Charles F. Cummings: Official Historian of Newark, Is Dead at 68

Historians in the News

Charles F. Cummings, the official historian of Newark, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the city and its environs took in everything from the name of the first municipal commissioner of shade trees to the fact that a mayonnaise factory once graced the shores of the Passaic River, died in the city on Wednesday. He was 68 and made his home in Newark.

Mr. Cummings died at a Newark hospital after heart surgery, said James Osbourn, the principal librarian of the Newark Public Library and a longtime colleague. He leaves no immediate survivors.

Associated with the library since 1963, Mr. Cummings at his death was the assistant director for special collections. He also supervised the library's New Jersey Information Center, a position that required him to be a walking mine of information on the entire state.

The center receives about 500 inquiries each month from scholars, government agencies and ordinary people around the world, seeking information on New Jersey subjects large and small, from the state's part in the Revolutionary War to the best way to get to the Short Hills Mall.

After his appointment as Newark's historian in 1988, Mr. Cummings also led walking tours of the city and wrote a weekly column on its history for The Star-Ledger. So great was his devotion to Newark that he even had its name inscribed in abbreviated form - NWK NJ - on the license plates of his car.

Despite the advent of the microchip three decades ago, Mr. Cummings, a tweedy, rumpled man originally trained as a historian, stored almost three and a-half centuries of New Jersey minutiae largely in his head. ...

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