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Carmel and the Company Store
©2007 Richard Katz 510 236 1865 richard808 AT gmail DAT com
I'm from Carmel, New Jersey. I lived there until I was about eight. It's been half a century since I lived there.
I got to thinking about all that because I have a close relative named Ned Rogovoy, who lives near Carmel New Jersey, in Millville. His father was also called Ned, and when I was a kid I was told that Ned Rogovoy, who lived in Carmel, was the man responsible for getting rid of the company store.(footnote 1: I'm fairly certain) Fifty years later, the enormity of that accomplishment is just starting to sink in.
Last week I Googled for "Ned Rogovoy" and "company store", and got nothing. I Googled for just "Ned Rogovoy", and got enough information to call the law offices of Ned Rogovoy in Millville, New Jersey to leave a message. The message asked Mr Rogovoy to please call me; that I suspected that we were related, perhaps closely related; and that I was curious whether it were true that Ned Rogovoy had defeated the Company Store, the store which was the only place you could spend the scrip that the Company gave you for your wages, with its sky high prices and you as the captive audience Tennessee Ernie Fords Sixteen Tons and all that. (footnote 2: Tennessee Ernie Ford)
The very next day Ned Rogovoy called me back. He went through his family tree, and nothing lined up with my family tree, but then he mentioned -- casually, for no particular reason -- that the woman who had married his father's father was named "Bodnick". That cleared things up immediately, because my entire family on my mother's side was named Bodnick; but my mothers father's father had changed his part of the family's name to "April", from the English word April on the calendar. Mr Rogovoy knew any number of Aprils, including at least two of my cousins who are lawyers, down at the shore, as we say in South Jersey: Lewis April in Atlantic City, and his younger brother Jeffery April, practicing in Ocean City. Lewis and Jeffery and I all grew up in Carmel, about thirty miles inland from Atlantic City, and about forty miles south of Philadelphia (and just south of the Mason-Dixon line.) If April and Bodnick are the same family, then Ned Rogovoy is my cousin.
Ned Rogovoy told me that his fathers name was Nathaniel Rogovoy; he went by the name of Ned. He was born in 1909, died in 1988, and represented the plaintiff in the Millville Manufacturing company store case in 1934 when he was all of twenty-five years old. He wasnt even married yet; the woman he later married was fifteen years younger than he was and worked in the office. My cousin didnt have much more to tell me about the case. He told me that his dad became well known later for having been a special prosecutor, in the Forties, when Millville cleaned up gambling. He was, his son Ned said, a bulldog.
I grew up around that part of the country, and it sure beats the hell out of me how Nathaniel Ned Rogovoy, back in the 1920s, got where he got to, having started out where he started in 1909. My cousin Ned told me that a doctor from Millville who had some ties to the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, took an interest in him and one way or the other got him to go to Penn. Then his dad went to law school at Rutgers. South Jersey is provincial even now; I can hardly imagine what it was like around 1900 in Carmel, where even in the 1950s it resembled an Eastern European shtetl. Nathaniel Rogovoy must have found the Ivy League broadening, to say the least. I really wanted to know how it came to be, that he took on the biggest manufacturer in his neck of the woods in a legal battle over their company store. The company store was certainly a scandal, but everybody did it; and nobody in authority had ever lifted a finger.
My brother and I still own a piece of land in Carmel New Jersey at the crossroads, where Sherman Avenue, and Nabb Avenue, and Irving Avenue, and Morton Avenue, and Carmel Road all come together at odd angles. We inherited it a few years back. We found out that just about all ten acres of it is officially a wetlands, protected from encroachment forevermore and therefore pretty much worthless to us. As my cousin Jeffery said to me, when I called him up for advice, Wetlands? Take what you can get. Right about now, though, Cumberland County wants to build a highway right near there and offered us a fair price. I expect that within a month or two the County Clerk will have all the documents prepared for a closing, and whether I really need to or not Ill fly there for one last look at Carmel. And no doubt Ill take a couple days and poke around, maybe go to the Courthouse in Bridgeton and to City Hall in Millville, maybe ask a few oldtimers, see what I can find out about Ned Rogovoy and the Millville Manufacturing company store.
Maybe Nathaniels widow is still around. Ned said she is 87, but then he said she lives in Florida. I can see how it might have gone, how the mighty Millville Manufacturing, who owned the town, wouldnt have taken this country lawyer and his client seriously at all, not even seriously enough to send over one of their lawyers for the hearing before the Travelling Judge when assize time came to their venue, much less to bring in one of their white shoe lawyers from Philadelphia. Maybe theres a handwritten transcript of the case, over at the County Courthouse. There has to be at the least the Clerks record of the decision, probably a Summary Judgment, quick justice with no time wasted.
High Plains Drifter was the best movie ever made, certainly as good as any other movie ever made. It is a distillation of storytelling, an elixir of The Story. High Plains Drifter is a full size Diesel story with the turbocharger hooked up, and the transmission dropped into low range and shifted into fifth gear, and a differential with long legs in the rear. Hardly anybody has ever come to appreciate High Plains Drifter, then or now. Its way past what most people can fathom. Hell, to most people, its just a dumb Western. How are they supposed to know to sit up and take notice when the Preacher indignantly asks, Even the Church?(after The Man with No Name has issued orders for the entire town, every single building in town, to be painted barn red) and The Man with No Name responds, Especially the Church, ReverendÖ? One way or the other, all the townspeople, all those God-fearin peopleÖ as the Sheriff calls them, who looked the other way when the Lago Mining Company had their goons assassinate Marshall Jim Duncan in plain sight of all of them, all of those people were going to pay.
And thats why the story of Ned Rogovoy and the Downfall of the Company Store is the best story Ive ever heard in real life. If Lago is cinematic Hell on Earth, then Millville New Jersey was Hell on Earth for real, with the Millville Manufacturing Company garnishing the wages of its workers in perpetuity, to be forked over to the Company Store on High Street in downtown Millville, in plain sight of the Sheriff and the Mayor and above all the Merchandiser of General Merchandise who ran the Company Store. If The Man with No Name were just a flea bitten range bum, then Nathaniel Ned Rogovoy was just a country lawyer from Carmel who rode into town and set things right. He may or may not have had God on his side, but he certainly had at the least, The Law. One thing for sure, religion had nothing to do with it: Ned Rogovoy the Elder was not only not a practicing Jew, he had married a Methodist!
Heres how I bet that it came down, as I was sitting around our bed and breakfast in Carmel, California, watching a DVD of Clint Eastwood and Doris Day [footnote 3: The DVD came out] telling us about this other Carmel, the one on the other side of the country: [footnote 4: The one pronounced] When old Ned Rogovoy eventually died, and his spirit ascended to Heaven, he finds himself way down on the main drag near Malpaso Creek, south of town on the way to Big Sur, and he sees a sign that says Carmel. Achhhh, he says to himself, After all that, I end up in Carmel? And the Angel that delivered him there jerks a finger back in the direction of downtown, and they walk all the way to Ocean and Dolores, then past the Art Association, and then it gets better and better all the way down to the beach. Ned gets it; he never even knew about Carmel, California; but he thinks about Millville Manufacturing and their company store, and he knows that he earned his way in; and that theres no way you can earn your way out.
Footnote 1: I'm fairly certain that the story of Ned Rogovoy and the company store was told to me by my father, Edward Katz, who was from Paterson, in North Jersey. My dad had come to Millville Field when he was serving in the Army during WW2. My dad was a lawyer, a member of the New Jersey Bar, so it is not surprising that he would have acquired the remarkable tale of Ned Rogovoy and the company store. Eddie was also a remarkably wise and compassionate man, and a good dad who always pursued the edification and education of his kids, so it is not surprising at all that he would have related that story to me.
Footnote 2: Tennessee Ernie Ford, as late as 1955 was singing Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter dont you call me cause I cant go, I owe my soul to the company store.
Footnote 3: The DVD came out a few years after Clint Eastwood finished up his term as Mayor of Carmel, and is titled Dont Pave Main Street. Its kept available for the guests at inns in town, including Vagabonds where we stayed, and Doris Day's Cypress Inn down the street. Its certainly a top notch documentary; it may have titles, credits, talking heads, and archival footage (stills panned and scanned) the trappings of the boring docu but darn if it isnt just fascinating to watch. The Vagabonds outfitted all their quaint cottages with DVD players, too, just to make sure you could take an hour or so and watch that movie.
Footnote 4: The one thats pronounced carMEL, as opposed to Carmel in New Jersey thats pronounced CARmel.
(c) 2007 Richard Katz. FrogOJT Systems, Berkeley, CA.
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