Memories, fun facts, and Jersey firsts - we'll be featuring the best of our nostalgia and trivia from The BRJ archives, so check back soon for new posts!
"These are hard stories for me to write, but I must do it so my children have some idea of the life their mother had..." Read More
The “striker” took a couple of practice swings with his “timber” before stepping up to the “line.” After swatting wildly at a couple of “jim-jams” he finally got some “muckle” into it and popped one over the “hurler’s” head. Read More
When Mohawk raiding parties descended on the Native American villages in what is now Peapack, New Jersey, the local Lenape tribes would take refuge in the vast limestone caves beneath their lands. Read More
In the early 1930s, Richard Hollingsworth was working as a sales manager at his dad’s Whiz Auto products store when he thought of a way to combine the two things he loved most – cars and movies. Read More
My name is Violet Rose Paetzold Burrell Conover; I am writing this for my daughter Margaret, my son Carl Henry and their children Jennifer, Allison, and Cristen.
Our little farm (64-acres) lay four miles north of Califon, New Jersey. It was called “Little Brook” because there were two brooks. They connected down the line making a larger one leading to the South Branch of the Raritan River that went through Califon. My mother was Rose Emily Sommer Paetzold, born in Vienna, Austriain 1888. My father was Paul Henry Paetzold, born in Germany in 1888.
I remember back when I was five years-old. My brother, August, was born on February 2. At the time, I did not know the date, I just knew it was after Christmas, since I was playing with my toys in the next bedroom by the stove. Soon after the doctor left, I went to the next bedroom and saw this tiny hand come out from under the covers. I said to my mother, “Oh, what is that?” She pulled it back under and said, “Oh nothing.” This is an example of how we were taught. My brother, called Gus, grew and at three years-old had long golden curls. Everyone loved us kids.
Our mother was always working. She did housework for $1.00 a day, which back then was a lot of money, and went far. My mother drove a Model-T Ford. We were always so happy when she came she came up the lane after work. We ran down to meet her and jumped on the running board and hung on until we were close to the house. It seems she always brought us something. Though it might have only been old food or butter from the place she worked, she always thought of us. We were a happy bunch, looking after each other all the time. Of course, our father was there watching us too!
My mother also took in washing and ironing - lots of it! She had a gasoline washer, which you started by pushing up and down on the pedal. It was great, as we never had electricity. She rinsed the wash in two tin tubs and then hung it on two huge or long pulley wash lines, which ran from the porch to the wagon shed. She also had a gasoline iron. The flame ran through the middle. You could adjust the heat, as you wanted. I can still see her standing there, hour after hour, doing the neighbors’ clothes, folding them just so and placing them in their separate baskets. I couldn’t even reach the ironing board, but I always wanted to help. Finally, I was allowed to do a few hankies. Things had to be done just right!
My mother grew beautiful strawberries. My dad had cherry trees, and we helped pick them, then I went from door to door selling them. That’s when I learned to be a good tree climber. I also learned to like water. I remember going swimming with my brothers when I was six or seven years-old. We would go down the road, but they didn’t want to wait for me. The faster they’d run, the louder I would cry. Finally, they would wait. We walked about two miles, cutting across our neighbor’s’ fields down to a deep hole in their brook. That was my introduction to swimming. In later years, we went down past Califon and Vernoy, to the big river. There was a huge rock in the middle of the river. We would doggie-paddle out to it and rest on that rock. There was also a big rope on a tree limb. I would hold the rope with one hand and my nose with the other hand as my brother, Paul, who is seven year older, took hold of me and pulled me way back. I would swing way out over the river and at the right time, I would let go and into the water I went. I enjoyed it so much.
One year my mother gave us a Sears Roebuck catalogue and said we could each pick one thing for a dollar. After studying the catalogue for a month, my sister Anna picked roller skates, and I chose a wrist watch.
As the years went by and we walked to town to swim, I would put my precious watch in my shoe. One day I forgot and it got wet. It didn’t run anymore. For twenty-five cents, I sent it back to the company and they put a new inside in it. I treasured that watch for years.
The summer before fourth grade, my mother took me to the mountains past Washington (NJ), and left me there for a whole week. Our friend’s husband had died and I was left to keep the wife company. A week was a long time for a kid to be away from home. I helped the old lady, but I was hungry all week. I took my baths behind the house in a tin tub. I was so happy when Mother came to pick me up.
Our mother took us to Washingtonon Saturdays to the Saint Cloudmovie theater, where they had continuous movies. We went as often as we could. My favorites were Tarzan, and Rin-Tin-Tin, a beautiful German Shepherd dog who saved a little girl when an eagle carried her to a mountain top. Years before that, Califon had a movie house that only showed silent movies.
One night, mother waited for us at the Barber’s house, visiting with the wife, until we came to go home. Our mother had to crank the car to start it. On the third pull, the crank flew backwards and broke her arm. Someone took us home, while someone else took our mother to Somerville Hospital. They said she screamed for three days until it was ready to be set and put into a cast. I was about eight years-old at the time.
Between ages six and ten, we always listened to the radio, which was battery operated. There was a program we liked called Little Orphan Annie. It came on at four or five o’clock and lasted an hour. We always hurried with our chores after school so we could hear it. Annie had a dog, and a servant named Punjub. He always carried in armfuls of wood and looked after Annie. I said when I grew up I wanted a Punjub, too.
One day our batteries went dead, so we were allowed to go to Mrs. Blocker’s house to listen. We had to to walk through the woods for about a half a mile. Mrs. Blocker was the same lady that gave me a bible in 1931. Mother used to clean her house. Their home was close to where Little Brook nursing home is today.
When we used to go fishing on the bridge near our lane, we cleaned, fried, and ate whatever we caught. Fish hooks cost a penny. If we didn’t have a penny, we took a staright pin and bent it to make a hook.
I remember when my dad told the insurance man not to come anymore. It cost ten cents a month and he didn’t have it.
When it came to sawing wood, before I was old enough to help, the round blade saw and frame had to be set up. They would take the right back fender off Mother’s car, hook it up to the belt on the saw, and start it turning. Dad would cut the wood and Mother would carry away the pieces. When I got older, I helped Dad with the cross-cut saw. I guess that’s why I enjoy sawing wood today.
We only kept one room warm in the winter; the rest of the house was cold. We had a large wind-up record player; we had lots of hand-me-down records. No electricity, no running water; a real good spring 100-feet from the house, supplied our water. We took a hot brick to bed to warm up the bed. Kerosene lamps and gasoline lanterns were on the mantles for light.
Our Califon School had a nurse who came once a week. We also had a dentist that would come and do our teeth right n the school. In school they gave all the kids cod liver oil. Each day we got a small square of sugar with three drops of oil on it. I still take it first thing in the morning with a little milk. 60 years ago, there were no such things as vitamins. We ate whatever we had.Living back in the country was so different from living in town. Our school sandwiches were made with Mother’s homemade bread, and had lard and mustard on them. And believe me they were good. One day I looked across at a kid from Vernoy, who had a pickled egg. I said to myself, “boy, she’s poorer than we are.” We also had a lot of homemade soup. I could barely reach the butcher’s counter, but would lay down my quarter and ask for “soup meat and a bone, please.” Today, one can’t even find a bone for soup.
In the summer we made butter and cottage cheese, it was so good! Mother always made bread, dumplings, or homemade noodles.
We had lots of pork and homemade sauerkraut, which our parents made in a big barrel. If we weren’t having that, on Sundays, our father would chop a chicken’s head off, clean it, and we would have chicken stewed with mashed potatoes. After I grew up, I couldn’t eat sauerkraut for many years. Now I enjoy it again. In fact, I made my own in 1987, in Pennsylvania.
Oranges! WOW! Do you know who gave us one every year? That’s right, good old Santa, in church at Lower valley (Califon). We always went to Sunday School and Christian Endeavor afterwards. Our dad gave us three pennies. One was for Sunday School, one was for Christian Endeavor (which was held at the minister’s house during church services and taught by the minister’s wife), and the last penny was for candy, as there was a store across the road from the church that was called “Flomerfelt’s.” Mr. Flomerfelt also played the organ at church. We all had pieces to learn for our Christian Program. When Anna and I got a little older, we sang in the choir. We would practice after school, one afternoon a week.
After Church and practice, we had to walk four miles up over the hills to get home. When we were about a mile or so fro home, we would cut across a field, jump the brook, and crawl under a barbed wire fence. Sometimes we went through our neighbor’s yard, Miss Volk, to see if she needed anything. Sometimes we would carry in wood for her or bring her a loaf of bread. One year for Easter, she brought us clothes; I chose underwear.
In the winter-time, Anna and I had to wear long johns to keep warm. We had a long walk to the road to meet the Hack, which was a team of horses and a covered wagon that brought us to school. The driver was Mr. Phil Sloker. Before the wagon started coming, my brothers had to walk all the way to Califon School, then back again. As they walked to school, the neighbors’ kids joined them. My brothers and the other kids always got into fight son the way home.
When I was entering fourth grade, we got a nice, big, shiny yellow bus. Well, all the kids ran for miles to see it. Mr. Sliker’s son, Norman, drove it. I liked to sit right behind him and watch him shift and drive. You see, he only had one arm. He held the steering wheel with his leg when he shifted - we all though he was great. Once, when I had a sore throat for days, he took me to a doctor. His mother would take us into their kitchen to warm up and give us a “sheep nose” apple to eat. They were a real nice, loving family. Norman also worked in the Califon Bank, then his wife took over driving the bus.
In the early days we had really deep snow. Sometimes the roads were drifted shut for two weeks. That’s when we really played in the snow. We did a lot of sleigh riding, sometimes in fields, sometimes on roads where horses and wagons traveled. Let me tell you, I was a fast rider.
I tried to tell my children all of these things as they were growing up, but they didn’t want to hear about Mother and her old-fashioned days. Well believe me, if you have lived any kind of life, the memories are in your mind forever – only death takes it away.
As I wrote in my first story about our little farm, it was just four miles north of Califon. It was called Little Brook… Our dad never did learn to drive a car. He always drove a horse and buggy. It was always dad and I who went to town to buy a bag of feed and groceries. Our horse was a black stallion with a white star on his forehead. His name was Dickie. He pulled the buggy and let me ride him. He did not like noise along the road. The large machine, the stone crusher, had to stop as we came by, or our horse would have upset us buggy and all.
One day we went uptown, across the railroad tracks to get groceries. Dad turned the buggy around so we were facing the tracks, which were about 50-feet ahead. Dad went into the store and left me holding the horse. I heard the whistle and knew the train was coming, I called my dad to come but he only came to the door and said, “You hold him.” Well, the horse reared up in the air with me hanging on to his bridle! We went up and down several times until finally the train passed. I guess my dad had faith in me.
Dad and I went to town many times together. In fact, we were the last ones to bring a horse into the town of Califon for shopping. Later on, the feed mill delivered with a truck. Then I either pulled our groceries up the hills on my sled or carried them on my back in a feed sack. Lots of times we traded eggs for food, I never minded the long walk home, as I knew we would eat.
Later on, a truck used to stop at our neighbors, the Orts, selling stale bread in feed bags. We always ordered three bags. My brother Gus helped bring it home. I believe it cost 75 cents for the bags. We got the first choice, and we would pick through it for half loaves, and saved enough for a week. The animals got the rest. We had chickens, pigs, a few sheep, and a couple horse and two cows.
Dad always had a garden. He plowed it with one horse. In the big fields, he used two horses. My two older brothers were always off working, so I was dad’s right-hand man. When he cultivated the corn field, I had to lead the horse, so he wouldn’t eat the leaves. I always got sunburned behind the ears. I started driving our team when I was 11. I helped harrow the fields. I sat on a care seat on top of the harrow. My dad and I would take turns.
During the hay season, dad would mow, and I walked behind, cleaning the knives as needed. I raked hay by myself. Dad would then make the heaps one on each side. Later we pulled the wagon in the middle of the piles. Dad would throw the hay on the wagon and I would tramp it down. He rented the hay fields down near Teetertown, so we had quite a ride back home.
We would use our stallion to pull the rope, which pulled the hay fork up to the mow. I led the horse up and back. Dad put the fork in and swung it up on the mow. At that time, my sister was always busy putting curlers in her hair or something and would never come out and help.
In later years, dad had 29 pigs. In the summer, we would get garbage from a camp up towards Pleasant grove, to feed them. We collected barrels of it every day.
In sixth grade, I started taking sewing lessons. I also mowed lawns for our neighbors, the Orts, for 35 cents. For 75 cents a day, I cleaned house and babysat for Minister Kilstrum. I also ironed their clothes, and cleaned the stove and oven. I worked on Leo’s Farm, pulling weeds, picking strawberries for 2 cents a quart, and bundling asparagus and tying them for market. I also picked string beans fro 25 cents a bushel. Sometimes, I got 35 cents a day, and sometimes I also got a bowl of soup. If they didn’t have the money I got sent home with a small jar of jelly. Sometimes when the day’s work was done, we gathered around their piano and sang. Also, I brushed the mother’s and daughter’s long hair, in return they brushed mine. Sometimes I spent the night.
At 14, I got my tonsils out in Philipsburg Hospital. I was so sore for a week. Leo’s wife kept me and cared for me for a week. They went to Califon and opened a savings account for me with a dollar. I kept that dollar for years, putting money in and taking money out, but always leaving that one dollar.
Two days before starting high school, I had no clothes to wear and didn’t think I would be able to go. But the day before school started, a friend stopped in and gave me boxes of everything, left from their girls. I did make my own eighth grade graduation dress and I also made my own gym suit.
I took cooking and enjoyed it, and was good in sports. I started typing in my second year, but quit before I learned much. I left school on my sixteenth birthday, which was a big mistake. No education, no good job, period. So my life was spent baby sitting, house cleaning, doing factory work of different kinds, and farming. I enjoyed farming and loved animals.
Our dad drove a wagon selling a product called Zanol. It seemed like I was with him most of the time. We went to each house in Vernoy, and way up pst Middle Valley. He sold spices, powdered eggs, vanilla, and any kind of dry goods you could think of. He always said to me, that when I grew up I could get a car and drive him around. I was so proud to hear that. But as years went by, it did not turn out that way.
Dad had a tree turn the wrong way one-day and got pinned underneath, hurting his back. That was the beginning of his troubles. I was old enough and helped out by cooking dinner that night. He told me what happened and asked me to rub his back. Dad never went to a barber, dentist, or doctor for 20 years. He cut his hair, shaved with a straight razor, and pulled his own teeth. But from that time on he made up for those 20 years.
He was in the hospital somewhere around Newark, New Jersey. When my brother took us to visit, dad had tubes down his nose and all kinds of things. I didn’t understand. I sure did cry that day. That didn’t help things with Dad; he thought I was crying because something happened to one of our horses, as I was now caring for all the animals. On our way home from the hospital that day, my brother treated me to hot chocolate and hamburgers. They were five cents a piece and I ate five of them.
After some time, Dad came home to us again. His arm was sore from all the needles and he got weaker from then on. The next summer, Dad and I went and got our garbage for the 29 pigs. Gus held things together till we came back, and my brother Paul was always there to help us get wood or anything else we needed. Paul could carry a hundred-pound bag of feed on his shoulder up the lane, even when it got very muddy in the spring. We would never have made it without our wonderful brothers.
When my brother George was young, he worked at the same camp where Dad and I collected garbage. He was a caretaker with another older man named Tom. Dad and I used to walk the three miles or so in the winter to play cards and visit. We went at least once a week.
In the summer, George was also their car driver. He went to Gladstone train station and picked people up all the time. He also picked up crates of milk bottles. I don’t remember how many years he worked there. He always came home in between jobs. He used to go to square dances above Anthony at the Grange Church. I ironed his shirts and he gave me 10 cents, but I was too young to go to the dances. I had lots of good times with my brothers. They helped bring me up. They were always there when we needed them.
One day, Dad and I went to the camp to collect the garbage for the pigs, the people mistakenly rang the large dinner bell while our horse and wagon were parked close by. Dad was already on the wagon, but I was not. The noise frightened the horse and he took off running at full speed. Dad was getting weaker and couldn’t hold him back, and the horse didn’t stop for a whole mile. I ran behind the whole way and jumped on when he stopped, and we proceeded home.
As we were coming down through a field with our garbage, the harness broke away from the wagon and struck the horse on the hind legs. The horse got spooked and raced off down the hill. Dad just couldn’t stop him. I jumped off, landing on my rear. The horse went too close to a stone row and broke the two back wheels off. Then he whipped around a corner, throwing dad off. Dad bounced like a rubber ball and cut his head very badly. The horse finally stopped when the lines got caught around the front wheel and pulled his bit tight. I screamed for my brother Gus to run for help, which he did fast as lightning. In no time at all, all our neighbors came with our faithful brother Paul. We took dad with his head fuul of blood to a doctor in Califon. They got the ambulance and I was the one who rode with dad. He was in the hospital for a week.
Everyone thought the horse was too wild, so the very next day I had to ride him around in front of the neighbors to prove that it wasn’t his fault, but the fault of the old broken harness.
From then on things went downhill. The pigs never had enough to eat and were always breaking out of their fence. They even broke into our chicken coop at night and ate our chickens. I can still hear the chickens screaming, it was horrible!
As we were unable to care properly for the animals, we sent them all to Flemington market. Dad clung on to life as long as he could, but died in my arms in April 1941. I was so sad. I cried and wouldn’t eat fro three days. These are hard stories for me to write, but I must do it so my children have some idea of the life their mother had.
Now, as I said, my brother George was always a very hard worker. For years when he was young, he worked on two chicken farms. In the early years, he would walk to work most of the time. He would leave really early in the morning when it was still dark. He most always carried a kerosene lantern. I know he worked there for over ten years. In the summer, when he came home, we would run down to the brook and take our baths. One afternoon, he stepped on a thorn and it went in deep. Someone took him to the doctor but it was real bad for weeks. A few years later, he was thrown from his car and injured his back. He went to the hospital and they put a big cast on it. But after he got home, he felt he just had to go to work. So, he took dad’s meat saw and sawed the cast off. Over the hill he went again to work. You didn’t make too much money on the chicken farm and by now he was married and had a son, Richard.
Soon, my brother George heard about the gunpowder plant all the way up near Kenville, so he got a job there and worked very hard. He was a carpenter and a mason. I believe he stayed there most of 30 years. He and his wife had two sons and two daughters, Jane and Janet. They moved closer to his job in Hackettstoen, New Jersey. In 1943, I boarded with them and we both worked in the gunpowder plat. I was a powder-cutter. The war was on at the time and we went to work on a bus. On the day shift, we left at five in the morning. We worked three different shifts, and I always smelled like ether. That’s what was in the gunpowder.
The Second World War finally ended. I was grown by then and I had also gotten married. I have two wonderful children of whom I am very proud. We now live far away from them and their home in New Jersey and I don’t see them near enough. As for now, I live up here in the endless mountains of Pennsylvania. Sometime I hope to write more about my sister Anna and more about our brothers, who now all live in different parts of the country.
I shall write more someday.
Vi Rose Conover did return to New Jersey, living for many years in Gladstone. She passed away in August 2010 at Little Brook Nursing Home – a stone’s throw from her family farm.
The “striker” took a couple of practice swings with his “timber” before stepping up to the “line.” After swatting wildly at a couple of “jim-jams” he finally got some “muckle” into it and popped one over the “hurler’s” head. A rookie outfielder was right underneath it and it seemed like a sure “hand down” but the “muffin” couldn’t hold onto it with his bare hand, causing a barrage of curses from the local “cranks”… Sound like a strange game? It might be more familiar than you think.
Anyone stepping onto the municipal field in historic Chester, New Jersey on a soggy day afternoon this June might have thought that they stumbled on to the set of a Kevin Costner movie. But this was no field of dreams, this was the real thing - Vintage Base Ball (two words) played barehanded and on genuine mud and grass. That’s right - barehanded! There are no gloves or catcher’s mitts for these purists. They play in 19th century uniforms, and by 19th century rules, which includes “open stealing” and in some cases being able to catch a ball on a bounce for an out!
Though the weather made it feel a little like Mudville there was plenty of joy in Chester for the several hundred spectators that showed up for “Vintage Base Ball Day,” hosted by the Chester Historical Society (CHS) in Morris County. The event was the brainchild of Faith Robinson, Event Chairperson for the CHS. The game was dedicated to the Chester Farmerettes, a “spirited” local women’s softball team that played primarily in the 1940s. Many of the Farmerettes were there for the dedication, as was Chester resident Lois “Tommy” Barker, who played for the Grand Rapid Chicks in the professional women’s baseball league of the 1940s and 50s (made famous by the movie A League of Their Own)
After a dedication by Chester Historical Society President, Joan Case, Chester Borough Mayor, Kenneth Caro, and Chester Township Mayor, Ben Spinelli, the event was kicked off with a rousing rendition of Casey at the Bat, by Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw, Captain of the Flemington Neshanocks. Shaw has been playing vintage base ball for 4 years and if you ask him if he’s really from Brooklyn he will answer like a true Brooklynite: “Yeah, you got a problem with that?”
While warming up the crowd before the first pitch, “Brooklyn” Shaw pointed out that some form of what we now call baseball has been played in America since colonial times. According to the Vintage Base Ball Association (VBBA), headquartered in Ohio, the outline of the game we recognize today as our great American past-time was first formalized in New York City.
In 1845, a group of young professionals including Alexander Joy Cartwright and “Doc” Adams formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Modeled after the gentlemen’s clubs of the day, they seemed to have more rules regarding Victorian behavior than base ball but did begin the process of regulating the game. According to the VBBA, one of the major improvements was establishing a standard for the placement of bases at 30 paces or 90 feet apart. The most important improvement however, was probably the designation of “clear foul territory,” which allowed spectators to get “get close enough to the action to really become interested in the game.”
Within a decade, dozens of teams like the Excelsiors, the Atlantics, and the Empires sprang up in Manhattan and Brooklyn to play the new “Knickerbocker” or “New York Game” of baseball. Gradually, as teams formed in other cities and adopted the New York Game, other variations gave way to the more standardized version.
In 1869, after the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly all-professional team, took the field, baseball started to slip away from the small towns and cities that gave the game its genesis. “What happened basically, is that baseball became so popular that all these local towns wanted a team,” Brad Shaw explained. “Well what happened then is not only did they want a team, but they wanted a good team. So what they used to do is bring in players from outside the township and pay them. They weren’t supposed to, it was supposed to be an amateur thing. Eventually they said, ‘Okay, let’s start a professional league.’”
Today, the closest thing to the local clubs of yesteryear are probably local softball leagues or the farm teams like the Somerset Patriots which still play in smaller cities and draw a hometown crowd - but for some that just isn’t enough. Just like Civil War re-enactors need to hear the sound of the guns and the roar of the musketry instead of just reading about it in a book, Vintage Base Ballists need to hear the crack of the bat and the “huzzah” of the crowd. In fact, the two hobbies sometimes go hand in hand as Vintage Ballists are often invited to demonstrate their “muckle” at Civil War reenactments - but the living historians rarely cross-over. “The guys who like the guns, play with the guns, Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw confessed, “and the guys who like the bats and balls, play with the bats and balls. It’s as simple as that.”
When Brad Shaw, a software manager for IBM, first learned about Vintage Base Ball, he knew he would start his own team. “One day I saw a Smithsonian magazine with a person in a Vintage Base Ball uniform playing and I said ‘Hey, what’s that?’ I found out they had a league in Old Beth Page village in Long Island. I went there because they were having a tournament and found the captain of the other team here, Paul Salomone of the Resolutes, and said ‘this is great. I want to join your team and then I want to start my own team’ and that’s what I did.”
The team that Shaw started or re-started was the Flemington Neshanocks. The Neshanocks were originally established in July 1866 by some of Flemington’s most prominent citizens, including the team’s first president, George F. Crater, who owned Crater’s Hotel (on the site of what is now the Union Hotel in the historic district of Flemington). There are no known records of the Neshanocks past August 1867. But according to the chronicles that do survive, they probably weren’t the most skilled players to don a uniform. They often lost to their biggest rivals, the Lambertville Logans, by the “close scores of 77-25 and 71-47.”
Though today’s Neshanocks had a rough opening season in 2001 (2–10) and even lost a game to their chief rivals, the Elizabeth Resolutes (54-16), they have become much better schooled in the art of barehanded baseball. With names like “Pistol” Pete Casteel, Dan “Lefty” Glazer and “Jersey” Jim Nunn, these guys don’t just look the part - they can really swat the old “lemon peel,” and fans don’t just relive history but get to enjoy a competitive game as well.
Vintage Ballists come from all walks of life, have varying degrees of experience and on the Neshanocks, they range in age from 18-53. Many of them are converts from men’s softball leagues and, according to the Elizabeth Resolutes website, are drawn by the opportunity to play by more “traditional strategies” not always available in softball such as, “Hit and run, steals, pitch-outs, bunting, fair-foul hits, and the old hidden ball trick.” They do all have a couple of things in common however, a lot of grit and a love of the game in its purest form.
“You’re going back to the roots of the game, the way the game used to be played,” Brad Shaw explained between shouts to his infield. “It’s a way of getting back the history and still having fun. We’re still playing “open stealing”, we’re still playing with 90-foot bases - we’re still playing baseball. Right now we are portraying the 1870s but we will play rules from any era… we will play 1860s rules - anything caught on a bounce is out. In the 1870s anything caught on a bounce in foul territory is an out. We will also go up to the 1880s occasionally, which is an overhand game.” But 1860s or 1880s, underhand or overhand, vintage players from each era all still play barehanded.
“The ball is very hard,” Brad Shaw admitted. “If you saw one of the new balls you’ll see that, especially when we first start the game… it is about 80% as hard as a regulation hardball. By about the second or third inning it starts to soften. The way they describe it is, it is supposed to be a piece of India rubber wrapped in yarn with a hand-stitched leather cover. Instead of using India rubber… they use a “super-ball” or occasionally, a golf ball. What that does is it makes the ball hard but it also makes the ball fly.”
The Neshanocks season begins in “early, early” April and runs through October. “As long as there isn’t snow on the ground we play,” Shaw proclaimed, and there are typically 25-30 games scheduled, which include a lot of double-headers. There are currently over 100 teams playing vintage baseball throughout the country but only two from New Jersey, the Neshanocks and the Elizabeth Resolutes. Though there is no real league, they play teams from other states including New York and Connecticut and participate in many tournaments. For Brad Shaw, however, the season really comes down to one thing “bragging rights” between the Neshanocks and Resolutes.
But you don’t have to be a historian to enjoy Vintage Base Ball. It is a real treat for fans, family (many players’ families participate including Brad Shaw’s son, who is team mascot) or folks just looking for a fun community-spirited event like “Vintage Base Ball Day” in Chester. So if you’d like to “root, root, root, for the home-team”, just want to learn more about the game, or think you’d like to swing at a couple of “jim-jams” then contact Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw at the Neshanocks website, www.neshanock.org, and he’ll “steer you in the right direction.” Or, better yet, come out to a Neshanocks ballgame and talk to him yourself. He’s friendly, helpful, and really knows his stuff – just don’t ask him if he’s really from Brooklyn.
The Neshanock are always looking for new players and are also available to play at your next event.
When Mohawk raiding parties descended on the Native American villages in what is now Peapack, New Jersey, the local Lenape tribes would take refuge in the vast limestone caves beneath their lands. It wasn’t until 1902, however that the caverns were rediscovered by workers at the Todd Lime Quarry.
Employees at the quarry had an idea that there were caves beneath them for some time, but the fissure in the rock, that appeared to be the only opening, was too narrow for a man to climb through. Eventually, curiosity got the better of two quarry men and they dropped sticks of dynamite into the crevice and blew a hole wide enough to crawl through. What they found astounded them.
After squeezing and wriggling through the narrow passage, they came to a chamber that was high enough to stand up in. It measures 100-feet long and 20-feet wide. The walls were covered in shimmering limestone and stalactites dripped from the dome-like ceiling.
At the far end of the vault, the found another passage and clawed their way up a 20-foot incline to discover a second chamber similar in size and as stunning as the first. A reporter from the Newark Evening News explored the cave shortly after its discovery and described it as “weird in the extreme.”
“When you enter with a lantern or miners hat,’ he wrote, “the stalactites flash from the dome as though suspended in air, the sides of the cavern glow with a mellow-red light. Before you is a formation of reddish crystals, shaped like a pulpit, and above, that what looks like a frozen waterfall.
At the far end of this upper corridor was athird chamber that even surpassed the grandeur of the first two. It was circular with a lofty ‘gothic’ ceiling that no architect ever designed… in more graceful lines. Opposite to the larger chamber was a passage that led to an underground lake with water as opaque as the air."
As news spread of the incredible caverns, people flocked to Peapack for a first-hand look. Enterprising merchants stocked up on overalls, lanterns and miner’s helmets, and one of the workmen, Elias Guest, allegedly put an old door in front of the entrance and began charging admission. Soon the local Methodist church put in walkways and a gate and was given permission to charge a 25-cents admission.
After a week, it was reported that souvenir hunters had stripped most of the stalactites from the caves but the sightseeing tours continued until 1907. No one is sure why the caverns were closed but the entrance was sealed and the quarrying operation started back up again.
In 1958, more caves were found when 600 tons of limestone collapsed into another underground chamber that contained 300 to 400-feet of passageways, with a series of branching rooms. The largest was approximately 50-feet in diameter and one of the rooms reportedly contained a small pool of water.
Over the decades, many former school kids confessed to playing hooky and hiding out in the caves but today, the entrances have been lost to history. A residential development now sits atop the underground wonder and for now the legendary caverns remain a fading memory.
Above: Photo of the Peapack Caverns (c.1907). Courtesy of the late Ruth Hill Thomson
In the early 1930s, Richard Hollingsworth was working as a sales manager at his dad’s Whiz Auto products store when he thought of a way to combine the two things he loved most – cars and movies. He began in his own driveway on Thomas Avenue, in Camden, by nailing a screen between two trees in his backyard and mounting a 1928 Kodak projector to the hood of his car. A radio behind the screen provided the sound. He then began experimenting with different weather conditions (a lawn sprinkler was used to imitate rain), parking, line of sight, and sound quality.
On June 6, 1933, with an investment of $30,000 and a new patent, Hollingsworth opened the first Drive-In Theater in the parking lot of his dad’s store, in Camden, using the back wall of the building as a screen. The price of admission was 25-cents per car and an additional 25-cents per person. On his first night, 400 cars lined up in eight rows to watch movies from the comfort of their cars. Richard and his cousin opened a franchise of “Park In Theaters” which began springing up around the country. When Hollingsworth’s patent was overturned in 1949, everyone got into the act and “Drive-In Movie Theaters” became the rage
At its peak in the 1950s and 60s, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in the U.S. The largest was the All-Weather Drive-In, in Copiague, New York, which had parking for 2,500 cars, and an indoor 1,200 seat viewing area. The strangest was probably Edward Brown’s Drive-In and Fly-In Theater, in Asbury Park, NJ, which could accommodate 500 cars and 25 airplanes. An airstrip next to the drive-in allowed planes to taxi to the last row of the theater. After the show, a tow back to the airfield was provided.
Eventually, escalating real estate prices made the large tracts that new drive-ins required too expensive and the land that drive-ins already occupied too valuable not to develop. Other contributing factors that led to the drive-ins decline included the advent of color television, the VCR, and even day light savings, which trimmed an hour off summer viewing time.
Today there are less than 400 drive-ins left in the U.S. and only one in New Jersey, the Delsea Drive-In (delseadrivein.com), in Vineland, which was built in 1949, closed in 1987, and re-opened in 2004.
Copyright © 2020 The Black River Journal, LLC - All Rights Reserved.