By JOHN T. WARD
In Eileen Moon’s eyes, “personality drives progress.” And as the author of “Legendary Locals of Red Bank,” a newly published book of historical and contemporary profiles, Moon encountered personality galore.
People like Sigmund Eisner, for example, an immigrant who, starting with a single sewing machine, not only built the nation’s largest uniform factory, but helped his employees buy homes, cementing a sense of community.
“It takes a strong personality, and a vision, and a risk-taker sometimes, to change what is into some new evolution of that,” says Moon.
Moon’s book spotlights game-changers such as Eisner; pioneering African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune; jazzman William ‘Count’ Basie; the father-son-physicians James Parker Sr. and Jr.; literary critic Edmund Wilson; and running guru George Sheehan. They were obvious choices.
But there are lesser-known figures, too. Like Henry M. Nevius, who lost an arm in the Civil War and went on to become a prominent judge and lawmaker – and the inspiration for one of the three soldiers depicted atop Red Bank’s veteran’s memorial at Monmouth Street and Drummond Place.
There’s Captain Edward Irwin, a crusty old waterman. Margaret Rullman, who chronicled the World War II endeavors of local soldiers and sailors in a newsletter called the Barefoot Bulletin. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, an end-of-world mystic who grew up as Betty Clare Wulf on South Street.
Disclaimer: redbankgreen founders John T. Ward and Trish Russoniello are also included in the book for having created the town’s first digital-only newspaper.
A spin-off of the Images of America series of photo books by Arcadia Publishing, the Legendary Locals series features brief entries and old photographs. In this case, as in the earlier series, many of the images come from the Dorn’s Collection.
Moon’s book, her first, is also the first in the series for a Monmouth County town.
Moon, a longtime reporter who has written for the Asbury Park Press, the New York Times and other newspapers, ended a long run as editor of the Two River Times two years ago, and soon found herself at a monthlong writer’s residency on Martha’s Vineyard, working on a memoir.
There, she met a woman who had published a book under the Legendary Locals imprint for Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
“I thought, that would be great for Red Bank,” Moon told redbankgreen. She reached out to the publisher and quickly found herself on a new path into the past.
The theme of her book is “people and place, with more emphasis on people” than in the Images in America series, said Moon, an Atlantic Highlands resident who’s now a writer and researcher for FEMA. She’s also writing what she calls “a memoir about a Cold War childhood.”
Might there be another ‘Legendary Locals’ in her future? Moon at first thought not, having discovered the work of assembling dozens of archival photos and digging out the history for 25,000 words worth of material was more daunting than expected.
“But there are so many people left out of this book that I might,” she said.
Eileen Moon is scheduled to read from and sign copies of her book at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, at River Road Books in Fair Haven. She’ll do the same at the Red Bank Public Library on Saturday, March 29, from 2 to 4 p.m.