Recent responses to Dan Aubrey’s stories “An Island Adventure in New Jersey’s Capital” (July 5) and “Bridges to History, Nature, and Romance” (August 30) include a voice from the past and a question about the past’s relationship to the present.
The past came alive in a telephone call that started with, “I’m the last living person who remembers living on (Rotary) Island.” The voice belongs to Leonard Pope, whose father was the caretaker for Camp Delaware, which was located on the river island that is just a kayak ride away from the heart of Trenton.
Pope, 74, says his house “had a living room and kitchen combination. There were two bedrooms and bathrooms — heated by wood.” He says the family had electrical lines from the mainland and remembers water coming out of the taps (although there were no water lines to the island). He also recalls that the house was served by a septic tank.
Asked about living there during the winter and storms, Pope, who moved when he was seven says, “When you’re a kid, it’s all an adventure. It was fantastic.”
Then it was over in an instant: December 5, 1950, at 1:30 a.m. to be exact. During the winter, Pope’s father would take a night job at the Trenton Oyster Crackers Company. To return home, he would park his panel truck on the road across from the river and honk his car horn to alert his wife, Grace, to turn on a spotlight. He would then board “a flat bottomed barge run by cables” extended between the mainland and the island. But on that cold night, Pope says his father “pushed off and sat down, and then the cable snapped and hit him in the head. He was dead before he hit the water. They didn’t find his body until the spring. (My stepmother) saw the whole thing.”
The family was taken off the island immediately and was unable to retrieve the photographs and other personal belongings soon lost to a flood. Now retired from the Trenton Police Department, Pope says, “I haven’t been out there since that day. It was quite an adventure living out there.”
Meanwhile an anonymous yet enthusiastic reader of the bridge stories shared some information on the hydraulically powered Trenton Makes Bridge lights installed in the 1970s and then asked about “the naming provenance of Calhoun Street and Bridge. Do these possibly honor the Civil War-era U.S. vice president” and defender of slavery John C. Calhoun?
Good question, considering the national discussion of monuments and building names. But the answer is no. As a Trenton Historical Society history notes, “Calhoun Street is the outgrowth of Calhoun Lane, where Alexander Calhoun lived and kept a general merchandise store.”
Thanks to both readers for sharing thoughts and ideas. And it’s a good reminder for others to do the same.