One of the things a librarian might tell you, if you managed to ply her with a preferred libation or two while off duty, is that serendipity is one of her favorite forms of searching. Similarly, for customers, one of the favorite ways of searching is browsing our extensive shelves. Hardly a day goes by when a person or three doesn’t say to me, “Just get me to the section, I’ll take it from there.” When you browse in the stacks, you sometimes find the most unlikely things. Ask any librarian, most of whom have piles of books at home unearthed while looking for something for someone else, and, yes, some of those books are overdue because, well, librarians are regular folk, too.
Regular folk who have to pay fines like everyone else, I hasten to add.
While doing some background research recently, I noticed that today, June 19th, is the anniversary of what is reputed to be the first ever game of modern baseball, played in 1846 in Hoboken, NJ, on the lyrically named Elysian Fields (pictured above). Hoboken is a popular northern New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a small but delightful place where I spent a fair amount of time in my younger years. I was born nearby in Bayonne, which is another small city that took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Jackie Gleason on the TV show The Honeymooners, a 1950’s sitcom that, remarkably, is still airing over 50 years later on WGN, Chicago.
Hoboken itself has a storied history. Quite a few punk rock, neo-punk, emo, and independent bands have emerged from the Hoboken scene over the years, a scene that is still thriving today. Many of those bands got their start in Maxwell’s on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, and still a very active music venue.
When it comes to music, serendipitously enough, the Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, a descendent of one of the families the city may have been named after (there are at least two other possible origins of the name: the Flemish town of Hoboken and a phrase from the Lenni Lanape Unami language), is most famous for his catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn.
When you shake the Inter-nets, lots of info on Hoboken falls out, including some interesting tidbits from Wikipedia. Though I’m not sure about the veracity of this little niblet, it’s said that the Hoboken Public Library CD collection of works by favorite son, Frank Sinatra, is so large, they’ve given him his own classification (Classical, Jazz, Rock, Sinatra etc.) and if it isn’t true it should be. Famous folks hailing from Hoboken are about as varied a bunch as you can get: Bill Frisell, the band Yo La Tengo, Alfred Kinsey, G. Gordon Liddy, Eli Manning, Anna Quindlen, Dorethea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, John Sayles, Willem de Kooning, Daniel Pinkwater, and Arti Lange, to mention the more famous.
Hoboken was supposedly the site of the first brewery in the United States, but I’ve found some conflicting information on that (and even more conflicting information on that). The zipper, thank you, Lord, was invented there. One of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the first mystery story to be based on a real crime and something of a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was set there. Like Manhattan, Hoboken was first seen by Europeans when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that took his name and, again like Manhattan, it was purchased from the local Native American tribe for a pittance by Peter Stuyvesant.
A serendipitous search of the library catalog for Hoboken produces some interesting results. There is last year’s cookbook cum memoir bestseller, the delightfully titled “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.” Novelist Christian Bauman’s “In Hoboken” is about musicians, rock and roll, and the simultaneous charm and despair that is Hoboken. In fact, there are 7 novels set in Hoboken in the catalog. Hoboken’s Union Station is featured in “Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design.” There are dozens of music CDs either recorded in or referring to Hoboken in our collections. “Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Waterbury, Wilmington” captures the ambiance of an earlier, less auspicious time (pre-1978), something we Pittsburghers can readily relate to.
As the mills were to Western Pennsylvania, the waterfront was to Hoboken and so it would be accurate to say that not only was one of the greatest movies of all time, “On The Waterfront,” filmed there, it was lived there.
Finally, here’s one for the final Jeopardy category of “Musicals” and you don’t even have to be from Hoboken to answer it:
“The Little Sisters of Hoboken.”
And the question is ….