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2 local historians in northern NJ won't talk to each other

Historians in the News




To local historians -- who handle facts and lore of yesteryear with the same fervor as a racecar driver over Porsche parts -- history isn't dusty. It's downright current. Perhaps even sexy.

And definitely debatable.

"I'm going to be going head-to-head with some people from Fort Lee soon," said historian Mark Auerbach as he sat in his book-lined Passaic living room last month.

He said a July article in The Record wrongly asserted that the location in which Revolutionary War writer Thomas Paine wrote the famous line "These are the times that try men's souls" was Fort Lee.

"It's preposterous," Auerbach said.

He should know. For more than 30 years, he's been trying to pinpoint that location. "Nobody knows where (Paine) actually wrote it," Auerbach said.

Dispute over historical minutiae is common among local historians who work unpaid to set the record straight. State law forbids a salary. But just how personally a historian takes his work depends on the historian. Or pair of historians.

Enter Passaic County's two most well-known history experts -- Auerbach (pronounced "hour-back") who for a dozen years was the historian for the city of Passaic, and Ed Smyk (pronounced "smike") who has been the Passaic County historian since 1975. The men, one a chatty, blunt descendant of a famous Hasidic rabbi, the other, the staid son of a German-Polish father and Italian mother, haven't had a conversation since a debate erupted in the early '90s over an alleged slave burial ground beneath an elementary school.

They never go to lunch. Never had coffee with each other, despite being the two most prominent local historians: An archival search of this newspaper since 1998 shows the Herald News has quoted the two men about history more than any other local historians -- Smyk 137, Auerbach, 238 times.
Read entire article at http://www.northjersey.com

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