One of the persistent myths about Edward Stratemeyer is that he wrote his first long professional story, “Victor Horton’s Idea,” while clerking in a relative’s shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is said to have found some idle time and took wrapping paper from a roll and wrote his story in pencil to be sent in. We call this the “brown wrapping paper” myth and it was repeated in several interviews with and articles about Stratemeyer.
However, the submitted manuscript for “Victor Horton’s Idea” was actually its second full draft. A first copy was written in pencil on coarse yellow paper (though probably not actually wrapping paper). A second copy was written in ink on good paper.
Further, this story was not written in anyone’s shop. Instead, according to his own Literary Account Book, “Victor Horton’s Idea” was written at home. At that time, it would be 24 Palmer Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Other stories were written in one of the family stores. In this case, his older brother Maurice had a shop that was primarily involved in selling musical instruments. He was the head of Stratemeyer’s Orchestra and was known for his musical ability. Other members of the Stratemeyer family were also musically inclined, including another brother, Louis Charles Stratemeyer, who wrote music. There are even musical pieces going back a generation or two in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection at NYPL.
Tornado Strikes Elizabeth, N.J. in 1899
Maurice’s store was located at 31 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey. This was near the public library and the First Presbyterian Church.
The latter would be significant a decade later in 1899 when its tall steeple was knocked down by a rare tornado and the portion of the structure landed in the middle of the street in front of Maurice Stratemeyer’s shop although it is not mentioned in the newspaper accounts.
H.J. Stratemeyer Cigar Store
Edward’s father, Henry Julius Stratemeyer established a cigar and tobacco store near the crossing of the two major railroad lines in town, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey.
The seven tracks which crossed here saw an average of 700 trains each day and since they were initially crossing at the same level, along with wagons and foot traffic, it was considered to be one of the most dangerous crossings in the country. Eventually one set of rail lines was elevated and the road lowered so they would not cross at the same level.
At this extremely busy crossing Julius Stratemeyer established his cigar and tobacco store in the 1850s.
Maurice Stratemeyer’s Music Store
Several of the Stratemeyer sons worked in this shop and some started their own stores, including Maurice’s store with its specialty in music. An 1882 description stated:
Located on the corner of Broad and Washington Streets is the attractive music-house of M.H. Stratemeyer. It is 15×30 feet in dimensions and contains about $2,000 worth of stock, which consists of a fine and varied assortment of all kinds of orchestral and brass-band instruments, strings, etc.
He is also sole agent for the celebrated McTammany organette, which is a very fine instrument and very popular, and can be played without any knowledge of music whatever. He does a business of several thousand dollars a year, which has been accomplished by strict attention to the patronage of the place and endeavoring to have the articles they want.
Mr. Stratemeyer is a native of Elizabeth, born there in 1854, and is quite popular among his associates. This gentleman is a leader of the finest orchestra in the city of Elizabeth. He has fine musical abilities and excellent musical taste, and for these qualities, as well as his business status, he has become popular in this community.
Civil War Veteran Meeting Place?
One account of Edward Stratemeyer’s time clerking at this store was that it was a gathering place for Civil War veterans and he would listen to their stories. This is possible but unverified.
A couple of his older brothers were members of a group called the Phil. Kearney Guard in Elizabeth which had a meeting room in the Arcade Building of Elizabeth. This group had some military connections but was mainly an honor guard for special events, including visits by political leaders or candidates. They participated in the U.S. Centennial celebration at the Centennial Exposition in nearby Philadelphia.
Another brother, George C. Stratemeyer of Honolulu, Hawaii, sent the group the first U.S. flag flown over the Customs House after the islands were annexed.
Today the location on Broad Street in Elizabeth is occupied by a three-story building of brick. The 1889 Sanborn fire insurance map (see above) indicates a 2-1/2 story wood frame building so this is some later replacement. Washington Street has been renamed Dickinson Street.
Sometimes where a story was written is as important as what was and when it was written. Five stories were written completely or in part by Edward Stratemeyer at Maurice’s store at 31 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey:
- “Judge Dockett’s Grandson.” Published in Golden Days.
- “Walter Dunn’s Heroism.” Partly published in Young American. Book edition published as Poor But Plucky (Allison, 1897).
- “Captain Bob’s Secret.” Published in Golden Days.
- “Jack the Inventor.” Partly published in Holiday. Complete serial published in Good News. Book published as A Young Inventor’s Pluck (Allison, 1897).
- “Richard Dare’s Venture.” Published in Argosy. Book published by Merriam in 1894. (Partly written at home in Elizabeth, N.J.).