LAKEHURST – Borough residents and other history buffs took a trip back in time as Lakehurst History Day was celebrated.
Thanks to the Lakehurst Historical Society who provided trolley tours, riders heard some stories about the community. This was a callback to when trolley tours took place in 1928 when the Gray Lines got permission to run a tourist bus through the community.
While this trolley wasn’t a time machine, Councilwoman Bernadette Dugan, a LHS member, did her best to capture an era gone by during her narration during the 45-minute tour that set off from the borough’s Community Center on Center Street.
“Lakehurst is a small town with big history,” she said.
Lakehurst’s diverse history includes some interesting figures such as William Tory who acquired property and moved to the borough along with his wife. They lived in the area from 1843 to a few years after the Civil War. He founded the Delaware and Raritan Bay Railroad.
Lakehurst was part of Manchester for some of its history and its story begins before the American Revolution. Cannon balls were made around Horicon Lake for George Washington’s Army. But between the late 18th century and the middle of the 19th century Lakehurst appeared to die off.
When Tory showed up all life down by the lake ceased but the “portion of Lakehurst where the railroad was, came to fruition. By the 1850s until about the 1930s Lakehurst was known as a railroading town and many long-time residents can trace family members who have at one time worked for the railroad.
“There was also a rope factory where people made rope and a waterline that ran from the lake under the ground to run a water wheel. The first post office in Lakehurst came into service in 1897.
Dugan spoke during the trolley ride about the LHS Museum which before becoming the permanent home for the borough’s historic artifacts was Old Saint John’s Church. “It was the oldest Catholic Church in Ocean County.”
It was built by Irish railroad workers. Singer/musician Eddie Manion has a special fondest for the structure and the community. “He grew up here in his early years and later played saxophone for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes,” Dugan said.
“He used to hang with my brother when he was little and then he moved to Lakewood. If you look in the old cemetery there are many Manion graves. One night he came here and saw the lights were on where he used to worship and he wrote the song ‘The Lights are on in Old Saint John’s.’ (It can be found at youtu.be/5RHY70hcKA0) It is a Christmas themed song where he talks about his family’s Irish heritage and it is worth a look. He just wrote it last year,” she added.
Dugan noted that the video of the song was “filmed at the museum where you can see the displays. He showed his family’s graves there and he went to the railroad tracks to talk about his family’s history with the railroad.”
She also shared another celebrity connection that Lakehurst has. “Jack Nicholson’s father used to cut hair here and we will go past the shop on the trolley tour. His father’s name was Don Rose. He wasn’t too happy.”
Dugan also told The Manchester Times about one of the seedier characters of the borough’s past. In 1928 the community was shocked over a scandalous murder involving a prominent woman who had been having an affair. She was convicted of having killed her husband.
“We had two women who killed their husbands,” Dugan said. Ivy Giberson’s husband was a jitney driver and they lived where a dog grooming place is next to the florist downtown. “On a hot August night, the railroad workers heard her cry out ‘help, help’ and they run upstairs and they find Ivy loosening her bounds, she was tied up with rope and she says, ‘they shot my husband.’
“They went in and found her husband had been shot and the death certificate written by the doctor says death caused by revolver shot of lead by person unknown to me. The next day they brought in Ellis Parker who was from Mount Holly and was known as the Sherlock Holmes of the Pines. He solved over 300 cases,” Dugan added.
Dugan said, “I first learned about Parker when I read the very first People’s Almanac and it talked about him, he was so renown. He asked Ivy questions who said there was a tall man and a short man and she said one was tying her up and there was a shot and that man said why did you shoot him and Parker said how would that guy know who shot whom as he was in the other room.”
“She was quickly found out but she did serve 10 or 12 years in prison. She lived out her days in the house next to mine. Parker went on to solve more cases,” Dugan said. She noted however that Parker was wrong in who he suspected of kidnapping the Charles Lindbergh baby “and he ended up going to jail and he died in jail, there is a book written about him.”
“The second murder was in 1975 in an upstairs apartment. (A woman) was mad at her husband. They had a baby. I think they were a military couple. We used to have as many bars as churches,” Dugan added.
The borough’s history also includes a connection to a landmark site in Jackson Township. When the U.S. established a presence around 1915 to 1919, Rova Farms in Jackson had an influx of Russians who arrived during the Russian revolution to settle there. A Russian Embassy was established in the borough.
Inside the Lakehurst Community Center were local writers Eric San Juan and Cedric Derecho who spoke to attendees about their book “Images of America: Lakehurst Borough and Manchester Township” and several other publications they wrote.
LHS member Bill Schmidt also showed pictures on a display board and spoke about the history of the Hindenburg.
The walking tour and trolley ride included various streets and areas the borough. The trolley stopped at the Cathedral of the Air near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The Cathedral is cared for by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society and the property it is on, by the federal government.