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Josh Pomponio (L) Wm. Paterson U.; Katherine Picariello NYU; Marlee Roberts NYU; Scott Schuyler NYU; Stephanie Wong Rutgers; George Itzhak NYU (missing: Lindsay Rassmann Montclair State; Charlie Redd NYU)
Josh Pomponio (L) Wm. Paterson U.; Katherine Picariello, NYU; Marlee Roberts, NYU; Scott Schuler, NYU; Stephanie Wong, Rutgers; George Itzhak, NYU (missing from the photo: Lindsay Rassmann, Montclair State; Charlie Redd, NYU, Nicole Rosen, Drexel U.)   click left for full view.  Paul Goldfinger photo ©

 

“This is wonderful,” said BFFF producer Marlee Roberts.   She was speaking for the nine university film makers who showed their creations in the Youth Temple at Ocean Grove today.

A scene from Katherine Picariello's film A scene from Katherine Picariello’s film “Tracing.” Photo by Eileen Goldfinger

 

Seven of the directors from 5 different schools were thrilled to see their work projected on a big screen with professional quality audio and video provided by the Camp Meeting Association staff.  They also were delighted to be in Ocean Grove at such a beautiful venue and they were grateful to have an audience with whom they could share their work.

Paul introduces the program. The NYU hat is to honor film makers from that school who made movies in the Grove: Woody Allen and Marlee Roberts

Paul introduces the program. The NYU hat is to honor film makers from that school who made movies in the Grove: Woody Allen, David Chase, and Marlee Roberts. Eileen Goldfinger photo

The Festival began with a music and slide show featuring images of Ocean Grove by Paul Goldfinger.

Paul and Marlee introduced the program, and then the films were screened in succession.  The material was quite varied including two documentaries, a fantasy featuring a ballet sequence,  a French style film noir,  a couple of dramatic sequences,  a study of the effects of bulimia, and  a comedy about getting into the heaven of your choice.

Afterward a Q & A revealed some insights into the inspirations influencing these young film makers as well some practical revelations about how a film school degree can lead to a job in the movie industry after graduation. One insight that they shared had to do with how many people are required to produce a short film and how these students collaborate with each other and tap into each other’s talents to complete their projects.

We would like to thank the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, OGCMA staff members Chris Flynn and Shelley Belusar, assistant producer Eileen Goldfinger, our tireless creative producer Marlee Roberts, Mayor Eric Houghtaling, and Mr. Richard Lepore of the OG Chamber of  Commerce.

We also want to acknowledge our sponsors, the OG Chamber of Commerce, KFR Communications   (Andrew Gioulis), Barbaric Bean, Smugglers’ Cove, OG Flower and Gift Shop, Drs. Whilden and Brevit (painless dentists) and Cruisin’ Limo Service of Ocean Grove  (Florence and Mark Meier.)

Also thanks to the CMA volunteers who helped at the event.  Thanks finally to our audience who attended and helped  in our effort to raise some money for the OG boardwalk reconstruction.

Lastly  (but not leastly)  we want to acclaim and thank our talented filmmakers who took part in today’s festival.  We will miss you. Come back soon and bring some more great films with you.

—–Paul Goldfinger , editor @Blogfinger

 

From “The Aviator”  Loudon Wainwright III:  “After You’ve Gone.”

 

April 2022.    I’m sorry that I don’t have any followup regarding what happened to these fledgling film makers. Perhaps some Grovers will get together to resurrect this idea in the future; it was a wonderful small town event—the sort of idea that is perfect for the Grove as it moves to a better cultural/secular future to balance the religious life here.

And, you should know that the main reason we did not pursue a “Third Annual”  was the insistence on the part of the CMA that they approve every film in advance.   We reluctantly went along, and Marlee Roberts and her colleagues were beautiful in making that work, but I would never again subject young creative people to censorship.

PG

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This photograph is the first in Ted Bell's Images of America: Ocean Grove.

This photograph  (with permission)  is the first in Ted Bell’s ” Images of America: Ocean Grove.”  CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

BLOGFINGER RE-RUN FROM 2010.  It’s important that more people other than tourists learn OG history.  This timeline gives some perspective for new Grovers and others who ought to educate themselves to this sequence of events. Thus we periodically re-post this timeline.

By Paul Goldfinger, MD, Editor @Blogfinger.net.

 

Ocean Grove’s history is a fascinating saga about how a Methodist summer community founded in 1869 eventually evolved into a historic and diverse year-round tourist town while preserving its religious and architectural characteristics.

Sure it’s about the Camp Meeting Association (CMA), the Great Auditorium, the tents, and the famous religious figures who took center stage since the founding, but there is so much more to tell,  particularly about the town’s secular history including:  its governance; the multiple attempts to secede from Neptune;  the successful but temporary creation of  an independent secular Borough of Ocean Grove in 1920; opening of the gates in 1979; loss of governance by the CMA in 1980; the decline of the “blue laws”;  the extraordinary  successes of the Ocean Grove Homeowner’s Association as they transform OG from shabbiness to renaissance by the 1990’s; the remarkable demographic changes of the 1990’s including the growth of the gay community,  the amazing musical heritage, the fights over taxes, and there is so much more.

The Historical Society of Ocean Grove has offered wonderful exhibits about such topics as the women’s suffrage movement and the African-American “history trail” here, and we at Blogfinger  have run two pieces about John Phillip Sousa in Ocean Grove as well as the account of Paul Robeson’s 1925 concert in the Great Auditorium.

We plan to continue our series of articles on some of the less well known accounts in Ocean Grove’s history, especially focusing on secular events. We will begin the process of digging into Ocean Grove’s fascinating past with a time-line. It’s important for Grovers to know this history.  You may be surprised by some of the items below:

1869: Ocean Grove is founded by the Rev. William Osborne and his colleagues. They form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church (CMA) and begin purchasing land. The town is part of Ocean Township. The CMA’s goal is to provide and maintain a Christian seaside resort.

1870: The New Jersey Legislature grants a charter to CMA which allows them to govern in Ocean Grove. They can make ordinances, establish a police department and a court of law, and administer all infrastructure and services including schools, sanitation and library.

The town is designed “from scratch,” becoming one of the first planned communities in the US. The first lots are “sold” (i.e. leased) from the CMA which retains ownership of all the land. The first cottage is built in 1870.

1872:  Over 300 cottages have been built.

1875: Rev Adam Wallace founds the Ocean Grove Record, the town’s first newspaper. Rev. E. H. Stokes, the first CMA President says, regarding the gate closure on Sunday, that “there is no human probability that these rules will ever be revoked.” The first train from New York arrives in OG. People begin to stay year round.

1879:  The NJ Legislature creates Neptune Township by carving it out of Ocean Township and incorporates Ocean Grove’s boundaries as part of Neptune. Ocean Grove CMA and lot/home owners pay taxes to Neptune. Leaseholders (“lessees”) must continue to pay “ground rent” to the CMA.

The CMA refuses all services from Neptune and continues to function as the “governing authority,” maintaining rigid control in OG.   Physical isolation within its boundaries, “blue laws,” land ownership, and a homogeneous population of Methodists contribute to the sustained CMA rule.  Ocean Grove is, in practice, a theocracy. But that will become a problem for them over 100 years later.

1897: The first mention of tax discontentment appears as CMA President Bishop Fitzgerald speaks publicly about Neptune’s tax bill and says, “Of the discrimination against us in the matter of taxation does not as yet seem to admit of remedy.”

1898:  Ocean Grove’s “lessees,” who pay property  taxes to Neptune Township, want the CMA to pay the land taxes to Neptune. A suit is brought by the homeowners, but in 1900 the NJ Supreme Court sides with the CMA.

1912: Ocean Grove’s citizens want to participate in the town’s governance, so they elect a Board of Representative Lessees to join with the CMA in managing the town’s affairs.  There was unrest, with many citizens disliking this peculiar arrangement and wanting Ocean Grove to be a regular town with an elected secular government.

1915: the Ocean Grove Taxpayers and Protective League is formed.

1918: CMA has financial problems and asks Neptune to take over police, garbage and sanitation functions. Neptune refuses.

1920. The Lessee Board is dissolved, and the Civic Betterment League is formed. Its goal is the creation of an independent Ocean Grove Borough.  The CMA supports the idea, and the NJ Legislature passes an Ocean Grove Borough bill which creates an incorporated borough, apart from Neptune.  Governor Edwards signs it into law, a referendum in town receives wide support, and local elections are held.

The new Borough of Ocean Grove operates for one year, but they retain the CMA “blue laws”. Opponents in town want things the old way and they form the “Lessees Association” They sue in State Supreme Court.

1921: The NJ Court of Errors and Appeals finds the Borough bill to be unconstitutional, because the Borough has allowed religious ordinances to stand. The Borough bill might have been upheld if the “blue laws” were discarded, but the CMA and its supporters refuse. The Borough is dissolved, and governance goes back to Neptune and the CMA. This was not the first attempt to gain secular control of OG, but this one came the closest.

1923: A bill to make Ocean Grove a separate tax district with its own tax rates gets “lost in the legislature.”

1924:  A big battle ensues as Neptune tries to substantially increase the CMA’s taxes, including high taxes on the beach, Auditorium, streets, sewers, etc. CMA wins in 1925 at the NJ Tax Board, and most of their holdings are not taxed.

1925-1960:  The town is a popular summer resort and is known internationally.  Huge crowds visit along with US Presidents and many celebrities. As for the ongoing arguments in Ocean Grove, the historian Gibbon says, in 1939, “Many times residents and land lessees of the town have voiced their objection to the local rules, to the tax situation or to the form of government, especially from 1900-1925, and there have been many court fights.”

For the most part, things stay the same.

1960-1980: Ocean Grove declines, along with much of the Jersey shore. (See below)

1975:   A group of dedicated citizens led by Mr. Ted Bell and his colleagues obtain approval for OG’s designation as a State and National historic district. It is a complicated process.  Formation of Board of Architectural Review (BAR) happens in 1984.  (Later re-named the Historic Preservation Commission—HPC.)

1975:  A newspaper service sues over Sunday’s gate closures, which had been permitted by town ordinance.  The NJ Supreme Court strikes down the ordinance on grounds that it violates the first amendment to the Constitution (freedom of the press). The gates are opened for the news service only, but the CMA is allowed to continue its theocratic governance of Ocean Grove and the enforcement of other “blue laws”. Many people in Ocean Grove view the gates’ opening as an unhappy event.

1977:  A lawsuit stemming from a drunk-driving conviction challenges the authority of Ocean Grove’s municipal court. The NJ Supreme Court widens the scope of the case and decides in June, 1979 that CMA governance in Ocean Grove is in violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. Appeals are filed. This marks the beginning of the end for CMA governance in OG.

1980: The US Supreme Court would not hear the appeal, so governance of OG is transferred from the CMA to Neptune Township. Neptune eventually eliminates most of the blue laws. Only the Sunday morning beach closure and the ban on alcohol sales remain.

1980’s:   By the 1980’s, the town is characterized by an overall “decrepitude,” including deterioration of buildings, declining tourism, crime, and a growing poor elderly population. (2)  Deinstitutionalized mental patients are housed in empty old hotels and rooming houses in Ocean Grove. The town becomes a “psychiatric ghetto” (NY Times, October 1988), and, by the 1980’s, 10% of the town’s population are mental cases who are not receiving appropriate services and are sometimes abused by landlords. The prognosis for Ocean Grove is dire.

During this period, the Ocean Grove Homeowner’s Association (OGHOA) develops as a political and activist force that successfully begins the process of converting the town from decay to renaissance. (2f)

1990’s:  OGHOA, led by Mr. Herb Herbst, Fran Paladino and others, fight for fair treatment in the allotment of the mentally ill around the state. The group’s political contacts and influence are considerable. The process is complex and difficult, but the numbers of “de-institutionalized” in OG drops considerably.

The group also saw to the closing of many substandard boarding and rooming houses. The HOA presents Neptune with a “master plan” to protect the historic nature of OG and to rezone for the promotion of single family houses. OGHOA promotes secular tourism while working with CMA to increase religious tourism.  New people come into town to buy homes and invest in businesses.

1995:

The historic Neptune High School is saved from becoming low income housing by a group of Ocean Grove homeowners led by Mr. Herb Herbst and with the assistance of State Senator Joseph Palaia and others. (3, 4)  The Jersey Shore Arts Center is owned and run today by a nonprofit tax exempt organization: The Ocean Grove Historic Preservation Society.

2000:  Secular goals achieved as of 2000: increased property values, increased upgrading of houses, improved relations with Neptune, improved downtown with quaint shops, art galleries, cafes, etc., reduced crime, increased tourism, reduced de-institutionalized patients, demographic changes (increased gays, empty nesters, retirees,  professionals, academics, young artists, and middle class families).

2005: House prices peak.

2007:  New topics emerge:  North End development, Ocean Pavilion dispute (gays vs. CMA), evolving demographics including more second home purchases, significant increases in property taxes, parking problems, Asbury Park development stalls, and home prices decline.

2009:  Ocean Grove blog is founded  (Blogfinger.net) by Paul Goldfinger, MD to help fill in the gap created when the OG newspaper closed. It offered a place to voice opinions about Ocean Grove’s many ongoing issues.

October 29, 2012.  super-storm Sandy hits the Jersey Shore and destroys the Ocean Grove beachfront, part of the Great Auditorium roof, and floods the south side of town.

 

2009-2022:  Blogfinger documents ongoing issues in town.  Use the search engine on top right.

 

SAM AND DAVE:

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

1.  R. Gibbons, History of Ocean Grove: 1869-1939 (Ocean Grove Times, 1939)

2.  K. Schmelzkopf, Landscape, ideology, and religion: a geography of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, Journal of Historical Geography, 28, 4 (2002) 589-608

3. Kevin  Chambers, Herb Herbst, and Wayne T. Bell, personal communication,( 2008)

4. Archives, Asbury Park Press, (Feb 19, 1997.)

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By Paul Goldfinger, Editor, Blogfinger.net

 

Here is a short movie, produced by documentary filmmaker David Layton in 2011. It’s offered in celebration (and, OK, self-congratulation) of our half-millionth visitor to Blogfinger. And also in tribute to a town we love.

It’s been 10 years since this movie was made by Charles Layton’s son David, a professional documentarian.  2011 was only two years since we began this experiment in small, small town journalism.

It was a great privilege for me to have Charles Layton and Mary Walton join the Blogfinger staff.  They both had been professional journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I learned so much from them.

A few years ago the Walton-Laytons moved back to the big city  (Philadelphia.)  They, of course, are irreplaceable, and that’s how its been here since they left.

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Swimwear from “Victorians’ Secrets.”  *

 

By Paul Goldfinger, history editor @Blogfinger

 

In 1869, the Founding Fathers founded Ocean Grove in Larry’s Park (later, the name was changed to Founders’ Park.) Soon thereafter, many visitors came to this popular resort. Some people wanted to live here, but sleeping in tents began to wear thin, so a building boom began, and along with that came realtors in 1872.

They opened an office on Main Avenue and called it Century 19. Many of the realtors were young ladies who wore billowing dresses with hoops and crinolines that made them extra wide. It was fun watching 2 or 3 of them squeeze inside a tent. They drove their clients around in shiny buggies that said “20% down” on the back.

The sales pitch for selling houses here must have been a challenge because of all the limitations: no horses in town on Sunday, no alcoholic drinks, no tossing pie pans on Sunday, no carousing on Saturday night, and no hanky panky.

Well, that last one was quickly tossed out due to overwhelming opposition by the folks in the choir, especially the basses and the sopranos. Besides, Grovers did need something else to do on Sunday.

Another reason why there was no “blue law” for sex was that a baby was conceived in the tent colony,  and that is where the term “Founding Father” was born.

One of the problems was that Rev. Stokes had organized a lot sale. People came from New York City and Philadelphia to buy land in this unique town. Then, somehow, it turned out that they had purchased a lease. “What the heck avenue?” they complained.

But even today, no one knows why their house is sitting on somebody else’s land. Luckily, lawyers followed the realtors into town and they made it all official.

It should be noted that you couldn’t go to Asbury Park for fun back then, because it was a sedate place having just been founded in 1871. The Asburians tried to emulate the example of Ocean Grove, but good luck with that idea.

Watch for our next installment of “OG Historical Snapshots” when we will tell the story of Jewish Grovers and how they introduced bagels with cream cheese to God’s Square Mile.

*One of the girls in the picture is April Cornell.  She eventually opened a beautiful shop on Main Avenue in the Grove, but she was forced out by some creepy developer from New York.  After that she opened in Spring Lake where the locals appreciate her despite her baggy “cover your butt”  fashions.

And now that Stokes is gone we hear that some new women’s fashions will debut this summer in the Grove.  This photo reveals an example of a California style miniskirt. Who says that miniskirts cannot get any minier? 

This photo from Santa Barbara is by SBCFireinfo/twitter. Their crowds are almost as big as ours in Ocean Grove, sponsored by the Chamber of Commercials and the OGCMA.  Will the CMA object when she shows up in the Grove for Bridgefest ?

 

And here is Dinah Washington, who knows what to do on Sunday:

 

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Founder's Park Art Show 2005. By Paul Goldfinger. ©

Founder’s Park Art Show 2005. By Paul Goldfinger. ©  Click image to see that she must have been a beautiful baby.

 

This is the sort of small-town community event that we need in OG.  So much better for the locals during the loveliest time of year in the Grove (springtime) when we should have our town to ourselves.

Am I repeating myself?  Well golly..some things bear repeating  (or is it bare?)

 

BILLIE HOLIDAY WITH THE TEDDY WILSON ORCHESTRA :

 

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DEA and ATF federal officers at a surprise raid to capture an alleged drug dealer. 8/16/17. APP photograph.   Manchester, NJ  is in Ocean County, near Toms River.  APP.com has more photos and an action video. One of the arresting officers is an OG resident. There are drugs in OG and everywhere.

 

 

By Paul Goldfinger, MD.  Editor @Blogfinger.net

RE-POST:  There have been over 150,000 deaths over the last year due to drug overdoses.  The problem in 2022 is worse than ever, aggravated by open borders to the south.   Evil drug cartels are lacing heroine and cocaine with the  highly toxic, potent,  and fatal drug fentanyl. Did you read about the West Pointers on spring break who overdosed in Fort Lauderdale?  This happens when drug users get hold of what they think is heroine or cocaine and don’t realize that they can die from the fentanyl mixed in.

 

This drug trafficking ring has been supplying death dealing poisons to citizens of Monmouth and Ocean Counties where opiate related mortalities have been going up sharply.

From NJ.com in March 2017:

“Authorities are working with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Medical Examiner’s Office and other health officials to figure out why the northeast coastal communities are “disproportionately impacted” when compared to the rest of the state. ”

Below is the official document dated Tuesday, August 15, 2017 by the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, by the Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim.   Special to Blogfinger from official sources, August 15, 2017.

 

“Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Carl J. Kotowski, the Special Agent in Charge of the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging 12 defendants with participating in a drug trafficking organization that distributed large quantities of heroin in and around Monmouth and Ocean Counties, New Jersey, and obtained the heroin from Washington Heights and the Bronx, among other places. In conjunction with the unsealing of the Indictment, search warrants were executed at several locations in New Jersey.

“Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated: “As alleged, this organization transported large quantities of heroin from Washington Heights and the Bronx across the Hudson to Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey, helping to fuel the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation. Today’s arrests of twelve alleged members of this heroin distribution organization is part our sustained commitment, along with our partners at the DEA, to stop the flow of heroin into and out of New York.”

“DEA Special Agent in Charge Carl J. Kotowski said: “Today’s arrests should send a clear message to the drug traffickers that DEA and our partners are committed to keeping our neighborhoods safe. Those arrested are facing significant time in prison and will no longer be pushing their poison.”

“Mr. Kim thanked the DEA Monmouth Ocean HIDTA Task Force for their outstanding work on the investigation. The Monmouth Ocean HIDTA Task Force comprises representatives from the DEA, the ATF, the New Jersey State Police, Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Toms River Police Department, and the Neptune Township Police Department.

Mr. Kim also thanked the Howell Police Department, the Freehold Township Police Department, the Lakewood Police Department, the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for their assistance in this investigation. He added that the investigation is continuing.

“This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Elizabeth A. Hanft and Michael D. Neff are in charge of the prosecution.

“The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

(note: italics are ours at BF)

 

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Mulberry Street, near Chinatown. By Paul Goldfinger © Sept 2013.

Mulberry Street, near Chinatown. By Paul Goldfinger © Sept 2013.  Click to enlarge.

 

Little Italy has been fading away for years. Yet you can still take a food tour there and visit family businesses that exist after more than one hundred years.

On Columbus Day,  the Italian-American community is celebrated —-Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.

 

SALISBURY CATHEDRAL BOYS AND GIRLS CHOIR   “The Lord is my Shepherd”

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All photos in Eileen's kitchen by Paul Goldfinger

All photos in Eileen’s kitchen by Paul Goldfinger

Boboli Vegetarian Pizza

 

By Eileen Goldfinger, Food Editor @Blogfinger

 

1 10 inch Boboli thin crust pizza or 2 Indian naan breads

1 8 ounce package fat free mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup marinara tomato sauce

¼ jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced, seeds removed

4 artichokes hearts, quartered (canned)

4 asparagus, peeled and cut on the diagonal in ½ inch pieces

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon dry oregano

freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (grated)—optional

 

Pre heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line the lower rack with tin foil to protect oven from drips.

Place a second rack in the middle of the oven. Use this rack to cook the pizza.

Spread the tomato sauce on the Boboli crust (or naan bread) with the back of a spoon so that it covers the entire crust.  Layer the mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce.  Arrange the vegetables on the cheese. You can substitute any low fat toppings that you like such as soy pepperoni, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, tuna or anchovies.  Sprinkle the seasonings including the Parmigiano on top. Drizzle olive oil over the pizza.

Place the pizza in the oven.

Cook for 10 minutes.

Serves 2

 

DEAN MARTIN:

 

 

This recipe is adapted from “Prevention Does Work: A Guide to a Healthy Heart”  (2011 4th edition , page 75 )  by Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC and Eileen Goldfinger, BA.  In this book, Eileen has created 34 original heart-healthy recipes which have been designed to be both delicious and easy to prepare. The book provides patient information about all aspects of prevention, with an emphasis on nutrition.

It can be obtained in paperback or hardcover at IUniverse.com or Amazon.com. It is usually priced at $12.95.

 

front cover

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By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger on Martin Luther King’s birthday—-Re-posted 2022.    It was first presented on Blogfinger in July, 2014.

It was Saturday night, July 18, 1925, at 8:15 p.m., when vocalist Paul Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown strode onto the stage of the Great Auditorium to present a concert of “Soul Stirring Negro Spirituals” (1)  to an integrated audience of three thousand people. Mr. Robeson, an imposing black man, was twenty seven years old. He was already famous as a screen and stage actor as well as a singer.  He was a true Renaissance man who would become one of the most popular performing artists of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Robeson, who was born (1898) and raised in New Jersey, was an All-American football player and Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers University and an honors graduate of the Columbia University Law School. As a college student, Robeson was friends with the Day family who owned Day’s Ice Cream “Gardens” in Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. He had a summer job as a singing waiter at Day’s. (3)  When he came to Ocean Grove for his 1925 concert, he had just completed a triumphant run at The Provincetown Theater in New York, where he performed the lead role in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Children Got Wings.”

He had friends at the Algonquin Round Table in New York City, and it was there, with the encouragement of his colleagues, that he decided to do a concert tour with an entire program of “Negro” spirituals and secular songs also known as “slave or plantation music.”

This would be the first time that this music would be performed in concert, and he would appear with his close friend Lawrence Brown, also an African-American, who was a gifted composer, pianist and singer. The two would work together for thirty years. The first stop on the tour was The Greenwich Village Theater in New York City, and then, three months later, he appeared in Ocean Grove.

The concert was reviewed by the Asbury Park Press, which said, “Robeson showed an intelligent appreciation of his task and a splendid voice.” They called him “a talented son of this state” and they described “great applause” in the Auditorium. Among the songs which he and Lawrence Brown sang were “Go Down Moses,” “Weepin’ Mary” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

The following month he performed his concert in Spring Lake. They would tour for five years, all over the world, with this program. Later, Robeson would become the third most popular radio artist in the USA in the 20’s and 30’s. In the 1940’s he was the highest paid concert performer in the country and he was also successful as a recording artist. He would sing in the first production of “Showboat” and he would play Othello on Broadway and in England. He would star in eleven movies.

But his visit to OG that night was not only about music; it was also about recognition of African-American culture and the elevation of that folk music to high art. In addition, Robeson always was about hope for African-Americans, and performing that music was his way to offer pride and encouragement to his people. In 2004, when Barack Obama gave his “Audacity of Hope” speech at the Democratic convention, the first example he cited was, “…the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs.”

images-5

Robeson would accomplish much in his life, but his greatest contribution would be his tireless and life-long advocacy for civil rights. In 1925, Martin Luther King wasn’t born yet, and the “civil rights movement” would not begin until the 1950’s. Imagine how much courage was required for a black man to step forward publicly on behalf of racial justice at a time when lynchings were still occurring in this country. In 1921 a race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma resulted in the deaths of 20 whites and 60 blacks. In 1922, an anti-lynching bill was defeated by filibuster in the US Senate. In 1925, the year of the concert, there were 17 reported lynchings in the US. Jim Crow laws could be found in many states, but Paul Robeson pressed for racial justice wherever he went and for his entire life.

Robeson had been “eagerly” (1) looking forward to his concert in The Great Auditorium. It is likely that he was aware that many “extraordinary African Americans” (2) had appeared there in the past, including the famous Marian Anderson (1921),  Booker T Washington (1908), the singing evangelist Amanda Berry Smith (late 1800’s) and many renowned black  preachers. The Ocean Grove Historical Society has documented the African-American History Trail in our town. (2)

In 1998, the Ocean Grove Historical Society celebrated the 100th anniversary of Robeson’s birth by a day-long commemoration featuring lectures, dance, a book signing and an exhibition. The centerpiece of the program was a re-creation of the 1925 concert in the Auditorium. They brought the noted African-American bass Kevin Maynor, who used the original program and reproduced the concert from 73 years earlier. This remarkable event was made possible by a committee of Ocean Grovers led by Rhoda Newman (chairman), Kevin Chambers, Phillip May, Jr., and others.

Paul Robeson’s contributions have been recognized many times in the form of tributes at Carnegie Hall and NJPAC, plus many articles, books, exhibits and documentaries. He is a part of Ocean Grove’s musical heritage which includes Enrico Caruso, Duke Ellington, John Phillip Sousa, and Pearl Bailey (2). Paul Robeson died in 1976 at age 77. Five thousand people attended the funeral in Harlem.

Paul Robeson sings “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” from The Complete EMI Sessions 1928-1939, remastered 2008.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

1. Asbury Park Press Archives (Asbury Park Library)

2. Ocean Grove Historical Society Archives (Ms. Rhoda Newman)

3. Mr. Kevin Chambers, Ocean Grove Historian

4. Ocean Grove Times Archives (Neptune Township Library: Mrs. Marian R.Bauman, Director)

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Here Comes Santa Claus:   The Puppini Sisters

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