Archive for the ‘Ocean Grove history’ Category

Postcard. Gates were opened permanently in 1980.

Postcard. Gates were opened permanently in 1980.

This sign hangs in the Historical Society museum on Pitman Ave.

This sign hangs in the Historical Society museum on Pitman Ave.  Blogfinger photo.

A ruling by the NJ Supreme Court in 1979 declared this and other blue laws to be unconstitutional as administered by the Camp Meeting Association.  The official governance turnover to Neptune Township took place in 1980 after the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

As you can see, the “gates” were not actually gates.   There was a chain.  The police officer was an Ocean Grove policeman.  Now you can even get a bus in OG  on Sunday into New York City.



Paul Goldfinger, Editor  @Blogfinger.   (this post is from 2014, but history is always timely, and the comments with this post are very stimulating.)   If you have any comments now, please send them by email or by using the comments button below.

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Windows at the top reaches of the Tabernacle. All photos by Paul Goldfinger ©

Windows at the top reaches of the Tabernacle. All photos by Paul Goldfinger © Click on all photographs to enlarge them.

By Paul Goldfinger MD, Editor @Blogfinger.net   Re-posted from June, 2014.

The Bishop Janes Tabernacle is the oldest permanent structure in Ocean Grove, build in 1877.  It is an airy, open building consisting basically of one room and  a center section on top where  a sweep of windows allows light to stream in from above  and illuminate the seating below–symbolic perhaps, or very practical, or both.

Light and breezes come inside. ©

Light and breezes come inside. ©

Ted Bell, Ocean Grove historian and author, showed us the 19th century ventilation system which keeps the place cool.  Downstairs there is a ring of large doors and windows.   The latter open in a curious way, but there is a purpose to the design. The window aims the warm breezes upward where they can stream through the top  row of windows.

Ted Bell shows how the lower level windows open. ©

Ted Bell shows how the lower level windows open. ©

Outside, the light trickles and flows through the trees to hit the Tabernacle and creates moving patterns on its outside walls and illumination for the prayer books inside.

outside one


BACH:  Double concerto in D minor for 2 violins and strings.  With Yehudi Menuhin, Alberto Lysy, and Camerata Lysy Gstaad.


—- Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger

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Ted Bell giving a historic tour in Ocean Grove. Here he demonstrates the size of a finial. Paul Goldfinger photo


Ted Bell, an author, a naturalist, and an Ocean Grove historian died this past week.   An obituary can be found in the Coaster.  Ted will be missed in the Grove.

At Blogfinger we will especially remember his willingness to help us with authoritative information about OG history.  And, at a personal level, we will miss his wonderfully  good-natured sense of humor.

Most recently Ted left his mark by championing the restoration of the historic Fitzgerald Fountain in Founders Park. Many of us saw him there for the dedication.


Here is a link to a Blogfinger article about a Ted Tour from 2015:

Link to Ted talk.


PAUL ROBESON  once performed in the Great Auditorium.  Here is a tribute to Ted: a re-post of our 2016 article about Paul Robeson in the Great Auditorium and a recording of one of the great spirituals that he was famous for.

Paul Robeson in the Great Auditorium



—-Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger.net

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Civil War re-enactment near Founders Park. Nov. 2003. Paul Goldfinger photo ©  click on all these photos to enlarge them.


Founders’ Park. Paul Goldfinger photo 2003.


OG reenactment on the beach. of the Ft. Wagner battle.  2003. Paul Goldfinger photo. ©


They used to have wonderful Civil War reenactments in the Grove. The camp set-ups would be at the Ocean Pathway, but they would have African-American soldiers replay the “Glory” battle on the beach.  That battle was about the all black 54th Massachusetts Regiment who heroically attacked the  Confederate Army holed up at Ft. Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. The movie “Glory” was about that.

“Glory” battle:



JACQUELINE SCHWAB  “Battle Cry of  Freedom.”




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“This public property……”   Read the bottom sign!  Blogfinger photo at Fireman’s Park. August 2018. Today is a re-post from one year ago because of our discovery of the fountain photograph shown below.


So why is this “public property” locked in the center and surrounded by iron spikes and brambles with sharp needles?  Where are the barbed wire and the guard dogs?  The symbolism is horrible.


By Paul Goldfinger, MD.  Editor@Blogfinger.net

This park is historic. It used to be Woodlawn Park.  There were stables nearby, and folks could walk through while watching horse drawn carriages roll by.

And then it was Alday Park, dedicated to Dr. John Alday in 1915, an important CMA figure at the time of Stokes, who lived across the street, and there was a beautiful bronze fountain placed  there in his honor. It was to be the first important site seen by visitors after coming through the “gates.”

The fountain was not locked in—-anyone could go up to the fountain and dunk their hands or feet into the cool water.  The water was said to be “clear and pure.”

Whatever happened to that fountain and why was it never restored as has occurred this year in Founders’ Park?  Wasn’t historic preservation important during that early phase of  CMA history?

John H. Alday, MD. Memorial Fountain erected in 1915 in Woodlawn Park (now Fireman’s Park)    This photograph  is from the earliest history book of Ocean Grove  (1869-1919.)*  The photo was taken between 1915-1919.


In 1959  it became Firemen’s Park.  Why was a public park shut down in the center?   Why has it become less public than before?

The result is a barricaded bell in honor of deceased firemen.  But why is the center closed to the public?  There are benches inside. Why can’t the public sit down there?  Is it not “public property?”  Why can’t the kids come in, run around, and touch the bell?  Why are those dangerous shrubs and iron spikes allowed to remain?   Is this the North End version of the private place that used to be  at the end of the pier?

BF article about this subject June, 2018

This is not a criticism of firemen, whose heroism and sacrifice in this town has saved lives and property; it is about the unfair misuse of a public park.

The Township Committee should reevaluate the dedication to firemen.  After all, the park is poorly kept.  Go check out the miserable plantings, the uncared-for trees and the toxic “grass.”  Give the park back to the people and appoint a citizen’s commission to take care of it and put it to better use.   How about this  park being  dedicated to all of America’s heroes, including firemen, and have events there such as poetry readings, art shows, military bands, small concerts, picnics for kids, nighttime gatherings in the summer, Wiffle ball tournaments, and dog shows—for example.

This park is on the new Christian Walking Tour of Ocean Grove.  What will those walkers think about the entombed bell in the middle?

Why are the Grovarian park names so confusing?  Here is a link:

OG Park Names


ELLA FITZGERALD:   by Cole Porter:

*Story of Ocean Grove…1869-1919 by Morris D. Daniels

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Thornley Chapel. Ocean Grove, NJ Paul Goldfinger photograph, undated ©


By Paul Goldfinger, Editor@Blogfinger.net

When I first took an interest in the history of Ocean Grove, I went to the Camp Meeting Association to interview their historian. Much to my surprise, this historic institution had no such official who could be a spokesman regarding their history.

Instead I was informed that the Historical Society of Ocean Grove served in that capacity.  To be honest, I found that to be strange and essentially untrue.

As a result, no one has assiduously  taken on that  responsibility.  And as a result, there are failures in the re-telling, such as we saw recently in trying to find the correct name for “the fountain” in Founders Park.

Others have tried to step into the void such as authors Ted Bell, Ted David, and Paul Goldfinger who have written about it.

In 1939, at the time of the Grove’s 70th anniversary, a book was published called “History of Ocean Grove” compiled by the Ocean Grove Times “in cooperation with the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.”  The writing was credited to Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Gibbons.

At various times in the  past, as recently as 1980, the subject of secession from Neptune Township  by the town of Ocean Grove has come up.

And the records show that such an event actually happened for one year in 1920. Here  (below) is the verbatim chapter from the 1939 Gibbons’ book called  “The Borough of Ocean Grove.”  It is likely that the authors were present in 1920 when this history was being made.

Part I:

Probably the greatest victory won by the proponents of a change in Ocean Grove came in 1920 when the Legislature approved the Borough Bill.

The Camp Meeting Association had gone along with the backers of the bill freely demonstrating  the spirit of good will existing between the board and many of the town’s leading citizens.

The newly-organized Civic Betterment League established amicable relations with the Camp Meeting Association, and a joint conference was held at the Chalfonte Hotel, Atlantic City.

A joint committee was named to draft a bill for the Borough of Ocean Grove, the group consisting of Governor Stokes, Judge Harold B. Wells, and Counsellor W. Holt Apgar, for the Association, and Robert M. Watt, Stephen D. Wooley, and Counsellor Richard W. Stout for the Civic League.  Mr. Stout, then Assemblyman from Monmouth County, agreed to sponsor the bill in the Legislature.

After several meetings of the Joint Committee, the bill was prepared, approved by both the Camp Meeting Association and the Civic Betterment League, and introduced by Assemblyman Stout.

The Ocean Grove Borough Bill passed the Assembly 38-2, and the State Senate, 15-0, and was duly signed by Governor Edward I. Edwards.

Immediately after the passage of the bill, an organization was formed, headed by Dr. Charles J Massinger, William S. Hopper, Andrew T. VanCleve, and William E. Bunn, which opposed the formation of a borough. Mass meetings were held by both sides, pamphlets and other literature were circulated among the citizens, and great enthusiasm and bitterness prevailed.

At the referendum, provided for in the bill, its adoption was overwhelmingly voted for. After the referendum a primary was held in the Association Hall with some five hundred present (Incidentally Woman’s Suffrage had not been ratified and only men voted,) at which candidates for the various borough offices were nominated.

Subsequently, at a special election, Robert M. Watt was elected Mayor, and T. Nelson Lillagore, George C. Pridham, Rev. Thomas J.J. Wright, Dr. William  A. Robinson and William E. Carpenter were elected members of the Council; Harry G. Shreve, Assessor; and Joseph Rainear, Collector. These men were re-elected at the regular election, with the exception of William E. Carpenter, who declined to be a candidate , and Lot R. Ward, Sr, was elected in his stead.

NOTE  On August 11, 1920, in a brief article in the New York Times  (dateline August 10, 1920) the headline read: “Ocean Grove Elects First Mayor.”  The dateline says Ocean Grove, NJ:  “Robert M Watt is the first Mayor of Ocean Grove Borough. He was elected today with six Councilmen.”

The organization meeting of the Mayor and Council was held in the social parlors of the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company.  Frederick A. Smith, President of the company and on behalf of the company, presented the Mayor with an engraved gavel and pedestal. At the meeting Stephen d. Wooley was elected President of the Council, John E. Quinn was appointed Clerk and Richard W. Stout, Counsel, and the various committees were appointed. An emergency note for $20,000 was authorized and later discounted at the Ocean Grove National Bank.

On January 14, 1921, the Mayor and Council adopted an annual budget totaling $60,390.00.

Over the next year, a great battle developed over the new Borough, and the “rise and fall of the Borough” ensued. Gibbons called it “The Famous Borough Fight.”

We will tell the rest of the story  over the next few days and try to find out what went wrong.


FRANK SINATRA    “My Kind of Town.”






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Walt Whitman from about 1869.  Photo from the Library of Congress.


By Paul Goldfinger,  Editor @Blogfinger.net

Walt Whitman  (born 5/31/1919 in New York and died in Camden NJ  3/26/1992)  was considered to be “America’s Poet” by Ezra Pound.  He has had the most influence over American “free verse” along with Emily Dickinson.  His most famous work is Leaves of Grass.

According to an expert source, Whitman loved the ocean:

The sea, perhaps Whitman’s favorite metaphor, is mentioned over and over in all phases of his work, starting with the 1855 ‘Song of Myself’:

“You sea! I resign myself to you also / I am integral with you . . . I too am of one phase and of all phases.”

From a piece in the New Yorker:   A quote from the writer and friend John Burroughs, “There is sea-salt in Whitman’s poetry, strongly realistic epithets and phrases, that had their birth upon the shore, and that perpetually recur to one as he saunters on the beach,” and that “No phase of nature seems to have impressed him so deeply as the sea, or recurs so often in his poems.” Burroughs even thought that his friend had “a look about him . . . of the gray, eternal sea that he so loved, near which he was born, and that had surely set its seal upon him.”

And here is another Whitman line, referring to the sea:  “proud music of the sea storm”  (don’t know the source)

In late September, early October, 1883,  Whitman checked into the Sheldon House in Ocean Grove with a colleague, naturalist John Borroughs, and they spent one or two weeks there. *

The Sheldon was one of Ocean Grove’s finest hotels with 300 rooms.  It had views of Wesley Lake, the Ocean,  and Founders’ Park.


The Sheldon House. Ocean Grove, NJ. Internet photo.

The landmark hotel was built in 1875 by Welcome Sheldon who turned it into the largest, most elegant, and best situated in the Grove.  It was near the ocean at Central Ave. and Atlantic Ave.

From OG writer Perdita Buchan:  By 1879, Ocean Grove had a newspaper, a post office, and two general stores, while the Sheldon House promised speaking tubes from bedroom to office, gas in all rooms, an elevator, and a “monster safe for the storage of valuables.”

While he was at the Sheldon House, Whitman began work on a new poem called “By Thine Own Lips, O Sea.”     A copy of his earliest draft was written on Sheldon House stationery.  Eventually the poem was completed and then published in Harpers Magazine in 1884 with the name of  “With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea.”

final poem

Here is a reference card from the Whitman Archives:


The first draft of the poem is written on the back of this page:

Sheldon stationery.  From the Walt Whitman Archive


Whitman’s first draft written in Ocean Grove

This poem contained these lines:

“day and night I wander on the beach….”


“With undertone of muffled lion roar

And skreel of whistling wind,

and hiss of spray,

tale of elemental passion,

confided to me”


It was suspected that Whitman was a homosexual.  But, those two men checking into the Sheldon did not create a furor because they were collaborating on a book, and Burroughs was well known as a confirmed heterosexual.

We * learned of Whitman’s visit from an anonymous Blogfinger fan who sent us the information from the Whitman Archives. Other papers of Whitman can be found in the Library of Congress, the University of North California,  and Yale University.

In 1912  the new owner,  impressed with the building’s location across from Founders Park, and with a great view of the FitzGerald Fountain  (1907), changed the name to the Fountain House;  so this does tell us the earliest name for Ocean Grove’s newly restored  fountain. (2019)

In February, 1918, that grand hotel burned down to its brick foundation along with a number of other structures in the neighborhood including the Surf Avenue Hotel.

In the 1990’s, Kevin Chambers organized a Whitman Festival in Ocean Grove which became the largest and best known poetry festival in America. Unfortunately it was not renewed after 4 years.


GORDON TURK  from a recording made in the Great Auditorium of Ocean Grove.  “Sortie in Eb Major”

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Some Grovers are investing huge sums to create authentic Victorian restorations like this gorgeous newly redone Main Avenue showplace, but that alone does not define us.  Paul Goldfinger photo May 2, 2017.


Another ambitious Victorian restoration. Note the original siding being brought back to life at great expense . Blogfinger photo © Ocean Grove at  Main Avenue.


Ocean Grove July 4 parade, 2015. A truly unique community event. Paul Goldfinger photograph


Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger–updated and re-posted from 2017.


In 2019, on its 150th birthday, Ocean Grove is a small town without a clear sense of identity.  It has a local government that treats us like an appendage to be milked, but otherwise there is no love emanating from Neptune Township. We may be part of Neptune officially, but we are clearly NOT part of Neptune in our hearts.  Most towns have a continuous thread of history that has resulted in a strong sense of identity, but not Ocean Grove.

Citizens say that they “love” the town, but the definition of that love remains undefined.   Many just like being here at the beach.  Is the Grove  just a collection of old houses interspersed in another cozy shore town?   Or  maybe it is the perception of the town as a place with an unusual and special  culture that attracts people to live here.

Many  like the urban feel, the friendly neighborhoods, the comfortable  sidewalks for walking, the porch culture, and the magic of summer evenings on the boards or fun at the beach.  And for some it is the closest nicest shore town to NYC.

Those who say they “love the town”  often have little knowledge of the town’s history as a religious enclave.  They have no interest in it as a historic place recognized by State and Federal historic registries.  So, to what extent is OG an authentic and serious historic district—a very special place for that reason?

A related question is whether this town was conceived as a tourist attraction?  The answer to that is an emphatic no.  Sure, in the late 1800’s, religious tourists came here in droves, mostly by train, and that identity persists to a  lesser extent today,  but the CMA community is no longer as central to life in Ocean Grove as it once was.  OG evolved into a residential community with cottages and boarding houses.   The Victorian buildings were  less valued than they are today and many had gone into decline.   Its census population was more than it is today.

Forty years ago, the downtown was not a tourist place to have a burger, buy a T shirt, take a tour, go to a massive craft show on the Pathway, or close down Main Avenue to sell Thai food or sell shlocky art or display old British cars.

Instead the downtown had a serious grocery/butcher shop, several doctors’ offices, a video store,a flower shop, a cleaners, a cafeteria, a newsstand, a newspaper, a drug store, a barber shop,  a fishing club, a seashell shop, and a town pool.   In other words it was a town that was largely for the residents. So many towns at the shore are not  primarily for tourists, for example Atlantic Highlands, Avon-by-the Sea, Long Beach Island, Spring Lake, Deal, Avalon, and Allenhurst.

But now Ocean Grove has become  a mish-mash—a combination of all of the above; but for those who actually  live here  (year round or part-time), or want to live here, we need to define our situation more clearly: what is the heart and soul of this town?  Or maybe those attributes don’t even exist. Maybe it will never be that sort of town.

Elected officials do not really represent the Grove’s citizens. So democracy doesn’t exist as defined by representative government. The Neptunite governing operation is like a secret foreign occupying power that has undercover agents and contacts who live among us, but has underlying agendas based upon self interest.

A local government is supposed to represent its community of residents and try to make their lives better, but our situation now is the opposite.  Witness the efforts to bring large numbers of tourists to town to the consternation of those who live here, and the failure to solve problems like zoning abuses, over-building, and the invasion of the parking snatchers.

The Camp Meeting Association ran the town for 111 years.  During that time, until 1980, they had reason to believe that the unique religious culture which prevailed till then, as odd as it was in America, would last  forever.  They certainly did not envision the town becoming a historic site.  They had no problem letting many of the early houses deteriorate. And it is unclear if stores during those years sold T shirts, surf boards, jewelry or pizza.

But when Ocean Grove was handed over to Neptune Township in 1980, and with the CMA giving up governance and most blue laws,  it was like a child who lost his parents and was given to someone for foster care—for money.

The town, which was becoming quite diverse by 1980, went forward without a clear sense of who or what it was, and today, what is its character and purpose?

The result is a place with a variety of power centers, all self interested  and largely propelled by an active real-estate market;  and all without the will to find a framework, a common identity, and direction for the town as a whole.

So the town of Ocean Grove, lacking leadership and a sense of town-wide community, is adrift and thus what goes on here is helter-skelter and out of focus.  That is why no progress is made in solidifying the town as a real place with its own sense of being.  If it weren’t for the homeowners who have brought to life historic homes that had been on life-support, this would be a pretty disheveled and much less desirable place.

The vision of an authentic historic town, defined by its historic designations, is currently fraudulent because most citizens don’t give a rat’s tail about its history. Even the “Historic Preservation Commission” has gone dark and has seemingly slipped into the shadows, never to be trusted again.

It is rare to find a historical event here such as re-enactments, poetry readings, vintage music concerts, classical street musicians, jazz, and educational programs about the town’s history for those who actually live here.  Instead we shut down Main Avenue for car shows and we crowd the town with huge numbers of strangers (ie tourists)  to have giant retail events of no value to the town itself while the residents struggle to find a parking place and to share our streets with the free parkers heading to Asbury.

We have had a major Walt Whitman Poetry Festival and a Blogfinger Film Festival (for collegiate film students.)  And we had arts in the parks,  People’s Garden Tours, classical street musicians, and other community cultural events, but most of them died on the vine.

The Ocean Grove Homeowners Association has no idea what it should be doing, and its leadership has no idea what its mandate is. It is not only essentially worthless in terms of bringing this town together and forward, but it has actually become a force working against the people—a subversive presence.

Jack Bredin is correct that the only workable solution is to become our own town again  (it actually happened for one year in 1925, but the church vs state  dilemma caused it to collapse on itself.) Perhaps it is possible once again, but not in a place where the citizens are apathetic and don’t seem to care about a vision for the town.

So  Ocean Grove, despite some wonderful attributes, is poorly defined, and the citizens are seemingly satisfied to ride the waves, sleep on the beach and enjoy being here, much like so many other Jersey Shore towns, although many of those towns actually have their acts together and know who they are or what they want to be. For example Belmar has only one mega-event each year.  Its mayor says that his main concern are the town’s residents.  The beach scene is a given in all Shore towns.

Bradley Beach , our neighbor to the south, which lacks the history that we have, knows what it is.   Go there to experience a true Jersey Shore town.  Forget the architecture, just view it as a fine place to enjoy the shore.   Take a deep breath and smell the ocean.  Go on Main Street on a summer night and have some Thai food or terrific Italian delicacies.  Sit outside at a real  coffee shop and watch the young people walking by or heading towards the boardwalk.  Bradley Beach has a heart and soul which goes all the way back to its founding. It knows what it is, and that’s a good thing.

And here’s a song for the kids in town, especially the teenagers who breathe life into the town no longer  known as “Ocean Grave.”


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By Paul Goldfinger,  Editor@Blogfinger.net

The 16 foot 1907 4 tiered fountain has been restored and is now erect in Founders Park. Yesterday, July 9, was the final installation.

Some more minor work needs to be done for it to be flowing on Saturday, July 27.  (see information below). The fountain last displayed water in the 1970’s.  Thanks to a fund raising effort by Ted Bell and the Historic Society of Ocean Grove, over $100,000 was raised, and some more donations would be helpful for the finishing touches including landscaping.

We went over there tonight and were able to photograph it in very low light using an extremely sensitive digital camera.


Paul Goldfinger photo. 4 tiered fountain is back in place. 7/10/19. Blogfnger.net ©  Click to enlarge photos.


Closeup of the lower part. Blogfinger.net. ©


Here is a link to a Jack Bredin painting of the historic scene:

Founders Park painting



July 27 Saturday  is Victorian Day

10 am – 4 pm:  Mrs. Joseph Thornley’s prayer tent in Founders Park

10 am – 3 pm: History of OG video shown continually in the Great Auditorium

11 am-11:30:  Dedication of the Fountain    (DO NOT MISS THIS)    and Re-enactment of Bishop Fitzgerald by Rev. Dr. Tom Tewell.  Founders Park

Note: from Cindy Bell: “The restored fountain is back in town, and Robinson Iron anticipates the final installation on Tuesday July 9th. Landscaping and final touches will be put in place the week of July 15th.  Dedication ceremony:  Saturday July 27th at 11:00 am. Community members are invited to stop by the park to watch the action.”


12-4 pm Horse and carriage tour

Afternoon tours of Great Auditorium, tours of Historical Society Museum,and walking tours of Ocean Grove


OMARA PORTUONDO   “Mariposita Primavera.”    From the Buena Vista Social Club

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John Phillip Sousa in his military uniform.

John Phillip Sousa in his military uniform. HSOG Museum.    Original post in 2013 BF. Blogfinger photo.

By Paul Goldfinger, MD,  Blogfinger.net

I was over at the Historical Society a few weeks ago, and the subject of Sousa came up. Harry Eichorn, the long-time conductor of bands in Ocean Grove, had never seen the painting of John Phillip Sousa which hangs at the HSOG museum on Pitman Avenue, so I took him there to see it.

A few of the OG history mavens were there, and the story about Sousa’s clash with the CMA came up. This article first appeared in the Ocean Grove Record, Steve Froias’ on-line publication, in 2007.  Now, six years later, we are reposting it on Blogfinger, with the author’s permission,  as part of our ongoing goal of acquainting Ocean Grove’s citizens with the town’s history.

If you want to read about the painting, here is a link to the BF article about it:    Sousa, still hanging around the Grove

John Philip Sousa Follows the Swallow to Ocean Grove 

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor  @Blogfinger

John Philip Sousa, the “March King”, was a big star in 1926. The composer/musician traveled with his band all over the world, and his music was among the first recorded, on cylinders, following the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.  He was particularly popular in Ocean Grove where he had performed concerts in the Great Auditorium during the years of 1921-1926.

But Sousa hit a wrong note here in 1926, when political incorrectness caught up with him, and he was never invited back after that.  It’s a story which has been buried in Ocean Grove history but is now being recounted in a new book written by the world’s foremost expert on Sousa.

The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa is by Dr. Paul E. Bierley, a musician and former engineer, who has been interested in his subject for 40 years. The book, published by the University of Illinois Press in July 2006, is 504 pages, but it is on page 137, in the section called “some lighter moments,” that we find out what happened to Sousa over 80 years ago in Ocean Grove.

To set the stage for Dr. Bierley’s fascinating anecdote, you should know that the founders of Ocean Grove were very strict about alcohol. They had many rules from day one, but they were especially concerned that no alcohol could be sold within a circle of one mile drawn around the town’s borders. The Methodist church was very active in the “dry movement” which had begun in the 1840’s. In 1920, Prohibition began, and by 1926, seven years before the repeal, it was becoming evident that the promise of Prohibition was failing. There was more alcohol consumed during prohibition than before, and the hoped for reduction in crime and other ills of society was not happening.

Pressure began to build to repeal Prohibition, and it is likely that the controversy was a touchy subject in the Ocean Grove of 1926. That year, the Federal Council of Churches presented a position paper during their testimony before the U.S. Senate. They pleaded for continued support of the 18th Amendment.  Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City and an outspoken critic of Prohibition also testified.  He said, “It is impossible to tell whether Prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country.” He alleged that 1,000,000 quarts of liquor were consumed each day in the United States.

The University of Illinois Press has informed The OG Record that we may reproduce this anecdote, which Dr. Bierley has entitled “Follow the Swallow:”

“Sousa and the band played numerous engagements at the old Methodist Camp Ground at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but wore out their welcome at a concert there on July 10, 1926.

“Although Methodists were staunch Prohibitionists, Sousa was featuring his latest humoresque, “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys,” on the 1926 tour and planned to play it at Ocean Grove. The comical piece poked fun at Prohibition, depicting a “wet” and a “dry” drinking tea and water while longing for the days before Prohibition. The band might have played the piece with a minimum of objection had it not been for a publicity poster fashioned in the shape of a whiskey bottle. This caught the attention of members of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, who reasoned that a performance of the piece would not be in their best interest.

“The Rev. Charles M. Boswell, the Association’s president, was indignant and urged people not to attend the concert if Sousa insisted on playing “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys.” The protest puzzled Sousa, but he agreed to play something else. Perhaps he was being contrary when he substituted another of his humoresques, “Follow the Swallow” which had nothing to do with drinking and was based on themes suggestive of a swallow’s flight from north to south.

“The Association was not amused and never again engaged Sousa. The following year, when reporters asked the Association why the band was not invited back to Ocean Grove, the reply was that it was the Association’s policy not to have the same attractions year after year. Policy or not, Sousa’s band had appeared there in successive years from 1921-1924. Whatever the reason, one of the favorite stories among former Sousa musicians concerned how their esteemed conductor, not a Prohibition supporter, lost business because of a politically incorrect decision.”

So here we are, eighty years later, and despite the unfortunate incident of 1926, Sousa’s music still lives on in Ocean Grove. He may have been banished, but his music never left, particularly through the summer appearances of the Allentown Band, which has been playing Sousa’s music here for years. The Allentown Band has 70 of Sousa’s 136 marches in their repertoire, but the favorite here has always been “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, and that rousing piece has a special excitement when it is played in the Great Auditorium with 7,000 people on their feet clapping. And how many in town keep their red white and blue “I’m a Sousa Fan” fan as a unique Ocean Grove souvenir?

Last year the US Army Band from Washington, D.C. did a spectacular version of the “Stars and Stripes” at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. It was a sight that Sousa himself would likely have loved, to see those soldiers (including quite a few women) doing his music in full dress uniforms and, especially at the end, when a row of piccolo players stepped forward to play the finale.

In Ocean Grove, the “Follow the Swallow” episode has now been told and can now be tucked away in the trivia file, but John Philip Sousa, an American icon, will remain a part of Ocean Grove’s history, past, present, and future.

JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA.   This is a lesser known Sousa march—“The Gladiator.”  (From the March Favorites album)

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