ELIZABETH, NJ – The Historical Society of Elizabeth continued to tell the city’s story through its monuments during the 2016 Elizabeth Forum, entitled Urban Memory in 20th Century Elizabeth, May 11, in the Belcher-Ogden Mansion on the corner of Catherine Street and West Jersey Avenue.
“History organizations are created to fulfill a mission,” explained Ken Ward, HSE president. “Our mission is to connect people in Elizabeth to their surroundings. Some of us have been here for generations. Some have arrived very recently. Both groups should have an opportunity to know how and why we all came here and what Elizabeth had done, is doing, and will do in the future.”
The three monuments highlighted this year was the Purple Heart monument and the USS New Jersey Bell, both located in front of City Hall, and the United Singers Monument, across the street in Scott Park. The research, which was conducted and interpreted by students called citizen historians, was presented by Michael Simon, HSE secretary and trustee.
The Purple Heart monument is dedicated to those wounded or killed in defense of the United States. The Purple Heart was established first as the Badge of Military Merit at the being of the country by George Washington to honor three soldiers in the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t awarded again until World War I, when Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall drafted a bill asking Congress to revive the badge of merit. General Douglas MacArthur continued the project that eventually became the Purple Heart.
The bell on the City Hall lawn once stood on the USS New Jersey, a battleship built for the U.S. Navy in 1902 and commissioned in 1906 as part of the U.S. fleet. The battleship as part of the Great White Fleet circumnavigated the world. It also served as a training vessel during World War I and was decommissioned in 1920 when the bell was donated to the city of Elizabeth.
Across the street from the first two monuments sits the United Singers Monument, representing an award-winning group of German singers. The United Singers were a chorus of 140 men formed by the Elizabeth Maennerchor, Liederkranz Society, and Saenger Society Eintracht. The United Singers won first prize at the triennial Saengerfest of the Northeastern Saengerbund, and they received a bronze plaque weighting 100 pounds. The group voted to place the plaque in Scott Park in 1915. The monument represents a time when orchestras and singing groups were popular recreational activities. In the 1800’s, the city had a large influx of German citizens who brought with them their musical traditions, thus they were able to preserve their customs.
Much of the Forum’s research was done by Citizen Historians Diana Vivanco, Tathiana Leguizamon, Jackeline Williams, and Saida Calle, who is now teaching in China. Calle has been able to apply what she learned about monument formation and urban memory in her new position.
Remarked Diana Vivanco, ‘The Elizabeth Citizen Historians program is learning our history from a community member perspective and sharing that viewpoint with the community. There is no program without community involvement. History can help us to build our identity as a community.”