ASBURY PARK, NJ — It was a relatively quiet Tuesday here in “off season” Asbury Park, but this past November the First marked the 140th birthday of Stephen Crane, the great 19th century fiction writer, poet and journalist who in his all-too-brief 28 years left us with a couple of vanguard novels in the American realist tradition; many unjustly overlooked stories, poems and essays, and some cutting-edge newspaper work that may even have pointed the way to the “New Journalism” of the modern era.
This literary upstart and perpetual upsetter of the status quo called the young city of Asbury Park home at the dawn of his career as a professional writer — contributing many dispatches to news-service syndicates (as well as what became the Asbury Press), and more often angering all levels of local society than being celebrated by the establishment.
Of course, here at the Stephen Crane House we choose to celebrate the legacy of this profoundly influential American voice — and on the early evening of Sunday, November 20, the Fourth Avenue cottage where young “Stevie” Crane lived with his mother (head of the local Christian Temperance Union) will be the scene of a special words-and-images event that marks not only the belated birthday of Crane, but a significant and grim milestone in the history of the United States.
The year 2011 is the sesquicentennial of the first shots fired in the Civil War — a report that continues to resonate through every aspect of American society, and a conflict that formed the setting of Crane’s best-remembered work, “The Red Badge of Courage.” Crane — who, contrary to misconceptions, was not a veteran of the Civil War, but a war correspondent born several years after the end of the War Between the States — used this still-raw wound to look at war not from the perspective of the great generals in their map rooms, but from the equally grave conflict that rages within the conscience of a single scared soldier.
The 140th birthday of Stephen Crane — as well as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War — is observed at the Asbury Park house where the young author resided, with John Huston’s film of Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” (left) screened along with Buster Keaton’s silent classic “The General” (right).
As Frank D’Alessandro observes, “This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that most uncivil of American wars” — and at 4:00 p.m., the Crane House owner-host will welcome guests into the first-floor theater and reception room for a program that begins with a reading of “An Episode of War” — Crane’s very matter-of-fact account of an officer’s isolated (and unfortunately all too common) experience on the perimeter of the battlefield.
At 4:30 p,m., the Crane House is proud to present director John Huston’s 1951 film version of “The Red Badge of Courage” (B&W; 69 min.). Featuring innovative cinematography by Harold Rosson and an unorthodox no-star cast headed by Audie Murphy, the most decorated American serviceman of World War II (as well as the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin, creator of archetypal G.I.s “Willie & Joe”), the picture manages to convey both the folksiness and the frenzy of Crane's masterpiece, despite a great deal of studio interference.
Following a break for refreshments that include “a well deserved birthday cake for Stephen,” visitors are welcome to take in a screening of the 1926 “silent” comedy “The General” (tinted B&W with new music score; 78 min.) — a thrilling and fanciful tale of the Civil War that, as D’Alessandro explains, “features the genius of Buster Keaton, who not only stars in the movie, but also directed and co-wrote the screenplay.”
Originally constructed in 1878 under the name of Arbutus Cottage, The Stephen Crane House has been rechristened here in the 21st century in honor of the American novelist, journalist and short story author Stephen Crane (1871-1900), who resided in the Fourth Avenue home at the beginning of his career as a writer. Having been rescued from the brink of demolition, the historic house is in the process of being renovated as a museum dedicated to the life and times of the man who wrote “The Red Badge of Courage” and other literary classics. Frequently in use as a host venue for theater, film, music and spoken word events, as well as a meeting place for arts groups and other nonprofit organizations, The Stephen Crane House is committed to serving the greater Asbury Park community as a resource for the support and celebration of our city’s rich cultural life and heritage.