Mrs. Wagner’s Pies and Ocean Grove, New Jersey

What’s the connection between music duo Simon & Garfunkel and a lady from 19thcentury Ocean Grove, New Jersey who loved to bake?

It started in the 1870s when a certain Mr. and Mrs. Wagner came to make their summer home in Ocean Grove.

Mrs. Wagner was an energetic woman. She liked to stay busy and she was a fantastic baker, so she offered to do baking for her Ocean Grove friends and neighbors. Pretty soon word got out that Mrs. Wagner’s pies were heavenly, and she started to sell them. In those days, she baked on an old-fashioned wood stove in her small kitchen on Webb Avenue. It probably looked similar to the one pictured below. Her husband delivered the pies in a large wicker picnic basket.

Mrs. Wagner’s pies became more and more popular. So popular that by 1890, the Wagners traded in their wicker basket for a horse-drawn pie wagon, and they moved from Webb Avenue to the house pictured above at 124-126 Mt. Tabor Way. (In the photo above, that’s Mrs. Wagner on the porch with the cat.) In the basement of that house they built a 20×20-foot coal-fired brick oven which could bake between 150 to 200 pies in 45 minutes. They also had a small shop on the basement level. When the neighborhood kids smelled the mouth-watering aroma of those pies wafting over Ocean Grove, they’d press their faces against the window to get a glimpse of the fresh pies coming out of the oven. Years later in the 1950s the house was torn down to make way for a new cottage, and the builders had to excavate the street to get that huge oven out of the basement.

Mrs. Wagner made her pies from fresh fruit that was delivered daily from nearby farms on horse-drawn wagons. She also received 40-quart cans of fresh milk from local dairies. In those days, the milk already had the cream in it, which may have been one of the reasons Mrs. Wagner’s pies were so decadently delicious. We know that she didnot use starch to congeal the pie fillings — just good fresh eggs, and plenty of them. The secret to her light and flaky crust was supposedly a ratio of 12 ounces of pig lard to every pound of flour.

Around 1890 Mrs. Wagner was making 12-inch pies that cost 25 cents each, and single serving pies that cost a nickel. The big pies came in a metal pie plate like the one pictured here. You can see the pan is embossed with “Mrs. Wagner’s Pies”, and you can still sometimes find one of these on eBay.

Mr. Wagner served as the first pie delivery man, until business got so big that the Wagners had to hire a second driver. Each driver would cover one half of Ocean Grove. They’d drive around slowly, twice a day, calling out “Pieman, pieman!” Customers would hear the call, come out to the wagon, and buy pies. Sometimes the customer returned the metal pie plate. But sometimes the Wagners ran low, and in those instances, the customer would bring her own plate out to the truck and a fresh pie would be slid right onto it while it was still warm.

For at least part of the 1890s the Wagners also had a home in New York City, in what we now call Tribeca. They lived across the street from the Washington Market. Washington Market was established in 1812. By 1900 it was the largest market in North America, stretching about a dozen blocks around Washington, Fulton and Vesey Streets. Mrs. Wagner sold her pies there at least part of the year, when she wasn’t in Ocean Grove. She left the Grove in January and returned in the spring. As the popularity of her pies grew, Mrs. Wagner opened additional bakeries in Newark, Jersey City, and Brooklyn.

Joseph Walker was a baker who joined Mrs. Wagner’s Ocean Grove operation in 1904. He was interviewed for a local newspaper in 1965. He gave us a peek into what it was like working in the Wagner’s Ocean Grove bakery. The day before baking at 11:00 a.m., six bakers gathered in the basement on Mt. Tabor Street to prepare the fresh fruit. Then the pie crust would be made and left to stand all day in lard tubs. Meanwhile, the bakers ate and slept upstairs in the house. At 1:00 a.m. the following morning, with Mrs. Wagner supervising, they rolled out the dough on a table that was 4 feet by 40 feet long. The bakers worked on both sides of the table. One would roll out the bottom crust, another the top crust, while yet another would fill the shell with freshly prepared apples, peaches, pineapples and blueberries, and in winter, pumpkin and mincemeat. The bakers worked 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week.

The Ocean Grove bakery was probably at its height of production in 1907. That year, the bakery turned out 201,746 pies, an average of 650 pies a day. All in a basement in Ocean Grove!

After World War I, production in Ocean Grove stopped and pies for the Jersey Shore were delivered from the Newark plant. The company continued to grow. Mrs. Wagner’s pies were featured at the 1939 World’s Fair, and by then they had loading stations across the country: in Toledo, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlantic City. 40,000 stores and restaurants bought their pies from Mrs. Wagner. Some of those stores and restaurants kept Mrs. Wagner’s pies in handsome pie safes like the one shown here. You can see the Mrs. Wagner’s label at top center.

By the way, the lady on the label isn’t Mrs. Wagner. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the model for the label was a lady named Clara Louise Bissell.

Sometimes when I’m giving tours at Centennial Cottage in Ocean Grove, I’ll get visitors who grew up in Brooklyn and they still remember going to Mrs. Wagner’s bakery at 283-301 Fourth Avenue between 1stand 2nd streets. On certain days you could buy big restaurant pies with broken crusts for just a dollar. Today it’s an artist and craftsman supply store.

Mrs. Wagner’s pies went out of business in July 1968.

Also in 1968, Simon & Garfunkel released an album called Bookends, which included a song called “America”. Here’s are some of those lyrics:

So we bought a pack of cigarettes

And Mrs. Wagner’s pies

And walked off to look for America.

Below, watch an episode Curiosities of Ocean Grove about Mrs. Wagner’s Pieswritten, researched and hosted by Kim Brittingham.


New Video: Orphans in Ocean Grove 1878-1902

Ocean Grove, New Jersey has a long history of taking an interest in orphans. In Episode 9 of Curiosities of Ocean Grove, learn about the orphanage that used to stand beside Fletcher Lake; the trainloads of Victorian-era orphans who used to strike tents in OG, and the controversy surrounding The Willard Home, a short-lived orphanage in West Grove/Neptune that had all of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park scrambling to its rescue at the turn of the 20th century.

Watch this and earlier episodes here.

The Rjukan Shipwreck of 1876

Did you know that there are the remains of a shipwreck underwater where Ocean Grove and Bradley Beach meet? I just found out about this and I had to go digging for more information. Here’s what I learned.

The newspaper known as the Philadelphian and Ocean Grove Record called it “a first class sensation.” It was the day after Christmas 1876. At around 6:30 a.m. an Ocean Grove citizen named Louis Rainear was taking a walk when he was surprised to see a 160-foot long ship running aground on a sand bar about 200 feet off the beach. It was a Norwegian vessel – a barque. The three-masted barque was the most common type of deep water cargo carrier in the middle of the 19thcentury. The vessel was named Rjukan, after a town in her native Norway. She was headed from London to New York in ballast when a northeasterly gale blew her towards the beach.

She hadn’t always been a cargo ship. Earlier in her career the Rjukancarried immigrants between Norway and Canada, and Great Britain and New York. As a matter of fact, I managed to find this passenger list from the Rjukan when she sailed in 1868:

When the Rjukan struck the sand bar her mainmast fell, and then her foremast. Her sails and spars were hanging over her side. It must’ve been a dramatic and frightening sight, especially with crew members scrambling on deck, shouting and waving desperately for help.

Mr. Rainear did call for help. A messenger was sent to a nearby station of the U.S. Life Saving Service – Station No. 7 located on the Shark River. The U.S. Life Saving Service would eventually join with similar organizations to become the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915.

I was able to piece together what happened from eyewitness reports. A surfman from the Shark River Life Saving Station showed up, but he hadn’t brought a lifeboat with him. He said the wagon they used to pull their lifeboat had gotten stuck in sand. Then he took one look at those rough seas and decided he’d better get someone from Station 6 in Asbury Park to help him out. So he started to run off.

But by this time, a number of citizens had gathered on the shore and one of them asked the surfman, where was he going? And why wasn’t he doing anything to save the men on that ship?

Supposedly the Shark River gent replied, What, in that surf? No way will a boat make it throughthose breakers! (or something to that effect).

Just then, the onlookers saw a capable-looking man running down the beach. According to one newspaper account, a gentleman in the crowd pointed and bellowed, “Now there’s a man that will go to her!”

The running man was Russell White, with his brother Drummond White following close behind. The Whites had been part of the community for a long time. In fact, Ocean Grove was built on their land. The Whites had sold tracts of their property to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and to James Bradley who developed Asbury Park.

Russell and Drummond White — or Drum, as he was known locally — were both experienced sea men. As they ran to the scene, Russell spied a yawl boat on the beach and immediately put it into service.

Eventually the keeper from the Shark River Life Saving Station came back, and this time he brought a lifeboat. But he wasn’t interested in being a hero. Instead, he handed the boat over to the White brothers and said something like, You guys look like you’ve got this. I’ll just watch from back here.

People from the neighborhood came out to watch. About 500 of them, causing someone to remark that even though it was the wrong time of year, it looked like the camp meeting was having a surf service. Throughout the afternoon, the beach became strewn with debris from the wrecked ship, including pieces of joiner work, rigging, chests, bedding, tools and clothing. Some men and boys came out to scavenge for valuables and souvenirs. This would not have been a strange sight to Drum White. When he was a boy in 1854, a ship called the New Erawrecked off the coast of Asbury Park and 300 German immigrants lost their lives. Among the debris washed ashore from the New Era, Young Drum found a brush, the kind used to brush lint from clothing. Its bristles were white, except down the center where some black bristles spelled out the German surname Koch. It was probably similar to the brush shown below spelling Chilvers. Drum White kept and used the brush for the rest of his life. I can’t help wondering if finding such a personal item from such a tragic shipwreck had a lasting effect on Drum White, perhaps motivating him in his adult years to save as many lives as possible.

On the day of the Rjukanshipwreck, the White brothers worked eighteen hours straight without food, making perilous boat trips back and forth between the wreck and the shore. They saved the lives of all twenty crewmen on board.

This wasn’t the first rescue for Russell White. Earlier that same year, Drum had taken two visitors from Abner Allan’s boarding house in Asbury Park on a fishing excursion. The three men got tangled in fishing lines, but fortunately, Russell saw what was happening from shore. He set out immediately and rescued them, and he was given a gold medal for it. A year later, Drum would assist in the rescue of the brig Etta M. Tucker, which was carrying a cargo of coffee from Rio de Janeiro to New York. And when Ocean Grove added a steam launch to carry passengers over Wesley Lake, Drum White was put in charge. Of course, that was only a 15-minute voyage round-trip, providing fewer opportunities for Drum to demonstrate his bravery.

Just a few days after the wreck of the Rjukan, on January 6, 1877, what was left of the ship’s wood was auctioned off. The lucky bidder was G.W. Patterson and Company of Asbury Park, which paid $140. Some of the Rjukan’s wood was used to build a wooden plank sidewalk in front of Dr. Kinmonth’s pharmacy on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. Dr. Kinmonth’s was right about here, at the corner of Cookman Avenue and Kinmonth Alley:

The Rjukan rescue was a source of controversy in the coming months. The Asbury Park Journalcriticized the men of the Shark River Life Saving Station for their “tardiness and inefficiency at the scene of the disaster”. That prompted a member of Shark River Station to burst into the office of another newspaper, the Red Bank Standard, and complain to a reporter there that his crew had been unjustly treated in the columns of the Asbury Park Journal and that he was greatly aggrieved. The Asbury Park Journal stood by its criticism.

In the meantime, Captain Merryman, a big wig at the U.S. Life Saving Service, made an investigatory trip to Ocean Grove. There was a hearing. Affidavits were taken from eyewitnesses, and the Rjukan’sCaptain Hansen was questioned. He blamed everything on the pilot, Phillips. Life Saving Station No. 7 from Shark River was exonerated from all charges of tardiness and inefficiency.

Today what’s left of the wreck has settled underwater off of the jetty just south of Newark and Ocean avenues in Bradley Beach. Here you’ll see a map of the wreck by Captain Dan Berg. He runs charter diving cruises to the sites of New Jersey shipwrecks. Here you can also see underwater photos of Captain Dan Berg investigating the remains of the Rjukan. He says there are still some ballast stones scattered around the wreck site, as well as wood planking held together by brass spikes.

Below, watch an episode Curiosities of Ocean Grove about the wreck of the Rjukan, written, researched and hosted by Kim Brittingham.

“The Bathing Question”: An 1870s Ocean Grove Controversy

This image, titled “Bathing Dress Censorship at Ocean Grove”, is from the Illustrated Police News, one of Great Britain’s first tabloid newspapers. First published in 1864, it gained a reputation for sensationalism during the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.

Yes, even as far afield as jolly ol’ England, people knew about the great bathing suit controversy raging in Ocean Grove, New Jersey in the 1870s.

So what was the fuss?

This episode of Curiosities of Ocean Grove will tell you all about it. Watch and learn about “The Bathing Question”, as well as the Ocean Grove inventor who changed swimwear. Plus, hear about the 19th century visitors to OG who flouted ordinances against nudity and cross-dressing.

Dive in and play the video below!

Researched, written and hosted by Kim Brittingham

Camera and editing by Mary Solecki

A History of Day’s Ice Cream of Ocean Grove, New Jersey

When you look around inside Day’s Ice Cream in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, you can almost picture the ladies of the 1870s in their long skirts and children in sailor collars and short pants. Day’s is the oldest continually operating business in Ocean Grove. It opened in August 1876 on the very spot where it still stands today – 48 Pitman Avenue. Back then, Ocean Grove was seven years young and operated as a Methodist camp meeting site. In fact, nothing but sand dunes and pines stretched from Day’s to the ocean. Even the landmark Great Auditorium wouldn’t be built for another 18 years.

Day’s was brought to Ocean Grove by two brothers from New Providence, New Jersey: Wilbur Fiske Day, and Pennington Mulford Day. They already had a successful shop in Morristown, New Jersey, known as “W.F. Day & Brother, Caterers, Confectioners and Ice Cream Dealers” which opened in 1862. There was also a location in Mt. Tabor, New Jersey, another camp meeting site.

The Ocean Grove location of Day’s was referred to as Day’s ice cream “garden”, and it was unique in that it was designed to take full advantage of those soothing summer breezes. The seating area is completely open on one side, and there’s a roofless court in the center with a carpet of grass and flowers. One wall is lined with windows that overlook a garden.

This image is from an old stereoview card. It shows the interior of the Ocean Grove location in 1882. Notice how elaborate the gingerbread trim was in those early years.

Here’s an old postcard showing an image of the Ocean Grove location from about 1900, alongside the same building in 2015.

The Day brothers made ice cream and candy right on the premises in what they called “the factory”. I got a peek at some of their recipes in the Day family archives at the Monmouth County Historical Association – recipes for vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream, and lemon ice. They’re refreshingly simple, made with ingredients we can all pronounce: cream, sugar, eggs. There was also a recipe for something called bisque ice cream, which I had never heard of before and I had to Google it. It turns out, “bisque” refers to ice cream mixed with crushed macaroons or nuts.

In its collection, the Historical Society of Ocean Grove has Pennington Day’s ice cream scoop. It was donated to the society by his grandson. It’s really got some weight to it! The Society also has an original parfait glass from Day’s. There’s no date attached to it, but it really is the quintessential Victorian ice cream parlor dish.

By far the Historical Society’s most interesting Day’s artifacts are in its collection of 33 pewter ice cream molds that were used at Day’s at the turn of the 19th century (see photos below). Most were manufactured by Schall & Company of New York. They were the first company in America to make ice cream molds, starting in 1854. The molds shown here would have been considered single-portion molds. One quart of ice cream would have filled about eight of these.

On the outside the molds don’t look like much, but when you open them up you see the amazing detail that would’ve appeared on the surface of the ice cream. My favorite mold of all has to be the Buddhist monk (or maybe it’s meant to be Buddha himself). You can see the plain exterior and the detailed exterior in the photos below.

One of the things I find so charming about the Victorian era was how they liked to give a whimsical quality to ordinary objects. Think how cool it must’ve been to walk into Day’s ice cream parlor and buy ice cream in the shape of a boat, a banjo, or Buddha!

Beautifully molded ice cream wasn’t the only attraction at Day’s. A newspaper ad from about 1890 boasts of “celebrated cream peppermint candy, fresh little buttercups…rich coconut kisses, and new English walnut kisses”, among other temptations.

Speaking of sweets, around 1868, Wilbur Day employed an apprentice in his Morristown store, Milton Hershey. It was at Day’s that the young man made his first batch of chocolates for retail sale. The candies were meant to be cooled and flattened on a marble slab, but Mr. Day couldn’t afford a marble top work table. Instead, they used the broken tombstone of Mr. Day’s aunt, Sarah Brookfield Day. (Now that’s what I call dark chocolate!) Milton Hershey eventually left Day’s to start his own candy company, Hershey’s in Pennsylvania. I hear he did all right.

The Ocean Grove location of Day’s did so well those first two years, they opened another store in Asbury Park in 1878, and a Newark location in 1886. There was also a satellite shop inside the Ross bathing pavilion on the north end of Ocean Grove beach. Below is a postcard image of the Asbury Park store from about 1910. It was at 291 Asbury Avenue and it was built using the same floor plan as the Ocean Grove store.

Here’s the exterior of the Asbury Park store. Today there’s a grassy lot where Day’s used to be.

Speaking of Asbury Park, here’s an interesting tidbit: Elizabeth Crane Day was Wilbur and Pennington Day’s mother. She was related to Stephen Crane, who wrote The Red Badge of Courage in 1895. Stephen Crane’s house in Asbury Park is open to the public for tours.

Here’s another good story about Day’s in Asbury Park. In the late 1800s, on any given day at the height of summer, you might see a small boy standing in front of Day’s, enthusiastically eating ice cream and proclaiming that he was the “champion cream eater of Asbury Park”. He was a publicity stunt, paid by the Day brothers as a talking advertisement. The Days considered taking the stunt a step further by outfitting the boy in a white duck suit, long coat, stovepipe hat and cane, and having him walk up and down the boardwalk eating Day’s ice cream. But we’re not sure if they actually went through with it.

That little boy wasn’t the only young person to work for Day’s. 19thcentury ledger books from the Ocean Grove and Asbury Park stores show children of both Day brothers working alongside their parents. For example, in July of 1890, two of Wilbur’s sons – Waters B. Day and Oliver K. Day – were paid monthly wages of $10 and $6, respectively.

It’s been rumored that entertainer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson worked at Day’s in Asbury Park where he could be heard singing while he worked. That may have been a summer job for him while he attended Rutgers University around 1915. Robeson is probably best known for his role as Joe in the 1936 movie musical Showboat in which he sang “Old Man River”.

Time passed and so did the Day brothers. In fact, Wilbur was so beloved by his employees that they served as pallbearers at his funeral in 1913, and Mayor Todd of Morristown asked the town’s businesses to draw their curtains during the funeral hour.

The Day’s shops eventually closed – all but the Ocean Grove location. It was Pennington Day’s daughter Agnes who would keep it running through the 1940s. During her reign, Agnes added a tea room that served lunch and dinner six days a week as well as a gift shop. Agnes eventually sold Day’s and beginning in 1950 she operated a rooming house at 38 Ocean Pathway in Ocean Grove which she called The Pennington, for her father.

Agnes sold Day’s to Mr. and Mrs. Homer Secor. Homer had worked for the Days as a young man. In 1951, The Secors threw a party in honor of Day’s diamond jubilee, and invited anyone who was born in 1876; the year that Day’s opened in Ocean Grove. Today Day’s is operated by Arnold Teixeira and David Fernicola, who also opened a location on the Asbury Park boardwalk in 2012. It was the first new Day’s to open up in 139 years. Some might hear that and think Day’s must be making a comeback, but for those of us who live or vacation in Ocean Grove, we know it never left.

Below, watch an episode of Curiosities of Ocean Grove about Day’s Ice Cream, researched, written and hosted by Kim Brittingham.

Treasures of the Severs Sisters of Ocean Grove, New Jersey

When an Ocean Grove resident began renovations on her Victorian era home, she stumbled upon the personal belongings of the Severs women who occupied the property in the early 20th century. The collection tells a surprisingly detailed story of their lives through letters, photos, vintage dresses, keepsakes, even toiletries.

Most of the photos and letters will remain at the Historical Society of Ocean Grove. All other items will be sold to the public on Saturday, May 30, 2015. (That’s the day of the big spring flea market.) Look for the Historical Society in the yard of Centennial Cottage at Central Ave. and McClintock Street. All proceeds will be donated to the fund to restore the fountain in Founders Park in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

For more information, call the Historical Society at (732) 774-1869 or e-mail them at info (at) oceangrovehistory (dot) org.

To get acquainted with the Severs family and see what they left behind, click on the video below.

Written and hosted by Kim Brittingham

Research by Dr. Lyndell O’Hara

Camera and editing by Mary Solecki