A continuing series of New Jersey World War I stories will be presented here throughout the Centennial celebration.
A continuing series of New Jersey World War I stories will be presented here throughout the Centennial celebration.
An exhibit to draw attention to New Jersey’s Jews who “stepped up” during World War 1 was prepared by the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the war. Its focus was on the role of Jews who lived in what is now the Greater MetroWest community and their participation – both in the field and on the home front – in World War I. The title was inspired by an L. Bamberger & Co. department store window display prepared by its design department. Little known is that artists who prepared “patriotic” displays during WWI were not required to serve in the military.
Central to the JHS exhibit are the large posters asking Newark’s residents to BUY BONDS to support New Jersey’s soldiers serving overseas in the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF), as well as for American sailors whose ships patrolled the waters off the coast of France. Special attention was given to Newark, as it is New Jersey’s oldest and largest city, and to Louis Bamberger, owner and operator of L. Bamberger & Co. department store, who used his store to champion the sale of Liberty War Bonds.
In Bamberger’s opinion, it was everyone’s “duty” to buy a Liberty Loan bond. Hence, he placed a Liberty Loan booth on the first floor of his store, which was prime selling space, and invited shoppers to visit the store’s piano department where they discovered songwriter Irving Berlin signing sheet music for popular World War 1 songs such as “Oh How I Hate to get up in the Morning.”
There were a total of five war loan drives conducted in Newark – each was oversubscribed - for which Bamberger joined banks and other large firms to put Newark “over the top” for meeting the city’s assigned quotas. In the exhibit is a one-of-a-kind photograph of a Liberty War Bond rally featuring a replica of the United States Treasury and a large crowd of area residents consisting of Newark’s police and fire departments, enlisted soldiers, and Bamberger’s Cadet Corp assembled in the street adjacent to the Bamberger store all of whom donated money for the war effort.
Among one of the more endearing stories written about Newark’s volunteers and the sale of WWI war bonds was published in Newark’s Star Ledger newspaper. The story featured “Baby Lil,” or Lillian Marx, who at age 14 stood on a ladder located at the corner of Broad and Market Streets in downtown Newark where she would sing and dance to the popular WWI song “Over There,” and climb another rung every time someone in the crowd bought a Liberty Bond. President Woodrow Wilson, who spotted Lil, gave her a medal and thanked her for raising money for the war effort.
In 1917, Bamberger’s declared Liberty Day, whereby every dollar spent at Bamberger’s went towards the purchase of Liberty bonds. That same year there was a “class in training for relief of soldiers and sailors families that had members from the Newark branch of the National League for Women’s Service; a “Committee of 100” that took up war relief work in Newark; and men like Bamberger, Felix Fuld, Thomas N. McCarter, and Franklin Conklin were on an executive committee to raise Newark’s share of $750,000 for a Red Cross Drive through advanced subscriptions of $5,000.
Interest in World War I militaria led Bamberger’s to display a prototype of a bulletproof armor protector known as the Brewster-Heller Armor Protector, invented by Dr. Guy Otis Brewster, a dentist from Dover, New Jersey, and promoted by Emil Heller, also of Dover. The armor was demonstrated to dignitaries from the US Army but was never used in battle.
Day-to-day operations of Newark’s businesses adapted to ever changing government regulations. Among the welcome government regulations was a WWI
War Industries Board policy of no store returns after three days made at the request of the United States government through the Commercial Economy Board of the Council of National Defense. Returned goods resulted in higher prices.
Stores closed on Mondays and no deliveries were made in compliance with the ruling of the State Fuel Administrator. The city had “lightless nights” on Thursdays and Sundays to reduce consumption of coal for lighting purposes. Serious efforts were made to conserve paper as part of a ruling of the War Industries Board. Residents were advised to save sugar, sell their platinum jewelry and donate walking canes and invalid chairs for returning soldiers.
There were appeals for Newarkers to provide vacant rooms for war workers in Newark’s ship yards that warned “if we can’t provide housing, Newark will lose valuable war contracts.” Such information was found in the Bamberger store’s employee newsletter, Counter Currents.
Bamberger was particularly interested in Newark boys serving in the military. In response to information that Newark’s relief organizations were not sending packages or necessary supplies to Newark’s soldiers, Bamberger donated Thanksgiving dinners and had them sent to Camp Dix, via Bamberger’s Motor Delivery Service.
Starting in 1918, a “Service Roll” with sixty-nine names of “Bamberger Boys” serving in the military was printed on the back cover of Counter Currents continuously for one year. The number increased to 132 each of whom Bamberger kept in touch with and who, in turn kept in touch with him.
No matter where a “Bamberger boy” was stationed he was assured of receiving packages for Christmas. For co-workers stationed in France, Bamberger sent a personal shopper who spoke French to Paris to buy and ship gifts for Christmas from French stores to boys serving in the AEF.
With the signing of the Armistice, it was Bamberger who sent a heartfelt message welcoming the “brave boys returning home again to normal occupations and mourned those “who made the supreme sacrifice for country and humanity.”
Posted November 6, 2017
World War I cracked open the door to the modern era, and for better or for worse, the world rushed in. As we mark the centennial of US participation in The Great War (1917- 2017), it is time for all Americans, especially young people, to learn about what some have called “the forgotten war” and to honor those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom.
As a teacher, I am anxious for my students to recognize that New Jersey played an important role in the Allied victory. From New Jersey ports went vital supplies. From its communities came financial support. From its factories came industrial might, and from its towns, cities, and farms came “doughboys”, young men who became soldiers. Their vigor and their very numbers turned the tide of this devastating conflict and indeed made the “world safe for democracy”.
To enhance my students’ understanding of America’s role in The Great War and to heighten their appreciation for the great personal sacrifice made by so many, I recently offered an extra credit assignment. The idea stemmed from a connection my family has to one particular “doughboy”, a great uncle whose foot locker from World War I we inherited. Its contents are fascinating and “personalized the war” for me so much that I went looking in another part of the state for the World War I monument in his hometown. To “personalize” the war for my students, I challenged then to locate and evaluate monuments in their local communities. The information they gained and photos they took were put together on posters which are now on display for our entire school community to see and appreciate.
Since I teach in a regional school, I was thrilled that students investigated sites from a large geographic area. They found that some communities dedicated areas exclusively to World War I remembrance. Morristown, for example, offers a stunning cenotaph (empty tomb) and adjacent reflecting pool at the site of the Vail Mansion. Madison features an imposing bronze eagle with wings stretched upward. It sits atop lists of names of those who died in the conflict and as well as all who served in the war. The Town of Dover boasts a doughboy, his arm raised and rifle in hand, standing atop a rock pyramid. Onto each of the 38 rocks is affixed a plaque containing the name of a soldier who died in the war. Other communities like Bernardsville have a central location where monuments to several wars can be found. In addition, a unique site was recently dedicated as part of the All Veteran’s Memorial in Mount Olive’s Turkey Brook Park. It is a War Dog Memorial paying tribute to dogs from various wars who like Sgt. Stubby from World War “earned their stripes” and deserve to be remembered for their service.
Students noted sites where development, especially highway construction, had isolated the monuments so that finding them was difficult. Some noted cases where greater care needed to be given to the surrounding area. Happily, they concluded that most sites have been cared for with great tenderness. In addition, the experience of investigation was both positive and eye opening for the students themselves. They learned the significance of monuments which they passed frequently but about which they knew nothing. They also took time to read markers to which they had never paid attention before. Doing so offered great perspective.
The number of New Jersey boys who lost their lives as a result of World War I is over 3,000. These losses were deeply felt in communities both large and small, and especially in the hearts of the loved ones these soldiers left behind. Over 160 monuments have been constructed across the state in hopes the sacrifices of these young men will not be forgotten. It is my hope that the work that my students did on these projects revitalized and paid tribute to the memory of these soldiers who lived 100 years ago.
Posted September 5, 2017
Months before the United States military joined the Allies on the European battlefields in the spring of 1917, Surgeon General William Crawford Gorgas anticipated the need for stateside hospitalization, surgical repair, and rehabilitation for as many as 250,000 wounded men.
Orthopedic surgeon and bone graft pioneer Fred Houdlett Albee, a self-assured man of forceful temperament, had spent four months during 1916 in wartime France at the request of the French war office, where he taught bone grafting and limb-saving techniques in military hospitals. Much of what is known about the military hospital in Colonia, New Jersey, is based on Albee’s 1943 autobiography, A Surgeon’s Fight to Rebuild Men.
With the support and encouragement of wealthy estate owner Charles D. Freeman of Colonia (now within Woodbridge Township in Middlesex County), Albee began to plan for a rehabilitation hospital “on the rolling hillsides of New Jersey.” Freeman donated two hundred acres between the Lincoln Highway (Route 27) and New Dover Road about a mile east of present-day Metropark), while Albee presented the plan for a specialized orthopedic/rehabilitation hospital to Gorgas, who advised him to make application for Army Reconstruction Hospital No. 3 (Nos. 1 and 2, planned for Washington and Boston, were never built, but the designation No. 3 persisted). Such a hospital would require state-of-the-art surgical facilities, physical and vocational rehabilitation departments, provision for psychological rehabilitation, and shops to create artificial limbs and braces. The proximity to port-of-entry facilities at Hoboken and a major rail line would facilitate transport of the wounded from ship to hospital.
The War Department decided on a general hospital (rather than a dedicated reconstruction hospital) with a bed capacity of 2000 to be organized by Albee, who was appointed director and chief surgeon. He cheerfully completed basic military training to prepare himself for command of a military hospital and was granted the rank of colonel.
Construction began officially on February 2, 1918. To move materials and supplies, a railway spur was constructed to the northeast corridor railhead some two miles away to transport materials (and later, some of the wounded following their disembarkation). Over 100 wooden barrack-style buildings (standard military pavilion style hospital construction) covering some 200 acres were erected for patient care and support functions. In the end, the total cost of construction was between $2.75 and $3.5 million. By June, 500 beds were open for patients; by October, total bed capacity numbered 1,700. The first contingent of wounded arrived in July—casualties from the battle of Chateau Thierry, one of the first actions of the American Expeditionary Force. The census increased quickly, with peak bed occupancy of some 1950 men at the end of January 1919.
Although the hospital was officially designated a “general hospital,” the emphasis was on surgical cases, with special facilities for orthopedic trauma, and nervous system injuries (brain, spine, peripheral nerves). The orthopedic military surgical service within the general hospital was the largest in the United States. Many of the orthopedic cases involved grievous injuries to the extremities (mainly lower limbs) due to shrapnel and explosives. Many of these wounded men had undergone amputations at field hospitals in Europe, arriving at the Colonia hospital with nonhealing wounds, embedded battlefield debris and shrapnel, deep infections, necrotic tissue, and extensive loss of bone.
April 1919 saw the admission of 750 such amputees. In these cases, lengthy disinfection protocols and careful wound care were required before reconstructive surgery and bone grafting could be undertaken. In that pre-antibiotic era, wounds were disinfected by the Carrel-Dakin method of prolonged irrigation with a dilute bleach solution, together with the application of antibacterial viruses (bacteriophages). Following surgery, prosthetic limbs were fitted and constructed in a dedicated “orthopedic workshop.” For many men who had not undergone amputation in Europe, wound management and bone grafting saved limbs.
Of critical importance was the work of rehabilitating shattered minds and nerves and rebuilding morale in preparation for return to productive civilian life. Physical and occupational therapy increased mobility, helped men adjust to artificial limbs, and fostered self-confidence. An innovative “curative workshop,” based on a British model, taught skills including carpentry, drafting, telegraphy, mechanical drawing, printing, welding, and automobile mechanics. Some men with amputations helped to construct their own artificial limbs. Classes were offered in subjects such as mathematics, basic literacy, and business administration. Organizations such as the Red Cross and various community volunteers assisted in providing patient services and support. For example, patients and staff produced a magazine called Over Here, while sports and cultural activities further contributed to morale and recovery.
Orders were received in spring 1919 to begin dismissing staff at temporary wartime hospitals across the county in preparation for decommissioning. With some 1,500 men still in need of care at Colonia—many with wounds that were not yet ready for bone graft operations—Albee hurried to Washington and gained a reprieve of several months. With less than 1,000 patients, some requiring transfer to permanent military hospitals, and only a handful of new admissions, the hospital closed in October 1919 and the buildings were demolished. Into the 1940s, only empty fields remained, with a flagpole to mark the site. Today a tree-lined residential community occupies the hundreds of acres that were once the site of General Hospital No. 3.
Sandra Moss M.D., M.A. (History) is past president of the Medical History Society of New Jersey. She is the author of three books and many articles about the history of medicine in New Jersey.
Posted August 1, 2017
The two-acre lot behind Charles Livingston Bull’s Oradell home was not your typical New Jersey backyard.It featured a forest of mature trees, an immaculate plant garden and a menagerie of live animals, including deer, peacock, sheep, turkey, geese and many species of fish. For Bull, the backyard was not only a place for leisure. It was a place for research, study and work.
Born in 1874, Bull’s interest in the natural world stemmed from his early career as a taxidermist at Ward’s Museum in his hometown of Rochester, New York. In the 1890s, his expertise earned him a coveted taxidermist position at the United States National Museum. While living in Washington, D.C., Bull enrolled in evening art classes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art – a decision that initiated his second career as a wildlife illustrator. In 1910, he moved to Oradell (Bergen County) in order to be closer to the New York-based publishing industry that hungered for his unique artwork.
From a studio inside his home on the northwest corner of Woodland Avenue and Seminole Street, Bull executed the world’s finest examples of wildlife art. Some of his illustrations documented the specimens found in his own backyard. Others were drawn from zoology books and research travels around the country. Bull’s wildlife illustrations frequently graced the covers of American Boy, Boy’s Life, Collier’s and other popular magazines of the day, as well as the pages of best-selling books including Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Bull also executed oil on canvas commissions depicting wildlife specimens in their native habitats. A veritable workaholic who started his workday at 4:00 PM and toiled nonstop through the wee hours of the morning, six days a week, Bull’s artistic output was indeed prolific. He created more than seven thousand wildlife sketches, illustrations and paintings during the course of his career.
When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, Bull heeded the federal government’s call for assistance with its massive publicity campaign to garner support for the war effort. Having been re-elected on a platform featuring the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” President Woodrow Wilson realized the need to convince the American people that entry into the war was necessary and just. To do so, he created a morale and propaganda department called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) and named George Creel as its head. One of the CPI’s departments, the Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP), convened the nation’s top illustrators in order to discuss ways in which art could function to unify Americans around the cause of war. One of their key tools turned out to be illustrated posters. Printed in the tens of millions, World War I propaganda posters could be found in municipal buildings, on telephone poles and in storefront windows nationwide. Some were blown up and placed on massive billboards. Others were reduced in size and printed in newspapers and magazines.
Between 1917 and 1918, the government selected three of Bull’s wildlife-themed designs for production as full-color lithographic posters supporting the war effort. Keep Him Free (1917) depicts a bald eagle – America in animal form – staunchly guarding its aerie. The perch on which it sits is no ordinary nest. It is a bustling hangar from which the planes of the fledgling Army Air Service are unleashed. Their mission is self-defense, to protect their home from an unseen aggressor. The poster implores the viewer to buy War Savings Stamps from the Treasury Department. Designed for people with modest incomes, War Savings Stamps cost as little as twenty-five cents each. Once a person accumulated a designated number of so-called “thrift stamps,” they could trade them in for a Liberty Bond that would earn interest. War Savings Stamps and Liberty Bonds helped raise twenty billion dollars for the American war effort, offsetting the need for new taxes.
Commissioned by the U.S. Food Administration, Save the Products of the Land (1917) advocated for food conservation on the home front. Depicting a species that he knew well from his passion for fishing, Bull’s poster transports the viewer to a murky, underwater habitat filled with smallmouth bass. The poster asks people to eat more fish – an act that would save the grain needed to feed the cattle that provided beef to soldiers on the battle front. Beef could be easily preserved, packed and shipped in a compact form, making it perfect for wartime rations. If American families replaced some of their meals with fish, more beef could be reserved for shipment overseas. Almost immediately after its printing, Bull’s widely-distributed poster increased fish consumption in many parts of the country as patriotic Americans added bass, catfish, trout and other wild-caught fish to their diets. Bull’s poster even encouraged people to start eating carp, a non-native, previously-unpopular eating fish that became plentiful in American waters in the nineteenth century.
Bull’s final poster, Be an American Eagle! (1918), depicts an American bald eagle, talons fully extended, in a vicious, mid-air battle with another bird. Representing the Germans, the darker-toned enemy eagle appears to be losing the fight. Its defensive posture suggests weakness and retreat; its open beak suggests a shriek of pain and fear. As the first major conflict in which planes featured as large-scale tactical military tools, World War I spawned the U.S. Army Air Service in 1918 – the forerunner of the modern-day Air Force. Bull’s vibrantly-colored recruiting poster featuring one of his favorite animal subjects encouraged some of the first Air Service enlistees.
Today, the legacy of New Jersey resident Charles Livingston Bull lives on in the art and archival collections of the Oradell Local History Collection at Oradell Public Library. For more information, visit http://oradell.bccls.org/.
Original posters by Charles Livingston Bull can be seen in the New Jersey State Museum’s exhibition marking the centennial of the American intervention in World War I. Embattled Emblems: Posters and Flags of the First World War. September 16, 2017 – August 19, 2018. For more information, visit http://www.state.nj.us/state/museum/.
Nicholas P. Ciotola is Curator of Cultural History at the New Jersey State Museum
Posted June 30, 2017
by Carol Comengo, Courier Post Online
MERCHANTVILLE - When the national American Legion was born nearly 100 years ago following World War I, the borough was one of the first to establish a post.
In 1919, the 15 local legion founders named Post 68 after Frederick W. Grigg, one of Merchantville's native sons who died in combat in France.
Grigg's name along with those of 134 other veterans are inscribed on a tarnished bronze plaque affixed to a granite monument facing Maple Avenue in Wellwood Park. But townspeople know little or nothing about those who served in a war so long ago.
So who were they?
Merchantville School history teacher Shawn Waldron and seventh- and eighth-grade volunteers decided to find out about Grigg and his fellow veterans as part of an elective course Waldron created on citizenship and community to help students learn more about their town.
"I thought it would be a fairly quick project, but it turned out to be much more than we thought," Waldron told the Courier-Post.
"Since Merchantville High School served surrounding communities like Pennsauken, Maple Shade and Cherry Hill (formerly Delaware Township) at that time, we figured only some of the monument names were Merchantville residents," he explained. "But we were surprised to discover that all 135 lived in town."
Waldron chose to incorporate local World War I veterans into the course because this year is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the war.
"It's really been intriguing and enlightening and I want to know more about my community," said eighth-grader Justin McKay, who researched one of the four casualties as well as other veterans.
“It also made me connect more to my own grandfather, who was in the Army Air Corps in World War II.”
Using U.S. Census data, grave websites, a Camden County war dead and history site and a free genealogy website where they found images of military draft cards, seven students researched the background of as many of the veterans as possible and mapped where they lived.
The class found home addresses for nearly all the veterans on a 1921 Sanborn Company map of Merchantville and then located and highlighted them on a modern map.
The students will give a presentation on their project at the Memorial Day ceremony hosted by the American Legion post at 10 a.m. Monday in Wellwood Park. The map will be on display along with posters students made for each of the four local servicemen who died during the war.
Besides Grigg, the other three veterans who died were 1st Lt. Jacob Feldman of 17 W. Park Ave., Lt. J.G. Henry Bowes Jr. of Wellwood Avenue and Volan Street and William Winner of 26 Volan Street.
France in June 1918 as a corporal with Company E, 113th Infantry Regiment. He was killed on the Western Front by shrapnel in the Argonne Forest in the Argonne-Meuse campaign in October 1918.
Feldman, 27, son of Issac and Dora Feldman, died heroically in Army Company D, 110th Infantry, after he was wounded in the Marancourt sector of France in a dash to advance toward Hill 212.
On Sept. 12, 1918, he was shot once, kept going and was shot twice more but, according to a military account, was able to hand his paperwork to a sergeant shouting this encouragement to his troops: “Forward, Men!”
Bowes enlisted in the Naval Reserve in Pennsylvania and later commanded Submarine Chaser 209, one of 11 in a group led by the destroyer escort USS Patterson. He was lost at sea 150 miles off Fire Island in the Atlantic Ocean when an armed merchant ship mistook the chasers for German submarines after the destroyers had departed, opened fire and sunk his ship and two others on Aug. 27, 1918.
Winner, a supply train corporal, survived the war on French battlefields but died on Nov. 27, 1918, in France from a flu epidemic that swept that country and the world, killing millions of people.
None of the casualties is buried locally. Grigg and Winner were interred in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne, France, and Feldman in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial near Picardie, France.
“This was all really interesting,” said seventh-grader Nina Barlow, “especially because I found out Gordon and Howland Bottomley, two brothers who became war veterans, lived in a two-story house next door to where I live now on Springfield Avenue — and the mayor just moved in there.”
Before they went to war, the brothers were nearly 30 years old and working in Camden at Howland Croft and Sons Co., a mill that manufactured worsted yarn, according to their military registration cards.
In the course of their research, Waldron’s students also learned that parts of the borough have changed significantly since that first world war. Some of the streets where its soldiers and sailors had lived no longer exist and other street names and numbers have changed.
Some of those early homes — even mansions — were torn down to make way for larger homes, apartments or other developments.
For example, war veteran Walter Cline was an African-American butler and cook who both lived and worked at the Kempton-Staats mansion estate at 50 W. Maple Ave.and who likely landed in a U.S. Colored Troops unit. All the estate buildings were torn down decades ago and the Maple Avenue Apartments built, but its address is 52 W. Maple. The house number 50 has disappeared.
Eighth-grader Tommy Le said he most enjoyed researching the genealogy while students Ben Katzberg, Tyler Spanier, Ebonee Wright-King and the others were all surprised at the number of Merchantville veterans who served.
Student Makaio Kelii said the class discovered Feldman lived before the war in an apartment upstairs from where Vincent's Pizza is downtown today. An apartment is still upstairs.
Back then "Gasoline Alley" was alongside the building and led to its rear where early cars were serviced while the building's first floor had an office front with a gas sign outside on the sidewalk.
Merchantville legion commander John Brouse is looking forward to the students’ presentation.
"I think it's significant that young people are getting involved in this because you would be surprised how many people do not know the history of those who served from their own community – even veterans.
“We’ve heard some of their names as legion members,” he added. “But we don’t know their background except for Grigg, so this will be an education for us to hear the stories of the others.”
Carol Comegno (856) 486-2473; email@example.com
Video link: http://on.cpsj.com/2s5K7KT
©Copyright 2017, Courier-Post. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Posted June 2, 2017
These remarks were delivered at the April 6, 2017 New Jersey World War I Centennial Commemoration at the Trenton War Memorial by New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.
"Thank you Brigadier General Michael Cunniff for the introduction. I’m proud to be here today to present this centennial spotlight on New Jersey and the Great War. And I’m proud as Secretary of State to be with you here at the War Memorial which originally opened in 1932 as “a great community center" dedicated to the memory of the soldiers and sailors from Mercer County who died fighting in World War I. The War Memorial is operated by our own Department of State, and I would like to thank Bill Nutter and his staff for all their great work here.
I would also like to extend thanks to Sara Cureton, our State’s Historical Commission Executive Director, for emceeing this event, as well as for all her work, and her staff’s work, to help New Jersey celebrate this important centennial anniversary. I would also like to thank Joe Klett and the State Archives staff who prepared the great photos that you will see later lining the screening room. And I would like to thank Terry Dearden and the staff at DMAVA, as well as all our National Guardsmen and women that are always there for us, from helping set up today’s event, to answering the call to serve on the front lines both here in New Jersey and across the world.
New Jersey played an important role in the history of the “war to end all wars.” From the three million troops who passed through the port in Hoboken on their way to the Front; to the 100th anniversary of Fort Dix, one of 16 national Army training camps built in 1917 to train World War I soldiers; to the notorious act of sabotage at the Black Tom Depot in Jersey City --- a terrible explosion that scarred the Statue of Liberty forever; to the new breed of warrior, the aviator, who engaged in single combat high above the conflict on the ground.
And as a Blue Star Mom, with a son flying F-16’s for the United States Air Force, I am fascinated by this history. And the history of New Jersey’s role in the war, of our soldiers and sailors. And our contributions to the Allied victory can be experienced at more than 160 sites across our State. And in this centennial year, I encourage you all to visit those sites. I encourage you all to take part in the centennial events happening across New Jersey this year.
And today on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the Great War, it is fitting for us to recall and salute those from every service and station from New Jersey who contributed to the Allied victory. From the importance of New Jersey’s business and industry to the Allied cause, such as J&J - which provided the bulk of surgical necessities to the battlefields across Europe; to all our female nurses who cared for the maimed and wounded with these supplies; to the eight New Jerseyans -- from Princeton, to Newark, to Summit --- who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; to Trenton native Needham Roberts, one of the first Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre for heroism in battle, and who we will all learn more about during the screening which follows this ceremony.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the President who guided us through the Great War. In fact, the only New Jersey governor to also serve as President, Woodrow Wilson. Just four days before the U.S. entered the Great War, President Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany. The words he uttered that day are as important now as they were then. Wilson noted, 'we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples, as shall bring peace and safety to all nations, and make the world itself at last free.'
So today let us honor all those who have rendered the highest service any New Jerseyan can offer. Those who have fought for our freedom and our security. Today we join as one State, and one people, to appreciate a debt we can never fully repay. A debt we are reminded of not only today, but especially every November 11th Veteran’s Day. Because on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice was reached, and with it an eerie silence crept across the charred battlefields of Europe, ending 4 years of unfathomable destruction.
As I think of the Allied victory, and the price of that victory, I am reminded of poem by a Canadian doctor named John McCrae. Sitting in the back of an ambulance, McCrae put down into words the heavy sacrifice he had witnessed, arguably some of the most well-known words from the war:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
To the over 70,000 New Jerseyans who enlisted and served in the war to end all wars, and to all those that gave their last full measure of devotion to their County and the Allied cause, we can say here today with certainty, that we caught the torch, we kept the faith, and if I may note the inscription on the medals awarded to thousands of those who served in World War I, a grateful nation remembers.
Thank you very much.
Today we recognize service flags as a symbol of one family’s service and sacrifice, but this specific meaning was not the only one these humble flags possessed during the Great War. The flags were originally designed much as we see them today, with blue stars on a white field and red border. A gold star, often stitched atop of a blue star, was added to represent a soldier who died while in service after President Wilson endorsed the request of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defenses. Their Gold Star Mothers program was also taking shape alongside the adoption of service flags.
The Service Flag was patented by Robert L. Queisser of Cleveland, Ohio on November 6, 1917 and received almost immediate recognition nationally. It was adopted less than two weeks later by the New York Telephone Company at their Newark Office to represent their 180 telephone men already in the service. The hanging of the company’s New Jersey service flag followed closely behind the installation of a 24’ x 40’ flag at the company’s main office in New York City. Other prominent New Jersey businesses, such as the Prudential Life Insurance Society in Newark, quickly added their own flags.
Not to be left behind, the people of Ocean County quickly adopted the practice of community service flags with the residents of Tuckerton hanging their first flag funded through popular subscription on December 13, 1917. The Presbyterians of Toms River, following suit the next week, unveiled a flag dedicated to members of their congregation. They even went so far as to publicly list each of the local men in foreign or national service in the presentation. This trend toward greater inclusiveness in those who served would continue throughout the war to encompass those serving both at home and abroad in all manner of martial pursuits. Every few months there was a fresh effort in the local papers and among civic groups to re-survey those who were in the service. By the end of the war, a number of towns had to re-issue larger, more complex flags as the number of service members increased. Due to their patriotic nature, the service flags were often displayed prominently outside, marched in parades, and displayed in civic spaces - helping to explain why so few of them survive today.
Other Types of Patriotic Flags
Many other local organizations also rallied around flags in an effort to promote unity and public participation in the war effort. Liberty Loan Flags, for instance, were issued by the Treasury Department for towns meeting or exceeding their quota. These flags can be identified by the number of stripes they contain denoting the third or fourth campaign or bold V in the case of the Victory Loan campaign. The Red Cross was also quick to adopt the symbol as well, casting their banner in the same format but with red crosses substituting for the stars for military service.
Ocean County’s Centennial Service Flags
As Ocean County has long been proud of its veterans and patriotic activities, the Commission has sought to capitalize on the Centennial to re-engage the public with the World War I era. A ready and enthusiastic partner was found in the Seaport Stitchers, a local quilting guild, who agreed to recreate service flags for the 28 municipalities that contributed soldiers to the war effort.
The Commission agreed to fund the material costs of the project and provide the number of the soldiers who served from each town. Because most accounting attempts during the war period were voluntary, numerous sources were consulted to create the contemporary list of soldiers: Newspapers accounts, Muster Rolls, genealogical indexes, and a survey of all known monuments in the County. The reconciliation of these disparate sources was certainly not an easy task, but created a list of 2,433 service members, or roughly 10.5% of Ocean County’s population at the time. An existing service flag was located and examined in Cape May to serve as a basis for the contemporary efforts.
The Seaport Stitchers have been hard at work on the flags they designed and everyone looks forward to their unveiling to the public. The Centennial Service Flags were designed by Anne Flynn and Betty Maguire based on the Cape May Flag as well as examples from Lumberton and Newark. The contemporary flags bear 13 blue stars to represent the original colonies and when appropriate a gold star in the center. Numbers are emblazoned in corresponding colors to denote the total number who served or perished from each municipality. This practice harkens back to the New Jersey flag of the New York Telephone Company in Newark that utilized a similar solution to the dilemma of having to cut and stitch hundreds of stars.
The Commission would like to extend an invitation to all readers to attend the formal unveiling of the Centennial Service Flags on December 6, 2017. Free daytime performances by award-winning duo Brancey & Dugan will present WWI era music from both sides of the conflict to educate school children and public alike. Limited bus funds are available for local schools and senior citizen centers wishing to attend the 10:30 AM or Noon performances. An adult-oriented program will be offered to the general public at 7:00 PM at the Grunin Center for the Arts with tickets available through the Ocean County College box office.
Nicholas Wood is a Program Development Specialist for the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission. He is responsible for administering the regrant programs, database management, assisting with the Teen Arts Festival and other programs, and providing direct technical assistance. He is a graduate of the University of Maine and the Coopertown Graduate Program. Prior to his appointment with the Commission, Mr. Wood worked for the Jersey Shore Folklife Center at Tuckerton Seaport.
Posted 3 March 2017
The history of Fort Monmouth dates to just after the outbreak of WWI, when the Army leased land for a “temporary” Signal Corps training camp in Little Silver on the site of the old Monmouth Park Racetrack. The tract, though largely overgrown and full of poison ivy, nonetheless appealed to the Army because of its proximity to the port of embarkation in Hoboken and, more immediately, the rail terminal in Little Silver; stone roads dating to the Racetrack period; and access to water.
The first Signal Soldiers arrived at what would become Fort Monmouth in June 1917. Records show that this advance party brought tents, tools, and other equipment from Bedloe’s Island, New York, to prepare the site. They had soon cleared several acres on which they erected a “tent city” to include housing, quartermaster facilities, and a camp hospital.
The Army, perhaps a bit unoriginally, initially called the installation Camp Little Silver based on its location. General Orders dated 17 June 1917 named LTC Carl F. Hartmann the first commander. Additional troops poured in, and instruction of trainees began in July. Records show that the curriculum included “cryptography, the heliograph, semaphore, wig-wag, motor vehicle operation, physical training, dismounted drill, tent pitching, interior guard duty, map reading, tables of organization for signal, infantry, and cavalry units, camp sanitation, personal hygiene, first aid, and horseback riding.” The troops spent much of their “free” time clearing the area of undergrowth, repairing and extending roads, and digging drainage ditches. The Camp sent its first units to the port of embarkation in Hoboken on 7 August 1917.
The Army re-named the site Camp Alfred Vail on 15 September 1917, just three months after its establishment. Vail, an associate of the perhaps more infamous inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, helped to develop commercial telegraphy.
Wooden construction soon augmented the original tents, and the Army established a laboratory devoted to developmental work. Officials wanted this laboratory, housed in dozens of buildings, to be independent of the commercial laboratories with which they usually collaborated. Research and development facilities even included air fields, planes, and hangars for experiments in air to ground communication.
By the end of 1918, some dubbed the Camp the “best equipped Signal Corps camp ever established anywhere.” Just nineteen months after its acquisition by the military, well over one hundred semi-permanent structures had been built. Records show that this included housing for almost 3,000 soldiers and 200 officers. Should those men fall ill, a hospital stood equipped to handle forty patients. Two temporary stables could house up to 160 horses. Hard-surfaced roads facilitated transportation. Men converted one swamp into parade grounds, and another into four company streets that could be lined by 200 tents. The sudden growth of the camp brought to the area a prosperity not seen since the height of the Monmouth Park Racetrack’s popularity.
Between August 1917 and October 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces reportedly received five telegraph battalions, two field signal battalions, one depot battalion, and an aero construction squadron from Camp Alfred Vail. The laboratories had made significant contributions to radio communications and other technologies.
The Chief Signal Officer authorized the purchase of the Camp Vail in 1919. The “temporary” installation received permanent status and the name Fort Monmouth in August 1925. Until its closure in 2011, Fort Monmouth remained a base that trained men (and eventually women) in the defense of the nation and innovated technological advancements for both battlefield and civilian use. For more about the history of Fort Monmouth, to include videos, monographs, dozens of articles, and even archival material, see http://cecom.army.mil/historian/
Melissa Ziobro is currently the Specialist Professor of Public History at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ, teaching courses to include Introduction to Public History, Oral History, and Museums and Archives Management. She serves as the Editor for NJ Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Melissa worked as a command historian at the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, Fort Monmouth, NJ from 2004-2011. For additional details, please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissaziobro
Posted 23 January 2017
The United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1917 on the side of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia had a dramatic affect on Hoboken. Hoboken was one of the most German cities in New Jersey, with nearly 26 percent of its residents being either German-born or the children of German immigrants.
Hoboken was also the American home port of five major passenger and shipping lines, including the German-owned Hamburg-American Packet Co. and the North German Lloyd Steamship Co., which had been bringing immigrants and other travelers to Hoboken since the 1860s.
World War I brought widespread unemployment and the closure of many businesses, displaced thousands of residents, and militarized the city. Although manufacturing employment boomed as many factories in Hoboken contracted with the federal government to make military supplies, other, travel-related businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and the steamship companies, suffered. Hoboken in 1919 was a very different community than it had been in 1916.
The first thing the U.S. did after declaring war on Germany was to seize the German steamship companies’ piers and the 27 ships docked in the Port of New York, and intern 1,000 German sailors, officers, and officers’ families who had been living on board ship at Ellis Island. Hoboken was designated the Government’s main Port of Embarkation, from which the new American Expeditionary Force would sail to France.
Now at war, the U.S. designated the 500,000 German citizens living in America as “enemy aliens.” Among the dozens of prominent Germans arrested and interned was the Rev. Dr. Hermann Bruckner of St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church, Eighth and Hudson Streets. Department of Justice agents arrested Bruckner on April 6 while 500 members of his congregation were at the church waiting for him to preside over a Good Friday service. After extensive lobbying and the posting of a $500 bond, Bruckner was finally released from Ellis Island in late August 1917.
Enemy aliens lived under a long list of restrictions. The rule that most impacted Hoboken’s German residents was the one that designated all of the piers in the Port of New York as a “barred zone” in which no enemy alien could live or work without a special permit. By June, Hoboken Germans were complaining of having to pay $1 in graft each day to get their permits to work on or near the docks.
The combination of being banned from the waterfront and discrimination resulted in thousands of Germans losing their jobs. Then, on November 16, President Wilson proclaimed that enemy aliens could not live, work, or even travel within 100 yards of docks, piers, and waterfronts. One thousand families who lived on Hudson Street were evicted from their homes. Another 800 people were arrested in a series of raids the Army conducted on River Street. Anyone who could not prove his citizenship was detained and taken to Ellis Island.
As the Army’s main Port of Embarkation, Hoboken became a military town. Approximately 1.7 million soldiers of the 4.7 million-man American Expeditionary Force passed through Hoboken on their way to Europe. Another 2,400 officers and 24,000 enlisted men served in the Embarkation Service, most of them based in Hoboken. The German Seamens’ Institute (Deutsches Seemannhaus) at 64 Hudson Street was converted into sailors’ barracks, and the Grand Hotel, Hudson and Third Streets, was taken over by the War Camp Community Service and filled to capacity with officers and their families.
The war also brought Prohibition early to Hoboken. Soldiers were prohibited from drinking, and alcohol was not allowed to be served within a half-mile of a military facility. Although Hoboken was not a military base, the Army successfully closed all but 60 of the city’s 338 saloons in order to keep soldiers from drinking.
Although German citizens were excluded from enlisting in the U.S. Army, many American citizens of either German birth or heritage served in the AEF, sometimes fighting against German relatives in Europe.
The first Hoboken casualty was Corporal Christopher A. Mohr, Jr., 23, of 123 Monroe Street, who was killed June 9, 1918 attacking Belleau Wood. Both of Mohr’s parents were born in Germany. When Mohr’s body was finally returned to Hoboken, the city hosted a military funeral on February 19th 1922 at the Masonic Club at 11th and Bloomfield Streets.
Mohr was just the first of ultimately 70 Hoboken residents who died during the war. Total American casualties were 204,002 wounded, 116,516 dead; of those, 53,402 had been killed in battle, and 63,114 had died of disease, mostly influenza, and accident.
Once the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, Hoboken began its own battle with the federal government to get the confiscated German piers turned over to a tax-paying entity and be compensated for the loss of tax revenue the city had experienced since April 1917. This effort would last for nearly 70 years until the piers returned to city control in 1987.
Dr. Christina A. Ziegler-McPherson is a public historian who lived in Hoboken from 2005-2014; she now lives in London.
Posted 15 December 2016
On May 7, 1915, the Cunard ocean liner Lusitania, on a voyage from New York to Liverpool, was hit by a torpedo fired from German U-Boat U-20 while off the Irish coast. The liner sunk in 18 minutes with a loss of 1,195 passengers and crew, including 123 Americans. This act was an important factor in the decision to go to war against the Germans.
What does the sinking have to do with New Jersey? It has been alleged, though never proven, that a 820-foot-tall German radio transmission tower located in the Atlantic coast saltmarshes of Tuckerton transmitted the message to the U-Boat authorizing its attack on the Lusitania.
In 1912, the wireless tower was constructed by the German telecommunications company Hochfrequenzmachinen Aktiengesellschaft fur drahtlose Telegraphie (usually referred to as HOMAG) on Hickory Island (present day Mystic Island). The tower was used to communicate with an identical radio telegraph station in Eilvese, Germany. Ostensibly intended to facilitate civilian trans-Atlantic communications, American officials soon became suspicious that it was being used for military communications. After information emerged that the Tuckerton station communicated with the German naval cruisers Dresden and Karlsruhe, President Woodrow Wilson issued an order forbidding the use of wireless stations for the sending or receiving of code and cipher messages or plain messages of an unneutral nature. The U.S. government appointed a naval lieutenant to serve as a censor at Tuckerton. The station continued to be operated by German nationals employed by HOMAG and continued to communicate with its counterpart in Eilvese, Germany. The Germans continued sending messages from the tower at the time of the sinking of the Lusitania.
Only a few days after the liner was sunk, a group of prominent academics and engineers argued the necessity of a Federal investigation to ascertain whether the German Government had abused the privilege of direct transmission across the Atlantic and that in view of the Lusitania tragedy, the president should demand that every message sent from Tuckerton and a sister transmitting station at Sayville, Long Island should be submitted to him with those in code translated. Although it appears plausible that the “Get Lucy” message was sent from either Tuckerton or Sayville, it has never been conclusively proved.
When the United States entered the war, the Tuckerton and Sayville stations were seized by the Government. The Tuckerton station was assigned to the Navy which used it primarily as a backup for communications from the Navy’s main transatlantic radio station in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The remaining German personnel at Tuckerton became prisoners of war. After the war, the station was sold to the Radio Corporation of America, which used it as a backup to their central transatlantic transmission facility in Rocky Point, New York. With changes in telecommunications technology, the transmitting station became obsolete, and in 1955 was removed to make way for Mystic Island, a large shore housing development.
Not all traces of the tower could be erased, however. The massive concrete blocks that served as foundations for the guy wire anchors of the tower would have required a herculean effort to remove. They remain standing, incongruous elements in the mid-century development.
For more information about the Tuckerton Wireless Tower, visit the Tuckerton Historical Society (35 Leitz Boulevard, (609) 294-1547). Hours: Wednesday (10-noon, 1-4), Saturday (2-4, June through Labor Day), Thursday (1st Thursday of each month, 7-9, February-October). www.tuckertonhistoricalsociety.org
Posted 23 November 2016
Picatinny Arsenal’s importance to the Allied war effort predated America’s official entry into the conflict. Suppliers of war materiel felt the impact of World War I before this country became a belligerent. Picatinny Arsenal in northern Morris County added a second shift in late 1914. Despite the increased worked load, the workforce fluctuated up and down in the 370-450 range until the country’s declaration of war in April 1917 propelled it to 1,300 and then to 2,167 in 1918. Setting a pattern for later conflicts, the figure fell to 509 after a mass layoff on 1 July 1919.
Before World War I, seven plants in the United States made propellant powders, five of them in New Jersey. The five were DuPont’s three works in Carney’s Point, Haskell, and Parlin, a Hercules plant in Kenvil, and the Army Powder Factory at Picatinny.
From April 1917 until the Armistice in November 1918, the Picatinny factory accounted for only 0.01% of the nation’s total powder needs. Its most vital contribution was helping older plants increase their output and aiding new plants in beginning production. Both men and women inspected plants and aided production within the state at Carneys Point and Parlin, in addition to locations in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Other work included loading explosive D into armor piercing rounds, adding TNT to high explosive shells, bombs, and grenades, and mixing TNT with ammonium nitrate to make amatol, a wartime adaptation to cope with the heavy demand for TNT. The powder factory’s laboratory expanded its mission from quality control to studying problems encountered in developing new powders, explosives, projectiles, and fuzes plus inspecting oils, paints, cartridge, cloth, and other ammunition-related items. The arsenal also provided a camp ground for the 42nd Infantry as it mobilized to go overseas and for the 14th and 16th Coast Defense companies assigned to Sandy Hook Proving Ground.
Employees worked ten hours a day, six days a week, not including travel to and from work. Many walked due to poor train service. The few with automobiles drove on unimproved, ice covered, rutted roads. Train travel had its dangers with a major wreck on 23 March 1918. In that incident, the homeward-bound employees survived, but the train’s fireman did not. Employees also ran risks on base. On 6 June 1918, a fire burned an employee’s arm but he stayed on the job with no lost time.
World War I brought more women into Picatinny’s ranks. The swelling employee figures not only augmented numbers in areas already heavily female – the powder-bag sewing room and clerical positions – but also brought four women into laboratory work as powder testers plus one female chemist. Despite talk of keeping these women postwar, there is no evidence of them remaining at Picatinny after the Armistice.
World War I brought other benefits to Picatinny. The military installation increased its land space by 56 acres and constructed 54 new buildings. One of these new buildings was a garage, signaling Picatinny’s move into the machine age. In addition, the war brought the arsenal its first motorized trucks, at the cost of losing a stately oak in what became a heavily-trafficked intersection.
Some missions, such as powder making, dwarfed others in size and expenditure, but it was the ability to fill a number of needs which made Picatinny a significant contributor to the Allied victory.
About the Author
Patrick J. Owens received his PhD in United States History from the University of Notre Dame and has been an U.S. Army civilian historian at Picatinny Arsenal since 1988.
Posted 31 October 2016
Woodrow Wilson, former New Jersey governor and then-president of the United States, campaigned for re-election to the White House in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Exactly three months and one day after Wilson took the oath of office for his second term, my grandfather, Earle Schwartz of Wood Ridge, New Jersey, registered for the draft. He did so less than three weeks after the President signed the bill instituting a draft to raise an Army to join what is today known to us as World War I. The day that Earle, then 21 years old, registered, June 5, 1917, was the very first day for registration under the new draft.
Before the year was out, young Earle, described by the draft registrar as being tall, of medium build, with blue eyes and brown hair and missing no limbs or eyes, was called up. Earle was sent to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. He returned to the States not long after the war ended, November 11, 1918, on what he always called “Armistice Day.”
When I was about 10 years old, living in the house in Fair Lawn that my parents bought from my grandfather when he retired to Cape Cod, my brother and I one day unearthed in the attic my grandfather’s Army jacket (with the insignia still attached), his hat, and the medal issued to everyone who served in the war. Not yet realizing the historical importance of these items, we enjoyed putting on these relics and marching around the house – and out in the yard – pretending we were soldiers. Unfortunately, although these garments survived World War I, they didn’t survive the Bostock boys. But they piqued my interest.
Years later, on a visit to my grandfather, I asked him about his service in France during the “war to end all wars.” Like most veterans who have seen the horrors of war, he was reluctant to share much of his experience, except to remark on how friendly the French people were. But he did tell me one typically self-deprecating story.
One day he was asked to step in and serve as a substitute aerial photographer for a reconnaissance flight over German lines. He had never been aloft in an aeroplane, and hadn’t been trained in aerial photography, but with the bravado of youth he willingly accepted the challenge.
Sitting in the rear of a dual-cockpit, open-air biplane, he was soon airborne, and after a while they were over the enemy lines. The pilot signaled it was time to start taking pictures, so my grandfather leaned out the side of the cockpit, lifted the camera over the side, and promptly had it ripped out of his grasp, where the slipstream carried it down to the ground. He had forgotten to put the camera’s strap around his neck.
The pilot, seeing what happened, was spitting mad. All they could do was turn around and make their way back to friendly territory. When they landed, the pilot made very clear, in language that turned the air blue, just
how angry he was that the perilous flight was a waste and how thoroughly incompetent he thought this idiot Schwartz must be. My grandfather took his dressing down manfully, until tired of the lecture, he said, “Well, maybe the camera killed one of the enemy when it hit the ground.”
After he finished relating the story, I asked him how he could have dropped the camera. He replied, “I’d never been on anything moving faster than a street car, so I had no idea how strong the wind would be.” I didn’t press him any further, but still I wondered why he couldn’t hold onto a simple camera.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was visiting the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, that the story finally made sense. The museum had an exhibit on the history of aerial reconnaissance. Included in the exhibit was an aeroplane of the type my grandfather flew in, with a mannequin of the pilot and another of the photographer, leaning over the side pointing the camera toward the ground.
Much to my surprise, the camera was huge, bulky, and heavy (depending on the model, these cameras weighed anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds), as the picture below of the exhibit makes clear. And as you can see, the dummy has the strap around his neck. I finally understood why my grandfather couldn’t hold onto that camera – that big, cumbersome camera.
Bob Bostock is the proud descendant of Revolutionary War and World War I soldiers and the even prouder father of LTJG Robert M. Bostock Jr., USN, who is currently on active duty.
For more information about aerial photography in World War I visit: http://www.westpoint.edu/cegs/siteassets/sitepages/research%20ipad/origins%20of%20aerial%20photographic%20interpretation_2008_jan_77-93.pdf
Posted 30 September 2016
A few minutes after 2 a.m. on July 30, 1916, a massive explosion at the National Docks warehouses on the Lehigh Valley Railroad pier wreaked havoc on the Jersey City waterfront. In one way, the event was all too common; explosions and fires plagued Jersey City throughout its years as a port. As early as August of 1866, as the railroads’ post-war expansion along the Jersey City waterfront was gathering steam, powerful explosions caused by a fire on petroleum-laden ships wreaked massive damage, reported widely in the newspapers of the day. For the next century, such cataclysms were a regular occurrence, in greater and lesser degrees happening every few years. In 1911, an explosion of a cargo of dynamite on the Central Railroad pier at Communipaw just north of Black Tom, raised concerns over the handling of explosive cargoes. But the hand of foreign saboteurs, and the subsequent American entry into the “War to End All Wars,” sets Black Tom apart.
Five years after the explosion at Communipaw, the nearby pier at Black Tom was destroyed in a blast several times more powerful – reports stated that the effects were felt as far away as Asbury Park. Shortly afterwards, suspicions were raised that this was more than just an extreme example of the all-too-familiar port fire, but rather a strike against the war supplies headed for the Allied effort in World War I. Though it would be many years before an official verdict was proclaimed and German reparations offered, for practical purposes it was soon known to be an act of war against the United States, and as such was one of the final factors in moving a reluctant and divided nation into active participation in the conflict.
The explosion and its aftermath are also significant as an early test of new Public Safety Director Frank Hague. Hague and members of his department had raised concerns with federal representatives over the safety of munitions held at the docks during transfer from rail to ship, only to be rebuffed in the face of the logistical needs of the war supply effort. When these concerns were so vividly borne out, the response of the fire and police departments Hague had been reforming burnished his reputation, as did the theatricality of his short-lived attempt to blockade arms shipments through Jersey City, the arrest of railroad officials, and public meetings on the creation of local laws that would call for stricter oversight than the Interstate Commerce Commission was providing.
Not long after, Hague would become Mayor, a position from which he wielded tremendous power throughout the state for the next 30 years. Well-publicized conflicts with the railroad companies and other levels of government, strict attention to law and order, and a skill for grand political spectacle – all evident in his response to Black Tom – would continue as hallmarks of his career.
Memories of Black Tom were surely evoked in May 1941, when a massive explosion and fire broke out not far from the site of the 1866 conflagration on docks loaded with supplies for Britain; port officials were quick to assert that this time there was no sabotage involved. Just as surely, those memories were the cause of the absolute secrecy around the full range of use of the Caven Point military pier constructed during the war not far from the Black Tom site. Though at the time the pier was said to be only used for troop deployment, it was revealed after the war that most of the arms for the war in Europe had also been shipped out via Jersey City. Operational secrecy and naval vigilance prevented the enemy from exploiting an opportunity for sabotage that could have outstripped Black Tom by several orders of magnitude.
Instead, Black Tom remained unique as a successful act of international sabotage – an act of war – until September 11, 2001. That terrible day, so much more devastating for the number of lives lost, brought renewed relevance to the earlier event that had receded into remote historical memory. The two events share significance as marking turning points in the history of our region and state, and for the world at large. Just as World War I signaled the end of what scholars have called the “long 19th century,” that more recent attack defined the start of the 21st century, bringing renewed awareness of the trauma of an attack on the home front, so unfamiliar throughout most of our nation’s history.
John Beekman, MLIS is Assistant Manager of The New Jersey Room of the Jersey City Free Public Library. Founded in the year of New Jersey’s Tercentenary, the New Jersey Room is one of NJ’s premier collections of state and local history, and will celebrate both its 50th Anniversary and the 350th Anniversary of New Jersey in an event on September 20. John is a Past President of the NJ Library Association’s History and Preservation Section and serves as a co-editor at H-New Jersey, a state history forum hosted by H-Net.
Posted 24 July 2016