Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Christmas Tree Lights, Famous NJ folks

I read a lot of magazines, and the Sunday Courier Post, among the even more than  many books that keep me diverted, entertained and informed.  Sometimes I come across a few items that I think a blog reader might find interesting and may not have come across on her/his own.  

Christmas Trees: Most people may be familiar with the German origin of the Christmas Tree - the evergreen that is not defeated by the seasons but stays green all year.    Many may also know that the tradition was brought to England by Queen Victoria's German husband, Albert, in the mid 1800's.  English colonists brought it to America where it spread because for a long time, the major ethnic group was Anglo/German.  (Smithsonian Dec. 2016)  

So, early colonists had something of a decorated tree tradition if they came from Germany, but the decorated tree of splendor as we know it really was a product of the mid 1800's and is, therefore, about 150 years old.  Yes, it is true that some early German colonists hung their trees upside down to keep them safe from rodents because they were deported with edibles such as cranberries strung, and nuts and so on.  I had an Early American Life issue some years back with information on that and also an early 1800's photograph of one.  

When I lived in Germany, in 1969, I had a real tree and real candles, the original tradition for lighting the tree.  It was delightful and, of course, dangerous!  Eventually, back in the USA, I bagged up the candle holders and candles and let them go and went for light bulbs on the tree.  

I was able to do this thanks to Johnson and Edison, two remarkable New Jersey residents who conspired to develop and promote the electric light bulb.  Edison invented the bulb, then Johnson wired and strung red, white and blue bulbs, and hung them on a tree in his parlor by the front window, and called the press.  This  happened in the mid 1800's.  Crowds gathered and so illustrious a newspaper as the New York Times, in 1882, published a piece about the 120 bulbs strung on the tree.  

Now we challenge the dark with tree lights and yard lights and a "Star Shower" of house lights. A science program I heard recently mourned that we are now the third generation to be unable to witness the Milky Way due to light pollution, unless we go to some remote location such as Yellowstone National Park.  I don't mind too much.  I'd rather have street lights than the view of the Milky Way, though it would be nice to have both.  I accept that isn't possible.

Johnson's lit up tree was in Washington Square, in New York, but Edison's workshop was in New Jersey.  And Edison is one of our most illustrious claims to fame, though if you count workshops, Einstein, living and working in Princeton from 1933 to 1955, may outshine him.  You can visit his house too!

In the Sunday Courier, November 20, an article ran with the photos and names of many illustrious New Jerseyans.  They left out a few I would have included and added a dozen I never heard of.  Anyhow, you could change the list by limiting it to people born here, or expand it to people who worked here or accomplished something here, which is what I would do.  Some might expand even further to great events that took place here.

When I worked as a volunteer in the history world, I was astonished to discover how much happened in New Jersey during the Revolution.  Our state is the "Crossroads of the Revolution."  If I recall it correctly more than 700 skirmishes and battles took place here both on the rivers, as in the attack on Chestnut Neck and the Forks, on the Mullica River in the Pine Barrens, where iron foundries made cannon balls, and pirates hid after raiding British ships, or in the farm regions of Cumberland and Salem Counties where for instance Mad Anthony Wayne made his daring cattle raid to feed the starving army in one of the bitter winter encampments, two of which, by the way, were in New Jersey at Morristown - a great site to visit.

The Courier article organized its "Icons" by fields of endeavor.  So they featured musicians like Count Basie, the poet, Walt Whitman, who though born in New York spent most of his adult life here and left a home you can visit in Camden.  One of my favorites in the literary category is James Fennimore Cooper, who wrote The Last of the Mohicans, then there is Stephen Crane and The Red Badge of Courage.  

I won't list  all the famous here because there were dozens, maybe I will add some later, but I wanted to put Alice Paul on the list.  She was the major reason American Women won the right to vote in 1920.  Her homestead in Mount Laurel is an excellent place to visit to learn more about her life and the movement to enfranchise half the population of our nation.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived here too.

Another influential woman in New Jerey history was Clara Barton who started the public school movement in the state and you can visit her one-room school in Bordertown.  As you know, she went on to work for our soldiers in the Civil War which turned into the creation of the Red Cross.

Speaking of the Civil War, a little known fact is that between her life endangering trips South to rescue more enslaved people and get them safely North on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman worked as a cook in the hotels in Cape May.  There, she earned the money to finance her rescues.  There are a number of interesting Underground Railroad sites to visit in New Jersey; other posts of mine have discussed them.

The photographer Dorothea Lange was the model for the photographer in my novel, White Horse Black Horse.  She worked here in New Jersey during the WPA and went on to document the Dust Bowl and the Western Migration in her photographs. New Jersey is covered with WPA sites and you can stumble across them when you least expect it such as the Cooper House Restaurant, which bears a plaque in the foyer stating that it was a WPA building.

I'm skipping sports because this blog is becoming too long.  But before I go, I have mentioned it before and i will mention it again, there is also the grave of Peter J. Maguire, the father of Labor Day. So that gives us a whole other category of people to explore, those not necessarily born here, but who were buried here!

Merry Christmas,
may the Lights of Christmas help keep your spirits bright!
Happy Trails - and don't forget Railroad Day is Burlington and Bordertown - the tree platforms will put a smile on your face!
Jo Ann

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