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Now and Then: FH Law and Characters

In honor of Fair Haven's centennial, a look back 100 years ago to the borough's second ordinance on the books and its implications then and now

Every town has its rules … and its characters that break the rules, yet somehow endear while doing so. Some would call it small town charm. I know I would.

A century ago, Fair Haven was a new borough and one of the first lists of rules put into effect in this new and fair haven on a peninsula was one that laid down the law on such characters’ inappropriate behavior.

To be precise, it was Ordinance No. 2 — the second ordinance of all time to be enacted in Fair Haven — and it was all about chasing the seeds of bad behavior out of town.

Ordinance No. 2 was “AN ORDINANCE TO SUPPRESS GAMBLING HOUSES AND HOUSES OF ILL-FAME AND TO PROHIBIT GAMING FOR MONEY, OR OTHER VALUABLE THING (stet), TO RESTRAIN AND PUNISH INDECENT OR DISORDERLY CONDUCT OR DRUNKENNESS, AND TO SUPPRESS VICE AND IMMORALITY,” according to the ordinance in the June 12 Red Bank Register archive.

Oh, brother. Notice how the ordinance’s header says it is designed to “SUPPRESS” vice and immorality. Who’s ever been able to stop it?

But, darn it, this was a pristine new town and the powers that “were” at the time wanted to set the record straight right away: behave in Fair Haven, pay a fine and go to jail, or just get out and stay out. Sounds like much of the same that’s done to discourage bad behavior today — like getting a ticket or arrested when you break the law.

But some of the specifics of the law of the Fair Haven land 100 years ago were just too oddly worded to pass up. And they have a literal meaning that could send a disorganized soccer mom to jail nowadays.

For instance, this could be taken several ways: “No person shall keep or maintain a disorderly house …” OK. That’s it. I surrender. There are those days that I’d be heading the perp walk on that one alone.

Townsfolk also weren’t allowed to keep a house of “ill-fame or allow or permit any house, shop, store or other building owned or occupied by him or her to be used as a disorderly house (there we go again with that).” And, hey, that house could not be “frequented by or resorted to by riotous or disorderly persons, prostitutes, gamblers or vagrants.”

Well, life is a gamble in this economy and if we want to be real here, let’s face it, sometimes our kids could be considered vagrants. They’re unemployed, run up the food and utility bills and mess up the house and make it “disorderly.” Then, the little bums threaten to run away to Fair Haven Fields or mope by the river when they’re mad at you for having the nerve to punish them for not doing their homework or something.

My dad used to have some wise words when we’d march all the way down the street to the river to drown the sorrows of our sad little suburban lives, a bag full of canned goods from the house in tow: “See ya. Write when you get work or get hungry! How ya gonna open them cans? You forgot to take the can opener!”

Vagrants!

Good thing the kids usually come back home from their runaway jaunts pretty quickly, because another part of the law could have landed them in the pokey.

“No person shall loiter on the streets and utter loud and offensive or indecent language, or make offensive remarks to or upon any person passing along such streets, or obstruct or interfere with any person lawfully being on such streets,” according to the ordinance. Does that include the cursing many a kid has bravely leveled at his parents he rounded the corner and gave them the finger only to find a stranger passing by to catch it all?

Well, never mind all those "vagrant" kids in this fair town's history who have probably attempted to run away to the river or .

Now, I’m thinking of one of my favorite harmless "vagrant" characters of all time — Bella.

If you haven’t been in Fair Haven long enough, you’ve missed out. Bella, who had obvious issues, would don bizarre clothing, stroll down the middle of any given road, proudly pushing an shopping cart and muttering curse words to herself and passersby.

She also used to like to take naps in the Salvation Army clothing bins that were in the back of the Acme. And, from what I could tell, she did like her cocktails, but was never invited to the ball.

Bella was a true Fair Haven character. Harmless. Colorful. Poor Bella. God only knows what was really going on with her. But, she was pretty much accepted as a beloved townie. Memories of Bella always bring a grin to old time Fair Havenites' faces.

My dad, being in the fire company, had a scanner. Frequently we’d hear, “Yeah, can someone come over to the Acme parking lot and help me get Bella out of the dumpster?”

Out she’d go and all the way down the street she’d mutter … "s.o.b., s.o.b. …" Then she’d see people, smile, nod her head and continue. I don't think she ever got a ticket for strolling her cart down the middle of Hance Road, stopping traffic and cursing all the way, either.

Maybe she was offensive to some, but most just accepted Bella and excused the cursing. They just don’t make vagrants like they used to.

Then there was Chirp … “10-4 good buddy … 10-4.”

You’d see him all over town, "loiter(ing) the streets," talking like a dispatcher. Everyone answered him, too. And he’d help out with just about anything he could. But, contrary to anti-roaming rule of our town’s second ordinance, he’d roam, and while he didn’t curse, he sure did talk a lot.

And on the subject of houses of ill repute, “frequented or resorted to by … prostitutes, gamblers or vagrants,” and shunned by ordinance in Fair Haven, there was that lovely rooming house on Kemp Avenue that many suspect was, well, a place that prostitutes frequented.

It could have just been a rumor substantiated only by active imaginations of neighbors about those free-spirited gypsy actors.

The unromantic truth about stage actors is that they rehearse and perform very long hours; and, by the time their day is done, they really just want a place to flop, just flop — as in flop house. Do they like to have fun? Of course. And they had their clubhouse at the Shrewsbury Yacht Club back in the day for all of that.

But, the actor’s life, disappointing as it may be for voyeurs, is really not all about crazy people with loose morals riding around in some caravan, doing illicit things and wreaking havoc on a moral society.

There’s no record — to my knowledge — of the inhabitants of the Kemp Avenue "rooming house" going to the pokey, but it’s still intriguing to ponder.

The ordinance's edict: “Each and every person violating any of the provisions of this ordinance shall, upon conviction thereof, forfeit and pay a fine of not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than ninety days …”

Did I forget to include the part about gambling? Better nix those poker games and PTA casino nights.

And that’s more of Fair Haven 100 years ago  … What was that about being set in our ways?

Victor Olefson June 15, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I don't quite get the cutsie tone of this piece, but, as i follow-up to a comment i made a few days aback about an obvious 'House' on Kemp with far too many bedrooms-there was obviously a lively trade in prostitution 100 years ago in our little town. I would have been far more impressed if the town fathers had the common sense to simply tax, rather than make the usual nonsensical condemnation. But than politics and politicians haven't changed much in a century...
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) June 15, 2012 at 04:49 PM
It's an opinion piece in the author's voice, Victor, that I really wouldn't characterize as cutsie. I've been called a lot of things, but cutsie is not one of them ... haha. Just having fun with the archives and the old-time language. ;)
Nature's Emporium June 15, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Thank you Elaine for bringing back memories of the town characters Bella and Chirp! I opened Nature's Emporium in 1973 in the "Black Sheep" building (now River Shops)and remember them fondly as special and unique to this quiet town. Also, the chicken man from Englishtown would deliver fresh eggs and fresh killed chickens on Fridays to the store by special order. The demographics have changed a little but hopefully we can hold on to the lovely, hometown feeling of Fair Haven. Happy 100 Birthday!
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) June 15, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Wow, Perk. I didn't know about the chicken man. That's great. Thanks for telling everyone about it here. The characters contributed an awful lot to the charm of Fair Haven. Godspeed to them and a happy 100th to Fair Haven! ;)
Scott October 02, 2012 at 01:48 AM
The funniest Bella story: She was walking on the side walk in front of the Acme when someone passing saw that she had blood dripping down her face, coming from her head which was covered by a wool cap. Could've been a 100+ degrees. but she always wore that hat. Anyway, the person wanted to help Bella but she would have none of it. So police were called, the ambulance came, big commotion, all the while Bella cursing up a storm telling everybody to leave her alone. Finally one of the FH First Aid squad members removed her wool cap to check out the bleeding - and a nice big steak fell to the ground! I think they ler her keep the steak.
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) October 02, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Oh, God, I actually remember that! My dad had a scanner, so we used to hear all of it. She was too much, huh? Poor Bella. Her and that hat and shopping cart ... and the cursing. ;)
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