Stephen Crane, the famed author of “The Red Badge of Courage”, half a dozen other novels, two volumes of poetry, scores of short stories, and hundreds of newspaper articles, lived at 508 Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park for a large part of his short life.
Stephen was born on Mulberry Place in Newark on November 1, 1871, in the brick rectory of the Methodist church. His father, the Rev. Jonathan Townley Crane, was the head of all the Methodist churches in that city. Stephen was the 14th and last child born to Mary Helen Peck Crane and the Rev. Crane, although only nine of their children survived past infancy.
Asbury Park was also “born” in 1871, founded by James A. Bradley, and the modest wooden-frame house we call the Crane House was built during the very first decade of Asbury Park. When it was built in 1878 it was given the name “Arbutus Cottage”, named for the groundcover with the little blue flowers that is called “mayflower”, the state flower of Massachusetts.
After the Crane family moved to Paterson and then Port Jervis, New York, the Rev. Crane died suddenly in 1880, and the widow Crane moved several times with her youngest children, finally settling in Asbury Park to be close to her son Jonathan Townley Crane, Jr., who had a home and a news bureau there. She also wanted to be close to the Methodist town of Ocean Grove in order to write reports on the religious activities there.
In 1883, Mrs. Crane and her three youngest children moved to Arbutus Cottage and soon became the president of the local Chapter of the WCTU, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Stephen was not quite twelve years old when he moved to Asbury Park.
For two years Stephen attended the Asbury Park Public School, then spent two years at Pennington School near Trenton, and finally two more years at Claverack Hudson River Institute, a military academy. Helen persuaded him to go to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania to become a mining engineer, but he lasted one semester. He spent most of the next semester at Syracuse University, where one of his uncles, the Bishop Jesse Peck, was one of the founders. Mrs. Peck, who had tried so hard to make certain that Stephen had a good education, died in December of 1891.
Stephen had spent every summer since he was a teenager gathering news stories in and around Asbury Park for his brother’s news service. Before he had left Asbury Park after the summer of 1892, he had written his first novel, “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets”, a dozen short stories, called “The Sullivan County Tales”, and scores of newspaper articles.
After living a bohemian life in New York City, his third novel, “The Red Badge of Courage” earned him fame, but little fortune. He returned to write about Asbury Park in 1896 when he was a famous writer commenting on the little city where he started his writing career. He went on to travel and write for several news syndicates, cover the Greco Turkish War, and then the Spanish American War. He settled in England with his common-law wife Cora, and finally succumbed to tuberculosis on June 5, 1900. He was only 28 years old. Cora had taken him to the Black Forest in Germany in an effort to cure him. Stephen is buried in Hillside, New Jersey, a few miles from the old brick rectory in which he was born.
Arbutus Cottage remained in the Crane family until 1899 when it was sold to a man from Newark. It has gone through several phases, most recently as one of the hundreds of summer boarding houses in Asbury Park. In the 1950’s through the 1970’s it was owned by Archie and Florence McCorkindale of Newark who named the house “The Florence”. Later it became uninhabitable, falling on the same hard times as the city. In 1995, it was slated for demolition. It was saved by Tom and Regina Hayes who lived on Sixth Avenue here. They purchased the run-down structure for $7,500 which was $500 more than Mrs. Crane paid in 1883! After the Hayes family and friends put in a lot of hard work and resources, they turned the house into a community resource and small museum. When they left the city in 2001, they sold the house to Frank D’Alessandro, their Sixth Avenue neighbor, in order to have the house remain as a community resource.
Since 1995, the house has been the small venue for hundreds of literary, musical, film and other cultural programs all dedicated to the memory of Stephen and his very literary and artistic family.
The Crane House thanks Tom and Richard
Those of you who are regular viewers of the SyFy Channel’s popular “Ghost Hunters” program know that Asbury Park’s Stephen Crane House was featured a couple of weeks ago. Alas, no unwarranted apparitions appeared in the circa 1878 residence aside from some enormous paranormal dust bunnies. However, something positive did emerge due to the intersession of two community spirited gentlemen. A former owner of the house, Tom Hayes of the New Jersey Natural Gas Company, initially got the show’s producers to agree to provide a $700 donation to the Asbury Park Little League. The equally admirable persistence of the Coaster’s own Richard Virgilio of “The B Plot” fame helped cut through the corporate red tape in making that check appear, unlike the obviously camera shy Crane House ghosts! The Asbury Park Little League and the wonderful folks who have breathed such life into that venerable organization deserve the support of all who wish to encourage and nurture our city’s young people. They received a little assistance from the Ghost Hunters, but they need your help, too! Many thanks to Tom Hayes and Richard Virgilio for making the Ghost Hunter donation a reality.
|508 Fourth Ave, Asbury Park 07712||732-775-5682||Frank D'alessandro|