Tour an old slave house that was part of the underground railroad system in Hamilton. March with the soldiers at the Battle of Monmouth. Sail with pirates who cruised the waters off the New Jersey shore. All from the comfort of your living room sofa. History Hunters, a cable series produced by Joe Ryan and Christy Morrison of West Windsor, is now airing on five central New Jersey cable channels.
“There are human interest stories that many people do not know are in their own backyard,” says Morrison. “Joe and I found out about a young man who died during the Revolutionary War at a bridge near where we live.” According to the story, the man’s regiment had retreated, but he was brave enough to stay and try to cut away the last hold on the bridge so that the British would not be able to cross. He was shot by the Brits and died before he could destroy the bridge. “Now,” says Morrison, “We cannot drive across this bridge anymore without thinking of his sacrifice.”
One of Morrison’s goals for the show is to “instill pride in New Jersey and the role we had in founding our country, and to pay tribute to the men and women, some who sacrificed almost everything during the Revolutionary and Civil wars.”
Ryan, 32, is a graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, Class of 1989, and of Mercer County Community College, Class of 1996. A freelance photographer (whose work has appeared in the West Windsor-Plainsboro News), Ryan films and edits History Hunters. He is webmaster and designer of the “Road to Monmouth Heritage Campaign,” which can be viewed on www.roadtomonmouth.com. Ryan is also known for his photographs of the Grateful Dead and features his photographs from Dead concerts on his website www.gratefuljoe.com.
Morrison, 33, is the host of the show and writes most of the dialogue, including conversations between herself and Ryan at the beginning of each episode. As a member of the national accounts division for Goebel Collectibles, which is affiliated with QVC, Morrison is no newcomer to film and television. She is a graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, Class of 1988, and of Fashion Institute of Technology, Class of 1994.
Although both Ryan and Morrison grew up and went to school together in West Windsor and Plainsboro, the two did not meet until they were students at Mercer. “Joe and I met in a photography class,” says Morrison. “We met in the darkroom because he was playing his Walkman too loud — and have been inseparable ever since.”
Ryan had always been a history buff but had to convince Morrison that she wanted to become one too. One convincing strategy he used was to search genealogy records of her family to find relatives who fought in Civil War battles and under General George Washington. Later they learned that the Allentown, New Jersey historic house they live in was built by the Robbins family, original settlers in the town. Ryan and Morrison were able to trace the family to Ye Olde Robbins graveyard on Route 524.
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School alumni helping with the show include Joe’s brother Don Ryan, computer/video consultant, Class of 1984; Vince Dorse, graphic artist, Class of ‘85; and Ambrose Liu, Class of ‘90, who performs the show’s theme song, “On the Verge.”
Several episodes of History Hunters have been filmed and have already aired. Episode one, “Hancock’s Bridge,” examines the 225th anniversary of the Hancock massacre. Episode two, “Local Graveyards,” uncovers hidden history in cemeteries located in Hopewell, Allentown, and Deans. Episode three, “Crosswicks,” explores Crosswicks. Episode four, “Pirates,” features Captain Kidd and other pirates who visited New Jersey. Episode five, “Road to Monmouth,” looks at the 225th Anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth. Episode six, “Hamilton, NJ,” now filming, features author James McPherson.
History Hunters seeks speakers for the following shows:
Episode seven, “NJ troops at Gettysburg,” Episode nine, “The Jersey Devil,” Episode ten, “Washington Slept Here?,” and Episode eleven, “Historic Churches.” To volunteer, contact Ryan at www.historyhunters.tv.
Ryan beams when he talks about the series. “This is taking us places we didn’t think we’d go yet. It’s thrilling.” His past experiences with the Grateful Dead and other celebrities pale compared to his present life of filming the past. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” says Ryan. “It’s great stuff.”
The shows air in West Windsor on Channel 27 and in Plainsboro on Channel 3 every Monday at 5:30 p.m.