East Orange Centennial Year (1863-1963)

An aerial view of East Orange in 1963, looking north. Route 280, known then as the East-West Freeway, has yet to be built parallel to the railroad tracks, but the Garden State Parkway travels up the right side of the photo.The "Gold Coast" luxury Apartment Buildings of Munn Avenue parallel the Parkway. On the other side of the tracks are City Hall and the Main Post Office.

A Centennial Committee was formed to coordinate events. Mayor Kelly chose George E. Stringfellow, a distinguished resident, to be chairman of the Centennial Committee. Hundreds of citizens were mobilized by the Executive Committee to make this one of the biggest and happiest celebrations of them all. The celebrations started on March 16, the anniversary of the first Town Meeting in 1863. The Mayor and members of the City Council, dressed in appropriate Civil War costume, entered carriages for the parade which led them from the High School, in a roundabout fashion, to the City Hall. An Inaugural Ball was held.

The Centennial Committee at the Inaugural Ball in November of 1963.
Seated L-R: Graham M Skea, George E. Stringfellow, Mayor James W. Kelly, Jr., Mrs. Robert Wuensch, Robert S. Blind;
Standing L-R: Thomas Cervasio, Mark A. Stuart, Mrs. C.F. Germain, H. Austin Bonn, William P. Spengler, Robert H. Seitzer, Raymond Seely, Charles E. Moreau, W. Nelson Knapp II, and Isaac Holt.

Parties were planned. A mammoth parade to “end all parades” was set for November 23, filled with more than a dozen bands, myriad floats and colorfully designed costumes.

Then came the tragic blow of November 22. The death of President John F. Kennedy halted all thoughts of celebration. Instead, the city went into shocked mourning. A grief so deep had not been seen by an entire people since the assassination of President Lincoln.

On the appointed Day of National Mourning, crowds assembled at City Hall at 10 a.m. for a period of silent prayer. As the National Anthem rang out, the crowd turned its face toward the silver pole as two Girl Scouts and two Boy Scouts quickly ran up the flag to full mast, then gently lowered it to half staff as the Anthem ended. Two members each of the East Orange and Clifford Scott High School bands blew Taps, the echo tearing at the silence. Then it was over, the wet-eyed crowd slowly filing away, most to go home and watch the President’s funeral on television.

Schools were closed. Policemen wore black bands of mourning across their badges for 30 days. Most businesses, except for emergency services, closed their doors.

On Thanksgiving Day, Mayor James W. Kelly Jr. read the Thanksgiving Proclamation at the union services, the last proclamation issued by the departed President.

The city awoke to new resolve the following day. The work of building a better nation, as well as a better city, must go on. In this, East Orange takes a back seat to no community. Its first hundred years give ample evidence. It had simply arrived, as its Centennial slogan said, “At the Crossroads of an Honored Past and a Great Future.”

The Centennial Committee published A Centennial History of East Orange, co-authored by Mark A. Stuart, Managing Editor of the East Orange Record, and Jessie Boutillier, President of the East Orange Historical Society.

This reprint of the 1963 Centennial Book is available now from our online publisher.

Click here to order.

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