Seeking ideas, energy, and volunteer spirit, as we move forward!
“How can I help?” It’s a question that many of you have answered by expressing a willingness to assist with the set-up of special presentations and community events. Others have volunteered their expertise and experience in areas such as fundraising, social media, and interior decorating. Still others have ideas on how to form alliances dedicated to preserving our city’s oldest structures and iconic landmarks. The Asbury Park Historical Society has heard your voices — and on April 21, we welcome one and all to an evening designed for “Getting to Know You and Us.”
Following a too-long interval of virtual Zoom meetings and cautiously closed conferences, the APHS is once more opening the door to our friends and supporters — and at our Annual Members Meeting on Thursday, April 21, 2022, the Society will provide opportunities for our members to become actively involved in the Historical Society once again.
Over the past few years, new and repeat members have shared in writing their ideas, and specified areas in which they would like to lend a helping hand. Come to our 7:00 p.m. event at the Asbury Park Public Library at First and Grand Avenues, and you will have the chance to meet each of our committee chairs, and begin preparations for putting those ideas and plans into action. During the evening, which will also feature a special “Book Tour” presentation (described in detail in this newsletter), current members in attendance will be asked to cast their votes for the three board members who are up for re-election this year.
The Historical Society board, which normally numbers eleven officers and trustees, presently has a vacancy created by the recent passing of longtime board member Mary Damato. While the seat will remain open for the time being, an announcement will be made at a future date regarding the process of filling that vacancy.
Having just marked the 150th anniversary of its 1871 founding by James A. Bradley, the seaside city of Asbury Park stands on the brink of another new chapter in its “roller-coaster” history — a moment in which question marks hover over the future of many of its landmark public venues, commercial buildings, and houses of worship; even as the APHS and other nonprofit entities are working harder than ever before to share the stories of this unique place with generations of the general public.
This is the point where the past meets the future — and this is your chance to be part of it all. In the words of APHS president Kay Harris, “We look forward to seeing you on April 21st. Please feel free to bring along a friend!”
Is there another town of the same small size as Asbury Park that continues to inspire so many written words each year? This past milestone year of 2021 has seen the publication of numerous books on topics related to the city and some of its most famous personalities — from studies of 19th century true crime, Jim Crow, and African American activism (The Rope, Alex Tresniowski) and 21st century social trends (Gentrification Down the Shore, Molly Vollman Makris and Mary Lizabeth Gatta), to big-picture perspectives on the tides of change in this seaside city (Helen Pike’s A Century of Change; Daniel Wolff’s expanded Fourth of July Asbury Park).
There are memoirs by musical movers and shakers (Stevie Van Zandt’s Unrequited Infatuations; Norman Seldin’s You Don’t Know Me); biographical studies of Stephen Crane (Burning Boy by Paul Auster; a new edition of Badge of Courage by Linda H. Davis) and still more forthcoming additions to the ever- growing library of Asbury-centric works — and on Thursday evening, April 21, the trustees of the Asbury Park Historical Society will be joined by members of the Asbury Book Cooperative your guides for a Book Tour through some of the most outstanding volumes of recent seasons.
Originally announced as a virtual offering in January of this year, the presentation is now a public-invited, free-admission, in person event at the Asbury Park Public Library, First and Grand Avenues. Scheduled for 7:00 p.m., it’s a chance to meet APHS officers and local writers, and find out more about our organization as we formally welcome new members to the fold. Trustees will be on premises with books and materials of local interest, as well as membership applications — and attendees will have the opportunity to find out more about the Asbury Book Co-Op (now on the move to a more spacious storefront on Cookman Avenue) and the programs of their city’s public library, now under the direction of Kathleen Melgar.
Complimentary refreshments will be available at the 7:00 program, the centerpiece of which finds our organization’s board members and supporters discussing their favorite published works on subjects that are close to the heart of anyone with a passion for all things Asbury Park. It’s a great introduction for interested readers…and, in a potentially exciting development, a possible first step toward the establishment of a regularly scheduled Asbury Park Historical Book Club.
Stay tuned for other announcements of great interest to the public — check our official website (aphistoricalsociety.org), social media, and email blasts for updates on the April 21 Book Tour event — and feel free to share your own thoughts and recommendations on the printed legacy of “little but loud” Asbury Park!
On a chilly December 19, 2021, The Stephen Crane House served as setting for a special ceremony marking the burial of an official Asbury Park Sesquicentennial Time Capsule. Scheduled to be opened in the year 2071 (the bicentennial of the city’s founding), the carefully curated cache of materials representing all aspects of local life was assembled for the occasion by a committee chaired by Susan Rosenberg, and boasted the input of numerous city officials, residents, business owners, journalists and students. Attendees enjoyed birthday cake courtesy of Celia Morrissette’s Sequicentennial Committee, plus a champagne toast, and hot chocolate inside and outside the house…and News 12 NJ cameras rolled as Asbury Park Mayor John Moor (pictured with shovel, with former APHS president Don Stine holding plaque) gave a special dedication speech, while Kay Harris offered these words on behalf of the Asbury Park Historical Society and Asbury Park Museum:
“‘Where the Past Meets the Future’…those words are more than just our Historical Society motto. On this day they stand as a mission statement; a dedication and a commitment to building a bridge across the seas of time and the tides of change. It’s a bridge built of education and outreach; of a call to tell our stories. Those stories, and the voices they represent, are all part of the music here in this place that’s long been defined by its diverse soundtrack. Whether stored in a large metal box, or simply shared from one generation to the next, they are our most cherished record of real life in a small but significant city.
“As we close out the 150th anniversary year of Asbury Park’s founding, we extend this greeting to all those who will be part of this community in its bicentennial year of 2071…the people who make their homes in its neighborhoods, who teach and learn in its schools, who conduct their business in a place that has always welcomed the bold new idea. We thank the stewards of our history, and all those who engage with their neighbors through their city government, their houses of worship, their clubs and organizations, and the many ways in which we work together to forge solutions, find our collective voice, and face toward a future that works to the benefit of everyone.”
While Covid-related concerns forced the cancellation of many scheduled events this past winter, the Stephen Crane House opened its doors to several guests who, like many of our visitors, arranged to spend an afternoon exploring the Asbury Park Historical Society’s collection of documents, photos and other materials.
While they are working independently of each other on two separate projects, the two women pictured here…a Ph.D student and an independent filmmaker…both arrived at our doorstep with an interest in a common field of inquiry; in this case, the history of the area’s LGBTQ community and its significant contributions to the story of our city. The visitors took the time to examine some boxes of documents, news clippings and promotional materials…and they join a growing list of students, educators, journalists and media makers whom we’ve been happy to assist in their research endeavors.
A reminder that, although the archives of documents, printed materials, books and artifacts at the Crane House are still not in a “museum quality” state, the APHS makes our collection available by appointment to individuals who are working on a school thesis, a documentary, an article or a book that focuses in whole or in part upon the history of Asbury Park. While we cannot promise to be able to answer every question or furnish every requested bit of info, inquiries from the public are always welcomed via Facebook, email, or our “hotline” number of 732-361-0189.
On February 10, the Asbury Park Historical Society bade farewell to a great friend, a longtime supporter, and our longest serving board member, with the passing of Mary T. Damato at age 94.
Mary Damato places a commemorative wreath at the Historical Society’s monument to the victims of the SS Morro Castle tragedy, in a 2018 ceremony.
As the organization’s treasurer for more than 15 years, Mary played a major role in helping the Society transition from a “homeless” group of local history buffs, to an active and engaged presence in the Asbury Park community. Moving here from West Orange in 1984, the native of Newark became a resident of Asbury Park during a time when many people had begun to write off our city’s future. But like so many others, Mary saw a way forward through the appreciation of the rich and colorful history of her new home…and when the call went out for volunteers in the newly revived Historical Society, Mary brought her years of experience in the banking industry to the service of the fledgling organization.
Prior to her retirement, Mary spent decades as an officer of Howard Savings Bank, for whom she managed the Sea Girt, NJ location and oversaw other branches around the state. During this time, the working mother of two also acquired her first experience as an organization treasurer, for an alliance of New Jersey women banking professionals that worked to foster career opportunities for their fellow female co-workers.
Upon joining the APHS (as well as the Asbury Park Garden Club, another of her passions), Mary quickly became a popular presence whenever the Society took part in colorful parades and parties. She was also a crucial contributor to such APHS projects as the restoration of the TenBroeck Fountain at Library Square Park, the establishment of the Morro Castle monument outside the Paramount Theatre, and the move to a permanent home at the Stephen Crane House. Even serious injury in a 2015 car accident couldn’t keep Mary from addressing her duties with the dedication and attention to detail that all who knew her came to expect and appreciate.
Speaking from her home in Florida, Mary’s niece Carol Noe remembered her as “a wonderful aunt, a very hard working and cultured woman, who would take us to places like Broadway shows and the World’s Fair to expand our horizons; teach us that same love of life.”
“She was an adventurous person who loved to travel,” Ms. Noe added. “She visited many different places; sailed on the QE2, rode the rapids, went skiing, and went hot-air ballooning over France.” “And she loved animals…especially her ducks, who lived in the lake behind her home!”
At a 2016 anniversary dinner for which Mary was the evening’s guest of honor, the APHS noted that “Mary’s warm smile and affinity for local life have continued to illuminate many a community event, and we are humbled and happy to call her a colleague and a friend.”
Mary Damato is survived by her daughter Michelle Priest (son Jay predeceased her a few years ago), and was interred on February 15 at Saint Catharine Cemetery, West Chicago Boulevard in Sea Girt.
MAY 15, 2022: Originally announced as a companion to January’s schedule of events in the Light of Day Winterfest — but cancelled when the entire LoD slate was pushed rock, stock,and barrel to March of this year — an intimate “Songwriters at the Crane House” afternoon of acoustic music will now be presented on Sunday, May 15, as a stand-alone event showcasing some of the area’s most talented songsmiths in the setting of our recently renovated Lecture Room performance space.
Produced in partnership with the nonprofit Musicians on a Mission organization, the 3:00 p.m. event welcomes back MoaM co-founder Brenda Wirth and her husband, singer-songwriter George Wirth (pictured), for a music matinee that will help raise funds for our Historical Society operations. The house concert from the creators of the acclaimed “Rosie’s Café” series will feature George in performance with fellow artists Regina Goldy and Jonathan Tea… with complimentary refreshments served, and proceeds benefiting the ongoing renovations and public outreach programs at the Crane House. Seating is limited, with Covid-related safety policies observed and admission ($20) reserved via firstname.lastname@example.org.