30 March 2017

Cornfield Crash Cold War Casualty

James Bohren, the manager of the Selvage farm on Montgomery-Wertsville Rd. in Hillsborough Township looked up from his work when he heard the sound of an airplane with an "uneven" motor overhead. He saw the low-flying navy jet of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth D. Frazier, USMC pass over the Birk farm and spiral straight down,

The Birks were in their home when they saw a flash through the window and heard an explosion. John Leonard of Long Hill Rd. was almost two miles away and said the explosion "looked just like Hiroshima". The date was July 17, 1959.

FJ-3 Fury circa 1957

Frazier had taken off from the Willow Grove, PA Naval Air Station on a routine flight in his single-seat FJ-3 Fury fighter jet. The air combat veteran was just looking to get some flight time in when something went horribly wrong. A marine hero of two wars, he was credited with downing 12 enemy planes in the South Pacific in World War II, and had also flown in Korea. 

He was awarded the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 11 Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation. The Lieutenant Colonel was also the commanding officer of his Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment. 

Spectators and souvenir hunters flocked to the Birk's cornfield almost immediately. State troopers arrived quickly and tried to keep order. According to a report in The Courier News, Frazier's body was "blown to bits", with the largest intact piece being "an arm and shoulder, strapped in a parachute.

He was just 40 years old, and left a wife and four young children.

28 March 2017

Anna Case Draws a Crowd

When Fred Renard, the husband of Anna Case's music teacher Madame Augusta Ohrstrom-Renard, took over management of the twenty-seven-year-old soprano in 1915, he began placing ads in all of the music trade journals, There can be no doubt that he was successful in getting work for the young concert artist as she crisscrossed the country several times over the next decade and beyond.

1917 Publicity Photo

Here is a sampling of some trade ads from 1915 through 1918. I wonder what Mr. Renard would have done in the age of Facebook and Twitter!





21 March 2017

Ruth St. Denis, Purposely Under-dressed

When the Bridgewater Township farm girl who grew up to become the First Lady of American Dance was facing bankruptcy in 1910, the newspapers quipped that she certainly didn't spend it all on costumes! For Ruth St. Denis the skimpy outfits she wore in a series of "Oriental Dances" beginning in 1906 were not just an artistic decision, but a life choice - as she described the next year in a column that ran in newspapers across the country.

Ruth St,. Denis in costume for a dance she performed just once in 1912

"I am going to live to be 100 years old, and I make this statement in all sincerity and truth. The reason why I'm going to live to be 100 is because I refuse to accept the mandates of fashion which, in its utter indifference to comfort and health, demands that women garb themselves in clothes, which per se, promote ill health. I will not wear corsets, the use of which interfere with the natural functions of the body, and act as a barrier to the proper working of the respiratory organs and defeat the purpose for which God intended the pores of our skin. I will continue to be under-dressed, instead of over-dressed, and thereby eliminate the dangers of sudden changes in temperature. I will wear loose fitting shoes that do not tend to interfere with the circulation of the blood in the lower limbs. I will take long breaths, filling every cell in my lungs. I will eat such food as is calculated to make muscle and blood. I will deny myself high spiced cooking, and I will follow a diet that made the ancient Egyptians the long lived people they were. In fact, I will get back to nature."

Ruth St,. Denis in costume for a dance she performed just once in 1912

She went on to compare modern women's ailments with healthy aspects of "ancient days", and then concluded:

"The highest menace to woman's health is tight lacing, tight shoes, tight clothes, too many clothes, and wearing six or seven thicknesses of garments around their chest, and going out in the cold in low shoes, thin silk hose, their necks and shoulders bare, and everything else to invite ill health. 
"They take no exercise, do not believe in a constant current of fresh air in their sleeping apartments and have the steam radiators going at full tilt all the time. In my declaration of independence as regards dress I will carefully avoid all things, and so conduct my life as to make the most out of it so far as health is concerned, and there is absolutely no reason why I cannot live to be 100 as well as my sisters who thrived in the days of ancient Sparta and ancient Egypt."

Ruth St. Denis died in 1968 at the age of 89.

15 March 2017

Kate Claxton - Roots in Somerville, and in the Arts

For the thirty year period between 1875 and 1905 there was probably no actress in America more famous than Somerville, New Jersey's Kate Eliza Cone - known to the world as Kate Claxton. She was born in the nascent boro in the summer of 1848 in the Greek Revival style house still standing at the corner of Altamont Place and Middaugh Street.

Birthplace of Kate Elizabeth Cone, from the 1857 map of Somerville, NJ

Her grandfather, Spencer Houghton Cone, also dabbled in the theater, but is best known as New York City's preeminent Baptist preacher of the early 1800s. He presided at the 1843 wedding of his son Spencer Wallace Cone to Josephine Martinez - a union which produced Kate and her four sisters and one brother.

Spencer Wallace Cone was a journalist and a writer of prose and poetry. Although ten years his junior, it is said that Cone's work was an influence on Edgar Allan Poe. In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War,  he was put in charge of the 61st NY Militia with the rank of Colonel. The regiment saw action in many of the major battles of the war.

Detail form 1882 map of Somerville - Kate Claxton birthplace at west end of Cliff St.

Despite his artistic leanings, Cone was not eager for his daughter to become an actress. The one positive outcome of her disastrous 1865 marriage to New York businessman Isadore Lyon was that it emancipated her from her parents' control, and allowed her to pursue her dreams of the stage - first in Chicago in 1869, and then in New York.

The circa 1837 Greek Revival House at the corner of Altamoint and Middaugh Sts.
After that  - she found a role, survived a fire (or two), got divorced, got married, got divorced, and used a keen business sense to secure one of the longest and most productive careers in the history of theater.

09 March 2017

Raritan Prep AC Football Club

They formed in the late 1920s as the Raritan Prep Juniors, an independent club football team willing to take on any squad "from 100 to 150 pounds for games to be played on Saturdays and Sundays, at home or away."
1931 undefeated championship team, photo from my collection
The gridders later changed their name to the Raritan Prep AC Football Club. Uniforms in a distinctive red with white trim, as well as equipment, were provided by Raritan real estate broker William F. Greene. He also gave the boys, most of whom were recent graduates, and star athletes, of Somerville High School, the use of a field which he owned in the still undeveloped western end of town, between today's Weiss Terrace and Meehan Avenue. This became known as Greene's Field.

December 1, 1931, Courier News

The team was dominant right from the start. Their Somerset County Championship in 1928 capped off three consecutive undefeated seasons. Their winning streak was finally broken on October 20, 1929, by a visiting team from Irvington who arrived in Raritan with enough players to field two complete teams.

January 12, 1932, Courier News

For the 1930 season, the Raritan Preps acquired a mascot, as described by the Courier News in a November 18, 1930 blurb:

A black police pup, suitably dressed in a coat of red with the letter R and P in white, took a prominent part in the game on Sunday with the Somerset Indians and started its football career by helping the local team win by a score of 18 to 0.
Their most impressive season was undoubtedly the fall 1931 campaign. They capped off another Somerset County title by utterly destroying the Brooks AC squad of Bound Brook with 2,000 spectators in attendance at the game which was a benefit for St. Ann's Church. The final score of 7 to 6 doesn't accurately describe how the Preps pushed the Brooks around the field, only allowing them the one score which came on a fumble recovery at the 15-yard line. The Brooks only completed 2 passes and had 2 first downs the entire game, compared to the Preps 12 and 12!

September 6, 1933, Courier News

The Raritan Eleven scored 85 points over ten games that season, compared to just 12 for their opponents. The only other team to score 6 against them was Paramount AC in week one. In between, they notched shutouts against Millington AC, Oxford AC, Somerset Indians, Irvington Pheasants, Manville Yellow Jackets, Bound Brook Beavers, Somerville AC, and the Flemington Giants.

The Preps played another season in 1932, but at the beginning of what would have been the 1933 season, the team announced that they were disbanding due to "lack of material and interest of the players".

Past members of the team held many reunions over the decades and were supportive of local school athletes. The last surviving member of the great squad, founding member Nicholas Esposito, passed away in 2007 at the age of 98.