Name: William Wibel
When and where were you born? June 15, 1943 – Morristown, NJ
What years did you live in Mountain Lakes? 1946 – 1963
Tell us something about your family did your parents also live here?
My mother moved to Mountain Lakes in 1914. She lived on Rockaway Terrace at the base of Ball Road.
Where have you lived in the Borough?
Morris Avenue down behind Briarcliff School and 60 Boulevard on the corner of Powervile Road
What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?
That I was the luckiest kid in the world. My father had abandoned my mother, brother and me and thus we (great grand mother, brother, mother and I (lived on the third floor of a big old house on Morris Avenue until my mother remarried and we all moved into 60 Boulevard. The home on the Blvd. was both big and small. I grew up there from the age of 6 till graduation from HS. With big brothers to follow about the property and the neighborhood being safe, every day seemed like an adventure.
What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?
For as long as I can remember growing up in Mountain Lakes, the anticipation associated with Friday night Saturday was almost better than whatever went on. In a flash I am transported back to my youth, that is both a good and curious event. I search in the eaves of the attic of my mind when all was right with the world and rock and roll was young.
So was it when I was six or was it seven that Fridays became that important day in the week? The first Friday night sleepover was a momentous occasion. I was but of all of six when my mother dropped me off at a friend’s house. John Miller lived in a totally different surrounding to mine, filled with adventure and men who never wore a coat and tie. Dixon’s coal yard where he grew up with his mom, brother, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and muscular coal men of another time fill my memories to this day. I awoke on a Saturday mornings to the smell of the wood cook stove, coal dust, feint outlines of antlers on the walls and gruff men who chewed with their mouths open while talking of the most recent hunt or tales of Babe Ruth coming from the oldest of the men.
Back then as little kids scuttling among the coal cars and coal bins we were always chasing the next adventure. On Saturday mornings we would wander down the tracks where the coal was dumped and jump full on into the soft coal up to our armpits and swim down what seemed like mountains of coal. Lucky to be alive to tell about it.
Each of us has a first Friday night Saturday that has acted as a catalyst for our forever wondering what we are going to be doing on the next set of days called Friday night Saturday.
Mondays as little kids we would all gather by the steps at the side door of the Lake Drive School on the way into class to share what we did. By Tuesday the adventures grew in proportion to the time away from them, a slight exaggeration here and there always was fun, more than the reality of a trip with mom to the grocery store. By the age of ten, the trap line up on the Thorne we checked on a crackling cold winter’s Saturday morning always was said to have remnants of mink or some other equally exotic animal by the time Tuesday story-telling got under way. On Wednesday plans were hatched to recapture that adventure, that spirit of being a boy, a man, a risk taker, a survivor, that excitement of life. By Thursday recess all you could talk about was tomorrow. Friday came and the adventure began all over with the planning, the bragging and the secrets that boys shared in equal proportion to the girls.
Mountain Lakes had this magic sense of where everything was perfect.
All through elementary school if I wasn’t at someone’s house, my Friday night Saturday was shaped by my older brothers’ (Pete and David Tucker) sports. Fall was football. Pep rallies were something I could not attend when little but always asked about and could hear off in the distance in that we lived close to the playing fields, corner of the Boulevard and Powervile Road, hot dogs and beans seemed like the staple of the evening. Saturday always gave way to chores and marching bands and more hot dogs and a game which propelled me to excitement to expanding excitement, some of which I still carry into sporting events today. Winter was basketball and long Friday night rides in the back seats of cars with scratchy upholstery and the bellicose sounds of adults second guessing the coach and stands filled with screaming bodies of young and old alike. Saturdays of winter found me and a friend headed to the movies. (A great old vaudeville theatre in Boonton equipped with newsreels and 10 cent popcorn.) The three plus miles were filled with more adventures than you could imagine. Dennis the Menace would have been proud. I can remember one character building Saturday when I went off with my brothers and walking home in the dusk they ran off and left me. A dog bit me and my brothers were grounded for some unrelinquishing amount of time.
All throughout this time, there was a never ending paper route, delivering the Newark Evening News to some 23 customers strung all over, from the post office up the hills around the lake up and down Fanny Road, it seemed to never end especially in the rain or snow. My bike was always a mess what with the saddle bags filled and my mother wondering where the money was that customers paid and I lost or spent.
Spring Saturdays perhaps were the best to look forward to as there were railroad tracks to explore, old trestles to cross perched high above the roaring Rockaway River, large tracts of woods and Civil War industrial ruins down in the lower reaches of Boonton. The games and make believe world that came from the constant sunrise to sunset adventure always left me eager to capture the next day and make it last and last.
In the summer evenings it was volleyball games by Sodanos and learning life through observation. Too much fun.
They came and went with such rapidity that suddenly I was an adolescent and now the pep rallies were mine to attend, the dances, the unhealthy and drunken open houses and places to hang out. To my mother’s query; “Where are you going?” “Nowhere.” “What are you going to do?” “Nothing.” Forever I’m sure my mother knew that her youngest was up against time and that his need to be was more important than her need to know and control and thus she let me go.
The stories on Monday and Tuesday at school were little changed in tone from elementary school days, the exaggeration probably about the same. The only thing that was added was sex. Sometimes only hinted at or left to the imagination, other time bragged about. At first it was just among the boys but as the months turned into years, girls joined our conversations where they were part of every weekend story.
Friday night Saturday took on a whole new level of excitement with the advent of the license and a car. I had worked long and hard over years to own a car. That independence and celebrated rite of passage made Friday night, date night! The time took on a new meaning. The emotions developed in the back seat of a 51 Ford convertible all tricked out with a chopped top, louvered hood, nosed and decked and a custom paint job carried the next day and the time for exploration and adventure gave way to experimentation and love. Those days and nights seemed to drag with pain and beauty mixed forever in the nostalgia of the fifties and sixties. Carhops and drag races, James Dean with Elvis, the only thing that was happening was life.
Mountain Lakes was just this very special place to come of age in. It was in reflection a tightly woven cocoon of safety from which we all emerged and took baby steps into the real world. It provided a level of aspiration that was difficult to achieve and yet has served as a benchmark for many things in life. Unless you grew up there, speaking to others about it is like trying to make whole of nothing. Nothing compares.
Where did you go to school?
Wilson School (K), Lake Drive School (1-6), Briarcliff School (7-9), HS (10-12)
What particular memories do you have from your school years?
Being allowed to explore, be creative, feeling safe to speak my mind, maturing slowly, cultivating my dancing, having good and great friends, being happy, always wishing to older than I was, counting the days till I could drive, day dreaming.
Are there any special stories you associate with that time of your life?
(See above) There is one special humorous story. “Hell night,” the night before Halloween and we are all hanging out down by what is now Wildwood School. The entrance to the field was bordered by snow fencing. There are about 10 -15 boys and girls, the local cop shows up and backs into the space adjacent to where we had parked our cars. A bunch of kids chat up the officer and someone, whether it was me or another kid, slipped under the back side of the cruiser and attached a chain to the fence and the bumper of the cruiser. We all get into our cars, someone throws a firecracker and the cop roars off with the snow fence attached to the cruiser. Funny, OMG.
Where did you and your family shop?
What were the roads and the lakes like?
The roads were the same, the lakes were great until the month of August and then the algae set in.
Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town?
George Wilson (coach, family friend, mentor). Parents of friends (Weidmans) who opened their homes and made life seem real and honest.
Why do they stand out in your mind?
They were transparent, welcoming and filled with a spirit of the possible.
What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?
Went to dance classes as a young lad (5th grade – 8th grade), hung out, managed the HS Track and Cross Country teams, walked to the movies in Boonton, played in the coal yard at Dixon’s with my best friend, roamed the tracks, trapped muskrat up in the Tourne, etc.
Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?
A bear had come into the neighborhood one Friday evening and was shot and killed not far away by Bucky Wilson. Going to every football and basketball game from a young age, skating on the Big Lake with music coming from the club, 4th of July fireworks with flares surrounding the lake, make up hockey games up in the cove, pitching pennies – quarters up in the promenade by the station, delivering the Newark Evening News all over town 7 days a week after school on my bike, riding around town with Jo the milk driver on Saturday mornings, cruising the town, attending St. Peter’s for my entire life, living at Paul’s Diner on Friday nights.
Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere?
During the war years, my mother worked at Aircraft Radio out in the valley. After the war she worked several local jobs and went on to become the first woman bank officer in the State of New Jersey being a vice-president at Boonton Trust. My step-dad worked as a salesman all over the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area for Huron Milling Co. and then DuPont Chemical.
How did they get to work?
How did commuting change over your time here?
Didn’t. Route 80 and then 287 came to life after I had left.
How did various laws affect the way people lived?
I’m not sure we ever thought about the law other than try and avoid having the police deliver you home.
Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?
Unique was an understatement from almost any vantage point. As town barriers to life disappeared with a car, new friends, new experiences in other communities, brought to light how privileged we all were to live where we did. While I celebrate my roots, I worked much of my adult life in the service of others seeking to level the playing field and create equal access.
How did the world’s events — World War I, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, Watergate, etc. — affect you and fellow Mountain Lakes residents when you were growing up?
I can recall immediately after WWII men coming up off the tracks seeking food and work along Morris Avenue. They had been hobos riding the rails. The rationing of goods carried on for some time after the war and I have a vivid memory of my great grandmother squeezing some vile looking yellow dye into a bowl to mix with something resembling Crisco in order to have a substance that looked like butter.
What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?
It is a place that I feel like I belong, a place that I can return to and not feel out of place. It brings about a sense community and when asked by others to describe, I always say, “Unless you have lived there, you simply can’t describe what it was and is like.”
Thank you for completing this questionnaire. The Historic Preservation Committee will add it to our rich archives of materials about Mountain Lakes.