New Book Puts Spotlight on Vineland Founder Charles K. Landis

Last Edited: Sep 11, 2018 12:00 PM -04:00

SNJ Today's newspaper’s longtime history columnist Vince Farinaccio pens biography of Vineland’s founder, Charles K. Landis.

MILLVILLE, NJ  — If you’re a fan of the history column in SNJ Today's newspaper, you’ll be interested in knowing that columnist Vince Farinaccio has just completed a book that was inspired by the columns he’s written over the past 10 years, specifically those about the founder of Vineland, Charles K. Landis.

A few weeks ago, SNJ Today’s Mike Epifanio sat down with Vince for a discussion of how the book, Before the Wind: Charles K. Landis and Early Vineland, came to be. Also up for discussion was Landis himself and what an interesting personality he was—his acquittal in the murder of newspaper editor Uri Carruth and whether he was a land speculator or simply founder of a town for which he cared very deeply.

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Mike Epifanio: You wear a lot of different hats, Vince. Tell us about your background, then we’ll talk about your most recent published work, a book about Charles K. Landis.

Vince Farinaccio: I actually started in journalism. While I was in college I was a stringer for a local newspaper and from there I went to my second major and started a teaching career that went 36 years.

So between high school and college levels, I spent the brunt of my existence dealing with education. When I left teaching high school—St. Augustine, I was there for 26 years—and when I left, I felt like I kinda needed to reinvent myself, stayed in the education field but wanted to turn to writing, that’s when I was completing the book I wrote on Bob Dylan, his films and videos, and of course, in 2008, you hired me and I became the history columnist for The Grapevine.

That’s right, I launched the newspaper, now SNJ Today, in 2008, but at the time I approached you, we needed columnists, and I said, “How about history?” You weren’t necessarily a history writer.

No, I wasn’t but when you go back to the education, I taught literature, and I would always take it from the standpoint of the historical context of each one the authors. But history in and of itself, no, not really. I was aware of it from my literary teachings. But that was a turning point for me. You hired me and put me into an entirely different channel that I didn’t expect and slowly as I got to know more about the history of the area, more about what the whole context of Vineland was, it started opening up new doors and eventually led to the Charles Landis book.

Here we are, you’ve written hundreds, over 500 columns, initially on Vineland history, now broadened to all of Cumberland County, the area covered by SNJ Today newspaper. Is there a particular person you may have focused on an awful lot over the course of the 10 years?

Charles K. Landis is usually the one; That’s the go-to. He’s the founder of Vineland, co-founder of Hammonton, founder of Sea Isle City, and usually the name is recognizable in the area, even today. Working through the column and researching about Landis, I grew up knowing two things about Landis: The main avenue was named after him and he shot an editor for a newspaper during his lifetime. Very colorful person, but I found there was so much more to him as I continued to research.

So as the columns were producing more and more about Landis, the research was taking me into discovering that the myth had simplified a number of things. When you come down to just those two elements, yes he founded Vineland, but there’s more to it than that. I started to see the human being.

There are so many different levels to who Charles Landis really was and the earlier myths did not do justice to any of that. What I wanted to do, in fact, in entering the [book] project, I wanted to de-mythologize him.

There’s an interesting quote that I came across recently that says myths are nothing more than stories that take the contradictions out. I wanted to put the contradictions back in. And you have a very contradictory personality with Charles K. Landis.

Yes, I’m only partly through my copy of the book, but I mean, the book, it’s better than fiction; You can’t make this stuff up.

As my editor [here at SNJ Today] Deb Ein says, it’s sometimes more compelling than fiction. His life is fascinating, there’s so much about him, in the founding of Vineland, in the shooting of newspaper editor Uri Carruth, you can’t simplify that, there has to be the full context of his
existence.

So let’s talk about the shooting of the newspaper editor. Landis had started this town and first question, was he just a real estate speculator, did he start off that way? I mean, he truly had a vision for this town and this newspaper editor was at odds with him an awful lot, that and some other unsavory things he had to say about Landis and his family may have led to the tipping point?

Yes, it’s interesting, as the book points out in 1868, that’s when the [locally produced] newspaper The Independent began to have questions about Landis and when Uri Curruth took over, it went way beyond questioning certain things and literally became attacks in the newspaper on Landis.

It’s important to note that Vineland was changing during that point in the sense that Landis was not a speculator and did not want speculators. Once they came in, it started to change the climate of the town. We started to have people who were more vocal about we don’t want this, we don’t want that, and they blamed Landis for the way it was. Uri Carruth was one of them.

And Landis didn’t necessarily want other people having an opinion about how things should be?

Not initially, he wanted to prolong land speculators coming in because he knew he needed enough time to make the town work the way it was. It started out a very progressive community, but it changed.

At what point in writing the columns did you start to think there’s a book here?

Believe it or not, that wasn’t me doing that. I had gone to the Vineland Historical & Antiquarian Society to research something and the curator there, Patt Martinelli, sat me down at one point and said, “I need to talk to you about something.”

And I remember this distinctly, she said, you know you’re the one to write the Charles K. Landis biography. And I went, what? And she says all that you’re doing with the column, all that you’ve already unearthed, you’re the one to write it.

It was preordained!

It seems that way. And I walked away from it and it stayed in my head, and the more I thought about it, I thought maybe that is the case, and I called her up and I said okay, I’ll do it, and they opened up the vaults for me, and it led to this book.

The book is titled Before the Wind, Charles K. Landis and Early Vineland, and it is, as far as I know, the first biography of Landis. I had complete access to the archives at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society.

Subsequently, you’ve developed a great relationship with not only Patt Martinelli but other folks on the VHAS board, you’ve lectured at the museum and in fact will be introducing the book there coming up this Saturday. While we’re on the topic of publishing, and there may be readers out there who think they might have a book in them, could you tell them about writing and staying motivated, as well as the process of self-publishing?

Before the Wind took four years total, and within that time frame I was looking to see if anyone was interested in it. Before you go into self-publishing, give [traditional publishers] a shot, see if anyone is interested, but also set your boundaries. Send query e-mails, some will require you to fill out a form, there are a number of options, you just kinda sit there and search [online].

There are the university presses; for this book I went through primarily the history publishers. And you have to be prepared to get responses like we’re not publishing that kind of book anymore. One of them I queried said we’re only doing military, not 19th-century figures.

But in the back of your mind, we live in the world of self-publishing, it is possible today to do it inexpensively, so therefore you can take advantage of it. I had that in the back of my mind the whole time. When you complete your project, if anyone is interested, you don’t want them overstepping the boundaries. There are two publishers I turned down simply because they wanted a book different from what I produced.

There are a number of publishing companies that will allow you to put the book together, they will print on demand, and lulu.com is just one of those that will do that.

If you think you have a book in you, I’d advise you to write it and go from there.

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