Inside The Hoboken Historical Museum

Boy on Sandy MonitorPhoto Provided by Hoboken Historical Museum

Have you ever visited the Hoboken Historical Museum?  You’ve probably heard about the great events they sponsor, like the Swingin' Speakeasy party back in March, or the Secret Garden tour last June 1st.  LifeInHoboken.com has done several features on the museum’s ever-changing exhibits, but now we go behind the scenes, to see what makes it tick.

The Hoboken Historical Museum existed for almost a decade before it had a home.  It was founded in 1986 as a way to document and provide education about the history of Hoboken.  Thomas Vezzetti, the mayor at the time, invited the museum to create exhibits and events at City Hall.  The members agreed, and until 2001 they created exhibits wherever they found space.  In 1998, Applied Development Company generously granted the museum a one hundred year lease in the Shipyard building at $1 per year.  The Museum finally had a home, and an institution was born.

To get in the museum you have to walk through the archway of the Shipyard, located on Hudson Street at 13th St.  The building originally was a machine shop for Bethlehem Steel, and much of the original architecture remains.  Inside is a large 1st floor gallery and smaller 2nd floor space, that host a variety of exhibits and events.  The exposed brick walls are part of the original workshop space, fitting décor for a history museum.

Aside from the walls, everything about the museum is subject to change.  There are no permanent exhibits, instead, the entire space is devoted to a changing parade of subjects.  When a new installation begins, the space is emptied out to the walls, and everything, including seating and lighting, are reimagined.  Decisions on exhibit placement are made by in-house and visiting curators, who consider the topic and available materials.

Sandy Lectures - Hoboken Historical Museum Hoboken Historical Museum/ Sandy Lecture

The current exhibit, for example, is Hoboken: One Year After Sandy.  As anyone who was here during the hurricane knows, not much was left unscathed.  The museum had at its disposal however, terabytes of news video, cell phone pictures, and other electronic data.  With that in mind, the decision was made to focus on the audio and video artifacts, and to create a remarkably interactive exhibit.  One wall of the main gallery is lined with monitors, each broadcasting a different set of newscasts and personal video from the days after Sandy.  Touchscreens allow visitors to browse through specific sets of pictures, and focus on areas they choose.  Large blank books are available for visitors to write down their own Sandy memories and experiences, and the museum is collecting oral histories from various residents.  Since the exhibit opened last October, lectures and presentations have been given in conjunction with Stevens , Rutgers, and NJIT.  (Hoboken: One Year After Sandy is open through July 6th.)

The smaller upstairs gallery is reserved for art exhibits that are related to Hoboken in some way.  I got a sneak peek at the upcoming Local Motion: Mixed-Media Sculptures by Jennifer Place & Jodie Fink, which are a series of sculptures made from found objects within Hoboken.  Given the amount of debris Sandy created, I found this to be quite ironic.  The exhibit is a lot of fun, with whimsical creatures and items made from a variety of different materials.  It’s definitely worth a look.  Also on the second floor, make sure to look at the print albums containing drawings and photos of Hoboken throughout its history.  It can be addicting to page through the images of Hoboken-that-was.

Another large piece of the museum is the website, which functions as a permanent gallery of sorts.  The museum has many thousands of items in storage, lacking display space, but over 16,000 records and 45,000 images are available online.  There are also transcribed oral histories in downloadable formats, copies of artwork and photos depicting Hoboken, and a section devoted to the Stevens family.

For the last 3 years, the museum has also taken over staffing of the Hoboken Fire Department Museum at 213 Bloomfield Ave.  Open on the weekends, the Fire Museum features a restored 1932 fire engine which children are encouraged to climb in for a photo.  Retired firemen work with staffers to preserve and display the collection.
Incredibly enough, the museum, including the website, offsite exhibits and events, and the Fire Museum, are run by a total of four staff members.  A director, collections manager, educational curator, and public relations manager are the only staff positions.  They are assisted by a number of volunteers and residents, who are able to bring their own local interests to blend with the museum’s message.

One of the things that was most apparent during my visit is that the museum is always looking for input.  Many of the items, pictures, and stories were donated by Hoboken residents, from pre-war sports team photos to much of the Sandy exhibit.  It was a reminder that even our day to day lives here are a history of a sort, and worth preserving.

If you are interested in volunteering, visiting, or contributing to the Hoboken Historical Museum, please visit their website at https://www.hobokenmuseum.org.

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