By Steve Sears
You can take the boy away from the newspaper, but writing will remain in the blood. So will a love for where he grew up, and the history which sadly may often doesn’t get the full respect it deserves.
Book author and former Star-Ledger columnist, Mark DiIonno, presented a very interesting program about New Jersey’s role in a young United States of America winning the Revolutionary War at Mendham Township Library on Thurs. April 11.
Here’s the truth: many of the major battles against the British were won on Garden State soil. Here’s another truth, one DiIonno and many wish they could change: that important history is not often significantly highlighted here on home turf.
“We really have booted the great history we have here,” claims DiIonno, a point he made during his talk, and as well made in his 2000 book, A Guide to New Jersey’s Revolutionary War Train for Families and History Buffs.
About 40 people attended the event.
DiIonno has authored three non-fiction books about New Jersey and has now turned to novel writing. His latest novel is Gods of Wood and Stone. “My novels have journalistic detail and I draw from my experiences as reporter to create characters. John Steinbeck is my role model in that way. He didn’t have the overt social agenda as, say, Sinclair Lewis, but told meaningful stories with characters that felt very human and real. That is what I strived for in “Gods of Wood & Stone” which is essentially a story about authentic American culture being swamped by the entertainment and sports juggernaut. One character, a Hall of Fame baseball player, is a victim of the alienation caused by his celebrity, and the other main character is a historical reenactor in Cooperstown, who is trying to show his son a broader experience than the sports and pop culture that rule the boy’s life.”
Per DiIonno, New Jersey is the place that “opened up the rest of the country,” and “Morristown was the capital of the American Revolution.” For him and all the attendees, the Thursday evening event was extremely important. He also brought a local touch to it. “Any time you can bring local history to an audience, you bring it alive. People can see it in geography, topography, the existing Colonial structures and even the cemeteries like at the Hilltop Church in Mendham, where several Revolutionary War soldiers who died of smallpox there are buried.”
Although the Revolutionary War technically ended in 1781, the fighting didn’t cease until 1783, when Joshua Huddy was hanged in Monmouth County. New Jersey was a prime player in the birth of our country, and DiIonno recognizes the need to trumpet it. “We need our legislators to understand and value our history and make a significant investment in heritage tourism. Our state historic sites are generally not in good shape and underutilized by the public.”
For more information about DiIonno and his work, visit www.markdiionno.com.