New Exhibits for the 2019-2020 Season
Mahwah’s His-“TREE”: 75 Years as a Township, 1944-2019
Mahwah’s history dates back to the 1600s and 1700s, belonging to several territories with different names. In the 1700s and 1800s, Mahwah grew from a seedling of Franklin Township and later stemmed from Hohokus Township. As other towns broke off from Hohokus Township, Mahwah remained, leaving it the largest tract of land in what is now Bergen County.
Mahwah blossomed as an independent community, and was officially incorporated as a township in 1944. Our exhibit will explore the different branches of what makes a community live, breathe, and thrive. Mahwah’s roots as a township were strengthened through the growth of borough organizations, housing developments, schools, recreation, religious and civic groups, and industry.
No matter how far back you can trace your roots in Mahwah, come share our shade as we honor the people, places, and organizations that have continued our history into the 21st century.
Palisades Amusement Park Comes to Mahwah – In Miniature!
(Photo credit: Vince Gargiulo)
New Jersey’s famous Palisades Amusement Park closed nearly 50 years ago. But most Jerseyites over the age of 60 will still smile at the mere mention of this classic American fun center. Mahwah resident, Vince Gargiulo, has been keeping the memory of Palisades alive for the past quarter of a century. He founded the Palisades Amusement Park Historical Society (PAPHS) in the early 1990s. His book, “Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories,” was the fastest selling book in the history of Rutgers University Press. His 1998 PBS documentary of the same name won several awards for outstanding documentary and was nominated for a New York Emmy.
His latest project is a working 1930s model of the park that he has been restoring for over a year. A long time park employee, Joe Prisco, originally built the wooden model in the 1990s. After his death, the model was moved several times and sustained a great deal of damage. In 2018, Gargiulo reached out to Prisco’s family, who donated the model to the PAPHS. Gargiulo set about to restore each piece, most requiring a great deal of work and patience. “The Carousel was the hardest piece to restore,” Gargiulo noted. “Many of the ornamental decorations were missing. Half of the light bulbs were burned out, and replacing them was not cheap!”
But his biggest challenge with the carousel was getting it to rotate. “I wish this model came with some kind of instruction manual,” Vince joked. “It would make repairing it so much easier.” After a month of experimenting, he was finally able to get the merry-go-round to operate properly. Gargiulo has completed restoration of 25 pieces including the Tunnel of Love, the World’s Largest Outdoor Salt Water Pool, the Ferris Wheel, the Carousel, the Free Act Stage, the Bumper Cars and much more. On September 22, the miniature amusement park will be on display as part of the Mahwah Museum’s 2019-2020 lineup. Also on display will be some extremely rare artifacts from the park from Gargiulo’s extensive collection.
A College Comes to Mahwah: Ramapo College, 1965-1975
(Photo credit: Vincent Marchese)
When the State of New Jersey decided to build a new college in Northern New Jersey in 1965, few towns wanted anything to do with it. Fears of radical students, traffic, and lost tax revenues dogged early efforts in Leonia, Hackensack and Saddle River. When the Birch Estate was proposed as a potential site, Mahwah quickly became the front runner. Our exhibit on the establishment of Ramapo College in Mahwah takes a look at life in the township 50 years ago and the creation of a unique liberal arts college.
Working with early faculty and graduates from Ramapo College, the exhibit will provide a brief history of the College’s aspirations and a look at its early curriculum. Students recall what campus life was like when the campus was being built around them; the makeshift “dorms” at the Carmel Retreat, a Boy Scout Camp, and Club 300; the jazz festivals; and student and faculty strikes. These challenges forged a tight community and left fond memories. Come and experience an early 1970s college in Mahwah — sights, sounds, and recollections!
These exhibits will be on display along with our very popular permanent exhibits, the ever expanding Donald Cooper Model Railroad (open weekends only) and Les Paul in Mahwah!
Les Paul with the Pulverizer
“I lived in Mahwah in the ’70s and my father was a metallurgical scientist at a research lab in nearby Sterling Forest, NY. One day, probably in 1976 or so, Les Paul showed up at the reception desk of the research lab asking if he could speak to a metals expert. This was rather unusual, but my dad was the metallurgist who eventually came out to help. Les and my dad started talking and my dad found that Les had a lot of interesting questions about a metal alloy that he wanted to use for a new guitar pickup he was designing — the alloy needed to have certain properties for the pickup to work as Les wanted, but he didn’t know which alloys could work. My dad listened and provided some advice, and Les went on his way. But Les came back to the research lab a few more times over the next few weeks to follow up, and my dad graciously continued to provide his expertise.
At some point, my dad mentioned this at the dinner table, and mentioned that the guy’s name was “Les Paul.” I should explain that my father knew nothing of contemporary music, unless it was contemporary in the 1700 or 1800’s. So when I heard at age 13 that it was the great Les Paul, I said, “Dad, do you have any idea who you’re talking to??” To which he replied, “Yeah, some guy who just wants to pick my brain.” I proceeded to explain who Les Paul was and why he was important, but it went completely past him.
Now here’s where the story gets interesting: A year or two later our next door neighbor, Mr. Morrison, had a health issue and found himself in the hospital in Ridgewood. He was in pre-surgery and was coincidentally sharing a room with Les Paul. For this part, I don’t fully know what happened and can only repeat what I was told, but the story goes that Les Paul and Mr. Morrison started talking and discovered that they both lived in Mahwah. That broke the ice, so they were able to go a bit past being just polite “roomies”. As they talked more and got to know each other, Les eventually told Mr. Morrison that the surgery he was about to undergo was extremely risky (I believe his condition was heart-related), and the doctors in Ridgewood were predicting only a 50% chance of success. Mr. Morrison apparently convinced Les to get a second opinion. As a result, Les called off the surgery, found an expert in Cleveland, and learned that he had been misdiagnosed. So Les was eventually fine, didn’t have risky surgery, and was forever grateful to my next door neighbor for his potentially life-saving advice.
After that, Les started coming by our neighborhood in Scotch Hills fairly often to visit Mr. Morrison. One day, he pulled up to the curb in his big white Cadillac, saw my father working in the yard, and recognized him from the research lab a couple years back. Until that moment, neither knew that the other also lived in Mahwah. Les was still playing with different metal alloys for his new pickup design, so he made the most of this rather unlikely coincidence — when he visited Mr. Morrison on weekend afternoons, often he would also stop by our driveway to “pick my dad’s brain” a little more. I would sometimes listen in on the conversations, although I can’t say I understood much of what they were saying most of the time. But Les would often acknowledge me and try to include me in the conversation. At one point, Les Paul invited my father and our family to his house — he wanted to show us his studio! But unfortunately I wasn’t listening in on that conversation, so I was not aware of the invitation — or my father’s “no thank you” — until several years later. To this day I bring this up with my father, but it’s water under the bridge, so all I can do is look at the floor and shake my head.
But I’m pleased to report that my father now fully appreciates the greatness of the man to whom he contributed his metallurgical expertise. I don’t know if any great guitar innovations resulted from their conversations, but at least I can say that I “knew” the great Les Paul, if only briefly.
It sure would have been awesome to have seen that studio, though….”
“In 1943 at the age of 14 I somehow got wind that my idol, Les Paul, would be appearing with the Andrews Sisters at New York City’s Paramount Theater. I had been playing guitar since age 8, studying with my father who was Middletown, New York’s first distributor/dealer of Gibson guitars. I had just begun playing gigs and was copying the gypsy jazz rhythm of Django Reinhardt and the hot licks of Les Paul and would be traveling alone from Middletown by train. Just to sit in the audience and see my idol on stage would be a thrill. But a supportive uncle with a “why-not” attitude threw caution to the wind, called backstage, and brazenly asked to speak with Les Paul. Les, being Les, came to the phone. And Les, being Les, told my uncle I was to come backstage at show’s end. That’s how I found myself at 14 in the great Les Paul’s dressing room talking music, guitars, and technique. He was down-to-earth, kind, encouraging, and, amazingly, invited me to accompany him as he walked back to his hotel. It has been nearly 70 years, and I no longer remember the name of the hotel, nor do I remember precisely what was said. It doesn’t matter. I walked the streets of New York City with Les Paul. It’s rare to meet one’s idol. It’s rarer still when he lives up to your expectations. Les, being Les, surpassed every one of mine.”
“The Guitar Mafia” from left to right, Lou Pallo, Les Paul, Al Caiola, Tony Mottola, Paul Nowinski, Vinny Bell and Bucky Pizzarelli at Les Paul’s 83rd birthday at the iridium, NYC. Photo by Christopher Lentz
“For years Les had been bugging my father to come to one of his shows at the Iridium. They were old friends, and mutually admiring guitarists since the 1950s. Jazz guitar players are like a brotherhood; maybe that’s because they all share a magical gift. So when Les’s 83rd birthday was coming up my dad phoned me and said, “Why don’t you come pick me up Monday and we’ll drive into the city, have dinner at Patsy’s and go see Les.” At the time, one of my nieces and one of my nephews were living in Manhattan. Another niece and nephew came in from Connecticut and they all joined us at the club. Les was very solicitous of my dad and they sat together at the front table chatting about old times while an amazing guitar quartet of Al Caiola, Bucky Pizzarelli, Vinnie Bell and, of course, Lou Pallo, opened the show — cutting each other up with smiling faces and hot solos — until Vinnie blew the house down.
After a while Les got on the stand and single-noted his way through a couple of tunes. His chops were pretty shot with arthritis by then, but he still played with deep feeling and his trademark distinctive tone. He was always a great melody man, something my father really admired in a player.
Now Les was what my dad would call “a salty guy.” So he went into his schtick, kibitzing with the audience, and at one point he launched into a pretty randy joke about oral sex.
Once he got started my father waved his hand and said, “Hey Les, give me a break. I’ve got my grandchildren here!”
Not missing a beat, Les looked down at him with a grin and said, “Don’t worry Tony, They’ll explain it to you later.”
— Tony Mottola, Jr.
Originally published in Jersey Jazz magazine, October 2009.