Roosevelt, New Jersey

Jacket Painting “Fourth of July Orator” by Ben Shahn

By the time my wife and I bought our house in 1953, Jersey Homesteads had given up its name. It was now called Roosevelt, New Jersey, after the father of the New Deal and the leader of the war against Hitler. The change was made, I gather, while the whole nation was in mourning. Even some of those who hated him grieved, since grief comes cheap after the book is closed and the man is dead.

Here in town, I believe, the sorrow was genuine: the change of name was accomplished simply and without show, by a unanimous action of the Borough Council. But I don’t really know. The act is in the minutes, but I can’t tell what the town felt like at the time, since I wasn’t here. And this, obviously, would mean a lot more than any item that can be written down in the records. That’s why I’m no scholar, probably, because I believe in the feel of things and in the stories people have to tell rather than the facts that are only bones.

As Ben Shahn used to say: “Most facts are lies; all stories are true.”

One fact, however, I can vouch for: No two people left over from the beginning (informants they are called, aren’t they?) agree on any fact more meaningful than the date when the town was founded.

Edwin Rosskam, Roosevelt, New Jersey (1972)

For more info on Roosevelt, see the Wikipedia entry which links to a great page on the original Jersey Homesteads, including an audio interview with Bernarda Shahn which explicates the Ben Shahn mural that lives there.

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