by Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer, Teaneck Suburbanite, July 26, 2006, p. 2
This is the fifth part of a series on the history of Teaneck based on interviews with municipal historian Larry Robertson.
Teaneck evolved from a farming community to a suburb of single-family homes and small businesses. But the township's history also has a darker side.
In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan expanded to northern states, mainly in response to the presidential condidacy of Al Smith, the Roman Catholic Governor of New York. The Klan's focus in the north at that time was less to harass blacks and Jews then to intimidate Catholics. In the Teaneck, the Klan was particularly active in the Glenwood Park section, which municipal historian Larry Robertson describes as "an island in the swamp" at the time, encircled by Overpeck and Teaneck creeks and swamp.
Cut off from the rest of the town, the section was prone to violence. "At that time, in Glenwood Park, it was very common for ordinary people to be walking around with pistols in their holsters just as in cowboy movies," said Robertson. He described one incident in which a Catholic family, planning an afternoon Christening, rented the second floor of the Glenwood Park firehouse, which stood on Glenwood Road. Klansmen invaded the party, whipping the guest with thick strands of cable wire. Someone called the Teaneck Police, but the confrontation was so violent that the police refused to enter Glenwood Road alone and waited until reinforcements arrived from other municipalities.
After Herbert Hoover defeated Smith in 1928, Klan activity in the north died down, although a remnant remained in Teaneck into the 1950s, said Robertson.
In the years proceding the United States' entry into World War II, the German American Bund drew many adherents from throughout Bergen County. The Bund's fuehrer, Fritz Kuhn, lived at Boulevard and Main Street in New Milford.
The Bund was an outreach branch of the Nazi party in Germany. Until Germany declared war on the United States, it was a constitutionally protected organization, sain Robertson.
"Its role wasn't sabotage or espionage but to generate propaganda so Americans wouldn't want to go to war," said Robertson.
The Bund held large rallies at Madison Square Garden and in the summer of 1940, the Bund mounted a victory parade up Cedar Lane to celebrate Hitler's conquest of Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
"They had a parade permit, and it was perfectly legal," said Robertson. The main opposition to the Bund came from the American Legion, not necessarily the Teaneck chapter.
"The Bund had a right to exist, but anytime they did something that the police had no jurisdiction over, the American Legion would generally apply baseball bats," Robertson said. After America entered the war, membership in the Bund declined. "Most of the members dropped out. They weren't pursued, but they know that they could't get certain types of jobs with Bund membership in their records." Kuhn, however, was sent to prison.
Kuhn was a wanted man.
"He was in a lot of trouble," said Robertson. "The FBI was after him because he was head of the Bund. The mob was pursuing him for unpaid gambling debts and even the Gastapo wanted him for paying some of his gambling debts with money sent from Nazi Germany. He died in jail. Who knows who did him?"
Kuhn's daughter became one of the first female armed robbers in Bergen County. In the 1950s, she held up employees of a Fort Lee motel.
The Cold War added a secret chapter to Teaneck's history.
Until Teaneck's two middle schools were constructed, the district's students in grades seven to 12 attended classes in the high school. The area that is today Thomas Jefferson Middle School was heavily wooded until school construction began in the late 1950s. In the early 50s, the U.S. Army bought the undeveloped site and installed a secret anti-aircraft battery consisting of six 90-millimeter guns and all necessary radar. The gun were housed underground.
The army built roofs at curb level inside the woods to conceal them. "There were no buildings, but only roofs," said Robertson. "But to the pilot of an enemy recognizance plane, it would look like he was flying over streets of houses." The roofs could be open hydraulically to reveal the guns.
There were several such batteries forming a radius around New York City, Robertson said. Some were on military bases; other were located at Englewood Cliffs, Camp Gaw Mountain in Mahwah and on the grounds of a Union City monastery.
The Teaneck installation was located at what is today the school's athletic field bordering the north ends of Howard, George and Stelton streets.
Robertson recalls viewing the roofs with his grandfather, a career National Guard Sergeant. "My grandfather know about the battery," Robertson said. "The army let the area become overgrown so it was hard to see inside. When we got up to the fence, a sentry appeared with a helmet and a submachine gun and said, 'Don't stand there.' He couldn't explain. He just said,"Don't stand there,' and we left."
The installation was secret but not a closed guarded one, and many people in Teaneck know about it. "But even if someone were a Soviet agent and word got out, enemy aircraft would still be at a disadvantage because from the air a pilot couldn't identify the site." The battery was taken down in the mid 1950s when nuclear warhead missiles replaced 90-millimeter guns as anti-aircraft weapons, and installations were moved away from populated areas.