Published in The Asbury Park Press on June 27, 1999
THOMAS P. COSTELLO
A Manahawking woman writing her life
story looks for old friends to help spur
memories of her early childhood,
at post-World War II Camp Evans.
One day in 1953, while 7-year-old Mary Palmer (nee Capozzoli) was playing in what passed for her backyard in Camp Evans, Sen. Joseph McCarthy was also in the camp, looking for Communists and raising hell with armed sentries.
Former German scientists were working in her neighborhood, too, on top secret radar projects in buildings behind high fences.
Palmer, of course, didn’t know any-thing about any of that. She was just a little girl back then, and her home was a tiny apartment where she lived with her mother and father and two younger brothers.
Her earliest memories are of living in one of six former barracks buildings at Camp Evans in Wall. Converted to apartments in the post-World War II housing crunch, the barracks with the picket fence in the back was home for Palmer from 1949 to 1954.
“Our little world consisted of that little barracks,” said the 52-year-old resident of the Manahawkin section of Stafford. “We’d play, fly kites, take walks.”
Those years are a small part of Palmer’s life story, which she is writing now to share with her children, Michael, 30; Lincoln, 27, and Christina, 23. But it seems to her like a lost chapter in the story of Camp Evans, the one-time radar center and research facility, which is being turned over to Wall and Brookdale Community College. According to Henry Kearny, public affairs officer for Fort Monmouth, the transfer should be completed by year’s end, as soon as some mercury found on the site is cleaned up.
That Camp Evans housed former veterans and their families in the years after World War II was news to Fred Carl, and Carl knows a lot about Camp Evans. The history of the site is a hobby for him. The Belmar resident runs a Web site devoted to the history of the place, and is a member of the Wall Township Evans Area Restoration Board, a group that functions as a liaison between the Army and the community as the land is handed over.
Carl can speak about the significance of the 215-acre site, and its place in history, from the days when Guglielmo Marconi constructed “a world-encircling girdle of radar stations designed to send messages around the world through the ether,” to its role in developing technology used in the Gulf War.
He’s actively involved in a project that would turn some of the 55 acres that Brookdale will receive into a science center.
The world-altering advances in radar and radio technology going on around her did not register with Mary
Palmer in her five years in Building 2, Apartment 14, on Watson Avenue in Camp Evans.
What did register was how small the apartment was, even through a little girl’s eyes.
“You could reach out and touch everything in the kitchen,” from, the icebox to the wringer washer, she said.
She and her brothers slept in the single bedroom; there was no room for anything but the beds, and a closet her father built for the children. Her Parents slept in the living room.
The children in the old barracks used to play in the broad hallways upstairs and downstairs.
“I remember one day, the air was charged before a thunderstorm, and we kids raced up and down the hallway past the open doors of the apartments on the first floor,” she said.
Palmer is looking for playmates and neighbors from her childhood to fill in the blanks of her memory.
“I don’t trust my memories. I remember bits and pieces, like my mother hanging the wash out to dry, and me sucking on a piece of ice covered with straw from the iceman’s truck,” Palmer said.
She has done her homework. She knows that the apartments were administered by the Asbury Park Veteran’s Housing Authority, and the rent was $45 a month, including utilities. Only veterans and their families were allowed to sign leases. She knows that a city bus drove into the camp every hour to take people shopping or to and from work.
Palmer has found a couple of people who lived in Building 2 at the same time.
“We were as poor as church mice, but we were very happy,” Palmer says one of them told her. “Building 2 was a close knit group. The women used to congregate in each other’s kitchens and leave the front doors open during the day so that they could call to each other and keep an eye on the kids.”
Palmer’s family left the old barracks in 1954. A year later, the apartments were closed down.
She moved for a little while to her grandmother’s house and then to an old farm house in the Glendola section of Wall. It was there she found some real space to call her own.
“I put a KEEP OUT on my door,” she said.
The sounds of children playing in the fields of Camp Evans have been silent for a long time.
But Wall Township Mayor Michael Fitzgerald hears those voices coming to life again in the not too distant future.
If the transfer of land is completed on schedule, he sees ballparks and playgrounds on the Camp Evans property by spring of the year 2000.
“I fully expect to throw out the first pitch of the season for the North Wall Little League on opening day at a brand new field,” Fitzgerald said.
“ I don’t trust my memories. I remember bits and pieces, like my mother hanging the wash out to dry, and me sucking on a piece of ice covered with straw from the iceman’s truck.”
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