Meet Montclair’s Class of 1956

Life in Baristaville is different now, but take a walk back in time, 50 years ago. Class historian for Montclair High School’s Class of 1956 reunion (Oct. 13-15) Grange (Lady Haig) Rutan sets the scene.

corereunion.JPG

When we graduated we were considered the number one school system in the United States. We grew up when there was no war, “Ike” was President, there were no drugs and Patti Page was singing “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window.” Early on we were unique.

Attendees for the class of 1956 reunion are an impressive 200 and counting, out of a class of 317. Among those, a number are authors (Montclair hasn’t changed that much after all) of unique books.

Classmate, Syd Goldsmith, a former diplomat now living in China, is the author of Jade Phoenix. Former Chief of Montclair Police Tommy Russo has written Street Kid to Top Cop. Classmate Joe Boyd has a soon-to-be published book, My Twelve Years With Nelson Rockefeller, based on his tenure as Congressional liaison officer for Governor Nelson Rockefeller

Rutan’s own book, due out this fall, is called Death of a Bebop Wife (Cadence Publishing). Rutan was married for two years to jazz pianist Al Haig, who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Haig later married Bonnie Jean Maude Gallagher. In 1968, Bonnie was murdered. Haig was accused of the crime, but found “not guilty.”
Says Rutan:

Sadly Bonnie Haig, who was murdered at 999 Valley Road in the Montclair Heights section of Clifton, on October 9, 1968, 40 years ago, would be celebrating her 63rd birthday. If it hadn’t been for my fellow classmate at MHS, “Tommy” Russo, who was the “chief” I would never have been able to been able to delve into the archives of the Passaic County Prosecutors Office.


Rutan was also assisted by Anthony V. Naturale, who wrote “You’ll Never Believe It, about his 34 years serving the Montclair Police Department. Naturale happened to be a rookie at the time and received the call of a DOA.

bebop.JPG

After 15 years in the making, this is, so they say, the uncomfortable and often horrifying story of a jazz life as researched and told by a wife who survived an experience that left many devastated, and, in one case, dead. I was once married to Al Haig and I put you, (the reader) on the jury and in the jury box. “Did Al Haig get away with murder?” You decide.

Photo: (reunion planning committee, from left): Rocco Cifilano, Grange Peggy Rutan Habermann, Sue Gertler, Thomas J. Russo, Rosemare Meyer Hunninghake, Donald Saltzman and Ellen Baker Lewis

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.

20 COMMENTS

  1. There were things that were there that are not. I was at these places. I would like to get involved with this type of thing, if there is a number I can call or place to go. I don’t know these places. I wasn’t at these places.

  2. That’s not true- there was a certified arborist there as well as a NJ certified tree expert. There were also writers, and all sorts of other folks.

  3. Hey gang! remember me? chip wigland? chip the drip? french dip chip? sorry I couln’t make the reunion. My P.O. nixed that idea, seeing I just got out of the can. True, my years at MHS were a blur of pain and rejection, and as soon as I got out I went on an interstate crime spree. But recently I hooked up with actor Stephen Baldwin and realized Christ is the answer. As for my recent stint in the can, the gun went off by accident and JC knows this, so me and the big man upstairs are cool beans.
    Remember Crazy Helen Biederbeck? She used to let me look up her skirt! Oh well, gotta go! See you at the 60th!

  4. Al Haig was born in Newark and grew up in the Nutley School System, then went on to Oberlin…beginning just like any of us, however, he was a genius. While in the service he went to 52nd Street and listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker creating havoc as the titians and inovators of BEBOP.
    Along the way he crossed over into the “black experience” and chose to frequent where this music was happening.
    Like O. J. (Orenthal James Simpson) he was arrested for the murder of his wife Bonnie. There was a trial with the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Miles Davis and the hierachy of jazz wanting to testify on Al’s behalf. Dizzy Gillespie even gave a concert for him at Art D’Lugoff’s “Top of the Gate” to raise money for his defense; in those days it was unheard of that Al, out of bail, played at his own Defense Gig. Even John Wilson of The New York Times gave it a stunning write up; Chick Corea appeared along with Dizzy’s Big Band.
    Al was found “not guilty” by a jury of his peers. And, to this day, no one knows the real story…but soon they will. The Wife No One Knew from “Old Montclair” loved the music more than the man.

  5. growing up in upper montclair in a house right across from applegate farms which is now owned by savion glover, one of today’s hippest and brightest tap dancers, convinces me montclair keeps giving back not only in education but all fazes of entertainment…and now the show begins…I hear you tappin’but you can’t come in…where’s joanie? hoyt is on this committee too, yes?

  6. growing up in upper montclair in a house right across from applegate farms which is now owned by savion glover, one of today’s hippest and brightest tap dancers, convinces me montclair keeps giving back not only in education but all fazes of entertainment…and now the show begins…I hear you tappin’but you can’t come in…where’s joanie? hoyt is on this committee too, yes?

  7. due to circumstances beyond my control susan jane gertler’s name is ommitted; no one is perfect but she is…susan that is, sorry.

  8. Grange- Thanks for the comments but you failed to say you were my agent, and a darn good one,for my biography, “YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT,” about my 34 years on the Montclair Police Department and the first internal affairs officer.I am also the historian for the MHS class of1950 and we will be celebrating our 60th in 2010..

  9. Tough Tony,
    Please don’t arrest me as I am so busy taking care of my 50th MHS Reunion I haven’t had a chance to breathe. I must say I think we should have you join the other 8 Montclair authors who will be tooting their book at Tierney’s Tavern on Friday night. As your agent I will certainly let them know you gave a special window into “Old Montclair’ with YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT and I hear you are writing a Fittness Book For Seniors…with HUMOR …why not…good wishes Lieutenant…

  10. After 39 years of practicing pediatrics, I feel I have a handle on the young people represented by us those 50 years ago. In general, we were fairly neat people just as teens are today when given half a chance. Our evolution into the 21st century with all our accomplishments should be a source of wonder to us all on this occasion. How cool is that?!

Comments are closed.