On a given day, tourists might be greeted at the door of 415 Monroe St. by Shirak, a local businessman and candy store co-owner, dressed in a tux crooning Ol' Blue Eyes' tunes. Fading in and out of the Sinatra persona and into his nostalgic alter-ego as the museum's founder and curator, he will sometimes expound upon his interpretations of Sinatra's much debated relationship with the mile-square city.
That relationship is the centerpiece of Shirak's new original musical, "Welcome Home, Francis." The play, which was written by Shirak and stars him in the lead role of Frank Sinatra, is his attempt to examine Sinatra's love-hate relationship with the town of his birth.
Although Sinatra was born in Hoboken, the last time the late crooner was actually in the city was in 1985, when he received an honorary degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology. Before that, he came with Ronald Reagan to the annual summer festival sponsored by Saint Ann's Church to help get Reagan re-elected in 1984. There are as many rumors about why Frank abandoned his hometown as there were mysterious middle-of-the-night Sinatra sightings there while he supposedly visited friends. Some say he turned his back on the town when he became famous; others say he was egged during a parade.
But in his play, Shirak contends that Sinatra was booed off the stage at a concert in Hoboken in 1948 and vowed never to return. The play opens with Sinatra in heaven, where he is finally making his peace with the city. The bulk of the musical sorts out Sinatra's expulsion from Hoboken and Shirak's belief that it was always Sinatra's desire to return, even if it is only in the afterlife.
"[Sinatra] is the greatest singer and greatest entertainer of all time," said Shirak in a recent interview. "This play symbolizes that he has come full circle and has returned to his roots. All is well in Hoboken again."
Indeed, Shirak keeps the singer's presence alive in town by running a small museum directly next door to the Sinatra's birthplace, 415 Monroe St. (the actual building where baby Sinatra lived burned down years ago). The 500-square-foot one-room museum is laid out to resemble Marty O'Brien's, a bar that Sinatra's father owned in Hoboken. On Dec. 12, 1999, the museum opened, but it was quickly closed down by the city due to zoning violations.
With today's inauguration of Mayor-elect David Roberts, Shirak said he is confident that his problems with the city are behind him. Shirak, a one time mayoral hopeful and co-owner of Lepore's Chocolates on Bloomfield Street supported Roberts in his recent campaign, and on Thursday he performed scenes from his play at a fundraiser for Roberts. "We have a very good relationship and I don't foresee and major problems with the city in the future," said Shirak. "The outlook is very bright."
The museum is a menagerie of autographed pictures, memorabilia and letters of correspondence between Shirak, Sinatra and his family. Also included are such items like a handkerchief Sinatra once gave a fan during a show, a menu from the Rustic Cabin in Englewood, where Sinatra began his storied career, and a display featuring a recently uncovered eight-inch record that is thought to be the first solo recording of the Voice.
A bronze star, like those of Hollywood's Walk of Fame, decorates the sidewalk outside. While the $18,000 star was paid for from funds raised by Shirak's tribute book, "Our Way," the rest of the renovations to the building came straight out of Shirak's and partner Mario Lepore's pockets. After the play opens it is Shirak's intention to establish regular hours and a charge for admission.
The lyrics and the score of the play were written by Bruce Steven Foster with assistance from Shirak and Jim Reardon, a Hoboken resident and Sinatra enthusiast. Foster was nominated for his song "Look Out for Number One" from the movie soundtrack of Staying Alive.
The play is scheduled to open July 10 and will run throughout the month.
Status of the museum
Currently, according to Shirak, the museum hosts about a dozen visitors daily. On a day the reporter visited, there is a couple from Vancouver that was being entertained by the energetic host. "We have really enjoyed it," said Lionel Christianson, who was on a two-week vacation with his wife. "We have always been big Sinatra fans and visiting Hoboken and the museum gives you a real feel of what it must have been like for Frank to grow up here."
As the Christiansons left, they signed the museum's guest book, which has over 5,000 thousand signatures from around the United States, and some from couples from Europe and South America.
One name that leaps out of the guest book is the recent signature of close Sinatra friend and fellow singer Jerry Vale. Vale recently visited the museum and stayed as Shirak sang to him his rendition of "My Kind of Town."
Shirak said he believes that Vale's appearance is another sign that Frank is smiling down on his small piece of Hoboken history. "This is a real validation," said Shirak. "The fact that the renowned star Jerry Vale and Sinatra's best friend would visit gives us a real confirmation that Sinatra is back in Hoboken."
For more information about the museum or the play "Welcome Back Francis," contact Ed Shirak at "From Here To Eternity: The Museum" at 659-9440.