Those of you with a literary bent have heard of the celebrated 20th-century poet William Carlos Williams, who made his home in New Jersey.
But did you know that home was in Rutherford? And that he is buried in Lyndhurst? And that he was basically a part-time poet?
William Carlos Williams’ professional calling was as a physician, specializing in pediatrics and obstetrics. In the course of his practice from the early 1900s through (circa) 1953, he must have delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of infants. And currently, the Rutherford-based Meadowlands Museum is attempting to locate those now-adult infants.
It’s not likely the earliest delivered are still with us (but you never know; just the other day there was a news story about a New York woman celebrating her 116th birthday). However, folks who were born in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s are abundant, and if you were delivered by Dr. Williams, you are invited to a special fete to be held in conjunction with the current museum exhibit: “The Practice & The Patient: Healthcare in the Early 20th Century.”
It is more than probable that some of those former infants now reside in Observer towns, which is why we are publicizing the “Babies Search,” which is sponsored by the museum in conjunction with St. Mary’s Hospital, Passaic.
Williams was born in Rutherford in 1883 and lived his entire life in the family home at 9 Ridge Road, which is where he also established his medical practice. (The house, a private residence, still stands.)
The doctor later opened a clinic in Rutherford Town Hall. He was also affiliated with Passaic General Hospital (now known as St. Mary’s) and — according to Wikipedia — served as its chief of pediatrics from 1924 until his death in 1963 at age 79. (We are not certain about the accuracy of that end-of- practice date, since he reportedly suffered a series of strokes in the late 1940s — but it’s possible a Williams-delivered baby was born as late as the ‘60s.)
The museum is asking anyone who was delivered by Williams to contact it at 201-935-1175 or by emailing exhibits manager Jesse Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. “If they have their birth certificate showing the doctor’s name, that’d be great,” Gordon said.
Remember, you did not necessarily have to have been born in the hospital.
Back when Williams was practicing, at-home births were not uncommon.
A reception for the “babies” is scheduled at the museum, 91 Crane Ave., Rutherford, at 4 p.m., July 29. “But please call us ahead of time,” Gordon urged.
As of Saturday, she said, more than 20 “Williams’ Babies” had signed up.
The exhibit itself runs through September and spotlights both Williams’ medical practice and poetry, with items from his estate on loan from his granddaughter Daphne Williams Fox. One prize feature is the doctor-poet’s portable Olivetti typewriter, which he kept in his medical office. The story is that he would compose poetry in between patient appointments, and if someone entered the room unexpectedly, he’d quickly tuck the Olivetti into his desk.
Also on view are delightful animal paintings, created by the doctor and his brother, which decorated the walls of the waiting room and served to cheer up nervous children. He also crafted child-sized furniture.
Our “Baby Search” visit was our first to the Meadowlands Museum, which we were delighted to discover is located just a few blocks north of the Lyndhurst border, across the Orient Way bridge over Rt. 3. Chatting with director Gilda Healy, we learned we were not alone in our surprise at its location.
“We have an identity problem,” Healy said. “Everyone thinks we’re either over by MetLife Stadium or at the Meadowlands Environmental Center. We’re not.”
We intend to return to the 1804 former farmhouse often and suggest that readers plan a visit, too. The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free; donations are encouraged.
If you’d like to do some more exploring, visit William Carlos Williams’ grave, which is in Hillside Cemetery on Orient Way, on the Lyndhurst side of the bridge over Rt. 3. He’s buried in the family plot. Visit the office for directions; the grave is not hard to find.
Standing at that grave, paying our respects, it struck us how this literary light, known the world over, had such firm South Bergen roots. Yes, he traveled widely and studied in Geneva, Paris and Leipzig, but he was born, lived, raised a family, wrote several volumes of poetry along with fiction, essays and plays, had a medical practice, died and is at rest in an area whose circumference we would put — only a guess — at perhaps a half-mile.
Just something to ponder.