The Social Fabric: To Knit or Not to Knit?

1885 Delaware River WatershedsThe Delaware Company’s president John Conway (Sullivan County Historian), invited me to speak at the newly formed nonprofit’s inaugural fundraising gala this week at the historic Ardmore Mansion/Mountain View Manor, in Glen Spey, the day after the NYSHA annual conference in Cooperstown ended.

The mission of The Delaware Company is to promote and support the history and historic landmarks of the Upper Delaware River Valley through education, outreach, and fundraising. Also speaking were U.S. Representative Chris Gibson and NYS Legislator Aileen Gunther. The audience consisted of various county and local officials, municipal historians, historic organizations, and at least one teacher, a true sampling of the history community in the region. Read more

CFP: 17th Century Identity and the Middle Colonies

New-France_2_6_Map-of-New-Belgium-or-New-NetherlandPaper and panel proposals are invited for a conference on “From Conquest to Identity: New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the Seventeenth Century,” to be co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the New Jersey
Historical Commission, and Kean University and to be held in Trenton, New Jersey, on March 27–29, 2014.

Confirmed participants include Charles Gehring, Evan Haefeli, Ned C. Landsman, Robert C. Ritchie, and the members of the program committee: Wayne Bodle, Stanley N. Katz, Christian Koot, Maxine N. Lurie, Jonathan Mercantini, Daniel K. Richter, and Cynthia Van Zandt. Read more

Peter Feinman On New Yorks Ruin Porn

Ruin porn is in. Ruin porn is hot. Ruin porn is sexy. Ruin porn is the term coined by Jim Griffioen, who writes a blog about his life as a stay-at-home dad in Detroit.

As part of that effort he periodically posts photographs he has taken of the more than 70,000 abandoned buildings in his city. Such images included (as reported in the New York Times) &#8220&#8216-feral’ houses almost completely overgrown with vegetation- a decommissioned public-school book depository in which trees were growing out of the piles of rotting textbooks&#8221. The term has become a familiar one in the city not without some misgivings by the locals as they watch tourists take souvenirs of their city back home. Read more

New Crossing the Delaware on Display Amid Debate

The New-York Historical Society is displaying Mort Kunstler’s &#8220Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry&#8221 until January 17, 2012. Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting &#8220Washington Crossing the Delaware&#8221 commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25 in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. His original painting is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mort Kunstler, a New York artist known for his historical paintings, has created what he considers a more historically accurate version of Washington crossing the Delaware River. The painting was unveiled at the New-York Historical Society on Monday, December 26, the date in 1776 that Washington led his troops into battle in Trenton after crossing the Delaware.

David Hackett Fischer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Washington’s Crossing, and featured speaker at the unveiling, says Kunstler’s version is &#8220quite accurate&#8221 and &#8220got more right than any other image.&#8221

The original painting shows the Betsy Ross flag flying, however that flag was not adopted until 1777- Mr. Kunstler’s version has no flag. The original painting depicts the action taking place in the middle of the day, though the actual crossing took place during a stormy night. Based on historical research, the new painting shows Washington and company in a flat-bottomed ferry boat rather than on a row boat.

On that last detail however, there has been some debate. Rick Spilman, writing in the Old Salt Blog, noted:

&#8220The problem is that most historians think that the American crossing of the Delaware used Durham boats, large flat-bottomed boats which hauled cargo such as ore, pig-iron, timber, and produce from upcountry mines, forests and farms down the Delaware River to Philadelphia’s thriving markets and port. Robert Durham, an engineer at the Durham Iron Works in Reiglesville, Pennsylvania, reputedly designed a prototype for these large cargo boats as early as 1757. Washington wrote to Governor Livingston of New Jersey, directing him to secure “Boats and Craft, all along the Delaware side…particularly the Durham Boats” for his anticipated crossing.&#8221

In any event, you’ll have just one day to compare the two paintings first hand. The newly restored Luetze painting will be unveiled in a new frame in the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum on January 16, the day before the new Kunstler painting comes down at the New-York Historical Society.

Illustrations: Above, Mort Kunstler’s &#8220Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry&#8221- below, Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 &#8220Washington Crossing the Delaware&#8221.

House Votes to Return Tripoli Vets Bodies

Last week the United States House of Representatives passed a bill including an amendment authored by U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers, (R-MI), and Frank LoBiondo, (R-NJ), that would require the Department of Defense to repatriate the remains of 13 US Navy commandos buried in two mass graves in Tripoli, Libya since 1804.

The amendment &#8211 which would repatriate, identify and honor the sailors with a military funeral &#8211 was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). After passing the full House, the NDAA now heads to the US Senate for consideration.

&#8220My father, my father’s father, and his father’s father have wanted the remains of Master Commandant Richard Somers returned home, and we’ve worked for it since he and the men of the USS Intrepid were lost in Libya in 1804,&#8221 said Dean Somers of Somers Point, New Jersey. &#8220This is long, long overdue, and it wasn’t until we met recently with Rep. Frank Lobiondo and Chairman Rogers when we thought it was finally possible.&#8221

Somers and his crew were lost on an ill-fated mission to destroy Tripoli’s naval fleet during the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century. When their bodies of America’s first Navy commandos washed up on the beach in Tripoli, the bashaw &#8211 the king of the pirates &#8211 invited a pack of dogs to devour them as American prisoners of war looked on. The 13 remain buried today jumbled together in two Libyan graves. One of those graves is unmarked and underfoot on Green Square, the site of decades of anti-America rallies.

On September 4th 1804, Somers was in command of fire ship Intrepid which had been recently seized from its Tripolean crew, was prepared as a &#8220floating volcano&#8221 and readied to be sailed into Tripoli harbor and blown up in the midst of the enemy fleet under the walls of the city. She exploded prematurely, while entering the harbor killing Somers and his entire crew of volunteers.

Since 1804, there have been six ships of the US Navy that have been named USS Somers in his honor. In 2004, the state assembly in New Jersey passed two resolutions calling for the return of the sailor’s remains. The town of Somers, New York, located in Westchester County is named in his honor.

The City of Somers Point, named after the Master Commandant’s family and still their residence, has worked on repatriation for decades. Additionally, the descendants of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wish for the return of the remains of his uncle, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, who served as second in command on the fire ship Intrepid when it was lost during the Barbary Wars. Born shortly after the failed mission, the legendary poet was named after his heroic uncle.

Illustration: Engraving, &#8220Blowing Up of the Fire Ship Intrepid commanded by Capt. Somers in the Harbour of Tripoli on the night of 4th Sepr. 1804.&#8221

The Jersey Greys in New York Event

Fort Montgomery State Historic Site (690 Route 9W, Fort Montgomery, NY) will be offering an evening lecture, &#8220The 3rd New Jersey in New York: Stories from “The Jersey Greys” of 1776&#8243- on Thursday, December 2nd at 7 PM.

Speaker Philip D. Weaver will utilize correspondence, company account books, and period diaries to acquaint you with one of the best equipped, most interesting, and dysfunctional regiments in the early Continental Army, the 3rd New Jersey of 1776. Attendees will be given a quick introduction to the organization and the personalities, followed by a discussion of their New York campaign. Weaver will focus on a number of stories and anecdotes. The program will also include information on their garrisoning of Fort Stanwix and their subsequent relocation to “the old French Barracks” at Fort Ticonderoga.

This lecture is FREE and open to all. For more information or directions, call (845) 446-2134.

Image: Charles Wilson Peale portrait of then Captain Joseph Bloomfield of the 3rd New Jersey.

Thanksgiving Time at Mrs. Kearneys Tavern

There will be 19th-century-style after-the-holiday open house programs at the historic Kearney House at Alpine Boat Basin & Picnic Area (Palisades Interstate Park Exit 2, then follow Alpine Approach Road to river) on Saturday & Sunday afternoons, November 27 & 28, from 1 to 3 PM. The programs will feature hot mulled cider and light food, period music with Mr. Thaddeus MacGregor, and fun and games for children. The programs, to be held rain or shine, are open to all with no reservations required- visitors are welcome to stay for as long as they like during the open hours. A donation box will be by the door. Suggestion: $3 adults, $1 children.

Listed on the National and New Jersey State Historic Registers as the “Blackledge-Kearney House”—but familiarly known as the “Kearney House” or the “Cornwallis Headquarters” (it was once thought that the British general had stayed here in 1776)—this house has been a Hudson River homestead, a riverfront tavern, a Park police station, and a “historic shrine.” Today it helps bring to life two centuries in the story of the Hudson River and the families who depended upon it for their lives and livelihoods.

For more information: 201 768-1360 ext. 108.

CFP: Staten Island, American History, 21st Cent. Education

A Call for Papers has been issued for a conference entitled Staten Island, New York in American History and 21st Century Education, to be held at the College of Staten Island (City University of New York) on March 19-20, 2011.

An understanding of the role of place and the attachment to community in America has never been more critical than in our rapidly changing global environment. This conference seeks to explore major turning points and issues in American history as experienced by the residents of Staten Island past and present. Located at the entrance to New York harbor, Staten Island is one of the five boroughs that comprise New York City.

Since 1661, Staten Island has been the home of settlers and migrants from around the globe. Staten Island’s cultural diversity and its regional and global interconnections are reflected in its institutions, cuisine, art and architecture, businesses, social movements, recreational tourism, transportation heritage, and in the service of its military veterans. The organizers’ goal is to rethink the significance of Staten Island and its important historic sites, as part of New York City, the region, the nation, and the world through the interdisciplinary lenses of history and Place-based

In celebration of Staten Island’s 350th Anniversary in 2011, the organizers invite
innovative proposals from scholars, curators, teachers and public historians related to community history and education. Proposals must be relevant to and illustrate the conference theme, including but not limited to the following topics:

*History of ethnicity and immigration
*History of race, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities
*Staten Island in the transatlantic world, e.g. Huguenot refugees, the Loyalist Diaspora, the Free Trade Zone
*Staten Island in the history of New York City, e.g. Civil War Draft Riots, Consolidation, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
*History of the arts, architecture, health, business, military, sports, transportation, religion, food and drink, education, childhood, or of the environment
*Geography, politics, and economics in the study of local history
*The historical interconnectedness of Staten Island to the New York/New Jersey region
*The role of the museum in public history and preservation
*Pedagogy, including Place-based Education, civic engagement and community-based research
*Memory and oral history

Proposals for complete panels and/or individual papers for this peer-reviewed conference are welcome. Proposals for panels must include the following: 1) a cover sheet with the panel title, paper titles, and the name, address, affiliation, and email addresses of the chair/commentator and of the panelists- 2) a 350-word abstract of the panel as a whole- and 3) a 350-word abstract for each paper included on the panel. Individual paper proposals for twenty-minute papers should include the following: 1) a cover sheet with the paper’s title, and the name, address, affiliation,
and email address of the participant and 2) a 350-word abstract of the paper.

All materials should be e-mailed to Dr. Phillip Papas, Associate Professor of History and co-chair of the SI 350 Academic Conference/Education Symposium at [email protected]. Proposals for panels and/or individual papers must be received no later than October 15, 2010. Successful applicants will be required to send a completed paper no later than February 7, 2011. E-mail Dr. Margaret Berci, Associate Professor of Education and co- chair of the SI 350 Academic Conference/Education Symposium at [email protected] with questions.

For more information and resources please refer to their website at

The event is co-sponsored with Wagner College, St. John’s University and SI350, Inc, with major support from the Staten Island Foundation.

Harriman Family Palisades Founders Award Recipient

On June 3, 2010, the Palisades Parks Conservancy hosted their eighth annual dinner along the Hudson River shoreline at the Ross Dock Section of the Palisades Interstate Park, Fort Lee, NJ. The dinner was well attended with over 250 guests.

The Conservancy’s Board of Directors recognized 100 years of service and dedication by the Harriman Family. Elbridge Gerry Jr. accepted the Palisades Founders Award on behalf of more than sixty family members. A former Harriman camper, NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, and Parks and Recreation, was the keynote speaker. In addition, Samuel F. Pryor III, PIPC President and Carol Ash, Commissioner of the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation shared remarks.

A century ago, railroad executive Edward Henry (E.H.) and Mary Williamson Averell Harriman joined other Gilded Age families to reclaim our nation’s scenic and cultural treasures. Since then, the Harrimans have been at the forefront of every Palisades Interstate Park initiative. From the conservation of land and creation of parks, lakes, and beaches, to their unwavering support for nature education and relief camps, their dedication to the preservation of our traditions and environment serves as a model for us all.

After railroad magnate E.H. Harriman’s sudden death, his wife Mary carried on his vision to establish a grand park. Their gift of ten thousand acres and one million dollars safeguarded the scenic beauty of present-day Bear Mountain and the park that bears the family name. At the 1910 dedication ceremony, Mary and E.H.’s son, William Averell, presented the deed of land to the PIPC and thus started more than a century of family service on behalf of these 28 parks and historic sites.

W. Averell Harriman, the longest serving Palisades Commissioner, played an important role in the advancement of the Interstate Park. Always viewing himself as a volunteer to the PIPC and champion of nature, Harriman valued his service during his fifty-three year tenure (1915-1954, 1959-1973). To ensure access for all, Averell, with his brother Roland, himself a Commissioner for four years (1955-1958) contributed to the creation of transportation networks throughout the Palisades enabling millions the ability to easily travel deep into the wilderness and to connect with nature and our history via railroads, bridges, trails, and scenic byways.

In collaboration with the PIPC, Mary Harriman, who persistently encouraged education, suggested the creation of relief camps to aid underprivileged and homeless children and teach them about the power of nature. The family’s charitable foundations continue to assist today’s 32 camps allowing thousands of children the opportunity to learn lifelong skills each summer. Carrying on her grandmother’s legacy, Mary Harriman Fisk, a Commissioner from 1974-1996, sponsored the Tiorati Workshop for Environmental Learning, a program that trains NYC’s public schools to teach inner-city students the wonders of nature.

Photo: Edward Henry Harriman in his office 1899.

Communipaw Story Marathon in Jersey City

A Communipaw Story Marathon will be presented tomorrow, Friday, June 4, as part of Jersey City’s quarterly arts and culture festival, JC Fridays. There will be dramatic readings by professional actors of several short stories by Washington Irving, including three set in Communipaw, from his 1855 collection, Wolfert’s Roost And Miscellanies.

Also included will be an excerpt from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Trish Szmanski will be reading A Tale of Communipaw / Guests from Gibbet Island, the story on which she is adapting a script for theater. According to Trish &#8220The play is coming along well, not done, but close to final in form. Lots of new characters, dialogue, drama, four acts &#8211 exciting!&#8221

Communipaw is the historic European place of origin for Jersey City begun in 1634 when one of the first &#8220bouweries&#8221, or farnmsteads, in New Netherland was built there. The homestead was part of Pavonia, a patroonship of Amsterdam businessman Micheal Pauw. Plantations, worked by enslaved Africans, were located there. The Tappan and Wecquaesgeek took refuge there in 1643 before being attacked by the Dutch in the Pavonia Massacre, which led in part to Kieft’s War.

The village of Communipaw was originally part of the Dutch West India Company holdings. After the British takeover it became part of the Province of New Jersey although it retained its Dutch character for hundreds of years. Washington Irving visited the area often and referred to Communipaw as the stronghold of traditional Dutch culture.

Illustration: Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), &#8220Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier&#8221, 1639. &#8220Manhattan situated on the North Rivier&#8221 with numbered key showing settlements at Communipaw.