n 2000, I approached the local historical museum and members of the friends of the public library about cosponsoring an oral history project. “Vanishing Hoboken” would capture, through the recollections of longtime residents, Hoboken’s disappearing identity as a working-class city and its tradition of multi-ethnic living. As I saw it, the project would bypass elected officials and most “famous” personalities: their doings were chronicled in the press. Instead, its interviewers would seek out the stories of factory and shipyard workers, owners of mom and pop shops, and participants in the city’s myriad social, religious, and civic organizations—each of whom carried a piece of a picture that was rapidly being erased around us.
Hoboken had changed dramatically in the preceding twenty years; by the late 1980s, affluent condominium-buyers were steadily replacing poor and working class tenants. Modern towers had risen alongside the late-19th century row houses that had once spatially defined our densely populated, mile-square city and provided its human scale.
The taped interviews would eventually become a kind of auditory time capsule. But I wanted the stories to be shared in the present, too—passed from person to person, collected anew. I liked the idea of having the recollections returned to the community from which they originated—a changing community of old-timers and newcomers. To make these extensive interviews accessible to the public, I would edit transcripts into small booklets, illustrated with museum images and family photos. The booklets would be made available to the general public without cost, at events that would celebrate the storytellers and engender more storytelling.
In my proposal, I described the booklets as sufficiently well made to demonstrate esteem for the storytellers, but modest enough to be printed affordably. I would write grants, edit the interview transcripts, and art direct the booklets.
The Hoboken Historical Museum and the Friends of the Hoboken Public Library agreed to cosponsor the project. Volunteers came forward to help with interviews. Support came from state history and humanities organizations, as well as private companies and individual donors. I edited transcripts and gathered images from generous storytellers. And I was most fortunate to work alongside two immensely skilled graphic designers: Michelle McMillian and Ann Marie Manca. The handiwork of each is identified.