By Muriel J. Smith
RED BANK – It was a combination of the “Greatest Show on Earth” and the 119th annual meeting of the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) as the association held its election of officers and learned more about some of the former amusement parks of Monmouth County last week at the Two River Theater.
Taking her theme from local author and historian Rick Geffken’s presentation at the meeting, Linda Bricker, MCHA president, introduced herself as ringmaster for the evening and termed it a meeting of the “greatest, largest, private-est, nonprofit-est organization completely devoted to history in the entire state of New Jersey.” The theme even flowed through the cocktail hour preceding the meeting, which featured amusement park treats like hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy, setting the tone for both an entertaining and professional business get-together of local historians and friends.
Bricker welcomed the crowd on behalf of the trustees of the organization and outlined both the achievements of the past year while hinting at the superlatives in store for the future of the MCHA.
Bricker grew serious in tracing the association’s history from 1898, when a small group of residents incorporated to collect and preserve the history of Monmouth County, to the present, terming 2017, “an excellent year for the association.”
She announced that interim director Charles H. Jones III will remain in the position through 2018, noting Jones’ family’s deep connection to both Monmouth County and the organization itself, in addition to his other qualifications for the position. In his brief tenure to date, Jones is credited with overseeing a new exhibition, overhauling the association website and developing a comprehensive program for future strategic planning.
Bricker also highlighted the successful efforts during 2017 that have maximized the use of the Taylor-Butler House in Middletown, thanks to both donations and diligent volunteers; the facility is now available for rent for both holiday events and private parties. The front porch of the historic building, set in the heart of Middletown’s historic district, even served as the backdrop for a commercial shoot for a local car dealership and the house itself was the setting for the first Mistletoe, a holiday cocktail party that will become an annual fundraising event.
The association will retain an outside consulting firm in 2018 to begin its search for a new director, Bricker said, and to determine the best direction for the association in the 21st century. “We will seek to partner our hopes and dreams for the organization with the potential for reasonable, sustainable and sound financial resources,” she said, adding, “We expect this strategic planning to be transformational and are very excited to begin.”
Marketing chair Lisa Klem Wilson reported on a grant received from a Boonton advertising group which financed the overhaul of the association’s website so that monmouthhistory.org “reflects the work we have been doing.” eMuseum, a new mobile-friendly website, allows patrons to connect to MCHA collections, and view photos and graphics. eMuseum currently includes 389 items from portraits and paintings to drawings and furniture, according to interim director Jones. The furniture module, funded in part by grants from the New Jersey Historical Commission and the William T. Morris Foundation, currently offers 159 examples of association furniture holdings with another dozen and a half anticipated to be added this year. Since the inauguration of eMuseum in June, Jones said there have been 527 users from 38 states and nine foreign countries.
During his report of the past year, Jones also noted that Tracking Sandy, the exhibit which opened on Super Storm Sandy’s fifth anniversary, has been well received. Completed with help from Melissa Ziobro, a professor at Monmouth University, and local designer Stan Cain, the contemporary exhibition continues to draw crowds with the possibility of it becoming a traveling exhibition in the future.
Education chair Mary Ann LaSardo noted the association presented 84 trunk shows for schools and private groups in 2017 and hosted 400 guests at the biggest Fourth of July event yet.
At the close of the business portion of the meeting, Bricker introduced Rick Geffken, renowned for his programs on Monmouth County history and a featured speaker for numerous organizations, and a retired Army officer and Vietnam veteran and contributor to the Two River Times.
The program was based on his latest book, “Lost Amusement Parks of the North Jersey Shore,” which he wrote with George Severini, who was also present for the meeting. Geffken gave insight into the popularity of three former amusement parks in Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and Sea Bright.
He displayed videos and photography of the Atlantic Highlands Bayview Park on the waterfront in Atlantic Highlands in what is now a residential section, and the Red Clay Hill area where patrons could see the traveling 101 Ranch Wild West show at the beginning of the 20th century. The author also featured a brief history on the Bay Avenue merry-go-round on Bay Avenue, Highlands, and showed the importance of the steamship Mandalay to the industry. A passenger steamer that had a regular route between New York and Atlantic Highlands, the Mandalay brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the amusement parks throughout the summer seasons.
Both Geffken and Severini signed copies of their book and donated a portion of the proceeds of the sales to the association.
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