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.
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.”
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.
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