‘On a mission from God
’Bayonne man finds, rescues isolated 80-year-old gravestone from Meadowlands
by By Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Nov 26, 2014 | 434 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BACK AT THE SHOP – Bruce Dillin shows off the gravestone he found once he got it back to his tire shop in Bayonne.
BACK AT THE SHOP – Bruce Dillin shows off the gravestone he found once he got it back to his tire shop in Bayonne.
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Fluke season had just begun, and Bruce Dillin of Bayonne was scouting the Hackensack River across from Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus for a spot to trap killie fish he could use as bait. “I remember it being a hot sunny day,” he said. “I was in my kayak, and looked at a stream near old Route 7. There was a little island in the middle of an inland pond. I climbed up, tied up my kayak, and crunched through some 8-foot high reeds. Suddenly, I found myself standing on a gravestone that was laying flat. Then I saw the date. It was from 1935.” The name Theodore Zetterlund was inscribed on the stone, along with the date of Dec. 7, 1935. The find fascinated Dillin. He didn’t want to move on. He took a picture of the grave before he left. But he kept thinking about it, and he needed to find out more. So he started to dig for information. Dillin found information saying that Zetterlund had been buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, not in the Meadowlands. “Then I thought, here is a man with two graves,” he said. When he went to visit the graveyard in North Arlington, there was no gravestone for Zetterlund. Someone from the cemetery said people sometimes have strange last requests, and perhaps Zetterlund wanted to be buried at his favorite duck hunting place. Murder victim from a botched robbery
Then, as his secretary helped him do more research, Dillin found out that Zetterlund had been a murder victim. He was a Kearny butcher shop owner who was shot when he refused to give up his money. Dillin reached out to a friend on the Kearny police who produced photographs of the crime scene. The killer had later confessed. The murder weapon was retrieved from the Meadowlands. One of the photographs showed the head of a deer on the wall of the butcher shop. “He wasn’t a duck hunter; he hunted deer,” Dillin said. The Great Depression was hard on the deer population in New Jersey. Hungry people had hunted them into near extinction. Dillin went back to the site and began to explore. He found that Zetterlund’s stone was one of several stones in the area, but the only one with a name on it. “There were about 30 other pieces there, mostly broken, none of the others had any names on them,” Dillin said.
The spot was unreleated to the nearby pauper’s gravesite in the Meadowlands. That site was famously filled with thousands of graves until the 1990s, when they all had to be moved. Early in the last century, the region was home to a series of county buildings including the almshouse, an asylum, and the old jail, all of which are gone now. Paupers and patients were buried there. When the new Turnpike exit ramp was built to the Secaucus Exchange train station, the graves were moved to North Bergen. Zetterlund’s grave stone was found in a different area. Payments stopped
Dillin contacted the company that likely engraved the stone. John Burns, of Burn Brothers Memorials in Jersey City, went through company records and uncovered a sad story. The stone was originally purchased through Albert Hopper Monuments, one of the companies owned by Burns, which is why he had a record of the transaction. “That company is 132 years old,” he said. “We have records going back to the early 1930s.” “He [Dillin] called us saying he had found the stone in the Meadowlands and wanted to know if it was our stone,” said Burns. “He even sent pictures. I wasn’t around at the time, but the engraving style was consistent with what we did then.” Burns was somewhat skeptical at first, but was won over as Dillin’s research uncovered the back story. “It got very intriguing,” he said. “So I went down into the basement to check our records and found the name on the second page. I thought, ‘God, this is something.” [Zetterlund’s] wife apparently lived in Newark. But what was confusing is how the stone got into the Meadowlands and not the cemetery.” The record showed that the wife had made a number of small payments on the stone, which cost about $115 in 1935. “These were small payments of one or two dollars at a time,” Burns said. “But then they stopped. She had a balance of $28 which was never paid. My guess is that the stone stayed in our yard for a number of years, and that eventually, we loaded it up with other stones and drove out there and dumped them in the Meadowlands. That was before the Turnpike spur was built. The location wasn’t far from our North Arlington offices.” So while Zetterlund’s body was buried in North Arlington, Zetterlund’s wife didn’t make the last payments for the stone. As a result, the stone was eventually dumped into the Meadowlands along with a number of other broken gravestones. In 1975, Rose Zetterlund passed away and was buried in the same gravesite in North Arlington, but it still had no stone. Now, Burns will engrave the original stone with the wife’s name. “This was meant to be,” Burns said. “We were there at the beginning of this. We’ll be there at the end.”
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“This was meant to be. We were there at the beginning of this. We’ll be there at the end.” – John Burns
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Dillin’s odyssey in the Meadowlands
This led to yet another mystery. How did workers get the stone – which weighs close to 600 pounds – onto an island in the middle of the Meadowlands? Dillin searched the internet for historic aerial photos of the area. He discovered that in 1935, the area wasn’t an island, but largely upland. There were dirt roads that led to the site. This changed in 1966 with the construction of the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, a project that also put an end to the last of the pig farms in Secaucus. The road into the site had once housed relay radio stations for WNEW, WMCA and others. All of these were eventually relocated. “So the whole area changed after 1966 and the site became an island,” he said. “When they put it there, it was more or less dry land.” This, of course, led to the next question: how would Dillin get it out? Yes, he was determined to retrieve the stone. “It became a passion,” he said. He couldn’t sleep at night, thinking about it. John Burns had agreed to add the widow’s name to the stone and then install the stone at its rightful place in North Arlington, if and when Dillin got the stone to him. “I had a made a check list in my sleep of what I would need,” he said. So he got up and assembled an assortment of equipment that included poles, levers, blocks to use as a fulcrum and put it all into the back of his truck. To get even closer to the water, he drove down a former railroad spur from Route 7 and parked his truck at the end. Then back in his kayak, he towed the raft full of equipment to the island. “It was about 300 yards,” he said. Using his tools, he managed to pry it out, but the stone slid off the raft and into the water. “I kept staring at where it went,” he said. “I told myself, ‘I did everything I could. But it’s gone. I’ll never find it.’ ” Then, he did something even he thought was strange. “I took off my clothes and went in after it,” he said. Holding his breath for long intervals, he managed to wrap steel bands around the stone and drag it back onto land. “It took six hours,” he said. Try as he did, he couldn’t get it up onto his truck, and eventually just tied a cable to it and dragged it. A half mile later, the cable snapped and left the stone in the middle of a dirt road in the Meadowlands. He was too tired to move it, and figured it would be safe there until morning. He decided to bring a trailer back and try to load the stone on it. On his way back to pick it up in the morning, a wheel fell off the trailer. A Kearny cop stopped him and asked what he was doing. “I told him I’m on a mission from God,” Dillin said. The cop checked with Dillin’s friend in the department and let him go. But then, Dillin couldn’t find the stone where he had left it. Workers for the Turnpike Authority had apparently moved it – giving him one more moment of panic. But he eventually retrieved the stone, hoisted it onto his truck, and brought it back to the stone carver in Jersey City. “He’s going to put the widow’s name on it and then we’re going to bring it back to the cemetery,” Dillin said. ‘We’re going to do it on Dec. 7, 80 years after the man died.” Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.
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Let's really end pay-to-play
Nov 26, 2014 | 47 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To the Editor: I would like to publicly recognize members of the council and specifically thank my First Ward Councilman, Mr. Tom Cotter, for acknowledging my concerns and recommendations before a unanimous vote this past council meeting. The idea that a company could give large sums of money to a political action committee or to a nonprofit which then can contribute money, services, or goods to candidates running for office, is alarming to me. Much as I have raised such concerns with the previous council, the practice of wheeling is wrong. While wheeling may not be criminal, it serves as a reminder that our existing New Jersey pay-to-play laws contain a significant number of loopholes. Not only does such a practice violate the spirit of the law but it places the integrity of our election process in jeopardy. I strongly oppose rewarding companies that are suspected of wheeling. While the council has awarded CME Associates a second contract in two short months, I am optimistic that progress is being made. We have started the conversation; the residents are engaging and by Mr. Cotter's response, the council hears us. I am certain we can solve this problem by asking our city to set a new standard. By taking a stronger approach we can better protect our citizens and safeguard our election process. I believe Councilman Cotter was sincere and I would love to work with him on policy that would close the loopholes not addressed by the state's law. By adopting a city ordinance to address wheeling, we will send a message to such companies that Bayonne cannot be bought and together we will show the rest of the state how it's done. PETER FRANCO
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Let's really end pay-to-play
Nov 26, 2014 | 25 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To the Editor: I would like to publicly recognize members of the council and specifically thank my First Ward Councilman, Mr. Tom Cotter, for acknowledging my concerns and recommendations before a unanimous vote this past council meeting. The idea that a company could give large sums of money to a political action committee or to a nonprofit which then can contribute money, services, or goods to candidates running for office, is alarming to me. Much as I have raised such concerns with the previous council, the practice of wheeling is wrong. While wheeling may not be criminal, it serves as a reminder that our existing New Jersey pay-to-play laws contain a significant number of loopholes. Not only does such a practice violate the spirit of the law but it places the integrity of our election process in jeopardy. I strongly oppose rewarding companies that are suspected of wheeling. While the council has awarded CME Associates a second contract in two short months, I am optimistic that progress is being made. We have started the conversation; the residents are engaging and by Mr. Cotter's response, the council hears us. I am certain we can solve this problem by asking our city to set a new standard. By taking a stronger approach we can better protect our citizens and safeguard our election process. I believe Councilman Cotter was sincere and I would love to work with him on policy that would close the loopholes not addressed by the state's law. By adopting a city ordinance to address wheeling, we will send a message to such companies that Bayonne cannot be bought and together we will show the rest of the state how it's done. PETER FRANCO
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Bayonne Crossings to grow
New retail project being considered for Rt. 440
by By Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Nov 26, 2014 | 101 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FROM ASHES TO STORES?
EASY ACCESS

Bayonne may see more retail outlets on Route 440 if a plan considered by the City Council and Planning Board moves forward. A City Council special meeting was called on Nov. 5 following a caucus session to consider a resolution authorizing reconsideration of the redevelopment plan for the 6.4-acre tract in the southern section of the Bayonne Crossings Shopping Center. “It’s the remaining chunk of” of the property housing the shopping center, said city spokesman Joseph Ryan. “It’s been used for rock crushing.” The property is owned by the Alessi Organization, according to the city. The project would be small in scale and would likely include a Quick Chek convenience store, an Auto Zone outlet, possibly a gas station, and another retail business or two. The new shopping center would be separate from the Bayonne Crossings strip mall that includes a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s home improvement store, and Longhorn steakhouse. “This was the last piece of it, what was privately owned,” city planner Sue Mack said. The Alessi Organization would develop the project themselves, Ryan said. Access to and from the proposed development would be from the eastern side of Route 440 and from East 22nd Street. There would be no entry to the new strip mall from the existing one. “There would be no direct access into the shopping center,” Mack said. “This would be a stand-alone in front.” Mack has already spoken to the state Department of Transportation about a “right in” and “right out” for the shopping center.
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“The municipality’s point of view would be tax ratables, jobs, and a cleaner kind of business there.” – Joe Ryan
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Mack said she reviewed the 2009 plan for the area for changes that would allow the gas station, something that was not part of the plan of five years ago. Now that portion of the proposal would be a go. “There’s no impediment to having a gas station,” Mack said. “The prohibition no longer exists.” The city originally approved the Bayonne Crossings plans in 2005, and the center was one of the few in the state completed during the recession. “The municipality’s point of view would be tax ratables, jobs, and a cleaner kind of business there,” Ryan said. On Nov. 19, Mack said the next steps were for the plans to be sent to the Planning Board, and then to the City Council for a first reading. A public hearing would then be held on Dec. 10. The plans could then be adopted by the City Council after a second reading. The approval would likely take effect 20 days after the second reading, unless the time period was waived, according to Mack. The project would then go to the January or February Planning Board meeting for site approval, she said. Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.
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