Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Murder in Bloomingdale

My parents were big city people, from New York. We moved to Bloomingdale from Yonkers, by way of Lodi and Long Beach, Calif., in 1960.

They moved here because they couldn’t afford the high taxes in Westchester County in New York and there was no work in Long Beach at the time, as my uncle had promised. My parents wanted us to grow up in safety. They figured Bloomingdale, approachable only by secondary roads, secluded among rolling hills, was the place, at the right price.

It’s not that there’ve been no murders in Bloomingdale over the years. But they’ve been few and isolated, mostly the result of domestic disputes. Drugs have been a frequent visitor to the town, an intruder against which there seems to be no barrier.

Still, the town was safe and quiet. My father used to patronize the barbershop which Mr. Halat came to own, although it was before Halat took ownership. Then we would walk over the bridge built by the Bloomingdale Cornet Band and funded by Fred Sloan, to Sloan Park, an island of solitude in the middle of the stream where children may run freely because nothing built ever stands there.

Nothing much happens in Bloomingdale (other than the regular floods – the River Nile has nothing on the Pequannock River)and no one wanted anything to happen. The biggest thing to happen in Bloomingdale was the rubber factory fire (there were several; this was a bowling ball factory – when the river is low, you can find discarded bowling balls in the riverbed as far down as Pequannock). Until the late 1980s, the town didn’t have a single traffic light. Once a factory town, the residents being employees of the Butler Rubber Factory, it evolved in a bedroom community.

Frank’s Barbershop is located on Main Street, in the mall just before the Methodist Church. The barbershop has been there ever since I can remember. My father would take my brothers in for haircuts when we were children. There used to be an Acme there, which became a curtain wholesaler, which became a roller skating rink, and finally, another part of the strip mall.

Mr. Halat, 79, a retired bus driver, bought the barbershop 24 years ago. He was well-known and much-beloved in the town. His murder - in broad daylight on a weekday morning in his shop - came not just as a shock but an injury to this quiet little town.

Today was the Little League Parade. The town band, the Bloomingdale Cornet Band (of which I’m a member), led the parade. We marched up Main Street past the stricken barbershop.  When we got to the baseball field, we played as the kids marched into the field. The announcer then asked for a moment of silence for Mr. Halat. No doubt, some of the “little shavers” had been in Mr. Halat’s shop in the last few years.

Some had to be reminded to remove their caps, a custom that has been falling off of late so that it’s no rebuke to them. But I noticed that some of them not only didn’t have to be told but knew to hold their caps over their hearts. Young as they were, they understood the loss. For some, it appeared to be personal.

My mother once said that Bloomingdale residents had the idea that they could keep the world out of their little hamlet forever, but that sooner or later, the world would find Bloomingdale and ruin it. That maybe, but today on the baseball field, I saw a generation of youngsters who’ve been taught to value the meaning of life and love and neighborliness and respect.  Their parents should be very proud.

Lotsa luck, invaders. I didn’t know Mr. Halat personally, but they did and that’s good enough for me. Rest in peace, Mr. Halat.


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