When I was five years old, we moved from Jersey City to Union Beach, a place where my parents could afford to purchase a small ranch house with carport. For many years after, I spent two to three weeks each summer back in Jersey City, visiting my maternal grandparents at their apartment on Rose Avenue in Greenville. I loved staying with them and being the center of my grandmother’s attention. My grandparents never owned a car so my grandmother and I would take the bus to Journal Square to shop or see a movie. One summer I unexpectedly came down sick, very sick. My grandmother tucked me in up to my chin in her own bed and called for the family’s faithful physician, Dr. Front. He was what used to be called a (very) “tall drink of water,” and had to duck his head when coming through the doorways of the apartment. When he appeared at my bedside, I am told that my eyes opened wide like saucers. No doubt. Looking up from my sickbed to take in the whole of him was quite an experience. His diagnosis: the grippe.
Today, the word grippe, coming from a French word meaning “seize suddenly,” has been replaced by the modern term “influenza,” the two words being essentially synonymous. For decades before that summer I took sick in Jersey City, Hudson County residents had been stricken by periodic grippe outbreaks including in 1889 and 1892. The most serious of those was the 1918 “Spanish” influenza pandemic that first broke out in Europe and killed thousands of soldiers on the battlefields of World War I before making its way to the United States. Continue reading Hudson Then . . . Again- INFLUENZA→
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. Continue reading Hudson Then . . . Again-1906 Disasters and Charity→
In my last column, I wrote about Simon “King” Kelly, a fixture in Weehawken politics in the second half of the 1800s, and a person known for his charity, some of that evidenced by his visits to the Snake Hill Almshouse dressed as Santa Claus and bearing gifts for the young poorhouse inmates. That discovery was more than enough to rekindle my interest in the Snake Hill “community,” a societal island of lost and mostly forgotten souls comprised of the mentally ill, desperately poor, tuberculosis and smallpox patients and incarcerated criminals, and I got to wondering about the decades of Christmases spent there by thousands of Hudson County citizens.
In the 1870s, the Snake Hill complex in Secaucus included the Almshouse, Penitentiary and “Lunatic Asylum.” Newspapers from those years reported politicians arranging for Christmas turkey and chicken dinners at Snake Hill accompanied by live music and even some dancing. The children of the Almshouse were treated to candy, fruit and cake and, according to the press, the convict population was permitted recreational time in the prison corridors, prompting some to break into song. Continue reading HUDSON THEN…AGAIN -An After Christmas Story-CHRISTMAS AT SNAKE HILL→
Over the years, I’ve heard any number of men including my husband describe the benefits and healthful effects of drinking beer. Just this past week, my husband shared a printout of “The Buffalo Theory” with me. That piece of wisdom, attributed to the TV show “Cheers” and a conversation between bar regulars Cliff and Norm, equates survival of the fittest in buffalo herds to a similar process whereby beer drinking results in the death of one’s weakest brain cells, thus leaving the drinker with a more fit mind as a happy side effect of imbibing.
Long before Cliff and Norm entertained us on the small screen, Hudson County liquor distributors had advertised the important health effects to be derived from beer, especially for women. In 1911, a local liquor distribution company ran an ad in a Hudson County newspaper titled “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World,” featuring the image of a young mother gazing lovingly on her infant as she rocks the baby in a wicker cradle. The caption stated the following:
The draw of our state’s coastal waters as a venue for family outings, water sports or the opportunity to step aboard and spend a day fishing or lounging on deck has been a long-standing constant of life in New Jersey, north and south. Hudson County, for instance, was home to many yacht clubs in the 19th century, some of those organized just before and after the Civil War.
While researching my second book, Young & Wicked, I spent many hours ferreting out and reading 19th century newspaper stories related to one of the central characters, Willie Flannelly, Jersey City bad boy and my great-grandmother’s second cousin. Among the various true stories of his juvenile delinquency and anti-social behavior was one recounting his use of a slungshot (different from a slingshot) which was used to knock out a popular local featherweight boxer named Cal McCarthy. Slungshots, a maritime tool consisting of a weight attached to a heavy cord, were a favorite concealed weapon of thugs in those days. Ah, the misguided ingenuity of the criminal mind.
Callahan J. McCarthy was born in Pennsylvania in 1867 and came to the Horseshoe section of Jersey City with his Irish immigrant parents about five years later. One of six children, he made his first public appearance as an amateur boxer in 1887 in association with the Scottish-American Club of Jersey City. A bare knuckles fighter and all of 5’ 2” and 100 pounds, he won the American amateur 110-pound championship that year and turned pro in early 1888. McCarthy, called the “Wonder,” had a great left jab and quick cat-like movements. He went on to fight more than 40 bouts in various venues around the country, taking on both American and European opponents and won the Featherweight Championship of America. In 1890 in Boston, he took on George Dixon in a bout that went on for 70 rounds until a draw was declared. In their second meeting in 1891, Dixon beat McCarthy in 22 rounds. Following that defeat, McCarthy reportedly turned to drinking, soon losing his form and discipline but still fighting sporadically. The young boxer never regained his stride, was stricken with tuberculosis and, still planning a boxing comeback, died in 1895 at 28 years old. Despite that, he was remembered by fight fans and sports writers who, two decades later, still reminisced about McCarthy when talking about the latest crop of young featherweight and bantam boxers. Continue reading Hudson Then…Again -The Fighting Irish of Jersey City→
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