Are you curious about our Women’s History Walking Tour? We don’t blame you! Last summer it was such a huge success, we’re bringing it back again! Led by historian Dell O’Hara, the tour travels on foot through charming Ocean Grove, New Jersey, stopping at sites connected to remarkable women who lived or visited here in the past. It’s partly a “living history” tour, with volunteer residents dressed in costume, portraying real women from the 19th century — innkeepers, a spiritual leader, a physician and more.
You have three opportunities to catch the tour in 2015:
June 25th – 10:30 AM
July 23rd — 1:00 PM
August 20th — 1:00 PM
Reservations are a MUST. Tour is $10 per person, $8 for seniors. Call 732-774-1869.
Hope you enjoy this video trailer we put together with scenes from last year’s tours:
Video by Mary Solecki
Funding has been provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.
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:
Like 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.
This image, titled “Bathing Dress Censorship at Ocean Grove”, is from the Illustrated Police News, one of Great Britain’s first tabloid newspapers. First published in 1864, it gained a reputation for sensationalism during the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.
Yes, even as far afield as jolly ol’ England, people knew about the great bathing suit controversy raging in Ocean Grove, New Jersey in the 1870s.
So what was the fuss?
We made a video to tell you all about it. Watch and learn about “The Bathing Question”, as well as the Ocean Grove inventor who changed swimwear. Plus, hear about the 19th century visitors to OG who flouted ordinances against nudity and cross-dressing.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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!
You 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).
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.