This Week in New Jersey History...
- 1739 In Newark's first public execution, John Barnes, apparently not the brightest eighteenth century New Jersey criminal, was hanged for burglarizing Thomas Baily's house three times. Barnes was repentant on the gallows, stating ''all people will take warning by me.''
- 1944 Actor, comedian, director and producer Daniel Michael ''Danny'' DeVito Jr. was born in Neptune. DeVito, who gained prominence for his portrayal of taxi dispatcher Louie De Palma on the television series ''Taxi,'' went on to become a major star, known for his roles in films such as ''Batman Returns'' and ''LA Confidential.''
- 1818 Louis Charles Guille ascended in a balloon at Jersey City and, at five hundred feet, cut his line to the ground and jumped out, using a primitive version of the parachute. He landed safely, in the first recorded parachute jump in America.
- 1857 In the wake of the ''panic,'' or financial crash, of 1857, 2,000 unemployed workers held a mass meeting in Newark's Military Park, demanding jobs. Unlike the economic disaster of 1837, when laborers in Newark and other cities had connections with the countryside in a more rural society, the workers of 1857, many of them immigrants, were in dire straits. Crashes, usually precipitated by bank and stock market speculators, occurred every two decades or so in the nineteenth century. Newark did not recover fully until massive government spending on the Civil War revived the city's economy.
- 1776 British General Charles Cornwallis crossed the Hudson River and his men scaled the Palisades in preparation for a move on Fort Lee as American troops accelerated their departure from the fort. The British occupied Fort Lee the following day.
- 1836 The Morris and Essex Railroad began passenger service between Morristown and Orange. The railroad's horse-drawn car made two trips a day; the fare was fifteen cents each way.
- 1967 U.S. Army Chaplain Major Charles J. Watters of Jersey City, a Seton Hall University graduate and Catholic priest, was killed by ''friendly fire'' when a mistakenly dropped American bomb landed on his position near Dak To, Vietnam. Watters, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, had repeatedly risked his life retrieving wounded men under enemy fire, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
- 1789 New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
- 1873 Walter Evans ''Wally'' Edge was born in Philadelphia and moved to Pleasantville with his family at the age of two. Edge, whose formal education ended at the eighth grade, was an advertising pioneer, buying a company at the age of seventeen, and also became a newspaper publisher. He became involved in politics and served as Republican governor of New Jersey from 1917 to 1919, United States senator from 1919 to 1929, United States ambassador to France from 1929 to 1933 and again as New Jersey governor from 1944 to 1947, giving him the unique status of having governed the state during both world wars. Edge died in New York City on October 29, 1956. He related his life story, leaving out most political struggles, in the 1948 memoir A Jerseyman's Journey.
- 1922 Bayonne High School senior Henrietta Stabile, voted ''most popular woman driver'' in Hudson County, accidentally drove her car into a jitney bus, ''shaking up'' several of the passengers.
- 1981 ''Ragtime,'' a motion picture filmed partly at the Essex and Sussex hotel in Spring Lake, was released. The movie, based on E. L. Doctorow's novel, followed the lives of a family in early twentieth century New York. The opulent beachfront Essex and Sussex and its surroundings were used to depict turn-of-the-century Atlantic City. The building, the last of Spring Lake's grand hotels, is now an age-restricted luxury residence.
- 1776 As the main American army under General George Washington withdrew across New Jersey, Governor William Livingston ordered his militia to rally to support Washington's retreat and control potential Loyalist uprisings. The initial response was less than stellar, but British looting provided an incentive as December dawned.
- 1794 The over 4,000 New Jersey Militiamen mobilized under the command of Governor Richard Howell, a former major in the Continental Line, to enforce federal whisky taxes on recalcitrant Pennsylvanians in the ''Whiskey Rebellion'' began their march home from western Pennsylvania, arriving in Trenton on December 20. The militiamen did not engage in combat, but made a number of arrests, until the ''whiskey boys succumbed, asked the clemency of the government authorities and pledged their future submission to the law.''
- 1912 Philanthropist Doris Duke, daughter of tobacco multimillionaire James ''Buck'' Buchanan Duke and Nanaline Inman Duke, was born in New York City. Duke was twelve when her father died and she inherited his estate, Duke Farms, in Somerville, where she grew orchids and created a museum of Buddhist art. Duke supported numerous causes, funding women's and child welfare organizations, drug rehabilitation, and Duke University, among others.
- 1980 Morris Frank, the first person partnered with a seeing-eye dog and the co-founder of ''The Seeing Eye,'' died. Frank, a blind man who learned to navigate through life with the help of his guide dog, Buddy, helped to start ''The Seeing Eye,'' a pioneer in guide dog services, which was incorporated in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1929 and relocated to Whippany, New Jersey before moving to its current location in Morristown. The organization has aided more than 8,000 men and women with its specially bred and trained dogs since Frank proved a dog and its blind master could live normal lives.
- 1863 The Thirty-third New Jersey regiment was heavily engaged in its first battle, at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Lieutenant John Toffey was badly wounded and awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism that day. As an officer in the Veteran Reserve Corps, Toffey was present at Ford's Theater in Washington the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
- 1867 Michael O'Brien, a native of Cork, Ireland, who emigrated to New Jersey, settled in Jersey City and served as a New Jersey soldier during the Civil War, was executed in England. O'Brien returned to Ireland after the war and participated in an attack in Manchester, England, that freed two jailed Irish Republican Brotherhood leaders and resulted in the death of a British policeman. O'Brien and two associates were captured, charged, tried and convicted of murder. The three became known as the ''Manchester Martyrs.'' One of the freed rebels, Tom Kelly, a former Civil War officer, fled back to America, where he and his wife opened a hotel in Atlantic City.
Would you like more of these Garden State history tidbits? Throughout 2014, Garden State Legacy will be sending FREE weekly emails like this one! Every Monday, you'll find a list of fascinating facts to help you get through the week. To sign up, just go to www.GardenStateLegacy.com and enter your email into the form at the top of the page. (And while you're there, please check out the rest of the GSL site if you are not already familiar with it!)
These are brought to you courtesy of GSL author and Board of Advisers member, Joseph G. Bilby, who with his co-authors, James M. Madden and Harry Ziegler, have written 350 Years of New Jersey History, From Stuyvesant to Sandy (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013), due out January 28, 2014 and available from local booksellers and chain bookstores, online book vendors including Amazon, and in e-book form for Kindle, Nook and iPad.
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