By Anastasia Millicker
HIGHLANDS – In his fifth book about Highlands, John P. King let the people of the borough tell their own stories.
Starting with a 1819 letter from Henry Hartshorne to a 1992 tale of John Tomasulo’s rescue from the flooding in Highlands, King compiled about 80 short stories and letters in Stories from Highlands, New Jersey: A Sea of Memories (The History Press Inc., $19.99).
It’s a book about “the Highlands by Highlanders,” he said.
The book is a compilation of stories by more than 40 Highlands residents. Straying from his previous books about murder and mayhem in the borough, King compiled tales about the community ranging from the town’s clamming tradition to everyday life.
The book, which hit shelves June 19, features short stories and letters, ranging in length from about a page to a page and a half, and contains some material about famous Highlanders, including a letter from Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926.
In the letter, Ederle gives a detailed account of how she learned to swim in Highlands. In what would be considered an unusual scene today, Ederle’s father tied a rope around her waist and put her in the water. As she continued to swim, her father walked alongside the dock letting out slack as she swam.
Others entries in the book include letters and stories written by John Azzolina, the son of Food Circus Super Markets founder and former assemblyman, the late Joseph Azzolina. Some residents wrote about everyday life, such as an entry about “Ralph the Shoemaker.”
Although no longer a Highlands resident, King, a retired Latin teacher who taught both on the college and high school level, has had an interest in the area dating back to when he moved into a Navesink Avenue home in 2000.
After learning that the home previously had been a maternity hospital, King decided to further investigate the town’s history and began researching old newspapers.
King started writing murder stories after coming across the story of Edward Brown in a 1906 edition of the Red Bank Register. Brown, who murdered his wife Rebecca Traynum, was the last man to be sentenced to hang in New Jersey. After Brown’s hanging at the Monmouth County jail, executions were transferred to Trenton State Prison.
At the end of the July 4, 1906 article was a list of then-recent hangings with each person’s name and crime listed. Going through the list, King came across multiple Highlanders and Middletown men convicted of murder.
“There were fascinating stories of murder,” King said.
King, who is a fan of television crime programs – his favorite is Monk – said murder and crime were areas of interest for him and he decided to compile a book of stories of criminals’ convictions. He then wrote Murder and Mayhem in the Highlands, a book filled with short stories of some of the early murders in the Highland area. King then went on to compose a second book, Wicked Tales from the Highlands, filled with the stories he could not fit into the first book.
As for plans of his next book, Highlands Stars, King is searching for stories of Highlanders who have made a significant contribution to the community. From clammers to shop owners, King is looking for leads from the Highlands Historical Society Facebook page and from people in the town.
Many of the stories for King’s next book have come from Highlands’ residents who have shared photos and family keepsakes and presented him with bits and pieces of history.
Comparing teaching to writing and editing, King has found teaching the more difficult process.
“Writing a lesson plan was more challenging than writing a chapter in history,” King said. “Once (a chapter is) put in print, it’s done and you don’t have to worry about it.”
As for writing and researching, King said it was not difficult to adjust from studying ancient history to modern history. However, one thing he has found that remains difficult is getting young people to see the importance of history.
“You don’t recognize the significance of history until you’re older,” King said.
Copies of Stories from Highlands, New Jersey: A Sea of Memories, as well as King’s other books, can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and Barnes and Noble stores.