#52snapshots 2022 | Week 52–Your Town’s Famous Residents, Ghosts, and Legends

The final prompt of this blog series asks us to write about famous residents, ghosts, and/or legends from our hometown or current town.

I actually wrote a book about this, Legendary Locals of Kearny, New Jersey (Arcadia, 2015). I wrote about the Civil War general after whom the town was named, Phil Kearny, sports heroes, teachers, doctors, military leaders and soldiers, business and civic leaders, and neighbors. It was probably my least successful book about my hometown, but then it was also my fourth book about my hometown. Still, it was fun to research and write to recognize local legends.

In many forms I’ve written about Sanford L. Kahn (“Sandy”), who was the town’s first Jewish World War II casualty. He was only nineteen when killed in action and became the namesake for the town’s post 538 of the Jewish War Veterans. In Legendary Locals, I wrote this:

“Sandy Kahn of Chestnut Street enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1943 at age 19. In February 1944, he wrote his family in Kearny, “Don’t worry about me. I still have a long time before I hit combat. For all anyone knows, I may miss it.” Six months later, his parents received a telegram stating their son was missing in action. Later they learned a German sniper’s bullet instantly killed him during the battle of St. Lo in northern France. Sandy became the first Jewish soldier from town to be killed in World War II. The local post of the Jewish War Veterans bears his name—Sanford L. Kahn Post 538.”

Sanford “Sandy” L. Kahn, Courtesy Kahn Family

But lately, I’ve been thinking of Father Washington, priest of St. Stephen’s Church on Kearny Avenue, who was one of the four chaplains who went down with the USAT Dorchester in 1943. I wrote the following for his entry:

“On December 7, 1941 Father John P. Washington was on his way back from treating his mother to the movies when he heard the devastating news on his car radio that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Born in Newark in 1908, Father Washington served as associate pastor at St. Stephen’s Church. When he arrived home, he notified the church pastor, Father George Murphy, of his desire to enlist. Father Murphy, a World War I veteran, was sure to approve. Despite eye damage sustained in a street fight years before in Newark, Father Washington was accepted into the U.S. Army. He waited impatiently for his overseas duty request to be granted while at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.

Father John Washington (Courtesy St. Stephen’s Church)

“Father Washington joined three other chaplains at Fort Miles Standish in November 1942: Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Reverend George Lansing Fox (Methodist), and Rabbi Alex Goode (Jewish). On January 3, 1943, the four boarded the USAT Dorchester, a troopship with 900 passengers and crew, leaving New York harbor as ship 23 in a 64-ship convoy headed toward a destination only known to a few—Greenland.

“To get to Greenland, the ship needed to move through U-boat-infested waters. The chaplains sought to calm the nerves of the newly drafted and enlisted men. Father Washington’s amiable personality made him popular with the men. But when a German torpedo hit the ship on February 3, all four chaplains sprang into action. Each gave up his life vest to a passenger or crew member. Linked in prayer and hymns, they went down with the ship into the icy depths of the Atlantic. A stained-glass window at St. Stephen’s commemorates the beloved pastor. Washington Avenue, previously Eilshemius Avenue, memorializes the brave and selfless chaplain. He received several posthumous awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism, the Purple Heart, and a Special Medal for Heroism, authorized by Congress.”

Who would you write about from your hometown or current town?

This is the final #52 snapshot for 2022. I did it! I wrote 52 snapshots following Sonja Livingston’s Fifty-two Snapshots: A Memoir Starter Kit. I hope this blog series inspired you to write some memoir pieces of your own.

Want to write memoir? Check out my workshops starting January 8 for Writing Family History and January 10 for Writing the Past.

About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
This entry was posted in #52snapshots, 52 Snapshots, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to #52snapshots 2022 | Week 52–Your Town’s Famous Residents, Ghosts, and Legends

  1. Penny taub says:

    Happy New Year Barbara. These weekly Snapshots have been interesting to read. Thank you for the helpful ideas. Peace Penny.

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