Tag Archives: Jersey City

Historyville

I always have a good time when I do book events in Jersey City, or Hudson County in general, because as far as I can tell, EVERYBODY in Hudson County is some kind of historian. Everyone has a story related to Frank Hague or John Kenny and is happy to share it.

While I was at the Hudson County History Fair a short while ago, a couple of people came up to my table to chat about the relative merits of Hague versus Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Naturally the talk turned to the HBO show Boardwalk Empire and the question, since answered, of whether the heavily fictionalized boss of the show would survive.  (The real life Nucky, of course, did a few years in the federal pen and then lived a quiet life as a political eminence gris until well into the Sixties.) Inevitably, the talk turned to That Episode.

Hudson County people know what I’m talking about. The episode shows Hague, in real life a moralist who never smoked or drank, puffing a cigar and knocking back a tumbler of whiskey while ogling a naked showgirl playing a ukelele. 

“My mother,” the guy said, “never gets up for anything anymore. When she saw that scene, she got up from her chair and demanded we call the show’s producers. ‘That’s not Frank!’ she yelled.”

No, it wasn’t. It’s astonishing to me that a show based on such a fascinating period of U.S. history could have turned out to be so tedious. But that was the problem: instead of going with the interesting facts, the show’s producers went in for tired Hollywood notions about gangsters. They even skipped the gangster convention of 1929, which Nucky hosted! How did the producers rationalize that decision?

Considering how he spent decades living like a pasha before the feds caught up with him, then served only about four years in the pen, I’d say Nucky got off pretty lucky. In his last years, however, Nucky Johnson was a diminished figure of some pathos. He was a kind of Dorian Gray, staying hale and hearty while his city decayed around him. The extent of the decay was revealed to the entire nation during the Democratic National Convention of 1964, when the delegates found hulking resorts full of tiny rooms and dodgy plumbing, devoid of air conditioning during a sweltering summer. Looking on from the background was grey-haired Nucky Johnson, who aside from building the Convention Center (admittedly a major improvement) had done nothing during the fat years to build institutions that could have helped the city survive the changes everyone saw coming. In the end, the boardwalk peacock looked rather more like Count Dracula.

Personally, I would have found that a far more interesting conclusion than just another stretch of bang-bang, but nobody asked me. I know Boardwalk Empire has its fans, but for me, there were lots of little sleeps before the fictional Nucky went on to the big one.

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Get yer pre-orders here

Here’s a nice way to start the summer: American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine is now available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s Books.  

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Mark your calendars!

My upcoming nonfiction book American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine is on page 3 of the Fall-Winter 2013 catalog for Rutgers University Press. Mark your calendar for the official October publication date. After all, there are only eight shopping months left before Christmas!

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The Year of the Hat Trick

Sukarno had The Year of Living Dangerously. Ireland had The Year of the French. And now I will have The Year of the Hat Trick.

The reason for the name will become clear as the year progresses. Right now, in the every-journey-begins-with-one-small-step category, I’m running around the Internet, banging pots and pans together to announce that my upcoming nonfiction book, American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine, has both a website and a spanking new Facebook page.

More to come.

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The highway of the future is a thing of the past

It had to happen sooner or later. The Pulaski Skyway, subject of my book The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway, will closed to eastbound drivers for two years of repair work. The state will close the span early in 2014, following Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife LAST3MILESStadium. Apparently two lanes of outward-bound traffic will remain open throughout the project, but anyone heading for New York City needs another plan.

If you want to prepare for the traffic delays, why not pick up a copy of The Last Three Miles and read about the design flaws and eleventh-hour political interference that made the Hudson County span the rollercoaster of terror it is today? Or marvel at the machinations of political boss Frank Hague, one of the biggest players in the Skyway saga, and the bloody labor war that broke out when one of Hague’s former allies, labor czar Teddy Brandle, clashed with the anti-union contractors building the causeway? It’s also available as an ebook and there’s an audio version capably read by the great Dion Graham, whose other audiobook performances put me in some damn flattering company. (He also played Rupert Bond in the later seasons of The Wire, which I never get tired of bragging about.) 

And while we’re on the subject of Hudson County and the Pulaski Skyway, this is as good a place as any to begin announcing that this coming fall will see the publication of American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine, due out from Rutgers University Press. I’ll have a website and Facebook page up for the book later in the year. It’s the cornerstone of what future generations will know as The Year of the Hat Trick, about which more anon.

   

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Letter from Hong Kong

I get letters from readers every now and then, but this is the first one to cross the international date line:

Dear Steven Hart:                                                                      January 20, 2012

I’ve had an on-and-off interest in public transport, and so occasionally seek books on the subject to read.  Your book isn’t about public transport, but it is in the same section in the library.  That’s how I came across it when I was seeking books on the former.  Since the book was concise and seemed highly readable, I borrowed it.
Having grown up in New York after emigrating there from my native Hong Kong, I knew the book would bring back memories.  The first time I recalled seeing the Pulaski Skyway was 30 years ago when I took the PATH train from Manhattan to Newark for the first time.  After the train left Journal Square, it hit open country (or should I say the some of the grimier parts of Jersey).  When the train crossed a river, I saw a long black bridge some distance away and thought, What an ugly bridge!  I was looking at the Pulaski Skyway.  I tried to find it on the PATH map that I picked up at the World Trade Center Station (the one that gives a 3D bird’s eye view of Lower Manhattan and vicinity.  The skyway is shown, but (if I remember correctly) it didn’t look as ugly on the map.
Later, after I’d learned to drive, my father advised me that if I was heading south on the NJTP, I shouldn’t take the turnpike (Newark Bay) extension, or I-78, right after I exit the Holland Tunnel.  Instead, I should take US1-9 South, which would put me on the skyway, and enter the NJTP at Exit 13A rather than Exit 14, saving a few cents.
Your description of Frank Hague (whom I’d never heard of before picking up your book) and his hardball brand of politics make much of today’s politics look tame.  With union-busting Dems like Hague, who needs Republicans?
I’ve never really visited Jersey City, treating it as a transit point rather than a destination (similar to what you said about the entire state).  But I’ve visited other parts of Jersey, like a family friend’s home in Nutley that my family used to visit every year.  In fact, despite having seen the grimy areas of Jersey as I passed through them on the PATH train, I didn’t regard Jersey as a dump when I was younger.  Instead, I regarded it (at least the parts I visited) as a safe haven away from New York, which I saw as a place to escape from rather than the unofficial capital of the world.
Well, I finally did escape New York, having returned to Hong Kong over ten years ago.  But while you can take me out of America, you can’t take America out of me – at least not entirely.  That’s why I try to keep up with news in New York as best as I can.
A few copies of your book sit on the shelves of Hong Kong’s various libraries.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the first to borrow my copy.  I don’t know when I’ll return to New York for a visit, but if I do, I may pencil down a trip to Jersey City on my itinerary.  It’s only a train ride away.  I’m sure it’s doable in a day.

Sincerely,

I find it very cool to think that The Last Three Miles is available to read in Hong Kong libraries.

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Saturday in the park with Frank Hague

I’ll be selling and signing copies of The Last Three Miles at tomorrow’s Jersey City Book Festival. If that’s not enough to get you making new plans for the day, I understand there’s also going to be a belly dancer. Oh yeah, and C-SPAN is going to be there with cameras rolling. Actually, it all sounds like it’s going to be fun.

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FMU do you love?

WFMU is having its annual fundraising drive. They can use some dough. Just thought you’d like to know. Not only do I like them, but I have one of their T-shirts. It has the Pulaski Skyway on it. Around here, that’s a big deal. Not only that, one of their DJs has a really good blog.

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On the road again

At last, I can offer a ray of hope to the millions of readers who missed my initial round of appearances on behalf of The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway. I’ll be hawking my book at two October events that look very promising.

First, I’ll be standing ready at Booth Two of the Collingswood Book Festival, slated for Saturday, Oct. 4, in the Camden County burg of Collingswood, between Camden and Cherry Hill. I’ll be selling and signing copies of my book. Come by and say hi and buy lots of copies for your friends and family, because I’ve heard a lot about the general awesomeness of this festival and whatever proceeds I make from book sales will probably go for book purchases at other booths.

Next, I’ll be speaking Tuesday, Oct. 28, to a Frank Hague hometown crowd at the Brennan Court House, 583 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, N.J. The event, starting at 6 p.m. is sponsored by WomenRising of Hudson County. Call (201) 333-5700.

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