Muckers’ Ball ‘dances through the decades’

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents time-traveled from the 1890s all the way through present day at the fifth annual Muckers’ Ball at Thomas Edison National Historical Park on Oct. 6, in an evening that celebrated Edison’s researchers while raising funds for the park. Hosted by the Friends of Thomas Edison National Historical Park, the theme of the night was “Dance Through the Decades,” and featured dance tutorials that taught guests the popular dances of the 1920s and beyond.

The evening also featured food and drink from various local eateries.

“This is what he did when he wanted them to work on an invention,” council President Susan McCartney, who is also the Muckers’ Ball chairwoman, said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. Edison would bring his workers food from local restaurants as they worked through the night.

McCartney said that part of the proceeds from the Muckers’ Ball will go toward an electric car charging station at Glenmont, the Edison family estate, which is part of TENHP and located in Llewellyn Park.

Friends of Edison Trustee Rich Silivanch, who worked to create the look of the evening, has been working on new marketing techniques to draw a bigger audience to the park.

“We want to breathe some new life into it and attract a new audience,” Silivanch said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “It’s old school but still fun. We want to honor the past and the legacy with an exciting new twist. Everybody knows Edison, so I want to capitalize on that energy — pun intended.”

Silivanch has been working with Friends for about two years, and as he collects old cameras and phonographs, enjoys living and working in an area where Edison did much inventing. He said the Muckers’ Ball theme tied into Edison’s work in entertainment, as inventing the phonograph had an effect on the way people listened to music.

“There’s dance and new exciting passions that come from that,” Silivanch said. “That’s entertainment and Edison has a very big part in that. So we feel that our job is to promote that and inspire a new generation because they owe a lot to Edison.”

Dancers from Theatre Next Door in East Hanover, under the direction of West Orange native Melissa Mooney, choreographed a dance that showed off different steps that began with the 1920s “Lindy Hop” and ended with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” dance from 2008. They taught guests the dances after they performed, with pianist Jim Keefe providing music.

“I looked for music from every decade from the last 100 years,” Keefe said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “I looked through all my sheet music plus the 1,000 songs I already have memorized. The challenge was finding songs the most representative of that decade; I wanted a song that meant that decade.”

To represent the 1940s, Keefe played “Don’t Sit Under That Apple Tree,” a popular World War II song. His 1950s and 1960s set was full of Elvis Presley and Beatles songs, and when he jumped to the 1990s, the “Friends” theme song rang through the party.

“It’s remarkable how music has changed,” Keefe said. “A lot of the older stuff was melody oriented and perfect for a guy sitting at a piano because they were all written that way. Then we start getting into the 1950s and they were written on guitars. The electronic elements make it harder and people’s vocal range has gotten bigger.”

A wheelchair ramp was recently completed at the park, made possible through fundraising by Friends of Edison. Friends Vice Chairman Tim Pagano said the group’s work opens the park up for new visitors.

“With the ramp, it opens it up to a whole other group of people,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We can also help the rangers with putting on educational programs. As things in the museum get old, we’re able to step in to save those pieces. There’s all kinds of things going on here.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic