A Public Apology to Poor Jack Blight

by Christine Adams Beckett

Most anyone who is familiar with Edgemont Memorial Park in Montclair, New Jersey will most definitely recall a story about their infamous geese, who would litter the lawns and pathways with their defecation. A local will also most likely recall the many amusing attempts the municipality had made at ridding the park of them. In a try to control the problem, exacerbated by unusually large populations, they posted signs forbidding the feeding of our messy visitors, punishable by fine; they appointed a designated “shooer”; they attempted to scare them away with a variety of loud noise makers, fake gunshots, plywood cutouts of coyote and other natural predators. Even fake goose corpses were lain in grisly positions about the pond, recreating an aviary horror scene, but anyone with even a little knowledge of these water fowl know that large bodies of water surrounded by large pastoral lawns are just irresistible for our Canada feathered friends. That and they laugh in the face of danger.

On his way to school on his bicycle one morning, my son encountered a flock of the Canada honkers in the pathway that led to Edgemont Montessori School, and imagining his attempt at a Dead Poets’ Society Moment (remember Knox Overstreet?) did not bother stopping. Hoping they would take off in glorious flight all around him, he was shocked instead by being toppled over by the Chuck Norris of all geese, ripping the flesh from his right palm in a grisly mess comparable to the aforementioned horror scene. He meant no harm to the birds and didn’t inflict any, yet he suffered himself, twofold, as the principal of the school later lectured him on Maria Montessori’s peaceful practices and how we, students at the Edgemont Montessori School, should respect ALL creatures.

The child hung his head in shame, regardless of the lack of justification, as his wounds were skillfully patched by our thoughtful school nurse, who knowing my boy furrowed her brow in sympathy. He offered no words in his own defense, but took the punishment and said he was terribly sorry.

Recently, I came across a series of articles about the former aquatic birds that used to grace Edgemont Pond: black and white swans, two of whom were named Mama and Oscar. Gifted to the township in 1936 by John Blondel and Sons on Glenridge Avenue, they were lovingly cared for and even built a shelter house. When they produced a group of cygnets, it was the cause for great celebration. One Montclair Times article reported that there were hundreds of onlookers to witness the cygnets’ first swimming lesson, just one day after their birth. The Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, Allen Heil, even brought a birthing gift: a good supply of starter mash and new fencing to protect the youngsters.

But tragedy struck in April of 1938: Oscar was hit and killed by a stone throwing youth who was named outright in a scandalous article published in The Montclair Times. Jack Blight, the 15 year-old son of AE Blight of the Parkway, was absentmindedly throwing stones into Edgemont Pond when he inadvertently killed the beautiful swan. Alarmed, he contacted the police and recounted the story, saying only that he knew who committed the act, and later confessed through what can only be imagined as a heart breaking exchange. Yet his name was still published in the paper for later, and continued, public humiliation.

I am thankful that my own son’s shame was short lived, as truth was on his side (as was the lack of witnesses). But these years later contemplating the loving care of equally loathsome, nasty birds who have been known to attack humans, I wonder if the town ever attempted keeping swans to discourage the geese from returning. I was bit by one once, as I was innocently trying to feed it a minnow. Imagine what it could go to a goose!

One summer morning in 2007, as my children were just entering the Park we noticed a deafening absence: the geese had vanished. We later learned that the town had seized an opportunity, during their 8 – 10 week molting period when Canada geese are flightless, to round them up and euthanize them. They were all but gone until the following Fall, when they returned, only in much smaller numbers. Today, a more humane response is given to the goose population problem: if a female lays and egg, they are quickly addled, that is, coated with corn oil which deprives the embryo of oxygen, and therefore killing it. Apparently, if a goose in unable to reproduce in a certain spot, they will not return.

They have not in any significant numbers, so perhaps we can hold off on the swan adoption.

My Swiftian proposal should the copiously crapping Canada geese ever return in large numbers: recall a shot the likes of Jack Blight, and call him home again!