Love of Local History Spurs Second Career for Area Resident
WALKING THE WALK: Barry Singer, a local historian who has forged a second career volunteering to lead walking tours and speaking on Princeton’s Revolutionary War history, takes a break in front of Princeton University’s Nassau Hall, a stop on the Historical Society of Princeton walking tours.
By Wendy Greenberg
When Barry Singer retired, he took his love of history and forged a second career. He volunteered to give walking tours for the Historical Society of Princeton, developed a history course, and created a lecture series on Princeton during the Revolutionary War, which he has given to clubs, libraries, and senior centers. Along the way he wrote a book, a fictionalized personal memoir about leaving home during the Vietnam War.
“I’m a case study in how to be lucky in retirement,” he said. He offers this advice: “Do something you really like. You never know where it could lead.”
Singer will be speaking on September 19 at 1 p.m. at the Stockton Education Center at Morven to the Women’s College Club (WCC) of Princeton on “Princeton: The Nation’s Capital 1783.” WCC is reaching out to new members, welcoming them to monthly meetings, said a spokesperson. Since its founding in 1916, WCC’s mission has been to provide scholarships to local high school senior women at Princeton High School, Princeton Day School, Stuart County Day School, and The Hun School to those who need assistance to attend college.
Complemented by historic images, Singer’s talk describes how in 1783 the Colonies were awaiting word that peace negotiations in Paris would result in a treaty, but because of delays in negotiating across the Atlantic, Congress could not disband the Army without a treaty. Congress, fearing an Army mutiny demanding back pay, relocated to Princeton from Philadelphia, and remained in Princeton for four-and-a-half months. Singer speaks of what happens in Princeton as it provides the backdrop for the historic events from June to November that year, when Congress met in Nassau Hall.
Singer’s other prepared talks are “Princeton and the American Revolution,” and “The Battle of Brooklyn.”
He was excited by what he learned about the battles of Princeton and Trenton. “The most important point is that there was a culmination of three victories in 10 days, at a time when all the Patriots were disillusioned and they thought the war was over. But the perseverance and bravery of George Washington and the Continental soldiers changed everyone’s perception. The colonists were reinvigorated with the belief that they could win, and gain their freedom.”
Coming from a totally different setting, Singer had worked on Wall Street and was a technology manager with Merrill Lynch when he worked “for pay,” until 2005. He looked around to fill his time, and since he loved walking he volunteered to lead walking tours of Princeton. He loves meeting the people from all over the world who take the tours, which are given about once a week from the Historical Society.
Some of his favorite spots? “If I had to pick one, I most especially like Nassau Hall, Maclean House, and Nassau Presbyterian Church,” he said, picking three. “The architecture relates so well to the history,” he added.
Singer’s love of military history was sparked as a student at City College of New York in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (better known as ROTC), and a course he took on military history. “As I started doing the walking tours, I realized how incredible our rich local history is. My love of military history led to my interest in the Revolutionary War and its impact on Princeton.”
After six years leading the walking tours, he also realized that not everyone walks well, and to bring the rich history to more people, he developed his own lectures. Many were given on Zoom during the pandemic. An initial five-session course on Princeton and the American Revolution is now segmented into one-hour talks because Singer thought he could “reach more people.”
Singer, whose age is “mid 70s,” grew up in Bronx, N.Y., and later moved to Princeton with his family. The Bronx was never far from his mind, and a few years ago he decided to write a fictionalized memoir. “I always wanted to tell this story,” he said. “My father died at an early age, and I didn’t get to know enough about him. So I wanted to tell this story based on my own experiences.” The book, Exit the Bronx: Coming of Age in the Mid ‘60s During the Vietnam War, was published this past January. It has been accepted into a couple of libraries, and soon he will offer a talk about the book.
The coming of age story is about a Bronx resident who has never been away from the Bronx, but who is drafted and sent to Heidelberg, Germany, the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe, as Singer was. After the experience, which includes a foray into East Berlin, “there is a transformation as he grows up. He later comes home a different person,” said Singer.
The 283-page paperback is available for purchase at Amazon.com. “I think many people might enjoy this story,” he said. “Any parent who saw their child leave home and return all grown up. It’s a story of transformation and triumph,” he said.
The book process took about 18 months to write, and six to get published. Singer had a close friend who had just published a book and recommended an editor and jacket designer. While those collaborations were important, he said, his best advice for writing a book is to “make sure you have a real purpose.”
With the book, the walking tours, and the lectures, Singer’s retirement is anything but retiring. “It’s been one of the most fun chapters of my life,” he said.