Historic Plaque Found At Montclair’s Mt. Hebron Middle School

This past Thursday, Mount Hebron Middle School had an assembly to rededicate a 100-year-old plaque of the Gettysburg Address. The plaque first caught Coach Zirilli’s attention when he read it in the hallway and realized it was so old. Something about it seemed important to him, so he brought it to the attention of Mr. Whitlock, the principal, who thought it might be interesting to find out more about the plaque and the name of the donor– Henry Franklin Holloway.  

Principal Whitlock went to the Ms. LaRosa, the Social Studies Subject Matter Leader for help. Ms. LaRosa says, “I didn’t want to do it—not because I wasn’t interested, but because of the time involved, and frankly, I thought—okay it’s a 100 year old plaque. Plaques are everywhere. But when I looked at it, I began to feel like the ‘Carpe Diem’ scene in The Dead Poet’s Society.”  She started to do a little research.  Two months, a trip to Mount Hebron Cemetery,  emails all over the country and a stack of research later, she found Henry Franklin Holloway’s 1940 obituary from both the Montclair Times and the New York Times. That’s when it all came together:

After several more days, I found his great-great granddaughter, Katelin, who lives in California. She had been researching her history online and when I contacted her, she added me to her Ancestry.com account, which gave me more information.  And I visited Mount Hebron Cemetery on Valley Road, where I learned birthdates and deathdates, and more names.

Once I discovered that Mr. H’s daughter married man named Edward Cairns, a whole new branch of the family opened itself up.  I saw Mr. Zarilli and excitedly told him that I had discovered that Mr. Holloway’s daughter married a man whose family invented the firefighter’s helmet—someone named cairns.  Mr. Z corrected my pronunciation, and said “Carns—I know someone named Bill McCutcheon who owned Cairns & Bros.  He said that the company was handed down from his mother’s side of the family.

I stored that info in the back of my head as I continued to research.  Back at the NYTimes site, I began researching Cairns.  I found that they had 4 daughters, and all of them had their wedding announcements in the Times, and lo and behold, Barbara Cairns of Wildwood Ave in Montclair married a man named William Thompson McCutcheon!  It was 5:30 AT NIGHT UP IN ROOM 202, And I jumped up and down and did a little dance.  I had found a local descendant! 

The funny thing is, it was Mr. Zarilli who got the whole ball rolling, and he ended up being a close friend of the direct descendant of Henry Franklin Holloway!

The members of the Holloway family were contemporaries of the VanVlecks, in all the same clubs and organizations, and were historically significant to the growth of Montclair. Henry was on the Board of Ed. at the time, and one of the speakers at the original ceremony had fought in the Civil War.  The plaque was one of four donated that year to the schools in Montclair, and the current Mt. Hebron was only a year old–only the area by House 1 were in use. 

At the assembly students, with the help of their technology and social studies teachers, put together a multi-media presentation, which included old photos of Montclair, an original poem, a slideshow family tree of the Holloway family, a humorous cartoon  made about what life was like in 1910, a reading of a Montclair Times article about the original plaque dedication from 1911 and a video of the unveiling of the restored plaque. Students also showed a short film they made of fellow students reading the Gettysburg Address.  They thanked Bill McCutcheon (great grandson of Henry Holloway) and Mark Menton from the Commonwealth Club of Montclair for making the plaque restoration possible. The plaque will be restored to its original luster in the next week or so.

The poem, titled The Past Touches the Future was written by eighth grader Colby Cohen:

America we are strong
Together as one
No matter what happens
Something bad might come along
We will always fight for our right
And keep our head tall;

Life in 1910 was different
Not same as now at all

You look at Montclair
We see how far we’ve come.
We use cars, trains, bikes, planes.

But back then, it was much more different
They used trollies, horse carriages
Cars were only just starting.

Everything you could buy was
No less than a dollar
Something you wish would be now
They had no need to holler.

But the was future has come,
Is from what had happened in the past.
You make new decisions, and
New opinions, that were sure to last.

People back then did not know
What to expect,
They had many things they had
To put in check.
They would not know how
Technology would start up,
They didn’t know how rights
Would change, they did not
Know how jobs would gain.

But they had a dream, they
Were climbing to the summit.
And as you can see now, they
Made it.

In 1910 we were only just the
Future, not knowing what to expect.
Two world wars have passed,
And human kind has stepped on the moon.
Now that their future has arrived,
We can only imagine what will
Bloom, in the next hundred years
The past helps us, reminds us,
And teaches us.

Now we are moving forward,
Looking forward, hoping for
The best we can become.

The teacher advisors on this project were Ms. Casey LaRosa, Social Studies teacher, and technology teacher, Ms. Samantha Morra.  Ms. LaRosa did most of the research tracing the Holloways, with some help from Mr. Zarilli, and Ms. Morra helped the kids create their multi-media presentation.

Barista Kids photographer, Chanda Hall, attended the assembly and created the slideshow.

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  1. Agreed.

    And cheers to the teachers and staff who put in their personal time for such an interesting endeavor. It’s one example of how the Montclair schools are special and worthy of praise.

  2. So many lessons here. One is that there are amazing stories all around us if we care to look. Enjoy this rainy, chilly day with warmth and stories.

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