Are Old Newark Memories US History? Some High School Juniors said "Yes"

by Nat Bodian


When Glenn Geisheimer, Webmaster, posted the 400th Old Newark memory on October 9, 2003, 73 of them were mine. I had, in effect, been a partner with Glenn in helping the growth of the website since its inception in May 1998.

What we -- the many contributors to the Old Newark website -- had tried to do was to re-create Newark life as it once was, drawing mainly from our own life experiences and other Newark happenings during our lifetime that we found meaningful.

Recently, I was made aware of an accomplishment of the Old Newark website that neither Glenn nor I had earlier anticipated.

Old Newark as US History Project

The Old Newark website had served as a classroom project in US History, as well ... not in Newark ... net even in New Jersey ... but in San Diego, California.

It seems that an accomplished teacher of United States History (Dina Naiman) for high school juniors at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego was familiar with the Old Newark website from past visits to my entries on that site.

In the spring of 2003, when she was giving out US History assignments that her 16 & 17 year old students could do outside the classroom for extra credit, she included, as one option, the list of my Old Newark memories.

She told her students who selected an Old Newark website option that they could examine all the entries and turn in a handwritten report on any one "Memory" that they found of personal interest from among the then more than 50 Old Newark memories that I had posted.

She told her class that any student who chose one of my Newark memories was to handwrite a report that reflected their opinions, observations, and reactions to the Memory, and to turn it in as a letter addressed to the Memory's author.

Four Chose Newark Topics

Many of her students chose easier assignments, but four selected and reported on entries from the Old Newark website for their extra-credit reports.

The US History teacher kept those four letters from her students on the Old Newark memories, written in May 2003. In the first week of 2004, after she had retired, she mailed them to me as promised earlier.

Which of my 50+ memories intrigued these 16 & 17 year old US History students?

Here are the four topics that they chose:

Montgomery Street (old Third Ward) in the 1920s

Burlesque at the Empire Theatre

Looking Back at Newark During Prohibition Era

Third Ward's Most Newsworthy Event: A Crime-Boss Funeral

Selected Excerpts from Student Letters

Montgomery Street

"I enjoyed the way you described your surroundings from a child's point of view...I learned that things were a lot cheaper, people seemed a little more united in your neighborhood...also that in the 1920s schools contained black and white students but the neighborhoods didn't. Your recollection helped me to connect with my own life because it reminded me of the hardships I was once surrounded by as a child."

Letter -> Page 1, Page 2 -- Dominece Taylor
Burlesque at the Empire Theatre

"I learned a lot of different things about the first half of the 20th century...I found the way you described the women interesting. They seemed beautiful and desirable even though they were "shapely" and not the skinny, boney, and fake girls that are popular today...The mother's excitement caught me off guard. I guess back in (that) day I thought people would be more ashamed of their daughters if they were that kind of dancer in that kind of show...It seems that going to the Burlesque is as degrading as the women go to a strip club now.

"Thank you for writing all of your memories down. I would of talked to my grandmother (Born 1899 Died 2001) about all of her memories. Without memories there's no history..."

Letter -- Angela Pastor
Newark During Prohibition

"I chose this one because it was mentioned in a chapter in my history book...In this essay, I learned that the government passed the 18th amendment, an era called "Prohibition" which made the selling of alcohol a violation of federal law. People believed alcoholism was one of the main reasons that led to domestic abuse and was also a sin. The government tried to solve the problem but instead they caused a major problem in Newark and made Newark the bootleg capital of the United States...What interested me most was how the government didn't work hard enough to enforce the laws and the incorporation of the police who got money from the bootleggers...The law was made to help people solve problems but it didn't and instead it caused more trouble and problem. The government didn't realize it until thirteen years later when they repealed the law.

Letter -> Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 -- Lan T. Tran
Newark Crime-Boss Funeral (Zwillman)

"I chose "Crime Boss Funeral" because I like stories about mobsters and gangsters ... I found this essay full of a lot of interesting things, for example he committed suicide the day before his own funeral ... Was his funeral planned already because not a lot of people can plan a funeral in one day. I also found it interesting that the coffin was bronze. Was that of some significance or was that his favorite metal? ... This essay added to my understanding that gangsters can kill and turn around and give food to the needy and baskets on Jewish holidays. I always thought mobsters were ruthless let alone giving food out and stuff like that."

Letter -> Page 1, Page 2 -- Steven Regalado


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