the expected attendance. Then of course, there is the question of setting up in the new venue and the bands arriving on time. At the end of the night, everyone band together to make for a fantastic evening with plenty of memories for all who were involved.

“Thank you to the amazing Tony Susco & Rock-it Docket Productions for the great Ghost of Uncle Joe’s Halloween Bash to benefit the Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery. Thanks to 58 Gallery for hosting us at the last minute due to snow” gushed Markenstein.

The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, 2012, made for a better, warmer, and perfect weathered night even with Frankenstorm quickly approaching. Everyone was out in their finest Halloween garb and came out to support their friends and the cemetery.

“The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s cemetery show was such a great event, so much fun to play. Tony is such a pro in how he kept things moving along and kept them fun” says Susan Lutin, Jersey City resident who played during the 2012 Ghost of Uncle Joe’s festival. Susan played with her band Cool for Bats and covered the band Squeeze.

Jersey City, NJ serves as the second largest city in New Jersey. According to the 2010 Census Demographic Profile, it has a population of over 36,000 residents in a 21 square mile area. The city is divided into numerous sections, most notably Bergen-Lafayette, Journal Square, The Heights, and Downtown Jersey City. Downtown Jersey City is the area between Hoboken and Liberty State Park all the way up to the turnpike extension. This area has been largely gentrified over the last decade or so with the development of new housing buildings and a booming restaurant row. Once a location for many factories such as Colgate and Dixon Ticonderoga, this area is now a close knit community of artists and local business supports full of opportunities for everyone. The HDSID, Historic Downtown Special Improvement District, a company that strives to “works with local businesses, property owners and neighborhood associations in conjunction with the City government to promote the area, improve the services provided and undertake any and all activity to make Historic Downtown Jersey City a better place to live, work and visit” as their website states. This “public-private partnership” organizes events and happenings such as the Farmer’s Market, Groove on Grove, and Creative Grove, all events that run weekly, the residents can support the local arts while eating locally.

“It is the party of the year” Markenstein exclaims. Markenstein is talking about the cemetery parties: The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s (October) and its warmer, sister event Pushin’ Up Daisies (May).

Everyone who participates is happy to do so with full understanding that it is a complete benefit for the cemetery and everyone else is happy to attend.

“I love those events. The cemetery is a great local cause, and Tony’s events – especially Halloween’s Ghost of Uncle Joes – are always a lot of fun” says Jim Testa, friend and editor for the Jersey Beat, a music fanzine.

Tony’s efforts do not go unnoticed whether for the cemetery or the city itself. He not only helps to fundraise for local organizations but also helps to promote other happenings around town even if he is not running them. As busy as he is, he still manages to post the events on his website and Facebook.

“Despite being one of the busiest event planners in town, Tony can be seen at almost every Jersey City cultural event, often loaning out his sound equipment and volunteering to help” says Greg Brickey, the city’s curator and Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s longtime liaison to the arts community.

He’s paved the way for music in this town and is always looking up to give up his crown as the go to man.

“I give him credit, for alls he done. And the roads he’s paved for others” says DJ ScottFREE in an emailed interview. “Someone needs to step up tho, and not sure that person has been identified. So until then – it’s all him!”

It’s really all about getting everyone together and it’s especially rewarding when it’s for a good cause.

“I think he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is enthusiastic, committed, loves music, and truly cares about Jersey City and his community” says Testa.

This year would mark the 2nd Annual Pushing up Daisies Festival. The spring festival was born in 2011 after the Ghost of Uncle Joe’s 2011 and the storm it welcomed. The party was a still a success but didn’t raise the expected amounts.

“We ended up having the event indoors and lost a considerable amount of potential funds. I thought we would’ve raised $6,000 to $8,000 but we raised less than $2,000. It covered heating expenses for the winter, but it was less than we wanted,” Tony said. “So this year I made a pledge that we’d set up an earlier spring fundraiser; that’s where this came about.”

This year’s festival will be held on May 11th and has a lineup of music that is sure to please all music types. Tony has a lineup of bands that may be unfamiliar to those who usually frequent the festivals. “I’m really trying to help everyone out” he says.

Those who have never attended the now infamous parties are extremely excited.

“The weather is projected to be nice and I just can’t wait to get out there and here some good music for a great, local cause” says Dave, a Jersey City resident. “With Tony involved, and this crew, there’s something memorable to surely happen. I can’t wait to see what that will be.”

“I’ve never been to the cemetery parties , but I really love Dancing Tony. I go on Thursday to hear him deejay at Lucky 7’s” Sarah Alires, new Jersey City resident, admits. “It’s definitely fun to get out there and dance to some fantastic music. I’m excited to see what these cemetery parties are all about.”

It’s awesome that word is getting out about the parties. The cememtery needs everyone they can get to come. The fundraising efforts, this year, are particularly important. The cemetery was granted $50,000 from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund, but the money will not be released until the cemetery matches it. As it stands now, the cemetery has 3 months to raise the remaining $20,000 they have to match the grant or risk losing it.

“We are happy to play for her. We need her,” says June, a Jersey City resident and musician. “There are such great ties in that cemetery with the Underground Railroad that I feel it is my duty to play there. It really is a great cause that I’m happy to do. Eileen is a great woman.”

Many people feel the same way about Tony.

“I think he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is enthusiastic, committed, loves music, and truly cares about Jersey City and his community” says Testa. “I have the utmost respect for him and everything he does.”

“Pushing up Daisies” will be held on May 11 at the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery from 12:30pm – 8:00pm. Just a few blocks away will be the after party held at the Lamp Post with another line up of bands that are sure to wow including Jersey City locals, Papermaker. Creatures of the night: Let’s wake up the dead!

 

 

 

See other stories by Ella Gordon “The Heart of Jersey City Art”