Local 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.

 

The King’s Highway by Jason Sherman at The Historical Society of Moorestown

The latest installment of the Historical Society of Moorestown’s History Speaks lecture series included a format change. In lieu of a lecturer, this one featured a film. The Society both educated and entertained audience members with its screening of The King’s Highway; a documentary film written, directed and narrated by Jason Sherman.

Mr. Sherman’s website describes him as an entrepreneur, a film maker, an author and journalist. In spite of this busy schedule, Mr. Sherman visited the Historical Society of Moorestown on January 8th.  After the audience watched his documentary regarding one of “the most important roads in American History,” he participated in a talk back.

1650 King Charles planned development of a road that extended from Boston to Charleston. The actual King’s Highway proved an ambitious endeavor. So did the film documenting its history. Mr. Sherman explained that he performed 90 per cent of the work himself. He self-funded the project through its first six months.

The documentary included beautiful panoramic views of the Delaware Valley. The film maker added interviews with local historians and political leaders. They provided insights and valuable information for local history buffs.

The King’s Highway included three themes. The history of the area the road traversed took the forefront. People have resided in the Philadelphia area for over six thousand years. The film described the cultures of indigenous people who served as its first inhabitants. The film also showed how European settlers lived. Both groups shared a common interest in the King’s Highway.

The film then showed how Northeast Philadelphia played as crucial a role to the development of the American republic as events in Center City Philadelphia did. The community’s inns and taverns entertained a host of important figures from American history. They included George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The documentary reported an anecdote about the “Frankfort Advice.” John Adams claimed that these ideas discussed at Frankfort’s Jolly Post Inn were later included in the Declaration of Independence.

The final third of The King’s Highway explored the issue of building preservation. When Mr. Sherman made the film in 2016, Philadelphia allocated $500,000 to address this issue. Only two per cent of the city’s historic buildings were designated for preservation. In the film’s most dramatic scene, the director included footage of a nineteenth century home getting demolished by a wrecking crew. The image made one member of the audience gasp.

Mr. Sherman explained that his film has stimulated an interest in historical awareness. Since its release, he has conducted walking tours of Northeast Philadelphia, he’s posted his own historical markers and he’s hosted reenactments. The City of Philadelphia has declared August 20th “King’s Highway Day.” The documentary has also sparked a movement for historical preservation.

The King’s Highway received the Best Feature Documentary Award at the 2016 First Glance Film festival. It is available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Those interested in learning more can visit the website: kingshighwayfilm.com.

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 – “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.

“The Salem Witch Trials: Strangely Accused” by Mickey DiCamillo at the Historical Society of Moorestown

The Historical Society of Moorestown bewitched local historians with another enchanting evening this October 17th. The organization’s President, Mickey DiCamillo, delivered the second part of his lecture series on the Salem Witch Trials.  This installment subtitled “Strangely Accused” further described Salem Village’s decent from normalcy—at least by Puritan standards—into an environment of paranoia and zealotry. The crux of the lecture focused on the reasons for this change.

The Society selected an excellent environment for such a discussion. The cobwebs, pumpkins and eerie lighting served as an excellent backdrop. The Halloween décor along with the howling winds on this brisk autumn evening further established the mood.

The group decided to move the lecture indoors due to the cold…or so they said. I wonder if the real chill everyone longed to escape was the one the darkness and the cool breeze sent up everyone’s spine. The audience moved into a cozier atmosphere in the kitchen at Smith-Cadbury Mansion.

During the early months of 1692, accusations of witchcraft only fell on societal outcasts. As the year progressed this changed. Upstanding members of the community such as 72 year old Rebecca Nurse and church goer Martha Corey found themselves under investigation.

As expected, Mr. DiCamillo included witty observations in his lecture. “Maury Povich would want to meet the people of Salem,” he noted. Martha Corey’s life illustrated one reason why. Mrs. Corey moved to Salem Village to begin a new life for herself. While living in her previous community she’d engaged in an extramarital affair. To make things worse, she became pregnant as the result of this illicit relationship. The fact that her child bore the features and skin tone of a Native American didn’t do much to ameliorate her situation. Hence, she relocated to the community and “repented” for her sins. She remarried and became an ardent Christian woman.

Mr. DiCamillo added other interesting details regarding the witch investigations to his lecture. He emphasized the common themes that developed in the course of them. Those allegedly bewitched often reported seeing animals. Most often they witnessed dogs and yellow birds. In Puritan lore, these figures represented the Devil.

Interrogators often asked those accused if they had written in the Devil’s book. Every witch seemed to carry around a tome in which fellow sorcerers and sorceresses would sign their names. Mr. DiCamillo’s imagery made me think of the tradition of signing high school yearbooks.

While accusations of witchcraft could cost someone his/her life, those acquitted endured financial hardships. During the era prisoners paid for their own food, room and board. An accused person could accumulate large debts while waiting for trial.

Coming from this draconian environment, it seems odd that the Puritans began a benign tradition that persists into the modern era. They established the practice of attending church on Christmas.

As with just about anything the Puritans did, this one comes with an interesting story. In seventeenth century England, people celebrated Christmas much differently than those of us living today. Think mardi gras meets New Year’s Eve meets a frat party.

In the 1680s Anglicans began moving into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritans objected to these raucous celebrations. They declared that if a person wanted to commemorate the birth of Christ, one should do so in a church. Revelers swapped their whiskey for communion wine and a great American tradition began.

The “Strangely Accused” lecture showed that anyone could be accused of witchcraft. Neither age, nor gender nor amount of religious devotion immunized a person from these allegations. Mr. DiCamillo piqued everyone’s interest on how this bizarre and tragic situation would resolve. I eagerly anticipate hearing it. The final segment of this tenebrous trilogy of terror takes place this October 24th at the Historical Society of Moorestown.

 

The Ghost Tour Presented by the Historical Society of Moorestown

Even the best place to live in America* has its scary side. I heard tales of Quaker apparitions, mysterious shadows and a visit from the Jersey Devil when I took part in the Moorestown Ghost Tour the evening of October 13, 2018.

Like Prince, Fabio and Bono our tour guide opted to forgo a surname. A man referring to himself by the enigmatic one-word Joe led our group through the journey. We explored Moorestown’s macabre memories surrounding Main Street. An entertaining evening ensued.

The weather accommodated the chilling atmosphere. The unseasonable warm temperatures South Jersey’s experienced gave way to the cool caress of an autumn breeze. A crescent moon bathed the area with a haunting glow on this starless night.

Our tour guide didn’t waste time in getting everyone’s attention. After sharing tales of alleged hauntings at Smith-Cadbury Mansion, we embarked.

Joe discussed the horrific occurrences in the area where the TD Bank now stands. Two local celebrities lived in a home near its grounds. Edgar Sanford served as the first rector of the Episcopal Church on Main Street. His wife, Agnes Sanford, founded the Inner Healing movement. Historians cannot identify the precise location where their house stood.

Mrs. Sanford described the Inner Healing Movement as a process of “the healing of memories,” according to Wikipedia. It’s somewhat ironic that she could have used that practice upon herself. She reported her “senses deadened” and witnessing “shadows moving without light” in her Moorestown home.

A later portion of the tour entailed a visit to Trinity Episcopal Churchyard. Joe forewarned my group that some tour goers have experienced discomfort visiting that graveyard at night. In fact, a few reported the appearance of shadows in the absence of light; an intriguing observation regarding the ground next to the church where Reverend Sanford preached.

I encountered a potential run-in with the occult while in the cemetery. The young lady next to me reported seeing “beady eyes” staring at her from off in the darkness. “It must’ve been a cat. At least, I hope it was a cat,” she said. As I prepared to investigate, I thought it would’ve been impolite if I proved her wrong. I figured it more honorable to go along with her suggestion.

The Trinity Episcopal Churchyard serves as the resting place of Edward Harris. Before Iron Maiden fans “run to the hills” and become “invaders” to Moorestown they should be aware: this is a different Edward Harris than the band’s mascot. The Moorestown Edward Harris befriended John J. Audubon and owned Smith-Cadbury Mansion; the Historical Society’s current headquarters.

Joe told multiple tales of spectral figures attired in Quaker garb haunting the community. During the early twentieth century a farm worker encountered one. While at the site where Hooton’s Hall once stood, he witnessed a ghostly figure in a dark suit and hat walking across the hay and through the wall of a barn.

A customer at the real estate company occupying the Hopkins home on Main Street reported a comparable experience. Upon entering the building he witnessed a man dressed like a nineteenth century Quaker sitting on a chair and staring at him. The figure bore an uncanny likeness to the home’s original owner John Clement Hopkins.

Not all supernatural occurrences in Moorestown are of the spectral variety. January 19, 1909 proved a memorable day in the town’s history. Not only did a snowstorm affect the area, but a series of unexplained phenomena occurred. One resident reported hoof-like tracks in the snow near Stokes Hill. They began in his front yard and trailed around to the back of the house. There they stopped abruptly. That seemed rather odd as the snow had just fallen.

Other residents witnessed a UFO over the site of the current Community House. They described it as a small creature about three feet in length with a two foot wingspan. Its head bore that of a collie’s and the face resembled a horse’s. While on his legendary tour of the Mid-Atlantic region in January of 1909, the Jersey Devil apparently decided add Moorestown to his itinerary.

Joe discussed a variety of other stories that do not appear in this article. I didn’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t taken the tour, yet.

On a very serious note he asked for assistance on a local cold case. He requested that anyone with information about the August 22, 1975 disappearance of Carolyn Majane please contact the authorities. More information regarding the case can be found on his website.

I later found out that Joe does, in fact, have a last name. More information regarding Mr. Wetterling’s research can be found at moorestownghosts.blogspot.com. As he mentioned during the tour, the newspaper articles posted there are very graphic. Parents should review before allowing their children to read.

You know it’s a popular community when even those who’ve passed on don’t want to leave. After taking the Moorestown Ghost Tour, it’s hard to blame them. The program included a stroll through the downtown area. Tour goers got a close-up view of the historic homes, churches and businesses that flank Main Street. Even those interested in the more earthly aspects of Moorestown’s history would enjoy the program. The town’s beauty may haunt them long after Halloween, however.

 

*Money Magazine declared Moorestown, NJ the “Best Place to Live in America” in 2005.

“The Salem Witch Trials: The Usual Suspects” by Mickey DiCamillo at the Historical Society of Moorestown

What words would best assess the Salem Witch Trials? Historical Society of Moorestown President, Mickey DiCamillo chose some unexpected ones. Describing the event as both “complex” and “nuanced”, he proceeded to correct a “shallow understanding” that has developed around them. Mr. DiCamillo delivered the first phase of a thorough explication of this macabre chapter in American history at the Garden at Smith Cadbury Mansion this October 10th.

Due to the event’s intricacies, Mr. DiCamillo opted to divide his remarks into three separate lectures. The Historical Society of Mooretown scheduled the following talks over three Wednesdays in October leading up to Halloween: “The Usual Suspects,” “Strangely Accused” and “A Conspiracy of Witches.”

While fusing the ghastly tone of the subject along with some superb Halloween ambiance, the Historical Society of Moorestown established the mood brilliantly. I wasn’t sure if I was attending a history lecture or walking into a coven of witches. A series of candles illuminated the walkway. Pumpkins and cobwebs adorned the periphery. Stray leaves fell from the trees throughout the evening. Mosquitos served as the only blood sucking creatures one needed to fear, however. The balmy 80 degree evening made the autumn evening feel more like the dog days of summer. A large stake and ominous witch figure behind the seating area brought audience members back into the spirit of the season.

I’ve attended several lectures Mr. DiCamillo has presented at the Historical Society. His talks include myriad details which reflect both diligent research and scholarly erudition. In this speech he added another feature to his repertoire: humor. While speaking for over an hour–without notes–, he added comical quips that made the talk even more engaging. His observation regarding a deadbeat husband showed both creativity and a flair for alliteration: “Goodman Goode was good for nothing.”

The opening lecture explored the background that served as the catalyst for the infamous events of 1692. Mr. DiCamillo described that context as including poor governance, continuous warfare and a society rent by factions.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s leaders failed to fulfil the responsibilities of their offices. In fact, they proved so inept that during the 1680s the British government revoked the colony’s charter.

Interminable wars with Native American plagued the community. These conflicts became brutal affairs. Both adversaries engaged in barbaric acts against one another. When combined with an ineffective government, these struggles exacerbated the environment of fear in the colony.

Dysfunction permeated the area’s religious institutions, as well. Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts) hired and fired three ministers in 15 years. As a harbinger of the American system of voting, church members elected their preachers from among the congregation. The continual turnover displayed the prevalence of factions among the faithful.

The Puritan mythos held a belief that they were chosen by God to build a New Jerusalem. It proved as practical as the striving for Camelot that inspired Europeans during the Middle Ages. Along with the conviction of a pending “Puritan apocalypse”, their failure to achieve the “City of a Hill” led them to seek a scapegoat.

While none of these matters served as a harbinger of good things to come, the community also harbored a belief in witchcraft. Their legal code included penalties for its practice. In the days long before fingerprinting and DNA evidence, the standards for conviction proved difficult. A confession proved the most durable. Lacking that, Puritan prosecutors tested the accused on their knowledge of religious precepts; such as prayers or Biblical verses. They would also investigate “body evidence.” This included either warts or odd markings on the body. Puritans believed these served as portals where “magic” could enter a person. If the “bewitched” individual claimed the “witch” appeared to him/her as an apparition, that provided another form of evidence. “Anger resulting in mischief” could also be raised against the accused. This entailed upsetting someone and then something bad happening to him/her.

This minatory concoction reached a climax in Salem Village during the early 1690s. It seems fitting that a disgruntled preacher would trigger a more ignominious phase of colonial history. Reverend Samuel Paris’ daughter and niece both suffered from a mysterious illness. The symptoms included barking, growling and running. Following these outbursts, the children would engage in a long period of staring. When the doctor couldn’t provide a medical diagnosis for this behavior, he suggested witchcraft as a potential source.

The speaker then described the events and personalities that shaped the early stages of the trials. He even included an audience participation exercise. Showing the skill of a seasoned showman, he left an excellent cliff hanger for the October 17th lecture

For readers contemplating hopping into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to visit this era: there’s more. Even by the standards of the time, Puritans engaged in much quirkier practices than those described.

Mr. DiCamillo included some of these activities in his talk. People practiced an unusual means of fortune telling during the late seventeenth century. They would break and egg and pour it into a glass of water. Participants would interpret the shapes formed by the egg white in order to discern the future.

But this wasn’t the strangest thing people living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony did with food. They also baked “witch cakes” to determine whether or not someone had been bewitched. The ingredients included dough, flour and the urine of the afflicted. The concoction would then be fed to a dog.

The Historical Society of Moorestown presented an exceptional opening program on the Salem Witch Trials. Kudos to Mr. DiCamillo for doing some bewitching of his own. His unique combination of scholarship and wit cast a spell upon the audience. One doesn’t need to pour an egg into a glass of water to know those who attended will return for the October 17th program.

An Evening with Joe DiBlasio at the Moorestown Library

What better way to commemorate one’s birthday than by reliving one’s life to a rapt audience? Moorestown resident Joe DiBlasio did just that. The Moorestown Library presented an evening with him on August 29th.

Reference Librarian Maria Esche served as the event moderator. She opened her remarks by observing that “Joe has a big fan club.” Mr. DiBlasio added a comical quip that, “Half of you in the audience know me. The half that knows me doesn’t want to know me.” Over the next two hours Mr. DiBlasio showed why everyone in the audience would be honored to know him.

Mr. DiBlasio described the process that led to his taking up residence in Moorestown. His father came to the United States from Italy at the age of 17. He brought his family over six years later. Shortly afterwards Joe was born in Camden. The family moved to Moorestown while Joe attended third grade.

The DiBlasio family had already established roots in town. His grandparents lived in the community. His grandfather worked as a stone mason who commuted to Moorestown from Camden. In the early twentieth century this journey took 2-1/2 hours each way. Some of the Quakers in town helped his grandfather find a home to spare him the traveling.

Mr. DiBlasio shared his observations on his 80 plus years living in Moorestown. He experienced the most momentous events of the twentieth century in the community. Regarding life during the Great Depression, “I never went to bed hungry,” he said. His family still struggled.

His mother baked bread three times a week. He traveled about town selling loaves for $0.10 each. “That’s the only reason I had a bicycle,” he explained.

His father worked for RCA as a cabinet maker. During the Depression, he lost his job and became unable to pay his mortgage. Mr. DiBlasio described two gentlemen from the Burlington County Trust Company approaching his father at home. The men had come to foreclose. The elder Mr. DiBlasio wouldn’t allow them. “I don’t have the money now,” he said, “but I’m going to pay you.” The men left the premises. His father did eventually pay the bank the money he owed.

The speaker described life in town during the Second World War. When hostilities began in Europe, people didn’t worry. The conflict took place too far away to cause concern. When the United States began supplying the Allies, then people became anxious.

Upon America’s entry into the war rationing began immediately. The draft began in 1940, but the government still allowed high school students to graduate before becoming eligible. Young men could drop out of school and enlist, however. Moorestown also enforced blackouts. Regarding the latter, Mr. DiBlasio noted, “We never worried about being bombed.”

The war didn’t alter some aspects of life in town. Mr. DiBlasio described himself as a “big star” on both the high school baseball diamond and the gridiron during the early 1940s. He added a comical observation to his own assessment of his abilities. “Who can object to that now?”

Mr. DiBlasio discussed some of the other local events he experienced. He recalled watching as they tore up the old trolley tracks from the center of Main Street. Gravel covered the roads prior to asphalt. Once or twice a year they would oil the streets in order to keep the dust low. He even remembered the original paving of Route 38. Mr. DiBlasio described learning how to swim in the artesian wells that border what is now Strawbridge Lake. He even picked apples at the orchard where the Moorestown Mall now stands.

The guest concluded his reminiscence by discussing the various service clubs started in Moorestown following the war. He belonged to the Lions Club that incorporated in 1948. He even brought a visual aid from the era to show the audience: a wreath the organization crafted in 1952. It was the first Christmas ornament ever displayed in town.

Mr. DiBlasio served in the Marine Corps for three years, worked for the family business (Perla Block) and married in 1950. He turned 95 this August 12th. One suspects that after this evening, he’s going to have an even bigger fan club.