06 October 2019

Bernard Dixon Sinks For Third Time!

It's less than one mile from 326 East Jersey Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey, to the South Front Street Bridge. Taking a 15 minute walk, down East Jersey Street to the waterfront, where the Staten Island Sound meets Newark Bay you pass one- and two-family homes, small apartment buildings, and locally owned businesses. As you cross First Street, you're just one block from the water. Today, when you get to the waterfront, you'll see a marina and a waterfront park. In 1915 the area was more industrial. Ship yards and manufacturing facilities edged the water, along with rail-lines for transporting goods.

Hand-colored image showing street with trolley car on tracks in middle of the road. The street is lined with two and three story buildings, many with storefronts on the ground level. Children are gathered on the corners looking at the streetcar or the camera.
1916 postcard of First Street, "down the Port", Elizabeth, New Jersey.
First Street is one block inland from South Front Street, and runs parallel to the waterfront.
On a Sunday in June, 1915, with leisure time at hand, 9-year-olds Bernard Dixon [later known as Wallace Bernard] and Andrew Payne, were ready for an afternoon of play. They left the house at 2 o'clock under strict orders to stay away from the docks. Three friends joined the pair and the five boys headed straight for the waterfront.

They ended up at the old South Front Street bridge, which crossed the Elizabeth River. The Crescent Ship Yard was on the near side of the bridge and the river, and they would have been able to see the New Jersey Dry Dock Company just across the bridge.

This portion of a 1916 map of Elizabeth, NJ has been marked to incdicate the location of the Dixon residence at that time, as well as the location of the South Front Street Bridge.
Elizabeth, New Jersey, 1916.(1)  Click to enlarge map.
Also on the other side of the bridge, about 200 feet down the road at 3 South Front Street, was the boathouse belonging to John W. Van Pelt & Son. The Van Pelts were in the business of renting boats. John W. was about 73 years old in 1915, and in the New Jersey State Census of that year his occupation was listed as "Bridgeman." John H. Van Pelt, John W.'s son, was 45 years old that year, and his occupation was Boatman.

The boys reached the river bank, and were playing there for about an hour when Bernard stepped on a log at the edge of the river near the bridge. One of his friends gave him a playful shove, and into the water he went!

Mr. Van Pelt heard the boys screaming and yelling for help and ran the 200 feet from his boathouse to the river bank, diving into the water to save Bernard. The panicked boy had, by the time Mr. Van Pelt arrived, sunk under the water of the river for the third time! Only his cap floating on the surface marked the place where he had gone down. Using that as a marker, Van Pelt dove to the bottom of the river where he was able to find Bernard and grab his coat collar. Draging the dazed boy to the surface, Van Pelt quickly revived him.

Bernard was the fifth child that Mr. Van Pelt had rescued at what seemed to be a popular spot for children to play.

Bernard [And Mr. Van Pelt] Make the News


"John Van Pelt, Boatman, Dives Overboard as 9-Year-Old Bernard Dixon Sinks for Third Time -- His Fifth Rescue." Article describes the events that lead up to Bernard's mishap, and John Van Pelt's brave and quick action to save him.
Article from the Elizabeth Daily Journal,
June 7, 1915, page 13. (2)
I never, ever heard my grandfather talk about this nearly fatal event in his life. Maybe he didn't think it was any big deal, or maybe he just didn't want to remember it. If I hadn't been searching the 1915 Elizabeth Daily Journal for information on a different ancestor it's possible I never would have come across the article that tells the tale.

Thanks to the quick thinking of John Van Pelt, I'm here today to share the story with you.

Here's the  complete transcript:


John Van Pelt, Boatman, Dives Overboard as 9-Year-Old Bernard Dixon Sinks for Third Time — His Fifth Rescue.

Bernard Wallace Dixon, aged 9 years, had a narrow escape from death by drowning Saturday afternoon, and John Van Pelt, proprietor of the boathouse on South Front street by the Elizabeth river, is in line for a hero medal. This is the fifth child he has rescued from drowning in two years at the same spot where the Dixon boy almost lost his life.

The boy is the son of Mrs. Mary Dixon, of 326 East Jersey street. About two o’clock Saturday afternoon he and a chum, Andrew Payne, aged 9 years, who boards with the Dixons, ran away to the waterfront. The boys had been given strict orders to avoid the docks, but with a party of three other own age, they slipped away for an after noon’s play.

About an hour after they reached the South Front street drawbridge the Dixon boy mounted a log on the edge of the river near the bridge. One of the boys playfully gave him a push, and the lad lost his balance and fell in. The boy who pushed him became frightened and ran away. The other boys screamed and the struggling youngster in the water also had the presence of mind to cry for help.

Mr. Van Pelt, who was across the bridge about 200 feet from the scene, heard the cries and ran from the boathouse to the edge of the river. He dived for the Dixon boy, who had then gone down for the third time. The position of the latter’s hat indicated the point for which to dive, and the quick work of the rescuer came in the nick of time. Groping on the bottom, Mr. Van Pelt got a firm hold on the lad’s coat collar and brought him, dazed to the surface. It required but a short time to revive him.

Elizabeth Daily Journal, Monday, June 7, 1915. Page 13.

And, Finally, a Bit About the South Front Street Bridge

At the time my grandfather "went down for the third time," the bridge at South Front Street was doing the same.
By 1889, a draw bridge spanned the river at South Front Street. As industrial growth spread south of the Elizabeth River into the Bayway section of Elizabeth, the crossing provided an important link between the Elizabethport and Bayway areas. Lumber businesses that were initially located on the north side of the river eventually expanded their operations south to the area located along South Front Street and Arthur Kill with spur lines connecting to rail transportation. Industrial growth continued during the boom years surrounding World War I and through the 1920s when the current bridge was constructed (Sanborn 1889, 1903, 1923; Bauer 1906). (3)
According to a report in the Elizabeth Daily Journal on May 7, 1915 the bridge was seeing a lot of vehicular traffic that was beyond it's capacity:
The committee on drawbridges pointed out that the South Front street bridge is ovetaxed with modern motor traffic loads of ten and twelve tons frequently going over the old structure, built in 1871, while the safety capacity is scarcely more than seven tons. It stated that the South First street bridge is ample for all traffic, but asked that the Board of Works be requested to fix up the streets leading to it, which were said to be in deplorable condition. The report and accompanying resolution were adopted.
With the advent of World War I, issues of transportation, defense, and resource allocation opened the next chapter in the bridge's story. According to the excellent website, bridgesnyc.com :
Plans for a movable bridge at South Front Street were approved on July 3, 1916 by the Secretary of War. A riparian grant (a deed granted for normally state-owned tidelands) was obtained for $260 from the state of New Jersey in 1917, officially allowing the bridge to be constructed by the City of Elizabeth. The American Bridge Company built the bridge, beginning in 1920; it opened to traffic in 1922.
The War Department has granted the city of Elizabeth permission to build a new bridge to replace the old structure at Front Street. The Committee authorizes the work to be advertised for bids.
Bridgesnyc points out that the South Front Street bridge was, at one time, one of six moveable bridges that allowed the Elizabeth River to accomodate ocean-going vessels. When the NJ Turnpike opened in 1951 shipping shifted from the water to the highway and the decline of heavy river traffic began, and with it the decline of the county's bridges on the Elizabeth River.

Although the bridge had been slated for repairs as late as 2011. However, structural concerns caused the city to leave the bridge in the open position and eventually to close it completely. Good for river traffic, but vehicular traffic had to be routed to the South First Street bridge. (4)

As of January 2018, this was the state of the bridge, left in the open position. Click on the image to enlarge it. (5)

This photo from 2018 shows the South Front Street bridge in the open position, as it has been since 2011. Also shown are the concrete barricades that prevent passage to the bridge.

Notes and Resources

(1) E.J. Grassmann, Map of the City of Elizabeth, New Jersey 1916. Copyright 1916 by E.J. Grassmann, Elizabeth Novelty Co., Publisher. Digital image: Rutgers University Special Collections < http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu >

(2) "Plunges into River to Save Little Boy," Elizabeth Daily Journal, Monday, June 7, 1915. Page 13. Elizabeth, New Jersey Public Library, digital collections, Elizabeth Daily Journal Archive < http://www.digifind-it.com/elizabeth/newspapers.php > downloaded 9 June 2019.

(3) Deborah Baldwin Van Steen. Goethals Bridge Replacement, Richmond County, New York and The City of Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey: Volume 1; Historic Architectural Resource Study, New Jersey, Revised Report, July 2008; pages 69-71. Accessed online < http://www.goethalseis.com/pdfs/deis/appendix_e1_vol1.pdf > 6 October 2019. Describes history and significance of the bridge built around 1920.

(4) "South Front Street Bridge," posted by shayna, December 20, 2011. bridgesnyc: Bridges in the New York Metropolitan Area. Website < http://www.bridgesnyc.com/2011/12/south-front-street-bridge/ > viewed 6 October 2019. The article has many good photographs and gives a succinct  history of the bridge, it's unique design, and the location next to the superfund site of the Chemical Control Compnay. For photos dating from August 2015, see also the website LTV Squad < http://ltvsquad.com/2015/09/09/south-front-street-bridge-elizabeth-nj/ >.

(5) Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:S Front Street Br weight jeh.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:S_Front_Street_Br_weight_jeh.jpg&oldid=334409375 (accessed October 6, 2019).

03 July 2018

Back in the Day : 1911

It's sometimes difficult to imagine what the world looked like for previous generations of our ancestors.

I recently found a great video on YouTube showing New York City in 1911. I though it would be great to share that here, since my family "homeland" (Elizabeth, New Jersey) was just across the river, and no doubt my ancestors travelled to that bustling metropolis on occasion. In fact, my grandfather had a portrait made there in 1912 at the studio of E. Jennings & Co. at 22 Front Street. That neighborhood is quite close to where the Staten Island Ferry docks today.

The city of Elizabeth, on a much smaller scale of course, would have had some similarities at the time. Street cars, horse-drawn delivery wagons, and of course the people would have been dressed like their counterparts in New York.

Here are a few post card views of Elizabeth from the same era.

Viewed from Staten Island, this post card view of the waterfront of the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey shows a sailing ship, rail cars, and the distincitve spires of St. Patrick's Church. Postmarked 1909, sent by Louise Scheerer to Mina Krieger.
This shows the Elizabeth waterfront, with the spires of St. Patrick's just right of center. This scene would have been familiar to my Dixon oystermen earlier in the decade. By 1911 is seems like they had gone on to other, more landlocked,  jobs.
This postcard was postmarked in Elizabeth on June 28, 1909, and again in San Bernardino, CA on July 3.
Six days coast-to-coast. Not bad!
[If you're kin to Louise Scheerer, who sent the card, or Mina Krieger, who recieved it, drop me a note.]

Street scene on First Street, Elizabeth, NJ. Children wait on the corners as a streetcar approaches. Oppenhimer's Fancy Goods store is also seen. The publisher, Elizabeth Novelty Co. was in exisitance between 1904 and 1916.
Aside from the fact that the streets seem to be populated entirely by children, this is how First Street in Elizabeth
would have looked around 1911. Note the trolley, similar to those in New York City. Maybe some of the passengers
were heading for Oppenhimer's Fancy Goods store the on the left.
This card was printed by the Elizabeth Novelty Co., which was in existance between 1904 and 1916.

29 May 2018

Wallace B. Dixon : WWII Deferment Classifications

Selective Service Registration Certificate, WWII, Wallace B. Dixon, 1940.
Selective Service Registration Certificate, 1940

Wallace B. Dixon registered for the Draft on 16 October 1940 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. (1) He was 35 years old, and was living at 763 S. Broad St. with his wife Sophie, and their children, Wally, Jr. and Mary.

As noted in my previous post, my grandfather was issued an ID card in 1942, by the US Coast Guard, indicating his work for Standard Oil of NJ, which involved transport and storage of oil.

Notice of classification, 22 Sept 1943, Wallace B. Dixon, Class 3-A.
1943 Notice of Classification, 3-A, men with dependants,
not engaged in work essential to national defense.

I don't know what his classification was from his draft registration in 1940 until 1942, but I have his classification cards from 1943 and 1944. [I'll update this post when I've recieved his classification files from NARA.]

On 22 September 1943, the local Draft Board determined that Wally be classified as 3-A, which is "Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense."(2) (3)

In 1943, Wally and his family were still living at the S. Broad St. address.(4) His son, Wally, Jr., would not graduate from high school until the following year. His daughter, Mary, would graduate in 1945.(5)

According to a note written by Wally, and a copious number of photographs, he and possibly Sophie, and certainly Wally, Jr. spent time between 1943 and 1945 living in Miami, Florida.(6) It seems likely that Mary remained in Elizabeth, living either with her mother or her maternal grandparents, Constantine and Alice (Rimkus) Karvoius.

Two other pieces of official ephemera also prove that, at least starting on 13 March 1944, Wally was living at 340 NE 17th Terrace in Miami, and continued to do so until some time after 28 September 1944. Both of these State of Florida driver's licenses list that address, and also give an occupation of "inspector." (7)

Florida Driver's License issued 13 March 1944 to Wallace B. Dixon, "inspector," living in Miami.
1944 Florida Driver's License
Florida Driver's License issued to Wallace B. Dixon on 20 Sept 1945, "inspector," living in Miami.
1945 Florida Driver's License

I had always assumed that the time my grandparents spent in Florida was related to some health issues, but I think now that they were related to his job, "inspector"[?], with Standard Oil. None of the classification cards indicate deferrment based on health issues.

Selective Service Notice of Classification for Wallace B. Dixon, 25 October 1944, Class 4-A.
October 1944 Notice of Classification, 4-A,
men who have completed service, OR deferred by
reason of age.

The first of two classification cards issued in 1944, on March 3, shows a change of classifications to 2-B. (8) Class 2 deferrments were based on occupational status, and 2-B indicates "men necessary to national defense." (3) 

Selective Service Notice of Classification for Wallace B. Dixon, 3 March 1944, Class 2-B.
March 1944 Notice of Classification, 2-B,
men necessary to national defense.

The second card issued in October of that year classifies Wally as 4-A.(9)  Category 4 is for men "deferred specifically by law or because unfit for military service." His categorization as 4-A, which is "men who have completed service," was generally not considered at time of war according to one source (3), is also listed as "man deferred by reason of age" in another source. After 31 August 1945, that included men who were age 26 or older. (10) 

Either way, his deferrment from active military duty lasted for the duration of World War II.


(1) Defense Security Service D. S. S. registration certificate, D.S.S. Form 2, 16 October 1940; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, 2018. Wallace Bernard Dixon, 763 S. Broad St Elizabeth Union N.J. has been duly registered on this 16th day of October 1940.

(2) Local Board No. 11, Elizabeth, NJ Selective Service Classification Card, 22 September 1943; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, 2018.  DSS Form 57. Wallace Bernard Dixon, Order No. 1585 has been classified  in Class 3-A (H).

(3) "Military Classifications for Draftees." Compiled by Anne Yoder, Archivist, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 2007. [http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/conscientiousobjection/MilitaryClassifications.htm] Updated 2011 and 2014. Viewed 28 May 2018.

(4) Wallace Bernard Dixon (Roselle, New Jersey), "Handwritten list compiled by writer", After 1974; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, 2018.  List of cars owned and residence addresses. 153 Clark Place 1925-1929. 239 Marshal St Store 1929-1934. Garfield St. Li[nden] 1934-1934. 763 So. Broad St. 1934-1943. 340 NE 17th Terr [Miami, FL] 1943-1945. 214 Inslee Place 1945-1952. 1023 Thompson Ave Ro.[selle] 1952-.

(5) Yearbook Staff, TeeJay: Yearbook of Thomas Jefferson High School (Elizabeth, New Jersey: Senior Class of Thomas Jefferson High School, 1944), no page numbers; Senior Class Photos; Class Will; Class Mirror.

Battin Hish School, "Commencement Program 1945", (N.p.; left center page). Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. 1945.  Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, 2018; inherited from her mother, Mary E. (Dixon) Traina. Mary E. Dixon is listed among the graduates.

(6) "Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Multiple Registrations", digital image, The National Archives, Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Multiple Registrations. NARA Record Group 147. Draft Registration Cards for Florida, 10/16/1940 - 03/31/1947.  Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/607556630). Downloaded 9 December 2017. Wallace Andrew Dixon, living in Miami, Dade, Florida. Registration dated 8 July 1944.

(7) State of Florida Driver's Licenses, issued in 1944 and 1945 to Wallace B. Dixon; privately held by Elizabeth Ackermann, [address for private use], 2018. Inherited by his daughter, Mary E. Dixon Traina, and then by her daughter, E. Ackermann. Licenses give birth date, physical description, occupation [Inspector] and address of Wallace B. Dixon.

(8) Local Board No. 11, Union County Selective Service Classification Notice, 3 March 1944; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, 2018.  DSS Form 57. Wallace Bernard Dixon, Order No. 1585, Class 2-B.

(9) Local Board No. 11 Selective Service Classification Certificate, 25 Oct 1944; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, Christiansburg, Virginia, 2018.  DSS Form 57. Local Board No. 11, Union County, NJ, Old City Hall, Elizabeth. Wallace Bernard Dixon, Order No. 1585 has been classified in Class 4-A.

(10)" Selective Service System Classifications for WWI, WWII, and PWWII through 1976."  Computer UFO Network [http://www.cufon.org/CRG/memo/74911231.html], 28 May 2018. This is, admitedly, a website dedicated to providing "accurate" information on unidentified flying objects. They don't indicate a source for their information, but it seems to mostly agree with the list from Swarthmore, source number 3 on this page.

27 May 2018

Wallace B. Dixon : Shift Breaker 1942

My Grandfather didn't serve in the Military during WWII. But that's not to say that he didn't serve his country. As an employee of the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, Gramps was involved with oil transport and storage – a vital war-time function.

This identification card (1) issued by the US Coast Guard and signed by the Captian of the Port of New York, is a treasure, as it gives a glimpst at his service in 1942, and also includes a photo and a physical description.

Wallace B. Dixon, employed by Standard Oil of N.J., was issued an ID card by the US Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New York in 1942.
Wallace B. Dixon's US Coast Guard ID card, 1942. (1)
Wallace B. Dixon pictured on reverse of US Coast Guard ID card, issued in 1942 when he was employed by Standard Oil of NJ
The back of the Coast Guard ID card.
My Grandfather was 37 years old when this photo was taken.

A "shift breaker," according to the Petroleum Dictionary by Lalia Phipps Boone, is also sometimes known as a "swing man."
A worker who replaces other operators when they are off duty. The rotating shift causes a gap in the regular line-up, and since operation in a refinery must be continuous, a worker must be employed who is trained for several positions. He is next in line for promotion, and since he is qualified for more than one position, he is a very valuable employee. (2)


1. Captain of the Port of New York, United States Coast Guard identification card, 28 Apr 1942; privately held by Elizabeth Traina Ackermann, Christiansburg, Virginia, 2018.  Card 0?1, Serial Number 427664. Wallace Bernard Dixon, Shift Breaker, Oil Move. & Stor.; Employed or sponsored by Standard Oil Co. of N.J.

2. Boon, Lalia Phipps. The Petroleum Dictionary. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman,  Oklahoma. 1952. p. 300. Viewed on Archive.org [ https://archive.org/stream/petroleumdiction00boon/petroleumdiction00boon_djvu.txt], 27 May 2018. 

11 May 2018

My Great-Grandmother Owned a Monkey

Not my grandma, not her monkey!

See the original on the fascinating
Tumbler Blog
"An Unnatural History."

Oh, how I wish I had a photo of Mary Elizabeth (Klein) Dixon Payne and her monkey to share with you. [If, by chance, you have one, I hope you'll share it with me!] This Fun Family Fact comes courtesy of of a step-cousin, who's father, Thomas Payne, Jr. brought the monkey back from his Navy travels and gave it to his step-mother.

Just another example of the treasures you find when you contact cousins, and step-cousins, you've never met. This particular step-cousin has shared some great information about the Payne family, and has helped me identify some photos. Love it!

Did anyone in your family have unusual pets?

18 February 2018

Welcome to 2018

Wallace A. Dixon (1926-1988) sitting in the lap of unidentified young woman. Taken in Elizabeth, NJ c. 1926-1927. Collectionn of E. Ackermann, 2018.
Wallace A. Dixon, circa 1926, in the lap of unidentified woman.
Elizabeth, New Jersey. Personal collection,
E. Ackermann, 2018.

Happy New Year!

I generally start my year on the blog with a baby, a traditional icon of new beginnings in the New Year. This year's New Kid on the block is my dear Uncle Wally [Wallace A. Dixon, 1926-1988] in the lap of someone I don't know. Not his mother, not any of his maternal aunts. Possibilities include paternal aunts, or possibly a cousin or family friend. If you recognize her, give me a shout. [Hey! It's a two-for-one! New Years baby and a Mystery Photo! Yippee!]

13 December 2017

A Musical Interlude

Jingle Bells!

I have had this music box since I was quite young (1960's). The angel is missing her wings, some of her hair, and she should be holding a little Christmas tree. Also, there is a small tree missing from the base. But it still plays! In fact, I just set it out on the mantel and the start pin slipped out enough that it started on it's own.

I can remember taking the base apart to "see how it worked" when I was a kid. I'm glad I didn't tinker with the moving parts and break the music box.

In the background you see a small feather tree that is about the same vintage, and one of the lamps that used to grace my Grandma Dixon's bedroom dresser.