McCormick of Rutgers: Scholar, Teacher, Public Historian

By Michael J. Birkner | Go to book overview
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Early in his career as a Rutgers University professor, Richard P. McCormick discovered treasure in an unlikely place. Speaking for perhaps the hundredth time to a local historical association about the importance of knowing state history, McCormick soon learned that his comments had affected at least one member of the audience, a prominent New Jersey legislator. As he recalled many years after the fact, the solon was “charmed by my talk” and invited McCormick to go out for a few drinks, whereupon “he became more charmed.” Thereupon, “we went back to his house, had another couple of drinks, at which point he decided I was the salt of the earth.” In the course of the increasingly ebullient conversation, his newfound friend, Speaker of the Assembly Hugh Mehorter, told McCormick that he had “a considerable stash” of papers and other historical items in his house, and “he insisted on giving me all this material.” In addition to rare pamphlets from early New Jersey history and a scattering of documents, the boxes contained a well-preserved human skull—which Mehorter assured McCormick was the skull of Count Von Donnop, Hessian commander at the Battle of Red Bank. The skull was subsequently transported back to Rutgers, where it was stored in the Department of Special Collections and remains to this day one of its distinctive artifacts.


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