Frank Hague’s City Hall


Gene Kenny
told me this story:
With an unfriendly administration in Trenton, the State Legislature forced Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague to appear before a board of inquiry. At one point during the questioning, Hague replied that though he didn’t know the answer, anybody could go to City Hall during normal business hours and request to see the relevant documents. The very next day a State investigator did just that.

As luck would have it, painters were at work in that particular office. All the file cabinets were pushed together and covered by tarps. There wasn’t any way to pull open the drawers or even figure out which file cabinet was which. The head of maintenance profusely apologized and suggested that the State investigator return next week when everything will be back in its proper place.

Next week, the State investigator again went to City Hall in Jersey City to retrieve the file for the Legislature’s board of inquiry. Exiting the elevator, he walked into the very large room and saw row upon row of steel cabinets lined up like so many soldiers. An extremely old man sat at a desk writing slowly in a large ledger book. The investigator asked the clerk for the documents. The elderly gent nodded, got up, and slowly shuffled towards another room – not towards the file cabinets. Very quickly, a large, well-dressed, smiling man strutted out, hand extended towards the visitor. This was the Director. He explained that unfortunately this wasn’t a good day. Maise McDonald was the person actually in charge of the files. The Director himself had no idea where anything was. Unfortunately, Mrs. McDonald took sick over the weekend. She was expected to be out a few days. Just to be on the safe side, the best thing would be to come back next week.

The next week after that, the State investigator yet again went to City Hall in Jersey City to retrieve the file for the Legislature’s board of inquiry. The ancient man still was writing in the big book. The investigator asked to speak with Mrs. McDonald. Nodding while slowly getting up from the desk, the clerk again slowly headed for the back room. With a quick step, a fashionably attired, not quite middle-aged woman appeared. She greeted the visitor and then said that she was very sorry. She needed the Director’s approval before she could fulfill the request. But unfortunately, the Director was away on vacation. As he was on a cruise, there was no way to get in touch with him. The best thing to do was to come back – next month.

This news sent the board of inquiry into an uproar. Through a court order, the Legislature demanded Jersey City hand over the documents. The board sent a dozen burly State Troopers to seize the file.

Three State Police cars screeched to a halt in front of City Hall in Jersey City. The statue of the lady with the sword didn’t look down as the four rows of uniformed men ran below, continuing up the stairs. Inside, ignoring the elevator and the startled people, Troopers jogged up the marble steps. Arriving at the enormous file room, the State Police were surprised by the sight of a Jersey City Fire Captain in full uniform pouring a metal wastepaper basket full of water into a still smoldering fire in an open file cabinet drawer.

One of the troopers growled at the Fireman asking him what he thought he was doing. The Fire Captain calmly and patiently explained that he just happened to be in City Hall on some business completely unrelated to this office. Stopping by to say hello to the Director, the Fireman spotted smoke suddenly start to spout from one of the cabinets. Dumping the contents of a wastepaper basket on the floor, he raced to the men’s room and filled the container with water. He got back in time to keep the fire from spreading, but, alas, everything in the drawer was reduced to a cinder. Continuing in his Irish brogue, the Fire Captain added that, as there was nobody anywhere near the files, it clearly was a case of spontaneous combustion. . .

As luck would have it, one of the files in that single drawer destroyed by fire (out of the many dozens of file cabinet drawers in the archive), was the one the board of inquiry needed to see.

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