As an historian and therefore as an educator, John's newest concern is the internet because so much of the information found there is unchecked and unsubstantiated. This is particularly evident in the area of local history. Wikipedia Warning
John's advice is that if you need verification on any local history matter, contact a known expert in your area. Feel free to contact John with any questions about West Orange history.
In 2006, John unveiled a local history geared for children entitled Greetings from West Orange, New Jersey. Still, a great many readers and a great many New Jersey librarians, have repeatedly asked him to undertake a proper, accurate, literate, and thorough history of West Orange since none exists. That project had been delayed indefinitely due to repeated copyright infringement by local politicians but, in 2013, John decided to take a chance and proceed with it in celebration of the town's 150th Anniversary. West Orange: A Concise & Accurate History 1863-2013 is available only from the publisher so that it can be protected from any future copyright infringements.
"My career and all respect for my career have always been outside of the town's borders where no politicians would ever dream to attach themselves to, steal, or erroneously feel any claim on work which is solely mine. That is why my ground rules for any West Orange speaking engagement are simple:
No politicians allowed."
"Collecting postcards doesn’t grant you the title of ‘historian’ any more than owning a metal detector grants you a degree as an archaeologist.
You’re not considered a ‘researcher’ because you copy down information
from old newspapers or old books.
Old newspapers and old books are notoriously inaccurate.
Interpreting what you read is the real talent. Passing on incorrect information in a new format does not suddenly make the information correct....
Then somebody like me has to come along and try to undo the damage."
As a writer and historian, John Dandola has worked closely with museums both here and abroad, but he comes by his connection to West Orange history naturally.
His Italian ancestors moved to town in the 1880's. The arrival of his Irish ancestors in the area predates The Revolution and it is generally held that at least one served as a representative in the region's colonial government.
When his Irish grandmother was deemed eligible for the D.A.R. and invited to join, she chose to politely decline remarking, "I think I'd be more comfortable serving tea to those ladies than sitting and sipping it with them." It is her husband—John's maternal grandfather—who inspired the barber-turned-sleuth character in John's West Orange mystery novels. Like that character, John's grandfather had also worked as a personal messenger boy to Thomas Alva Edison and even appeared in a 1913 photo with "The Old Man".
John and his wife, Patricia (who he has known since they were eleven years old), live in a house commissioned by his family in 1923 and built by the grandfather of a high school classmate.
Needless to say, John Dandola's roots in the community run deep. His vintage photo and ephemera collection of the town is extensive. His passion for history was recognized early on and as a boy he was taken under the wing of a family friend who was considered by several generations as the town historian, the late Stanley Ditzel.
John's use of the town in his mystery novels is explained at "Why West Orange?" but here are some tidbits not mentioned there:
Unknown to most people (including most every local historian except John), the famous entertainers who came to West Orange and performed here throughout the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's were connected to a local priest who was also an accomplished show business composer. Those entertainers appeared in local stage shows produced by that priest to benefit the Catholic grammar school. The priest and the movie character he inspired are detailed in John's West Orange: A Concise & Accurate History.
Whereas until the mid-1980's the sports teams of West Orange High School were called the Cowboys along with a logo of a bronco-rider (West Orange, get it?), Westerns actually do have a connection to West Orange.
The very first Western film, The Great Train Robbery, was shot in West Orange (errors by film historians and local historians as to exactly where it was shot are addressed in both of John's books, Greetings from West Orange and West Orange: A Concise & Accurate History).
Joan Caulfield, the hometown girl who went on to have a very credible stage, movie, and television acting career from the 1940's to the 1960's, made several Westerns as well as appearing in the pilot to the television show, The High Chaparral, uttering the line which gave the ranch and the program its name.
Then there was James Drury who starred as The Virginian for nine television seasons and who, at the height of that show's popularity, came to town without fanfare, publicity, or an entourage to attend a funeral so that he could pay his respects to a schoolgirl because her late father had been the actor's cousin (they even shared the same surname). That very special thoughtfulness has never been forgotten by the schoolgirl who is now John's wife.
A Beckoning Wind
A Jeffrey Devereaux-Kirsten Eriksson Novel
by John Dandola
"Fact and fiction mingle... [Dandola] uses West Orange as a setting during World War II.... New Jersey readers don't realize how much history is in their backyards."
National and international sales gave rise to a series, but Dead at the Box Office
is still known locally as
West of Orange.*
*West of Orange™
is a trademark held by
John Dandola, Ltd.
"[Dandola's] roots in the area enable him to fill his mysteries with so much local color and detail that even readers unfamiliar with the town can create vivid pictures of it
in their minds...."
South Orange Book Review
"...precisely what can always be associated with Dandola's work: scholarly research and exceptional writing talent."
to read about
The Great West Orange History Flub