Obituary: John Overall, 77, Unofficial South Orange Historian & Friend to Many

A memorial will be held at Preston Funeral Home at 153 South Orange Avenue, South Orange on Wednesday, April 10 at 10:00 a.m.

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From the South Orange Historical and Preservation Society:

Gone, but impossible to forget: John Richard Overall, Jr., a South Orange legend and a Village treasure. A good friend. Someone who never said no and always showed up. A warm human being. Someone who did not know hate. A great mind with infinite capacity to gather ever more knowledge and to share insights and his passionate, infectious love of history.

John Overall, the unofficial historian of South Orange Village and Chief Historian of South Orange Historical and Preservation Society, died suddenly on March 28, a month after his 77th birthday, taking with him a mental filing cabinet of South Orange and regional facts, knowledge, and legends, some that seemingly only he knew of.

As a founding member of the South Orange Historical and Preservation Society and Board Member Emeritus, John actively contributed both historical knowledge and new ideas to the village he had called home for many years.

Mellow and soft-spoken, he nonetheless was a spark plug at the forefront of a number of campaigns to preserve or improve facets of the village he loved and knew so much about.

If not for John’s input, South Orange would not look the way it does now. He was instrumental in campaigns to preserve the historic firehouse and Village Hall. He quietly lobbied for projects such as rehabilitating the village’s Old Stone House, one of the oldest structures in the state. Recently, he was an outspoken part of the Historical Society’s task force to preserve  as much as possible of the 18th-century Squier farmhouse overlooking Meadowlands Park. Through the years, he helped identify homes and research their history for the Historical Society’s House Tours and also contributed historic photos and narrative for the South Orange Before-and-After exhibit permanently displayed at the Taylor|Vose Apartments top-floor gallery.

Overall at Taylor|Vose gallery

Also at Taylor|Vose, permanently affixed to an interior wall visible from Taylor Place is a 90-square-foot blowup of a 19th century South Orange Village map that John restored.

John was a lead historic researcher on the 2005 documentary “Once Upon a Gaslight: A Walking Tour of South Orange.”

John, of lively and lightning wit, was always ready to comment on a topic with a pun or bon mot, often incorporating several languages. Surprising and delighting those around him, his delivery was modest, deadpan, and quiet. But his points always hit home. That was one of his powers.

His history in South Orange began when John fled Manhattan for space more appropriate for his music memorabilia and library of vinyl, buying the most spectacular “painted lady” Victorian home on Prospect Street. That home also provided space for his voluminous accumulation of South Orange and neighboring local postcards, maps, correspondence, and other ephemera surpassing the archives of any library. John was a relentless and unstoppable researcher who apparently never forgot anything, amazing friends by reciting the history of any house they would point out.

He was born to John Richard Overall and Florence Kimbrough on February 27, 1947 in Manhattan.

With a lifelong love of pop music, he was a walking archive of ’50s and ’60s recordings. A skilled graphic artist, he enjoyed and made the best of the move from pen and paper to computer keyboard. He also was one of the “Window Warriors” who painted scenes on empty store windows in downtown South Orange.

John Overall’s legacy will live through the friendships he formed, the people he inspired, and his devotion to South Orange Village manifested visibly in results of his preservation pursuits. A memorial will be held at Preston Funeral Home at 153 South Orange Avenue, South Orange on Wednesday, April 10 at 10:00 a.m.

About SOHPS: South Orange Historical and Preservation Society (SOHPS) was formed in 1986 to encourage awareness and study of the Village of South Orange, New Jersey and to support, promote, and preserve all that is special and unique about its history, architecture, landscape, people, and culture.

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