31 December 2013

"The Key to Your Future..."? Move to Hillsborough

"The key to your future health and happiness lies in answering this advertisement."  So begins the 1912 sales pitch by the Equator Realty & Imp. Co. for $50 (and up!) lots in Flagtown.  Who could honestly say that they "...prefer the noise, the heat and ceaseless grind of the city to the calm healthful life of the country"?

Ad from the Brooklyn Standard Union, April 13, 1912

I'm not sure how successful this company was, as the earliest Flagtown homes still existing today seem to date from the 1920s and 30s.  Maybe the fact that another realty group was offering free excursions at the same time to visit their $75 lots at the site of the still building Johns Manville plant at the other end of Hillsborough tipped the scales in favor of an easy commute.  The lasting legacy of Equator Realty appears to be the name they attached to Flagtown's "Main Street".

New York Times, June 5, 1910

Somewhat more intriguing is the 80 acre Somerville suburb which was to be called Aten Estates.  Both the brief New York Times article and the advertisement from the Evening Telegram tout the development's proximity to the 3000 acre Duke's Park, the Hillsborough home of tobacco and power magnate J.B. Duke.  Project manager George L. Wheeler promised a plan similar to Duke's, with "winding avenues, concrete walks, and plenty of shade trees and ornamental plants."  A scheme made all the more plausible by the fact the landscape architect employed was Charles W. Leavitt who performed a similar function for Duke.

New York Evening Telegram, May 27, 1910
I am not sure if any lots were ever sold or homes built, nor can I find the exact location of this tract.  The only good clues are the aforementioned proximity to the Duke estate, and the description of the location as midway between the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Lehigh Valley Line.  And, of course, the fact that it was planned to be built in the area of Hillsborough where there are no mosquitoes!

28 December 2013

Anna Case, She Writes Some Songs

Anna Case, the Metropolitan Opera soprano and noted concert artist, filed her first copyright notice with the United States Library of Congress on March 5, 1914.  The composition, an uncharacteristically up-tempo ragtime tune titled "Metropolitan Rag", went unpublished for more than three years before being picked up by Newark, N.J. publisher T.W. Allen.  A rather inauspicious beginning for what would be an on-again, off-again preoccupation for the Hillsborough native over the course of the next fifty years.

New York Post, April 11, 1938

For the multi-talented diva - she was skilled on piano, organ, and violin, and was known to occasionally play her own accompaniment during recital encores - extending her endeavors to include songwriting seems only natural.  But for the time, the notion of a young female opera singer becoming a published songwriter was something wholly out of the ordinary.  Yet her next composition, the patriotic "Our America", was so popular that she was requested to perform the song numerous times at appearances during World War I, and it was published by Harold Flammer over the next two years in no less than four different popular arrangements.

In her later years, Anna Case claimed to wake up in the middle of the night and rush to the piano with a melody in her head.  But on at least one occasion, inspiration came more directly.  In the spring of 1919, while sitting on the enclosed porch of her summer home in Mamaroneck, she chanced to hear a single robin perched on the broken branch of a tree, singing a tuneful melody.  She is reported to have jumped from her seat, quickly retrieved a notepad, and wrote out the notes as she and the red-breasted bird sang back and forth in collaboration. 

Sheet music published by Harold Flammer
Sheet music published by Harold Flammer

She debuted "Song of the Robin" at her July 5, 1919, Ocean Grove Auditorium concert, and recorded a popular "Diamond Disc" version for Thomas Edison in 1920 - no easy task, as Edison personally approved all recordings. 

Anna Case in "La Fiesta", 1926

For her next two compositions, Anna Case added musical scores to established poems.  "Anhelo (Longing)" a Spanish language poem by Simon Martinez with English lyrics by Cecil Cowdrey was given the Anna Case treatment and quickly became a concert staple.  She is seen and heard singing her composition in the 1926 short Vitaphone film "La Fiesta" - one of the very first "talkies". 

Sheet music published by Harold Flammer

Around the time she was making "La Fiesta", she sat down with a poem by Robert Burns and wrote "Ye Bonnie Banks O' Doon", once again published by Harold Flammer - with a fine photo portrait of the composer on the cover.  But it was something else that happened in 1926 which may have, arguably, sent Anna Case into a ten-year dry spell.  That was the year her beau, Postal Telegraph tycoon Clarence H. Mackay, by virtue of his daughter Ellin's wedding, became the father-in-law of one of America's greatest and most prolific songwriters, Irving Berlin.  Her eventual marriage to Mackay in 1931 made Anna Case the stepmother of  Berlin, her contemporary!  What the two musicians shared in maturity, however, did not extend to songcraft.  So it's worth noting here that while Anna Case's compositions show talent, and while her songwriting accomplishments were real (recording her own song for Edison!, singing her own composition in the first motion picture with sound!) she was no Irving Berlin.

It wasn't until 1936 that Anna Case once again caught the songwriting bug.  The impetus was her husband's birthday.  With his unimaginable wealth reduced by the great depression to a mere imaginable level, Clarence Mackay still had everything he could possibly ever need or want, so his wife gave him something he couldn't buy - a song - which she sang for him on his birthday, "My Irish Eyes".

"I Know An Irish Garden" - one of the many Irish-themed songs written by Anna Case.

Mr. Mackay so enjoyed the song, that he enlisted its use - with a few tweaks in the lyrics - for his new "song-o-gram" service, a kind of singing telegram delivered for a fee over the telephone.  The tune was a hit on St. Patrick's Day, and led to Anna Case composing additional ditties for other occasions, including more substantial works such as "Just an Old Fashioned Picture", which she sang on a special Mother's Day radio broadcast in 1938, and "Daddy, This is Your Day", introduced by popular young singer Mary Small on a similar radio broadcast for Father's Day.

"Daddy, This is Your Day" popularized by Mary Small

"Just an Old Fashioned Picture" was a collaboration with lyricist Gerald Fitzgerald, as was "I'm a Dreamer of Dreams (That Never Come True) - popularized by Ozzie Nelson - and many other songs during this period.

"I'm a Dreamer of Dreams" popularized by Ozzie Nelson

Inspired by her husband, Anna Case returned again and again to Irish themes in her music, with such songs as "I Know an Irish Garden" - another collaboration with Fitzgerald - and "By the Lakes of Killarney I Met My Kathleen", recorded contemporaneously by well-known Irish tenor John McCormack, and available on iTunes today.

"By the Lakes of Killarney..." recorded by Irish tenor John McCormack

Anna Case copyrighted about fifty songs between 1936 and 1940, mostly unpublished.  As World War II began,  she collaborated with Gladys Shelley on a patriotic song, "Long Live Our Democracy", and in 1943 with Roslyn Wells, more successfully, with "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We'll Pull Together".

After another ten year break, we find "Un Papillon Capricieux", with French and English words by Mitchell Carroll and music by Anna Case - who received prominent top billing on the sheet music published by Harold Flammer - and, in a reversal, "When I Hold You in My Arms", with words by Anna Case, and music by Harold J. Stewart.

Sheet music published by Harold Flammer

An exhausting, if not exhaustive, search of U.S. copyright records finds one final unpublished song, "You've Got Ireland In Your Eyes", copyrighted words and music by the seventy-four-year-old Anna Case, 23 April 1962.

17 December 2013

Anna Case, Tales of Redemption

Metropolitan Opera Company representative William J. Guard was given the unenviable task of addressing the Brooklyn Academy of Music audience before the curtain to announce that the continued indisposition of coloratura soprano Frieda Hempel would make it impossible for her to appear in the role of Olympia that evening.   The date was December 13, 1913, the occasion, the second performance that season of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" (Tales of Hoffman).  The fact that the hisses greeting this announcement were drowned by modest applause was a testament to the enduring popularity of Mme. Hempel's replacement: Anna Case.

Anna Case as Olympia the Doll in "Les Contes d'Hoffmann"

What could have proven a disaster for the twenty-six-year-old soprano from South Branch, New Jersey, instead turned into a triumph of perseverance and skill.  Given notice just six hours before the curtain, in a role that she had never before sung, with the memory of the decidedly mixed reviews that followed her performance as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier" just days before, there was every reason for the audience, and any ordinary diva, to fear the worst.

Olympia's signature song from Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann"

"Sophie" was supposed to be the role that put Anna Case at the top of the marquee.  She had enjoyed her first major success in the American debut of "Boris Godunov", starring in the trouser role of Fyodor.  She was then rewarded with another principal role in the American debut of  Strauss' comic opera.  The grueling two-month rehearsal schedule, in a language she was wholly unfamiliar with, German, took a terrible toll on her voice, which was evident at the December 9, 1913, premiere.  It didn't help that the part, which calls for soft, emotional, passages, was completely drowned by the orchestra more than once.

Anna Case as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier"
Anna Case as Sophie in "Der Rosenkavalier"

It is to the credit of the Metropolitan Opera directors, and Anna Case herself, that she was ready and willing to answer the call as Olympia the Doll.  As reported the next day in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "Her fresh, young voice was as clear as a silver bell...and her acting was as supple as the role allowed.  Applause greeted her from all over the house and flowers were handed to her before the curtain."

Brooklyn Standard Union. 14 December 1913

She went back to Manhattan and continued in the role of Sophie for all eleven 1913-14 performances of "Der Rosenkavalier", to improving reviews, as well as appearing in four performances of "Orfeo ed Euridice", as the featured soloist in no less than six Sunday Night Concerts, and two additional performances of "Boris" - one in which she duplicated her "Tales" triumph by singing the role of Xenia on short notice, a part she had never rehearsed but only knew from being on the same stage as Leonora Sparkes while in her usual role of Fyodor.

Presentation of the Rose from "Der Rosenkavalier" with Anna Case, left, as Sophie, and Margarete Ober, center, as Octavian.

Anna Case reprised her role as Olympia with the Metropolitan Opera in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of the 1914-15 season, and recorded Olympia's signature song, "Les Oiseaux dans la Charmille", for the Edison record label in 1916 - although not released until she had effectively left the opera in 1918.

Bonus: Erin Morley as Olympia at the final dress rehearsal, Metropolitan Opera, January 9, 2015,  Enjoy!

29 October 2013

Christie Opens First Section of Route 206 Bypass

With Joan Biondi and family in attendance, Hillsborough Township Mayor Frank DelCore and Governor Chris Christie formally opened the first completed section of the Route 206 Bypass named in honor of Assemblyman Pete Biondi who passed away in 2011.
Hillsborough Mayor Frank DelCore, Senator Kip Bateman, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Governor Chris Christie, Assemblywoman Donna Simon, and Congressman Leonard Lance at the opening of the Peter J. Biondi Route 206 Bypass on Monday October 28, 2013
The governor remarked on Pete's legacy of public service, told a story about a gift of cuff links from Pete, and let everyone know that as a New Jersey commuter, he was as anxious as anyone to see the construction of the final two sections of the bypass project, now expected to be completed in 2018.

Pete Biondi in 2010
No doubt about it, the highway, as it exists right now, is a bit of a "road to nowhere", running between Amwell Road and Hillsborough Road.  Until the southern connection at Route 206 and Mountainview Road, and the northern connection at Route 206 and Old Somerville Road are completed, the road is likely to have limited usefulness.
After the brief ceremony, residents and dignitaries who were in attendance had the option to exit the roadway by driving south on the bypass to Hillsborough Road.  Which is exactly what I did.

21 September 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today

Saturday, September 21, 1963, railfans watch as a Reading steam locomotive approaches near Belle Mead Station.

16 August 2013

We're All Supermen

What is it about Lois Lane?  She's intelligent and tenacious, sure.  And generally unflappable in the presence of gangsters or mole men.  But for all of that, and all her smugness, she is just as clueless as Jimmy Olsen.

Superman is right there, sitting at the next desk.  All he has to do is remove his standard issue 1940s eyeglasses and he would be indistinguishable from the "man of steel".  But Lois can't see it.

And that's the way it should be.

Clark Kent's alter ego has been endowed by his creator (DC Comics, or the god of Krypton, take your pick), with certain unalienable rights - the foremost of which is the absolute right to privacy.  Superman's secret identity is sacred.  We don't need to know who Superman is - we don't even need to know why his anonymity is so important.  It's none of our business.

Somewhere along the line - in the pursuit of motion picture profits and comic book sales, perhaps - this concept was discarded.  Lois Lane discovered all - the tights, the cape, the fortress of solitude, everything.  Which is fine for the sweet reporter depicted by Margot Kidder or Teri Hatcher.  Ultimately, it's not these Loises that should worry Clark.  The problem is the future unpredictable evil Lois Lane, certain to make an appearance sooner or later in a "Superman" sequel.  At first she will use this information for good - then the power will corrupt her.

And what about your own privacy?  Are you o.k. with recent NSA and Google revelations because you think the powers that be are only looking out for your best interests?  If so, you are probably correct.  After all, we are still in the Margot Kidder era of government corruption - like England in the 1750s.  The sinister stuff is yet to come.

Our older Founding Fathers - Benjamin Franklin, or even George Washington - wouldn't have imagined in their youth that they would one day fight a revolution to separate themselves from one of the most progressive governments of the 18th century.  Where, despite the presence of the monarchy, there was still representative government and unbridled capitalism.  Then things turned.

After the Revolution, the framers of our Constitution knew that the rights of the people must be enumerated - not to protect Americans from the good, honest, virtuous men that were certain to make up the first United States government, but rather to offer protection from that sinister, corrupt, tyrannical government of the future.

The further we become removed from serious corruption - Watergate, for example - the easier it is to lose sight of why we have the 1st, 2nd, 4th, etc. amendments.

Lois Lane has no right to know what Clark Kent does when he takes off his glasses and slips into something more comfortable.  And the NSA has no more right to read our email than the USPS has to steam open envelopes. 

The value of our Constitution is that it makes us all Supermen.  Even Jimmy.

23 April 2013

The Mystery That Was George Garretson

A death certificate from 1918, a single white evening glove, and a well-worn valentine signed "Helen", all carefully wrapped in tissue paper and found in a junk-filled Hillsborough home near the lifeless body of its owner, George Garretson.  Perhaps three of the most important clues into the life of one of Somerset County's most mysterious residents.

Born in 1878 into one of the area's most prominent families, George enjoyed a privileged life as the only child of Garret and Sarah Garretson.  A somewhat precocious youth, his inquisitive nature once led him to wire his childhood home for electricity at a time when nearly all in the area were still using gas lamps.  He studied engineering at a college in Pennsylvania, and by the turn of the century was living and working in San Diego, California.  He started a successful business manufacturing three inventions for use by electricians.

Garretson's boring machine allowed electricians and plumbers to quickly drill holes through joists.
Photo from the 10 July 1909 issue of "The Journal of Electricity, Power, and Gas

A reporter touring the old Hillsborough estate at the time of his death in 1950 observed two of the framed patents, one for a new kind of drill chuck, the other for a boring machine.  Not on display was Garretson's 1911 patent for an electrical binding post.  Significant because despite his prominent family, wealth, and personal success in business, the crumbling Hillsborough estate, with it's grand staircases, numerous outbuildings, and old servants' quarters which betrayed its prominent past, had no electric, gas, or telephone service.

Garretson came East at least a few times during this period - to visit friends in 1913, and, presumably, when his father passed in 1914. Then in 1915, the New Brunswick Home News reported that 300 people gathered at the East Millstone Reformed Church to witness his marriage to one Theresa Geisler - a name that disappears from the historical record almost as quickly as it enters.

Headline from the 6 July 1915 Home News

By 1950, Garretson - who had moved back to the old homestead on Amwell Road after the death of his mother in 1933 - had filled most of the twelve cobwebbed rooms of the mansion with broken furniture, old stoves, papers, and assorted junk.  He lived in just two rooms, coming out often to walk to the homes of old friends in the area.  When he hadn't been out for a few days, a neighbor who went to investigate spied him through the window lying dead on the dirty sofa.

The Garretson home on Amwell Road near the racquet club

It might be assumed that this is the story of a man who had fallen on hard times, lost it all in the stock market crash or an ill-advised business venture.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Garretson owned several valuable properties in the area and had a substantial financial portfolio with a good income.  He was, indeed, well-off.

Boring Machine patented by George Garretson in 1909.

So, as a reporter for the Franklin Record asked in 1950, "Why would a man, financially well off and accustomed to a moderately wealthy life as a child, be contented to live as a semi-hermit amid a junk-packed old home?"
Drill Chuck patented by George Garretson in 1909.

My own armchair investigation sheds little light on the mystery.  Census records always show him living alone or with unrelated lodgers, never with a wife - although one does list him as widowed.  A patent search revealed the three inventions, but not much else.
Electrical Binding Post patented by George Garretson in 1911.

The only other clue, besides the three precious items previously mentioned, is what he revealed to a close friend late in life.  He told a tale of his one and only love, an actress who appeared in the area with a traveling troupe, and how she left him on their wedding night. 

Could a broken heart truly have broken the man?  Perhaps we will never know.

21 March 2013

Anna Case, The Hidden Truth

A typical movie set during the silent film era was anything but - silent, that is.  With no live microphones or audio recording of any type taking place, directors shouted out instructions, carpenters plied the tools of their trade, laborers moved equipment to and fro, and clinking cutlery and candid conversation could be heard around the buffet.  All while a serious melodrama or precision-timed comedy was being filmed a few feet away.  Add in the fact that many movies in the teens were produced at studios situated amid the hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan, and what occurred on East 48th Street one September day in 1918 is even more remarkable.

On that day, Metropolitan Opera diva, and noted concert soprano, Anna Case was shooting her first motion picture at the Norma Talmadge Studios.  "The Hidden Truth", directed by Julius Steger - and sadly now lost - called for realistic scenes of drama and action, including singing.  Miss Case, playing an Old West saloon singer who is transported by a series of mistaken identities to New York society, was called on to shoot a scene where she gives a drawing-room recital for friends.

Still photo of Anna Case in "The Hidden Truth"

The moment the director called "action" and the first notes of Anna Case's exquisite soprano were heard, the entire studio fell silent.  Tradesmen laid down their hammers, conversation halted, all motion ceased.  

The Hidden Truth publicity still
(collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Outside on 48th street, deliverymen pulled up their wagons, street merchants who had been hawking their wares were suddenly mute.  People up and down the block hung out of their windows to listen to "America's Favorite Soprano".

The Hidden Truth lobby card
(collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Released by Select Pictures as a five-reel feature in the Spring of 1919, "The Hidden Truth" was not a hit.  Anna Case admitted she had a lot to learn about film acting.  In an interview coinciding with the picture's release, she recalled seeing her performance for the first time, remarking candidly, "as a motion picture actress, I make a pretty good singer".

Anna Case with costar Charles Richman in "The Hidden Truth"

Despite promotional tie-ins with music stores who carried her records on the Edison label, the movie did little business beyond the initial curiosity seekers.

It is impossible today to see for ourselves why Anna Case's acting chops did not translate from the grand opera stage to the movie set, but judging from contemporary reviews, she appears to have been somewhat wooden in her role.  The kindest of reviewers noted that at least she didn't partake in the grandiose overacting so common to melodramas of the period.

Unfortunately, all that remains of "The Hidden Truth" are these few still photos taken on the set and a sheet of musical cues for the theater organist.

Oh, and perhaps a few notes floating high in the air above 48th Street.

19 March 2013

Anna Case Breaks Through in Boris

 Anna Case often stated that she was never given her "big break" by anyone - that she earned all of her success through her own hard work and determination.  There is no better example of that than her performance as Fyodor in the American debut of Modest Mussourgsky's "Boris Godunov".  

Anna Case, Maria Duchene, Adamo Didur, Leonora Sparkes

When she stepped onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House on March 19, 1913, she brought with her more than just her exquisite soprano voice - namely, ninety-seven superb performances in eleven different supporting roles over a grueling three-and-a-half years.

Boris Godunov Coronation Scene

For years she had been requesting the roles that went with the arias she was singing to rave reviews at the Met's Sunday Night Concert series and in her own concert tours.  She was told repeatedly that she did not have an "above-the-title" name that would sell tickets.  As she recounted for an Opera News reporter in 1970, her reply was, "put me on with Caruso, and I will draw".

Anna Case with Enrico Caruso, May 1917

Indeed, she did share the stage with Enrico Caruso in a few lesser roles, but it wasn't until she threatened to quit the company - a bold move that shocked the Met's directors ("No one quits the Metropolitan Opera!") - that she was cast as Boris's son Fyodor in Mussourgsky's unique opera.

Anna Case, Adamo Didur

Almost forty years old by the time of its American debut, Boris Godunov is interesting not only because of its long compositional history - it was extensively reworked by Rimsky-Korsakov after Mussourgsky's death - but also for its use of scenery and costumes.  Sets were not "built out" in the traditional manner, but instead consisted entirely of enormous canvas backdrops, one for each of the opera's eight scenes, painted in a modern, almost cubist, style.  Costumes were not designed but were authentic antique Russian wardrobe of the depicted era.

Anna Case as Fyodor in Boris Godunov, her first starring role.

Anna Case continued in the role of Fyodor until the conclusion of the 1912-1913 season in April.  She would not again grace the Metropolitan stage until December when she would sing what would become her signature role, Sophie, in the American debut of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.  Although, from the photo below which appeared in a 1919 issue of Theatre magazine, it seems she held a special place in her heart for the role in which she created her big break!