As part of our Halloween festivities for the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library, we had a really special event on November 13th, 2013 for a new event we planned called “The Family Night Lecture” that we had just created. Our special guest that evening was Professor Angus Gillespie from the American Studies Department of Rutgers University. He is an expert and lecturer on folklore and myths including the ‘Jersey Devil’.
Professor Angus Gillespie with Professor and Chairman of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library Justin Watrel
Professor Gillespie was a noted author and he had explained to me that when he originally wrote the book “The Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade Center” that it had a press of 2000 copies in 1999 bought mostly by his mother as gifts to her friends. When the Towers fell two year later, the book took off and became a Best Seller and he was flown all over the world as an expert on the history of the Towers. His book “Folklore in the Pine Barrens: A Study of the Pinelands Cultural Society of Waretown” was when the interest of the Jersey Devil began.
It has been a very interesting lecture that had everyone spellbound on the story of the Leeds family. The legend began with the story of Jane Leeds ( or in some historical cases Deborah Leeds) on a stormy night in 1735. Tired and frazzled from her 12 other children who over-worked her, she found that she was pregnant for the 13th time. She exclaimed ” I hope it’s not a child; I hope its the Devil”.
The Leeds former home in the Pine Barrens
On a dark and stormy night she gave birth to the child with friends gathered in the home to witness the birth. The child was born normal and then transformed into a monster of hoofs, a goat’s head, bat’s wings and a forked tail. It then attacked people in the room before it escaped up the chimney. It disappeared into the Pine Barrens and over the years people have claimed to have had encounters with it the latest being in 1909.
Chairman Justin Watrel with Professor Gillespie and members of the Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library at the Junior Friends “Family Night Lecture”
It spellbound most of the crowd who were eager to ask questions. Professor Gillespie lead a discussion on the occurrences and accounts of the sightings over the years that got people thinking, was this thing still alive? The crowd had a wonderful time asking questions and getting a feel for the legend.
It was the last event of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library that year and a wonderful way to celebrate Halloween. We had a small reception afterwards in Professor Gillespie’s honor.
Chairman & Professor Justin Watrel with Professor Angus Gillespie and Library Director Mimi Hui
I dedicate this blog to great fellow Cornellian and former Giants football player, Kevin Boothe, who took time out of his busy summer schedule to come to the Hasbrouck Heights Library to visit the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library for the “Celebration of Books” event for the Library’s Summer Reading Program. We had over one hundred children and their parents attend the reading and reception for the event in July of 2013.
I had founded the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library in 2011 on the premise that there should be more for kids to enjoy at the library other than ‘kiddie things’ like “Mommie & Me” classes, teen book clubs and arts and crafts for kids. As a child I hated all that ‘baby stuff’ preferring ‘Nanny & the Professor’, ‘The Lucy Show’ and ‘That Girl’ over shows like ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood’. I thought the shows were for ‘little kids’ as early as six. When it came time for movies, I enjoyed ‘On a Clear Day you can see Forever’ and ‘What’s Up Doc?’ to any of the kiddie fare they make kids watch at that age.
When Disney films like ‘Escape to Witch Mountain’ and ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘The Bad News Bears’ came out, it really showed how kids behaved back then and the independence our parent’s generation gave us as children. They expected us not ‘little adults’ but kids to be mature, have responsibility and respect for the people around them as well as be our own person. We were the last generation to mature at our own pace and probably the last.
I wanted to share this experience with other kids who were like minded, who wanted more than just the run of the mill activities. Plus I was patterning the organization on some of the groups catering to kids in the City at the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Forum, bringing the City to the kids of Hasbrouck Heights with sophisticated programming that including classic and independent films, celebrity visits and contemporary activities. The year 2013 was the zenith for the organization with goal of innovative programming and special guests and we exceeded it in every way.
I had the goal of bringing a famous athlete to the Hasbrouck Heights Library for the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library’s Second Annual “Celebration of Books” event. After the successful visit from Mary Rodgers the year before in 2012, I wanted to do something to top it.
Mary Rodgers with us the year before for the ‘Freaky Friday’ event in 2012
Here’s my write up of that event in 2012 in MywalkinManhattan.com:
I had been contacting the Giants and Jets organizations for almost six months before the event trying to talk to their PR Departments and it was coming down to the wire. The Jets would not help us and stop responding to my emails and calls.
Kevin Boothe welcoming everyone
Our Library Director had left for vacation and could not be reached and our then President of the organization was at her beach house for the Summer when we got the last minute call that Kevin was available for a visit in a week. We had that one week of opportunity before Training Camp would begin. We jumped at the chance and arranged it for the next Wednesday and all had to pull together to organize the event in one week. When our Library Director arrived back from vacation that Monday, it was all hands on deck for the organization. I don’t think anyone knew how fast and hard we had to work for a one hour visit.
The Children’s Librarian at the time, Marie Joyce, jumped in and helped me out. She picked the book “Everyone can learn to Ride a Bicycle” by author Christopher Rashcka as an inspirational book for children to achieve their goals.
Author Christopher Rashcka and I in 2016 at the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library event I ran for their library “Teens, Tots & Toys”. I am holding the book “Everyone can learn to ride a Bicycle”.
Here’s my write up of that event in MywalkinManhattan.com:
It was an interesting children’s book about trying something new and accomplishing goals. It is something for kids to learn something new and be proud of it.
Our Children’s Librarian Marie Joyce with Giants player Kevin Boothe
There was a lot of excitement in the library that afternoon as the place filled with children and their parents many of the them coming from the town’s Summer Camp and a lot of them wearing Giants jersey’s. It had been a difficult afternoon as their was so much going on in the building at the time.
“Everyone can learn to ride a bicycle” by Christopher Raschka
There was a BCCLS meeting going on in the conference room that had ended by 2:00pm and the Senior’s were having their Summer picnic in the parking lot so parking was at a premium all over the building and they were also ending by 2:00pm. People were scrambling to leave the building as the air conditioning had broken down and they were trying to fix it while the event was going on. It was crazy afternoon.
Our event was at 3:00pm so things were just calming down when Kevin arrived with the Giants representatives. It has always amazed me that people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes before a visit. We had a to scramble to set up the tables for the reception, someone had to buy the food and set the tables and in the meantime someone bought jersey’s for a raffle that I knew nothing about. I was always last to know.
Kevin Boothe had a great football career when we met him. Kevin had been an All American when he played in Pine Crest Prep School in Florida. He played football at Cornell University (my Alma Mater as well), where he was a three time All Ivy League player and a member of the Quill & Dagger Society. Then in 2006 he was drafted in the sixth round by the Oakland Raiders where he played Right Guard for a year before coming to the Giants. He stayed with the Giants from 2007-2013 as a Left Guard and helped the team win Superbowl XLII and XLIV winning both times against New England. Kevin played for one more year with the Giants as a free agent and then finished his last year of play with the Oakland Raiders in 2014.
Kevin with his son at the Superbowl
I have to say that it was really stuffy in the library that afternoon with all those people and the air conditioning down. Kevin and Marie were both sweating through the reading but it all went by well. They read the book together while the books pages (which had been scanned earlier in the day) were shown to the audience. After the reading was over, we had a Q & A with the audience which all the kids were in awe.
Kevin at the Q & A with the kids in awe
For a group of small children, they asked some interesting questions especially on playing for the Giants and how he got into football. I was impressed by how he approached the kids and talking to them on their level while being engaging to everyone in the room. One thing was I was impressed with is when he said, ” Whether is its learning to ride a bicycle or playing football like me you can go after any dream in life. If your heart is in the right place, you can achieve anything.” (Patch.com). He talked about winning with the team the two Superbowl’s as the underdog team and how their coach inspired them to win.
After the Q & A, Kevin took a group shot with the kids and we had everyone join in the reception. It then got a little crazy as all the kids wanted autographs. Since Kevin was about to start Training Camp, he had to get back to the stadium as he had other work to do. I had agreed with the Giants Organization that there would be no autograph session as there would be no time but that didn’t stop the kids from banging on the office door where he and everyone else were cooling down in the only room where the air conditioning worked.
It was there that we took the picture with members of the Junior Friends of the Library for our group shot. It was a lot to track the kids down in the crowd and keep the other kids from coming in but we got the shot in which also made the Cornell Alumni Magazine.
Kevin and I with some of the members of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library representing Cornell University for the Alumni Magazine
The afternoon ended a little crazy with a raffle I had to run (which I did not know about) and Kevin and the Giants Organization representatives leaving through the backdoor without me having to say goodbye and thank you. Still the reception went by well and the kids ate everything we put out. It was another great success for the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library and was one of the reasons why we were recognized by the BCCLS organization the next Fall for our outstanding work.
I wanted to dedicate this blog to Kevin Boothe, who made so many children and their parents happy that afternoon. You are a real gentleman and make Cornell University proud!
This blog is dedicated to the great and wonderful author, Mary Rodgers, in honor of her visit six years ago to the Hasbrouck Heights Library in honor of the 40th Anniversary of her best-selling book, “Freaky Friday” on July 13th, 2012. This was one of the best Special Events programs that I ever ran outside “Parent’s Weekend” my senior year at Michigan State University. It was a big thrill for me to meet an author whom not only I had grown up with but whose books and movies I enjoyed not just then but even now. The original ‘Freaky Friday’ I saw as a kid when it first came out in 1977 and I still enjoy it today.
I had founded the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library in 2011 on the premise that there should be more for kids to enjoy at the library other than “Mommie & Me” classes, teen book clubs and arts and crafts for kids. As a child I hated all that ‘baby stuff’ preferring ‘Nanny & the Professor’, ‘The Lucy Show’ and ‘That Girl’ over shows like ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood’. I thought the shows were for ‘little kids’ as early as six. When it came time for movies, I enjoyed ‘On a Clear Day you can see Forever’ and ‘What’s Up Doc?’ to any of the kiddie fare they make kids watch at that age.
When Disney films like ‘Escape to Witch Mountain’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘The Bad News Bears’ came out it really showed how kids behaved back then and the independence our parent’s generation gave us as children. They expected not ‘little adults’ but kids to be mature, have responsibility and respect for the people around them as well as be our own person. We were the generation to mature at our own pace and probably the last.
I wanted to share this experience with kids who were like minded, who wanted more than just the run of the mill activities. Plus I was patterning the organization on some of the groups catering to kids in the city at the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Forum, bringing the city to the kids of Hasbrouck Heights with sophisticated programming that including classic and independent films, celebrity visits and contemporary activities. The year 2012 was the leap year for the organization with goal of innovative programming and special guests.
I put my game plan of ideas together and came up with a “Freaky Friday” night at the library on Friday the 13th and because of the way Friday the 13th landed that year, July 13th that year was around the opening of the library’s Summer Reading Program. So the Junior Friends would tie their event around that. I never thought in a million years Mary Rodgers would come. I knew nothing about her whereabouts or her life. This is why I love Google.
One late night I was Googling her and did not realize that she had been the President of the Richard Rodgers Foundation and at the bottom of the screen there was a comments section. I went to it and wrote that the library was having a 40th Anniversary of her book, “Freaky Friday” and we wanted her to be our guest. Would she consider coming to the library to read the book? I could not believe it when she said yes the next day!
Thus started the plans for her visit. We bought copies of the novel, organized a small reception and had an area set up in the early afternoon for the reading. We would show the original 1977 film first in the private meeting room across the hall to be followed by the 2003 remake. We had planned something a little more elaborate but I could not get anyone to agree to it.
I had long emails for the next three weeks back and forth with her assistant, Ruschika, getting everything organized. It was like planning D-Day with all the conversations on a two hour visit. The way I was understanding it was that I was dealing with a very frail woman but when I met her she could have been nothing further from the truth. She was a spunky big kid who could not have been more engaging to both the adults and the kids. I knew that when I first introduced myself.
Me with Mary Rodgers and the Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library Executive Board and Library Director on Friday, July 13th, 2012
I kept saying Mrs. Rodgers this and Mrs. Rodgers that and she finally said to me “Justin, after all this just call me ‘Mary'”. I knew she was cool even at 83. She could not have been more engaging and openly friendly with everyone there and the kids loved her. Most of these kids were two generations ahead of her, she being the R.K. Rowling of her time. You could not have asked for a bigger author of kids books with comparison to Maurice Sendak, Norton Juster and Judy Bloom. For my generation, she was huge! (It would be years later that I would discover that she had been suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the visit and she died just a few months before my dad in 2014).
Author Mary Rodgers reading her book “Freaky Friday”
It could not have been a better afternoon as the weather cooperated and because it was early traffic, she arrived over an hour early so she was able to settle in and talk with all the patrons on a personal basis. It really was a magical afternoon.
Mary talked to the audience of about 40 patrons about growing up as Richard Rodgers daughter and living in the shadow of fame while carving her own career out of it. She talked about growing up in a musical family, writing stories with her sister and time creating such shows as “Once Upon a Mattress” and “A to Z”. I even remembered when she worked on “Free to be you and Me” that Marlo Thomas had created in the 70’s for kids.
The best part of the program is when she talked about growing up and said, “Annebelle is me! I was a tough kid when I was growing up and had my own opinions.” She and her mother had obviously butted heads when she was growing up and based the book on her early childhood growing up in New York.
She then talked about working with Disney Studios to adapt the book into a movie and writing the screenplay. She told us of having to write a sexy secretary into the script to please one of the studio heads. She talked about the rewrites and finally how proud she was when the movie came out. She admitted though when asked whether she liked the original film or the 2003 remake, she admitted to us “I thought the remake was more true to the theme of the book.”
After a long discussion, we made our presentations to her. I made her the first ‘Honorary Member of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library and the Mayor of Hasbrouck Heights at the time, Mrs. Rose Heck, read a proclamation declaring it ‘Mary Rodgers Day’ in Hasbrouck Heights. We even had the electric board out front of the Municipal Building read “Welcome Mary Rodgers”. We then had the book signing and she continued the discussion with many of the patrons and kids.
Mayor Rose Heck presents Mary Rodgers with our version of the ‘Key’ to Hasbrouck Heights
After that she joined for a bit for the reception and then headed back into the City before rush hour began. We did keep in touch for bit writing to one another and me sending out press clippings and pictures from the event. (Years later after she passed away, Mayor Heck had told me she had just sent her a birthday card. Even the two of them had kept in touch long after the event).
After she left, we watched the original 1977 film with Jody Foster and Barbara Harris, then we stopped for intermission and had a pizza and brownie dinner and then showed the 2003 film with Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee-Curtis. The original film was a big hit with the kids many of whom had never seen it before. We ended up being at the library for over four hours and the last of the patrons walked out at 9:15pm with everyone raving about the event.
All these years later when older members of the organization get together, we still talk about the wonderful afternoon we had when Mary Rodgers visited us.
So on this Friday the 13th, six years to the date of the original event on July 13th, 2012, I dedicate this blog to a true New Yorker, Mary Rodgers-Guettel and the wonderful afternoon we had sharing stories, reading the book and watching her films. The kids may not known who she was when they came but they sure knew who she was when she left.
In Memory to the very first ‘Honorary Member of the Junior Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library and one of my literary idols, Mary Rodgers-Guettel January 1931-June 2014.
The Opening of the Original “Freaky Friday”
Closing Song from Freaky Friday remake 2003
Special Note: I was very proud to discover in 2014 that BCCLS, the governing body Bergen County Cooperative Library System for all libraries in Bergen County, New Jersey, honored the Junior Friends of the Library for our 2013 programming and the organization itself. It was nice to see that someone noticed!
Some articles that were posted online of the event: