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Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: Picture windows on the past

Photos courtesy of Kearny Museum

This week’s column is a thank-you to the Observer readers who have provided such positive feedback on our “Then & Now” feature. Your compliments are much appreciated. But credit really belongs to The Observer’s general manager, Bob Pezzolla, who suggested the photo feature in the first place and who asked us to take the assignment.

It is an incredible amount of fun locating the old pictures. (Thanks also to Josh Humprey of the Kearny Public Library, Kristen Nelson of the North Arlington Public Library and Kearnyites Paul and Donna Rogers, all of whom have been invaluable in providing photos and postcards.)

It is an adventure discovering tidbits of local history.

We never knew that the Belleville Pike dated to the 1750s. Or that a reservoir once occupied the land at the corner of the Pike and Ridge Road. Or that Passaic Ave. had been so beautifully rural.

Frustration sets in, too, at times, when, despite all the information available in books and online, something remains a mystery. We have a picture of a place called “The Glens,” described as being “near Arlington, N.J.,” which shows a woody tract and a babbling brook.

Where is that brook today? We’ve been told it still exists but have yet to find it.

Our education has extended into the area of antique postcards, as well. Two of these are shown here, both identified as being scenes “along [the] Passaic River near Arlington,” obviously from the very early 20th century. (But again, finding the exact “Now” location would be virtually impossible.)

When we first started using postcards for the feature, we were intrigued by them. In one caption, we wrote the following:

“The older image is from a 1906 postcard, ‘Made in Germany’ if you can believe it. (Why is a European company publishing local N.J. postcards? Why is there a postcard of railroad tracks in Arlington? Perhaps because back then there was money to be made in this highly popular early version of social media.)”

That particular mystery was solved thanks to Sandra McCleaster, Kearny Museum board member, who answered our questions with an essay, “A Town View Through the World of Vintage Postcards,” which we are pleased to share here. McCleaster wrote:

“Colored image postcards originated in Germany in the late 1800s. Acquiring the rights to the Germany lithographic process, the U.S. government authorized the printing and sale of postcards here in 1898. This action launched our country’s early ‘Golden Era of Postcards’ (1898-1915). Cards were purchased and posted for 1 cent. Thus, the term ‘penny postcard’.

“Postcards were a major means of communication. Mail was collected and delivered two, or sometimes three, times per day. Postcards became the cheap and entertaining way to send quick messages. (More charming than email or texts, don’t you think?)

“Since that time, ‘town view’ cards have been the mainstay of this early art form. People have long gathered and traded cards of their hometowns and places they’ve visited. These views provide an historic reference to buildings, streets and towns which may no longer exist or that have changed significantly over the years.

“The coming of the telephone marked the end of the postcard era.

“In part because they are so easy to collect and don’t take up much room, postcards have always been highly collectible. Long stored in shoeboxes and vintage containers, millions still exist in pristine condition today.”

The two postcards shown here are of the ilk McCleaster describes. As “Then & Now” continues, we hope to offer more images to entertain you and also to branch out to other Observer towns.

–Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Football union could be ‘extra point’ this sport needs

Football players at Northwestern University, a Division 1 team in Evanston, Ill., may soon have a union to call their own, depending on the outcome of Friday’s vote by players and a review by the National Labor Relations Board.

How cool would that be … in a fiscally conservative RED state in America’s Heartland … in a state where worshippers of former President Ronald Reagan want to build a statue of their hero in Eureka.

If the efforts, backed by the United Steelworkers union, to organize a College Athletes Players Association bear fruit, just think of the possible consequences: Northwestern’s Wildcats are invited to a postseason Bowl game but the players vote to strike unless they get a higher percentage of the gate. I

ndeed, the possibilities are endless: What happens if the quarterback wants to renegotiate the contents of his athletic scholarship with Northwestern? What if the team refuses to execute plays drafted by the coach and files a grievance, claiming he’s “favoring” certain players?

Perhaps I unduly exaggerate.

On the other hand, if the courts – which may, in the end, have to arbitrate the whole labor relations precedent – uphold the union for the Wildcats on the gridiron, there is no doubt in my mind the movement will spread to other Division 1 campuses.

And maybe football is only the beginning. Organized labor is using that college sport as a launching pad for the movement since it generates the most revenues but if unionization grows there, who’s to say it couldn’t migrate to other interscholastic team sports? Let the games begin!

In view of the concussions litigation now afflicting the National Football League, maybe the organizing of college pigskin will serve at least one really useful purpose: giving the players a legal venue to force their “owners” to take a hard look at the safety risks inherent in the game, based on the values of hard “hits” being made by bulked-up defenders.

I mean, that certainly falls under the category of “working conditions,” in traditional labor parlance, doesn’t it?

And lest we forget, our college years are supposed to mold fledglings still finding their way into responsible adults to whom the nation looks as its future leaders. Why shouldn’t student-athletes’ association with a union – and learning how capitalism works in this country – be part of their curriculum?

Speaking of working conditions, we feel nothing but sadness for the legendary Sherpas of Nepal who make their living as guides to climbers of Mt. Everest and who lost 16 of their members in an avalanche earlier this month.

Many of the Sherpas walked off the job, at the peak of the climbing season, refusing to take further risks that, they feel, would place their lives at further peril, leaving many would-be climbers who’ve invested big bucks in ascents of the fabled mountain.

According to news reports, a Sherpa guide can earn up to $5,000 during the climbing season. To Western ears, that doesn’t sound like much but in Nepal’s economy, it’s apparently significant money.

Still, in terms of the degree of difficulty faced by a Sherpa, I’d sure want a union defending me. Maybe they don’t have the equivalent of Civil Service there and maybe they don’t have licensure requirements for mountain climbing, but Nepal and the multi-billion dollar hikers industry ought to think about bowing down and kissing the feet of these valuable guides.

And that’s just for starters.

 – Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: Driven to fatal distraction



A few years ago, having picked up my brand new car at the dealership, I was driving home down Bloomfield Ave., stopped at a red light, and was instantly rear-ended.

“Great,” I thought. “The car is 15 minutes old, and already I’m in an accident.”

I pulled over, the auto behind me pulled over, and although I was aware of bump-and- run carjackings, any fears of that were assuaged when the careless motorist emerged. She was a petite, silver-haired octogenarian. Very apologetic. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I was talking on the phone and took my foot off the brake.”

Luckily, there was no damage. But this was my introduction to the perils of distracted-driving.

Elsewhere in this week’s edition of the paper, there is an article about a distracted driving report released last week by the Office of the N.J. Attorney General. It notes that, over a 10-year period, New Jersey recorded 1.4 million auto accidents in which distracted driving — usually involving use of a cell phone — was a factor.
Read more »




To the Editor:

To the dear friends of our beautiful mother, Barbara Gangi, who was recently taken away from us, my sister, brother, and I wish to thank you and the community for your words of sympathy and comfort. We appreciate this very much and shall treasure them always, North Arlington may be small but it has a big heart. Our mom was very blessed to have such wonderful friends like you. Again, thank you.

Donna, Joseph, Susan


A story in the April 16 issue of The Observer incorrectly reported the amount of additional real estate taxes that the “average” Nutley property owner would
have paid if the township hadn’t gotten special transitional aid for 2014. The municipal portion of the average tax bill would have risen by $181 – not $109, as reported. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Jeff Bahr: An Appreciation




In the movie, “The Misfits,” Gay, the cowboy character played by Clark Gable (in what would turn out to be his last film) tries to persuade two buddies to join in a “mustanging” enterprise.

“Beats wages, don’t it?” Gay asserts.

The implication is that you get to keep your freedom by living life on your own terms.

Hearing that phrase echo in my mind, just a few days later, I thought of Jeff Bahr, my former Observer colleague and friend from Bloomfield who was killed April 10 while riding his beloved 2012 Triumph Explorer motorcycle in West Buffalo Township, Pa.

Jeff was the kind of fellow who liked to go his own way, carve out his own path – (he loved to play drums but never for a band and he ran like the wind but never went out for the school track team) – and the entertaining and instructive “One-Tank” trip columns he wrote for The Observer evidenced two of his lifelong passions: writing and motorcycling.

If Jeff were writing about the day trip he’d made to the Keystone State that fateful day, he’d be sure to point out, for example, that West Buffalo Township was a rural 38-square mile area of Union County, Pa., pocketed by dairy farms and a population of 2,795 (as of the 2000 Census) and featuring as a unique attraction, the 63-foot-long, King-post truss Hayes Covered Bridge, built in 1882 and named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Longtime associates and loving friends of Jeff, including fiancée Maria Cirasella, reminisced about their fallen comrade Sunday during visitation at the Levandoski Funeral Home, Bloomfield.

Lifelong friend Joe Appleton, who attended the same kindergarten class in Oak View School, Bloomfield, said that, already at age 10, Jeff had accumulated an astounding vocabulary, reinforced by a voracious appetite for reading.

Jim McDowell, now a resident of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., who met Jeff as a teen, remembered Jeff confiding that he was thinking of quitting school. “He told me, ‘The teachers just don’t get me,’ so I asked him what he intended to do with himself and he thought about it and finally he said, ‘I’ll just become a wordsmith.’ ‘’

And so he did.

“The way he processed things was amazing,” McDowell said. “The angle through which he viewed things had a perspective like no one else. And he could find humor in everything. He could always find a way to make you laugh.”

Jeff ’s writing career started by accident, Appleton said, when he was working for an environmental lab and his employer asked him to write something about the company. He went on to write for local newspapers, magazines and book series.

He was a contributor to “Weird NJ” and “Weird Virginia,” the “Armchair Reader,” “Amazing & Unusual USA: Hundreds of Extraordinary Sights” and Backroads: Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure magazine, a monthly publication that circulates on the East Coast.

Brian Rathjen, who, with his wife Shira Kamil, publishes Backroads, has enjoyed reading Jeff ’s prose for more than a quarter century. “We’ve been friends and biking pals,” he said. “Last August, when Jeff had his cancer – and I had had cancer myself – we were a mutual support team. We kind of lifted up each other.”

As for the articles Jeff submitted, Rathjen said the author’s copy “had a fresh and vibrant style” and invariably featured “a wealth of bizarre and interesting knowledge.” And, Rathjen added, “If we needed to fill space at the last minute, you could always rely on Jeff to provide something. He was always upbeat, positive, one of the most unique guys I’ve met.”

Jeff ’s ability to draw people out amplified his story-telling talent. As McDowell put it, “People fascinated him. He got them to open up.” And that probably explained why he was a CB radio operator. And why he outfitted his motorcycle helmets with radio units so he could carry on conversations with bike buddies while he was riding to share his adventures on the road with them.

Jeff ’s fixation with bikes began officially in 1985 when, according to biker buddy and Netcong resident Paul Alesi, he got his first cycle, a Nighthawk 950. “He kept it for a year, sold it and got a 550E Suzuki. And then he went to a Suzuki Intruder 700,” Alesi said. “He’d take that up to New Hampshire to visit his sister.”

Warwick, N.Y. resident Dave Erfer, who rode with Jeff for the past 15 years after they met at a Backroads rally, figures his pal went through “eight or nine” bikes in his lifetime.

“The bike he was using when he was killed he’d had only two weeks,” Erfer said. “He said it was ‘close to perfect’ because it had anti-lock brakes, traction control and cruise control.” “The biggest thing about Jeff was, he always knew his history about the places he visited,” Erfer said. “We used to say that riding with Jeff was like riding with Google because of all the facts he could recite.”

“I’m going to miss our morning wake-up calls. In fact, he called me at 9:10 [a.m.] the morning he died on his helmet intercom to tell me he was on his day ride to Pennsylvania. I was enroute to work. An hour later, he was dead.”

As he was working his way through his recovery from throat cancer, Jeff would work out in the basement of Appleton’s home. And, a week before the fatal accident, Appleton recalled, Jeff “rode his bicycle eight miles to try and get his wind back. He was so overwhelmed that he could do that, he pulled over and cried.”

For some reason, Appleton said, Jeff had a fascination for skyscrapers and high structures. “He’d drive anywhere to find one of those huge radio towers.”

Maybe now, Jeff is looking down from the ultimate height and realizing that he’s achieved all that he set out to do and that those he’s left behind appreciated – and were inspired by – the effort.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: In harm’s way around the world

Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus

These days, when we’re used to getting our news so easily on the internet, we tend not to think twice about the degree of difficulty that may have been involved for the news-gatherer to get that story or photographer to snap that image.

Especially if the coverage of that particular event is being done in countries where guarantees of press freedoms are unheard of and journalists are targeted for threats or physical confrontations.

Such was the case last Friday, April 4, when an Afghan police commander shot and killed Anja Niedringhaus, a 48-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press, and badly wounded AP reporter Kathy Gannon as they were preparing to cover the national elections in that country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and which has tracked attacks on news employees, has logged 703 journalists murdered globally since 1992. Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Once there was a ‘debris field’ in N.Y.



As the mystery and media feeding frenzy over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue, I have been thinking about another aircraft disaster, this one closer to home and a long time ago.

When I was with the N.Y. Daily News, I wrote about it for a New York City history series the newspaper was running. If you’re interested in that article, you can find it online; the headline is, “Red Snow: The Brooklyn Air Crash, 1960.”

At the risk of plagiarizing myself, I’m going to write about it here, because it affected me deeply.

That’s because I grew up in Down Neck, Newark, directly under the flight path to nearby Newark Airport, and back in those days air crashes were more common, so I felt that what happened easily could have happened in my neighborhood. Read more »


Last week’s story about Barbara Gangi, the beloved North Arlington waitress who was tragically killed while crossing River Road, misidentified the funeral home that handled the arrangements. It was the Parow Funeral Home, North Arlington. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Today, it’s Crimea, tomorrow, who knows?

Students of world history and geopolitics are likely burning the midnight oil these days, following the exploits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he redraws the world map with the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

And the map’s contours could change even more, nervous Western observers note, if those thousands of Russian troops staging along the eastern border of Ukraine should happen to invade.

Perhaps Putin wants Russia to directly benefit from the tourism revenues from Crimea’s Black Sea resorts or perhaps Putin – with help from one of his loyal oligarchs – has picked out a prominent place on the coastline to build a posh hotel and fitness center where he can stay.

Frankly, with the rest of Ukraine’s economy reportedly in the tank, I’m not entirely clear why Putin is butting in, if for no other reason than to prevent the European Union from partnering with Ukraine and, of course, to gain control of the large Navy base in the region.

And he well knows how deeply many of the Union’s member countries like Germany and Poland and the Netherlands are dependent on Russia for their energy needs.

So Putin can afford to snub his nose at the sanctions that President Obama has mustered to try and deter his aggression against Russia’s neighbor.

Even Ukrainians themselves – the ones who haven’t declared themselves pro-Russian – haven’t seemed to kick up much of a fuss about being occupied and, apparently, being forced to relocate if they don’t wish to accept conditions of occupation.

Ill-equipped Ukrainian defense forces have folded quickly, offering little resistance to the masked intruders demanding their ouster and getting it.

One exception reported in a recent New York Times dispatch – which stirred memories of a famous scene in Rick’s Café in the movie “Casablanca” – was of a group of Ukrainian naval cadets who dared to sing their country’s national anthem in defiance of their “masters” who then ordered their allies to top them by vocalizing the Russian anthem even louder.

Somehow I don’t think this Crimea adventure portends a “beautiful friendship” between Putin and Chancellor Merkel of Germany in a new alignment of convenience. Perhaps, instead, it foreshadows new five year plan for Ukraine, with all the attendant hardships.

Did you read about the Weehawken teenager who managed to sneak through a hole in a construction fence, amble into the new One World Trade Center tower and take the elevator to the top?

It’s not exactly reassuring to know that the new symbol of America’s determination to stand up to terrorism and start over is so easily subject to such an embarrassingly simply “invasion.”

With the countless millions of dollars this country has spent on Homeland Security since September 2011, it is humbling to realize that simple human error – attributed to a lax security guard – opened the door to an enterprising youth’s indiscretions.

So you’re newly installed Knicks President Phil Jackson and you’ve watched your team come perilously close to blowing a huge lead to Phily after your coach clears his bench with five minutes to go in the game and then you see your team blow another big lead and lose to an injury-depleted Cleveland team after your coach allows the Knicks to sleep-walk through the fourth quarter.

Hey, Phil, the only system that you should be thinking of installing with this bunch is the Bermuda Triangle.

Good luck.

– Ron Leir