Today, as I casually pondered what I would do with my day off, I had a jolting moment that I’m sure many people in the tri-state area have experienced. I thought to myself that maybe I would head over to my beach, particularly its recreation areas– and then was struck with the memory that I couldn’t.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy last fall, it’s obvious that New Jersey has worked long and hard to rebuild itself. Some efforts, such as Restore the Shore and the 12/12/12 benefit concert, have been especially successful in their attempts because of their high publicity. Despite all this, there is only so much we could accomplish against such widespread devastation.

Hopeful gossip around town suggests that small portions of the beach, located on Sandy Hook in Monmouth County, might re-open by summertime, albeit with no running water or restroom facilities. This would be a fantastic change from the current depressing sight of it being hemmed in by sand dunes, reached only by a road which isn’t accessible at the moment.

Despite the turn of the world’s eyes toward our famous coastal beaches, today I was saddened by the thought of my more unique recreation: exploring Fort Hancock, the military headquarters near the beach. My very small town isn’t exactly a cultural hub, and being only fifteen minutes away, this was a great outlet for me.

Fort Hancock dates back to the Revolutionary War, and its beautiful waterfront location was home to a strange mix of beautiful and intimidating architecture. I used to walk along historic rows of officers’ houses, losing myself in the sheer history standing proudly in front of me.

I loved to explore the mysterious military bunkers, especially once our Park Service began hosting tours there to draw in tourists.  When I came across concrete gun batteries and deactivated 1960s-era missiles, I would reflect on just how surreal it all was.

I was in a firmly modern area, with a cell phone in my pocket and SmartCars driving obliviously just a few miles away, and yet I was surrounded by a vital part of American history — I could have sworn I heard a call for battle a few times.

Now, of course, this is all completely inaccessible; in fact, that part of the beach was especially forbidden in fear of any unexploded artillery that may have scattered across the land. All of the buildings lost power, and many of them were damaged or even destroyed.

It’s very strange to think that these strong, proud houses withstood multiple wars, but crumbled under the pressure of water and wind. Military officers from hundreds of years ago stood on these porches, looking at the hazy horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, and now these same porches dangle, fragmented, from the houses’ weakened bases.

The shaky aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Fort Hancock reminds me of the importance of bravery in the face of adversity, whether it’s a revolutionary battle or a crushing natural disaster. Our recovery has been slow and often gut-wrenching, but I know that someday I will be able to stand where those men stood, and look out to the horizon once again.


  1. This is one of the best articles you’ve written for us, Emily, and I thank you for sharing your history and the still-lingering devastation of what was, and is, Hurricane Sandy.

    1. Thanks, David. It’s a tough topic to talk about, but I really wanted to bring attention to some of the lesser known areas that were affected. The fort had just begun to draw bigger crowds because of the park committee’s efforts, and the construction for the new bridge to Sandy Hook had been very recently completed. Terrible timing all around.

  2. Thank you for sharing this particular loss caused by SANDY and reminding us that natural disasters have many victims and hidden legacies. I was there with you exploring buildings and bunkers similar to the ones on a dissued airfield we used to explore as a child.

    1. I’m glad you appreciated it and that you can relate to the wonders of these types of places. It’s typically not the go-to for spending the day, but it’s so worth it.

  3. Those are some mighty potent photographs! As a New Jersey boy from birth your article really touches me! Thank you for sharing.

  4. I’m from New Jersey too. People often make comments about New Jersey is not always the best place to live but just like every other state it has it’s own hidden gems and definitely it’s own fair share of history.

    1. Agreed! I think a lot of the misconception comes from the fact that a ton of visitors only know NJ in passing, usually through Newark or Elizabeth, which are full of chemical industries/refineries. Not to mention the reality shows!

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