Wilson Hall’s History Displayed in Pollak Gallery

From November 1 through December 21, Pollak Gallery is featuring a Historic Wilson Hall Exhibit sponsored by the University’s Center for the Arts.

The exhibit is free and open to the public for those who wish to view photographs and artifacts from the national historic landmark, including Woodrow Wilson’s desk from the golden age of American Palaces.

The exhibit originally opened for two weeks in the summer of 2011 and expanded upon those original artifacts for the 2012 exhibition.

“We have received such an eager response from the community to share information with us and we have enjoyed learning more about the building,” said Kelly Barratt, Marketing Coordinator for the Arts.

The building has always been a draw for historians and musical lovers (the 1982 film Annie was filmed there), but this year the exhibit features new artifacts centering around Shadow Lawn, and Woodrow Wilson’s stay there during 1916.

This exhibit displays historical photographs of the greenhouses, orchards, fields and other exterior buildings, from the Monmouth County Historical Association, photos from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, and photographs selected from the University’s archive, maintained by Jim Reme.

Additional photographs and artifacts are on loan from various sources, including blueprints and original decor, displayed behind glass cases and other blockades for the enjoyment of everyone who comes to view them.

“This whole exhibit really makes me feel closer to the history of Wilson Hall,” said Ronnie Tutella, a University alumni, “seeing the past instead of just hearing about it makes me realize how special it was to attend school here.”

These artifacts each come from people who have their own connections to the building and can offer new insights into what the building was like in historic times from 1903 to 1937.

Barratt explains how they were contacted by Janey Bitsi whose grandfather John Eisele was a gardener on the grounds. Bitsi shared several photos of her grandfather in the greenhouses and in front of the house with some of the maids. Some of the photos donated by the Monmouth County Historical Association were even given to the Association by the former caretaker’s grandson who found them in his basement.


“These are fantastic additions to our growing collection of history about the building,” said Barratt.

This year the exhibit also features descriptions of the history of the building shown through the photographs. This allows patrons to discover new information about the building they may have never known otherwise.

“Most of the people viewing the exhibition have been very interested in learning more about the building. Many people don’t realize that there was original structure built in 1903 that burned to the ground in 1927 and then was rebuilt as we see the building today,” said Barratt.

With new information ad artifacts being sent in by people around the area, even the staff putting on the exhibit learns something new about the history of Wilson Hall.

“One of the most interesting new facts we learned when remounting the exhibition was the origin of several of the color photographs of the interiors of the house right before it’s content were auctioned off. An individual named Ed Kembel [a former local gardener and photographer] set up his equipment while the auction house was cataloging the contents of the house and took Kodachrome photos of all the rooms in the house in their original state,” said Barratt.

These photos have become the best representations the department has of the interiors with furniture and décor before everything was sold.

“After leaving here [the exhibit] I will probably look at Wilson Hall and Shadow Lawn in a whole new way, being able to easily walk into a building where a president once lived and now to see what he must have seen every day is an amazing experience,” said Lauren Randall, senior.

This exhibit has plenty of room for growth and Barratt hopes to be able to remount the exhibit in the future with more information, artifacts and photographs of this historic site.

Anyone who wished to submit memories or artifacts of Shadow Lawn for future exhibitions can do so the University Center for the Arts page on the University website.