For such a small town, it is quite remarkable how many world-renown personalities were born or lived here. Meet some of the people whose life paths led through a small town on the Hudson called Hoboken.
Frank Sinatra (1915 – 1998)
Hoboken’s most famous son was born and grew up here. The house at 415 Monroe Street, where he was born, no longer exists. Sinatra’s upwardly mobile, energetic mother kept relocating the family to better neighborhoods and better houses. After moving from a cold water tenement on Monroe Street into a nicer apartment building at 703 Park Avenue – still standing – the family finally settled into a really lovely house at 841 Garden Street. Sinatra lived there throughout his teenage years. After getting married to Nancy in 1939, he left Hoboken for good. There are too many places in Hoboken connected with Sinatra to mention here. Still, a house at 909 Hudson St deserves special attention: this is the house Sinatra bought for his parents, Marty and Dolly when he became a celebrity.
Alfred Steglitz (1864 – 1946)
Alfred Stieglitz, a pioneer of art photography, was born and grew up in Hoboken at 500 Hudson Street. The family of German Jewish immigrants highly valued good schooling and, in 1881, moved to Europe in pursuit of better educational opportunities. Stieglitz considered himself an artist and was instrumental in establishing photography as an art form. During his lifetime Stieglitz produced more than 2,500 mounted photographs, many of which are now exhibited in major art museums such as MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum, and the National Gallery of Art. He was married to Georgia O’Keeffe, a famous artist who has been called the “Mother of American modernism.” He was quoted as saying, “I was born in Hoboken, I am an American.“
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)
Dorothea Lange, an American documentary photographer, was born and spent her childhood in a four-story 19th-century brownstone at 1041 Bloomfield Street. Dorothea Lange, whose career started as a portrait photographer, created her most important work as a photojournalist, bringing to light the faces of rural America during the Great Depression. In 1935, the Roosevelt administration began hiring photographers to travel the country and record the lives of people in order to promote the New Deal program. Dorothea Lange wasn’t interested in being considered an artist but a photojournalist. In her own words: “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” Her most famous work, The Migrant Mother, became one of the world’s most recognizable images in the world.
Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894 – 1956)
Alfred Kinsey was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology, but he is best known for studying human sexuality and founding the field of sexology. In the 1940s and 50s, when even discussing, let alone studying sexuality was taboo, he wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, known as the Kinsey Reports.
Kinsey was born in Hoboken at 611 Bloomfield Street. His overbearing father, a Stevens Institute of Technology professor, insisted that Kinsey study engineering and not botany. After his rather unsuccessful attempts at engineering, he went to study biology and eventually created a revolution in American approach to human sexuality. In 1947, he founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, previously known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.
Martha Entenmann (1906 – 1996)
Martha Entenmann was also born in Hoboken. Her name is well known to anybody who ever visited a bakery section of any American supermarket since all of them offer an Entenmann cake. At the age of 19, Martha started working for Entenmann’s and, in 1925, married the founder’s son. She was involved with every aspect of the business from delivering the cakes and keeping the books to running the office. After her husband died in 1951, she and her three sons continued running the company.
The Stevens family – the founders of Hoboken
Colonel John Stevens (1749 – 1838), the founder of Hoboken, was an inventor, an engineer, a city planner, a horticulturist, a lawyer – a truly renaissance man of many talents. He founded Hoboken, gave it its name, laid out its street pattern, and turned the rural area into one of the most frequented pleasure grounds in the country. Colonel Stevens started the first commercial ferry service in the country and designed the first ferry slip; he built the first steamship entirely on American soil and sent it on the first-ever ocean voyage. He designed and built the first steam locomotive in America. In 1790, Stevens petitioned Congress for a bill to protect American inventors, essentially establishing a patent law. He was also a patriarch of America’s first family of engineers.
Edwin Augustus Stevens (1795 – 1868) founded the Stevens Institute – America’s first college devoted to mechanical engineering.
John Cox Stevens (1785 – 1858) was the founder of the legendary New York Yacht Club and its first commodore.
Robert Livingston Stevens (1787 – 1856) was an inventor, a steamship builder, and the first president of the Camden and Amboy Railroad. He worked with his father on developing the first American steam locomotive and built the first commercially used locomotive in the country. Robert Stevens was the inventor of all-iron rail construction and designed the T-shaped rail, which is still the standard.
John Jacob Astor (1763 – 1848)
The founder of the mighty Astor dynasty, John Jacob Astor arrived in America in 1783, right after the Revolutionary War, and made his enormous fortune in real estate. He was called the landlord of New York but kept his villa in Hoboken at the corner of Second and Washington streets. When the mansion was built, in 1828, Hoboken was a pleasant escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Astor received many visitors here, including his personal friend and the most prominent literary figure of the times – Washington Irving.
Napoleon III (1808 – 1873)
This might be surprising but entirely true. Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Baunapart, the first president of France from 1848 to 1852, and the last French monarch from 1852 to 1870 stayed in Hoboken!
While exiled from France, he changed locations in Europe and then came to the US. He was planning to tour the country for a year in order to observe the political system. In America, he chose to stay in Hoboken, taking a room at the corner of Washington and 1st Streets. It seems like he was a neighbor of John Jacob Astor and had a chance to mingle with New York’s society, including the writer Washington Irving.
“While in this country he resided in Hoboken, in a small, sparsely furnished room, and the table, bed and chairs which he used are still preserved there by the keeper of his hoarding house as a memento of liis distinguished guest.” (Pilot, Volume 36, Number 4, 25 January 1873)
His visit to the US was cut short. He returned to Europe in 1838 and, after the French Revolution of 1848, seized power and became the President of the Second Republic before assuming this crown.
Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849)
Edgar Allan Poe never lived in Hoboken but visited. His visits weren’t casual: he was investigating a murder. Based on it, he wrote a story – “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” – widely considered the first detective story ever set to print.
The story was based on the true events of an unsolved murder. Even though Edgar Allan Poe sets the story in Paris, the actual events took place on the Hudson. A young lady by the name of Mary Rogers disappeared, and her mutilated body washed up on the Hoboken riverfront by the Sybil’s Cave. Edgar Allan Poe fancied himself a detective and attempted to solve the case.
“The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” was a sequel to the famous “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.“
Hetty Green (1834 – 1916)
Hetty Green, known as the Witch of Wall Street, was worth $3.8 billion and was considered the world’s richest woman. Despite this, she lived in a cold water/no heat apartment at Yellow Flats, 1201 Washington Street in Hoboken. She made her enormous fortune in Wall street investments but gained notoriety not for her investment savvy but her legendary misery. The Guinness Book of World Records awarded her the title of the world’s greatest miser.
In a way, that was exactly what brought her to Hoboken: she often changed dwellings, moving from one small, unheated apartment to another to hide from the press and tax collectors. Hetty Green died in 1916 as the world’s richest woman.
Steven Foster (1826 – 1864)
Steven Foster, a composer of such popular songs as “Oh Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home”, made 601 Bloomfield Ave Hoboken his home for a short time in the 1850s. What brought him to Hoboken was the broken state of his disintegrating marriage. Hoboken, at the time, was an idyllic place with fresh air and a beautiful riverside promenade – a perfect place to rekindle dwindling nuptials in the bucolic setting.
Alas, it didn’t fix the marriage but added a song. While staying in Hoboken, Foster wrote ”Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.” Unlike his marriage, the building at 601 Bloomfield Ave is still intact.
Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976)
Alexander Calder was born into a family of artists: both his father and grandfather were prominent sculptors. The family didn’t want Alexander to follow in its artistic footsteps but encouraged him to become an engineer. In 1915 he enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken to study mechanical engineering. With a degree from Stevens, he worked various jobs, eventually making his way into the arts.
Alexander Calder became one of the best-known American sculptors. Combining his artistic vision with engineering knowledge, he invented wire sculptures and the mobile, a type of kinetic art that relied on careful weighting to achieve balance and suspension in the air.
Elia Kazan (1909 – 2003) and Marlon Brando (1924 – 2004)
They never lived in Hoboken, but their link to the city made history. In 1954 Elia Kazan directed “On the Waterfront” starring Marlon Brando – a movie that became an undisputed American classic. The film was based on a true story detailing widespread corruption, extortion, and racketeering on Hoboken’s waterfronts.
“On the Waterfront” was the first American motion picture shot entirely on location in Hoboken. Some scenes are shot in Elysian Park, Church Square Park, and along the waterfront docks. Cobblestone Court Street is a backdrop for the escape scene. The church used for exterior scenes in the film was the historic Our Lady of Grace, at 400 Willow Ave, while the interiors were filmed at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul at 400 Hudson Street. Kazan used the actual Hoboken longshoremen in the film.
“On the Waterfront” received 12 Oscar nominations and won 8, including Best Picture, Best Director for Kazan, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint.