Then and Now: 19 Ocean Avenue

Today’s “Then and Now” features 19 Ocean Avenue:


It was a September Saturday in 1899. Elizabeth Wood, a widow who summered annually in Ocean Grove, drove her handsome horse-drawn phaeton into the heart of OG to run some errands. She parked in front of Perrine and Jackson’s Meat Market on Heck Avenue and went about her business.

What is a phaeton? Popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the phaeton was the sports car of its day. Drawn by one or two horses, the phaeton was a light, open carriage on four wheels.

Example of a phaeton.

But while she was gone, her skittish horse grew uneasy in the presence of a dog and started bucking and kicking. By the time the horse had been soothed, the phaeton was completely destroyed.

The demolished phaeton would certainly have been an inconvenience for her, but not the end of the world. Elizabeth Wood was a well-to-do woman and no doubt she was able to replace her phaeton in short order.

Just nine years earlier, she’d purchased oceanfront property in Ocean Grove from James Black – specifically, lots 600 and 601, and parts of lots 598 and 599. She paid $7,000. It was on this plot that she built her summer home, which still stands today at 19 Ocean Avenue. (She made changes to her home and possibly expanded it in 1894.)

camp meeting plan
1870 plan of Ocean Grove Camp Meeting grounds showing lot numbers. The circled lots at the corner of Main and Ocean Avenues were purchased by Mrs. Elizabeth Wood in 1890.

When she wasn’t summering in Ocean Grove, Elizabeth Wood lived in a beautiful row house mansion in Harlem. The building still stands today at 14 Mt. Morris Park West, between 121st and 122nd streets. In 2009, a nearly identical house just one door down was on the market for $8 million. The web site provides a floor plan and interior photos of 12 Mt. Morris Park West, which will give you an idea of what it was like to be Mrs. Wood in the off-season living at #14.

14 mt morris
The house under the arrow is 14 Mt. Morris Park West in Harlem, where Mrs. Elizabeth Wood lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Elizabeth Wood was known for being generous with her wealth and made many charitable gestures, both big and small, to the people and organizations that mattered to her. For example, the Ocean Grove Record newspaper tells us that in August of 1906, Mrs. Wood paid for her friends Mrs. J.N. Fitzgerald and Mrs. A.H. DeHaven to become lifetime members of the Ocean Grove auxiliary of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. She was also a member of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, was active with the New York House of Refuge for wayward girls on Randall’s Island, and was a vice president of the New York City Indian Association, the aims of which were “to awaken and strengthen, by every means in its power, that Christian public sentiment which shall aid our Government in its present policy of granting citizenship to Indians, and the same protection of law enjoyed by other races among us”, and “To aid in the support of suitable missionaries and instructors to reside among the Indians, to labor for their industrial, political, moral and religious education”. (The “Indians” the organization sought to Christianize were native Americans.)

Upon her death from pneumonia in April 1907, Elizabeth Wood endowed a parcel of property to Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church of Harlem — three buildings at Second Avenue and 118th Street. She was 75 years old and died at home in New York. She’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth Wood probably willed her Ocean Grove house to one of her siblings. She had at least two brothers – John and William Laird. In the Ocean Grove Times of April 5, 1913, it’s noted that “Mrs. H. Murgatroyd, of New York City, who recently bought the Laird cottage at the corner of Main and Ocean Avenues, over Sunday last entertained a party of Newark friends.” It seems Mrs. Murgatroyd (“Hettie”) named the cottage “The Bellaire” (also seen spelled as “Belaire”). According to her great-granddaughter Cindy, Mrs. Murgatroyd sold the house when her husband was away during World War I.

By 1937 the house had become the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. S. Walter Stauffer of York, PA. Mr. Stauffer had been engaged in the manufacture of lime, crushed stone and refractory dolomite from 1916 to 1936, and went on to serve as a U.S. Congressman from 1953-55 and again in 1957-59. According to his granddaughter Salome who made a recent visit to Centennial Cottage, Ocean Grove was where her grandparents fell in love. It’s no wonder they chose to make their summer home in a place that held such sweet memories.

Today, 19 Ocean Avenue is still a private residence. The current owners call the property “Strandvue”.

 Kim Brittingham

If you like this story, you’ll like Then and Now: Lane Villa.

Funding provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Then and Now: The Broadmoor

Today’s “Then and Now” features The Broadmoor:

Broadmoor Then and Now

In the late 19th century, Ocean Grove, New Jersey was teeming with lady business owners, most of whom presided over hotels and guest houses. One of those ladies was Elizabeth Sherman Moore.

Miss Moore owned The Broadmoor Hotel at the corner of Central Avenue and Broadway. As early as 1881, the property belonged to her married sister Emogen Hewson, but at some point ownership was transferred to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Moore seems to have enjoyed being a businesswoman. In March of 1889, she decided to expand her holdings and contracted with the firm of Carman & Holbrook to build two more houses, which she would later call the Holly and Laurel Cottages. It cost her $3,500.

The “Carman” of Carman & Holbrook was William H. Carman: Civil War veteran, Freemason, Democrat, and builder/architect whose firm erected many of the earliest homes and hotels in Ocean Grove.

Now I can’t help but wonder what Miss Moore thought about her hired contractor. Did she find Mr. Carman handsome? As she chatted with him over cottage blueprints, did she blush?

Ah, but what did it matter? He was a married man, after all.

But as fate would have it, in 1894, Mr. Carman’s wife passed away. She had been ailing for several years.

Four years later, on Christmas Day, a wedding took place in the parlor at The Broadmoor — that of William H. Carman to the landlady herself, Elizabeth S. Moore.

While the second Mrs. Carman enjoyed life as a hotelier, Mr. Carman’s business thrived. He was also appointed aide-de-camp on the staff of Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic for the department of New Jersey, and was appointed as a member of the election board in Ocean Grove. He was known to speak to schoolchildren about his time in the Civil War and loved walking alongside his fellow vets on parade.

He also found time to champion the cause of introducing gaslight to Ocean Grove. He felt it was necessary for the advancement of Ocean Grove, and was quick to remind folks that it was cheaper than electric lights.

Carman was the kind of guy you’d like to have for a neighbor. Mr. W.J. Cramer would certainly know. Late one January night in 1896, he was cooking up some kind of turpentine concoction in the kitchen of 107 Embury Avenue when the substance caught fire. Cramer tried to throw the pot out the back door, but instead he wound up dropping it and soon the kitchen woodwork was in flames. Luckily for Mr. Cramer, William Carman was just two doors down. Carman rushed in with a bucket of water and helped douse the flames.

Never a dull moment in Ocean Grove for Mr. or Mrs. Carman!

William H. Carman died in 1916 and Elizabeth Moore Carman in 1918. Several years before her death, Mrs. Carman had become a semi-invalid due to a fall and a fractured hip, and it seems The Broadmoor passed into the care of a Mrs. M.H. Hennig. Here’s an ad from The Ocean Grove Times of July 6, 1916, trumpeting Mrs. Hennig’s skill in the kitchen:

broadmoor adLike Mrs. Hennig, future owners of The Broadmoor would keep its name, although sometimes with slight variations (like the Broadmoor “Inn” of 1932). Eventually it would become, and stay, a private residence.

Kim Brittingham

Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Then and Now: Lane Villa

We’re starting a new feature here on the HSOG blog. We’re calling it “Then and Now”. In each “Then and Now” post, we’ll share a vintage image of some spot in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, juxtaposed against a photo of the same spot today.

We’re kicking it off with photos of Lane Villa at 63 Cookman Avenue:

Lane Villa 63 Cookman Ocean Grove New JerseyA structure as magnificent as the 63 Cookman Avenue of the 1890s surely has a story to tell. I don’t know what year the house was built, but I do know it operated as a guest house under the name “Lane Villa” as early as November 19, 1892, when it was mentioned in the Ocean Grove Record.

Jacob Lane and his wife Sarah Ann Middlesworth Lane came to Ocean Grove, New Jersey from Newark, where Jacob ran a merchant tailoring business at 506 Broad Street for over thirty years. According to a 19th century clipping from Blogfinger, it was Mr. Lane’s failing health that brought the couple to Ocean Grove. The seaside was thought to be healing, and Ocean Grove’s popularity as a resort town offered the Lanes an opportunity to make a living as many others did, operating a guest house.

Jacob Sarah Lane Villa Ocean Grove new Jersey

The Lanes had five children, including two daughters, Mae and Laura, who relocated to Ocean Grove with their parents. I’m taking a guess that Mrs. Lane and her daughters did most of the work at Lane Villa, considering Jacob’s poor health. It’s not surprising to note that Mrs. Lane’s name appears in newspaper advertisements for Lane Villa as the proprietor. Looks like Sarah was the boss lady.

It seems the Lane ladies were well-suited to running a guest house. They kept Lane Villa open year-round and often entertained in the off-season. One would think tending to guests during a bustling Ocean Grove summer would be enough to send anyone to their bed for another eight months. But the Lanes thrived on providing hospitality. For example, in November of 1892, they held “An olde time sociable” to raise money for the building of a bridge over Fletcher Lake. Tickets were ten cents, “sweetmeats extra”. Mae and Laura were still playing hostess as late as 1923, when their Hallowe’en party made the front page of the Ocean Grove Times.

lane villa ocean grove new jersey

If the Lanes hadn’t enjoyed running a guest house, they probably wouldn’t have inspired such affection in their guests. There was at least one family that returned to Lane Villa year after year. In the early part of the 20th century, the Weeks family of Newark — Wilbur, his wife, and their two daughters, May and Edna — spent their summers in Ocean Grove, always at Lane Villa. Perhaps they’d known the Lanes in Newark. They knew them well enough to be in attendance at Jacob Lane’s 81st birthday party at Lane Villa in May 1911.

Those summers in Ocean Grove made quite an impression on young May and Edna Weeks. Perhaps as they watched Mae and Laura Lane assisting their parents in the running of Lane Villa, they envied them, even imagined themselves in their place. While it was undoubtedly hard work, there must have been something idyllic about operating Lane Villa, because May and Edna purchased it from the Lanes in 1935. In doing so, they may have been fulfilling a girlhood dream. A newspaper article of that year reports that the Weeks daughters, since married, were calling themselves “the firm of Cottrell and Grammer” (that is, Mrs. Mae Weeks Cottrell and Mrs. Edna Weeks Grammer). They continued to run the guest house, still called Lane Villa, throughout 1935, as newspaper ads of that year show the proprietors as “Cottrell and Grammer”. However, they didn’t advertise in the Ocean Grove newspaper after 1935. Lane Villa was still acknowledged as the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Grammer (Mrs. Grammer being Edna Weeks Grammer) as late as 1942.

lane villa ad 2

The Lane sisters stayed in Ocean Grove upon selling to the Weeks sisters, Cottrell and Grammer. The November 24, 1950 edition of the Ocean Grove Times reports Laura Lane celebrating her 90th birthday at home with her sister at 75 1/2 Mt. Pisgah Way.

A relative of the Lanes wrote to Paul Goldfinger of Blogfinger in 2013 and shared some photos and family anecdotes (definitely worth a look). Goldfinger wrote that, “According to family lore, the sisters lost the Villa sometime in the 1930’s ‘to a shady lawyer.’” In fact, it seems it was the Weeks sisters (Cottrell and Grammer) who lost Lane Villa, and probably to one Ross R. Beck, Esquire who advertised his business at 63 Cookman as early as 1951, and as late as 1959. (I don’t know if Beck was “shady”, but now that the suggestion’s been put in my head, I find myself imagining that he’s the villain who removed the second-story porch and all that wonderful gingerbread!)

Today 63 Cookman Avenue is divided into apartments.

Kim Brittingham

Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission. 

Christmas Shopping at C. C. Clayton’s in Ocean Grove, 1895

claytons ad toys
Portion of an ad appearing in the December 14, 1895 edition of the Ocean Grove Record in Ocean Grove, New Jersey

It was December 14, 1895, and for several years in a row, C. C. Clayton’s dry goods store (sometimes called Clayton’s Emporium) could be counted on to run a nice big ad in the Ocean Grove newspaper right before Christmas, trumpeting their unbeatable prices on gifts. The ads typically listed practical goods like cloaks, shoes, and underwear; sometimes blankets and towels. But in 1895, something changed. Suddenly, the big draw was toys.

I thought this was an interesting reflection of how Christmas became more and more child-centric as the Victorian era progressed.

Illustration of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and children gathered around their Christmas tree

Queen Victoria was largely responsible for turning Christmas into the celebratory season it is today. Prior to her reign beginning in 1837, Christmas was hardly even mentioned in Britain or the United States. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Presents were sometimes exchanged within families, but only to mark the New Year.

With one gesture, Victoria and Albert showed the world an entirely new kind of Christmas. In the 1840s, they adopted the old German tradition of bringing an evergreen tree indoors and decorated it with the help of their children. Suddenly, every family wanted a Christmas Tree.

In the early part of the 19th century, most children received small gifts like fruit and nuts at Christmas. At that time, toys were handmade and thus usually expensive. However, with the Industrial Revolution, mass production made toys more affordable to more children.

Also, children in the early 1800s who went straight to work in the fields or workshops with their parents became adults who worked rigid schedules in factories, mills and shops, with Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 26th) designated as days off. With those free days on their hands and under Queen Victoria’s influence, Christmas became a time to enjoy family at home.

childrens friend
1821 illustration of Santa Claus from The Children’s Friend. Note the sleigh full of presents marked “Rewards” for good children.

Santa Claus as we know him, in the red suit delivering presents to children from a reindeer-drawn sleigh, was first introduced in 1821 in a book called The Children’s Friend, and reappeared in 1823 in the famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, now better known as “The Night Before Christmas”. In the following decades, children came to embrace the Santa Claus legend and looked for his visits on Christmas Eve.

The timing was perfect for Victorian parents who had the means and motivation to dote on their children. The Industrial Revolution brought with it a rising middle class whose children didn’t have to work and could officially enjoy a childhood.

All the elements together — Queen Victoria’s elevation of Christmas, economic shifts, the unstoppable rise of Santa, the availability of mass produced toys and children with the time to enjoy them — combined to create…well, let’s say, the perfect snow storm. By 1895, C. C. Clayton and most of America and Britain had given Christmas over to the kids.

The 1895 ad with its “Grand Display” put me in mind of a movie — A Christmas Story.There’s a scene in which young Ralphie stands awestruck before a department store window twinkling with toys. Although that movie represents a later era, I can still imagine a gaggle of 19th century moppets crowding the sidewalk on Main Avenue in Ocean Grove, pressing their noses against the glass of Clayton’s.

The old ad made me curious about Clayton’s. So I decided to do some digging.

I learned that C. C. Clayton’s store once stood on the spot where the Sea Grass restaurant is today, on Main Avenue between Pilgrim Pathway and New York Avenue.

claytons interior
Interior photo of C.C. Clayton’s dry goods store, formerly on Main Avenue in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

In the archives of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove, I found one lone battered sepia photograph showing the interior of Clayton’s, probably taken between 1890-1910. (Note the odd placement of the radiator down the center of the store!)

Also in the HSOG archives, I found a newspaper clipping without a publication name or date. It’s titled, “Clayton Firm Dates to 1873”. It was written at a time when the store was still in operation. Here’s what it tells us about Clayton’s:

Sea Grass restaurant on Main Avenue in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Former location of C.C. Clayton’s store.

When the late President Ulysses S. Grant was forced to replenish his wardrobe while visiting at Long Branch back in the 1870s, he hitched up his horse and buggy and travelled down to Ocean Grove to the store of C. C. Clayton.

The fact that it furnished blue serge suits to the late president is only one of the distinctions of the Clayton business, now located in a prominent spot on Main Avenue, Ocean Grove. Altho [sic] there are no official records to back up such a claim, it is believed that the Clayton shop was the first department store to be established along the coast.

When the business was first started — back in those days when James A. Bradley was wondering what he was going to do with the brush-studded sand dunes which eventually became Asbury Park — it was housed in a small structure on Pilgrim Pathway. It was known as Hulse and Clayton.

Advertisement showing illustration of C.C. Clayton’s store. June 5, 1880, Ocean Grove Record.

Later it moved to the Main Avenue site it occupies today. In those days the entire business was comfortably contained in a space about half the size of the shoe department of the  present firm. Despite the small quarters, the store carried a complete line of shoes, clothing, and notions for the residents of the campmeeting resort.

W.F. Clayton, son of C.C. Clayton, the founder of the business, said that the firm has been located at the Main Avenue site for at least 60 years. He has found leases for the place dating back to 1873.

W.F. Clayton succeeded to the head of the firm when his father died in 1918. Prior to that he had been postmaster at Ocean Grove during the first term of the late president, Woodrow Wilson.


Looking at the modest two-story Sea Grass restaurant today, it’s hard to believe C.C. Clayton’s grand store ever occupied the same space. However, a newspaper ad from the June 5, 1880 edition of the Ocean Grove Record shows an illustration of the store, which occupied at least part of a building known as “Ocean House”. If you look closely, you can even see the name “C.C. Clayton” drawn above the door.

clayton close
Close-up of advertising illustration showing the “C.C. Clayton” store in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, 1880.

In 2000, the Monmouth County Library System conducted a series of interviews with residents for a project it called “Remembering the 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County”. One of its interviewees was Mary Jane Schwartz. She was interviewed in her home at 72 1/2 Embury Avenue, Ocean Grove — the same house she was born in on November 19, 1915.  She talked about shopping at Clayton’s in her youth:

“We went around to Clayton Store on Main Avenue, of course the entrance was on Main Avenue, and we just scooted around and went in the back entrance. They had plenty of calico at Clayton’s. We knew the clerks by name, and they knew us because we were there all the time. I remember at the back of the store where you went in, I suppose it’s the kitchen now for those restaurants that are in the same building, there was a big, barn-like place where they sold rugs and linoleum. When you went in the back entrance, you’d have that nice smell because it was different. It probably wasn’t good for your lungs, but it was ok. Then in the back where you went through the little entrance, sort of like a doorway or archway, they had a little table where they would have the remnants. Every time I went in there, I used to straighten out the remnants. There were two clerks that used to be there…two ladies. One was Miss Crevatt and Harding was the other lady’s name. They were there for years and years. In the film Gone With the Wind, there is a scene where Scarlett is in Atlanta, and she is in some scene. In that scene there is a big sort of cabinet where they kept spool thread. They had one exactly like that at C.C. Clayton’s. I wonder whatever happened to that? It probably got thrown out. It was a big cabinet, and you’d pull your thread out the bottom.”

Scene from Gone With the Wind, showing a large thread cabinet in the background.
Scene from Gone With The Wind showing a thread cabinet on a table in the foreground.

She also talked a little about Christmas in Ocean Grove:

“Well, they started having Christmas trees in this family when Edna and Minerva were small. They were born in the 1890s, and they used to put a Christmas tree in one of these corners here. The tree that Papa bought wasn’t filled out like he thought it should be because the ceiling was not that high, so some of the branches were cut off the bottom and inserted in the trunk of the tree to make it fuller. And he tacked it up with a string to stabilize it. And we used to sit and play games with the Christmas tree like “I see”, where you’d pick out a special ball. You’d describe the colors in the ball, and the people had to guess which one you were thinking of.”

Back door to Sea Grass restaurant -- possibly the former back entrance to C.C. Clayton's store.
Back door to Sea Grass restaurant. Possibly the former back entrance to C.C. Clayton’s store.

After reading Ms. Schwartz’s comments about the back entrance of Clayton’s, I couldn’t resist walking over to look at the rear of the building where Sea Grass’s kitchen door is today. Structurally, it looks something like a small store entrance. Had this been the entrance to the old Clayton’s “barn-like” rug department?

Ms. Schwartz also got me curious about that old spool cabinet from Clayton’s — like the one she said appeared in Gone With the Wind. Above I’ve posted a still of the scene I think she’s referring to. Can you see the big wooden thread cabinet near the center of the frame?

Example spool cabinet
Example of a 19th century thread cabinet used in stores to dispense spools.

The thread cabinet in Clayton’s must have been something like this cabinet, the way Ms. Schwartz described pulling the thread out of the bottom (see photo).

I thought it was sweet that Ms. Schwartz wondered “whatever happened to that”, because I often find myself doing the same thing — wondering where all the “things” from the past wound up.  Are there display cabinets from Clayton’s store nestled in various homes around New Jersey, housing collections of Beanie Babies and fishing lures? Or are some of them doing extended duty in antique shops?

I also wondered exactly what was in that twinkling holiday window at Clayton’s in December of 1895. I haven’t been lucky enough to score a photograph of a Clayton’s window display, so I have to let my imagination do the job. My imagination and a little research, that is.

“Toys, Dolls, Games” the ad said. What toys, dolls and games were available to kids in 1895?

There were cast iron toys like mechanical banks and steam trains.

Types of toys available in 1895.
Types of toys available in 1895.

There were wind-up tin birds that flapped their wings and mechanical tin insects that skittered across the floor; clockwork carousels that spun on their own and must have seemed magical.

Toy ice wagon. Part of the permanent display at Centennial Cottage, a living history museum in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
Toy ice wagon. Part of the permanent display at Centennial Cottage, a living history museum in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

There were modest dolls made of cloth and fancy French porcelain dolls dressed in ruffles and lace. There were dolls made of paper, too, with paper clothes, and sometimes paper furniture that could be made to stand on its own when folded.

There were paper soldiers, tin soliders, wooden soldiers. There were miniature castles and mansions for dolls.


There were toy horse-drawn wagons that looked just like the ones that trotted the streets of Ocean Grove each morning carrying vegetables, fish, and ice.


The Parker Brothers were one of several companies making board games in the 1880s, and by 1895 they had released games like “Baker’s Dozen”, “Mansion of Happiness”, “Tiddledy Winks” and “Innocence Abroad”.

Games available in 1895.
Games available in 1895.

There were jigsaw puzzles and card games like “Old Maid” and “Komical Konversation Kards”.

There were pull toys on wheels, from metal stallions to plush sheep.

There were more than enough toys to fill Santa’s pack — and Clayton’s window.

At Centennial Cottage, a living history museum here in Ocean Grove, one of three cottage bedrooms is appointed as a nursery. On display are a variety of antique toys, including at least one that we know was actually owned by an Ocean Grove child.

Antique bear pull toy from the permanent collection at Centennial Cottage, a living history museum in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
child with bear
Son of Mrs. Christian Schmidt, Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

This bear on wheels was manufactured a little later than 1895 — probably between 1900-1910, but it’s still a great example of the kind of plush pull toys that were available in the late 1800s. He is displayed in Centennial Cottage next to a handsome photograph of himself in his younger years, posing with his original owner, the son of Mrs. Christian Schmidt who lived at 148 Clark Avenue, Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

While C.C. Clayton’s department store may be long gone, Ocean Grove is still a place where charming shops abound, selling unique items you’d never find at your neighborhood Target or Bed Bath & Beyond.

This year, why not do something different? Leave the humid chaos of the malls behind and treat yourself to an afternoon of holiday shopping in “downtown” Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where bygone days seem to come alive again in glowing shop windows, alongside pretty iron lamp posts and under stamped tin ceilings.

It just might make you feel like a kid again.

— By Kim Brittingham

If you like this article, you’ll enjoy our story on Halloween in 19th century Ocean Grove.


Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission. 

The Romance of Halloween in Turn-of-the-Century Ocean Grove

halloween greetings
Antique Halloween postcard portraying a woman playing a divination game, revealing to her the identity of the man who loves her.

We tend to think of Halloween primarily as the “scary” holiday, a time to laugh in the faces of fearful icons like witches, zombies and vampires. If I were to ask you which is the most romantic of all holidays, you might answer with “Valentine’s Day” or even “Christmas”, but probably not “Halloween”. However, in the minds of many Americans at the turn of the 19th century, Halloween was synonymous with romantic pairings.

Between roughly the 1880s and the 1920s, hopeful hearts would look to October 31st to bring the promise of new love. Hey, why wait ’til February 14th?

Harkening back hundreds of years to Pagan celebrations in the British Isles and on the European continent, autumn was considered the time of year when the veil separating the worlds of the dead and the living was temporarily lifted. Conditions were thought to be optimal for communicating with the dead, and for those with certain gifts, like fortune tellers, entities from “the other side” were believed to assist in manifesting visions of the future. Fortune telling became a common aspect of Halloween that persisted for generations.

By the time these ancient practices were passed down to the Victorians and made their way across the ocean to America, they’d morphed into an annual tradition that had as much to do with Cupid’s arrow as it did with carving jack-o-lanterns and shouting “Boo!”.

Lesley Bannatyne is a Halloween historian and the author of several books on the holiday, including Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History. Bannatyne has this to say about turn-of-the-century Halloween and its distinct shades of romance: “Halloween celebrations in the Victorian age seem to be made of one part romantic inspiration, one part reconstructed history, and one part Victorian marketing. Halloween stories became almost operatic with regard to passion, and less concerned with actual ghosts.”

In celebrating Halloween, Victorians threw parties at which they played divination parlor games, and many were designed to reveal the identity of one’s future spouse. This was often reflected in short stories published in magazines and newspapers of the day. Writes Bannatyne, “The historical divination games of Halloween were often used by Victorian storytellers as devices to shuffle their lovers together…Heroines ate apples at midnight on Halloween while looking in a mirror for the face of a future husband. They followed balls of unwound yarn to dark barns and cellars, falling helplessly into the arms of some gallant hero. They cooked dumb suppers, attended raging, romantic bonfires, put nuts on grates and even bobbed for apples.”

Vintage Halloween postcard showing a woman playing a divination game wherein an apple peel is thrown over the shoulder, and is said to land on the floor in the shape of the first initial of her future husband’s name.

I did some research on Victorian divination games a few years ago when I was planning a Halloween dinner party. My guests and I re-created several 19th century Halloween games, including this one:

On Halloween, carve an apple in one long, spiral peel. Throw the peel over your left shoulder. When you turn around, you will find the peel on the floor in the shape of a letter. It will be the first letter of the last name of your future husband/wife.

At my gathering, I served a strawberry shortcake for dessert. Ahead of time, I’d arranged to have a charm baked into the cake. According to Victorian Halloween custom, the guest who receives the slice of cake containing the charm (or ring) would meet the love of his or her life in the following year. (Alas, my poor friend Bill is still waiting.)

Bannatyne adds, “Young Victorians tried to bite of bags of candy hung by threads from chandeliers or doorways…They carved initials on pumpkins, blindfolded each other and tried to stick a pin in an initial to determine the name of their future mate. They set tiny walnut-shell candle boats afloat in a tub of water and predicted the course of their lives based on the movements of the fragile vessels.”

Evidence of the parlor games Victorians played can also be found on the Halloween postcards they mailed, as seen throughout this story.

Vintage Halloween postcard showing a woman receiving a slice of cake with a ring in it, indicating that she will meet her future spouse in the coming year.

If you could step into a time machine and direct it to take you to Ocean Grove, New Jersey on October 31, 1900, you, too, could experience the mystery and matchmaking of a real Victorian Halloween party. It would be happening at 116 Heck Avenue, where super-hostess Miss E. Blanche Bennett was welcoming guests to her elaborate Halloween celebration. This girl was known for her parties, and she had this one planned to the utmost detail. She was probably inspired by women’s periodicals of the time like Godey’s Lady’s Magazine which recommended games, food, and décor for Halloween soirees.

No doubt she wanted to make a particularly good impression on that handsome devil Harry G. Shreve.

Miss Bennett’s Halloween party was a front-page story in the November 3, 1900 edition of the Ocean Grove Times newspaper. Her guests arrived in costume, dressed as phantoms, gypsies, Red Cross nurses, costermongers, fairies, and what the paper described as “sisters of charity”, “ladies of color” and “campaign paraders”. They all wore masks to heighten the sense of mystery, which were not removed until 9:00 p.m.

Let’s step inside, shall we?

Upon entering Miss Bennett’s living room, you are greeted by a recreated gypsy camp in one corner of the room. There, Miss Bennett’s good friend Miss Eugenia Pfeiffer is posing as a gypsy fortune teller, huddled beside a cooking pot that’s suspended over a “camp fire”.  The “gypsy” tells your fortune, and as it’s customary to pay for this privilege, you might be tempted to reach into your pocket for a coin. But Miss Pfeiffer gestures for you to stop. Instead, she has something for you. She reaches inside her cooking pot and pulls out a souvenir, which she extends to you. It is a doll-sized farm hoe, symbolic of the autumn harvest.

Next, the excited Miss Bennett gathers her guests together for games. She hands out little toy pipes filled with soap water, and challenges everyone to blow the biggest bubbles they can. “If your bubble floats in the air without breaking, you will enjoy good luck,” she explains, “but should your bubble burst before it’s loosened from the pipe, bad luck will follow you all the year.”

Bobbing or “ducking” for apples on a vintage Halloween postcard.

There is bobbing for apples — that is, a large tub of water is brought into the living room on a rolling table, filled with floating apples. The challenge? To remove an apple from the tub without using your hands. Hilarity ensues as the guests hold their hands behind their backs as though tied, and clumsily attempt to catch a slippery apple between their teeth (and without drowning).

Once the apples have all been “caught” and enjoyed, Miss Bennett leaves the room and re-enters carrying a tray. On it sits a collection of what appear to be tiny boats. Upon closer inspection, you see that they’re made of walnut shell halves, with toothpicks and slips of paper for sails. Everyone gathers around Miss Bennett. She explains that each guest should take one boat and pencil the initials of their “lover” on its sail. “You will each take turns floating your craft in the water. If your little boat upsets when the water is agitated, you are doomed forever to single-blessedness.” Later she will laugh and say, “Notice how good at this game the married players seem to be!”

Throughout the evening’s gaming, you enjoy an endless supply of coffee, and sample freely from dishes of cheese, sandwiches, ginger wafers, salted peanuts, dates and fruit. The fruit is cleverly served up from inside the hollow half of a pumpkin, centered on the table.

What other games do you play with Miss Bennett and company this Halloween night in 1900? As the Ocean Grove Times reported, “The ladies also tested their fate by choosing, from a basin of water, a little package containing a slip of paper upon which was written a numbered question, the answer being read off by the gentlemen holding the corresponding number.” Ah, a little sanctioned flirtation! And, “At the conclusion of this diversion, the guests were given a lighted candle and invited to the dining-room, where beside each plate was found a card. The candles were placed on the table, and upon taking up a card and holding it over the candle a question test and answer were discernible.”

This antique Halloween postcard references and old superstition that said if a woman eats an apple at midnight on Halloween and then looks into a mirror, she will see the reflection of her future husband in the glass.

And what party would be complete without music? Miss Bennett didn’t miss a trick or a treat. Miss Annie Orr and Mr. Henry Welsford sang “The Gypsy Maiden” (listen here). Three gentlemen — Dey, Wainwright and Wilgus — sang back-up for Miss Bennett for “The Mysterious Ideal”. (Did Blanche — that is, Miss Bennett — steal a special glance at Harry Shreve as she was singing? He couldn’t help but be impressed by her remarkably beautiful singing voice, which she inherited from her parents, both talented vocalists.) Additionally, as the newspaper article tells us, “Misses Hoffman, Pfeiffer and Sutton gave a character delineation of ‘The Witches’ Revel’ from Macbeth in such a realistic manner as to produce that ‘creepy’ sensation supposed to follow in the wake of all weird incantations.” (Watch a version here.)

Given the romantic nature of Halloween in 1900, it’s no surprise that Miss Bennett invited a mix of singles to her party, in addition to several married couples. There was ample opportunity for matchmaking, although some would inevitably go home disappointed. She invited eleven hopeful bachelorettes, but only five eligible bachelors — and she had an eye on one of them for herself.

Miss E. Blanche Bennett married Harry G. Shreve on February 19, 1902 at St. Paul’s M.E. Church in Ocean Grove. The wedding made the front page of the Ocean Grove Times of February 22, 1902, which called the bride and groom “two of the Grove’s most popular young people.”

You can go back in time in Ocean Grove whenever you like by using the Historical Society’s searchable database of local newspapers dating from the 1870s. Access it here, on the Society’s website, for free. Pull up the November 3, 1900 edition of the Ocean Grove Times to read the full story of Miss Bennett’s “Unique Hallowe’en Party”.

Jolly Halloween greetings from Ocean Grove, New Jersey!

– By Kim Brittingham

If you like this article, you’ll love our article about Victorian Seaside Souvenirs and Harry Houdini.

Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Victorian Seaside Souvenirs & Harry Houdini

souvenirYou come to the Jersey Shore on vacation and you buy a t-shirt to show where you’ve been. Or a hat. Or a refrigerator magnet. Or a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a lifeguard stand on which is painted the words, “Ocean Grove”.

You can’t help yourself. And neither can millions of others. Seaside souvenir shops wouldn’t exist without willing customers, and believe it or not, they’ve existed for well over a century.

But where one might encounter somebody else’s souvenir at a garage sale or flea market and see “junk”, there still lingers some residue of love. Because when we buy a souvenir, something magical happens. We’re taking that particular brand of bliss that can only come from being on vacation and imprinting it onto that object. We’re endowing the object with fond memories, peak experiences, warm moments. It’s a funny little aspect of the human condition, isn’t it? With one quick transaction in a gift shop, we transform a low-value object into a treasure.


. There, you too can view a collection of quaint memorabilia from Ocean Grove’s past, some dating as far back as 1890, although souvenirs were being sold in Ocean Grove by at least 1871 (more info below).

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Change purse on a neck chain, made from shell. Souvenir from Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

I feel that sense of nostalgia every time I peer into the showcase of antique souvenirs inside the Museum of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove

When the original owners of these pieces held them in their hands, were they reminded of their carefree childhoods in short pants and sailor collars? Did an etched glass pitcher take them back to a boardwalk stroll with their first love? When they held this souvenir, could they almost smell the salty ocean air mixed with the lemon verbena cologne sprinkled on their handkerchief?

Collectors often gravitate toward antiques with a sense of romance, knowing these objects were used by people living in dramatically different times from our own. So, when you think about it, the meaning we assign to travel souvenirs makes them more romantic than a lot of other old things we might collect.


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Ruby flash glass souvenir pitcher etched for, “Mrs. Martha Smith, Ocean Grove, 1893”. From the collection of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove.


But just how “old” are we talking?

The idea of going to the shore and bringing home a memento most likely originated in England in the 1800s.

Strangely enough, although we’re about to talk about the 19th century, I’m reminded of a song by one of my favorite British bands from the 1980s, Squeeze. In “Pulling Mussels from a Shell,” vocalist Glenn Tilbrook sings about the holiday goings-on in a beach town, including this line: Two fat ladies window shop something for the mantelpiece.

It sounds like those two fat ladies were looking for a souvenir, much as their mothers and grandmothers probably did before them. And most likely, those early souvenirs were made of glazed porcelain.

The word “souvenir” is French. It means “to remember”.

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Collection of personalized ruby flash glassware, all souvenirs from Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Display from the Historical Society of Ocean Grove.

In a 2014 article for the Chichester Observer, U.K. journalist Sylvia Endacott reported that souvenir china was first made in the 1880s by Adolphus Goss, a traveler for the English china manufacturer WH Goss. His father, William Henry, was already manufacturing dishes and figurines, and it occurred to Adolphus that by “branding” a piece of china with a particular town’s crest, it might appeal to travelers.

Endacott writes, “The idea of these small pieces of china soon increased so that various shapes were developed, e.g. eggcups, shoes, animals, etc. Originally towns would have a shape that was specific to them. For Bognor (a seaside resort town on the south coast of England) this was to be the lobster pot; however this ‘one town, one shape’ limited the number of sales. The traders began to request a variety of shapes, with their own crests.”

However, I also found mention of a circa 1825 platter of Lake George, New York (made in England) in this article by Paul Post of The Saratogan, suggesting that souvenir china was being sold in the United States some sixty years before WH Goss.

Miniature white porcelain pitcher. Souvenir from Ocean Grove, New Jersey. From the collection of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove.

In 19th century Ocean Grove, New Jersey, vacationers could attach their memories to a variety of souvenirs, from porcelain pieces like the miniature pitcher shown here, to mementos made from seashells, like the change purse on a neck chain shown above.

In Victorian Ocean Grove, most visitors bought their souvenirs from concession stands on the north end of the boardwalk, in what was then Ross Pavilion. In 1871, Joseph Ross was granted the right to sell concessions (including souvenirs) from the Ocean Grove boardwalk.

One of my favorite types of early OG souvenir is the ruby flash glassware. What makes these pieces extra-special? Personalization. And in my opinion, having a name attached to a souvenir takes its nostalgic value to a whole new level. It gives us a starting place for imagining who owned it.


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North end of the Ocean Grove boardwalk, circa 1880. In the foreground, notice the kiosk selling “Glassware”, “Named Engraved Free”. 


In their book Ocean Grove in Vintage Postcards, authors Wayne T. Bell and Christopher M. Flynn include a 19th century photo of Ross Pavilion, showing in the foreground one of the kiosks selling “Leather Novelties and Glassware” — and if you look closely, you’ll see that its sign advertises that engraving of the items was free. The authors say of the souvenir “flash glassware” that it was “usually a bright green or red color, was then engraved with the words ‘Ocean Grove’, the purchaser’s name, and the year it was engraved. Today, collectors pay extremely high prices for these cups, creamers, toothpick holders, pitchers and numerous other items marked ‘Ocean Grove’…”

Not that long ago, I spotted an auction on eBay for a ruby flash glass cup from Ocean Grove, etched with the name “Harry”. The seller claimed it had been made for Harry Houdini. Supposedly, Houdini’s mother bought it for him during a visit to Ocean Grove.

While I’ve been unable to track down any documentation proving that Houdini’s mother, Cecelia Weisz, ever vacationed in Ocean Grove, it’s not unlikely. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ocean Grove was a popular destination for New Yorkers like Mrs. Weisz. In fact, for many years during the summer, one could find Ocean Grove mentioned in the New York Times almost daily.


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Ruby flash glass cup, said to have been purchased for Harry Houdini by his mother, Cecilia Weisz, while visiting Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Photo used by permission of eBay seller.


Speaking of Harry Houdini, I initially thought perhaps his mother had learned of the delights of Ocean Grove through Harry’s former stage assistant, Dorothy Young. Young spent time in Ocean Grove during her childhood and returned in the 1990s, staying until her death in 2011 at the age of 103. However, Young served as Houdini’s assistant in the 1920s, and the “Harry” souvenir cup was etched in 1893. Houdini was born in 1874, so his visiting mother would have been buying the ruby glass cup for her adult son — which is not a far-fetched scenario, since it’s known that Mrs. Weisz doted on her daredevil son her entire life.

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Unusual souvenir spoon from Ocean Grove, New Jersey. The handle depicts a mosquito. In the 19th century, Ocean Grove was considered a desirable summer retreat because of its curious lack of mosquitoes. (The mosquitoes have long since found their way to OG.) Spoon from the collection of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove.

Not all antique souvenirs from Ocean Grove are locked up in the museum showcase at the Historical Society. They often pop up at the Giant Spring and Giant Fall Flea Markets held annually on Ocean Pathway in Ocean Grove, as well as in the Annual Antiques and Collectibles Auction organized by the Historical Society of Ocean Grove. And there’s almost always something up for grabs on eBay.

Do you own a souvenir from the early days of Ocean Grove? We’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below.

— By Kim Brittingham

If you like this article, you’ll love our article about Halloween in turn-of-the-century Ocean Grove.

Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.