History

“An Illustrated History of RCA/Victor” by Frederick O. Barnum III

There’s a cliché that a picture paints a thousand words. One could easily say that a lot of pictures provide material for one excellent lecture. On December 3rd, Frederick O. Barnum III delivered a speech inspired his 1991 book: His Master’s Voice in America. The Moorestown Library hosted the event.

The book contains numerous photos documenting the history of Victor Records through the RCA years. Mr. Barnum III drew upon “a lot of material” for his project. He spent 35 years working for the organization’s Camden plant. He retired there in 2017.

Shortly after Mr. Barnum III began working for RCA, he inherited ten to twelve filing cabinets containing the company’s archives. He decided to compile the photos he discovered for a book that he titled His Master’s Voice in America. The company only printed five thousand copies that it released on November 18, 1991. Extant editions are rare. Fortunately, for those interested in the history of Victor Records and RCA, Mr. Barnum III shared its images with the audience.

Mr. Barnum III opened his remarks by noting that most of those in attendance “had a connection to RCA.” He delivered his presentation so that both those familiar with the material and those new to it could be equally entertained.

Mr. Barnum III began by discussing Camden, New Jersey’s industrial background. He described the city as a “manufacturing mecca one hundred years ago.” Camden provided a home for companies as diverse as Campbell Soup, the Van Sciver Furniture Company and Camden Beer.

Camden hosted a number of firsts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra became the first such ensemble recorded there in 1918. The first music video took place there in 1928. In 1933, the world’s first drive-in movie theatre opened along the Admiral Wilson Boulevard. During 1934, first fax machine was produced in the city. The first television production line went into operation there in 1946. Both the 45 record and the corresponding record player entered the world through Camden in 1949.

The main portion of interest for Moorestown residents occurred when Mr. Barnum described the early years of Victor Records. Moorestown resident Eldridge Johnson founded the organization. He incorporated it on October 3, 1901.

Johnson moved to Moorestown in 1920. He purchased the former home of Flexible Flyer Sed founder Samuel Leeds Allen. While known as Bridenhart Castle, Johnson named it “The Towers.” In the present day, the building serves as the Lutheran Home.

Johnson donated the funds to construct the Community House located on Main Street. That building opened in 1926.

According to Mr. Barnum III, Johnson’s visionary acumen allowed him to foresee a market for home entertainment. He sought out the talent needed to accomodate this niche. Enrico Caruso became the first entertainer he signed to the Victor label.

Mr. Johnson possessed a genius for business. He developed the record player / cabinet called the Victrola in 1906. From 1912 through 1917 he reinvested his profits back into Victor Records. The company grew so large that it needed its own railroad to travel between buildings.

His efforts allowed Johnson to enjoy a comfortable retirement. In 1927 he cashed in his stock for $28 million dollars. He sold the business for $50 million to investment bankers. Even without Johnson’s leadership, Victor continued to grow. In 1929, the same investors sold the company to RCA for $150 million.

Mr. Barnum III then discussed the history of Radio Corporation of America (RCA). His remarks covered the time the organization purchased Victor through its time in Camden and Moorestown and into a period that included a mind-twisting series of mergers.

The speaker shared some amusing anecdotes about the company. In 1937 RCA sponsored a contest for its dealers and distributors. The first prize winner received a free trip to Camden.

He added that the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) received the first ever trademark for a tone. The company’s musical theme includes three pitches: G, E and C. The letters represent the initials of NBC’s parent company: the General Electric Corporation. GE purchased RCA in 1985.

RCA’s Camden facility continued to produce significant products. RCA built the radar that mapped the surface of the moon during the final Apollo mission. The plant manufactured the television antenna positioned on top of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

In 1953, RCA opened its Moorestown facility. That plant also manufactured systems for the Apollo missions. That branch built the satellite dish used on the lunar module that accompanied the last three.

RCA/Victor has a rich history in the South Jersey area. While copies of His Master’s Voice in America may be difficult to locate, fortunately its author isn’t. Mr. Barnum III mentioned that the library only scheduled the lecture for an hour. He joked that he knew it would be impossible to hold him to that time limit. With his engaging presence, the interesting nature of his talk and the abundance of material he compiled, it’s easy to understand why.

 

Lecture Review – “The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia” by Aaron Sullivan

Aaron Sullivan likes to “complicate things and tell stories.” As he would say, “It’s what historians do.” The Historical Society of Moorestown’s members learned that Mr. Sullivan isn’t a typical historian. In addition to sharing engaging tales with the group he managed to find lucidity in complexity. Not only did he discuss Britain’s nine-month occupation of the Colonial capital from 1777 to 1778, he used that as a back drop to explain a little known and less understood part of the “Glorious Cause.” The speaker explored the plight of people who didn’t side with either the Loyalists or the Patriots. He called these people the “disaffected.” It’s difficult to imagine anyone in the audience at the Moorestown Library wasn’t “unaffected” by his speech this November 6, 2019.

Mr. Sullivan possesses an extraordinary gift for public speaking. He infused both wit and erudition to his stories of how people in the Philadelphia area reacted to the Revolution. Tales of the “disaffected” gave him interesting material with which to do so.

Henry Drinker and his wife Elizabeth were both pacifist Quakers. They lived in Philadelphia when the American Revolution began. They remained neutral: neither siding with the Loyalists nor with the Patriots. For his non-alignment, Colonial troops arrested Henry as an “enemy of the State.”

When a judge ordered Drinker released, the pro-Patriot Pennsylvania legislature passed a law allowing authorities to detain him. Lawmakers took the added measure of making it retroactive to ensure Drinker could be detained. He was denied habeas corpus, transported away from his Philadelphia home and imprisoned in Virginia.

Drinker’s case wasn’t unique. So why did the state view pacifists and neutrals as such a threat?

Mr. Sullivan explained that Britain had myriad resources with which to conduct the war. The Patriots had to rely on “the will of the people.” Because of that, people who refused to participate undermined the justification for independence. These “disaffected” became propaganda tools for the British. Loyalists accused the Patriots of “forcing the revolution” on the American people.

Benjamin Towne made for the most interesting “disaffected” individual Mr. Sullivan discussed. Towne worked as the The Pennsylvania Evening Post’s publisher. As his was the only publication that operated in Philadelphia before, during and after the British occupation, the speaker used Towne’s newspaper as a means to provide insights into the man.

In 1776, Towne adopted a pro-independence position. Upon the British occupation, The Pennsylvania Evening Post became pro-Loyalist. Once the British evacuated the city, Towne and his newspaper reverted to their original stance by supporting the Patriots once again.

Mr. Sullivan noted that then, as now, newspapers made money by selling advertising space. Supporting the dominant political position of the time enhanced the publication’s financial position.

The speaker used some creative examples to explain his ideas. At one portion of the program he used the graphic of a red hat that contained the lettering I Don’t Want to Get Involved. He even explored what would happen if the organization hosting his lecture attempted to form an independent nation. He called it the Historical Society of the Democratic Republic of Moorestown. For the latter demonstration, he applied the concepts he discussed by dividing the room into people who supported the Historical Society’s bid for nationhood, members of the audience who didn’t and other spectators who didn’t care either way.

The most difficult question Mr. Sullivan sought to answer was, in essence, “If the disaffected didn’t care, why should we care about them?” Once again, the speaker utilized an imaginative example. He speculated that 20% to 40% of Americans didn’t take a side in the American Revolution. Then he showed how a comparable percentage of citizens didn’t participate in a more recent event in the nation’s history. In the 2016 Presidential election, 44.3% of eligible voters didn’t vote. They had diverse reasons for avoiding the polls. He explained that, in spite of the pressures upon them, the disaffected during the War of Independence had many motives for their non-participation, too.

Mr. Sullivan asked, “Is it possible to be neutral during a revolution? Is not choosing a side really choosing a side?” It’s difficult to suspect his audience being ambivalent regarding his lecture. The speaker took a narrow academic topic and presented it in an entertaining way while making it relevant to the present day. Mr. Sullivan is quite the revolutionary himself.

 

“The Jersey Shore: the Past, Present and Future of a National Treasure” by Dominick Mazagetti at the Historical Society of Moorestown

The Historical Society of Moorestown selected the perfect evening for the October installment of their History Speaks Lecture Series. A 94 degree day served as the backdrop for Dominick Mazagetti’s speech entitled “The Jersey Shore: the Past, Present and Future of a National Treasure.” The Moorestown Library hosted this event on October 2nd.

Mr. Mazagetti is an atypical historian. A banker and attorney by trade, one of his former employers inspired him to take an interest in historical topics. Mr. Mazagetti became a history columnist for the Hunterton County Democrat. His interest in the past led him to write full length books on the subject. The first, True Jersey Blue, featured a series of letters from two New Jersey Civil War soldiers. A biography of Continental Army General Charles Lee served as the topic of his second.

Mr. Mazagetti then chose to chronicle the history of the Jersey Shore. It’s difficult for modern Garden Staters to imagine the shore as anything other than a haven for recreation. They weren’t always. They do have a lot of history, however.

During the seventeenth century whaling drew people to the beaches. Consumer products manufactured from blubber, baleen (more commonly known as ‘whalebone’) and ambergris, a substance used to manufacture perfume, were in demand. Shore communities sought to satisfy the public’s interest.

The speaker added an interesting historical aside to this phenomenon. He explained that early Cape May whaling families could trace their ancestry back to Mayflower passengers.

The Jersey Shore provided a haven for those operating outside the law. Such individuals took advantage of the opportunities its isolated location provided.

Pirates set up shop along the Garden State’s coastline. Mr. Mazagetti explained that New Jersey residents enjoyed working with them. The buccaneers sold goods for cheaper than market price without charging tax.

Smugglers utilized the opportunities afforded by the state’s abundant shorefront. They had a reputation comparable to the marauders of the high seas. According to the speaker, contemporaries thought of them as, “Like pirates, only quieter.”

The boundary between freebooting and entrepreneurship blurred with the advent of the American Revolution. “Privateers” received licenses from either the state or the Continental Congress. They operated out of locations such as New Brunswick, Tom’s River and Chestnut Neck. These mercenaries proved themselves effective allies. The British described one of their bases of operations as a “nest of vipers.”

As the shore developed into a center for shipping and commerce, lighthouses became a necessity. The one located at Sandy Hook is the oldest continuous operating lighthouse in the United States. Mr. Mazagetti added that George Meade designed several in the state. While most famous for his exploits as a Union general during the Civil War, Meade also worked as a civil engineer.

At the turn of the nineteenth century the modern era of the Jersey Shore began. In the 1830s, the concept of “vacation” came into vogue. Shore towns became retreats for Philadelphians. Communities such as Cape May, Long Branch and Tucker’s Island thrived.

Dr. Johnathan Pitney utilized crafty advertising to take advantage of this interest in shore based recreation. He marketed the benefits of Absecon’s “sea air”; capitalizing on the mid-century belief that salt water carried medicinal properties. He advocated for a railroad to transport vacation goers to his hotels. His efforts encouraged construction of the Camden-Absecon Rail Road.

These developments provided for the growth of Atlantic City. Less than twenty years later, 300,000 people traveled by train to that community.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Long Branch became a sophisticated resort community. Its prominence attracted some notable vacationers. Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park received its name from the fact that number of American Commanders-in-Chief spent their holidays there.

These days one when one thinks of the Jersey shore, images of gambling, bikini clad bathers and posh resorts come to mind. Mr. Mazagetti explained that religion played a major role there beginning in the eighteenth century.

Itinerant preachers visited shore communities early 1700s. In the 1820s the Second Great Awakening impacted the area’s development. A Vineland camp meeting founded Ocean Grove in the 1860s.

Throughout the twentieth century, different shore towns worked to establish their own unique identities. The speaker described these as “boutique communities.” In the 1970s, Cape May rebuilt into a “Victorian showplace” based upon the local architecture. Long Branch rebranded itself as “high-end chic.” Atlantic City became an East Coast alternative to Las Vegas with the return of legalized gambling.

The speaker assessed the current state of the Jersey Shore. He mentioned how the region’s geography has changed over hundreds of years. Climate change has added its own additional complication. It raised the issue of who should be financially responsible for beach replenishment.

Mr. Mazagetti concluded his remarks by stating that the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the “beach is a public trust.” While legal for communities to charge for access to them, they must provide that ingress. That ensures the people of New Jersey will continue adding to the history of this wonderful natural treasure for generations to come.

 

“American Women and Royal Marriages: New Jersey’s Real Life ‘Lady Coras’” by Melissa Ziobro

At the turn of the twentieth century 20 American women held the royal title of “princess.” In fact, some 500 American ladies became members of the European nobility during the time period from the end of the Civil War through the First World War. Historian Melissa Ziobro entertained the Historical Society of Moorestown with tales of these “Dollar Princesses.” The Mooretown Library hosted this latest program in the New Jersey History Speaks lecture series on March 13th.

So how did women raised in a country that rejected the concept of an aristocracy become part of a European one? Depending upon one’s perspective it could be argued that they did so in the good old capitalist fashion: they bought their titles.

Professor Ziobro explained that the United States transitioned from an agrarian society into an urban one starting in the mid-nineteenth century. This resulted in massive wealth creation. By 1900 some 4,000 millionaires lived in the country. Even with abundant financial resources, this “new wealth” failed to gain social acceptance among the nation’s “old wealth.”

Across the Atlantic, the nobility of Europe suffered through royalty’s equivalent of hard times. Their hereditary titles provided them with social status. The changing nature of society combined with their royal lifestyles, however, strained the remainder of their dwindling finances.

American ingenuity came up with a solution to both these dilemmas. Enter the era of the “Dollar Princesses.”

Professor Ziobro selected the subtitle to her talk, “New Jersey’s Lady Coras”, from a character in the television show Downton Abbey. Cora Levinson, a wealthy American, married into British royalty to become the Countess of Grantham. The concept of an American marrying into royalty intrigued the professor. It inspired her to research the topic further. She shared her findings with the audience.

The speaker described a quarterly publication from the era called Titled Americans. She compared it to “internet dating sites today.” The second half of the journal listed eligible European nobles. As the professor observed, “The lure of being an actual princess was strong.”

Professor Ziobro described many of these marriages as “not happy.” In some cases American mothers drove their daughters into theses unions. Many ended in divorce.

To compound the misery of the “Dollar Princesses”, the media vilified them. News publications criticized the amount of money they took out of the United States. When adjusted for inflation, Professor Ziobro estimated that these expatriates added $25 billion dollars to the United Kingdom’s economy alone.

The professor shared brief biographical sketches of some of these women. Jennie Jerome of New York was the most famous. Upon marrying a British aristocrat she became known as Lady Randolph Churchill. The speaker called their marriage a true “love match.” The couple remained together until Lord Churchill’s death. The couple is still well known today as the parents of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

A few of these “Dollar Princesses” came from New Jersey. Consuelo Yznaga lived in Orange at the time she married the Duke of Manchester. This marriage wasn’t a happy one. The Duke became displeased upon discovering that his duchess didn’t possess the financial means he believed she did when he married her. He expressed his discontent by resuming his bachelor ways in the UK. The American media portrayed him as a figure of derision.

During the question period, most audience members inquired about the divorces. Professor Ziobro depicted them to be as unpleasant as the marriages they ended. Divorced “Dollar Princesses” didn’t retain their aristocratic titles. The men didn’t refund dowries, either. The professor explained that the women’s abundant financial resources provided them the means to get divorced.

Professor Ziobro based her remarks on an article she wrote for New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal; a publication she also edits. “’The almighty dollar will buy you, you bet/A superior class of coronet’: Biographical Sketches of N.J.’s Gilded Age ‘Dollar Princesses’” appeared in the summer 2018 edition.

“The First World War marked the death knell of the ‘Dollar Princess’ craze,” the professor said. “The Old World ways of life lost their appeal.” Professor Ziobro said that she’d delivered this lecture twenty times. Judging from the attendance at this one, interest in this trend won’t lose its appeal in the foreseeable future.

 

Lecture Review – “For the Work of a Day We Want Something to Say: Social Change and Suffrage” by Lara Vapnek, PhD

2019 marks the centennial of American women’s achievement of a right that so many take for granted: the right to vote. To commemorate this milestone in human history, the Alice Paul Institute is presenting a series of lectures as part of the “Suffrage Speak: Honoring the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote” program. This Women’s History Month Dr. Lara Vapnek delivered a talk entitled “For the Work of a Day We Want Something to Say: Social Change and Suffrage.” The event occurred at Paulsboro in Mount Laurel, NJ on March 9th.

According to her biography on amazon.com: Dr. Vapnek teaches history at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. She earned her PhD at Columbia. She specializes in the history of gender and labor in the nineteenth and twentieth century United States. The professor based the speech on her 2009 book Breadwinnners: Working Women and Economic Independence 1865 – 1920.

Dr. Vapnek structured her comments along three themes. The working women during the time period considered themselves “breadwinners.” They worked out of necessity to financially support either their families or themselves. These women didn’t feel that men either represented or protected them. Their inability to vote inhibited them from achieving full political equality with men. Lacking that parity affected their ability to achieve their goals within the labor movement.

Stereotypes inhibited the efforts of early reformers. Society viewed women’s proper role as that of homemaker. The “male breadwinner ideal” mythos permeated the eras’s thinking. So did the “middle class ideal” of women belonging at home. Through a series of statistics Dr. Vapnek showed this chauvinistic belief as just that: a fantasy. In 1870, 15% of women participated in the work force. By 1920 that percentage jumped to 25%. In urban areas the figure reached one third.

The professor included some brief biographies of early leaders within the women’s rights movement. She described the contributions of individuals such as Jennie Collins, Leonora O’Reilly and Leonora Barry among others. As many of these figures gave excellent speeches, Dr. Vapnek added memorable quotations to her talk. Some of the best included an 1866 line from Frances Harper: “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs.” While testifying before the US Congress in 1912, Leonora O’Reilly stated, “We women have dreamed of democracy but we have never enjoyed it.” The most prescient also came from Ms. O’Reilly. In 1899 she observed:

Women, whether you wish it or not, your first step must be to gain equal political rights with men. The next step after that must be equal pay for equal work.

A shorter work day was another goal for which these reformers fought. During the nineteenth century people typically worked 12 to 14 hour days. Jennie Collins pushed for a “reduced” 10–hour day. Years later Leonora Barry advocated an 8-hour one.

These advocates proved adept at organizing. They established groups such as the Women’s Trade Union League (in 1903) and the Wage Earners Suffrage League (in 1911). During the fall of 1909, the “Uprising of the 20,000” occurred. These women’s garment workers initiated a walk out in protest of conditions within the industry. The work stoppage lasted until February of 1910. The media at the time portrayed it as the “girls strike.” In a crass attempt to send a message, the authorities tried many of those arrested in night court along with prostitutes. Some 700 received sentences of hard labor.

Labor conditions from the Reconstruction through the First World War were harsh. People worked extended hours in cramped and dangerous conditions. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 made the modern expression “workplace safety” seem like an oxymoron. The plight of the “breadwinners” became more egregious than taxation without representation.

The efforts of these labor reformers facilitated the movement for women’s suffrage. They proved that a person couldn’t have economic rights without corresponding political ones. The power to elect those who make the laws provides a strong incentive for politicians to govern prudently.

 

Lecture Review – “Paulsdale Metal Detecting Finds” by Michael F. Burns, PLS

This February 9th I received an introduction to a new method of historical detection. Michael F. Burns, Professional Land Surveyor described the nuances of using a metal detector to unearth clues about the past. The event took place at Paulsdale in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Mr. Burns possesses a unique expertise on both the subject of metal detecting and local history. A surveyor by trade, he is also a member of the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, the Mount Laurel Historical Society, the Federation of Metal Detectors and Archaeology Club. His metal detecting finds include items such as coins, relics, heirlooms and artifacts. Mr. Burns reported on his findings at the Paulsdale property.

After watching the British television show detectorists, he felt inspired to take up the hobby himself. It seemed a natural extension of land surveying.

The speaker opened his remarks by providing a technical synopsis of the field of metal detecting. Fortunately for your correspondent he did so in language lay people could understand.

He began by introducing the audience to his preferred tool, White’s Spectra V3i. Their machine contains both an audio and a visual component. A polar plot displays vectors that plot the different frequencies the device detects. He, however, prefers to interpret the sounds that represent the different signal strengths. Mr. Burns explained that a good detectorist understands how to read them.

Detecting consists of the following steps: sweeping, pin pointing with the detector, digging, pin pointing with a pin pointer, recovering the target, re-checking the hole with the detector and then filling in the hole.

The latter step is crucial. Mr. Burns along with most detectorists practices “responsible metal detecting.” The trade even has a Metal Detecting Code of Ethics. One component entails getting permission from the property owner before detecting. Practitioners perform their craft with the dual goals of both “saving history and protecting the hobby.”

Paulsdale is a six acre property located on Hooton Road in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In 1991 the Department of the Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark. It’s most famous as the home of legendary suffragist and co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul. From 1800 until the late 1950s the property operated as a functioning farm.

Mr. Burns displayed both photos and samples of some items he located on the Paulsdale grounds. He presented an interesting array of objects. The property contained some unusual finds. The speaker located part of a toy gun and a lead toy cowboy from the 1950s. He also found a brass brooch of unknown date, an ignition coil from a Model T Ford dating from the 1920s and a silver plated spoon manufactured in Fairfield, England in 1915.

The most common items he located were old coins. He unearthed a 1922 Order of Railway Conductors convention coin, one from 1938 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Collingswood, New Jersey among some regular currency.

There’s an adage among detectorists that: “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” Mr. Burns emphasized that research is the most important part of metal detecting: both in determining where to search and in identifying the items discovered. With his passion for his work, local history buffs will be hearing about Mr. Burns’ discoveries for years to come.

Lecture Review – “Sherlock Holmes of America” by Marisa Bozarth

Museum Curator of Burlington County Marisa Bozarth clued local history buffs in to the life of a real Sherlock Holmes. Ms Bozarth discussed some of the famous and infamous cases of Ellis H. Parker; Burlington County’s first Chief of Detectives. The lecture occurred at the Moorestown Library on January 16, 2019. The Historical Society of Moorestown presented it as part of its New Jersey History Speaks series.

Ellis Parker’s early years gave little indication he’d pursue a career in law enforcement. A proficient fiddler, he’d planned on working as a musician. His pursuit of that endeavor provided an unusual segue to a lifetime of crime fighting.

Needing transportation to a gig, he borrowed his father’s horse and carriage. Following the show, someone absconded with it. It also contained his fiddle. Wanting to retrieve the source of his livelihood, and to avoid his father’s anger, Parker searched for the missing items himself. Upon finding them, he informed the police.

Horse thievery was a common crime in late nineteenth century America. The novice Parker’s ability to solve such a case impressed the officers. They offered him a job.

Thus, in 1891, Parker began work for the Ocean and Burlington Counties Detecting and Pursuing Association. When the organization divided in 1894, he became the first Chief of Detectives in Burlington County. Parker held the post for over forty years. While in that role he solved 288 out of the 300 crimes he investigated.

In a bizarre ironic twist, the legendary crime fighter’s career ended when he became a criminal himself. Chief Parker spent the final days of his life in federal prison. What happened?

Ms. Bozarth described Parker’s technique. He possessed a profound understanding of how to talk to people. He applied a pragmatic approach to his questioning technique. The lone witness to the 1906 murder of Moorestown resident Florence Allison was a little girl. During the interrogation he gave her pieces of candy every time she answered a question.

At times Parker would “weave lies” to get information. He used this tactic when he interrogated George Small and Rufus Johnson during the Allison investigation. During his questioning he told them that each had accused the other of committing the crime. Both men reacted to this by blaming the other one. The information obtained during the interviews provided Parker with enough evidence to convict both men.

Parker possessed strong powers of observation. They aided him in solving the 1911 Firebug Case. A series of barn fires plagued Burlington County. Authorities suspected arson as the motive. Parker determined that the perpetrator’s true goal wasn’t burning, but robbery.

At the scene of one crime he observed that a fence rail had been removed. He also noticed hoof prints leading in opposite directions from where the barn stood. From these inspections he deduced that the criminal brought an old horse to the barn, stole a more robust animal then burned the barn (and his original animal) to cover up the crime.

The Chief’s attention to detail helped solve the David Paul murder case of 1920. Upon its discovery the body was wet. Parker noticed that the water in a nearby creek looked “different.” A lab’s analysis revealed that it contained tannic acid; a by-product from a tannery upstream. That chemical worked as a preservative. From this revelation, Parker determined that the killer committed the crime days before investigators originally believed. From this new information, they apprehended the perpetrator.

Ms. Bozarth portrayed Parker as a bit of a psychiatrist. He also knew how to read emotions. While investigating the murder of seven year-old Moorestonian Matilda Russo he applied this ability brilliantly. The suspect’s wife informed him that the man (Lewis Lively) left on a trip. She didn’t know when he’d return. The woman had also recently cleaned the bedroom floor. All the other rooms in the house appeared “lived in.” From her conduct Parker deduced she knew her husband committed the crime.

Parker received news that Lewis had moved to Canada. The Chief devised a ruse to lure him back to the US. He had Mrs. Lively imprisoned. Almost a century before the term “fake news” entered the American lexicon; Parker planted a false story in newspapers throughout the East Coast. It reported that she had been arrested for the killing. The trick worked. Believing no one suspected him of the murder, Lewis returned to New Jersey. He was arrested and convicted of the crime.

So with such extraordinary success as a law enforcement officer, just how did Parker become a criminal? As one can tell from the cases mentioned, the Chief wasn’t averse to using dubious methods to gain convictions. They crossed into illegal during his investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping.

Ms. Bozarth’s discussion of Parker’s involvement in this case could’ve made for a lecture of its own. In essence, Parker became convinced that Bruno Hauptmann didn’t murder the Lindbergh baby. He believed that a man named Paul Wendel committed the crime. To extract a confession Parker “deputized” three thugs to abduct and torture Wendel until he admitted it.

In American juris prudences first application of the “Lindbergh Law”, a jury convicted Parker of kidnapping. The first Chief of Detectives in Burlington County’s history spent the remainder of his life in prison; quite an ignominious end for the Sherlock Holmes of America.

Aristotle once noted: “There is no great genius without a touch of madness.” That observation would aptly apply to Chief Parker. Although a movement to pardon him has existed for some time, his conduct during the Lindbergh investigation raises some serious questions about his methods. Several of Parker’s cases resulted in suspects receiving the death penalty. One has to hope his behavior during the Lindbergh case an aberration.

Dr. Richard Connors – The Road to the Armistice 1918

This November we commemorated the centennial of the Great War’s conclusion. Fittingly, in October, historian Richard Connors published his latest volume on the First World War. With The Road to Armistice, he explored the conflict’s final months from the battlefields to the negotiating table to the hustings. As in his 2017 work, New Jersey and the Great War, he included sections that described the war’s impact on the Garden State. A witty and engaging read resulted.

Dr. Connors employed several writing techniques that made the book very enjoyable; his vernacular style chief among them. Academic historians have a bad habit of overusing fancy words. Some like to include epistemology and ontology with the same frequency that most people use and and the. Dr. Connors avoided this error. He expressed his ideas in lucid language that made them easy to understand.

In his analysis of the “Black Day” of the German Army, the professor provided a clear yet detailed description of events. He did so in a way that would’ve impressed Sir John Keegan.

Instead of the traditional days-long artillery barrage, which alerts the enemy to the location and immanence of an attack, the Allies rely on a last-minute rolling barrage. This is an approach where the artillery fires ahead of the infantry at a prescribed distance, and continues this pattern as the soldiers advance. At 4:20 a.m. on August 8 the guns roar for three minutes, aiming two hundred yards in front of the assaulting tanks, infantry, and cavalry. This formula is repeated until the shells reach a maximum depth of 4,500 yards. The artillery teams then move forward. But plans don’t survive for long. The gods of war take over. Little if any resistance by some German units, wholesale surrender by those surrounded, stiff resistance by other units, difficulty communicating in any direction amid the ear-shattering din and blinding smoke of battle, orderly advances by some troops, pell-mell rushes by others, tank breakdowns, halts to avoid being caught in the rolling barrage or to outflank bullet-spewing machine guns, the roar of airplanes diving down to strafe the enemy, the shrieks of the dying. The result is chaos and confusion accompanied by incomprehensible death and destruction. Chaos and confusion might not be the best choice of words; berserk bedlam might be better. (Loc 118)

As readers could determine from the above passage, Dr. Connors wrote in the present tense. By doing so, he gave the story an immediacy one doesn’t typically encounter in works of history.

The Road to the Armistice 1918 contained excellent use of humor. That’s quite an achievement with such sullen subject matter. In the chapter describing the life of a platoon leader in the 29th Division he observed:

Runners are used as contact agents; paths for them have to be found and maintained. Runners are not always reliable. Sometimes they will run to the rear and just keep on running. (Location 697)

When describing the training the 78th Division experienced in Europe, he noted an unanticipated hardship the war forced American troops to endure.

They are also exposed to the “delights” of British rations, which feature tea, biscuts, jam, and cheese. Not very popular with the doughboys raised on meat and potatoes. (Location 723)

Even with the nation at war, newspapers didn’t limit their coverage to carnage. On August 3, 2018, papers reported the following stories.

New Jersey news includes details of a “slacker roundup”, involving raids of theatres, hotels and saloons, sending some 300 men to the local armory for questioning. On the lighter side, Belmar arrests twenty-three “drippers,” persons walking on the boardwalk with wet bathing suits and inadequate covering. The fine: $5. (Location 107)

The author included interesting information regarding wartime New Jersey. He wrote that in October:

…a Presidential order banning German aliens from a number of coastal towns in Monmouth and northern Ocean counties. The order covers communities east of the Jersey shore railroad tracks, from Matawan south to Point Pleasant. It was triggered by fears that German submarines will bring in spies and saboteurs, bent on destroying war industries and interfering with shipping. (Unknown to the general public, a U-boat shelled the Coast Guard station at Sandy Hook during August.) (Loc 264)

I only had one criticism of the book. While I liked the professor’s conversational writing style, I did read a number of clichés. As Dr. Connors is an excellent writer, I thought he could have used more creative expressions than “money to burn” (Loc 409), “spiraling downhill” (Loc 420) and “to put it mildly.” (Loc 466)

Dr. Connors commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the war’s conclusion by publishing The Road to the Armistice 1918. I reflected upon the centennial by reading it. I finished just before Veteran’s Day.

 

Lecture Review – Christopher Andrew Maier: “Just for the Record: The Life of Eldridge Reeves Johnson”

What better way to commemorate the anniversary of someone’s death than through a celebration of that person’s life? As part of the “History Speaks” series sponsored by the Historical Society of Moorestown, Mr. Maier did just that. He delivered a first person lecture on one of the town’s most famous residents, Eldridge Reeves Johnson. The event occurred at the Moorestown Library on November 14th: the 73rd anniversary of the entertainment industry pioneer’s passing.

Perhaps inspired by Mr. Johnson’s life, the Historical Society of Moorestown pioneered a trend of its own. Several months ago I attended a lecture they sponsored that included an “opening act.” This came about due to the lateness of the featured speaker. At this event the speaker fulfilled these dual roles himself. Mr. Maier began the evening by displaying some stellar musicianship on the grand piano.

Then the speaker transitioned from tickling the ivories to massaging the audience’s intellectual curiosity. Mr. Maier segued into his lecture on the life of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s founder, Eldridge Reeves Johnson.

The speaker’s passion for his subject came through in his remarks. He chose to deliver them in the first person; in essence, becoming his subject. Mr. Maier described the development of the gramophone, “as important as the Guttenberg Press.” This innovation led to the company employing such cultural luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. It even hired an unknown artist named Andy Warhol to design their artwork.

It seems odd that someone who founded such a remarkable organization had such inauspicious beginnings. A high school instructor told Johnson to “learn a trade” as he wasn’t “college material.” That’s the polite description of the conversation. Mr. Maier even said this person referred to Mr. Johnson as “dumb.” Mr. Johnson opted to become a machinist. Circumstances showed he made a good choice. The skills he developed served him well upon meeting his future business partners Emile Berliner and Alfred Clark.

Johnson’s career proved the business adage about the importance of surrounding one’s self with “good people.” While working with Alexander Graham Bell, Mr. Berliner developed a microphone used on the first telephone. Mr. Johnson’s future rival, Thomas Edison, employed Mr. Clark. The latter invented a governor that regulated a gramophone’s speed. The one he produced served a key function in Victor’s record player.

When the Victor Talking Machine Company opened for business in 1901, it earned $500 in sales. When adjusted for inflation that equates to approximately $15K in 2017 currency. Just when that instructor who called Johnson “dumb” may have felt vindicated, both the company’s popularity and its revenue grew exponentially. Just five years after starting up, the organization generated $12 million in sales. In 2017 figures, that would come to over $332 million. (Source: westegg.com inflation calculator.)

Mr. Maier described the gramophone’s technical details. He even provided an authentic one as a visual aide. The device lacked a volume control. Shoving something into the horn served as the only means of deadening the sound. The lecturer demonstrated by literally “putting a sock in it.”

In 1906, the company developed a more practical way to address the issue. During that year, the Victor Talking Machine Company produced the Victrola. The speaker’s position beneath the turntable helped to lower the volume.

A Victrola could best be described as a multi-purpose cabinet. The lower portion contained a section where consumers could store their records. It also included a pull-out shelf where consumers could place the records they wanted to play.

Unlike many business barons, such as Mr. Edison, Eldridge Johnson possessed a humble disposition. Decades before management guru Jim Collins advocated this trait, Mr. Johnson recognized that it made good business sense. He understood that Victor’s performers were the company’s real stars. As Mr. Maier speculated that he said: “All is vanity. That’s why no one knows my name.”

In addition to his revolutionary contributions to the entertainment industry, Mr. Johnson contributed his substantial means to philanthropic causes. As Moorestown residents know, he generously provided funds for the Community House. Mr. Maier added that Johnson tore down one of his own mansions to provide a site for the Merion Tribute House (formerly the Merion War Tribute House) located in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. He intended the building as a memorial for local residents who served in the armed forces during the First World War.

After covering the serious side of Mr. Johnson’s life, Mr. Maier added wit to his presentation. He shared a few YouTube videos he produced. One showed his discovery of where Mr. Johnson’s original machine shop stood. (https://youtu.be/cfR9QlL1oUg) In the most amusing segment, the speaker swapped his piano for a beat box. He kicked it old school with his tribute to Victor’s mascot in the form of “Nipper’s Yap Rap.” (https://youtu.be/IFUK4TULQYU)

It seemed fitting that Mr. Johnson’s company rivaled Mr. Edison’s. As Mr. Maier explained, “Edison was an inventor. Johnson was an artist.” With the speaker’s proficiency at music, performance art and knowledge of the gramophone it’s understandable why he developed such an interest in the latter. After attending his lecture, one can also understand why his audiences experience that same enthusiasm.

 

“The Salem Witch Trials: A Conspiracy of Witches” by Mickey DiCamillo at the Historical Society of Moorestown

In the pale light of a waxing full moon I ascended the walkway to Smith-Cadbury Mansion. My stroll past the old Hopkins home allegedly spooked by a “blue lady” and the apparition of a Quaker gentleman put me in the frame of mind for a scary story. Mickey DiCamillo, the President of the Historical Society of Moorestown, didn’t disappoint. He delivered the final chapter of his trilogy of terror on the Salem Witch Trials. I attended his “A Conspiracy of Witches” lecture on October 24th in the kitchen at the Society’s headquarters.

Of the three installments on the “Essex Witchcraft Crisis”, as people in the 1690s called it, I found this one the most terrifying. Mr. DiCamillo’s use of imagery in depicting of Abagail Williams’ vision of a coven of witches gathering on her guardian’s property gave me chills. The pontifications of a sinister figure she viewed among them vowing to destroy Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to raise it up again in the name of Satan added to the dreadfulness. Interestingly, the most frightful parts of this program didn’t involve the supernatural. The most unsettling segments concerned the conduct of society itself.

As with the other lectures in the series, Mr. DiCamillo shared some amusing anecdotes about the events. The most gripping concerned the fate of George Burroughs. When asked if he had any last words while standing on the gallows, this convicted witch recited the “Lord’s Prayer.” As people believed witches didn’t possess the ability to pray the on-lookers became confused. They turned to a renowned witchcraft “expert” among them. Cotton Mather utilized some specious logic to justify the execution continue as scheduled.

Mr. DiCamillo’s depiction of Rebecca Nurse’s fate delivered chills, as well. The jury initially found the 71 year old innocent on charges of witchcraft. Instead of accepting the verdict the judge questioned the panel. He reminded them that Mrs. Nurse made a cryptic comment during the proceedings: “Those used to come among us.” As the magistrate and the jury interpreted her remarks differently, they asked the defendant what she meant. Mrs. Nurse didn’t reply to their inquiry. Some speculate her advanced age rendered her partially deaf. The jury reversed its own verdict.

Mrs. Nurse retained a lot of support in the community. These people petitioned the governor to pardon her. He did. In an unprecedented move, the Salem judges refused to accept it. There was only one sentence for those who were found guilty without confessing to witchcraft. Mrs. Nurse went to the gallows on July 19, 1692.

I found the story of Bridget Bishop the most intriguing. In either the 1670s or 1680s, she was accused of witchcraft and tried. She received a “not guilty” verdict and returned to her normal life. In 1692, the newly established Court of Oyer and Terminer decided to re-hear her case. There being no concept of “double jeopardy” in Puritan juris prudence, she became the first person tried in the Salem Witch Trials. Prosecutors used the same evidence presented against her the first time. This time the jury convicted and sentenced her to execution. Mr. DiCamillo explained, “This shows that the political and social climate had changed. It was the same evidence with a new mentality.”

The lecture’s real horror began when Mr. DiCamillo placed the witch trials in their historical context. After revoking the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter, the British government established a new one. The number of people imprisoned for witchcraft appalled new Governor Sir William Phips. He established a court in his first official order. The Court of Oyer and Terminer did reduce the number of people waiting to be tried for witchcraft. It did so in a way that made it infamous.

Everyone who appeared before this court received a guilty verdict. Part of this stemmed from its willingness to accept weak evidence. In his first lecture on the Salem Witch Trials, Mr. DiCamillo described the types of evidence accepted during a witchcraft trial. A confession provided the most compelling one. Others included “spectral evidence.” This entailed a witch appearing in ghostly form to its victim. He described another as “anger resulting in mischief.” The latter referred to two people getting into an argument and then something bad happening to one of the participants.

While dubious, the court accepted these types of “evidence.” They applied it so liberally that 20 people met their deaths at the gallows. It may seem odd, but those who admitted practicing witchcraft did not receive death sentences. In return for a confession, a person would then testify against other “witches.” As Mr. DiCamillo noted, it didn’t do much good to execute a star witness.

At the end, Mr. DiCamillo attempted to answer the biggest question about the trials: why did they happen? He identified three elements that combined to make this bizarre event possible. Puritan society contained many factions. A vulnerable government led people to question its legitimacy, future and effectiveness. A “fear factor” served as the third component.

As with his discussion of the flu pandemic of 1918, Mr. DiCamillo found something positive in the tragedy. Both Benjamin Franklin and John Adams grew up in Massachusetts while the Puritan system of government fractured. The principles they learned in that environment inspired them to help build a new system of government: one predicated on the rule of law and a separation of church and state.

The Salem Witch Trials still serve as the benchmark for a society run amok. As Mr. DiCamillo noted, the expression “witch hunt has become a part of the American vernacular. The factors that led to the events of 1692 have repeated themselves throughout our history; most notably in the Red Scare of the 1950s. Let’s hope there are more Mickey DiCamillos out there raising awareness about the aspects leading to this spectacle. As he chillingly noted, “I don’t blame the children. The adults could’ve put a stop to this at any time.” Let’s hope that next time they do.