They were the figures who helped write major chapters in the city’s history — the artists and activists, the authors and attorneys, the educators and entertainers, the mediums and the medics, the saloonkeepers and the social justice warriors who brought a diverse but divided Gilded Age resort to the threshold of its 21st century rebirth. Together, they were the Trailblazing Women of Asbury Park — and when the Asbury Park Historical Society holds its annual Membership Meeting on the evening of Thursday, January 19, 2023, the spotlight will shine on these legendary local ladies who played a significant role in shaping the first hundred years (1871-1970) of our collective story.
Hosted inside the Public Library at 500 First Avenue, the public-invited 7 p.m. event will be keyed to the Asbury Park Museum’s ongoing “pop-up” exhibit of the same name, currently on display (from now through the end of Women’s History Month in March 2023) in the Bradley Room of the historic library building. Underwritten by Ethan Grossman (and dedicated to his wife Diane Ambler, an accomplished career attorney and women’s rights advocate who graduated Asbury Park High School in 1967), the project was curated by former Monmouth Museum exec director Avis Anderson and designed by Stan Cain, with contributions by Kay Harris and her team of board members and advisors from the realms of academia, business, journalism, and public service.
Scheduled to include a slideshow presentation on many of the exhibit’s honorees and themes, the meeting will also feature complimentary refreshments, a table with membership information and history-related items for sale, as well as a welcome message/ dialogue with our members old and new. The latter is now more than ever an important means of communication between the Society and the public, as the people of Asbury Park navigate another in a series of transitional periods along the city’s “roller-coaster” timeline. With such hot-button issues as the fate of the century-old Church of the Holy Spirit continuing to stir debate and inspire grass-roots activism, generations of Asbury Parkers have looked to us for perspective and a public voice — and the APHS has stepped up to the plate, in support of a bold new initiative.
Presently in the preliminary discussion stages is a project that seeks to establish the city’s first official Historic Preservation Commission; an entity that would advise and work with city/ county/ state government on matters pertaining to the proposed (re)development, renovation, and repurposing of structures on or adjacent to properties designated as Historic. Stay tuned for updates from the Historical Society, several board members of which are involved in this effort.
Speaking once again of extraordinary women, congratulations are in order for a pair of Historical Society veterans whose endeavors related to the city’s recent Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) observance have received well-deserved recognition. On October 1, Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon bestowed our multi-tasking president Kay Harris (left) with the M. Claire French Award for Leadership in Historic Preservation, citing her “contributions to the awareness, understanding or preservation of Monmouth County’s rich history.” Also in October, APHS member Celia Morrisette (right) was honored with her committee colleagues in a proclamation from the city council for her work on a slate of 150 Years projects, including the December 2021 dedication of an Asbury Park Time Capsule on the grounds of the Crane House.
Photo By Liza Minno
On a chill and blustery November 20, the doors of the Stephen Crane House opened (and kept blowing open, repeatedly) for a very special guest, when the celebrated novelist, essayist and screenwriter Paul Auster graced us with a visit in celebration of young Master Crane’s birth month, and the paperback edition release of Burning Boy, his epic biographical study of Crane’s intense life and turbulent times.
The NYT best-selling author (of The New York Trilogy, The Book of Illusions, The Music of Chance and many other works) read selections from his brilliant appreciation of the 19th century storyteller, poet and journalist who began his professional writing career while a resident of the Asbury Park house once known as Arbutus Cottage… a trailblazer who he’s described as “a writer for all time.” Joined for an illuminating discussion by Professor Stanley Blair of Monmouth University and Michael Newton of our event presenting partner the Asbury Book Co-Op, Auster fielded questions from an engaged full-capacity audience (including Village Voice cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty), and signed copies of Burning Boy, in an afternoon event from which a portion of proceeds was dedicated at the author’s request to the nonprofit Society to Protect Journalists.
Our gratitude goes out to Auster and his wife, novelist Siri Hustvedt, for giving so generously of their time and resources. Special appreciation to Liza Minno, general manager of the member owned and operated Book Co-Op, to Catryn Silbersack of Henry Holt and Company for helping make this event come together and commence so smoothly, to Ben Baker for creating a video record of the program, and to all of the attendees whose shared passion for Stephen Crane’s story/ stories stands as testament to Auster’s mission of “getting people to READ him again.”
The event represented The Stephen Crane House at its best…as a true literary landmark that attracts Crane aficionados from literally all around the world; a living/ breathing place where friends gather to hear history come vividly ALIVE; a house of ideas and learning; a community resource that partners with, promotes and supports positive endeavors within the local neighborhood and the big world beyond.
Morro Castle 2022. Photo By Susan Rosenberg
On September 8, 2022 — little more than two weeks after the area in front of Convention Hall served as the setting for the successful 17th annual edition of our Art on the Boardwalk event — a more intimate and somber happening took place outside the Paramount Theatre. Our organization’s treasurer Andy Skokos joined former APHS president Don Stine for the yearly displaying of a memorial wreath dedicated to those who lost their lives in the SS Morro Castle tragedy, which occurred just off the beach at Asbury Park. The monument that was funded and installed by the Historical Society remains on view year-round — and the year 2024 will mark the 90th anniversary of the maritime disaster that continues to inspire public debate and interest to this day.
Susan & Pam at Archives & History Day. Photo By Charlie Horner
Craig Singer with Poster | The Reluctant Voyagers Presentation
On October 26, the Crane House hosted its first Halloween program since the onset of the pandemic era’s real-life horrors, as filmmaker Craig Singer and Showroom Cinema manager Jeff Lundenberger joined us for a screening of Singer’s locally lensed “timeloop of terror” feature 6:45. An audience of old and new faces took in the 2021 film at our in-house theatre, where several scenes for 6:45 were shot in January 2020 (and subsequently slashed to the cutting room floor). The macabre matinee was a dedicated fundraiser for the Asbury Park Arts Council and its hyperlocally independent APin3 Film Challenge project; a thank-you and show of support for the organization’s including the Historical Society/ Stephen Crane House as a crucial cultural resource in their ambitious Arts and Cultural Master Plan for the city.
For the week marking the 151st anniversary of Stephen Crane’s birth, the actors of The Arbutus Theater of the Air delivered an encore presentation of The Reluctant Voyagers, our exclusive “radio play” adaptation of the author’s most comical short story. The 3 pm program on Sunday, November 6 also featured a screening of Sir, I Exist!, a 30-minute video on Crane’s life and career (produced by Tom Chesek in association with Asbury Park TV), based on the live lectures presented to school groups and organizations by former Crane House owner Frank D’Alessandro.
They were the oldest continuously operating business in Asbury Park when they closed their doors in October 2022 — and when the last remaining staff of the William R. Hogg Co. took inventory of their 100-plus year old building at Fourth Avenue and Memorial Drive, they discovered a trove of blueprints from a century’s worth of jobs that the plumbing and HVAC contractor undertook around the city — projects that ranged from iconic waterfront landmarks (the Casino and Power Plant, Howard Johnson’s) and schools (Bangs Ave. Elementary, the High School stadium), to long-gone businesses (Steinbach’s, Stein Cadillac, Fischer Baking Co.) and future boutique lodgings (the Salvation Army rest home/ Asbury Hotel). Our thanks to Rand Danielson for thinking of the Historical Society with this unique and generous donation — and to the Hogg team for their generations of contributions to city life!
A vintage Stone Pony staff jacket… never-before-seen photos featuring Rock & Roll Hall of Famers like Robbie Krieger of The Doors …posters, flyers, and other memorabilia bearing the signatures of Gary U.S. Bonds, Patti Smith, and many others…even a guitar autographed by Peter Tork of The Monkees! All included in a cache of memorabilia related to Asbury Park’s world-famous music venue, donated by Ginnie Taylor on behalf of her late father, circa 2000 Pony employee “Gee Man” Cacio.
An antique ice water decanter — ornately decorated with icicles and polar bears, and gifted to Asbury Park founder James A. Bradley — was among the items purchased in the estate sale of Dr. William Liebesman of Deal, by our president Kay Harris. The inscription on the one-of-a-kind artifact reads, “Presented to Jas. A. Bradley by his Asbury Park Friends July 4, 1878, As a token of esteem and appreciation of his Enterprise and Liberality.”
From postcards to pianos and all kinds of items in between, the APHS has been pleased to offer a caring “forever home” to Asbury Park-related memorabilia donated by families, businesses, and organizations, with an eye toward their enjoyment by future generations of Asbury aficionados!