By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

For ‘Twice Told Tales,’ second time’s as charming
George Moss’
new book acquaints
new generation with ‘Footnotes in History’
By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

FARRAH MAFFAI  Monmouth County Historian George H. Moss Jr. has published his latest book, a            collection of his columns from the Sunday Register.FARRAH MAFFAI Monmouth County Historian George H. Moss Jr. has published his latest book, a collection of his columns from the Sunday Register.

The train ride from Rumson to lower Manhattan taken by George H. Moss Jr. each day proved a boon to the residents of Monmouth County.

During the hour-and-a-half commute, Moss began to write the first of eight major books on Monmouth County history that have helped bring to life, as well as preserve, the unique story of the Jersey Shore from Sandy Hook to Long Branch.

"I wrote my first two books on the train in longhand. That was "B.C." — Before Computers," quipped Moss, who used the time spent en route to his seat on the New York Stock Exchange to begin a literary odyssey that has included books on the history of Sandy Hook, steamboat travel, stereographic photography, vintage photos and Victorian-era grand hotels.

His latest book, Twice Told Tales — Reflections of Monmouth County’s Past, published by Ploughshare Press, Sea Bright, is a compilation of 52 columns that originally appeared in the Sunday Register of Shrewsbury during 1978 — the centennial year of the newspaper. Publication was funded by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Available locally at Sickles Market in Little Silver, the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center and Borders in Eatontown, Twice Told Tales reprints the popular "Footnotes in History" column in which Moss delighted readers with long-forgotten and long-overlooked vignettes of the county’s past — some dating back to the 1700s.

According to Moss, "Footnotes" was the idea of Arthur Kamin, editor of the Daily Register and Sunday Register, who credited him with never missing a deadline.

In the foreword to Twice Told Tales Kamin calls Moss a "master storyteller."

"He knows how to make written history … sing and come alive," Kamin wrote.

A fourth-generation resident of Monmouth County and the official Monmouth County historian, Moss has been a writer and observer of Jersey Shore history for almost 60 years. During that time, he has also been a collector of paper artifacts relating to the history of the county.

The highly specialized Moss Archive he has amassed is a collection of rare ephemera, memorabilia, documents, photographs, publications and illustrations spanning three centuries.

"The earliest pieces go back to 1665," he explained. "I sort of cut if off around 1900 except for Long Branch and Sea Bright, which go up to 1928."

The collection grew out of Moss’ penchant for collecting vintage photos.

"I always consider myself a picture historian," Moss explained. "Sixty years ago I used to go to a bookstore in New York and collect Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Winslow Homer’s views of the Jersey Shore."

The archive both enriches and inspires his books, which, in turn, are a way of making the collection accessible.

"The only way to share the collection was to put it between the covers of a book," he explained. "For instance, I was interested in steamboat history, so there’s a book about steamboats."

The 5,000 glass negatives produced by the Pach Brothers and acquired by Moss were the inspiration for a book on stereography. His grandparents’ Long Branch hotel was the source for another volume.

The archive provided a wealth of material for the "Footnotes in History" columns, which Moss said are still remembered by readers of the Sunday Register.

All 52 columns are reprinted in Twice Told Tales, as are all but three of the 100 original illustrations that appeared with the articles.

His extensive collection of publications relating to the county’s history provided a wealth of material from which to draft the columns.

"I tried to make the columns diversified with stories about storms, steamboats, real estate," he said. "I had to go through lots of old papers to come up with clips."

"Six Swans Shot Down," Jan. 1, 1978, for example, had segments dating to 1745, 1816, 1829 and 1881, including a 1726 report that a Shrewsbury resident had shot down six swans with one shot.

For "Venerable Windmills," dated Jan. 8, 1978, Moss not only documented the numerous windmill towers that powered well pumps in the area, but plumbed the archives for a 1901 illustration showing five windmills and the distant spire of Holy Cross Church in Rumson.

The meticulously researched columns brought to light a wealth of obscure history.

For instance, in "Storms Change Beach Patterns," which appeared Feb. 19, 1978, Moss told of the topographic changes that have taken place on Sandy Hook over two centuries, including the fact that the Hook was joined to the Highlands twice and was an island more than a dozen times.

"Discontentment of Winters Past," Feb. 26, 1978, is based on accounts of harsh weather dating as far back as 1740-41 and includes reports of "cold summers" in 1812 and 1816 when frosts in June, July and August prevented crops from ripening.

"Klansmen on Parade," Moss’ column for March 5, 1978, reveals a dark chapter in county history, including a 1924 gathering of 20,000 Ku Klux Klan members that featured a wedding with music supplied by hooded members of the Red Bank Klan Band and a Klan parade through Long Branch.

"I remember my grandmother talking about that," said Moss. "She recognized one of the hooded marchers as the butcher, and she never went back to his shop."

A Moss Archive photo of a 1909 train derailment at Oakland Street in Red Bank accompanies "Railroad Tragedies Have No Boundaries," in the March 26, 1978, issue, which presents accounts of train wrecks including one in 1877 on the Oceanport Creek Bridge that resulted in a fatality.

By April 9, 1978, Moss had worked his way up to a favorite topic — Monmouth County’s steamboat era, a period that lasted 135 years during which 250 paddlewheels were in use in the waters from the Bayshore to Long Branch.

His "Footnotes" column of May 7, 1978, includes an illustration of a letter from the archive dated 1797, authorizing $65 in repairs to "The Silent Sentinel of Sandy Hook," the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.

In the June 25, 1978, issue of the Sunday Register, Moss wrote about the 300 newspapers published in some 40 Monmouth County communities beginning in 1795. Some publications survived only their first edition, while others, like Red Bank’s Daily Register, lasted beyond its 100th year.

Other columns took readers through the history of Monmouth Park, open-air movie theaters, show business at the Shore during the late 19th century, the oyster industry, shipwrecks, the history of Shadow Lawn – the West Long Branch mansion that is the site of Monmouth University, early aviation, antique autos and Christmas presents hawked on the pages of the 1906 Sears Roebuck catalog.

While the archives are ongoing, Moss acknowledged collecting has gotten more difficult, and collectibles scarcer, as more people become interested in historical artifacts.

"You don’t find as much now, and the price of everything has gone sky high," he noted.

"I have more than 1,000 Monmouth County three-dimensional stereoviews dating back to 1859. When I was first buying them, you could go to the antique store and get them for 10-15 cents; now they’re $20-$60."

Moss admitted he will tap into almost any source to retrieve a historical tidbit.

While acquiring some postcards at a private residence, Moss noticed the owner was about to throw away an old stock certificate for a silk company in Freehold. When she asked, ‘Who wants this?’ he said, ‘I do,’ and quickly retrieved another from the wastebasket.

Moss sees his role as both preserving history and making it come alive.

"I’ve been preserving history, specifically Monmouth County history," he said, "and then presenting it.

"History is not the distant past," Moss observed. "History is alive and waiting for you. You just have to be perceptive."