Inventing Film, a Stolen Corpse, and a Forgotten Newark Brewery

By Gordon Bond

Working as an independent historian for over a dozen years has, I have learned, come with odd “occupational hazards.” Wherever I have lived—or even been on vacation—I am always wondering about the place’s past. I love when I can know the story of a given spot, things the average person walking by has no clue about. It’s like being in on a secret. While I knew something of Newark’s overall history when my wife and I moved here over a dozen years ago, I also knew there was a whole city’s worth of secrets for me to discover. I’ve been helped along the way by the good people with the Newark History Society, Newark Museum of Art, and Old Newark. But sometimes even seemingly well-known stories can take unexpected turns down rabbit holes, leading to obscure yet curious tales.

Such was the case with the weekday chore of taking my wife to and from Broad Street Train Station and passing each time by the Plume House. This charming relic of another age seems to be viscerally hunkered down in willful defiance of the landscape around it turning from sweepingly rural to encroachingly urban. Most people reading this will already know its ancient significance. Built as early as 1725, it played host to General George Washington, marauding Hessians, and the apocryphally heroic Ann Van Wagenen Plume and then was rectory to the Episcopal House of Prayer since 1849. It was one inhabitant during the rectory period that really put the place on the proverbial map: the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin.

If you stand on the elevated platforms of Broad Street Station, you can see the back roof of the Plume House. You may notice a skylight, a home improvement project of Reverend Goodwin. Fascinated by chemistry since his college days in New York State, he enjoyed tinkering and experimenting as a hobby during time spared from his responsibilities to his parish and his family. Goodwin had preached from the pulpits of Episcopal churches in Bordentown, Newark, and Trenton before a stint during the Civil War in California. He returned to Newark in 1867, where he would spend the rest of his life. Once settled in as the clergy of a prominent urban parish, he increasingly indulged his hobby, building a laboratory up in the Plume House attic, illuminated by that skylight. The space beneath it became a refuge from his labors. “I enjoyed chemical reactions,” he later told a reporter. “Their beauty appealed to me. I was engrossed in the subject, and devoted as much time to it as I could spare from my lifework—the ministry.”

Goodwin’s inventiveness centered primarily on creating coatings used in photoengraving, the process by which photographs are transferred to metal plates for mass production. As he entered the last decade before his planned retirement from the church in the 1880s, his interests shifted from diversion to commerce. He began to patent his processes and even entered into a short-lived enterprise with printing pioneer Stephen H. Horgan to capitalize on them, named the Hagotype Company, derived from the first two letters of Goodwin’s first and last names. His most transformative invention—the one that would make his name beyond obscure church annals—was a process for creating a thin, flexible, clear plastic substrate that could be used as a base for photographic emulsion. In other words, he invented the rollable film that would revolutionize still photography and make cinema possible. It was the last ingredient needed to truly unleash the power of photography for the masses and democratize the image. Up to that time, photography was done using a negative photosensitive emulsion coated on glass plates. Once exposed, developed, and fixed, the resulting negative could be used to make prints. Glass, however, was heavy, fragile, and cumbersome, making it difficult to swap out between exposures and messy to develop. Though cameras were becoming increasingly cheaper, smaller, and portable, glass was the last obstacle that kept photography from becoming truly accessible to the casual user. Roll film changed all that. If you are old enough to remember loading cartridges of film into cameras, you will have used a technology born beneath that skylight in the attic of an old house in Newark. And, if you thought the “selfie” and our voracious appetite for taking and sharing pictures began with digital cameras and social media, think again. It was that same instinct that drove the quest to make film.

While all this is generally known to anyone who read the bronze plaque on the Plume House, Goodwin’s mostly forgotten story is far deeper and richer, one colored with industrial espionage, broken friendships, and a nearly two-decade long David and Goliath legal battle between Goodwin and George Eastman’s Kodak Company over Goodwin’s patent. And so, being the unabashed history geek I am, I have set myself to the task of writing a definitive book about the pathos of Goodwin’s life, one defined by his inability to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and that will give detailed accounts his battles and celebrate his legacy.

So what about the occupational hazard of an unexpected turn down a rabbit hole I promised? When researching a given subject, it is often necessary to peruse period newspapers using online resources. Here, peripheral vision can be the seductive temptress of the curious. A headline about something totally unrelated to your topic can catch your attention until curiosity gets the better of you and a few hours are diverted to sate it. Such was the case when researching my book about Thomas Mundy Peterson led me to discover how Newark almost became New Jersey’s capitol in 1885—but that’s a story for another article.

“Mr. Jabez Hayes was, before he died, an intimate friend of mine,” Goodwin recalled in an 1896 newspaper article. “One night after an illustrated lecture, I spoke to him of the advantage of having better views than were then obtainable. Shortly afterward I received a check for $150 for the purpose.”

Goodwin was describing what had inspired him to take up the challenge of making practical roll photographic film. He conducted Sunday school classes for the parish children, making use of a magic lantern to project glass slides showing illustrations of Bible stories. While these were quite popular, he found himself dissatisfied with the slides commercially-available. Even with Hayes’s gift, he was still unhappy with the available selections, and so used it instead to buy a better projector. He would make his own slides, taking positive photos of illustrations from books on glass plates small enough to fit his projector, sometimes hand-tinting them for color. While individually small, his collection together was heavy. When one slipped from the tiny fingers of the children who assisted him, as they eventually would, all his labor would end up shattered on the floor. Though he was an amateur photographer, it was the problems these magic lantern shows shared with photography which evidently led him to take up the challenge of creating the long sought-after “flexible glass.”

Jabez Hayes unwittingly set his friend off into the direction of his greatest invention. But who was Jabez Hayes? Trying to answer that question, one thing led to another as they are wont to do, and into the rabbit hole I stumbled.

Jabez W. Hayes had been an active member of Goodwin’s parish, having also served on the City Council in the 1840s. He appears in the 1870 U.S. Census as a jewelry manufacturer and his (presumed) son, William, was listed as an “Engraver on Jewelry.” Jabez Hayes & Company was located in a three-story brick building at 385 Broad Street. These days, it is an empty lot between the Episcopal House Prayer and Burger King, presently just beginning to be redeveloped. But this is what I mean about being “in on the secret.” If you pass by the site, you will know this was where Hayes’s company once stood—and where they made swords under a government contract for the Union Army during the Civil War. 

In his spare time, Hayes was noted in horticultural circles and often volunteered as a judge at flower shows. His sizable estate, opposite Newark’s old Caledonian Park on the corner of Springfield and Fairmount Avenues, was noted for its fine pear orchard, and was a scene in a bizarre story that gripped the newspapers in 1878. Follow me down the rabbit hole…

Two years earlier, multimillionaire Irish-American real estate developer and entrepreneur Alexander Turney Stewart had died, and his body interred in the family crypt at New York’s St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. While the name likely means nothing to readers now, you’ve no doubt been inside an heir to the idea that made him famous in his day: Stewart is considered the father of the modern department store. A. T. Stewart & Company’s 1846 “Marble Palace” store at 280 Broadway in Manhattan was, arguably, first to gather a wide variety of goods, previously sold in specific specialized shops, all under one roof, organized by type into “departments.” While it could be argued the “general store” already did that, they were nothing compared with the scale and scope of this new form. Here were the origins of the concept later famously brought to Newark in 1892 by Felix Fuld, Louis M. Frank, and Louis Bamberger.

This, along with many other enterprises, made Stewart incredibly rich; indeed, he is still counted as among the top 20 wealthiest men in history. His value in life apparently transcended his death as, in 1878, someone decided it would be a good idea to abduct his remains from their crypt and ransom them back to his widow, Cornelia. Multiple ransom notes were received, and, after her offer of a reward, hunting for Stewart’s corpse as if it were a buried treasure became popular if macabre sport. Members of the public descended, shovels at the ready, on various locations where his remains were rumored to have been deposited.

“Some foolish person or persons cause not a little excitement in the business center of Newark yesterday,” as written in the November 12, 1878 issue of The New York Herald, “by reporting that Mr. Stewart’s stolen remains had been found in the orchard of Jabez Hayes, near Baier’s Park ‘on the hill’ in Germantown. Large numbers of people visited the place indicated, but only to find themselves the victims of a silly hoax.”

The late Mr. Stewart, of course, was not in Newark. The morbid saga would not end until 1884, when the family paid a $20,000 ransom at midnight on a remote Hudson Valley road in return for a bag of bones that may or may not have been their loved one’s remains.

While Hayes and Newark were very minor players in the tale, drilling down further into the account uncovered a now-forgotten neighborhood of the city. “Germantown” was a reference to a neighborhood where generations of German immigrants had settled. Many were drawn by promise of employment in the city’s many German-American-owned breweries. Among them was Baier’s Brewery.

Johann Baier was born in Göpfersgrün, Bavaria and trained as a brewer but fled Europe during the economic recession and political turmoil of the 1840s. He founded the Union Lager Beer Brewery in 1860 at 333 Springfield Avenue in Newark. Between 1874 and 1877, he partnered with William Hill, changing the name to the Baier & Hill Brewery. By the time the morbid treasure hunters descended nearby in 1878, Baier was evidently no longer involved, as the business name changed to Hill & Piez Brewery between 1877 and 1884 when Hill partnered with Jacob Piez. Baier’s name, however, apparently survived, attached to a now-lost park “on the hill” near his brewery and Hayes’s home.

Piez left the partnership with Hill in 1884, the business name becoming the William Hill Brewery, then Hill’s Union Brewery Co., Ltd. in 1889, and Union Brewing Co. of Newark, later dropping the “of Newark,” until it closed for good in 1938. Nothing appears to have survived of the brewery’s buildings, the site now being occupied by West Kinney Gardens apartments. I am as yet uncertain where Baier’s Park was located, though a few small triangular-shaped parks—more patches of grass, than parks—are to be found, formed by the streets slanting at an angle into Springfield Avenue, creating properties too small for a building.

While Baier’s name has disappeared from the landscape, remembered mostly only by aficionados of Newark’s “breweriana,” Hayes faired a little better. His estate on the corner of Springfield and Fairmount Avenues is long gone, along with its fine pear orchard where Stewart’s remains were rumored to have been buried. A Home Depot and Walgreens seem to now occupy what was likely Caledonian Park across Springfield Avenue. Yet there is at least a Hayes Street running north between Springfield and Route 510, perhaps tracing the eastern edges of his property.

People living in the area or driving by on busy Springfield Avenue are almost certainly unaware of the Newark that once thrived there or the bizarre yet fascinating piece of trivia associated with it. That secret is reserved for history geeks who give in to their occupational hazard and contentedly fall down history’s rabbit hole.

About the author

Gordon Bond is an independent historian, author, and speaker, specializing in lesser‐known
aspects of New Jersey history. He lives with his wife and cat in Newark’s historic Forest Hill
neighborhood. For more information about his books and a wealth of materials and resources
for NJ history geeks, visit http://www.GardenStateLegacy.com.