Thursday, November 12, 2015

Woodbury Bird's Eye View Map - 129 Years Later

Since discovering the delicately hand illustrated O. H. Bailey "Bird's-Eye-View" Map of Woodbury, N.J. from 1886, I have often wondered what those lovely views outlining the map look like today. After some research and some quick Google and Bing Mapping, I had the answer. Presented here, without comment are the scenes as they look today from the exact vantage point wherever possible.

Draw your own conclusions... unfortunately you don't see a lot of adaptive reuse through the years but rather a good amount of tear-downs. Thankfully a few buildings remain to this day - exactly 9 out of 26 shown here.

Click or download for larger images...

Please note this is the original location of the Constitution building
which later moved a few doors to the left and which is currently still standing

Monday, October 12, 2015

Patti Smith & the land of the Woolgatherers, Deptford, NJ... The Story of Hoedown Hall & Woodbury's Soccer Fields

Not all history is ancient. Sometimes the past and present are related in subtle ways not directly conceivable at first glance. Imbuing importance on places and buildings that have made an impact on one's upbringing is intrinsic in most sentient beings. Even nobler is the ability to see beyond one's direct personal experiences and recognize that the history of a place transcends singular lifetimes. The recognition of a place's importance in time and space transmuted with direct personal involvement can produce the alchemical gold of historic preservation. For in preserving the history of a place (its naturally infused magic) one is able to commune with the dead and bridge a gap from past to present and ultimately the future, allowing it to permeate the confines of the base “here and now.” 

Memories help shape future dreams but memories can only truly live in the present. Thoughtless elimination of magical places from the present rob the future of its memories and leave many without the potential to dream. Preservation allows for the persistence of dreams. Patti Smith just 14 years ago tried to save a place relevant to her childhood, one linked with her development as an international artist and a place not only of historic, agricultural, and cultural importance but also one naturally infused with a mystical quality. However, her plans to preserve and persist the magic for future dreamers was compromised by backdoor deals made by local ‘presentist’ politicians who forgot how to dream, stuck singularly in the here and now.

Often referred to as the "punk poet laureate,” a lot has already been written about Patti Smith and her time spent in 1950's-60's Deptford, New Jersey. Her upbringing in the small development of Woodbury Gardens (about one block from the Woodbury border) in Deptford was pleasant enough on certain levels but undesirable for a budding artist thirsty for culture. Deptford during this period was already in the throes of forgetting a largely rural existence in favor of the rapid suburbanization project that was sweeping the nation. Unfortunately the suburbs are not exactly known for providing diverse culture. Smith in a 2009 interview states, 

“I was raised in rural south Jersey, and there was no culture there. There was a small library and that was it. There was nothing else. I loved my childhood, I loved my siblings, I loved being a child, but I craved culture. Once I saw art I wanted to see more art. I fell in love with opera and I dreamed about going to the opera. But there was nothing in New Jersey, and the first time I went to New York City, I was in total heaven.  
I had been made fun of a lot growing up, because I was a skinny kid with long greasy braids who dressed like a beatnik. I didn’t really fit in where I grew up; I didn’t look like the other girls – I didn’t have a beehive. And in New York, suddenly I just blended in with everybody else. Nobody cared. I didn’t get stopped by the cops. I wasn’t yelled at from cars. I was just free. And I think that’s what New York represented to me more than anything – freedom.”

In his book Patti Smith: America’s Punk Rock Rhapsodist, Eric Wendell writes, “Although life may have been easier in South Jersey, Smith ultimately found her existence there to be constrictive. During this time, Smith began to question the concept of gender within the confines of 1950s suburbia. Smith detested the overly feminine details that were ironed onto women’s personalities within society.” 2 

It was also her time in Deptford that she referenced in her song "Piss Factory, "the B-side off her first ever music single originally released in 1974. The song was written mostly about the abusive, small-minded people she had worked with during her teenage years in Deptford. She tells in a 1976 Penthouse interview, “The stuff those women did to me at that factory was more horrible than I let on in the song. They did shit like gang up on me and stick my head in a toilet full of piss.” 3 

A 1978 Rolling Stone article rhetorically questioned what the source of her driving spirit was and wondered if it was a “proclivity for dreaming so much that her peers in Woodbury Gardens, New Jersey, all thought she was a weirdo.” 4 One thing for certain, even whilst describing the trying experiences in her track "Piss Factory," she rises above and makes a bold promise to Deptford, one that she actualized through projection:

And I will get out of here-- You know the fiery potion is just about to come In my nose is the taste of sugar And I got nothin' to hide here save desire And I'm gonna go, I'm gonna get out of here I'm gonna get out of here, I'm gonna get on that train, I'm gonna go on that train and go to New York City I'm gonna be somebody, I'm gonna get on that train, go to New York City, I'm gonna be so bad, I'm gonna be a big star and I will never return, Never return, no, never return, to burn out in this piss factory. And I will travel light. Oh, watch me now.

So why would an internationally important artist nearly 30 years after she left an area that kept her from flourishing as an artist have any interest in returning even after vowing she wouldn’t? Well for one, it was family. During her rise as a star, she never hid from anyone her love of family. Her mother and father, her sisters, etc. all chose to stay in the Gloucester County area (her parents having moved to Lansing Drive in Mantua a year before she left for NYC.) But it was another component that inspired Smith enough to purchase, preserve and invest in the area: a sense of place. Hannah MacKenzie for the Project for Public Spaces defines a place as an “environment in which people have invested meaning over time. A place has its own history—a unique cultural and social identity that is defined by the way it is used and the people who use it." 5 Just across the street from her childhood home on Cedar Street (now known as Tacoma Blvd. or E. Red Bank Ave.) there existed such a place.  

Known locally as Thomas’ Field, after Charles Crabbe Thomas (more on him in a bit) there stood an old farmhouse, outbuilding and barn fronting a 13-acre stretch of former farmland. But they were not simply “old buildings.” In her book Woolgathering, Smith writes, “There was a field. There was a hedge composed of great bushes framing my view. The hedge I regarded as sacred – the stronghold of the spirit. The field I revered as well, with its high, beckoning grass and powerful bend. Beyond, to the right, was an orchard, and to the left a white-washed barn with the words HOEDOWN HALL above the double doors. Here, on Sunday evening, we all would meet and dance to the fiddler and the fiddler’s call.” 6 These nights spent square-dancing and listening to live music had a significant impact on Patti and her future life as a musician. In a 2004 interview Smith explains, “I was raised across the street from Hoedown Hall - a square dance hall - and that music is part of me. The fiddlers’ call. The peoples’ response.” 7

Hoedown Hall pictured in 2002
photo by Linda Smith Bianucci

Hoedown Hall’s history began with local Woodbury attorney Charles Crabbe Thomas (whose office happens to have been directly across the street from my own house in Woodbury). Thomas was a square dance enthusiast and began publishing the American Squares newsletter in 1945. The newsletter steadily grew in format and content over the following seven years under Thomas’ editorship and is still in print under a variant title even today! Thomas organized week-long classes of square and folk dancing across the United States.

In 1952 Thomas and his Quaker wife Elizabeth “Biz” Moses, also a square dance enthusiast settled on the 13-acre farm in Deptford just over the Woodbury boundary line. Soon after, they opened Hoedown Hall which was first located in the Thomases’ barn and later in an outbuilding with a reinforced floor to withstand the pounding from 150 or more feet on square dance nights. It was the largest venue for live folk music and square dancing in South Jersey at the time. 8

Charley Thomas is credited as being the first square dance caller to appear on a regular TV program on WPTZ in 1947 and had his own radio program on WCAM as well as appearing on WBUD, KYW and WIP as a guest artist. He has authored books and has made records for Continental, Remington, Playtime, Pontiac, and Guyden record labels. The Square Dance History Project, a wonderful online archive has many Thomas items including links to a complete set of American Squares scans and even recordings of ole’ Charley himself making his original dance calls. Listen HERE and HERE.

Charles and Biz Thomas selling records presumably at Hoedown Hall
image credit: Square Dance History Project

But the magic of the land doesn’t stop at the Hoedown Hall. The farmland historically was owned by Samuel Pote Watkins, Jr at least as far back as the 1870’s. Watkins, Jr was grandson of the Revolutionary War Navy Captain Jeremiah Simmons (1748-1798). Simmons was First Lieutenant, armed boat “Warren,” Pennsylvania Navy, September 19, 1775; First Lieutenant, First Company, February 24, 1776; promoted Captain-Lieutenant, May 28, 1776, Pennsylvania Artillery; Captain of the “Arnold Floating Battery,” Pennsylvania Navy, October 1, 1776; and Captain of the Pennsylvania Ship, Morning Star, 1780-81. Samuel P. Watkins, Jr’s father, also of Woodbury, authored the Complete Set of Improved Lunar Tables ; For Clearing the Effect of Refraction on Lunar Distances published by Thomas Dobson & son, Philadelphia, 1820). 9-15

1877 Deptford Township map detail showing Watkins' parcel (14A) and farmhouse.
The surrounding Cloud family was related by marriage.
Perhaps it was the combined power of these ancestral connections, mirrored in the land that Smith honed in on. A 2002 New Yorker article writes of her magical connection with the field:

She describes sitting at a window in her room at night while her sister Linda and her brother, Todd, who was two and a half years younger than Patti, were asleep. She believed that she could see a community of people, a community that spoke a strange language, moving around in Thomas’ Field, the land across from her house. “It was an eidetic vision, much like those that Blake had as a child,” Patti says. “I believed that those people lived there, gathering light. And I believed that God inhabited that place.” 16 

Nearby lived an old man who sold minnows from his house which Smith describes as a “tumbling shack, painted black and set back in an overgrown patch. The word BAIT was stenciled on the tilting roof.” The area children feared him as he sat overlooking the land in the nearby shadows of his wife’s grave. When a young Patti mustered enough courage to ask the old man who the people were she saw in the field at night, he responded with a turn of his pipe: 

 “They be the woolgatherers…”

Another definitive shaping experience linking Thomas’ Field in Deptford, NJ to Patti Smith’s rise as an artist was documented in her song "Kimberly," her self-proclaimed “most intensely autobiographical” song off her classic debut release, Horses currently celebrating its 40th anniversary release this year. She explains in a 2005 New York Times article, ''Kimberly is my youngest sister. There were four in our family. I helped raise her when she was a baby, which I sometimes resented. I think I was 11 or so, and I was holding her, and there was this terrible fire in the field by our house.

''It was a strange night -- the planets looked bright, the moon was full, and I watched a barn go up in flames. It was full of bats and owls, and it went up so quickly. I could hear the bats screaming. For a young person, it seemed apocalyptic. I looked at this baby in my arms, this child completely dependent on me, and that taught me a lesson.'' 17

The barn that had burned that fateful night was of course the original location of the Hoedown Hall before it had been relocated one building over. 

Hoedown Hall lasted a remarkable 35 years when it finally closed in the 1980’s. In 1992 Charles Crabbe Thomas died. In 1998 Patti Smith purchased Thomas’ Field and the proudly standing Hoedown Hall. Her plan was to restore the Hall and shape the Field as a public park and preserve the densely-wooded character of the 13-acre parcel. She was to dedicate the park to her younger brother Todd who passed away in 1996; the Smith siblings having played together there when young. She called it her “long-range dream,” but the County of Gloucester did not care much for her dream as they had other plans for her land. Artists are familiar with compromise, but even this was not an option. 

Bernie Weisenfeld for the Courier Post reported the story over two articles in 2001. He reports that as result of a year-long promise to Woodbury, the County of Gloucester would purchase Soccer fields for the City of Woodbury and unfortunately singled-out Thomas’ Field. 18,19 Weisenfeld writes, that a `broken-hearted and somewhat angry' Smith who attended a public Gloucester County Freeholder’s meeting stated the land wasn't for sale but it would have been taken and paid for through eminent domain if she didn't agree to sell.

Thomas' Field by
Linda Smith Bianucci 2002
According to the report Smith maintained: “I had no choice in this, it was sell or face condemnation proceedings”. I really fought this.” “I'm told I paid too much for the land. My answer to that was, for me, the land was priceless. It's historic. It’s got beauty. It’s got wildlife.” In the end Smith was forced to sell the land to the County for $320,000, the same price in which she paid 3 years earlier. Smith remarked that she hoped the County would “make it as environmentally sound as possible, not have paved parking lots and keep as many trees as possible.” Smith urged that the barn be saved and the site treated with care for the environment. According to area residents after a realization that the County would be razing the Hoedown Hall a petition went around to have it historically recognized. The County eventually purchased the property with funds from an open space preservation tax and proceeded to wastefully tear down the historic structure and level much of the formerly wooded-lot.
Soccer fields could be considered a nice (albeit extraneous) asset for a community to have and Smith noted the difficult situation she was put in remarking, “I wouldn't want to cast a pall upon an area that children are going to be playing on. But as a citizen, I do find it to be a painful ordeal… They will be on wonderful, mystical land, and may they have good games.” Converting this wild and historic land into Soccer fields is yet another check mark in the overall homogenization of Gloucester County's rural roots. Picking another location or a re-scaling of the soccer field plans would have been a better route as the County’s decision (as prompted by the City of Woodbury) to force the property away from Smith was extremely short-sighted.

2011 image at top showing soccer fields
2001 image at bottom showing the wooded lot of Thomas' Field

For an artist who penned titles as "People have the Power," Smith rightfully stated that the whole process  left her feeling "unprotected as a citizen." A mere year-long backdoor deal between the County and the City of Woodbury over Soccer fields absolutely should not have dashed an internationally-recognized artist’s decades-long connection to the land and her dream to give back to her community, a community that still to this day seems to push greatness by the wayside in favor of mediocrity. Deptford, neighboring Woodbury, and ultimately Gloucester County as a whole missed an amazing opportunity not merely for a noble preservation effort in memory of Smith’s family, but also for an opportunity for the area to be included in the annals and folklore of a world-renowned, living legend: the increasing magic that is Patti Smith. One can only imagine how beautiful and special Smith’s contribution would have been to the area.

Although the children and their parents that play there today are hopefully having “good games” (my own son being one of them), it is sad to think they may never know what “wonderful and mystical land” they play upon. One could argue this was a case of the “greater good” versus Smith’s personal vision, but Soccer fields have limited appeal to a small subset of a population. A preserved piece of history and a public park would have enriched the lives of many more and given future dreamers the opportunity to weave their own magic in the land of the woolgatherers. 

“And the image of the woolgatherers in that sleepy field drew me to sleep as well. And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.” 
– Patti Smith, Woolgatherers 2002



18. Weisenfeld, Bernie. "Deptford Land to Be Used for Soccer Fields." Courier Post 6 Sept. 2001: B1.
19. Weisenfeld, Bernie. "Musician's property purchased in Deptford." Courier Post 13 Sept. 2001: BB2.

Thomas' Field as it looks today 2015.
Taming of Nature: Check.
Erasing of History: Check.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Printers' Ink 1899

Occasionally during my research I stumble across some amazing historic facts about Woodbury, New Jersey. Some of these are more profound than others but nonetheless they are all fascinating. Take for example my surprise in learning that Woodbury had the "largest and best advertised carrier-pigeon loft in the world," not exactly something that has been recorded in the annals of time but the exact sort of thing this blog loves to highlight. The following is the article in which I found this bit of info as it appeared in an April 26th, 1899 edition of the New York, N.Y. Journal for Advertisers, Printers' Ink. It is a fascinating little story about John C. Voorhees and his West Jersey Marl & Transportation Co., which produced an actual sweet-fragrant fertilizer that was an apparent hit with the local farmers. Enjoy!

VOL. XXVII.  NEW YORK, APRIL 26, 1899. No. 4.


Woodbury, N. J., and its surrounding territory is not the brand new advertising country which some people may suppose it is. This little city of 4,000 inhabitants has its stories of wealth accumulated through the judicious use of printers' ink. Colonel Green, for instance, has accumulated a fortune as a result of advertising August Flower and German Syrup. Down by the depot may be seen the imposing Blasius piano works. From the [train] car windows one can read in flaming letters: "Woodbury Kennels," "Woodbury Stud Farm and Training Stables," and signs of other concerns which are known from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf. At Woodbury is the largest and best advertised carrier-pigeon loft in the world. Fancy chickens are other products of Woodbury well advertised. It is a camping place for half a dozen proprietary medicine people who advertise in a small way, and there are abundant rumors that Facial Soap Woodbury intends locating a manufactory there.

The traveler in South Jersey will frequently pass a trainload of mail or wagons loaded with fragrant (?) fertilizers. These fertilizers are manufactured by the West Jersey Marl & Transportation Company of Woodbury. This company is, I think, the best advertised concern in this peculiar line of industry in America, and it is the advertising story of its superintendent, John C. Voorhees, which follows this roundabout introduction.

"Perhaps the most trying period in South Jersey's history was when it was found that the section was purely a trucking country *," said Mr. "Voorhees. "This meant a comparative absence of animal fertilizers. In those days commercial fertilizers were almost unknown, but with the demand came the supply and soon there were more commercial fertilizer manufacturers and agents in South Jersey than in all the rest of the Eastern States. A 'Jersey Sweet' thrown at random would hit at least one fertilizer man. 'Time' was given in all kinds of old quantities—any one could have it for the asking. A man on the verge of bankruptcy would have been satisfied with his credit. There were fertilizer men who took it as a favor to take a year's note.

"In those days, even now, in fact, fertilizer men looked with scorn on printers' ink. The nearest approach to advertising by that medium was by printed rags tacked on trees, and tin, wooden or paper signs placed on fence rails. When the West Jersey Marl & Transportation Company commenced handling commercial fertilizers the members resolved to carry on its sales campaign through newspaper mediums. Out competitors were shocked. They said that plan of procedure would result in our ruin.

"The plan of campaign which we adopted at the time we have followed very closely since. First: We manufactured fertilizers fully equal to any other grades. Second: We hired the very best salesmen to he had, Third: We adopted a plan of approaching the farmer in advance of the salesmen. In one sense the fertilizer business is purely local. For instance,. our territory covers all of South jersey, We advertise in all of the papers in that country during the season, and in some of them all of the time. The space occupied is usually five inches, single column. I write all the advertising matter. I have tried various professional adwriters, but, while their work is good, they don't seem to get in touch with our custom.

"At the opening of the season we send to every farmer in our territory a booklet which contains statements of the virtues of our fertilizers from a chemical standpoint, and the various crops on which the various grades should be used. It also contains statements of the results obtained their use. Every week during the season we send each farmer a postal card, telling him the story of our fertilizers again, but in a new form. These postal cards are followed by our salesmen, and after they have covered the field we find that we have gained great many new customers and have retained the old ones.

"Every year we send out a calendar—not one of beauty, but one suggestive of the business and as useful as one of a more artistic character. It is made in the form of our bags. "As we do not use 'slug acid' in our mixtures they smell comparatively sweet, which we find sells goods. Consequently at the country fairs we present the ladies with a miniature fertilizer bag filled with sachet powder, bearing our ad with the sentence in bold letters, 'It Even Smells Good.'

These are carefully preserved and make us friends. "Our Methods of advertising have paid us, yet we receive but few mail orders direct. The value of the advertisements lies in the increased worth of our salesmen. These men report that when they approach a farmer their work is nine-tenths done. This is gratifying, for the competition among the salesmen is simply killing. Lightning-rod agents are not in with fertilizer salesmen.

"There is one thing I wish to particularly impress upon you, and that is that our advertising takes its value from the fact that our goods are what we represent them to be, no more and no less. We have never run away with the fallacy that a farmer does not know the difference between a $40 fertilizer and one that only costs $25. We have found that the farmer is a close analyst, and that 'all fertilizers do not smell alike to him.' We have never made the mistake either, of neglecting an old customer for the sake of making a new one."

Mr. Voorhees told me his story in a modest sort of way, but his particular company is now the leader of them all. It has doubled its business annually for the past decade. Week by week the farmers watch for Johnny Voorhees' ads.


*truck farming: horticultural practice of growing one or more vegetable crops on a large scale for shipment to local or regional markets. As the use of railroads expanded and refrigerated carriers were introduced, truck farming spread.

To view the actual article and some fun Woodbury-related ads as they appeared in 1899 check out below:

Printers' Ink 1899 Woodbury NJ article

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Woodbury's Victorian Murder Mansion

The following dreadful tale is true. Upon moving to Woodbury I began hearing little snippets of stories and half-truths surrounding the shocking 1979 murder of the elderly widow Rose Twells which had occured in her stately circa 1880 colonial revival manse on a quiet historic section of Delaware Street. The case remained a mystery until recently. After so many years unsolved new information was brought to light in 2003 and again in 2008 regarding the case and 3 men were finally convicted for the heinous crime, but details regarding the original incident remained unclear in the new press that was circulating.

It wasn't until discovering Woodbury's own enigmatic Canon William V. Rauscher's book, Religion, Magic, and the Supernatural that I learned the whole story. Religion, Magic, and the Supernatural is available for check out at the Woodbury Public Library and is a fascinating read in its own right. With Canon Rauscher's kind permission the Chapter pertaining to the murder of poor Mrs. Twells is reprinted here in its entirety:

Murder in the Parish

Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

The great King of Kings Hath in the tables of his law commanded that thou shalt do no murder.

William Shakespeare
Richard III, Act 1, Scene 4

The Twells family is well remembered in Christ Church for their generosity in memorial gift giving. Fittings for the Font, the Sanctuary Gates, the original Pipe Organ, the Altar, a Memorial Window, the Altar Reredos — all were gifts from this family so devoted to Christ Church.

One important member of the old Twells family was still living when I ministered as Rector of Christ Church. This was John Stokes Twells, a former mayor of Woodbury from 1935 to 1938, and a direct descendant of Delaware's Caesar Rodney, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. John and his younger wife Rose lived in a 14-room 140-year-old house on Delaware Street, just down the street on the left from Christ Church, and two doors away from the Davis Funeral Home.

Rose was a member of the Presbyterian Church in Woodbury. She was also active in the Woodbury Women's Club, and served as a volunteer for the Red Cross. For 15 years she taught in the Mantua Grove School in West Deptford, New Jersey. Her husband, John, was a member of Christ Church, and Rose saw to his spiritual needs by requesting that I bring him his Holy Communion when he became too infirm to attend church services. I went to their house regularly until his death in 1970.

The house in which John and Rose lived was a time capsule, with old furniture scattered everywhere. As you entered there was a stairwell next to a hall; John's former office was in the back of the house, and in it was his old roll-top desk.

Rose was frail, demure, independent, and always pleasant — a sweet, kind lady in the truest sense of the word. She led an orderly life, loved her garden, and took long walks. Rose cared for John in his old age as carefully as a nurse would care for a patient. By the time I knew the couple John could barely hear, and when I said the prayers I spoke loudly. Rose would always shout at the top of her lungs to announce my arrival, "JOHN, THE RECTOR IS HERE!"

After John died Rose continued to live in the old house despite concern about her living alone in such a large place. Celeste Twells Edgcumbe, John Twells' niece, and her husband Charles lived directly across the street, and often worried about her well being. They had always been very close to "Aunt Rose," and checked on her daily.

The Edgcumbe family was active in Christ Church, and Charles eventually became my Senior Warden. Celeste loved her association with the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), and when this group held scheduled meetings with speakers who presented historical topics the gatherings were held in the assembly room of Christ Church. None of us had any idea of the dramatic role Charles would play in what happened on Thursday, December 20, 1979.

At 82 years of age, Rose planned a Christmas visit to relatives who lived in Baltimore, but before she left she was to have dinner at the Edgcumbes. It was a bitterly cold day with snow on the ground. That afternoon I drove my car down Delaware Street on my way to Philadelphia, and as I passed the Twells house I thought, "That's a spooky old place for Rose to live at her age." When Rose didn't appear on time for dinner at the Edgcumbe house, and did not answer her telephone when her niece called, Charles Edgcumbe went across the street at 2 p.m. to check on her. When there was no response to his knock on the front door, he used his key to enter the house. And what he found at the foot of the stairs shocked him and stunned the entire community!

Rose Twells had been brutally murdered — Charles found this pitiful kind lady hanging by her feet from the banister at the foot of the stairwell. Her ankles were tied together with an electric lamp cord, and she had been bludgeoned to death with a three pound iron cauldron. Blood was splattered everywhere.

Gloucester County Times reporter and columnist Jim Six, who has followed the facts of the case murder. since 1979, covered the story in its entirety, and later wrote several additional follow-up articles. The city of Woodbury saw for itself the photo of the police carrying Rose's body out of the house. Her funeral on December 26, 1979 was held at the Presbyterian Church, conducted by The Reverend Richard Craven, and under the direction of the Davis Funeral Home (which was so close to the murder house). Rose was interred in the family plot with her husband John (Lot #3260) in Eglington Cemetery, Clarksboro, New Jersey. A large imposing stone marks the grave and is engraved with the name "Twells."

And so Woodbury, New Jersey had a murder mystery on its hands that would continue for the next 23 years. The city reflected the words of the English dramatist John Webster when he wrote in The Duchess of Mafi, IV: 2, "Other sins only speak: murder shrieks out."

Within the parish, rumors began to circulate as to who could have committed such a horrendous crime. Rose had occasionally been helped by a few young people who ran errands for her, and it was thought it might have been one of them. It had already been decided a person who knew her had performed this foul act. The police determined there was no sign of forced entry, and found the back door unlocked, but there were no footprints or other signs since snow had fallen and covered the ground. With such slim evidence and a possible suspect, nothing was ever proven to warrant making an arrest, and the investigation of the case continued for years.

Several members of the parish had their own ideas about the perpetrator. Some of them would pull me aside and with utter conviction whisper, "It was the Mayor's son!"

At that time the Mayor of Woodbury was a man named Frederick Bayer. These people knew Rose was friendly with the Bayer family, including their son who had occasionally performed odd jobs for her. Fred Bayer himself was well liked. Years before, Fred had owned a moving company; in fact it was he who moved me from Florence, New Jersey to Woodbury. I had never met his adopted son Jeffrey, who was then 16 years old — but from information supplied by parishioners I learned he was a troubled youth and a problem to his parents. From the beginning Jeffrey was the prime suspect, but after being interviewed more than six times in ten months many questions remained, and there was no confession.

Shortly after the murder William Raynor, another parishioner, asked to see me. Raynor was now a man of means, and as a young man had acted as a chauffeur for John Twells. He was totally devastated by the murder, and determined that the person who committed this vile act would be found and prosecuted. One day he arrived at my office with $5,000 in cash —reward money given by him, with the stipulation that the donor was to remain anonymous. We deposited the money in the church accounts, and although the reward was publicized, nothing ever came of it. Many years later the money was returned to Mr. Raynor.

One night my rectory doorbell rang. There in the dim light of early evening stood a short, stout woman known in the city as Emma Burton. Emma was a fixture in the community who sold potholders. She was considered eccentric, but was thought of as a kind woman. Emma said in a stern voice, "Canon Rauscher, I am here to talk to you about the murder of Rose Twells."

She followed me into my study, and rambled on about who she thought had killed Rose. Actually she seemed sensible until she sailed into a fantasy about the same people trying to gas her in her house by putting poison in her furnace and pumping it into her hot air system. Her deluded information was of no value, but I informed the police of her visit.

Even after I retired in 1996 I could never forget Rose Twells' murder. Every time I passed the Twells house I remembered that terrible night, even though by now the house had been sold, and was presently occupied by the Harvest Realty Company.

One day while I was still rector I received a call from a person who identified himself as a member of the Realty staff. Apparently someone in his or her office knew I was interested in the paranormal and ghosts. With the sounds of giggling and laughing in the background, this individual said the house was haunted, and they wanted me to know it. In fact, they treated what had happened to Rose Twells in that house as a joke! I never responded to the call, and to this day I will have nothing to do with Harvest Realty.

Twenty-three years after the murder, and years after I had retired Jim Six called me and said: "Big news is about to break from the Prosecutor's Office." The Woodbury Police had just arrested three men for the murder of Rose Twells. Jeffrey K. Bayer, age 39, Clifford M. Jeffrey, age 41, and Mark E English, age 41 were charged with first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder. Police, detectives, remaining family and many friends were relieved that after all these years there would finally be a chance for justice. The police had never given up on the case, but it took an informant who was associated with the perpetrators to unleash the secrets leading to their arrests. This informant was LouAnn Vennell-Waller, who was 17 years old at the time the murder took place, and who had an intimate relationship with Bayer. Waller admitted she had acted as a lookout while the trio went into the house to get money for drugs. She named Jeffrey Bayer, her once boyfriend, as the person who grabbed Rose after she fell on the stairs. When Rose recognized Bayer and threatened to call his father, Bayer hit her in the head with the iron cauldron. Waller came forth because she could no longer live with the memory of the crime, and for her cooperation she received immunity from the prosecutors. When the arrests were announced one woman in my former parish said, "See, I told you it was Bayer! We all knew it from the beginning!" The words of the poet John Dryden seemed appropriate to me at the time of the arrest when he once wrote, "Murder may pass unpunished for a time, But tardy justice will o'ertake the crime."

Bayer was charged as a juvenile, but then the legal debate began to rage as to whether he or the others should be tried as juveniles or adults. Finally it was determined they would be tried as adults.

On Tuesday, May 17, 2005 the trial began, and as it progressed Jeffrey Bayer, a man with 17 prior convictions, admitted his many crimes as a youth including stealing from his own parents, but he denied knowing Rose Twells or ever committing the murder for which he was accused. The testimony accumulated against him was overwhelming to the 12 jurors who deliberated for three hours on Friday, May 27, until finally coming to a decision. The Forewoman read the verdict — GUILTY of a felony murder. The jury determined Bayer was a "party to a murder during the commission of another crime." This is different from saying Bayer committed the murder with his own hands. This decision is the result of legal problems when there is no DNA, and only the testimony of witnesses is available. But nevertheless all testimony for the prosecution led to his guilt, and Bayer, now 41 years old dressed in a suit and tie, showed no emotion. On Friday, July 15, 2005 he was sentenced by Superior Court Judge John Tomasello to thirty years in prison. The jury deliberated for less than nine hours. He was spared the death penalty because the court had to operate under the 1979 rules at the time the murder was committed, but his 17 prior convictions influenced his sentence. Bayer's accomplices, English and Jeffrey, would be tried separately. Court TV filmed the entire trial considering the drama and intrigue of this case.

Suppose the case had never been solved? Suppose no one ever came forward? Would justice ever triumph? I believe so, as I do in all murder cases — but perhaps not on earth. The biblical truth is that we pay for such beastly sins. If an earthly judge does not render a sentence, then we must face our fate with a judgment upon our earthly life in another realm. Some might argue this is not enough. Personally I think it is more than sufficient, because this final judgment will take place in addition to any earthly judgment. The suffering of consciousness after death is a prime factor in divine justice — and we will be judged, make no mistake about it, with a punishment far worse than any jail sentence or death sentence handed out on earth.

As for Rose Twells, she is now cared for by a loving God who received her into the arms of His mercy, and into Paradise. - William V. Rauscher


Monday, October 20, 2014

Truly, the Town's Hall

Ask folks what they feel is lacking in many American "communities" these days and the answer may well be that the very concept of "community" itself is missing. Community can be defined as, "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals." From the birth of our nation up until around the time of World War II, America was rich with community groups and the "third places" in which they could easily meet. "Third places" being defined as "the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace," and included at that time: taverns, inns, public squares, village greens, lodges, meetinghouses, coffee shops, etc. Even during times of civil unrest and troubled economic periods, America never turned its back on community engagement and the idea that the public realm symbolized the common good.

Woodbury's Town Hall in its final day. It was torn down for a gas station.
image: Gloucester County Historical Society
However, early 20th century America saw a gradual shift from the importance it placed on communal, civic engagement (a "we're all in this together" mentality), to an increased interest in isolation and escapism largely brought on by the rise of suburban development and the increasing presence of the automobile. Simply, it became easier to distance oneself from problems than to address them in a civic forum. For example, where in pre-turn of the century America most adults participated in public societies (through the involvement in various lodge groups), and therefore actively engaged in direct civic contributions, by today's comparison there is very little involvement. The belief that it is always someone else's job to fix, is commonly expressed nowadays.

Take the morphing idea of the Town Hall (aka City Hall) as example. The original concept of the American Town Hall is nearly a foreign one by today's standards. Historically the Town Hall was truly an open-access hall or meeting space for the community and usually filled with art, performances, plays, educational lectures, and entertainment. Most towns and cities still retain a Town Hall, but this is in name only. Look inside today's Town Halls and we may find one or two meeting rooms that may or may not be used for community groups, but will predominantly consist of offices for the various bureaucratic functions of a municipality. It is the place you go to pay your tax bill or inquire about a zoning variance or have an ordinance passed. It is certainly not the place you would go to a Halloween ball and dance to a full orchestra band, or enjoy a family evening of roller skating (all things that regularly occurred in Woodbury's former Town Hall).

Research shows that Woodbury's original Town Hall sat on the SE corner of German (now Barber) and Broad Sts and was completed in 1875. It was cherished by the community. The Woodbury Constitution reported the opening as, "The reproach which we, as a community, so long endured, the mortification to which our citizens were for so many years subjected, is now happily a thing of the past. To-day we have an evidence of our city's growth and improvement, and addition to the long list of advantages which our City enjoys, a creditable and satisfactory answer to the imputations that we are standing still. The opening of the City Hall on Thursday evening last was an event which reflected no little  honor on the people of Woodbury, - it is marked a new and better era which is dawning, or has opened, upon this lovely habitation."

Woodbury's Town Hall consisted of a large hall on the second floor affording a comfortable seating capacity of 500, a gallery, and dressing/preparation rooms. It was lit by 37 lamps, heated with two large portable heaters, adorned with cypress and walnut trim, and boasted a 22 foot ornamental ceiling. A dumb-waiter provided convenient access from the basement kitchen. Various local commercial enterprises including a dry goods merchant, restaurant, shoe cobbler, grocery, oyster saloon, J. Elmer Jackson's patent medicine enterprise, barbershop and more thrived on the street level, truly making the building a mixed-use community center. It was also the location of the community library and reading-room, headquarters for the German Singing Society, Salvation Army Headquarters, and housed the town's first gymnasium hosting the Woodbury basketball team's home games. It was also transformed weekly as a skating rink and the town's first (silent) moving picture house in 1907 which featured a live female soloist to sing the illustrated parts. The hall throughout the years hosted many civic lectures and nights of entertainment and amusement for the community. It was the perfect culmination of American ingenuity and expression through culture.

This was Woodbury's Golden Age and with the above in consideration it becomes clear that the more value a community places in the recognition and engagement in Arts and Culture, the greater the health of that community. But as the years progressed and American communities slowly drifted apart to live quite literally among greener pastures, the very concept of community played a decreasing role in American civic life. Woodbury's Town Hall was torn down in 1936 for a gas station, which no doubt paradoxically provided the fuel for many one-time residents to leave Woodbury for good. Nothing replaced the Town Hall as the "civic, social, and athletic" center of Woodbury, and city leaders increasingly focused their energy on converting a residential-based city of proud locals to a drive-through business district and in doing so, forgot about Woodbury's remaining residents and their quality of life. A side effect of this quest to maximize short-term profit is that city leaders essentially forewent the trouble to worry about the town's aesthetic appeal. The story is no different across the nation during this time, when a quick transformation occurred and America's cities and towns went from proud human habitats, to current-day dilapidated, plastic strip malls clusters where consumers go in one end and out the other.

Despite America's decline in participation in civil activities over the past decade, the concept of Creative Placemaking through the arts is gaining steadfastly. Creative Placemaking "is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community's interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place." Traditional towns seemingly left for dead have been revitalized through Arts and Culture and have simultaneously increased an awareness of their own local History and importance. Quite simply, the arts stimulate local economies. The NJ Arts Council reports that, state arts funding employs an estimated 17,000 workers, supports 37,000 cultural events, and attracts 5 million visitors who spend $125 million. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the arts have been shown time and again to have the power to bridge divides and bring a renewed sense of pride to residents.

APA's latest national poll surveyed Millennials and Baby Boomers on community preferences and dispels popular assumptions on how to improve local economies and attract new residents. The wide-ranging national survey finds that Millennials and Baby Boomers want cities to focus less on recruiting new companies and more on investing in new transportation options, walkable communities, and making the area as attractive as possible. With the apparently failing model of 'business recruiting as economic development,' city leaders will be forced to look at alternatives. Creative Placemaking organizations such as the recently established FAF Coalition may hold the secret to the future success of the City of Woodbury.

Today the former site of Woodbury's Town Hall sits as an empty corner pocket-park along Broad Street in the heart of our once-bustling downtown. Not the best location for such a space and what some in the urban planning field might refer to as a "nature band-aid," but an open, green space nonetheless. With such a space there at least exists the potential for something to flourish. Perhaps "community" through Arts and Culture will once again sprout in the heart of our classic American downtown, and perhaps in towns across the entire nation, as a result of effective Creative Placemaking. Only then will we have the chance to come together, connect, and grow as a community. This is the formula for real progress, not only in 1875, but for today as well.

From the 1877 G.G. Green Daily Advertiser

Citations to follow...