All interviews were taped and documented.They are available through the Reference
Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy
of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

Jesson Witham

(Interview taped 10/13/1970)

I came to Teaneck from Brooklyn 1908. Appointed constable with Bill Jahnes in 1934. Jahnes was related to the Phillips family. Worked from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., never had a day off. There was very little if any crime. Watched hoboes. They slept in the woods all over. Had their regular hangouts. They didn't bother much. I talked to some of them. They had been all over--India, China and all.  That was their way of life. Hoboes didn't want to be near any one who violated the law. Sometimes a fellow the cope were looking for would hang around them, but they'd get him out.

At police headquarters in old town hall we had two cells made of iron slats.  For years we let the hoboes sleep there.  They'd lay on newspapers on concrete floor and cover with a newspaper. We couldn't let them freeze in the woods.  During the depression I remember when they were building houses, the hoboes would sleep on shelves. I'd go in with my flashlight and they'd call to me, I couldn't see them. They'd say "Hey, you're looking right at me."

Yes, they voted us down on an election because they thought $5,000 was too much for a police dept. But we had a referendum and they put us back on. We got $60 a month for 12-hr. a day 7 days a week. We worked mainly during the time the men were away at work. When they came home at night the men could look after things. Sometimes the hoboes gave the ladies trouble. She'd offer them pie and they'd insist on something else. I remember when some fellows came through with a load of potatoes, a fine team. Jimmy came running like the devil and told me the potato peddler stole his gold watch. I went after them on my motor cycle, got them off the truck.  I went through bag after bag looking for the watch. There it was in an empty bag at the bottom. Jimmy and old Capt Phelps didn't want to prosecute them. Three years later they picked up that same bunch of potato peddlers in Jersey City.

There were quite a few telephones here then. We had one phone at police headquarters, not a fancy switchboard like they have now.

Glenwood Park was quiet. Once a couple of kids robbed Reiner's stores, stole apples, crackers, etc. Mayor Bodine said a talking to was enough, Reiner said it was all right with him, but they had broke things in the store.

My two brothers went to the school on Ft. Lee Rd.  Davison used to run a stage coach along Park Ave. to Ridgefield Park then back and up Fycke Lane to Teaneck Rd.

I remember Bessie Parker lived on North side of Parker Lane.  A fellow lived on the east side of Teaneck Rd. wrote the song for her. It was a popular rag time tune. The fellow who wrote it used to walk in Parker Lane which was nothing but pine tress, like a lover's land, nice place.

I found lots of Indian relics in Glenwood Park. Arrowheads whenever they dug for a foundation. Bob Phillips met me one day and took me over to Lippman's and said look at this. It was a blue clay slab--looked like a grave. People used to bury their dead on their own property. Lewises were buried all around there. On Cadmus place on River Road there were graves.

I could have been a state trooper. Cadmus talked to me, but I said I'm a home town boy and turned it down. They dropped me from Capt. to Lt. over a drunken driver. I sassed the doctor.

When they added 2 new men to the force Bill Jahnes quit. I stuck it out and got along fine. The cop on the job is always in trouble. Gets roasted.

We didn't walk until the force had 4-5 men. One man would go over the area around Robinson St. Then West Englewood and the Bogota section. It was cold on winter nights. Sometimes I'd meet Capt. Phelps coming home and would have a cup of hot coffee.  Once in a while we'd pick up a stranger or someone who missed the trolley. When we didn't have enough motor cycles, we'd ride bicycles.  Later they got more motorcycles and side cars.

The day they dedicated Holy Name Hospital there must have been 100 or 200 protests.  People parked in the flower beds.  They told cops to get them out.  It was nip and tuck. No one was boss. Must have been 200 or 300 cars there.

There was plenty of trapping in the meadows--mink, muskrat, some pheasants. Not a weed. The meadow hay was fine. Used to cut it in winter as soon as ice was strong enough for a team to go in. There was a crystal clear spring, it was fines but dangerous for the horses. The spring had no bottom. I remember them lassoing horse to get them out. They out hay all summer. Big stacks were sold. I got a load from old when I built my house, not a crack in the foundation. I built our house. Took me a year and a half.  After War I I went to moonlighting. Building houses. When I had enough money I got 4 lots. Now I have eight. Things are going to change with the new development.

I walk a lot now--over to the Palisades and around. But I've got a corn. never had one when I was on the force. I'll be 80 my next birthday.

 

Back to Oral History of Teaneck