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We are gathered today in Ethel Brown Davis' family room with her husband, Ben, and her brother, Oswald Brown. We are going to talk about the old times as they remember in Teaneck. The Brown family is a historical family. It has had five generations.
(O) But it is more than five because my grandfather lived on Hellerman Road which is West Maple Street in Englewood. Do you know where (Handley Arnold) is? Rev. Griffin built that house. Aunt Mag's husband built the next house and the next house was my grandfather's house. When he died, he sold it to Oprandy.
(I) What year are you talking about now?
(O) Well let me see. I was five years old. I was 75 years old Saturday.
(I) So that was 70 years ago in Englewood and yet before that you had several generations before that.
(O) We lived in Merry Spears' house. The house Merry Spears lived in on Hellerman Road. We lived there. Then we sold and we moved from there to the farm, that's on Ivory Lane.
(I) What kind of a farm?
(O) Vegetables. We had caws, horses, we had 400 pigs. We used to kill 200 pigs every winter.
(I) Where did you get food for that?
(O) Englewood Hospital.
(I) They threw it out?
(O) Oh yeah. Just like when they would pick up the garbage, we would pick up the garbage every morning and every night.
(I) You would have to have a lot for 200 pigs.
(O) And in September. The ones that were going to be killed were put in separate pens and were fed corn until killing time. Rubinetti, Hippolato, all them Italians used to come up and get the salt pork, the big ones, some of them used to weigh 300/400 pounds. They would use that for salt port. The gut from Englewood Hospital that we got the garbage from, he got one for nothing because we'd get the garbage from there. And we had all apple orchards and what not.
(I) How long did your family have the farm?
(O) Well, I can't say because we was on the farm during the First World War. Papa took us down to the Erie Railroad when Sam (?) was going to war. We was all in the horse and wagon. And when Sam was coming through, he pulled down the thing and waved to us, you know. They stopped there for a few minutes and then they kept on going.
(I) When did they sell the farm?
(O) Around 1921
(I) And so in 1921 they brought where?
(O) Well no. We brought the house up here in - it was Pine Terrace - in those days.
(I) What's the street named now?
(O) Aspen Terrace.
(I) It was Pine Terrace in Teaneck. Now you are moving from Ivy Lane and the farm to
(O) Well no, we couldn't get in there because Pop bought the place but he couldn't get in it. They couldn't get the people out. So he said, well we had to go someplace so we went down here to see Sam Vedas and Sam Vedas said you could get the house for three months. So we went down on Jay Street until these people got out.
(I) How many of you went down on Jay Street?
(O) Jay Street. That's in Englewood. Let me see. Martha was born on Jay Street. We were down on Jay street until they got out or here and when the people got out of here, we had hell to pay up here on Aspen Terrace.
(O) We was the only blacks up here.
(I) So? You had twelve children. A mother and a father.
(O) That was a two family house.
(I) Oh the old house. The big old house. On the property here, you had two houses.
(O) No. one house. But it was two family. Once coming round the side door and one coming in the front door. But we had all them kids. We had to have the whole house. There was a kitchen upstairs there. We cut that ll out and made that a bedroom. We needed the whole house.
(I) When did they little house that is still standing.
(O) Oh that was there, my Gosh.
(I) That's what I am saying. so you had two houses on that property?
(O) No. Mrs. Cruce lived there. That was her third husband when she died. She had three husbands in that little house right there. She had no relatives but her cousin. When she died, they sold it to Ebbets for $900. She got mad because there was a family next door, she throwed some meat over there and it was poisoned and it poisoned the dogs. You know when you come off the farm, you know how many dogs you got. We left about five of them up there with another farmer. We left five of the dogs up there. They were ready to get out too.
(E) And they eventually moved across the street from us.
(O) They moved across the street from us and what happen was there was a farming business up at that end. Sheffield or Borden wouldn't come down and pick up the milk. The law was that pasteurized milk went into effect and you could not sell them raw milk. So that knocked us all out. Oser, there's a farm up here in New Milford named Oser.
(I) It is still there. It is horticultural now.
(O) Well he had a sister, one of them giants you know that could, well they had a farm and they they got out of it and I know they went up into New Milford somewhere. There was another one, Nola, they had a farm up there in Bergenfield. There was Borden and there was Raymond Cohen. Raymond Cohen was up there where Foster Village is. That was a farm there.
(I) What was on the Armory property?
(O) That was a Diary farm. First it was a poor house and then they moved the poor house out of there and Kadish bought it and they made a dairy farm out of it.
(I) What year are you talking about?
(O) Oh that's around during the first World War. And then the Army started going up there.
(E) That was like where the telephone company is. Ackerman used to be there.
(O) Ackerman was across the ..there was no State Street you know. That was a hill there and they cut that out because 1/2 the dirt in our backyard came from State Street, when they cut State Street through. Mr. Ackerman had a farm up there. You know who Mr. Ackerman is.
(I) With his sheep. I remember that.
(O) He was a friend of Pop's. He was a dog. I was arrested one night getting off the train coming from the Cunard Line. The cops arrested me, you know me up there in Teaneck, they arrested me and took me down to the station house.
(I) What year is this now?
(O) Let me see. I went to the Cunard Line in 1926 so I must have been around 16 years old.
(E) Why did they arrest you? Because you were black?
(O) Yeah. I had no business up there. At any rate, when the sergeant, when I told him where I lived, he said take this boy home. Pop went up there with his big mouth and... so I got home and Mama's sitting up waiting for me. So I told Mon what happened and Mama says, 'Don't say nothing to your father.' Because Pop would get that blood of his up and that was it. I just let it go like that. One morning about six o'clock I was catching the .. going up there and I was running down State Street and a cop stopped me and Mr. Ackerman came out there with a pitchfork after the cop.
(I) Did you commute on the railroad?
(O) Oh yeah. West Shore Line.
(I) So you walked from here down tot he railroad?
(O) Oh sure.
(I) Now you didn't have State Street so how did you cut through? Did you cut through the farmhouses? What year is this now?
(O) Well let me see. State Street was cut through in 26 because I started Cunard Line in March of 26. 1926. I started with Cunard Line and I stayed there 45, 46 years. And Mr. Ackerman was a good friend of my father's so was Mr. Camel over here on Holland Avenue. Do you know how Pop got on from the pastor of the Episcopal Church up there. He worked for Teaneck Township.
(I) From Bidaweeden?
(O) I don't know who was the pastor of the Episcopal Church.
(I) Oh Kean perhaps.
(O) I don't know what the name of the pastor was or where the church was but I know, Pop came home and says the pastor of the Episcopal Church took him down to City Hall and told them to put him to work. I got the picture of my father up there with this electric cut thing. That was 1930. Now I don't know how long Pop had been in with the city before that. But I got the picture of Pop home in my basement. They got one up in City Hall.
(I) How long did he work for the Town?
(O) Well, until he died. 1938. And the President of the Bergen Evening Record paid for the funeral. He went to school with Pop.
(I) Where did you go to school?
(O) Liberty School. When Lincoln School burned down, it was only three rooms. I remember when Lincoln School burned down, that's in Englewood, because Uncle Arthur was a member of the Baptist Church and we was down there. We stood on the corner until the funeral went by because Arthur and Marian, they wouldn't let us go to the funeral. We stood down there until the funeral went by and that's when the church caught on fire. The school caught on fire. Lincoln School. It burned right down to the ground.
(I) Did you go to school when you lived in Teaneck?
(O) No. No. No. I went to Liberty School.
(I) And you had graduated. So Ethel, you are the one that's gone all through the Teaneck school. Any of your brothers or sisters?
(O) and Ken. And Stan.
(E) and Martha but they didn't graduate. They just ..
(I) And then here your children have gone through the Teaneck school system too. And your daughter is now a school teacher.
(O) We were the only blacks in Liberty School.
(I) (To Oswald) Do you live in Englewood or do you live in Teaneck?
(O) I live in Englewood. I am just on the border.
(I) Well since you've lived in this house, tell me about the Meeley store? How long has that been there?
(O) Well the Meeley Store. Frankie built that store. You know down on Spruce Street here, do you remember Sityu? Sityu built that. And then she died first and then when she died, then Frank was living over there by himself and he wouldn't pay no taxes. So they made an agreement. She would die and then Teaneck would take over the property which they did. It was dilapidated and they just tore everything down. In the meantime, Meeley got this place over here, he got this place and the two family house around there. Now Pop could have got that two family house around there for $3,000. That two family house around there but he said this up here was better because there was more room and it had a barn on the place. Because when we came off the farm, we had three horses. They were old and we don't want to part with something that had been laboring for all these years and it was the same thing we did with the dogs. We had all those darn dogs and we didn't know what to do with them. If you bring them up here, you'd get shot. We had a cow and a heffer and nobody would milk it so Pop says, aw, get rid of it.
(I) What happened to the barn?
(O) Oh that. We just dilapidated it. After the horse fell down and broke his neck. The horses used to go all the way up to the nut house up there and graze all summer long and come home every night in the barn. And so one day it there was ice and it broke its hip. One time Dundee used to pay you $15 for the horse and they took them to Staten Island to make soap and everything out of it. It's modern now, but at that time, you had to pay to get rid of the horse.
(I) So then, Ethel, how many of your brothers and sisters - there were twelve of your - you all lived here in Teaneck at one time together in that house?
(E) No because several of them were married.
(O) Floss was married. Val was married. Sell wasn't home. That's three.
(I) Your family then stayed in this house...
(E) Until Mon died.
(I) And you all have continued to live in this area.
(O) Of course when I got married, the first house I bought was down on Warren Street. We are talking about Depression years now when 5¢ was up in the sky. I bought on Warren Street for $2,500 and the man and he said if I add another $500 one, he would remodel the whole place for me. And the place was only eight years old. So we bought at 208 Warren Street and how I got the down payment, I sold my stock from the City Service Oil Company and we started there. And I was there seven years when they said Forest Avenue was going to be for factories. I sold out and I bought this house over here and I've been there thirty six years.
(I) So you watched the sanitarium burn down?
(O) Oh they had to get rid of that. Yeah. We used to go up there and pick apples and blackberries and stuff like that.
(I) How big was the property for the sanitarium?
(O) Oh very big. Englewood all the way over to ... would that be Franklin?
(I) All the over to Franklin?
(O) Oh that was a big place up there.
(I) I remember the fire because I was a little kid and I watched that. I guess you all did to because you could see it.
(O) Then they had a rumor out that they were burying people out on the hill. They were burying people out there. People were dying and the rumors was going around and they had the Board of Health and they had this one that... they never found nothing. But there was a big scandal over there between the owner and this one and that one.
(I) The apartment house up here on the corner of Englewood, that's here quite a while, isn't it?
(E) When I remember, it was vacant.
(O) The big house up here on Englewood Avenue. I remember
(I) Oh, the lady who made the beautiful bridal Gowns?
(E) No. No That big house up there... Gaylord. Mrs. Gaylord used to live there. She was loaded. Beautiful home.
(I) Is it still here? Did they keep all the property around the house?
(E) Yes. They have three garages and then it is like a drive-in where you drive in and underneath this
(O) There's like a room over top of this patio, whatever you call it. I always admired that place. Andt he woman on Warren Street, she used to take care of the woman up there.
(I) Well you've lived here a long time. You've seen all these houses being built then.
(E) I remember this house being built.
(O) I'll tell you. Frank Lombardi built everything but the one that he was living in.
(E) But not this one. Ruggiero built this one.
(O) Well Lombardi worked on it. He's dead you know. Pete stole the money from his father to go in business.
(E) And they were taking garages. When they would lose one house, they would move garages from that house to the next house.
(I) You hear about that in the country but you don't hear about that down here anymore, you know.
(E) Well that was a long time ago.
(O) Now moving houses, there was a fellow up here in Highwood, that's all he did was move houses. I can't think of his name.
(I) How many of the old timers still live around here?
(E) Next door, Rubinetti is still there. But that's the children.
(O) Well wait a minute. You know this house down here on Spruce Street, that woman that's down in there. That was his father. I remember that his father lived down in there. The old man died and they moved here. He lived down on the end of Spruce Street in that little house down there. I can't think of the name though.
(I) What do you think of as being the biggest change you have seen in Teaneck?
(E) The school system.
(O) I remember there was no radio in my time and I was coming down Liberty Road and do you know where Miller's Pond is? Well the Miller's lived there and they had a son. He must have been around 19 or 20. of course, they had money and he said, Ozzie come here. So I go in the barn, they made a house out of it now but it was a barn then, and he put these ear things on and I could hear all this music and people talking, you know. And I thought it was a gimmick and I did like this and went on out. But when they come with the crystal set, and then radio came in. And I'm thinking about something in the air flying around and like the Bible says, here comes the television, airplanes. Boy, we all run out there to see it. Now - the fire engines down there when there was a fire, we'd all be out there to see the horses scrambling to get to the fire. It was on Palisade Avenue then, the fire house.
(E) With all that they have now, I still say we came up in a better time than youngsters are experiencing now.
(I) Your comment was interesting. You said ... tell about your tree here.
(E) Bryant School gave us all a tree and we came home and Pop was livid about
(I) You were little. How old?
(E) Second grade. And it was Arbor Day and it was a planter tree. It was a little seedling.
(O) Which tree was that?
(E) The evergreen.
(O) Oh that darn thing. You know that thing is about
(I) It looks like a huge Christmas tree.
(E) If anyone had enough money to put lights on it, it would be almost like down in the city.
(O) When the guy cut all them bottom leaves off, I thought it was a shame.
(E) But it was better than cutting it down.
(O) Yes but they should have let the limbs lay down on the ground like it was. You know what I mean?
(I) It is twice as high as the house now, and how old?
(E) It must be about 58 years old.
(O) It must be because the house was 115 years old. I went up to City Hall to get the variance for Newkirk and the Chairman of the Board said to me, the house on the corner must come down because it is too near to the street. Now that house up there is just as near to the street as the old was.
(E) So how old do you think Cruz house is?
(O) Oh that things been there since Washington's time.
(I) the little house was not part of your family?
(O) No. The little house that was an old Dutch woman, she lived there.
(I) You said Cruz.
(O) She had three husbands. Every time one died, she seemed to pick up someone from someplace.
(I) But it's a historical house when you say that. And what's this street on the corner here?
(O) Spruce Street. Englewood Avenue and Spruce Street.
(I) What were the woods like that are now Argone Park? When you were just a kid?
(O) Where Aragone Park is? We used to play ball...
(E) No but they were building. Remember when they came out from New York and they built that house over there and then it had to be torn down.
(O) Wait a minute. When they took and cut them streets in through there and they had it up for auction sale, and they asked Pop to, they give pop so much to keep the kids inside.
(E) They were trying to sell the property. They built a house on there and they were bringing these people in from New York to see this house, like they do now. If you want a house, then you would have it built.
(O) So they asked Pop to keep the kids inside because they were trying to sell this property and Pop said, now I got the money, so do as you darn well please.
(E) But they built the house and then finally someone broke in and took out the tub and
(O) The policeman was taking the lumber, the fireman was taking the cinder blocks. There was all street cut through there.
(I) so the first house that was built in there is not there any longer.
(O) No. That thing went down.
(I) Was that in the park property or was that up where the houses...
(O) In the park property.
(I) So that property was taken by the town from the park.
(O) Every time you'd see a fireman or a policeman over there, they was taking something. Before you know it, the whole thing was leveled off. Cinder blocks and everything was gone.
(I) It still is being kept as a natural park. With the hopes that they will put just a pass through there. Possibly as a bicycle path.
(O) That's over here. The bicycle path is going through here. Balsam. It is going straight through alongside of Galilee Church. It is in Teaneck. Teaneck is doing all that.
(E) You are saying that no houses will be built over there?
(I) If I understand it correctly, Aragone Park goes all the way through to Genessee. And if it is dedicated property, it has to be, the governing body has to change it. But it is dedicated property so it will not have houses on it as of now.
(E) It there is a vacant piece of property, is there a way of finding out whether they have donated for say an old folks home or something like that?
(I) I guess you'd go down to the Town Hall.
(O) Buy would they show it to you?
(I) Oh yes. They are required by law to have to do that. Yes.
(O) Because Pop tried to get this land in between of Cruz Place and they said it was (aired) property.
(E) But they finally sold it. They sold it to the fellow on the corner.
(O) The kid got it. I wonder where he got the money. He was nothing but a little bit of squirt.
(E) Oh no. He was an artist.
(O) Well he looks like he is stupid to me. Is somebody living in there now? Oh, he's living in there. But he said he was living with his mother and he was getting rid of that. His mother lives around the corner. When we moved up here, the rag man, everybody used to bring their cotton and brass and paper and everything over there. See that big barn over there. There's a barn in the back. He had one horse.
(I) It that the first house in Englewood or that last house in the Teaneck.
(O) First house in Englewood. He stayed there until he got feeble and then he had a daughter named Annie Vogue. Now she's in Englewood somewhere but whereabouts I don't know. I see her once in a while. And then she had a sister who was a little retarded.
(I) Is this street then the last street in Teaneck or the first street in Englewood?
(O) Well half is in Teaneck and the other half is in Englewood. It is Oak on that side and Balsam on this side.
(E) Do you remember when they had the fire over here and the Teaneck Department came and Englewood.
(O) And they didn't know who was the (END OF SIDE A)
(E) I was going to Englewood Hospital as they came up to the border line and we wrapped my son in a blanket and walked to the Englewood line and then they took us to Englewood Hospital.
(O) But today it is different, isn't it? It doesn't matter. They had a fire down there in the field and Teaneck fought it until they seen it was in Englewood. Then they said, I ain't gonna take care of that. Like when they used to chase you in the car. When they got to the border, they would stop. But now they will chase you right through. I've seen the cops come out of Buffey Terrace and racing this guy down here and the Teaneck cop went all the way down into Englewood. He must have been robbing somebody up there. They tried to rob me four times, they had a gun. The last time, oh gosh, there was a great big guy at my back door and a little guy at the front door and I went with this great big knife. And when he seen that, man. I said it was meat on the table. It's pitiful. It's a little better now. When Mom died, we had no key to the front door.
(E) At night, we didn't lock the door.
(O) Everybody asked me for the key. I said there is no darn key. When I come in at night, you close the door and put the chair up against it and who every comes in next, they'd push it and the chair would move and you'd come inside and push the chair up against it again.
(I) That's the big house.
(O) Yeah. The big house. Teaneck was much easier than in Englewood. Of course, you had a different breed in Englewood than you had in Teaneck. Remember, they didn't want no Jews up there in Teaneck. The first Jew that opened up in Teaneck was a dry cleaning place and nobody would patronize him. So the only thing he had to do if he wanted to anything was to get into Englewood and then he could go up and get some business in there. Buy they didn't want him up there. They didn't want no Jews. They had signs up there. We wasn't the only loss of the Mohegan's. When I bought on Holland Avenue, that was when they fainted. When I went up there and they found out that I was buying at 352 Holland Avenue and the owner lived in Bergenfield, Fleishenberg, and I bought that house for $9,500. I sold the Warren Street for $7,500 and I bought this for $9,500. And that house cost me nothing. The tenants paid for that.
(E) I'll go you one better. When we bought this house, I know the people who were renting it and they came and said that it was, you know, and I called Tull and he said that it was sold. So I came back home and went over there to the store and I called him and asked, and I said I am interested in a house in Teaneck on Englewood Avenue and he said it wasn't sold and then we realized what the story was and we got a friend of ours and he couldn't go through with the deal because he had had some problems with it and then Vincent, Irving and Ethel Vincent bought the house for us and then turned it over in our name. That's how we got it.
(I) And you had lived here all these generations.
(E) We were living on the left hand side of the street and they weren't going to ... my mother and them lived on the lift hand side and they weren't putting in Blacks on the right hand side of the street. But I have the will and deed to it. When this house was bought that we have in Ethel and Irving Vincent and then it was turned over to Ethel and Benjamin Davis and we had to pay a fee for that.
(I) Now how long ago was that?
(O) When I bought that house from Fleishenberg, there was a Norwegian living upstairs, there was a Italian downstairs. Boy did I have fun. They owed me three months rent and they wouldn't pay no rent. I said I ain't got no time to go up and collect the rent. Bunsen said, I go. They abused him. You know how he gets all upset. So I go myself a real lawyer, a Jew lawyer, lives up here in Teaneck, Schneider. And he said, don't worry about that. He served them with a summons and we went to court and the judge said, I wanted the guy out upstairs because he was on welfare, see. And the judge asked him, have you been paying any rent? He said, I've been sick. You know you got to pay the taxes now. How much you behind? Three months. Well I'll give you thirty days to get out and before you go, make sure that you pay all your rent. When I came back, here's the man staring me in the face and he says Mr. Brown, I'll move tonight if you let me get out without paying any rent because I have no money. I sold my house and them people wanted to get in so I had to put my
(E) You don't hear that any more of them putting people out. You can't do that anymore.
(O) Oh yes you can.
(E) Before you could walk along and see where someone was being set out. I haven't seen that in years.
(O) Well, I tell you what. If Englewood don't pay the rent for you, for the person, they can put you out. What do you think the Sheriff is for? If you don't pay your rent, they put you out on the street. They did it right over here on Shepard Avenue. They come and set all that stuff out there.
(E) Well then the Red Cross came in and helped, I assume.
(O) right over here on Shepherd Avenue. They guy wouldn't pay the rent he owed three or four months rent and they come in there and set everything right out on the street there and it rained and everything else. Then they come with the truck and throw everything on it.
(I) Let me go back. You moved here in 1940. Did you notice any great change after the second World War? I mean your neighbors or ...
(E) Then there was no problems.
(I) So then the change of the world wars did not effect you as far as housing or changing your neighbors.
(E) Changing of the neighborhood. Then blacks moved in.
(I) But that was not according to the second World War. I mean you had broken the ice so to speak before that.
(O) There was no blacks on Holland Avenue when I moved up there and they all fainted when I moved up there. Everybody's house was up for sale. The duplex over there where Mowton lived, there was two brothers owned that on each side and they. And they sold it for $12,500. Mowton bought that. And the house on the corner where the Drapers used to ... Henry Allen's brother bought that from New York so he had to sell it. Mr. Gray he built his.
(E) But the problem really was getting that money to put a down payment.
(O) Well you see I had the City Service Oil stock. I had that as a teenager.
(I) I thing I have let you talk about your neighborhood and your moving in and I think the fact that you tell me that you were really old timers in Bergen County was most interesting.
(O) Well you see my father was born in Englewood; my grandfather was born in Englewood and my great grandfather came from Palisades on the Hudson. And we were a member of the John Street Methodist Church in 1791. They were in Ramapo. We found out that some more of the Browns ... we were looking over and we know that there was someone, a George Brown, but we couldn't find out. Bern was a nurse at Bergen Pines and this woman was telling Bern about the whole thin and she said to Bern, are you related to the Browns in Westwood. And Bern says no. So she says, well I am going up there and I am going to tell them about you. And they all met in the church for Bern to go up there and meet them and then I had to go up there and the next Sunday to meet them. One man was ninety six or ninety seven years old but they carried him out of the house to the church to meet Bern.
(I) And were you all related?
(O) Yeah. We didn't know where the other part was and they were in Westwood and there was another part, they were in Park Ridge. Now I met them years ago but as time went on, they got older but John Nicholas brown is, he is seventy seven or seventy eight and then Ruth Brown, I remember Ruth Brown playing the piano in Park Ridge but when they come up this time, I didn't know, I didn't know who they were. So we found them and they all know Papa and all and the Sparkhill Church up there. The Sparkhill Church was built in 1840 and we are part of what they all the free blacks.
(I) Ethel, do you have a copy of this? I'll mark it and return it to you but I think what is interesting is that you were decedents, coming here around 1870.
(O) My daughter belongs to that archives of Bergen County.
(I) What we are working on now is an Oral History of Teaneck. And the different types of people. You know, we are a multi-ethnic community. And very proud of it.
(O) Is that Franklin Road down there next to Herliman Road? Well you know where Paterson had the milk farm, then there was another house across the street. At the foot of Garden Street and Green Street. They used to dump all their garbage there and Mrs. Cruz ... I can't think of her name, when they dumped the truck, she wouldn't let nobody go in there and pick no coal up out of there. That was hers. She would pick all the meat up for her chickens and her dogs and her pig and rags and everything. You go over there and try to pick up some... and then there was Mrs. Evans mom know Mrs. Evans since I was a little bit of a thing. She come to visit Mom when she died. Then there was the Collins. They were down here on Lafayette Avenue. Then there was Mrs. ... Oh Lord, what was here name. She was another Dutch woman. She didn't believe in the bible. She said she read the bible over and over (TAPE GOES BLACK... RUNS BUT NOTHING RECORDED. NOTHING FROM HERE TO END OF SIDE B)
Teaneck Public Library
840 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tel.: (201) 837-4171, Fax: (201) 837-0410