The Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park

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Colored Postcard showing eight women with hats on beach chairs on wheels with heading "Solid comfort on the boardwalk, Asbury Park, N.J."

 

To mark the opening of the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park as well as to help get us out of the New Jersey winter doldrums, we share this essay on Asbury Park postcards and using postcards for research by Rachel Ferrante, Fall 2017 Public History Intern 2017 in Special Collections and University Archives.

 

By Rachel Ferrante

 

There are few things as uniquely iconic as the Asbury Park postcard. The Las Vegas neons and even the Hollywood sign may be the only two cultural images that elicit similar recognition. It seems these images embody regional leisure and tourist culture, recognizable across generations. Because these signs act as visual landmarks, the images are regurgitated in popular culture. An example is the mimicking of the Hollywood sign in the Dreamworks movie “Shrek” as the sign for the fictional city Far Far Away. Using the sign as a landmark, the rest of the scene imitates Hollywood, a defining city in West Coast culture and example of opulence.

About 2,900 miles down I-80, Asbury Park is far more humble. Since its founding in 1871, Asbury Park has repeatedly boomed and busted in its cultural significance, tapping into every aspect of leisure culture one can think of. Asbury has been a physical representation of popular culture, specifically and originally for New York elites, who seem to define high culture throughout much of U.S. history. In fact, Asbury has been a center of both high culture and subculture, making it extremely relevant to the East Coast’s, if not the nation’s, cultural memory and historical interest.

Postcard with text "Greetings from Asbury Park NJ"

The “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” postcard is a specific linen Tichnor style with images geared to Asbury leisure in particular. This style was applied to many postcards centered around other places as well, the likes of which include Niagara Falls and Route 66. Famously, the Asbury postcard was used as the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album by the same name. So beyond its initial iconic stature the postcard has a history of its own. When you look at the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury, the postcards it includes tell a story of Asbury Park’s history. Paired with the other materials in the collection, it is clear the significance certain institutions or moments in time had on the area. However, there are many more layers of significance behind the postcards. They span more than 100 years of regional history that can be contextualized in national political, social, economic, and familial histories, resulting in many potential conclusions using just postcards as primary source material. The rest of this post will address the use of postcards as research tools, using examples from the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park housed at Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives.

USING POSTCARDS FOR RESEARCH

In America, the first postcard was developed in 1873 by Massachusetts’ Morgan Envelope company. These cards depicted scenes from conventions and expositions in Chicago at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The first postcard intended for souvenir purposes was actually created in 1893 with scenes from the World’s Columbian Exposition. Postcards thus have deep roots in the northern region of the country, documenting its changing history, and capturing the excitement of progress in many eras. In 1898, Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which allowed postcards to be printed by private companies rather than just the post office. At this point the popularity of “Private Mailing Cards” began to skyrocket. Finally, in 1901, private companies were allowed to call their printed cards “postcards,” and after a few more years of complicated history the picture front, divided back, postcard we all know was legal and being mailed in multiple styles across (a good amount of) the country. This Golden Age of Postcards peaked in 1910, with postcards particularly popular among rural and small town women of the northern United States.

Envelope addressed to Miss G.. Mentz, Brookside, New Jersey stamped in Ocean Grove

Almost all of the eras of postcards are represented in the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection. Picking one group of postcards at random I was able to see examples of the short period of time where postcards were not divided-back and the sender had to write on the front, or image part, of the postcard. There are also many beautiful examples of the lithographic style of postcards, which were specifically popular during the Golden Age period (1907-1915). Each of these provides immense interdisciplinary relevance with each layer of ink. Some of these semantics are debated among postcard enthusiasts; however, the Golden Age of postcards, no matter what the exact date range, lines up with the foundational period of American culture. One of the major things that shaped the time leading up to the 1920s was the transformation of cinema from silent to film noir. In Asbury Park in particular, cinema was a huge part of the economy, with cinema tycoon Walter Reade even running for mayor of Asbury Park. Postcards of these theaters are great primary source examples of the importance of the erection of these edifices and the positions they held as landmarks of the region. Of the six Reade theaters in Asbury, two are featured prominently in the postcard collection: the Mayfair and the Paramount. Construction and then depiction of these places reflect civic achievement as well as provide insight into the aesthetic values of the region and the time period.

Aside from construction aesthetics many postcards provide insight into fashion. In the case of Asbury Park there are many depictions of changing beachwear trends. A 1910 lithographic postcard (seen at the start of this essay) shows a row of women in large bonnets posing coyly in carriages. The postcards in the “beach” section of the Pike Collection date from 1901 to 2001 so they document an entire century of summers, with their corresponding outfits and activities. The collection can be used to track the changing shore attractions as well. When compared to today, Asbury was previously booming with activities, ferris wheels, games, etc. There was even once a horse track where there is now a parking lot.
Postcard showing two women in bathrobe in the sea on the left, with note dated "The "El Dorado" August 30, 1905" with the text "Dear Grace, This is almost as refreshing as "Cold Spring." Wish you and Mr. Snyder were here to enjoy it with me. Yours, Priscilla

CONCLUSION

While the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection focuses closely on the late 19th through mid-20th centuries, it is also relevant to a variety of timely topics. Because of this, its postcard series is a great place to start research on the Asbury Park, leisure, East Coast culture and development, and visual culture. There are, at the very least, enough images to acquaint a researcher to the area and its specific civic importance. At the other end, the series can provide insight into a large amount of research projects with a fairly wide scope. An example of its relevance is the way  in which postcards pose as an interesting precursor to the visual culture we exist within today. In many ways, a postcard was the Instagram of people in the 19th century. The feelings that surround the purchase and sending of the postcard are similar to the reasons one takes photos of their vacation and travel spots today. Mailing the card has been replaced with posting on the internet and the back of the card has been replaced by the caption. In this way, postcards are also structurally similar to Instagram, balancing the impersonal nature of posting to a wide audience by allowing the image to have been captured by the individual. This, like postcards, provides a sense of community through sharing and receiving. However, it is not always to say “wish you were here,” but sometimes “look where I am.”

About

Rachel Ferrante is an undergraduate American Studies and Sociology student at Rutgers working at the Special Collections and University Archives through the Rutgers Public History Internship program. During Fall 2017, she processed the Helen-Chantal Pike Collection on Asbury Park, New Jersey. Outside of the library, she works on cultural history through research with the Aresty Program and in her papers.

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Works consulted:

 

All images displayed are postcards from the Helen Pike collection, Box 5, folder 1.

 

Hidden Dutch treasures at Rutgers Special Collections

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By Helene van Rossum

Farm ledger opened for Benjamin Oosterhoudt, shoe maker, showing debited entries on left and credited entries on right
Farm ledger of John G. Hardenbergh, 1773-1794, opened for Benjamin Oosterhoudt, cobbler

For people who are familiar with the history of Rutgers University, founded as Queen’s College by the Reformed Dutch Church in 1766, it will not be surprising that there are Dutch archival materials among the university’s Special Collections. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh (1735-1790), the college’s first president, was a member of  the powerful Dutch Hardenbergh family that had settled in the Hudson valley in the 17th century. The philanthropist Henry Rutgers (1745-1830), after whom the college was renamed in 1825, was also a descendant from New Netherlands colonists. On the occasion of this year’s annual conference of the New Netherlands Institute, dedicated to New Jersey’s Dutch past,  we have embarked upon a search for Dutch resources in our collections, some of which have only been accessible through a card catalogue so far. The provisional list that we came up with contains surprises. (Download the list.) Below are some highlights. 

 

Dinah van Bergh’s pietist diary, 1746

 

Archival box displaying folded up ivory dress with enboded flowers and berries
Dinah Van Bergh  Frelinghuysen Hardenbergh’s wedding dress in Rutgers Special Collections, 1750 or 1756

The only Dutch document that has gained some attention in the past is the devotional diary that Dinah Van Bergh (1725-1807), daughter of a wealthy Amsterdam merchant, kept in 1746 and 1747. Her pietist faith inspired her to believe that God wanted her to marry the Reformed Dutch minister Johannes Frelinghuysen in 1750 and follow him to Raritan, New Jersey, where he was to serve as minister to three congregations.  The diaries, of which the earliest part is owned by Rutgers and the second by the Sage library at the Theological Seminary in New Brunwick, is available online in an English translation, along with a few letters and a religious Dutch poem (view a publication of the diary in Dutch).

Sadly, Johannes Frelinghuysen died in 1754, leaving Dinah widowed with two young children. When one of Frelinghuysen’s pupils proposed to her, the much younger Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh (Rutgers’ future president), she again felt it was God’s will that she would serve as a minister’s wife in New Jersey and cancelled her plans to return to the Netherlands. Her wedding dress, used for either her first or second marriage (or both), is one of the Dutch treasures at Rutgers University Special Collections.

 

Johannes’s G. Hardenbergh’s farm ledgers, 1763-1794

 

Black and white photo of delapidated one story building with broken roof
Farm house built by Johannes G. Hardenbergh at Kerhonkson in 1762, 16 miles from Kingston, Ulster,  NY

Of particular interest to local historians are two farm ledgers, kept by Johannes Gerardus Hardenbergh (1731-1812), cousin of Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh. In 1762 he built a farm house at Kerhonksen, 16 miles from Kingston, Ulster County NY, later known as the “Old Fort,” where he raised his family and lived until his death. The house played an important role in the Revolutionary War: in October 1777 governor George Clinton ordered the government’s most important papers at Kingston to be sent there for safekeeping, only days before Kingston was torched by the British.

Hardenbergh’s farm ledgers, which span the years 1763-1794 (with references  to a third volume), are an interesting example of a barter economy. Purchases by customers (mainly wheat, corn, and butter) are recorded on the left; payments were usually made in services rather than in cash, expressed in pounds under the heading “contra” on the right.  Those services often included days of mowing, ploughing, spinning, or just “work” for somebody else. Particular services included the making of a coffin, or mending shoes for members of the family, as  in the case of Benjamin Oosterhoudt (shown above). There are a few more individuals listed among the members of the household whose shoes were mended, with simple English first names, rather than Dutch. Could they have been Hardenbergh’s slaves? According to the first census records eleven enslaved people lived on his farm in 1790.

Detail of a sheet of scrap paper with calculations and Hardenbergh's name in the ledger
Detail of sheet of scrap paper inside the ledger including Johannes G. Hardenbergh’s name

A most interesting aspect of the ledgers is that all entries are written in Dutch, which may well have been the language spoken at the farm. Dutch was the only language known to Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) as a child. She was born enslaved in Swartekill, Ulster County on the farm of Hardenbergh’s cousin Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh (1729-1799), who was the oldest brother of Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh. According to her personal narrative, in which she refers to her first master as Colonel Ardinburgh, her lack of understanding English caused her to be severely beaten by her new master, John Nealy in Kingston, after she was auctioned off in 1806.

The ledgers raise the question who did the actual labor that was traded for the goods that Hardenbergh sold. How many people doing the “work” recorded in the ledgers were enslaved? We will need more research to find out.

 

Dutch autographs from the Netherlands, 1673-1781

 

Detail from a doccument showing signature of Michiel A. de Ruyter
Detail from John Romeyn Brodhead’s Dutch autographs collection…. Stay tuned!

A final surprise found among the Dutch materials in our holdings is a folder among the papers of  the historian John Romeyn Brodhead (1814-1873), simply labeled “early Dutch documents.” Brodhead, who spent time in Dutch archives to transcribe documents relating to New York’s colonial history, clearly had an eye for names of famous Dutch naval heroes and politicians. But that will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned!