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A Brief History of Charles Dickens’ Time in Hoboken

by Erica Commisso
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Hoboken has played host to many famous people over the years. The Hoboken Historical Museum even has a list of many of them — George Washington was an honorary Turtle Club member, John Jacob Astor had a vacation home at Washington and 2nd Street, Lillian Russell, John L. Sullivan, Jay Gould, and William K. Vanderbilt used to entertain at the Duke’s House restaurant, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr spent a lot of time in the area {their famous battle took place in Weehawken}, and Edgar Allen Poe even frequented the area. As history would have it, Poe wasn’t Hoboken’s only literary visitor. In 1842, famed British author Charles Dickens took a trip to the Mile Square and wrote about the time he spent in our little town — here is a brief history of that encounter.

Coming to Hoboken

When Dickens visited, Hoboken was home to many German and Irish immigrants, and New Yorkers would come to the waterfront for Sunday picnics, writes author Spencer Leigh. When Dickens arrived in America, the bustling surroundings sparked him to note how busy Hoboken was. 

The writer called by those who knew him as “Boz,” his pseudonym, according to City Journal, visited Hoboken as a part of an American tour. His findings would be published in his travelogue and critique of cities in the USA, American Notes, and discussed the Hudson River and the surrounding land, complete with Revolutionary War history, Colonel’s Stevens’ expansive estate, and the Elysian Fields, according to writer Frances F. Dunwell. 

Conveniently and as we all know, Hoboken is also a quick ferry ride from New York City which, even then, was a sprawling sight filled with awe-inducing buildings. When Dickens himself took a ferry, Dunwell notes that he called it a “floating palace.” When he got here in 1842, he was passing through New Jersey on his way from New York to Philadelphia as a part of an American lecture tour. He was studying analytically and took in many Western customs, not all of which impressed him. On one of his train rides, he, like many British visitors to America, was particularly unamused by one Western habit in particular — he didn’t understand why people chewed tobacco and spit out the juice, remarked journalist Margo Nash.

Read more: 4 Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List ASAP

Visiting the Surrounding Area

During his 1842 tour, he would visit a New York City jail, famously called The Tombs, which also have a Hoboken connection. During his travels to Egypt, Mr. John L. Stevens, a member of the Hoboken famous Stevens family, noted and drew a recounting of an Egyptian tomb. Editor and author Alfred Tumble wrote that Stevens would later present his findings to the Common Council of the city of New York. They accepted his submission and went on to erect The Tombs, which were still new at the time of Dickens’ visit.  

Visiting the U.S. Again

Charles Dickens returned to America in 1867, again passing through Hoboken. Sadly, though, his visits made Dickens grow a certain level of distaste for the western world, and the United States in particular, even though we still celebrate his presence in many eastern cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City, today. Hoboken was beloved by many in the early 1800s, but the picnics, busy streets, floating palaces, well-traveled residents, and posh properties weren’t enough to change Dickens’ mind about America.

See more: A Hidden Gem: The {Hoboken} Historical Museum



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