Her love of all things porcine began when the Bronx native used to drive out to Upper Greenwood Lake in Passaic County, N.J. with her husband over 50 years ago. Her travels were taken before the modern interstate highways laced the nation and threaded through Secaucus, then the purported pig farm capital of the world.
Soon thereafter, the Capitol family settled down in Secaucus, and Mary became inspired by the humble beast that fueled the local economy years ago.
In time, she would collect over 500 pig statues.
Her labor of love will now last long after her recent death in September at the age of 88, as her pig collection was scheduled to be auctioned off for charity this weekend.
Pig farms once a Secaucus way of life
Some people around New Jersey and even the nation still know Secaucus only due to its one-time plethora of pig farms.
At the pig-farm peak in the early 20th century, Secaucus had 250,000 pigs on 55 different farms. To put that number in context, the pig population was once approximately 16 times that of the people population in town. However, by the time the Capitols arrived in Secaucus in the mid-1950s, a combination of the construction of the New Jersey Turnpike, court decisions, and socioeconomic shifts meant that the days of pig predominance in Secaucus were almost gone.
However, none of this deterred Mary Capitol.
"It stunk here when my parents showed up," remembered Melissa Vogel, 40, Capitol's daughter. "It was horrible because of the pigs here. But my mother thought that pigs were so cute. Whenever she saw a pig, she'd just start giggling like a little girl. She thought they were adorable."
There is even a family photo of a smiling Mary holding up a roasted pig head at a summertime party.
"It would be obsession at that point," laughingly recounted Fred Vogel, 39, Mary's son-in-law. "It was beyond fondness."
Pig collection grows and is passed on
Mary's partiality for pigs extended into collecting figurines and other small statues depicting her favorite animal. Over time, she would collect over 500 pig icons made of plastic, porcelain, wood and other materials.
She catalogued each pig, providing precise detail about who, where, and when each pig was given to her in her collection.
Fred Vogel said that Mary's attention to detail made her collection unique.
"Each pig gets its own history," he said.
The Vogel family is now planning to pass her collection on into history in a positive way.
After showing hundreds of her pigs in a special exhibition at the Secaucus library on Feb. 24 (something that Mary had always dreamed of), approximately 400 pig artifacts from Mary's collection were scheduled to be auctioned off on Saturday, March 3 at the First Reformed Church in conjunction with its 125th anniversary.
The funds will be used for a variety of church-sponsored charities, as well as helping to raise money for a new organ.
Mary's family noted that the auction was in keeping with all the other local charities that Mary had helped over the years. As soon as she moved to town, she joined the Charlie Krajewski Civic Association, run by the relative of Henry Krajewski, the famed Secaucus pig farmer presidential candidate in the 1950s.
She would go on to be known as the "Bagel Lady", collecting bagels from a store in town for delivery to PERC, a well-known homeless shelter in Union City. In recognition of her service to Secaucus, the local chapter of the Italian-American service organization UNICO created a scholarship fund for the children of Secaucus in her honor.
"This town gave my mother a life," Melissa Vogel said. "She loved to give, and in this setting she was able to do a lot of good. My mother felt that she was blessed in so many ways, and she felt that the only way that she could give thanks for that was by helping other people. She did it well. All these pigs served their purpose and made her happy. Now they can serve a greater cause."
Parting with pigs poignant but positive
A few pigs will stay in the family for memories' sake. Each member of the family seems to have their own favorite pig.
Samantha Vogel, 10, talked about her favorite.
"Mine says 'Baby's First Pig,' she said. "I love it."
Samantha's sister Sophia, 5, talked about how last week was the letter 'P' week at her Clarendon School kindergarten.
"We were doing math problems with pigs on the worksheets at school," she said. "I love pigs because they were my grandmother's."
Fred Vogel stood by his wife and watched over his kids when Mary was starting to slip away last summer.
"These past few weeks, it's been an honor to see her passion for pigs being used in such a good way," he said. "Her whole life was an example of devout dedication to service for people who she didn't even know. She was the epitome of what the definition of service is. I'm very proud of my wife and my girls that they are able to share her passion in a way that will benefit others. Her legacy just lives on through the pigs."
Her legacy just might live on through the pigs in one final way.
"My mother wanted to be cremated, and she wanted her ashes spread on a pig farm," said Melissa Vogel. "So I said to her 'Mary, you better get that in writing.' But I did keep a few ashes, and if we ever go past a pig farm, we just might do that."
Mark J. Bonamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.