105 Newark, NJ: The Sheridan Theater

Newark, New Jersey: The Sheridan Theater

In Newark, I barely had time to see anything. Sean took me there on our way to the Newark airport, from where I would fly home. But that alone spoke of Newark's identity. It has become a travel and flight hub for the New York area. With much of its civic and business life draining away, what it still has to offer is sheer proximity to a livelier city. That also afforded Newark one of the highest-occupancy hotel markets in the country--a Hopperesque population if ever there was one. It also has the largest Portuguese population in any town outside of Portugal, and those people may feel isolated from their former country.

Founded in 1666 by other exiles (New Haven, Connecticut-area religious colonists fleeing their brethren's wrath), Newark is the third-oldest major American city. Current residents are not isolated from one another domestically: Newark occupies the second-smallest land area of America’s 100 most populous cities. And many ride on the city's Hopperesque 1930s-era subway. Ship-loving Hopper might also like knowing that Port Newark/Port Elizabeth is the third-largest commercial container port in the Western Hemisphere.

But the more Newark tries to convince everyone that they have changed, the more we are sure that it hasn't. Their Web site is stuffed full of information like the previous about their famous buildings, people, facts, and new developments. The more they crow, the more we are reminded of how bragging of accomplishments often masks feelings of shortcomings. The city's Web site advises visitors to ask for advice and assistance from the Downtown District's "Safety Ambassadors."

When I actually visited Newark, rather then merely fleeing their airport as usual, I found streets reminiscent of 1950s Life magazine photos: broad streets, murky lamps lending the town an eerie glow; large plastic letters drilled into concrete facades announcing a variety of variety stores: pawn shops, department stores, corner grocers, family-owned restaurants, fix-it shops, etc. The new buildings were the bottom-line-driven architecture of late Capitalism. The beautiful old buildings were soot-scarred and crumbling.

One of these was the Newark Museum.

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