Monday, May 11, 2015

Meet Me at the Fair

Photo by Mark Granieri 

May is apparently State Park month for the Flemington Neshanock and Elizabeth Resolutes as after spending last weekend at Ringwood State Park in extreme northern New Jersey, the two clubs journeyed to Monmouth Battlefield State Park on Saturday where they were joined by the Hoboken Nine.  The occasion was the annual New Jersey State History Fair where historical societies and history groups of all kinds gather to display and talk about their work.  As part of the festivities, the three vintage clubs got together to give the visitors and participants a day of base ball 19th century style.  In the opener the Neshanock took on the Hoboken Nine in a game played by 1864 rules.  Although Flemington led 3-2 after one, Hoboken put together a seven run second inning that was basically the difference in the match, a 15-11 Hoboken win.  The Neshanock struggled to get anything going offensively although Jack "Doc" Kitson had three hits while Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri chipped in two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock then yielded their bench to the Elizabeth Resolutes who took on Hoboken in a game played by 1870 rules.  It was a high scoring affair which Elizabeth led early only to see Hoboken come back, before a monstrous 17 run inning gave the Resolutes a convincing 39-20 triumph.  Unfortunately I had to leave just as what proved to be the most dramatic and closely contested match  of the day between the Resolutes and the Neshanock was getting underway.  My understanding is that Elizabeth got off to a large advantage early in the game, but Flemington kept coming back.  Down 14-13 going to the bottom of the eighth, the Neshanock scored twice for a one run advantage headed to the top of the ninth.  As usual the Resolutes didn't go quietly, putting two men on with no one out before Flemington managed to close out another hard fought, intensely played match with our friends and rivals from Elizabeth.  Off to their best start in years at 8-3, Flemington travels to Cooperstown this coming weekend for three matches at the Ommegang Brewery.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Looking at the list of participants at the History Fair, I was reminded of two things I have learned over the past 15 or so years about our state's history.  The first is that there is a tremendous amount of passion about New Jersey's rich and diverse 350 year history, but that passion isn't focused at the state level.  Rather the enthusiasm and commitment is lived out in the different segments or aspects of New Jersey history, be they base ball, the Civil War, canals, local history or even a specific site or building.  There's nothing wrong with that, in fact, it facilitates a level of specialization that might otherwise not be possible, but it does sometimes encourage a mistaken belief that there is apathy about New Jersey history.

New Jersey Historical Society - 52 Park Place, Newark, NJ 

The other thing that is clear to me is that almost without exception the participants in Saturday's History Fair can do their work well only if they have access to the contemporary artifacts and archival material that are the essential raw materials of all historical work.  Collecting, preserving and making accessible that material falls primarily to institutions with a broader mission like the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark.  Founded 170 years ago in 1845, NJHS has been collecting artifacts and archival material ever since, gathering the largest private collection of New Jersey history materials in the world.  Making these items available to groups like today's participants as well as to researchers and other individuals provides the foundation on which all good historical work is built.

Photo by Mark Granieri

My initial involvement in vintage base ball was back in 2008 when the Neshanock were trying to recreate the Eureka Club of Newark, New Jersey's premier base ball team of the 1860's.  Since historical accuracy is vintage base ball's highest priority, it was essential to have the 21st century version wear uniforms as close as possible to the originals.  Many times it's not possible to discover what those uniforms looked like, but fortunately in this case, NJHS had a team picture of the Eureka club, taking the guesswork out of uniform design.

Eureka Team Picture - Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society 

Another important New Jersey history community consists of the groups and individuals committed to telling and commemorating the story of our state's participation in the Civil War.  That watershed event in American history saw over 70000 New Jersey men serve in the Union Army with about 6000 giving their lives "that that nation might live."  Over the past six months, NJHS has acquired three sets of New Jersey Civil War archival material which have added eight diaries, almost 300 letters as well as drawings and maps to our Civil War collections.  Just one example is the Carolinas Campaign diary of Lt Franklin Murphy of the 13th New Jersey who would later go on to serve as Governor.  Original source material for the Carolinas Campaign is very rare and NJHS' successful acquisition of the diary at public auction guarantees the public availability of this important resource.

Franklin Murphy's Carolinas Campaign Diary - Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society

Obviously acquiring these materials cost money as does just operating the organization.  Like all not-for-profit organizations, NJHS seeks and receives government, corporation and foundation funding.  But individual gifts are also important, indeed, no gift is too small and we are now especially committed to building our membership base.  At $40, the fully tax deductible annual membership fee is a way to support this important work at a very modest cost.  There are, of course, benefits including an annual member's only program, but equally important is just being part of this important work.  Joining NJHS has never been simpler, going to our website (, clicking the donation button and making a $40 donation will complete the membership process in only a matter of minutes.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

In the over three years of this blog, I don't think I've ever asked for anything, but this is so important that I ask anyone and everyone who reads this to become a member of NJHS so we can continue to collect and preserve New Jersey history.  And, by the way, this year's members only event will feature a lecture on Hoboken, New Jersey as base ball's incubator, including games played at Elysian Fields before that historic day in June of 1846.

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