Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It Happened in Our Town or Col. Green: Silent Film Star

In 1922, during the silent film era, there was some notable films produced that are recognizable even to this day. These include Nosferatu, Robin Hood, Oliver Twist, Häxan, and others. In addition, Clara Bow and Walt Disney made their film debuts this year.

There is, however, one film produced during this time that you may be completely unaware of. Premiering in February, 1922 at the Rialto Theatre located in the Green Opera House building, was a short film entitled "It Happened In Our Town." It featured local "actors" Miss Marie Jesberg and Mister Calvin Bleam and included scenes around town such as the Woodbury Station and Rialto crowds, the trolley "flying up Broad Street", a wedding at the Episcopal Church, and Woodbury High School girls in calisthenics, amongst others. Something I would of particularly enjoyed seeing (besides the great crowds patronizing our city) are the scenes featuring G. G. Green, his Gray Towers mansion, and sun parlor!!

This appears to be a classic example of what is known as itinerant filmaking and after thorough research I feel that this film has vanished from existence, never having been archived. Billington (1993), the current Librarian of Congress states, "Fewer than 20% of the features of the 1920s survive in complete form" and that's only considering feature films! I hope I am mistaken but unless someone has the reel stored in a Victorian house attic somewhere, chances are slim of ever feasting our eyes on actual moving images of vintage roaring twenties Woodbury. Perhaps it's lying in the stockpile of original artifacts still in the Green Opera House awaiting discovery... time will tell.

February 1922 Woodbury Daily Times Ad

Billington, J. H. (1993, September). Film preservation 1993: A study of the current state of american film preservation. Retrieved from

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Woodbury's Era of Freemasonry

Masonic Temple, home of Florence Lodge No. 87 from 1926-2011.
The definitive origin of Freemasonry as a worldwide fraternal organization is one shrouded in mystery and speculation. However, the story of its introduction to Woodbury, New Jersey is fairly clear. The era of Freemasonry in the City of Woodbury began in 1792 when Franklin Davenport, nephew of Benjamin Franklin (also a Freemason), along with fellow Master Masons of Gloucester County including John Blackwood, Champion Wood, Benjamin Whitall and others, successfully petitioned the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey on July 3rd, 1792. Thereafter, a warrant was duly issued to form the Woodbury Lodge No. 11, A. F. & A. M. Unfortunately, on June 15, 1817 their lodge room, along with their furniture, jewels and records were lost to fire when the Bull's Eye Tavern, located near where Green's Opera House block now sits, burnt down. A new warrant was soon issued and one hundred dollars was ordered from the Grand Lodge for the Woodbury Masons to rebuild their lodge room. About 24 years later in 1842, the proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge show that the Woodbury Lodge No. 11 was stricken from the lodge roll. It does not state a reason why, however it is reported that throughout its 50 years of existence, the Woodbury Lodge No. 11 consisted of "enlightened Masons" and continually met in "the most approved Masonic form."

Secret Socities (sic)
column from an 1897
Woodbury Daily Times.
Woodbury was then without a Freemasonic lodge for 26 years until February 20th, 1868 by a warrant issued from the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of New Jersey, the Florence Lodge No. 87, A. F. & A. M. was dedicated in ancient form. Many original members received official demits from their respective lodges from all over New Jersey, New York, and even California just to attend Woodbury’s new lodge! Among Florence’s early members were Dr. John R. Sickler of the original Woodbury Lodge No. 11, Lewis M. Green (five-term Mayor of Woodbury), and Benjamin W. Cloud of Camden Lodge No. 15, who became the first Worshipful Master of Florence Lodge. Cloud’s daughter, Florence is who the lodge is named after. The Florence lodge room was originally located in the Odd Fellows' Hall (formerly next to Christ Episcopal Church) on Delaware Street. In 1903 they began to meet at the Loyal Order of Moose Building formerly located at 28 Cooper Street. Both locations were also homes to similar, yet unrelated non-Masonic secret societies.

Florence Lodge went on to lay the ground work for other lodges throughout the area and notable buildings in downtown Woodbury had their cornerstones laid in true Masonic fashion. The Mantua Lodge No. 95 (chartered in 1869) and Cloud Lodge No. 101 Gloucester City (founded in 1870), which later merged with Collingswood Lodge No. 210 (founded in 1917) to form the Collingswood Cloud Lodge No. 101 in 1994, were both exemplicated on the floor of Florence. In 1888, then Florence Grand Master, Robert M. Moore laid the cornerstone of the new Methodist Church Building on Broad St., Kemble Memorial. In similar style, the cornerstone of the high school, then known as the William Milligan High School, named after the Woodbury educator and Florence Lodge member, was laid with Masonic ceremony on November 21st, 1908. Deposited within the high school cornerstone was a Lodge Calendar and roster of Florence membership, a silver trowel was also placed within and was engraved with the following: "Brother William Milligan, after whom this High School is named, was long an honored member of this Lodge." When the school was rebuilt in 1912 after succumbing to a damaging fire, Milligan’s name was controversially left off the school building.

Moose Lodge 28 Cooper St.
In 1917, a three story brick house was purchased. It sat next to the "site of the new post office," referring to the current post office at 35 N. Broad St. which was in the planning stages as early as 1917, but by order of the United States Secretary of the Treasury due to the U.S. involvement in the Great War raging in Europe, was delayed until 1924. "The ultimate improvement of this new purchase for a permanent Masonic Hall, is contemplated by the Lodge" (Pierson, 1918). However, this never occurred. Instead, almost directly across the street, a large 3-story structure was built in 1926 at 48 N. Broad Street next to the oldest residential house in Woodbury, the Franklin House (whose construction date is usually given as ca. 1765, but evidence shows it could have been built much earlier, perhaps as early as the 1600s). Florence lodge continued unceasingly in this location for many years.

Square and Compass
door knob of the former
Florence Lodge.
There is a popular Masonic quote, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." This particular adage will no longer work at Florence Lodge. In 2011 the Florence Lodge No. 87 closed its doors forever by order of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. It has been consolidated with the Paulsboro Swedesboro Lodge No. 157 to form the newly constituted (April 28th, 2011) Clarksboro Lodge No. 87 F. & A.M. For 143 years Florence Lodge No. 87 A. F.& A.M. consisted of true seekers including many notables such as a U.S. District Attorney, Governor, Superintendent of Public Schools, a couple State Senators, members of Congress, Assemblymen, Postmasters and even our very own former Mayor, Lewis M. Green. The former Florence Lodge building was recently purchased and is being adaptively-reused by a local Woodbury-based insurance company, Excess Reinsurance, for their offices. 

Thus ends the story of Woodbury's era of Freemasonry. Until next time around perhaps! "So here's to the sons of the widow, Wherever soever they roam, Here's to all they aspire, And if they desire, A speedy return to their home." - R. Kipling.
Square and Compass stone and metal
inset on the top step of the former
Florence Masonic Lodge.
This historical overview of the history of Freemasonry in Woodbury was largely culled from the excellent research of Past Master George Pierson and Grand Secretary Isaac Cherry, which was delivered at the fiftieth anniversary of Florence Lodge, February 20th, 1918 and was subsequently published in the Woodbury Daily Times (see below citation).

Pierson, G. E. (1918, February 21-26). History of Florence Lodge No. 87 F.&A.M. Woodbury Daily Times

Whitehead, W. S. (1870). Origin of masonry in the state of new jersey: And the entire proceedings of the grand lodge, from its organization.. Princeton: J. H. Hough. Retrieved from

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Day the Devil came to Woodbury

The Jersey Devil,
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin,
January 1909
Most folks in the area are familiar with the Leed's Devil mythos, aka the Jersey Devil, the 1735 folk tale of a woman named Leeds (or Mrs. Shrouds from Leed's Point, NJ), who gave birth to a 13th child one fateful day. During labor she apparently proclaimed, “May the Devil take this one!” and the baby, upon being born, turned into a monster with the head of a collie, the wings of a bat and cloven feet. The creature proceeded to fly out the window (or chimney) and has been haunting the Pine Barrens and surrounding areas ever since, mutilating animals, scaring locals, and harbinging bad luck.

January 21st, 1909 Philadelphia Inquirer
Since his 1735 birthday, the Jersey Devil and his subsequent sightings 
predominantly remained within the sparsely populated 1.1 million acres of the Pine Barrens. In 1909, however, the beast got a touch of wanderlust. Beginning in Woodbury on January 16th, the devil had a week long tear, visiting such towns as Bridgeton, Burlington, Collingswood, Camden, White City (near Trenton), and even crossing the Delware over into Pennsylvania! See map below for his route. It all reportedly started when a one Thack Cozzens was leaving the "Woodbury Hotel" which was most likely Newton's Hotel on Broad Street, or the Green Castle Hotel on Cooper Street, or possibly Hotel Paul on Broad Street (Now Charlie Brown's). Cozzens states, "I heard a hissing and something white flew across the street. I saw two spots of phosphorous—the eyes of the beast. There was a white cloud, like escaping steam from an engine. It moved as fast as an auto." (McCloy & Miller, 1976)  For the remainder of January the local papers were abuzz with reports detailing sightings, killed livestock, strange beastlike calls in the night, and mysterious hoof prints were found throughout Woodbury and across the region. A January 21st edition of the Trenton Evening Times alternately mention the "Jersey Devil" as the "Winged Dog", "Leeds Satan", "Flying Hoof", "Beast Bird", "Flying Death", "Woggle Bug", "Kangostridogovitch", etc. and headlines:

Trail Leads Right Up to Houses and

Then Disappears as Though He,

Or She, Or It Or Whatever the

Thing is Has Taken Flight

Into Realms of Space


Various accounts of the beast being shot or captured also appeared in the papers, but were all proven to be either large foxes or hoax animals cruelly put on display for a fee (see below ad.) Newspaper coverage continued over the next few months, creating a veritable media frenzy. Among the many more or less sober witnesses were a Pemberton preacher, a Trenton city councilman, and numerous police officers. The mayor of Burlington issued orders to shoot the creature on sight after one of his men saw "a jabberwock." and a Camden county freeholder was one of hundreds to find strange, cloven-hoof tracks in the snow. In a strange group sighting, firefighters from West Collingswood even turned a hose on the beast (Lewis, 1997).  Some churchgoing folks that admitted to spotting the devil went on to insist they never before even tasted applejack! Save for a 2002 Weird NJ story about a lone Woodbury Cyclops Snake sighting, things for the past 100 years have been relatively quiet in our city regarding cryptozoology. But keep an eye out... it's perhaps high time Winged Hoof made another stop to this old county seat.

Lewis, F. (1997, October 23). The devil went down to jersey. Philadelphia City Paper, Retrieved from
McCloy, J. F., & Miller, R. (1976). The Jersey Devil. Wallingford, Pa: Middle Atlantic Press.