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.

To Learn More:

Works consulted:

 

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

 

Admiring the New Brunswick view in 1838

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View of New Brunswick by lithographer J.H. Bufford, seen from the Rail Road hotel on the other side of the Raritan River

By Helene van Rossum

Pencil sketch copy of lithograph by J.H. Bufford with caption "View of the City of New Brunswick, N.J.: Taken from the Rail Road Hotel at East Brunswick."
Pencil sketch by C. C. Abeel, based on a lithograph by J.H. Bufford (view)

Visitors to our new website may recognize the image in the top right corner as the yellowed pencil sketch in our recent exhibit Rutgers through the Centuries. Nothing is known about the artist C.C. Abeel, but we do know the original lithograph on which his drawing is based: J.H. Bufford’s View of the City of New Brunswick, N.J. taken from the Rail Road Hotel at East Brunswick. The lithograph, which can be found in our Pictorial Collection, was published about 1838 with a helpful list of the sites depicted. In this blog post we will have a closer look.

Advertisement for the newly established hteol titled "Accommodation House at the Rail Road Depot, East Brunswick" by R. Witty
New Brunswick Daily Times ad for the Rail Road Hotel, June 7, 1837

 

The railroad and the Rail Road Hotel

The Railroad Hotel was established shortly after the opening of the railroad from Jersey City to New Brunswick by the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company in 1836. The line ended at the terminus on the eastern bank of the Raritan River in what was known as East Brunswick (now Highland Park). Passengers to New Brunswick had to go down steep stairs from the tracks and take a carriage across the Albany Street bridge. Some passengers, however, went to the Railroad hotel instead, advertised as “a most desirable retreat during the summer months” for its “beautiful location” (right). It was from this hotel that the young artist and lithographer John Henry Bufford (1810-1870) drew his View of New Brunswick shortly after the building of the railroad bridge, which put an end to the East Brunswick terminus.

 

Detail of the litograph depicting bridge over the RaritanRiver  and horse back rider on the river bank
Left part of Bufford’s “View of New Brunswick” with the Albany Street Bridge

The Raritan River and sloop canal

As Jeanne Kolva and Joanne Pisciotta describe in Highland Park: Borough of Homes the new two-tier railroad bridge, which carried pedestrians, carriages and wagons on its lower level, caused competition for the old Albany Street bridge. The wooden toll bridge, built in 1794 (#2 on the left), was left to deteriorate and was ultimately demolished in 1848. Parallel to the Raritan (#1) on the New Brunswick side of the river was the newly dug Delaware & Raritan Canal or, in Bufford’s words, “Sloop Canal” (#4). One of the major engineering feats of the era, it was created between 1830 and 1834 for three million dollars, dug by immigrants, mainly by hand. Canal boats carrying freight were towed by mules along the canal, but in Bufford’s lithograph there are only one-masted sailboats (sloops). To complete the picture of New Brunswick as a transportation hub, Bufford drew a steamboat from New York, one of the many managed by Cornelius Vanderbilt or one of his competitors (#3).

 

Detail of the lithograph depicing railroad bridge with train and Rutgers College in the distance
Right part of “View of New Brunswick” with railroad, Rutgers College and canal lock

Railroad bridge and view to the right

The new bridge, built in 1838, was the first railroad bridge across the Raritan river.  Bufford’s depiction of the lower tier (#7) makes the noise and darkness experienced by passengers and horses easy to imagine. To the north of the new railway bridge was the canal lock that allowed boats to move from the upper to the lower level of the Raritan & Delaware Canal at New Brunswick.

Detail of a colored map showing Raritan River and rail road bridge
Canal lock and water power plant to the north of the Rail Road Bridge, 1837 (view)

Bufford drew the canal lock as well as structures that he listed as “Water Works & Mill seats” (#8). Maps of New Brunswick from our Map Collection shed light on what Bufford depicted. While a map of 1837 only displays the water power plant behind the lock, a later map reveals an adjoining saw mill and paper and cotton factory. In the distance Bufford drew Rutgers College, founded as “Queens College” in 1766 (#9). The first cornerstone of the building, presently known as “Old Queens,” was laid in 1809 but it was only expanded to its present size in 1825 after financial support was received from various sources, including the philanthropist Henry Rutgers, who also donated the college’s bell.

 

Detail of the lithograph depicting hikers sitting on a tree trunk admiring the view
Middle part with hikers, horse rider and man with dog and gun

Admiring the view

As described in Views and Viewmakers of Urban America businesses greatly benefited from the portrayal of their cities as bustling centers of industry, commerce, and progress. In stark contrast with the novelties of the canal, railroad, and bridge is the tranquility of the scene at the front. Seated on a tree trunk is a company of wanderers (5), admiring the view, which includes the sloops on the canal (#4) and the spires of the Dutch Reformed Church (6, left) and Christ Episcopal Church (6, right). On the left is a horse rider following the path along the river; on the right we see a man and a dog, hunting birds. They all look like they will soon have refreshments at the Railroad Hotel.

 

With thanks to Al King, Manuscripts Curator.

 

Further study

 

Hamilton

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By Christie Lutz

Two-hundred and twelve years ago today, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr faced each other in a duel on the cliffs of Weehawken, New Jersey.

Among our Sinclair New Jersey Collection holdings, we have a handful of postcard views and other images depicting the Weehawken dueling grounds, which have seen some changes over the years. The 1810 image below depicts a bucolic scene, with boats gliding by on the Hudson River.

New Jersey Views Photograph Collection
New Jersey Views Photograph Collection

This postcard, mailed in 1919, features the boulder on which Alexander Hamilton purportedly rested his head after being mortally wounded by Burr.  The site depicted here is not the precise site of the duel, however. The boulder was moved from its original spot to make way for train tracks. And today, the bust of Hamilton sits upon a pedestal, with the boulder sitting behind it.

Sinclair New Jersey Postcard Collection

While Alexander Hamilton himself has been the focus of recent interest, Special Collections and University Archives also holds the X-Burr Collection, a collection of books on Aaron Burr that were donated to Rutgers by the Aaron Burr Society. Below is the title page from one of the books in the collection, authored shortly after the duel by Lysander, the pseudonym of federal judge Willam P. Van Ness. Van Ness was a friend of Burr’s who served as his second in the duel.

X-Burr Collection
X-Burr Collection

Summer on the Shore

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By Catherine Babikian

The Jersey shore is known for beaches and boardwalks, but what’s for dinner?

Cover, Leland's Ocean Hotel menu, 1880s.
Cover, Leland’s Ocean Hotel menu, 1880s. Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Menu Collection.

At the turn of the century, wealthy vacationers enjoyed elegant meals at oceanfront hotels. Guests at Lelands’ Ocean Hotel in Long Branch could choose from beef ribs, lobster, and halibut for dinner, and peach pie, chocolate eclairs, and tutti frutti ice cream for dessert.

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Leland’s Ocean Hotel wine list. Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Menu Collection.

 

In Atlantic City, guests at the famous Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel sat down for afternoon tea, then tucked into roast goose with apple sauce for dinner. Camembert cheese and pineapple pie finished off the meal.

Marlborough Blenheim Hotel, 1931. Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Menu Collection.

But fancy hotels weren’t the only places to get a good dinner. In the 1960s, Taborn’s Restaurant in Asbury Park served up fried shrimp, scallops, clams, and oysters, along with a wide variety of ice cream sodas, milkshakes, and fresh parfaits for a sweet finish. The lunch menu included grilled frankfurters and blueberry griddle cakes.

Taborn's Restaurant, 1960s. Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Collection.
Taborn’s Restaurant, 1960s. Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Menu Collection.

Looking for more shore delicacies? The new Sinclair New Jersey Restaurant Menu collection contains these menus and many more– down the shore and around the state.

Snow in the City

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By Christie Lutz

With the first snowstorm of the season approaching, we reflect on the Great Blizzard of 1888, also known as the Great White Hurricane. The storm buried the East coast from Maryland to Maine as well as the Eastern provinces of Canada.  The following images of New Brunswick during the storm are from our New Brunswick Views photograph collection.

George Street
George Street

 

George Street, looking north towards Albany Street.
George Street, looking north towards Albany Street.

 

Northwest corner of George and Bayard Streets, south of Church Street.
Northwest corner of George and Bayard Streets, south of Church Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridgegate

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By Christie Lutz

As we mark the second anniversary of “some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” we take a look at the magisterial George Washington Bridge during an earlier, more innocent time.

Images below from George Washington Bridge Over the Hudson River at New York: built and owned by the Port of New York Authority, fabrication and erection of towers and floor by McClintic-Marshall Corporation. Bethlehem, Pa. : McClintic-Marshall Corp., 1932. (Sinclair New Jersey Rare Books Collection)

gw-bridge-towers-and-floor-snclx-tg25-n515-m31932-cover

While the towers, floor and girders were fabricated by McClintic-Marshall, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel, the bridge’s cables were made by Trenton’s John A. Roebling’s Sons.  Special Collections holds the  Roebling Family Papers and related collections. The Sinclair New Jersey Collection includes numerous books on the Roebling family and business as well as company catalogs and brochures.

gw-bridge-towers-and-floor-snclx-tg25-n515-m31932-page-44

gw-bridge-towers-and-floor-snclx-tg25-n515-m31932-page-57

gw-bridge-towers-and-floor-snclx-tg25-n515-m31932-page-59

So long, summer…

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Chalfonte

By Christie Lutz

While it’s the beginning of the blog, it’s the end of summer. In New Jersey the shift to autumn means we start to vacate our beaches and boardwalks. Summer itself is ephemeral—so before Labor Day arrives, take a long, last look at just a few items of our ephemera that capture long-ago summers spent down the shore.

 

Asbury Park Pennant [GB Banners]Postcard -- Wildwood by the Sea -- Playland by Night

Postcard -- Manasquan -- On the Sands

Souvenir of Atlantic City Cover [SNCLY F144.A8S68 1900z]