Travel to the end of the interstate highway near the border of Monmouth and Ocean Counties and you’ll find what remains of the town of Okcidenta, founded in 1923 and later abandoned after the mayor and town council were implicated in a horse racing scandal. The town council numbered twenty-six residents in total; the town’s adult population was thirty-one, which spelled doom for its municipal future, and many of the homes were subsequently broken down and used to build a local amusement park.

In his acclaimed 1992 memoir Defenestrating Krampus in the Pine Barrens, the infamous big game hunter Herman Mentzler described growing up in the town of Okcidenta, and it’s from there that most of the details we have of the town’s holiday customs have been extrapolated. It was a truly unique destination, both in the state of New Jersey and in the Eastern Standard time zone.

Okcidenta was founded by an unlikely trio of notables: a former Bavarian circus performer who had struck it rich in the clam trade; an anarchist greengrocer from New Shoreham, Rhode Island; and a Scottish sprinter known only as “The Extemporaneous Whinger.” Fueled by bathtub gin and rumors of mysticism, they sought to follow in the Garden State’s vaunted utopian tradition while incorporating some of the local fauna into their rites and practices.

With that utopian tradition came a unique approach to Christmas that regularly threatened to boil over into full-on occultism. In his memoir, Mentzler described childhood memories of neighborhood caroling sessions which evolved over the course of his childhood into a strange combination of trick or treating and bear-baiting. 

Mentzler is adamant in his book that no children were ever harmed — but that the town did, for a time, attempt to domesticate bears in an attempt to sell them as pets during the Great Depression. Mentlzer’s mother, Dorothea Rose Mentzler, was convinced of the wisdom of this approach, and allegedly perfected a method of hypnotism that could turn even the fiercest of bears into a placid domestic companion. This methodology is, sadly, lost to time.

And so, for the span of roughly a decade, the children of Okcidenta spent their Christmas Eves walking from house to house, each with a bear on a leash. When they arrived at a front door, they had the option of knocking or allowing the bear to scratch at it. At the end of the night, two homes would be awarded prizes: the one with the least-scuffed door and the one with the largest amount of strudel remaining. 

That’s right — we should clarify that, upon knock or scratch, the residents of the house were instructed to dispense a strudel to their guests; each family was required by town ordinance to utilize a different recipe, and this was meticulously enforced.

Herbert Mentzler described those Christmases as the happiest days of his life. He later fled the town after the scandal brought down the government, taking refuge — ironically enough — not far from the site of the Hindenburg disaster. It would be several more years before he would go on to make a name for himself internationally; with his winnings, he was not shy about stating, his goal was to create a New Okcidenta somewhere not far from where he had first menaced his neighbors with a tame bear in search of strudel on Christmas Eve.

Eventually, he would realize his dream of doing just that — but it would not be in New Jersey. Instead, New Okcidenta took rise just over the border in Delaware, making its holiday customs outside of the scope of this series.

Written & recorded for Jon Solomon’s 25-Hour Holiday Marathon on WPRB. Aired December 25, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: