Nostalgia Etiquette Tips, Facebook Edition

My stock photo for these situations.

My stock photo for these situations.

Do you participate in nostalgic social media groups? Specifically, I mean the kind of Facebook group that’s titled something like “You Know You’re From …” etc., wherein people share photos and memories of a hometown or alma mater.

I love these groups, I really do, and I have learned a lot from them, along with the laughs and memories. But as with all socializing, bad habits invariably crop up. So I’m indulging myself with a few ideas on how to be a good citizen in a nostalgia group:

  • Try letting people post vintage pictures of churches/schools/Scouting groups without instantly commenting about how nasty that priest/teacher/Scout leader was. Really, the rest of us got the point after the first five times you did that.
  • A related point: Don’t be mortally offended if not everyone agrees with how you remember a place, event or person. That’s the thing about memories – the mileage varies.
  • Consider that real people really still live in your old hometown and might be reading this nostalgia page. Comments such as “It’ll never be that good again” or “It was never the same after they developed the old Smith farm” or “I could cry when I think about what’s happened to that town” are in poor form, particularly if you haven’t actually visited the place in a decade or more to see what it’s really like today.
  • A key concept here is sharing – sharing thoughts, sharing perceptions, sharing memories. My decades in our hometown were different from yours, and yours from mine, and ours from the memories being made there now, but the stories are all fascinating once you stop and actually hear them.

In short: Listen and think before you post, which is a good idea in any situation.


A Duffy’s Cut Funeral

A while back I explored the story of Duffy’s Cut, site of a mass grave where dozens of Irish immigrant laborers died during an 1832 cholera epidemic while building a railroad not far from Philadelphia. The Duffy’s Cut Project, led by a trio of researchers from Chester County, Pa., has focused on excavating the site, learning more about the events of 1832, and very importantly, conveying dignity upon the dead.

Disturbingly, evidence has surfaced that not all the immigrants at the site died of cholera — some may actually have been murdered, probably in a savage attempt to contain the epidemic. Such appears to be the case with 29-year-old Catherine Burns of County Tyrone, whose remains were identified last December and will be brought back to Ireland this week for burial.

Burns, a widow, left Ireland with her father-in-law in the early summer of 1832 and soon vanished from the historical record. Examination of her skull indicated considerable “violence by means of a sharp implement,” according to researchers.

Read more at Irish Central. At least Burns is finally going home.


Stories to Tell (And Save)

Army combat helmets (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Today the AP reported on how one long-forgotten casualty of World War II had finally been rediscovered and inscribed upon his hometown’s memorial. I’m glad to read those stories, where neglect ends in recognition.

A couple of years ago I did a pro bono bit of research, looking for a man killed in World War II who’d been “found,” in a sense, at a garage sale. A medal, plus a copy of a citation, had surfaced in a box of miscellaneous items. The seller had no idea where they’d come from. Since the fallen soldier had lived in my hometown, the buyer hoped I could lead him to living descendants who might want the medal.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The soldier was an only child, married but childless, and his widow never remarried. This garage-sale mystery ended with a cold trail and a bit of sadness that his story had ended up in a box in a stranger’s garage.

On Memorial Day, it seems especially fitting to think of ways to preserve and protect veterans’ stories. Here are a few examples. I’m sure there are others in other places. Maybe there’s one near you, too.

• The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project is a national initiative to collect and preserve first-hand accounts from veterans.

• The Biography Project of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation collects biographical information on the men and women listed on New Jersey’s memorial. At the link there’s a list of the veterans for whom there are still no photographs; the foundation welcomes any clues from the public.

• And the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop provides opportunities for veterans to tell their own stories.

 


Walking Through Hudson County History

Summer finally got here to New Jersey, even if we had our doubts that it ever would, back there in the dark days of February and March. What better way to celebrate than by getting your walking shoes on and exploring a bit of the past through a series of Hudson County history tours?

If you’re in the area, take a look at the topics below. All tours cost $10, and reservations are required. (Be advised that all tours also require walking over a variety of distances. If you have any questions, contact the tour leader.) For more information, see the Hoboken Museum’s tour page.

May 30: Lafayette History Tour (presenter: Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy) –Drs. Jenny Furlong and Rebecca Shapiro, historians, explore Jersey City’s oldest neighborhood, including historic residences and such prominent landmarks as the American Type Foundry and St. Mary’s Greek Byzantine Rites Church.

June 6: A Walking Tour of Bayview-New York Cemetery (presenter: Hudson County Genealogical & Historical Society) — Historian Dennis Doran of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy leads a walk through a cemetery where many notable politicians and entrepreneurs from Jersey City’s past are buried.

June 7: A Walk Along the Harsimus Branch Embankment on Sixth Street (presenter: Embankment Preservation Coalition) – The coalition will explore this imposing remnant of the Pennsylvania Railroad in downtown Jersey City, which they are working to transform into a nature habitat and public park as a segment of the East Coast Greenway.

June 14: The Stevens Family Legacy (presenter: Bob Foster, director of the Hoboken Historical Museum) – Gain insight into the impact left in Hudson County by the prominent (and civic-minded) Stevens clan, including a visit to Hoboken Cemetery on Tonnelle Avenue, where many family members are buried.

June 20: “On The Waterfront” Bus Tour (presenter: Hoboken Historical Museum) – Cinema buffs will enjoy this excursion led by film industry expert Lenny Luizzi, which highlights Hoboken locations from the classic film starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint.

 

 

 


‘This Is A Girl I’d Like To Hang Out With’

That’s how Jerry Stiller described his first meeting with his eventual wife and partner, the comedian/actress/playwright Anne Meara.

The headlines over the obituaries for Meara, who died yesterday at age 85, consistently described her as the mother of actor Ben Stiller. But she is also deservedly remembered for the warmth and wit of her 1960s comedy routines with Ben’s dad.

A lot of Stiller/Meara humor revolved around cultural differences that might not seem like a big deal today, but mattered a lot when I was growing up. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, an Irish Catholic girl marrying a Jewish guy was a big enough deal to provoke questions even if the couple were the last two humans on Earth, as the duo illustrated in a routine from the Ed Sullivan Show. (The routine covers the clip’s first three minutes.)

“Mixed” marriages, fear of nuclear annihilation – who else could combine those two particular strands of mid-century angst so deftly?

As the AP notes, Stiller and Meara, for all their gently wry humor, were very much a part of the cutting-edge 1950s Beat scene in Greenwich Village. Not that they were noticing at the time, as Meara observed years later:

But WE thought that when the Village was REALLY happening was in the ’20s, the F. Scott Fitzgerald days, before our time. People never know what’s going on while it’s happening. You think, during the Renaissance, people called it ‘The Renaissance’?

Nailed it — talk about polishing off the topic of time-wasting nostalgia!

Anne Meara certainly made things happen whenever she was in the room. Rest in peace, and thanks for the smiles.


Publication Information

A quick note: The Archaeologist has an article featured in the current issue of Actuarial Review. Yes, really.

This story grew out of my ongoing research into the fate of my German grandfather’s sister, an ancestress whose long-ago presence in the United States I discovered only a few years back. (I wrote about her here and here.) The more I dug into the story of the 1921 automobile accident that caused her death, the more it got me to thinking how quickly and radically America’s roads changed in the years after the First World War. This article delves into that a bit, and reflects on a world in which auto insurance was still in its infancy.

It all goes to show that you never know where genealogy might lead you.


Mid-Century Memories

I see that actress Jayne Meadows has passed away, aged 95.

Busy with Broadway, movies and TV, she had notable mid-20th century showbiz chops – and pedigree. Her husband was comedian/talk-show host Steve Allen, while her younger sister, Audrey, made history giving Jackie Gleason what-for as Alice Kramden on “The Honeymooners.” And Jayne was a game-show panelist par excellence in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Perhaps one of Meadows’ most endearing collaborations with her husband was a long-ago PBS series called “Meeting of Minds,” in which Steve Allen presided as his urbane talk-show host self over a roundtable of “guests” who were actors portraying pivotal characters from history.

Watch Meadows (as Catherine the Great) sitting down for a chat with Oliver Cromwell and Daniel O’Connell. The clip manages the feat of being both a hoot and a brain-teaser at the same time. Could you imagine anyone successfully pitching a show like it today?


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