Today I visited the Hoboken Historical Museum for their excellent new exhibit I Belong: A History of Civic and Social Clubs in Hoboken. What was truly remarkable was how strong the need to belong to a group has been throughout the history of Hoboken.
More than 250 groups have bonded together in the Mile Square City going back to The Turtle Club, an organization dating back to 1796 initially dedicated to eating all the turtles on the west side of the Hudson. Freemasons, Elks, Oddfellows, theater groups, singing organizations and the ubiquitous social clubs all followed. Today, the Elks and many of the social clubs are still around as well as new groups dedicated to running, motorcycles, parenting, skiing, theater and more.
I had an interesting conversation with the curator, Bob Foster, about the impact of social media on Hoboken’s groups and organizations and on the museum itself. I introduced him to Fourstalgia and solved the mystery that had brought me to the museum in the first place.
Fourstalgia kept surfacing a vintage picture of the Quartett-Club whenever I checked in on Foursquare in uptown Hoboken. Where was this striking building and what was this club? It turns out that the club was a German American singing organization formed in the latter half of the 19th century and their hall was right next to the present day Elks Club on Washington between 10th and 11th. It became the Gayety Theater early in the 20th century and was unfortunately torn down in the twenties.
Throughout the exhibit the photos, stories, programs and memorabilia told a fascinating narrative of proud people uniting around common interests and fulfilling that strong basic need of belonging. We marvel at the power Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to attract millions of users, but sometimes forget how people have always come together to share stories, laughter, causes, passions and fellowship. Maybe we just have better tools today.
I love the power of social media and the ability to find my people, but wonder if gathering online adds or subtracts from our capacity to come together in the real world. What do you think?