by: Maureen Wlodarczyk
Three months after Hurricane Sandy, at a time of year when the Jersey Shore is normally taking a long winter’s nap and the rest of us are hunkered down counting the days until spring, the daily efforts and daunting struggles of recovery and rebuilding go on. The holiday season was anything but “merry” for so many people but acts of random (and not so random) kindness and the continuing charitable generosity of the people of New Jersey said a lot about who we are and the likelihood that we will not lose interest in our neighbors or the challenges they continue to face. In fact, there is a history of Jersey people rallying to the aid of others stricken by natural disasters.
As we ponder global warming, rising ocean levels, and weather phenomena with names we vaguely (if at all) knew a few years ago including “tsunami” and “derecho,” it turns out that multiple tantrums by Mother Nature occurring in a short period of time are not unprecedented. In April 1906, Italian volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing scores of people in Naples just 11 days before the massive San Francisco earthquake killed thousands.
The citizens of Hudson County were quick to respond to both of those tragedies. Local Italian-Americans organized relief collections to provide financial aid to those affected by Vesuvius. A wide array of disaster relief fundraising was mobilized to raise funds for the devastated people and institutions of San Francisco.
The ladies of St. Mark’s Church, Van Vorst Square, sent the rector of St. Mary’s Church in San Francisco, destroyed in the quake, a complete set of vestments embroidered in white and gold thread in a design of roses and vines. These ladies, members of St. Mark’s Senior Embroidery Class, had done the stunning handiwork themselves, making their generous gift all the more significant.
At the Park Theatre, Bergen Point, Bayonne, the owner organized entertainment for a performance benefiting earthquake victims. Freeholders and other politicians served as ushers and over $200 was realized for the relief effort. At the Columbian Club in Jersey City, the Knights of Columbus presented an “all-star” vaudeville program including Sheehan’s Minstrel Girls and other professional acts to raise funds as well.
In Hoboken at the Stevens Institute auditorium, a benefit recital drew nearly a full-house of attendees who were entertained by various musical artists including three who called San Francisco their homes: sopranos Mrs. Benjamin Lathrop and Miss Lillie Lawlor, and Miss Elizabeth Ames, a cellist. Also performing was Miss Kitty Cheatham, a popular singer remembered for her contributions to children’s music that entertained thousands in Europe and the United States and for organizing children’s concerts for the N.Y. Philharmonic and other orchestras.
The Evening Journal newspaper, in concert with the “Citizens Committee,” publicized and
encouraged reader donations to a trust fund administered by the Treasurer of the Commercial Trust Company. Just two weeks after the earthquake struck San Francisco, over $9,000 had been contributed to that fund and donor names, large and small, were published in the newspaper, including $25 donations each from Jersey City Mayor Mark Fagan and Oscar Schmidt, the owner of a local musical instrument manufacturing company. The smallest donations were 25 or 50 cents, some of those collected by classes of school children, while among the largest were donations of $125 to $500 collected by employees working at the Andrew J. Corcoran manufacturing company, the James Leo box factory and Mullins & Sons home furnishings, all located in Jersey City.
Speaking as one who bonded and banded together with neighbors in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, showering next door where there was hot water and sharing generators via bright orange extension cords that snaked from yard-to-yard, may we keep faith with our fellow Jersey residents whose losses were so severe and whose problems are far from over with the start of the New Year.
Maureen Wlodarczyk is a fourth-generation-born Jersey City girl and the author of three books about life in Jersey City in the 1800s and early 1900s: Past-Forward: A Three-Decade and Three-Thousand-Mile Journey Home, Young & Wicked: The Death of a Wayward Girl and Canary in a Cage: The Smith-Bennett Murder Case. For info: www.past-forward.com.