Chief Marshal Christian Huljus died February 22, 1942, from injuries he suffered after his cruiser crashed into a utility pole as he tried to pull over a speeder. Marshall Huljus was on patrol when he tried to stop a speeder on Werimus Road on February 18, 1942. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, as the driver slowed and appeared to pull over, Huljus pulled up along side in order to stop him. The driver of the vehicle then raced away, and Huljus' car swerved and struck a utility pole. He died of his injuries four days later at Hackensack Hospital.
Marshall Huljus fought with Company M, 201st New York Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish American War of 1898 and at he time of his death was the Borough of Woodcliff Lake's lone officer.
In 2003 Marshall Huljus' name was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington DC. His name was also inscribed on the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute.
Among the letters written to a local newspaper immediately following Huljus' death, the following two passages are typical:
"Knowing him as the conscientious protector of the people he was responsible for, as a friend with always a cheerful word, and a great guide to many who ran temporarily afoul of the law, I realize that the Pascack Valley has lost one of its finest men and grandest citizens."
"He was typical of that which is American in that he executed his duty with neither fanfare nor austerity and died in its fulfillment."
The Woodcliff Lake Police Department honors the memory of Chief Marshal Christian Huljus, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of his duty.
Former Police Chief, Anthony Jannicelli, is responsible for brining recognition to this man. He spent many hours during his 41 years in the department searching for information about Huljus, although for most of the last 60 years, the man was merely part of an unnamed, unsubstantiated tale.
Jannicelli, who started as an auxiliary officer when he was 19, had always heard rumors about an officer killed on duty. "But nobody had a name, nobody had even a decade or where, or anything else," he said. It wasn’t until a book was published in 1994 celebrating the town’s centennial that he was able to get any information, as it referenced a "Christopher Huljus" serving as Chief Marshal until 1942. In a caption of a photo of him behind the wheel of a tractor, it said he died in the line of duty.
Jannicelli had a lead. In 2001, after he became Chief, he and then-mayor Josephine Higgins began trying to track down his death certificate. They eventually found it in some forgotten, dusty papers in borough hall. Using resources at the Pascack Historical Society and looking at microfilm available at The Record, he was able to put together an account of the accident.
On Feb. 18, 1942, Huljus, 66, was chasing a recurrent speeder westbound on Woodcliff Avenue when the man turned onto Werimus Road. The front page brief of The Bergen Evening Record dated Saturday, Feb. 21, 1942, offers the following account: "When Chief Huljus drew alongside the driver and ordered him over to the curb," says the unattributed brief, "the other car raced forward." Huljus swerved sharply, striking a utility pole and causing damage to his sternum. He was transported to Hackensack Hospital, where he died of his injuries on Feb. 22.
There was no accident report, as he was the only officer in town, and after the initial report and remembrances, he was lost to history.
But Jannicelli understands that. "In perspective, it was two months after Pearl Harbor, marines are fighting in Guadalcanal, we don’t know if we were going to have a country, we’re in a midst of a world war. Who’s worried about a town marshal hitting a tree chasing a speeder?"
In fact, the headline of that Feb. 21 edition of The Bergen Evening Record, in large letters, pronounces that the "Allied Fleet Attacks Japs in Vast Sea Duel," with several articles on the war, draft orders, and Nazis underneath it.
Jannicelli continued his research, speaking to the few people alive in town that remembered Huljus. George Mahe, who died in 2010, had been a lifelong resident, and George Fusco, who still owns a country store in town, was a boy who occasionally interacted with the man. Fusco told Jannicelli that Huljus fired shots from a handgun in order to attract attention to his accident, an account not corroborated in any of the "official" records.
Chief Anthony Caivano, the first chief of the Woodcliff Lake Police Department, incorporated in 1954, replaced Huljus as chief marshall in 1942, although he had never met the man. He told Jannicelli that Huljus kept no records as chief marshal – an unbelievable fact making the ability to find more information about Huljus even harder.
Searching for a family member through the years also proved fruitless. Although Huljus had a married daughter at the time of his death – Mrs. Helen M. Edwards of Prince William County, Va. – Jannicelli was unable to contact any living relatives. He did his best, through the documents he uncovered, to form a composite of who Christian Huljus really was.
"I didn’t know if he had any living relatives," he said. So, he created a small online memorial under the Woodcliff Lake Police Department website devoted to Huljus, with the idea that a relative would one day find it. "I was just hoping beyond hope," he said.
It was that Web page, wclpd.com/huljus.htm, that Christine Edwards, a Virginia-based freelance writer long interested in genealogy, discovered last year, when, on a lark, she typed "Woodcliff Lake" in a search engine and came across the memorial.
Edwards had no grandparents alive as a child, minus her step-grandmother, Edna Berry, and missed having that connection with an older generation. For the last 20 years, focusing on one branch of the family at a time, she has gone through her family’s history. "There were not many people still alive" in her family by the time she started investigating, she said, and learning about her ancestors made her "feel closer to her extended family."
Despite years of research, she had found little on Huljus. It’s "frustrating how little records people keep," she said, explaining the many discrepancies in files she found over the years, something that Jannicelli himself came across, even in Woodcliff Lake’s centennial book. Upon coming across the website, she immediately contacted Jannicelli, and in September Edwards and her husband, Robin McNallie, visited the town. Jannicelli provided her with a packet containing photocopies of Huljus’ death certificate, newspaper articles from 1942 and one in 2002 honoring his death, and letters to officials for inclusion into memorials. In turn, she shared her memories – or rather, her mother’s and sister’s memories – of her grandfather.
Edwards, who was named after her grandfather, is the daughter of Huljus’ only child, Helen Huljus Edwards, born in 1905, a product of his first marriage to an Irish woman, Helen Fenning, which ended in divorce. Although Huljus died three years before she was born, she remembered his second wife, Edna Berry. Huljus and Berry lived at 85 Woodcliff Ave.; their land was known as the Berry house, or farm, since it had been owned by her family for generations. Edwards visited there a few times as a child, but has no memory of it. Her grandparents’ mailing address was simply "General Delivery, Woodcliff Lake."
Edwards’ sister, her oldest living relative, now 80, remembered him well, as she often visited the Berry farm as a youngster. She relayed memories of land that housed goats, cows, an apple orchard, a grape arbor, a red barn and an outhouse to her younger sister. Huljus enjoyed hunting and cross-country bicycling and crafts as hobbies; Edwards owns a miniature log cabin he built.
Her mother, too, told Edwards stories. Huljus immigrated to the U.S. from Flogeln, Germany. He was always very patriotic, said Edwards, recalling stories her mother told her. He very much wanted to leave the past behind, she said, and never spoke German or about his life pre-America to his family. He served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, was stationed in the Philippines, where he sustained an injury from a bayonet in one testicle, receiving medals for his service, now stored in the crawlspace of Edwards’ sister’s home. A self-educated man, he was interested in history, and often showed his daughter statues of American leaders.
He lived with his first wife in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, driving a milk truck, working as a butcher and obtaining a chauffeur’s license before beginning a career in police work.
Despite being an immigrant, reports of his death in newspapers at the time emphasized how American he actually was: "He was typical of that which is American in that he executed his duty with neither fanfare nor austerity and died in its fulfillment," wrote an anonymous "friend and neighbor" to the Westwood Chronicle in the Feb. 26, 1942 edition. "Occupying a position in a small town that is usually the target of criticism, Chris commanded the respect of the adults and captivated the love of the children," said the letter writer. "Somehow or other he symbolized the quiet and dignity of this hamlet."
"It seems symbolic of his devotion to duty that the chief died while on the job," wrote Henry Tolksdorff in the same paper. He described Huljus "as the conscientious protector of the people he was responsible for, as a friend with always a cheerful word, and a great guide to many." Edwards said her mother recalled her father "as an excellent raconteur, who had a maverick side in his younger years, with a mischievous sense of humor that could inspire giggles among kids and frowns from certain elders in the somber atmosphere of Sunday dinners."
Huljus spent roughly his last 20 years in Woodcliff Lake, after a long stint in New York City. His second wife, Edna Berry, died in 1965, at 81. Her will listed a "Mrs. Theodore Edwards of Alexandria, Va." as a stepdaughter, yet that proved a dead end for Jannicelli.
"The guy got killed. The last thing he did in his life was patrolling the streets, the same thing my officers do now. The least we can do is honor the guy, in some way, shape or form," he said. Even if Jannicelli couldn’t find a relative, he could at least make sure he was recognized, and not just locally, either: He lobbied the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and the state senate, both of which included his name on official listings. His name is also inscribed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute in Mahwah.
In addition to the plaques and photos that hang inside the police department, he got the Woodcliff Lake Mayor and Council to recognize him in 2002, which they will again do for the 70th anniversary of his death at their next meeting on Feb. 21.
Touched by the fact that Huljus died doing what officers still spend a lot of time doing – catching speeders – Jannicelli has been driven by the need to honor the man. His police philosophy is based on the same tactics that Huljus and his brethren practiced – community policing.
"He basically rode the same streets, handled the same problems," Jannicelli said. "We’re standing on the shoulders of some pretty tall people."
Story and Photos courtesy of Stephanie Schwartz