In 2002, a professor at Monmouth University, Dr. Karen Schmelzkopf, published a paper in the Journal of Historical Geography entitled, “Landscape, ideology, and religion: a geography of Ocean Grove, NJ.” It is a remarkable academic study which shines a light on important issues in Ocean Grove’s history including physical, cultural and political variables and interactions.
She concluded her paper by saying: “Yet Ocean Grove continues to be a fascinating combination of the private and the public, the religious and the secular, a pronounced example of the way ideology and landscape produce and reproduce each other.”
Below are two Blogfinger links where Dr. Schmelzkopf is mentioned. One has a link to her paper.
She contacted Blogfinger to say that she was going to speak about Ocean Grove at the MU Monmouth Forum speaker series on July 27, 2016, 1:15-2:15 pm,. in the Library, room 206 (the incredible former Guggenheim mansion.) It is extremely unusual for an outside unbiased expert to speak about Ocean Grove beyond the stone pillars of town.
Editor’s Note: July 27, 2016. About a dozen Grovers attended the lecture. Among them were Jack Bredin, Kevin Chambers, Connie Ogden, and Lee Morgan. No official representative of the Home Groaners was present. No Historical Society officer was there either. As far as I could tell, no one from the CMA was in attendance.
Dr. Karen Schmelzkopf spoke about the “ideology” of the “Holiness Movement” which the founding Methodists implemented in their religious community called Ocean Grove. That movement stressed “perfection” which had to do with working hard to influence a person’s future and achieve desired Christian results.
The geography of OG, with water on three sides, was well suited to their ideals of “autonomy, heterogeneity, and exclusion.” The gates at the fourth side helped with that plan. Early in OG’s history, only Methodists were allowed in.
Even though there is more diversity now in the Grove, and the gates have been removed for the last nearly 40 years, Dr. S. thought that the CMA was still striving to achieve those original goals which they call their “mission.”
Regarding the town’s history, fast forward to the mid 1980’s, when the Grove had been in physical decline and there were a large percent of de-institutionalized individuals living in deplorable conditions in town. Much of the architecture had deteriorated, and tourism was failing.
As a result, something had to be done to halt the downward slide, so the citizens established a “para-political system” led by an aggressive “very activist and quite incredible” OG Homeowners Association. They “took control of a bad situation.” She called their functions a “shadow government.”
Their leaders were “firm, persistent and well connected professionals” who knew how to manipulate the system. They had a “very effective action plan” which helped members get elected to the Neptune Township Committee to bring attention to the Grove’s plight. Some of the CMA trustees were HOA members. They wanted to strengthen the “community” in OG, so they lobbied the State government for help with the mental cases which were languishing, and about 200 people were moved to other communities.
They did not see their actions as “un-Christian.” They thought that it would help save the town and would be better for the patients who were not receiving necessary services, as promised, in the Grove.
Dr. Schmelzkopf credited the growing gay community with restoring many properties, helping to raise home values.
As for the governance and demographics of today, she plans to conduct further research, but an interesting observation, at least based on her prior work, is that 40% of residents here are renters whom she thought were being disenfranchised by the Home Owners Association. She thought that despite the various potentially influential factions in town including the HOA, the CMA and the taxpayers, the citizens are frustrated by the fact that Neptune is still calling the shots in Ocean Grove.
The professor would like to look at the current demographics and dynamics in town, and she promises to return for part II of her OG research.
We thank Dr. Schmelzkopf for her presentation and hope that some group in town brings her here to discuss her views in more detail. She expressed an interest in doing that.
By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.
AMI SHAVIT This is an Israeli folk song performed in Hebrew: “When the Temple is Rebuilt”