“I was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1919 to a Hungarian couple. I’ve been smoking cigars ever since.” 

Ernest “Ernie” Edward Kovacs (1919-1962) was a pioneering comedian, actor, writer, and television personality who became a favorite son of Trenton during his short life and long after his death in 1962. The Trentoniana Department has just completed the inventory of a small but interesting collection of Ernie Kovacs’ family material including photographs, letters, news clippings and memorabilia. A guide to the collection is available here and on the website.

Ernie and his older half-brother Thomas (1911-1988) grew up in Trenton. While Ernie and his wife, actress, singer and comedienne Edie Adams moved to Los Angeles, Tom remained in the Trenton area (eventually settling in Allentown, N.J.) where he and his wife Mabel Eggert Kovacs followed Ernie and Edie’s career and received letters from him until his death in 1962. Mabel and Tom stayed in touch with Edie and helped to celebrate Ernie’s legacy through interviews and participation in commemorations of his life. 

A true celebrity whose pall bearers included Hollywood stars such as Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, Ernie’s family was always of central importance to him. Included in the correspondence in this collection is an undated letter to Tom and Mabel which begins: “Dearest Bud & Sis, I got just about the finest brother and sister that a fellow could have. There isn’t one fellow I know who is as lucky as I am. And I love you both with all my heart.”

A funny man with a large heart, the pastor at Ernie’s funeral said that the above title quote was how the comedian had summed up his life. 

Material in this collection was donated to the Trentoniana Department by Ted Russell, whose mother Marie Russell was Mabel’s first cousin. Other collections of Ernie Kovacs’ material can be found at the University of California at Los Angeles Library, Special Collections (Coll. 1105 Ernie Kovacs Papers) and the Ernie Kovacs Archives, National Comedy Center, Jamestown, N.Y. And be sure to pick up a copy of the Trenton Free Public Library’s very own zine about Ernie!

 

Mercer County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Association collection now available for research

This month, the Trentoniana Department was able to complete inventorying and writing a finding aid to the Mercer County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Association. Incorporated in 1891 by 23 Civil War Veterans, the Association’s goal was to “erect and maintain a Monument at Trenton, N. J., to commemorate the Victories of the Armies of the United States during the late Civil War (1861-1865), and … to commemorate and perpetuate the patriotism and valor of New Jersey Soldiers and Sailors during said war, from Mercer County particularly.”  On June 19, 1909, the monument was dedicated in Cadwalader Park where it still stands. In all, the Association raised almost $13,000 to erect this memorial which was designed and constructed by the Alexander McDonald Company of Trenton. This guide to the collection (along with many others!) is available on Trentoniana’s website:  https://www.trentonlib.org/trentoniana/finding-aids-to-collections.

Getting collections like the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Association’s papers organized and available for use is made possible by volunteers who give generously of their time. We thank Ellen Callahan for working on this one!

The Proud, The Free Public Library of the City of Trenton

The Free Public Library of the City of Trenton is definitely a mouthful to say, but what does that really mean? Is all that really necessary anyway? It certainly is when the library’s history shows that being “free” and being “public” wasn’t always the case.

A “library” didn’t always mean a physical building. It was usually a collection of books. A “public” library was a collection of books not belonging to a private individual. Anyone could use the books – if they paid a subscription fee to become a member, that is. Such was the case with the Library Company of Trenton, formed in 1750 and based on Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company of Philadelphia. The books resided in small rented rooms, or even in the homes of members, and were accessible only for a few hours a week. 

By the 1800s, the Trenton Library Association had been formed, but the subscription model was still in place. Even when the number of books grew so that they were housed at larger public buildings such as the Y.M.C.A. or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, people still needed to pay a membership fee in order to borrow books. The idea of a “free” library for the public, one that was supported by money not from members but by local taxes, was slow to gain popularity across the country. 

The “free public library” movement began in the mid-19th century in places where legislation was passed to support libraries by public taxes. Boston had the first sizable free public library in 1852, but even when the American Library Association was formed 25 years later, there were less than 200 public libraries in the entire country. The reasons for the slow growth was the lack of a stable source of funding and the inability to find permanent housing. Local governments only taxed for necessities such as fire and police departments or municipal water. Libraries were not seen as a civic responsibility so were instead supported by women’s clubs, churches, and local businessmen. 

Andrew Carnegie can be credited with really popularizing the idea of a free public library when he began giving money for the building of 1,689 physical libraries, beginning in 1883 and continuing for over 30 years. One of the requirements for receiving the money was that 10% of the grant was to be matched by the municipality for upkeep. This 10% would come from local taxes, and soon the building of libraries started to be seen as a town’s commitment to knowledge and gave the appearance of stability.   

In Trenton in 1900, a resolution was placed on the ballot to create a free public library for all the citizens of Trenton by then-mayor Frank O. Briggs, and was passed. On June 9, 1902, the new permanent library building with “The Free Public Library of the City of Trenton” emblazoned across its facade was officially dedicated on Academy Street. Now anyone could come in and apply for a library card. The residents of Trenton were finally able to boast that their community now had a place where everyone was welcome to rest, read a book, and learn something new.

Over the years, the name was shortened to the more manageable Trenton Free Public Library, but by 1976, its history started to be erased when “Free” was taken out. While it’s even easier to just say “TFPL” to someone in the know, these letters mean nothing to anyone outside the City, and in fact could mean anything. Twin Falls Public Library? Task Force Pro Libra? Tom’s Fantasy Poker League? 

Many times people refer to us as “the library in Trenton” which more often than not, leads others to think we are the State Library, established almost 50 years after us in 1796 to serve only the state government. Its mission has always been very different from Trenton’s city library. Maybe it’s flattering that our library is mistaken for the big state library, but a sad realization that people don’t know that the city of Trenton has its own library, serving its own community. So while it may be easier to say TFPL, take that extra second to celebrate the history of the City’s library and let people know that it is the Trenton Free Public Library. Be proud to say it.

It all begins with an idea

Post by Laura M. Poll, Trentoniana Archivist

The Trenton Free Public Library has a lot of connections to other city organizations, not just today but going all the way back to its beginnings in 1900. Recently, I was asked to give a talk for The Symposium, a discussion group with origins back to 1904. While doing research, I was surprised to learn of the strong connections between our two organizations.

Rev. Hamilton Schuyler (pictured above), rector of the Trinity Episcopal Church that was located directly across from the library on Academy Street, was one of the library’s original board trustees in 1900. He’s super-special to us because he was the one who proposed the idea that the library begin collecting items related to Trenton’s history. But before he became the father of Trentoniana, he came up with the idea for “the formation of a society or club to meet periodically for the purpose of discussing topics of timely interest.” This club would become The Symposium.

Our first library director, Swedish immigrant Adam Strohm, was one of the The Symposium’s founding members, along with attorney William M. Lanning, another of the library’s original trustees. Our second and longest-serving library director, Howard L. Hughes, was The Symposium’s secretary-treasurer from 1917-1932 and its president in 1933. [Fun fact: Howard started as a library page when the library opened in 1902].

The organizational meeting of The Symposium occurred on December 14, 1904. There were 14 charter members, all in attendance. The group was not formed to be political, commercial or social, and in the 1925 Trenton City Guide, it was considered “perhaps Trenton’s most intellectual club.”

In a 2004 article, then-president Bill Sheehy was quoted as saying somewhat tongue-in-check, that the club’s focus “is not service to others; it has no socially redeeming value other than the entertainment of its members” and offered “unfettered intellectual curiosity devoid of any other motives.” Have to admire his frankness and honesty.

The Symposium published a centennial book in 2006 that includes a thorough list of its members and a list of topics. There had been an implied understanding that views or opinions expressed by members in their discussions would never be publicly referred to, and certainly not given to the press. This allowed speakers to feel at liberty to “indulge the utmost frankness in dealing with delicate and burning subjects.” The Symposium has “never assumed to settle any question.”

Their first speaker was on January 9, 1905: Linton Satterthwaite, an attorney whose topic was “Divorce.”

Adam Strohm spoke in April 1906 about “The Services of the Trenton Public Library.”  When he resigned from the club in November 1911 to take the helm of the Detroit Public Library, he was thanked in the minutes for providing the resources for the 52 previous discussions. Exactly what a good librarian should be doing.

Howard L. Hughes’ first talk for The Symposium was in November 1917 and was “To What Extent Shall Public Libraries Direct or Censor the Reading of Fiction?” He would go on to research and compile information for the club’s 20th and 40th anniversaries. Again, what librarians do best.

Clifford Holland spoke on May 12, 1924 about building the Interstate Vehicular Tunnel under the Hudson River of which he was the chief engineer. He died on October 27 so it was probably one of his last appearances. Sixteen days after his death, the Holland Tunnel opened.

Medical director of the State Hospital, Dr. Henry Cotton was a member beginning in 1909, president in 1915, and presumably a member until his death in 1933. Dr. Cotton gave eight talks to the club, the first in January 1909 on “Mental Hygiene.” Another in November 1912 was entitled “Practical Eugenics.” His last one was in 1924 around the time the New Jersey State Senate was investigating him for the deaths of several patients at the hospital.

Having learned this, I am now down another rabbit hole on another Trenton topic. Just where a good librarian should be!

What’s a Zine?

The Trenton Free Public Library is creating a circulating Zine Library in the Poetry Cafe, adjacent to the Social Justice Corner in the community room, and just outside the door to the Trentoniana Department. By definition, “zine” (pronounced “zeen”) is short for “fanzine” and is a do-it-yourself, limited-run publication. Anyone can create a zine about anything; it could have nothing but words, or nothing but pictures, or both, or neither. It can be about your cat or your favorite music or that jerk who sat next to you on the train today. It can be any size with any number of pages, created on the computer and printed out, or photocopied and hand-colored. There can be 100 copies or there can be 1 unique copy. You can also create your own definition of what a zine can be – there really are no rules. 

Having a zine collection within any type of “establishment” is rather un-zinelike, but what better place than a public library to allow for all voices to be heard and all opinions to be shared? In fact, the location of the zine collection in the library was deliberate since poetry, history, and social justice are just a few of the topics to be found in zines, with each demonstrating its own type of perspective.

What does all this have to do with Trentoniana? This: what happens today is tomorrow’s history – what people are doing and talking about today is what people in the future (even a year from now) will want to know. While the mainstream press and social media outlets tell us who and what we should know, zines document the collective memory of the community – the true voices of the present, many of them marginalized. We learn more about a time period from a teen’s hand-written journal or a letter from a soldier than we do from a glossy newsmagazine. Trentoniana’s mission is to preserve the closest reality of the times, and those voices are coming from us right now.

At present, the circulating zine collection contains a handful of books about zines, zine-making, and the underground press, along with about 20-30 actual zines, with many many more already purchased and waiting to be cataloged. Stop by and grab a couple of the free mini-zines (courtesy of the Quarantine Public Library) and you’ll see that anything, any topic, can be a zine. There’s even a free zine about how to make a zine, so why not give it a try. We want to see your zines – share with us!

Plans are underway for a “zine fest” to be held at the library in spring/summer 2022. Meanwhile, check out the webpage www.trentonlib.org/zine-library and follow us on Instagram @trenton.makes.zines <https://www.instagram.com/trenton.makes.zines/>

Memories of Ordinary Things

Every object holds a story that is unique to the person who owned it. Memories can be sparked just by looking at one of those objects. The Trentoniana Department is filled with such stories and memories. 

One of our recent donations is a large platter made by Anchor Pottery which operated in Trenton on New York Avenue, 1884-1926. They had 14 kilns and employed over 250 workers. Specializing in cream-colored ware, semi-porcelains, and dinnerware, their pottery was shipped throughout the northeast.

The donors, Daniel and Giselle Tomassone, Jr.,  sent a letter with the platter: “Many, many Sundays in the 1950s our family gathered around the dinner table like most families. Our great-grandparents and grandparents were farmers so much of our food came from the farm. I remember this platter being filled with ravioli and meatballs and beef and potatoes and carrots that were delicious.”

It’s not a fancy “special occasion” platter decorated like what you might see from other Trenton-based potteries such as Mercer or Scammell. It’s rather nondescript with a couple chips and a 2” crack and shows its wear from hundreds, even thousands, of meals. While it was a vessel for food, it also became one for memories.

Another seemingly unusual donation came in a few years earlier, given in memory of a father. Bill Miller was the maintenance supervisor at the Stokes Molded Products Company on Taylor Street from 1950 until they closed in 1988. He was the next-to-last employee and was in charge of dismantling what was left of the buildings. He saved the steam whistle from the company and kept it at his home for many years; a whistle that was so familiar to workers to signal their lunch breaks and quitting times. Daughter Arleen wrote: “Throughout his years, dad stressed the importance of reading and history to all his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Our family feels that sharing with you is what he would have wanted us to do with the whistle that he was so proud of.” 

One usually doesn’t think about emotions being attached to an industrial item such as a steam whistle or something as ordinary as a serving platter, but they meant something to someone at some point. These items had a personal value and held a story. It makes us appreciate even more the many objects that have been entrusted to the Library’s care over the decades, and we are honored to be their caretaker.

Trenton’s African-American newspapers digitized

The Trentoniana Department has been scanning the rarer newspapers in the collection and getting them available via our website. https://trentonlib.org/trentoniana/microfilm-newspapers/

Several of these are African-American publications that were created for the Trenton community. The latest is The Observer, which started on April 4, 1959 and continued into the early 1960s. We have 51 issues of this paper, most coming from the Mayor Arthur J. Holland Papers, specifically the Council on Human Relations.

The Observer was published every Saturday from 633 New Willow Street in the city. Deane H. Good was the editor and the primary reporter and columnist. The paper not only contained social announcements such as marriages, promotions, and a “Miss of the Week” feature, but also covered issues on segregation, housing, and racism on both regional and national levels. Researchers focusing on the civil rights movement during the late 1950s will find articles about the NAACP, boycotts of businesses, and how officials were being held accountable to their residents. Some of these newspaper issues followed the charges against the then-superintendent of schools for racist and anti-semitic “jokes”, and the relocation of families from the Coalport section during the city’s urban renewal project then taking place. Other articles of note are the establishment of the first “moslem” temple in the city and the taking down of FBI posters in the post office.

Other African-American publications that have been scanned include the first (and perhaps only) issue of The Trenton Tribune, self-described as “Trenton’s Negro Weekly.” This issue came out on September 27, 1961. We aren’t sure how many issues were published or when it ceased production. Another publication is Pride magazine which was written for Black business owners and about Black businesses operating in Trenton in the very early 1970s. Only a handful of issues were published and we have 6 of them. All of these publications contain business advertisements which give a good overall glimpse of what was available in Trenton for residents and visitors.

If anyone knows of the availability of other issues of these publications, please contact the archivist at trentoniana@trentonlib.org

Firefighting in Trenton

Post by Michael Ratcliffe

I am the author of a new book about the history of firefighting in Trenton. This work, appropriately titled Trenton Firefighting is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. As proclaimed by Arcadia itself, the “Images of America” series uses archival photographs to “celebrate the history of neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country.” In line with this, Trenton Firefighting is filled with nearly 200 rarely-seen images, most of which were pulled from the archives of the Trenton Free Public Library’s Trentoniana Collection and the Meredith Havens Fire Museum of Trenton. Laura Poll, the Trentoniana Collection’s multi-talented archivist and all-around kind soul [*aw, shucks* – ed.], generously invited me to pen this blog post to talk about Trenton Firefighting and to share some of my experiences exploring the treasure trove of local historical holdings that is the Trentoniana Collection.

I am not a native of the Trenton area. I grew up in Middlesex County and came to Mercer County in 1991 to attend Rider College (in its pre-university days). As it turned out, I never left and have made my home in Lawrence Township ever since.

My father was a firefighter. For 40 years he was an active member of the Metuchen Volunteer Fire Department. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve the fire department in one way or another. I clearly remember the sounds of the Plectron my dad kept by his bedside and of many times being awoken in the middle of the night by that shoebox-sized pager-like device (considered the state-of-the-art way of alerting volunteers to a fire back in the 1970s), followed by various thuds as my dad dressed and ran out of the house. And, of course, I remember the picnics and firehouse visits. I recall being left to explore the apparatus – the jumpseats and hosebeds of twin 1970 Mack CF-600 pumpers serving as my own personal jungle gym – while my dad was in some meeting or other.

To this day there is still something about the smells of a firehouse engine room, those intermixed odors of smoke and diesel, that instantly transport me back to my childhood. My own firefighting journey began in 1992 when, during my freshman year at Rider, I joined Lawrence Road Volunteer Fire Company. I served Lawrence Township as an active volunteer for over 20 years before I was fortunate enough to be hired to join the township’s small staff of career firefighters.

Before I became a fulltime firefighter, I was employed as a news reporter and photographer. For nearly 15 years, I worked for the Trenton Times. Even back then it was a big deal that Trenton – with the Times and Trentonian – had two daily newspapers when cities much larger only had one. Not surprisingly, while at the Times I was assigned to the “police beat,” and in that role I went to, photographed and wrote about lots of fires and other emergencies handled by the Trenton Fire Department.

As a result of that “perfect storm” of having grown up the son of a firefighter, becoming one myself, and my job immersing me further into the firefighting world, I became fascinated with local fire service history and wanted to learn more, not only about my own fire company in Lawrence but also about that of the Trenton Fire Department.

During evenings on the paper’s night shift, after the first edition was “put to bed,” if I was not finishing up a story for one of the Times’ later editions, my role was to monitor our multiple police scanners. That involved me listening in to local police and fire radio transmissions just in case a major breaking news event – a homicide or a big fire, for example – occurred, about which I might be able to file a last-minute story that would at least give the next morning’s readers basic details about what had taken place. This happened on many occasions, enough so to justify me remaining on-duty until midnight each shift. Occasionally, when the story warranted it – such as on Dec. 31, 2001 when two brave Trenton police officers were nearly killed in a New Year’s Eve shootout with a gunman – the presses were held up and printing of the paper delayed until a more-detailed accounting could be written.

But during those particularly quiet nights, when absolutely nothing of a police beat nature was going on in Trenton or its environs, I would grab one of our hand-held police scanners and slip away into the paper’s “morgue,” as the archive of old newspaper clippings and other research materials at the rear of our newsroom at 500 Perry Street was called. There, while still monitoring police and fire radio traffic, I’d pass hours pouring through microfilm copies of the Times’ earliest years. Unlike today when digital archives with optical character recognition allow you to enter a few key words and search years of papers in a few seconds, back then a microfilm search meant laboriously glancing over screen after screen of full-page images until a headline, line of text or photo caught your eye. It was through this painstaking method of research that I first learned about significant Trenton fires of the 1880s – like when the State House was gutted by flames or when the old wooden Calhoun Street Bridge burned down – and of the larger-than-life firefighters who had fought them.

Along the way I’d share my discoveries with my night editor, Harry Blaze, a veteran newspaperman passionate about local history, particularly about railroad disasters like the Nellie Bly train wreck of 1901 in neighboring Hamilton Township. Harry was a mentor who encouraged my research and helped hone my writing skills. Whenever I’d come across an old story about a railroad mishap, I’d print it out for Harry. He would do the same for me with any fire-related articles he would find.

About 20 years ago, when the Trenton Fire Department was looking into hosting Mercer County’s annual fire prevention parade, retired Fire Chief Dennis Keenan (then in his capacity as the city’s fire director) approached me about working on a book about Trenton Fire Department history to go along with the parade. As things turned out, the parade was called off and the book project never completed. The research I had done up to that point was boxed up and ended up stored in my attic, where it sat out-of-sight but never entirely out-of-mind.

Over the years, Chief Keenan would occasionally reach out to me, trying to cajole me into taking up the project again and completing the book. Each time I would resist, telling him I just didn’t have the time. Undaunted, he continued to ask. Finally, in the fall of 2018, Chief Keenan invited me to join the board of trustees for the Meredith Havens Fire Museum. This time I took him up on his offer. After being shown all the old photos and other memorabilia still tucked away in the museum’s archive room, my interests in finally completing the book project I’d started all those years ago were rekindled. 

And so, in the first weeks of 2019, I resumed my research and paid my first visit in nearly two decades to the Trentoniana Collection. It was then that I first met Laura. She introduced herself, then asked why I was there and how she could help. And help she did. For the next year-plus I made almost weekly trips to Trentoniana. During those visits, I digitally scanned every fire-related photo that Laura could find, as well as several years’ worth of fire department dispatch logs, fire chiefs’ annual reports and other documents she turned up. Laura energetically searched through Trentoniana’s stacks and produced all kinds of fire department ephemera, including obscure items like invitations to balls, banquets and picnics hosted by Trenton’s old volunteer fire companies.

I must say it was a powerful feeling holding in my own hands items – like the oldest surviving meeting minute books of the Union and Hand-In-Hand volunteer fire companies – that are over 200 years old. Turning those time-worn pages, bound in cracked leather, and looking over the faded ink written in old-school cursive was almost like traveling in time.

For about a year-and-a-half I researched and wrote Trenton Firefighting. I was fortunate that the bulk of my research had been completed before the COVID-19 pandemic locked things down and prevented furthers trips to the library and fire museum. I am proud to say that the book traces the evolution of the Trenton Fire Department from the organization of the city’s first volunteer fire company in 1747 up to the past year.

Among the historical changes documented are the arrival of steam fire engines during the volunteer era, the transition from volunteer fire companies to a department of full-time paid firefighters in 1892, the introduction of motorized apparatus to replace horse power, and the growth of the department in the early 20th century. Many major fires are detailed and illustrated, from the 1885 State House fire and the Roebling infernos of 1915 up through the conflagrations of later decades that destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Trenton Armory (Civic Center). The pages are also filled with stories, rare details and humorous anecdotes about old Trenton firefighters, firehouses, apparatus, fire horses and even firehouse pets. And, finally, the book honors and pays tribute to 34 Trenton firefighters, both volunteer and career, who have lost their lives in the line of duty since 1864.

I owe Laura a great debt of thanks for all her help. Without her and the Trentoniana Collection the book would not have been anywhere near as detailed as it turned out. Laura, together with Chief Keenan, also kindly helped with proofreading. The book received its general release on Jan. 25 and is widely available, both locally and online. Royalties from book sales are being donated to the Trentoniana Department and the Meredith Havens Fire Museum of Trenton.      

If you have even the slightest interest in any aspect of Trenton history, I encourage you – once the pandemic is under control and restrictions have been lifted – to pay a visit to the Trenton Free Public Library and explore the Trentoniana Collection. The archive has so much to offer. I guarantee you will find something new each time you visit. Laura herself is still making discoveries, as she is still sorting through yet-to-be inventoried holdings, not to mention the fact that new donations are often received and new acquisitions made.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the fire museum, too, once you are able!

Image: This “Lady’s Invitation” to Good Will Fire Company’s 8th Annual Ball – held December 26, 1859 in the “Upper Saloon” of Temperance Hall – is one of many similar pieces of memorabilia from Trenton’s old volunteer fire department preserved in the Trentoniana Collection.

Rediscovering the Jews of Trenton

Post by Ellen Callahan

Meet #TeamTrentoniana

I have been a volunteer archivist in the Trentoniana Department since about August of 2018. For 28 years, I was an archivist at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, serving as the Collection Manager for the last 17 of those years. What I enjoyed most was working with the documents; figuring out what they were, why they were created, storing them in a way that would preserve them and writing finding aids or creating indexes that would make them accessible to researchers.

As I was planning for my retirement in 2018, I knew that I would want to continue working with archives somewhere and began researching possibilities. Several colleagues suggested Trentoniana as a place with interesting collections and thankfully its archivist, Laura Poll, was happy to put me to work.

When COVID hit last year and everything shut down, Laura quickly shifted gears and had her volunteers and interns summarize and index on-line oral histories/interviews from Trentoniana’s Jewish Historical Society (JHS) collection (found at https://trentonlib.org/trentoniana/oral-histories/). This brought attention to the Society’s manuscript collection that had some description and arrangement but needed further review and indexing to make it truly usable. After some discussions, Laura agreed to allow me to work on the project at home. While this is not a normal procedure, these were not normal times. So, a few boxes at a time, I was able to get a good overview of what JHS was, write up its history as well as short histories of the Jewish organizations that its collection documented. I also learned a part of Trenton history I knew nothing about.

The JHS began in 1955, following the 1954-1955 nationwide observance of the American Jewish Tercentenary commemorating the anniversary of the Jews’ arrival in New Amsterdam, now New York, in 1654. Like many communities across America, Trenton formed a Committee of 300, and developed a year-long celebration culminating in a successful historical pageant presented to almost 5,000 people in Cadwalader Park. The Society listed its objectives as “the collection, preservation and publication of materials relating to the settlement and history of Jews in Trenton and vicinity.” As with many  volunteer groups, interest rose and fell. Material was collected, presentation made and then there would be periods of no activity at all. JHS was revitalized in 1975 and continued until 1999. And finally in 2000, the collection was donated to the Trentoniana Department. 

The JHS collection focuses on the vibrant Jewish community of Trenton that began around 1850, flourished until the late 1970s and then eventually faded as more Jewish families moved out to the surrounding suburbs and beyond. It provides information about the life of Jewish immigrants who were peddlers, shop keepers, butchers, rabbis, lawyers, and doctors. It helps document how they, their children, and grandchildren worked to become part of the Trenton community while maintaining their religious and cultural identity. It also provides insight into the activities of major Trenton Jewish organizations including the Committee of 300,  the Jewish Federation of Trenton, the Jewish Community Center of Trenton, various synagogues, social clubs, and the Trenton Hebrew Academy.

The collection also includes columns written by Orvill “Ozzie” Zuckerman, an active member of JHS who wrote articles about the Trenton Jewish community for various publications from 1975 to about 2006.  These articles range from general reminiscences about life in the Jewish neighborhoods to stories about specific individuals, businesses, or social organizations. Some are based on the recorded interviews mentioned above, while others are from his own research. 

It really is a fascinating collection that anyone interested in Trenton in general and its now almost vanished Jewish community should investigate. For more information, see our finding aid at https://trentonlib.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Jewish-Historical-Society-.pdf.

Note: Ellen has tackled other large collections such as the records of The Contemporary Club and the Trenton Club. She is currently working on taming the Y.M.C.A. collection. All her finding aids (and others) can be found on the Trentoniana Finding Aids webpage.

Image: From Series W. Nathan Kramer Collection, 1943-1945 (Jewish Historical Society of Trenton Collection). This series includes correspondence, scrapbooks, and issues of the Community Messenger which include materials written by Kramer. In addition, there is a prototype of a history of Trenton that Kramer was trying to have published. It is chiefly composed of handbills, notices and events programs (mostly written in Hebrew or Yiddish) that illustrate the cultural and religious vibrancy of Trenton’s Jewish community from the 1930s to the 1950s. Box 36, Folder 5.

Public History is All-Around

Post by Michael Anesini

Meet #TeamTrentoniana

Hello fellow Trentoniana enthusiasts! I am a recent graduate from The College of New Jersey as a History and Special Education dual major. I am originally from Bergen County, but moved into the greater Mercer County Area in 2016 to pursue my teaching program. I have had the pleasure of working in the Trentoniana archival room for the past year while finishing my degree at TCNJ. Before coming to the Trenton Free Public Library, I gained experience in the public history field through an internship at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Center City Philadelphia. During my experience at the NMAJH, I prepared materials for docents and myself for teaching a full 4-floor museum tour. After finishing this during my Junior summer of college, I longed to continue pursuing my love of history. Fortunately, as I searched through the hundreds of listings on different websites, I found the Trentoniana room.

As a library page, one of my main responsibilities has been helping to facilitate public access to the Trentoniana collection. Some of these tasks consist of (but are not limited to): processing digitized images, sorting materials, preparing items for researcher access, completing information requests, organizing sections of the collection, and whatever needs doing that day. Through these projects, one of the first things that I learned from working at an archive is that you will have to be able to juggle many different projects at the same time. When I first began, one of my biggest assignments was to help organize and sort out the duplicate magazine and newspaper collections stored in the lower level (otherwise known as “the basement”). Luckily for me, I received help when Hollie Bishop, our Northern Ireland / Trentoniana ambassador (see her blog post back in April 2020), began her 9-month placement in our department.

Working in the Trentoniana department, we have been extremely fortunate to have visited different historical sights and museums both within and outside the city of Trenton. Some of these places included: Riverview Cemetery, Masonic Temple, Old Barracks Museum, Roebling Museum, Trentonian Newspaper Headquarters, Trenton Firehouse Museum, Ellarslie Museum and Cadwalader Park, Trent House, and the Morven Museum in Princeton. Not only have we been allowed to visit these fascinating sites, but Trentoniana Archivist Laura’s vast web of connections have landed us intimate tours with different museum and historical site staff members. These unique experiences have continued to grow both our knowledge and insight regarding the history of Mercer County. As a Northern Jerseyan, it was surprising to learn of all the amazing historical sites that were less than a 20-minute drive from my house in Central Jersey!

Currently, I am working on scanning the tax photos from the collection while logging information for each of them, known as “metadata”. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the necessity and urgency that archives and other historical institutions have for making their materials accessible online to patrons. 

Note: Mike is currently on hiatus with us since he is enrolled in 4 graduate-level TCNJ courses AND is student teaching. He is our Tumblr master so be sure to check out our account: https://trentoniana1906.tumblr.com/

Image: Mike and Hollie banished to the basement. Photo by Ned Kolpan.