Infelicissimus

(This story includes a death by suicide.) “FRANK Forester,” as he was already widely known, came to Newark trailing tragedy and grief. Death had claimed his young wife the year before; their infant daughter, too. He agreed to a further bereavement, sending off his four-year-old son to be raised in the home of the lad’s … More Infelicissimus

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The saints of old

WHERE the surest token of wealth and worth, present and future, is the land that one owns, possession of an unsullied title and clear delineation of boundaries are somewhat akin to godliness. Landholding has been construed, historically, as compliance with the injunction in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the … More The saints of old

Old Mortality

NO human lives were lost when fire destroyed Edward Stewart’s United States Hotel. But upon the plight of hundreds already dead, the 1844 blaze cast a lurid glow.1 Stewart’s hotel stood upon ground that the first settlers of Newark had early reserved for common use. Thirty years after their arrival, the dimensions and limits of … More Old Mortality

Scissors paper paste

FACED with an array of nineteenth-century scrapbooks, historians will likely nod in agreement with one of the more intrepid investigators of such specimens, who pronounced them both “tantalizing” and “impossibly frustrating.” While a scrapbook promises a window on its creator’s private past, the practice of scrapbook-making also obscures, even destroys, the context and sometimes the … More Scissors paper paste

The ride of a lifetime

FIRST, there’s the name of the place. When linguist John Heckewelder took down Indian toponyms, he rendered “the bear’s mountain” in Latin letters as machktschúnk. William A. Whitehead, after a visit in 1830 to the Lehigh Valley settlement of this name, gave the pronunciation mauchunk. Today, standard practice comes nearer to the mauk chunk favored … More The ride of a lifetime

Grandeur in the view

IN a travel memoir such as William A. Whitehead compiled, telling of sundry voyages “by land & water” made over the span of four or five years, time is by turns an objective measure of experience and a phantasm. Between journeys, time vanishes entirely. In successive narratives, it seems to expand or contract, as details … More Grandeur in the view

Royal retreat

DURING the first decades that swift stages traversed the breadth of northern New Jersey, whose roads while judged by an early commentator “not so good” were nonetheless “absolutely turnpiked,” an ever swelling tide of travelers made for Schooley’s Mountain, one of the earliest leisure destinations in the United States.1 As European colonizers became aware of … More Royal retreat

Road trip

LITTLE is known of the writings from William A. Whitehead’s youth, but a generous amount survives from his early twenties, chiefly through a book of travel narratives in his own hand. This volume is the second of at least two, none other having come to light. Whitehead gave the work a grandiose name, Memorandums of Peregrinations … More Road trip

Tift’s Tower

GAZING one last time at a pair of large, unfurled sheets of paper, William A. Whitehead traced with his eye the busy waterfront, the streets and buildings depicted on them. Then, possibly with a faint smile, he again rolled them up carefully to be delivered to their final destination. License to imagine such an interlude … More Tift’s Tower