by Jill Ocone
There’s a little known 37-acre tract of land along the picturesque Shark River that changed the world and the course of history, yet it might be the Jersey Shore’s best-kept secret.
The inventions, research, and discoveries made on the Camp Evans campus since the early 20th century had a colossal impact on both the nation and the world, and today, it is home to the InfoAge Science & History Center.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark in 2012, the Clinton and Bush administrations named it a Save America’s Treasures site, and it is a World War II Living Memorial for the State of New Jersey.
But what exactly happened at this serene riverside location just minutes from the ocean beaches to earn such accolades and distinctions?
For starters, radio pioneer Gugliemo Marconi chose it as one of the locations for the towers he built to receive trans-Atlantic wireless messages, and in 1914, it successfully received wireless messages from Europe. The top portion of one of the original historic Marconi towers still stands tall along Marconi Road en route to the main campus of Camp Evans.
The former military base, which was manned by the United States Navy during World War I and the United States Army in World War II, also played a major role in military secrecy as radar systems developed and perfected here solidified the Allied Force’s WWII victory.
“It was a top-secret project, when radar was bounced off the moon and back to the Jersey Shore,” said Jim Doran, docent and member of the InfoAge Education Committee. “Before World War II officially ended in France, it ended here in Wall/Belmar because of that innovation.” The classified projects at the Camp Evans site drew the curiosity of both a German American named Mangus Wehrkamp, who was arrested for loitering near the property in 1917, and Senator Joseph McCarthy, who in 1954 demanded to know more about what was going on in Camp Evans’ secret radar facility.
According to Doran, Marconi operators also helped initiate the rescue of Titanic survivors. “They heard the ship’s S-O-S call in Morse code, they heard the signal, and relayed the message for help,” Doran said. “That incident led to the law that wireless stations had to be manned around the clock.”
Today, the property is home to 50,000 square feet of exhibits in six buildings that house over a dozen individual museums. InfoAge’s Main Visitor Center now inhabits the former Marconi Hotel, which was built to house the operators and engineers on 24-hour duty at the wireless station.
“The history of cutting edge of communications technology developed here changed New Jersey and the world,” said Chris Boylan, who works part-time at InfoAge through the National Council on Aging. “InfoAge is a wonderful place, and it would be great if more people knew about it.”
InfoAge’s mission is to preserve, teach, and honor scientific innovation and history while inspiring new generations of thinkers, dreamers, and visionaries and is a hub for hands-on education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Over 100 years of history is on display in InfoAge’s various museums and exhibits. Visitors can learn about the creation of wireless technology, hear early radio programs, listen to their voices bounce off the moon, program historic computers, discover the history of electronic warfare, see full-size military vehicles and items salvaged from shipwrecks, and so much more in the one-of-a-kind center.
The InfoAge Space Exploration Center (ISEC) tells the story of space exploration that led to the founding of NASA and the United States Space Program. The TIROS dish antenna at the ISEC ushered in the inception of weather tracking by satellite in 1962. In fact, the antenna recorded the first image of a hurricane from space and created hurricane tracking systems that are still in use today. Also on display is the SCR271 antenna used by the former top-secret Project Diana in 1946 to send the first signal from the Earth to the Moon and back in 2.5 seconds. Other exhibits at the ISEC include models and displays about Project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), which was established by President Eisenhower to develop rocket technology, and Saturn V and Apollo Program Guidance Computer Modules. ISEC hosts summer camps for children and teens, and a number of lectures and public programs featuring NASA astronauts and other space dignitaries and scholars throughout the year.
The Radio Technology Museum is maintained by members of the New Jersey Antique Radio Club, who volunteer their time as guides and docents. Visitors will learn about the development of radio from before sparks through today’s cell phones. The extensive exhibit of radio technology from the 19th century through today includes countless pieces of equipment in working condition such as vintage radios, microphones, and even rotary and pay telephones.
The Radio Technology Museum is also home to the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, which takes visitors back to the Golden Age of Radio when a dial was the key to entertainment, information, and good old-fashioned stories. Full radio programs from the era can be heard in their entirety. The National Broadcasters Hall of Fame includes such legends as George Burns, Edward R. Morrow, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Les Brown, Larry King, and Art Linkletter.
The New Jersey Shipwreck Museum is dedicated to preserving shipwreck and maritime history and is owned and operated by the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, Inc. (NJHDA). The museum contains a multitude of artifacts recovered from area shipwrecks and an extensive collection of research materials. Several photographs and items recovered from the Morro Castle wreck off Asbury Park in September 1934 are on display, as is a cannon recovered off Long Island from the 1888 wreck of the steamer Iberia Other relics on exhibit include a millstone recovered from the wreck site of the Adonis, which sunk off Long Branch in 1859 and items recovered from the wreck of the Mohawk, lost in 1935 off Manasquan.
The Vintage Computer Federation is at the helm of the Vintage Computer Museum, which spotlights computer history from the 1940s through modern times. Many of the computers on display are in operational condition, including the 1940s-1960s mainframes, 1960s-1970s minicomputers, and 1970s-1990s microcomputers.
The World War II Tactical Communications Museum highlights army field radio, wireline, radio relay, and tactical message encryption equipment used in the Second World War. Visitors are encouraged to find the secret radio hidden in a canteen within the exhibit.
The Association of Old Crows’ (AOC) Exhibit focuses on electronic warfare and demonstrates how devices can be used to prevent an enemy from utilizing their own electronics in an attack while educating about the importance of electronic warfare on the modern battlefield used to protect United States troops.
The Military Technology Museum of New Jersey is the largest exhibit at the InfoAge Science & History Center. It features a vast array of vintage, historic military artifacts, combat artwork, and memorabilia, many of which were donated by local residents. The museum also houses full-size jeeps, tanks, amphibious, and other military vehicles, while detailed models and dioramas of equipment and battles, including miniature tanks, jeeps, and aircraft, almost come alive in the World War II Miniatures Museum.
The African-Americans and Camp Evans exhibit located inside the Marconi Hotel celebrates the groundbreaking achievements of both military and civilian African American men and women who answered the call to serve their country during World War II and Korean War eras in the laboratories of both Camp Evans and Fort Monmouth. Also located within the Marconi Hotel is a detailed replica exhibit of Marconi’s wireless jump across the Atlantic which shows how wireless telegraph works along with Morse code.
InfoAge Science & History Center offers school groups the opportunity to supplement what is being taught in today’s classroom by visiting the campus and the museums. One of InfoAge’s visions is a parking lot filled with yellow school buses brimming with students of the generation that’s going to develop the next phase of technology. “The founders of the next Silicon Valley will hopefully have visited InfoAge and been inspired by what they saw,” said Doran. A host of experts in a wide range of topics are available to present at events held by local groups, businesses, conferences, and community organizations through InfoAge’s Speakers Bureau.
With plans for more museums, exhibits, and displays in the works, the InfoAge Science & History Center continues to evolve with the present while preserving the past for future generations.
The InfoAge Science & History Center at Historic Camp Evans is located at 2201 Marconi Road in Wall, New Jersey. InfoAge is open Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Admission: $7 ages 13 and up, $4 ages 12 and younger. Visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather as you will be outside as you travel to the various buildings. Parking is always free. Special events and group/school tours are available by appointment. InfoAge Science & History Center offers yearly memberships and accepts tax-deductible donations in order to continue honoring veterans and providing a place of learning for all. To learn more about InfoAge, to volunteer, or to donate, visit their website at www.infoage.org or call (732) 280-3000.