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.

NARRATOR: George Spath
INTERVIEWER: Ann McGrath
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 2, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (4/28/1984)

This is Ann Mcgrath interviewing Georgr Spath at his home at 1335 Trafalgar Street in Teaneck. It is Monday, April 2,1984.

(I) George, when did your family move to Teaneck?

(N) 1936.

(I) Do you know why they moved?

(N) They moved from Hudson County, Weehawken, to Teaneck. It was pretty rural at that time.

(I) Were you born in the house that they moved into?

(N) No. I was born in Jersey City.

(I) And how old were you when you moved to Teaneck?

(N) Three.

(I) Were you born in hospital in Jersey City?

(N) I was born in Fairmont Hospital in Jersey City and I was delivered by my grandfather who was Chief of staff at St. Mary’s.

(I) Do you know where your family came from and what your name means?

(N) My family originated from, well my father’s side, from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Dutch country and on my mother’s side from New York.

(I) What was your mother’s maiden name?

(N) Baumann.

(I) Where did you go to school in Teaneck?

(N) Washington Irving School. School #2. Forest Avenue and Teaneck Road.

(I) For how many years?

(N) Six years.

(I) And then where did you go?

(N) Teaneck High School.

(I) For Junior High?

(N) Junior High, Teaneck High School. At that time was seventh through twelfth grade.

(I) Do you remember any of the teacher’s names?

(N) In the high School or?

(I) All the way back.

(N) Well Charlie Steel was the Principal. Helen Hill was the Vice Principal. I don’t think is anyone up there now from back then.

(I) How about Kindergarten teachers. Do you remember any?

(N) Sure. My Kindergarten teachers name was Miss Schneider.

(I) Any other Grammar school teachers?

(N) Miss McGinley. Miss Shed which later became Mrs. Claussen. Mr. Bookstaver who was the Principal of Lowell School. Later became the Principal of Lowell School.

(I) Anyone else?

(N) Mr. Harris was the Principal, Bob Harris.

(I) What were your favorite subjects?

(N) Seriously? I guess history.

(I) Do you know who taught it?

(N) Are we talking about Grammar School or High School?

(I) Either one.

(N) Well Mr. Bookstaver taught it in Grammar School and I am trying to think now who taught in High School.

(I) Well how about school activities. Did you have any school activities?

(N) I was active in sports.

(I) Which ones?

(N) I played baseball. I played football until I was ineligible. Shelly Knapp was the football coach.

(I) Did the team include the ninth grade?

(N) No. The varsity teams were tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade. Seventh, eighth and ninth were junior high teams.

(I) What were your earliest remembrances of Teaneck as a little tiny boy?

(N) I would guess maybe way back to kindergarten. Coming home from school - we lived on Richard Court, which is right off of Minell Place. Half of Richard Court was a dirt road with about three or four houses and the north end of Richard Court was fields and woods going to route 4. And all behind us there was scattered homes that would go down to the golf course, the old golf course known as Phelps (?) Manor. And as a youngster coming home from school, we’d change and play out in the woods and the fields and it was great. There was a lot of things to do and you didn’t have too much direction as far as anyone organizing you. We did it ourselves and the same as we got older. We formed our own teams. One neighborhood would play another neighborhood in baseball and football. One school would play another school in baseball and football. We didn’t have parents involved. And we liked it better.

(I) Did Teaneck have a recreation department then?

(N) They had a great recreational department, which is, when we got older, we had Friday night dances, we had Saturday night dances. This was run by Dick Rodda who did a fantastic job. We had what we called the little brown jug and this was run by members of the high school and, along with the help of Mr. Rodda, had absolutely no problems at that time and we are talking about the 1940s now. The late 40s, and it was great. You had square dances, you had regular bands play.

(I) Did you have any hobbies as a young boy?

(N) No. I can’t say I did expect like I say, I played sports. I belonged to the Cub Scouts.

(I) Where did you go to church?

(N) St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

(I) Do you remember the Minister, what his name was?

(N) Rev. Delauda.

(I) Was he there a long time?

(N) (No answer)

(I) When you played baseball as a child, where did you play? Did you have any team names?

(N) No. Like I say, we weren’t, it wasn’t organized or sponsored by anything. We are talking about, as a young child.

(I) What age?

(N) Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. Where they have little league, we had no little league. This was where we chose up sides, played like I say with neighborhood and against other schools. We would either play up at the high school if it was a big game or else we would play down at the field part of the golf course.

(I) Did the high school have the same field?

(N) Yes.

(I) Was it designed and laid out the way it is now?

(N) Pretty much same as it is now with the exception of an obstacle course, which is where, the field house is now. An obstacle course ran along there.

(I) Do you remember what it was like?

(N) The obstacle course? It was great. It was fantastic. As little kids, you tried to do it; and as bigger kids, you did do it.

(I) Do you remember any of the equipment they had down there?

(N) No. No I really don’t. But anyway, neighborhood games and we would meet each other and like I say, play down at the old golf course or out in the field with a taped up hard ball, taped up bats and it was great. We weren’t looking for a lot of direction and..

(I) And there were no adults at all.

(N) No adults at all at that age.

(I) When you got older and you played on the town team, would Dick Rodda be there all the time?

(N) We didn’t, again, we didn’t have sponsored teams. I believe that the only team that they had in baseball that would go along the same as Babe Ruth or Connie Mack, what they called American legion. And that was the only, as far as I can recall, the only organized team outside of high school sports for junior high school age.

(I) Did you play other towns?

(N) Yes. With American Legion? Yes.

(I) Do you remember any of the players that you know now in Teaneck that are still around?

(N) Still in Teaneck? I believe that most of them moved out of Teaneck.

(I) Can you describe your neighbors as you were growing up that lived right around you?

(N) Well the O’Reilly family I guess were our closest neighbors and friends and they moved into Teaneck I guess in 1937, maybe ’38. And they had four children. They moved in from New York. Mr. O’Reilly worked for the telephone company and has since retired. We had Mr. & Mrs. Schwartzchild who lived across the street.

(I) Did they have any children?

(N) They had a daughter by the name of Judy. And we had Mr. Hurdling.

(I) Who else did you play ball with in those days when you were young?

(N) Well it would be mostly neighborhood kids and kids that you knew from school.

(I) Do you remember any of their names?

(N) Oh sure. From the school

(I) Or other schools too. The Catholic school.

(N) Well they would play along with us too. The kids that would go to St. Anastasia, if they lived in our neighborhood or what we would also do is maybe Washington Irving would play a game against St. Anastasia’s and this, again, was not organized by anyone or any group. We did it ourselves. And as far as names go, I just can’t come up with any right now.

(I) That’s okay. What was the first thing you did when you finished high school?

(N) Enlisted in the Marine Corps.

(I) Where did you go for your basic?

(N) Paris Island, South Carolina.

(I) And from there, what was your route?

(N) Came Lejuene, Guanico, Puerto Rico, back to Paris Island where I was a senior drill instructor. I was discharged from Paris Island in 1954. I spent four years in the Marines.

(I) Was that the usual amount of time that you would spend?

(N) The enlisted was three or four……during the Korean war.

(I) When did you first meet Elaine, your wife?

(N) In high school.

(I) And what was her maiden name?

(N) Elaine Andriana.

(I) Where did she come from?

(N) Teaneck.

(I) When were your married, what date?

(N) May 8, 1961.

(I) Did you date in Teaneck?

(N) Yes we did.

(I) And what did you do when you went out dating? Where did you go?

(N) Saturday nights we would usually go to movie, to Hackensack. That was the big night. The Oritani or the Fox. We would go over via bus, #78 usually. Occasionally we would go to the Teaneck. We’d go to Bischoffs, we’d go to the Dutch Grill.

(I) Where was the Dutch Grill?

(N) The Dutch Grill was right next to the Teaneck Theater.

(I) When did you decide to be a policeman?

(N) I think I was in the Marines for two years and I think that’s when I really thought about it seriously. Although I had thought about it maybe, I guess you could say as a youngster. And my desire was not to be the Chief of police or anything. I really wanted to be a police detective and that’s exactly what I ended up.

(I) How did you think of detective work when you were little?

(N) Just about the same as it really was to be honest with you.

(I) Where do you think you got the concept of detective work?

(N) I really don’t know. I just think it was an interest that I had. I am not going to say it was from movies or books or anything like that but it was just an interest that I had.

(I) What was your father’s occupation?

(N) Sales.

(I) And your mother?

(N) A regular housewife.

(I) So when did you join the police force, that date?

(N) October, 1956.

(I) Was there an exam you had to pass?

(N) Civil service exam for the city.

(I) And what training did you have and where?

(N) We went to the Bergen County Policy Academy. At that time, it was in Hackensack. Since then it is up in Mahwah.

(I) Was it good training?

(N) I think it was very good training. Aside from the Police Academy, we had in-service training.

(I) Who ran the in-service training?

(N) Lieut. William Mielhan.

(I) What did you learn at the Police Academy?

(N) You learned the New Jersey Law which was 2A at the time, title 2A, title 39; A certain part of community relations; hand to hand combat; first aid; defensive driving; fingerprinting; narcotics.

(I) You were being trained as a Patrolman.

(N) Right.

(I) Was it enough training?

(N) In 1956? Well since 1956, they have improved it greatly where it is a lot more through than it was then although I think, at the time, I personally still feel that police work is 95% common sense in dealing with people and working as a police officer.

(I) Do you think policemen should be more educated? Should go to college?

(N) I think it looks good on paper and I think a lot of people who read the paper are impressed by this but in all sincerity, like I said, I think police work is still 95% common sense and this you are not going to be taught by a college course.

(I) That brings us to the in-service training. Who did you work with at in-service training?

(N) That goes back a long time. Lieut. Bill Mielhan was in charge of the in-service training and Capt. Melrash, Capt. Fitzpatrick at the time, Lieut. Elly Norton and aside from the police academy, you would go in and sit with township ordinances and how to handle yourself in general.

(I) Did you go out with a partner?

(N) Yes. When we first were on the police department, we teamed up with the senior officer, Senior Patrolman

(I) Do you remember his name?

(N) There were a few of them. Joe Beggendorf, Lieut. Mielhan.

(I) You were a Patrolman for only just a few years, right?

(N) From 1956 until 1963.

(I) And then you became a detective.

(N) In July of 1963.

(I) What is the procedure for becoming a detective?

(N) At that particular time, I think was different than it is today. One thing that I always thought was commendable that the way that detectives were chosen in those days, and that is that the chief along with his captains and lieutenants would sit down and go over the roster of eligible Patrolmen. If there was one opening or two openings for detective, they would submit three names. In other words, the Captain, Lieutenants and the Chief would have to agree on three names. Those names were submitted to the township manager who, along with the Chief of Police, made the decision on who was going to be promoted to detective or appointed to detective. It was based on quite a few things.

(I) Does a detective have rank, a different rank? What are they?

(N) Detective sergeant, detective lieutenant and that’s about it.

(I) What is different about the day of a patrolman and the day of a detective?

(N) The patrolman is the eyes and ears of the detective. A good detective will use his patrolmen to his advantage. They are out on the street, they make the initial report for a burglary or a mugging or whatever. They will make the initial report. The report is processed to the record Bureau, turned into the detectives and now the detectives will investigate it.

(I) Did you always wear a uniform?

(N) As a patrolman. Not as a detective.

(I) Did you have the same hours as a patrolman?

(N) As a patrolman I worked 8 to 4, 4 to 12, 12 to 8, around the clock. And as a detective, I worked 8 to 4 and 4 to 12.

(I) Is the police force unionized?

(N) Well I don’t know if it is really unionized. They have the PBA that represents them. I guess you can call the PBA their bargaining agent.

(I) Did you feel you had a good voice for making decisions for the force?

(N) Well my nineteen years as a detective was spent in the Youth Bureau and I think I had and my opinion was well received.

(I) Can you compare Teaneck’s police force with the surrounding towns, with the other police forces?

(N) As far as what?

(I) Rating. How do we rate?

(N) Well I think that we have a pretty good police department. I think we have a excellent police department. Training wise I would say that are all about on the same keel. They have to be today. As far as the caliber of men. I would say that we have a very high caliber of men. The police officers that we have

(I) Did you enjoy working with youth?

(N) Very much. It got a little bit frustrating.

(I) When was that?

(N) Well, say in the last ten tears or so.

(I) I was going to ask you were there any difficult years that you could single out?

(N) I’d say in the 60s. The last 60s, early 70s.

(I) What was hard about those years?

(N) Well, we had that’s when the drugs really started to come in. Permissiveness in the home, permissiveness in the school didn’t make it any easier. Juvenile Courts, they couldn’t make decisions that were three supposedly to help the healthy kids and we always worked with that in mind, to straighten the kid out and it was very frustrating taking a kid to court and expecting them to do something and they would sit on their hands. They just wouldn’t do anything.

(I) How would you describe these courts? Are they different today than they were then?

(N) I don’t think that much. I think the courts are pretty much the same, Juvenile or adult.

(I) What do you think the problem is?

(N) I think that the judges don’t work long enough hours for one thing. I think that they are afraid to make a decision although I think they are getting a little tougher in the cases that need to be handled in a tougher way.

(I) Were there any dangerous aspects of your job as a detective?

(N) I often tell a story that in 26 years that I have on the police department, I faced a gun I think three times and twice was in the last year that I was on the job, in the same week, on a Tuesday and on a Friday and

(I) What was it related to?

(N) Once it was, we had a report of an armed man up in the area of the high school that was in possession of a gun and my partner and I spotted him on Selvage Avenue off Teaneck Road and we wheeled around and pulled a gun out of a yellow shopping bag and it was three o’clock in the afternoon, school was letting out and we couldn’t fire at him. I mean he fired at us but the gun misfired and he was apprehended without us shooting at him and without anyone injured.

(I) Would you ordinarily do this type of work or did you just happen to be there?

(N) Oh no. A policeman is a policeman first.

(I) You were called.

(N) Yeah. We were in the area and you are a policeman first regardless of what division you are in, whether it be an adult or a Juvenile or whatever. If there is a crime being committed, you respond to it.

(I) What was the second occasion?

(N) That was a burglary in progress and the burglar was jumping out of the kitchen window I believe in a house on Elizabeth Avenue and we had come through the backyard on Werner Place and as he was jumping out of the window, he pulled a gun from his belt but we apprehended him.

(I) Can you just describe the kind of communication that exists between the town Government and the department, the manager and the council? Do you deal with the manager, do you know?

(N) Yes. I think we always had a tremendous relationship. This is in the past, with the town council and the town manager. I mean I would have to say it is excellent. I never had any political interference with my police work where, in other towns, this does not exist. In other words, somebody who is a local butcher and I am not putting down butchers, runs for council and he is named the police commissioner so he’s going to tell an experienced police officer or detective or whatever how to handle an investigation and this is one thing that I take great pride in that we never had this in Teaneck. We were never interfered with by Mayors and councilmen who come and go and Mr. Schmidt, before him Mr. Welch, never interfered with police policy as far as how we handled investigations.

(I) Were you in the police force when they integrated in 1965?

(N) Yes.

(I) Did they actually look for black patrolmen; did they actively seek black police officers?

(N) To my knowledge, young black men that were eligible were asked to take the police exam. I know that they went out of their way to try to get fellows to try to take the police exam. But as I said, don’t forget we are civil service. Someone does not serve if he, because, we would like to have so many but they still have to pass the examination.

(I) Were there any black patrolmen when you first entered the force?

(N) No. The first one was Fred Greve and I believe Fred came on in 1962.

 

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