March 23, 2019 | 30° F

Academic alliance hosts award panel for excellence in NJ-based literature

Photo by Casey Ambrosio |

Robert Kirkbride, along with Christina Mathews and Rusty Tagliareni, were awarded for their book, “Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital,” which documented the history and controversial demolition of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital.

On Wednesday, authors who focused on documenting and analyzing aspects of New Jersey’s long, diverse history were recognized for their work.

The New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance (NJSAA) hosted a panel in Alexander Library, honoring authors and their work that added to the understanding and development of New Jersey history.

Maxine Lurie, NJSAA member and one of the authors being recognized, said the organization came to fruition because people working in New Jersey studies such as geography and history, did not know each other well. 

“So it started as a way for people to get together, and then we started to create awards to encourage people to write about New Jersey,” she said. 

NJSAA annually considers work in five categories, and this year gave awards for three of them. Winners are in the fields of non-fiction scholarly, reference and non-fiction popular. Each book is first checked to ensure that it developed an understanding of the state’s history, demonstrated original research, was published within the last two years and is about New Jersey.

The panel began with an introduction and overview of the awards and selection process, before handing out awards and opening the floor to writers. Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone won the non-fiction scholarly award with their book, “Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle.”

“(This is) really (about) how the battle of Monmouth restored Washington’s reputation,” Stone said.

He said the book provides insight into the battle and larger campaign, while also looking at the politics between George Washington and General Charles Lee. The battle decided who the “leader” of the Continental Army would be, which later influenced major politics of the early United States.

“… Five years later or so he’s (Washington) inaugurated as the president of the United States which was a wonderful thing.” Stone said.

Lurie was then awarded in the reference category for her collaborative work with Richard F. Veit on their book, “Envisioning New Jersey: An Illustrated History of the Garden State.” 

She said that the book took four years to complete because they had to receive permission from their sources. The published book contains 654 images from 150 sources.

“What I wanted to do today was to just show you a few images and to say that for us this became a treasure hunt,” Lurie said.

In an attempt to tell the state's history through photos, the book included images of historical sites in New Jersey. 

The front cover of the book displays the inside of the Hudson County Courthouse. It shows a mural that tells the story of Washington and his staff when they were at Fort Lee in the fall of 1776, Lurie said. The mural captures them watching the British take Fort Washington, across the Hudson.

A photograph of the Morse-Vail Telegraph Key from the Smithsonian Institute is also included in the book, among hundreds more. She said the key was made in Speedwell Ironworks, on Speedwell Avenue in Morris County, New Jersey, and that the Smithsonian allowed them to photograph it. 

Christina Mathews, Rusty Tagliareni and Robert Kirkbride were third to be awarded for their book, “Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital,” which documented the history and controversial demolition of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital.

Tagliareni and Mathews, who host the website Antiquity Echoes, where they document their work, became interested in abandoned structures a long time ago and their work eventually led them right to Greystone, Tagliareni said.

In 2013, the pair first went inside the abandoned hospital, taking pictures and documenting their findings.

“Greystone had an active and large preservation group actively trying to stop the demolition, to seek out rehabilitation projects,” Tagliareni said.

He said that shortly after, they met with the president of what was then Preserve Greystone, an organization trying to stop the demolition. Their initial plan was to film a short multi-media project to document the building, but eventually grew into a national meeting, a 60-minutes feature and their book with Arcadia Publishing.

Through their work with the building and various organizations, Tagliareni said he believes that Greystone could have been saved. He said that what got in the way was old stigma surrounding mental health and a misconception that it would deter people from the historically significant structure.

“It was intimidating though because Greystone meant a great deal to a great deal of people,” Tagliareni said. “Worst fear is you put in effort and it comes out (and) people don’t like it.”

He said that what was special about the book is that Arcadia Publishing allowed the two authors to focus on the modern history of Greystone in an expanded “final quarter” of the book. That, and an inspirational introduction from Kirkbride were important, as they let the authors get the true story and meaning of Greystone out, while also working as a preservation tool.

“It instills a sense of resolve, you know we are better than this, and after this book we won’t let it happen again,” Tagliareni said.

Ryan Stiesi

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