Every September, the Jersey City Free Public Library organizes an annual book festival in downtown Jersey City. The event showcases local authors and promises something for readers of all ages. This past Sunday marked the 10th Annual Tales of Our Cities.
On May 1, 2017, the main branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library reopened literally after years of renovations. As I’ve feverishly worked on my book manuscript for the last eight months, I found myself unable to consult a needed book for an obscure fact or flip through a bulging vertical file to search for a newspaper clipping. Simply put, I had questions needing answers. And I needed the New Jersey Room Collection to provide them.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I stepped away from my writer’s garret and ventured downtown to address these questions and other new topics of interest percolating in my mind. Upon entering the library, I climbed the marble stairs to the third floor and the library’s most unique and valuable collection.
Frank Hague. The name looms large in the political culture and public imagination of Jersey City and Hudson County, New Jersey. A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I attended a forum exploring the man (and his ally-cum-rival John V. Kenny) at the Five Corners branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library.
The forum included: a short documentary on Hague and Kenny, an audio recording of a speech by Frank Hague, a pair of short lectures, and a panel discussion. The program was smart and engaging. Most impressively, a roving department of the public library, displaced by seemingly endless renovations of the main branch, organized the event.
As Jersey City mayor, Frank Hague dominated Hudson County politics from 1917 until 1947, delivering reliable and large blocs of votes for municipal, county, state, and national elections and leading a highly effective–albeit corrupt–political machine famous for delivering services, aiding the poor, and providing free medical care.
By the end of Hague’s political career, his political acumen had grown tired, and Hague himself failed to adapt to the changing demographics of Jersey City. Still, longtime residents and newcomers alike recount the Hague era with pride and nostalgia. Hague built the Jersey City Medical Center and Roosevelt Stadium. During Hague’s reign, Jersey City was the power in state politics and a major player in national Democratic circles. The same cannot be said about contemporary Jersey City.
While watching the film and later listening to the panel discussion, a few particular thoughts wedged themselves in my mind.