Ringling circus setting in ‘The Weight of Living’

My Frank Nagler mysteries are set in Ironton, N.J., a fictional Dover and Morris County. In the third book in the series, Detective Frank Nagler ventures  into other parts of the county, including a visit to the  former Ringling estate in Jefferson, where the carriage house remains, and on the nearby county golf course, stone foundation of former elephant sheds can be seen.

The 1,000-acre estate was build by Alfred Ringling, one of the founders of the so-named circus, which has announced it will close after 146 years.


I used the setting for something different, but with a nod to its history.

Information on the Ringling site can be found here: http://www.njskylands.com/hs_jefferson_081

The site features a story and photos by Robert Koppenhaver, hereby credited.

There is the scene:

“You the cop?”

“Yup. You George Dickinson?”

“Be so.”

“Then we know who we are.”

“That’s a fact.”

George Dickinson claimed to be a distant relative of the old New Jersey governor on whose family’s land iron ore was discovered, boosting a centuries-long industry that put Ironton on the map. While the forges and mills filled Ironton’s sky with black smoke, miners cracked open holes in the ground in the northern hills to drag out the ore.

The forested hills were deeper and darker than Nagler recalled, as if the sunlight skipped over the tops or was absorbed by the dense forest. Nightfall would come early here, he thought. Steep-sided valleys carved by glacial water and ancient rivers split the hard-rock hills into segments that made up a mining district that ran to eastern Pennsylvania and produced iron ore, zinc, slate, coal, and limestone.

That’s all gone now, Nagler had thought as he drove through the beautiful yet unsettling landscape; overgrown, collapsed on itself, the history of industry and struggle worn down through time; it was a closed-in and moody place, perfect, he decided, for the twisted visions of Remington Garrettson.



There was some dispute about George Dickinson’s ancestral claims, but Nagler didn’t care. He had lived in the area for eighty-five years and his family settled in these hills before the Revolution, whether it was the right Dickinson family or not. Besides, Nagler thought, how could you not like a man playing golf in a lime-green shirt, red knickers, a white hat and shoes and knee-high argyle socks?

 “I play every day since they turned that chemical dump into a golf course.” Dickinson winked at Nagler. “That was a pleasant change. But I had played here as a kid. There was a little course of water and I used the old sheds as a green.” …


IMG_5189 “Those walls the remains of the elephant sheds?” Nagler asked.  He nodded toward a stone framework at the edge of one of the golf holes.

 “That’s it.  Can you imagine? Old Ringling had about a thousand acres for himself, built that mansion down the road that’s now owned by the church, and had lions, tigers, and elephants and what-all here. They used to drive the elephants down the valley road to the train stop. What a sight!”….

 “Just wondering. Beautiful spot. Can see why folks settled here. How many people lived up here?”

“Few hundred, scattered.  The end of the mining cleared it out pretty much. When Ringling was here in the Twenties, there was the start of a lake settlement.  When old Remington lived here, weren’t many others. He managed to find the one flat spot of land up on the mountain, worked a stand of apple trees, and then by luck after a washout, found an iron vein right near the surface. There’s two versions. One, he worked it hard for a couple of years, set aside some reserves and fixed up the house and all; and the second, that he barely made a go of it. Truthfully it’s somewhere in between. Mind if I play through here? There’s a foursome three holes behind me. They let me play as long as I don’t hold up the paying customers.”

Nagler smiled. “Swing away.”

Dickinson settled the ball on a tee and pulled out a driver with a head the size of a grapefruit. Nagler recalled a line from Jimmy Dawson, who said in other sports the players took steroids, but in golf it was the equipment that grew.

Dickinson took a smooth swing and the ball jumped out maybe a hundred and fifty yards, driven less by the power of the swing than the size of the metal clubface.




“So where’s the old Garrettson place from here?” Nagler asked as Dickinson lined up another shot: He topped it and the ball bounced out about thirty feet.

“Maybe a mile south.  The old mining camps, where the real money was, were about three, four miles southwest of here over the mountain. His place is at the edge of the fields. No one looking to make real money would have opened that vein.”

“Anything left there?”

“Yeah, heard hikers say there are some buildings, roofs caved in, windows shot out.  There’s a hiking trail that heads up that way. It’s generally smooth since all the rocks have been picked out.”

“I heard there was something called ‘Garrett’s Way?’”

“It’s an old creek washout. He used it as a way to his place.  Heard he blocked it off half way up with blowdowns.”

Dickinson took another swing and with an iron drove the ball cleanly down the fairway.

“All I heard about Garrettson was that he was crazy. People would see him on the valley road with a shotgun yelling at something, probably God. They had learned to stay away. I mean, Detective, they weren’t stupid. The wife dies when there were three kids. Then there’s ten kids and no new wife? Just wasn’t anybody’s business, I guess.”


The first two books in the series are “The Swamps of Jersey,” (2014) and “A Came Called Dead,” (2016). His book was a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Book contest.


 The first two Nagler stories are available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr



The books are also available at the at the following libraries: Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

Also at:  Bobby’s News and Gifts, 618 Main Street, Boonton.

The Clinton Book Shop, 12 E. Main Street, Clinton. http://www.clintonbookshop.com/

Sparta Books, 29 Theatre Center, Sparta. http://www.spartabooks.com/

For information on independent book sellers visit, http://www.indiebound.org/





About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply