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From the Archives: Fort Lee's Hudson River Swimming "Judge" Jimmy Moore

Bergen Evening Record article on Jimmy Moore circa November 6, 1954 /  courtesy of the Fort Lee Historical Society
Bergen Evening Record article on Jimmy Moore circa November 6, 1954 / courtesy of the Fort Lee Historical Society

The Fort Lee Museum is housed in a wonderful Palisade bluestone building saved from the wrecker’s ball almost a quarter of a century ago by the intervention of then Councilman and future Mayor Jack Alter and then Councilman Michael Maggiano.  This little stone cottage is a survivor among its newer and larger neighbors on Parker and Palisade Avenues.  The building was set to be demolished and developed into a strip mall in 1989 when, thanks to the public outcry, the borough, at the behest of Councilmen Alter and Maggiano, stepped in and purchased the property.  One old wooden house fronting Palisade Avenue was demolished but the borough saw something special in the stone cottage and considered it for a Parks Department office.  Members of the Fort Lee Historical Society, including myself, petitioned the governing body to consider allowing the Fort Lee Historical Society to create a Fort Lee Museum in this structure, which is on the Bergen County Historic Sites listing.  Councilman Alter became Mayor Alter in the early 1990s and Jack was a history buff who saw the benefit of the creation of the first museum in Fort Lee history.  Jack and I worked together to create the Fort Lee Historic Committee, which led the effort to acquire assistance from builders in the area to restore the building.  Thanks to the services of the Creamer and Raimondo families, and Randy Boele of Schepisi Roofing as well as the Fort Lee General Services Department and former Fort Lee Historic Committee Chair Bobby Donohue and former Fort Lee Historical Society President Bob Boylan, this museum stands as a wonderful living piece of Fort Lee history.  Today this building is a successful museum with four large scale exhibits each year, tours to students and groups and open to the public as well as researchers and scholars who have access to the Fort Lee Historical Society and Fort Lee Film Commission archives stored on the second floor.

 

This is quite a preamble to a story about a local “Judge” but a necessary step, as without “Judge” Moore and his house we would have no museum.  You see, this beautiful stone cottage was built by Jimmy Moore in 1922 and he lived in this house until his death in November of 1972.  His family eventually sold the property and there were several owners prior to the borough purchase.  Jimmy Moore was born in New York City in 1886 and as a youngster moved to his beloved Fort Lee.  He was a tough Irishman as he states many times over in his writing but one with a sense of humor and full of life.

 

This past Wednesday night I was combing through our Fort Lee Historical Society archive in the top floor of Judge Moore’s former house and presently the Fort Lee Museum.  There was a request for info on Judge Moore so it gave me an opportunity to refresh my memory on the good “Judge.”  I pulled the file out and commenced my research in our computer room, which was formerly the master bedroom where Judge Moore slept and apparently died back in 1972 – to say the least I felt his presence as I reviewed his life in our archive. 

 

Jimmy served as district supervisor of inheritance taxes for Bergen County.  Early in his career, Jimmy was stenographer to New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, but after Governor Wilson was elected President in 1912 Jimmy refused a position in his administration.  “I wanted to stick around Bergen County with my friends” he said and it was a decision he did not regret.  Jimmy was also parliamentarian to the New Jersey Senate and he was a Democratic state committeeman for six years as well as a Bergen County traffic magistrate for 19 years and a Palisades Interstate Park magistrate for 12 years.

 

My favorite Jimmy story is one involving another legendary Fort Lee family, the Hoebels.  I have written previous From the Archives pieces on my friend, the late Mayor Henry Hoebel as well as a piece on his dad, another former Mayor of Fort Lee, Louis Hoebel.  So I relay this story with due respect to both the Hoebels and Jimmy Moore and taking a totally non-partisan view, it is one of the funniest political stories in the cannon of Fort Lee history.  Well you see in 1928 Jimmy was appointed recorder in Fort Lee.  Four years later, then Mayor Louis F. Hoebel appointed William J. Ennis to that post.  According to our archive and Jimmy’s obit, Jimmy contended under state law he was entitled to a five-year term and that Ennis was holding office illegally.  The Record obituary for Jimmy gives further details…“There followed troubled sessions in which the hitherto carefully maintained decorum of the recorder’s court was swept aside.  But the courts supported Mr. Moore, and he regained his post.  Seating himself in the recorder’s chair amid loud applause, he described the mayor as “this foolish kid who monkeys with dynamite,” adding, “I had to keep quiet for eight months, which is a long time for an Irishman.”

 

Well I could go on at length about Jimmy Moore but I think I’ll end this piece with a story I found in one of our archived Fort Lee Sentinel newspapers dated August 15, 1924.  This article reads “Swims Hudson in 71 Minutes.”  The piece details how Jimmy swam across the Hudson from the old dock in Fort Lee and landed at the foot of West 172nd Street.  From his work with Woodrow Wilson, to his days as a borough “recorder” we salute a true Fort Lee character and one whose spirit lives on in his former home, the Fort Lee Museum at 1588 Palisade Avenue.

 

 

 

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