Infrastructure & Environment

Toll Collection

Simon and Garfunkel used to sing about cars on the New Jersey Turnpike gone looking for America. The New Jersey Historical Society believes that America can be found on the Turnpike itself.
by | November 2002
 

Simon and Garfunkel used to sing about cars on the New Jersey Turnpike gone looking for America. The New Jersey Historical Society believes that America can be found on the Turnpike itself. The society recently organized a traveling exhibition about the toll road that has been displayed in Newark and Camden and is now on view in Trenton.

The Turnpike is the widest and most densely traveled road, per mile, in the world. The exhibit suggests, though, that the Turnpike is about more than moving people and their cars as expeditiously as possible between New York and Delaware. "The New Jersey Turnpike is a powerful icon of our culture," says Michael Aaron Rockland, an American studies professor at Rutgers and co-author of a book about the Turnpike. He concedes the road is aesthetically lacking but says it is emblematic of the mobility of this nation. "It very much is an embodiment of the American can-do spirit."

In addition to period films of the expressway's construction in the early 1950s and interactive materials, the show includes souvenir postcards, teacups and ashtrays, as well as personal items from past and present Turnpike workers, many of whom also participated in an oral history about the road. Ellen Snyder-Grenier, the show's curator, says she turned to the Library of Congress for historic photographs, but had to rely on the Internet to obtain many of the knick-knacks. "When I think about how long it would have taken me to do in pre-eBay days," she says, "it's kind of staggering."

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