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A New Jersey Hall of Fame? It's not an oxymoron

Inaugural inductees include Einstein, Edison and Yogi Berra.

May 04, 2008|From the Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think about Yogi Berra, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Toni Morrison? Brilliant minds, inspiring souls, trailblazers: All are likely answers.

And . . . New Jersey?

All have strong ties to the oft-maligned Garden State, and they're among the first 15 people to be inducted today into New Jersey's new Hall of Fame.

"I think anything you get inducted to you feel good about," said 82-year-old Berra, the former New York Yankee catcher -- and a member of the baseball Hall of Fame -- who lives in Montclair in northern New Jersey.

"Heck, to get inducted with all them guys, that's pretty good."

Berra, who's lived in New Jersey for 52 years, is in good company. In addition to Edison, Einstein and Morrison, the inaugural class includes Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep, astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Vince Lombardi.

"There's no doubt this will be a historic event for the state," said Don Jay Smith, the hall's executive director. "New Jersey is often the butt of jokes nationally, and yet when people see who has claimed New Jersey as their home, they will be very impressed."

Edison's great-granddaughter Elizabeth Sloane Eggemann, of White House Station in northwest New Jersey, said the famous inventor would be thrilled by the honor, and she hopes children are inspired by all of the hall's inductees.

The Hall of Fame exists only as an online entity now, but officials are raising money to build a museum. The first class was chosen through an online vote.

All inductees must have lived in the state for at least five years, though organizers made an exception to that rule for Underground Railroad pioneer Harriet Tubman. The remaining inductees are: American Red Cross founder Clara Barton; former NBA star and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley; philanthropist and publisher Malcolm Forbes; and Robert Wood Johnson II, the son of the founder of Johnson & Johnson.

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