Weird NJ features FDU's "strange statuary"

Ever notice the bird heads atop the statues in the Italian Gardens, next to Hennessy Hall? The statues themselves date back to the Twombly era but as time went on, the heads fell off the statues. The statues remained headless for years until Judy Moonelis, professor of art, had her ceramics students create heads for the statues during the spring of 2014. “Weird NJ” magazine featured the art project and the gardens with a three-page spread in its October 2015 issue.  

Reprinted from Weird NJ issue #45 (October, 2015) with permission:


Strange Statuary at Fairleigh Dickinson University 


By Mark Moran (Photos ©Weird NJ)

The centerpiece of the Florham Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, located in the towns of Madison and Florham Park, is Hennessy Hall (The Mansion), once the 100-room Georgian-style summer home for Hamilton McKown Twombly (1849–1910) and his wife Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly (1854–1952), a prominent member of the Vanderbilt family. It was designed in the 1890s by Stanford White, and replicates a wing in Henry VIII's Hampton Court.

Located on the south side of the Mansion is the Italian Garden, a beautifully landscaped lawn featuring a fountain, flowering plants and manicured shrubbery. At the perimeter of the garden stands a stone wall with columns, a trellis and hanging plants. At each end of the wall stands a slightly larger than life-size carved figure. Until recently the stone statues were headless, having survived a period of time when the Italian Garden had fallen into disarray and was overgrown and unkempt. The Garden and statues, minus their heads, have since been restored.

Recently the heads of birds, one an owl and the other a raptor of some other species, have been added to the formerly noggin-less figures by an unknown artist, giving the statues a weird griffin-like appearance.
Hennessy Hall now contains classrooms and administrative offices. In 2001, Ron Howard’s movie, A Beautiful Mind, was partly filmed at FDU’s Florham campus.


A Glimpse of the Ghostly Garden



By Robert E. Klurfield

Arriving at Florham, the former grand gilded age estate of Florence Vanderbilt Twombly and her husband, Hamilton Twombly, on a late, foggy fall afternoon, one might be overtaken with a variety of emotions—foreboding, nostalgia, déja vu, fear––and a vague sensation of trespassing on a forbidden past.


You can pick up the current issue of Weird NJ #45, featuring the strange statuary here.

The core of the once 1,200-acre estate is now the Madison, New Jersey campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, large parcels having been sold (one such 600-plus acre parcel going to Esso which became Exxon and later Exxon Mobil, now includes the practice facility of the New York Jets as well as a campus of office buildings) or donated (a 42-acre parcel having been deeded to Madison is now the site of Madison High School).

Sitting at what was once was the center of the estate, but through the various subdivisions is now the rear of the property, is the impressive mansion where for years Mrs. Twombly and her husband played host to the wealthiest families of Morris County for a variety of festivals and parties.

The mansion is surrounded by a variety of gardens, with spectacular, tiered, sunken and walled garden at its rear. Viewing the mansion from the front, to the right sits an oval limestone and brick-walled garden with arbors and pergolas.

At the time I shot these images back in 2010, the garden had fallen into a state of serious disrepair, with beams cracked and fallen; bricks crumbling; and branches twisted and overgrown; headless statues. Perhaps you can see the ghosts of the Twomblys or their children (two of whom died at early ages) hovering in the dark corners of the garden.

The gardens have since been restored thanks to the efforts of the organization Friends of Florham.