The Burlington County Division of Parks holds a countywide History Recognition Program each year to honor county residents, organizations and municipalities who have taken steps to explore, record and reveal history, as well as those who have proven to be remarkable leaders and educators in the field of history.
This program is administered in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Recognition Program.
There are several categories of awards given, including Published History, Achievement and Leadership, Education, History Project, Historic Site, and Organization of the Year.
“The Bordentown Historical Society’s mission is to preserve, teach and inspire curiosity about Bordentown’s rich history. We were approached by Leah Shaw with Building Bridges about School No. 2 and Dr. Connie Goddard about the Bordentown Manual Training and Industrial School with questions and an opportunity to talk about about these two institutions that closed in the 1950s.
“There has been little preserved history of these two institutions. With those initial sparks of interest and the opportunity to collaborate we had the motivation and wherewithal to conduct interviews, to build the knowledge we had of the two schools and tell the story to an audience that wanted to know.
“This was an opportunity to shine a light on these two underserved institutions and understand the tremendous impact they had locally and nationally. The Manual Training School, for example, was a nationally recognized institution that hosted visits from greats like Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and many, many other dignitaries. To hear the graduates of both schools speak of their formative years really offered the best understanding of the quality of education and life lessons learned here,” he said.
Scott Nielsen, a member of both the Bordentown Historical Society and Building Bridges, created a video of the personal testimonies that can be seen at https://youtu.be/2p7kIUauHJ4
Harrowing History is a theatrical storytelling program that focuses on true tales from the darker side of the area’s past. It’s about Bordentown’s creepy, scary and often hushed history as pulled from century-old local and national records. These are the true stories of murder, mayhem and tragedy that occurred in Bordentown and the surrounding area, Kantorski said.
While the stories of Francis Hopkinson, Clara Barton, and Thomas Paine are some of the most well-known, this latest initiative dives into dark passageways to expose Bordentown’s disreputable natives.
Every story is absolutely true: painstakingly researched from local and national newspapers, trial records, census data and obituaries, just to name a few.
Harrowing History began in the beginning of 2019, when, in looking for items and researching the “Untold Stories” series, Doug Kiovsky, current vice president of the historical society, found a file which contained several dark and somewhat sinister printed articles from the late 1870s. Kantorski was shown the articles and began to wonder what else happened in this quiet, charming and friendly little town that people now no longer remember.
“I spent many months in libraries sifting through records and history tomes. Ultimately, I found a treasure trove of incidents that occurred in Bordentown between 1820 and 1920. What was fascinating wasn’t simply the ‘incident’ which, in its own right, captures one’s attention, but rather the larger historical picture of that time period. When all these different elements come together, only then do we have a comprehensive historical view, and a really juicy narrative.
“By presenting the research via a theatrical storyteller performance, we wanted to educate the audience in a new, creative and entertaining way. The history we present isn’t something one will learn in school or a simple Google search,” Kantorski said.
Kantorski said, on behalf of the Bordentown Historical Society, it feels “incredible” to receive the award.
“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized for success in historical education. As a small historical society, we’re always striving for ways to reach out to people – to preserve, teach and inspire curiosity about our local history. This was one of Harrowing History’s goals. People often overlook (local) history or see it as boring. If someone is on stage in full period costume, with the lighting creating a particular atmosphere, sound effects and props creating ambience, people are more likely to take notice and pay a little more attention. We sought to educate people in a new and innovative way and inspire curiosity about their local history, all while giving the audience a compelling good time,” she said.
Harrowing History is a collaborative effort of storytellers Leann Testerman, James Parker, Anne Hay, Chris Campbell, Stacy La Mell, Elyse Kiedaisch and Melissa L. E. Baker.
- Background information was provided by Kristi Kantorski, a director at the Bordentown Historical Society and the creator, writer and producer of Harrowing History.