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.
“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.”
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.
|Hoedown Hall pictured in 2002|
photo by Linda Smith Bianucci
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
|Charles and Biz Thomas selling records presumably at Hoedown Hall|
image credit: Square Dance History Project
|1877 Deptford Township map detail showing Watkins' parcel (14A) and farmhouse.|
The surrounding Cloud family was related by marriage.
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
''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
|Thomas' Field by |
Linda Smith Bianucci 2002
“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.