A long-forgotten artifact celebrating the 200th anniversary of our nation is now prominently displayed in Riley Park in Bradley Beach.
A large boulder with a commemorative bronze plaque was dedicated at the park last Thursday after it was rescued from near the railroad tracks where the American Freedom Train was stationed on a side track in September 1976.
“The boulder marks an important part of our country’s history and the local histories of both Neptune and Bradley Beach,” Bradley Beach historian Don Lewis said.
He pointed out that this year is the 40th anniversary for the Freedom Train visiting the area. Students from the Bradley Beach Elementary School were among those attending the dedication ceremony, with the school’s band and chorus also performing.
Lewis said the commemorative boulder has been forgotten over the years but he recently tracked it down and found it still located on the western side of the tracks between Bradley Beach and Neptune.
“It was still by the tracks but overgrown and difficult to get to- it was practically inaccessible and neglected for 40 years,” he said previously.
Lewis said he spoke with some NJ Transit workers who were near the site and, after much negotiation with NJ Transit, the company agreed to move the boulder to the borough’s public works department. Department employees moved the boulder to the park the day of the ceremony.
The plaque, which is believed to have placed by the Neptune Historical Society, reads: “The American Freedom Train was located on this site Sept. 2-6th in celebration of our nation’s Bicentennial. Over 60,000 people boarded the train.”
The steam-powered American Freedom Train was the only nationwide celebration of the 1976 Bicentennial. It was pulled by steam locomotives and featured twelve display cars- ten that visitors would go aboard and pass through and two to hold large objects that would be viewed from the ground through huge showcase windows.
The display cars were filled with more than 500 precious treasures of Americana, including George Washington’s copy of the Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland’s dress from The Wizard of OZ, Joe Frazier’s boxing trunks, Martin Luther King’s pulpit and robes, and even a rock from the moon.
Over a 21-month period, from April 1, 1975 to December 31, 1976, more than seven million Americans visited the train during its tour of all 48 contiguous states.
Bradley Beach was the furthest point south that the train could run on the railroad tracks in New Jersey at the time.
“I am glad the commemorative boulder is now going to a location where it will be more visible and where people can enjoy it. Many people never even knew it existed and it’s an important part of our Jersey Shore history,” Lewis said.