2020 – Collections: Camp Merritt (WWI), NJ

(ignore May 1, 2017 publish date – this was published on May 15, 2020)

 

I couldn’t count the number of times in my life that I drove up Madison Ave in Dumont or Knickerbocker Rd from Englewood and went around “The Circle” – the one with “The Monument”……………..and never knew why a monument was there.

Having been born and raised (and with a good education) in the same county, you would think historically-important local things would have been ingrained in the brain at an early age – not after age 50!

But that’s what happened.

It’s pissed me off that I never knew the story of George Washington and his troops burning down “the bridge that saved America” and camping out across the Hackensack River from the pursuing (and frustrated) British troops TWO MILES from my house and TWO MILES from my supposedly-superior Catholic grammar school education! How could that little detail not be mentioned in history class?

Jumping from the Revolutionary War to World War I, the little detail of a huge military camp (770 acres) that covered parts of SIX towns (Bergenfield, Tenafly, Dumont, Cresskill, Haworth and Demarest) that are within 5 miles of my home in Teaneck was also uncovered after my 50th birthday.

Looking at the above picture, you can see four of those towns mentioned in the vicinity of the monument – the CAMP MERRITT MONUMENT, which was placed in the geographical center of the where the camp was located.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the monument:

To honor those who passed through Camp Merritt, a monument was erected at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Knickerbocker Road at the border of Cresskill and Dumont The 66.6-foot (20.3 m) tall granite obelisk, modeled after the Washington Monument is inscribed with the names of the 578 people who died at the camp during the war due to the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. Robert Ingersoll Aitken sculpted the relief sculpture of a helmeted soldier on the one side of the base of the monument. The monument was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1924, with General John J. Pershing giving the dedication address to a crowd estimated at 20,000 people.

 

 I’ll come back to the monument later.

Camp Merritt only existed from 1917-1919, but about a million soldiers passed through it in that time, going to or coming home from war in Europe.

As for the camp itself, it’s kind of difficult to take a picture of something that big – especially back then – so the biggest I could find online was about 5’ long:

 

So, I got one of those:

Can you guess which end was closest to a window?

I never framed it – not my décor – so it’s still rolled up in the container it arrived in in 2000.

 

Actually, the only Camp Merritt item that’s semi-displayed in my apartment is this……..pillow sham(?)

 

You can see the opening in the lower left for a pillow or stuffing or something:

 

A better idea might be that since 578 soldiers died in this camp from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, it might be a tribute of sorts 102 years later to store Coronavirus masks in it (props to my friend Elaine for the props):

 

While I’m on the “material” side of things here, I have this silk that has a doily look to it that I’ve never seen before and I can’t find another one online:

 

The silk has a couple of tears in it going through the greetings on top and right across the poem on the bottom:

 

I found the poem online:

Sunny be thy springtime

air with sweetest flowers

Brighter yet thy summer

with its golden hours

And when an autumns twilight

round thy bath is drawn

Hope be near to whisper

of a fairer dawn

 

The word “drawn” looks like “draton” on the silk.

 

 

A couple of metallic entries:

1. A flattened penny advertising the 27th Annual Bergen County Coin Club Show and illustrating the Camp Merritt monument for some reason (“POE Camp” stands for “Point of Embarkation Camp” – next stop: shipped to Europe from Hoboken).

 

So not only was currency defaced, but it was further defaced by covering de face of Lincoln with the ad.

 

2. You wouldn’t believe how many eBay sellers thought they were selling a Boy Scout medallion – they couldn’t tell a Scout from a Doughboy. I shouldn’t complain – I probably got this cheap because of that error:

 

Here’s the story of how this medallion came about:

A sergeant who appreciated the efforts of the surrounding community to make the soldiers feel at home, proposed that a medal be struck and distributed to local schoolchildren. The idea caught on. Funds were collected quickly and, in January, 1919, officers and men visited 147 Bergen County schools and distributed 37,624 medals saying, “boys of CAMP MERRITT are grateful to you, 1919”.

 

 

On to the ephemera!

 

The monthly Mess Kit (published by the enlisted men):

 

Two Mess Kit ads:

 

The inside back cover:

 

 

The weekly Sapper (published by the enlisted men in the 318th Engineers [sappers]):

 

Sapper ad:

 

 

Camp Merritt – The Camp Beautiful booklet + Pg. 1 (16 pages of information and photos):

 

Camp Merritt – The Camp Beautiful booklet centerfold:

 

Camp Merritt – The Camp Beautiful booklet last page:

 

 

THE MONUMENT

 

I took these photos on June 30, 2015.

The monument with Knickerbocker Rd going around it behind – this is the pic I cropped for the first mage in this post (superimposed on the map and looking nothing like a monument):

 

Closeup. What’s on the ground in front of it is the next picture:

 

An almost-Braille-like depiction of the Camp and all of its buildings……….the monument is the green dot just above the middle:

 

The engraved names of those who died in camp during the 1918 Influenza epidemic:

 

The Camp Merritt monument plaque:

 

The adjoining flagpole:

 

 

POSTCARDS

 

Here are 93 of the 113 Camp Merritt postcards I have (the other 20 are duplicates):

  ————————————————————————————This is NOT “Jerssey City” (nowhere is).

Most of the cards are unused. A few are used, but either unreadable or boring. I wanted to include at least one interesting message from a soldier to a loved one – who, in this case, is “Grannie”.

This is the flip side of the “HELLO – Just Got Back” card in the above upper right. Incidentally, the word balloon the soldier drew next to “his” caricature says “Hello, Miss Liberty!!”.

His message was in pretty faint pencil, so I made it a B&W and applied lots of contrast to make it readable:

 

 

 

 

So this is what you do when you’re deprived of important local history as a child – you over-compensate as an adult.

 

Ahhhh……………I feel so much better……………except I just noticed one duplicate pair of postcards in the above 93. Now I’ll find out if anyone’s paying attention.  😉

 

 

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