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.

Reflections on Getting There

Post by Jack Bednar

Meet #TeamTrentoniana

The path to my time recently spent working at the Trenton Free Public Library was yet another story of 2020 throwing a wrench into the collective plans of humanity. As I write this in January of 2021, I was supposed to be coming back home from a semester of studying abroad and getting ready to finish out my undergraduate courses at The College of New Jersey in the spring, getting ready to enter another chapter of my life.

I had applied to many different positions and/or programs for the summer of 2020, hoping to get my foot in the door with some experience before my senior year. Instead, I ended up spending most of the time from when we were sent home in March to the start of the semester like the rest of us: at home, staying safe, but feeling justifiably confused and maybe slightly frustrated. I had been looking forward to having some sort of work that felt more connected to my studies and career goals, and when this was thrown to the wind I was left feeling like I had hit a sort of plateau in progress.

As the pandemic grew larger and more upending, I was finding it very difficult to seek out anything similar to my original plans while also staying safe and being responsible for my own health and that of my family. When I reached out to Laura Poll, Trentoniana archivist, this was the thought at the back of my mind louder than any other. I was made aware of the opening for this internship by one of my professors, Dr. Robert McGreevey in TCNJ’s History Department who had previously helped me with my search for internships and jobs. After working on other projects with me over the summer, he suggested this internship, in part, due to his own interest in local history and Trenton.

Much of my father’s side of the family is from the Hamilton-Trenton area, so I was intrigued by working more closely with records about the city and surrounding areas. One of the first projects I was given was an unorganized collection relating to Rider University, my father’s alma mater. While it is currently located in Lawrence Township, Rider’s origins are in the city of Trenton, and I had the opportunity to go through the library’s materials and organize them in a better way.

In the mid-1960s, Rider’s move was completed and there had been much change to the identity and mission of the institution. What I decided to do was create two separate parts reflecting these different eras of the college’s history, one for Trenton and one for Lawrence. The Trenton side featured a sort of origin history, detailing the school’s beginnings as being primarily for business education and similar paths, as well as some details on the founders and its namesake, Andrew J. Rider. More recent documents were largely centered around the construction and expansion of the current Rider campus, the move from Trenton, and the growth of the school from collegiate to university level education, such as by adding new departments and degrees. Also added were some old Rider yearbooks given to me from a family friend.

I made some mistakes along the way, such as not using pencil to write folder titles, but my first real body of work made me feel proud of myself. Having had no experience before doing something like this, I was able to better arrange the story of Rider in our collection and simultaneously indulge my interest about my father’s history. While this was one of the more straightforward projects I worked on, I felt that this was a good stepping stone to working at the library, combining some existing interests of mine with the process that I was still learning.

My second collection seemed to be a mystery when I was first introduced to it: a small folder with a certificate awarded to a Whitfield B. Case. This collection may have been the most frustrating for me, and was an important lesson in many ways. In my previous work, everything was very “tidy” and relatively straightforward in organization and in the decisions of what goes where. With Whitfield, this was not the “case” at all, and I spent many  hours of my initial work trying to just understand who he was, what he did, and why the library had records of him scattered throughout the archives.

Eventually, I tracked down other records to add to this collection, including obituaries, and his main claim to fame, a company known as W.B Case Box Lunch Company or Trenton Box Lunch Company, that operated from the 1930s-1980s. Knowing this, I then tried to track down more about the company, one of many that sprung up in post-World War II urban and suburban areas, to little avail beyond its function and some scattered clippings. It is very much against my nature to leave anything seemingly unfinished, yet this was something that happens with incomplete records. As much as I wanted to fill in all the blanks and tell a complete story, I was limited by what was left behind for us to collect. It was important for me to step back and remind myself of my responsibilities and abilities, and to not push myself where there is nowhere to go. Working on this collection, I found myself asking a lot of questions and doubting myself when I could not find what I wanted to. After speaking with Laura about this, I realized that not only does this happen often but is not my fault, and that helped me realize that I have room to grow in my standards for myself. I have to do my best from what I’m given, and not stress myself over small things or trails that just lead down another rabbit hole.

My most recently completed project was another collection on the West End Neighborhood Association (W.E.N.A.), a community-organized group running from about 1985-2009 that hosted events for their area while also advocating for needs and desires to protect and revitalize their section of the city. This was a new venture compared to my previous works, which dealt with more concrete entities: people, businesses, schools, etc. The group was not tied down to a single definition or purpose, and its informality led to sometimes less than detailed records and notes. It covered themes of urban renewal, crime, development, public health, and community-police relationships, touching on many prominent issues seen still today.

Once again, I found myself being dejected from a perceived lack of sufficient knowledge, and at times felt like I would not be able to accurately represent the group with the records we had, and was very unsure how to organize everything. However, the difference between this and the previous endeavors came in how I responded. While I still consulted often with Laura, I felt more comfortable and confident in coming up with a solution on my own, and talked myself out of putting my ideas in a box. I ended up creating multiple folders for different topics, completely reorganized and realigned which documents went where, and was feeling more confident about whether to include extras or irrelevant documents (something I was so scared to pass judgment on). I viewed this as the culmination of my efforts so far, and the most confident I’ve felt since I started in September. Though I am nowhere near an experienced professional, I could see myself making decisions more decisively and quicker. I had a stronger grasp on my vision for the collection, what I could accomplish day in and out on it, and what my limitations were with the materials. 

While I hope to eclipse my work on W.E.N.A. eventually, today as I write this I am very proud of it and all my other time spent at Trentoniana. I was nervous I would be out of my element, or not as smart or experienced as other interns, but I can honestly say that this has been the most welcoming experience and work space I’ve been a part of. I feel more aware of not just my own skills, but ways in which I can apply them outside of the classroom. I specifically feel more confident in organizing and arranging collections, and being able to quickly go through materials to determine a way to do this most efficiently, feeling comfortable to ask for help, and trusting my instincts when assigned a project. I felt a strong sense of independence and trust from my supervisor which I appreciated, and who encouraged me to ask questions, be confident in myself, and always kept looking for projects that would interest me. 

While my time working at the library has come to an end, I hope to be able to come in at times as I finish my last semester of undergraduate courses and potentially over the summer. I’ve enjoyed becoming more accustomed to a professional environment and learning more about archival work and the inner workings of the library. Though I am still unsure as to my ultimate career path, I know that I now have another tool at my disposal for wherever my continuing education and interests will take me in the future. I have some unfinished business with a stack of papers in the back that I need to get to, and some more books I’ve been eyeing at checking out when the stress of senior year starts to ebb away. 

Note: you can check out Jack’s finding aids (and others) on the Trentoniana Department’s webpages: https://trentonlib.org/trentoniana/finding-aids-to-collections/

Image: Rider College when it was located on East State Street in Trenton. From the 1927 Shadow yearbook.

Visiting a multi-heritage city from a one-heritage country

Post by Hollie Bishop

Meet #TeamTrentoniana

My name is Hollie, I am a 25 year old graduate from Northern Ireland and I am the newest intern with the Trentoniana Department. I received my undergraduate master’s degree with honours in English and History from the University of Dundee in 2017, before completing my postgraduate master’s in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Ulster University in Belfast a year later. When I was looking at places to complete an internship and gain experience in my field I stumbled upon the J1 visa program hosted by USIT & CIEE, which allows recent graduates to gain experience in their field of study whilst immersing themselves in local culture in the United States.

I joined the Trentoniana Department in late December of 2019 and since joining the team I have helped on a few different projects. However, the majority of my time has been focused on creating a finding aid for the full collection of the Trenton Rotary Club. The collection includes photographs, letters, attendance records and audio/visual interviews, amongst other items. I have also helped to properly store our art collection, curate a Black History Month display and try my best to help patrons best utilise our collection in their research projects. One thing I have noticed, and so greatly appreciate, in my short time with the Trentoniana team is how willing the archivist is to delegate tasks and allow the entire team roll up our sleeves and have a go at something new.

I chose to come to America for an internship because, whilst Ireland is wonderful, it lacks the unique diversity the United States offer. My degree is based on the importance of curating local history which is inclusive of the entire community and their individual heritages. Ireland, generally speaking in many areas, encompasses only one heritage and one culture, however that is beginning to change as immigration increases and new traditions are woven into communities. American museums and archival facilities such as Trentoniana, in my opinion, have perfected the ability to curate an exhibition or collection that is inclusive and celebratory of any differences within the community. Based on this belief, I felt America was the perfect environment to build the foundations of my knowledge before shaping my career back in Ireland, so that I am better equipped for the diversification of culture in years to come.

As expected, I have had the opportunity to experience new cultures, heritage sites and national holidays and witness how communities celebrate them. The current global pandemic has put a slight halt on my experience, but it is exciting to witness history in the making and see how communities and nations are coming together to support each other amidst this disaster. It is also giving me plenty of time to work on my transcribing skills [Hollie is working on transcribing several of our Jewish Historical Society oral histories while at home]. I am hopeful the pandemic will end before my time in America runs out so that I can continue to learn and fall in love with Trenton and its rich history.

Image: Hollie, along with Mike Anesini and Kyle Zaczek, helped pack up 60 boxes of material from The Trentonian newspaper office back in early March. These boxes were transferred to the Trentoniana Collection right before state-wide stay-at-home mandates were put into strict enforcement by the governor.

Today is the New Tomorrow

Post by Laura M. Poll

Today is when we continue things that began yesterday which will hopefully continue into tomorrow. There is no tomorrow without today – Today has a lot of pressure on it to perform! What better day than today to create a blog for Trentoniana.

The Trentoniana Collection was created at the Trenton Free Public Library on May 7, 1906 in order to preserve the history of the city and the collective memory of its residents. For 114 years, countless librarians, historians and volunteers worked diligently to collect and preserve these items to be made accessible to the public. Our current staff, affectionately known as #TeamTrentoniana continues this important work. You’ll learn about them and their projects here on this blog over the next months.

History isn’t something that happened before we were born – we are living it now! Today is a perfect example of witnessing history – today is what the people in our distant tomorrows will be wanting to know about as they face their own moment in history. It is our responsibility to them to start a journal, write a poem, draw a picture, shoot a photograph, and have it ready for when they need it. Do it today because tomorrow will be very different once it has passed and we’ve had the luxury of yesterday to change our perspective. Be sure to take the short survey we created to collect the feelings being experienced today.

As is most of the world at this crucial point in time, we’re all hunkered down in our homes and unable to have you come visit in person. Until we can welcome you back, we can be followed on several social media platforms, most as @trentoniana1906. See the links on the bottom right corner. We also have several portals where you can listen to oral histories, view some of the films in our collection, and try to identify faces in hundreds of photographs. Check them out; you’ve got the time now – time enough at last.

Our blog here is just one more way to connect with the public and share our collection. And of course, we have our website that can be visited, too.

Before we get started, let me introduce the archivist (me!). I was hired as Trentoniana’s first ever archivist (hopefully not last!) in September 2015. Before that, I spent nearly 15 years at a county historical society – local history is my passion. State historian John Cunningham said it best: “Everything that happened in America could be highlighted with New Jersey examples.” A Jersey Girl through and through, I come from the East Side of the state – the Shore, if you will – and knew little of the West Side story. Over the past 5 years, I’ve become fascinated and enamored with its history. Hopefully that enthusiasm at learning a new fact will transfer to others – even if you’ve become jaded by your hometown there are always cool little things to find out. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful all make up every city’s history, not just Trenton’s.

We welcome you to take a peek behind the door and into the stacks.


Image credit: The Twilight Zone. “Time Enough at Last” (1959).