The word is on street signs, books, storefronts and magazines. It can be overheard in casual lunchtime conversation at the diner or thrown into directions given to travelers through town.
Who or what, exactly, is Harmon?
There's the Harmon Meadow Mall, Harmon Meadow Blvd., the Harmon Cove apartments, and the Harmon Plaza outlets.
Was Harmon a patriot, athlete, or former tax assessor?
Apparently not. Even some of the area's oldest residents and longest-serving politicians didn't know.
The interviews inadvertently began a few months back when a reporter stumbled upon some kids playing a game on Franklin Street.
"The Harmonies are coming!" yelled a boy who ran through his neighborhood with a rallying cry. "Quick, get out the guns."
Two other kids emerged from a bush, their toy six-shooters in each hand. Another pair popped out from around a corner of a Franklin Street house, feathers in hair, bows drawn and suction-cup arrows ready to fly.
"Excuse me, guys," said the reporter, "I don't mean to interrupt. But who are the Harmonies and where are they coming from?"
With obvious dismay over the fantastical interruption, one boy looked up and in his best matter-of-fact tone answered, "They're the Indians, DUH! They live on the river and they settled here first, until the cowboys came here to raise pigs."
This prompted more serious investigation.
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell and Town Administrator Anthony Iacono weren't sure of the origin of the name, so the next logical source was a man who knows the lay of the land - Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan, who works for the non-profit environmental Riverkeeper organization. Sheehan, a longtime resident in town, had to know.
"Harmon, hmmm, let's see," he said. "There's Larry Harmon. He was the guy behind the Bozo the Clown character. But it's probably not him."
Well, at least we were getting some humor.
"No seriously, I think it may, and I stress may, have something to do with aviation," he said. "Because down there in the cove along the river, near where the hospital is, is a tract of land that is now Harmon Cove. The Curtis Wright Company, as in the Wright brothers who built the first airplane, originally owned that land. I believe the intent at one time was to construct some kind of water-based aviation operation where planes could take off and land. Maybe that's where the name originated?"
Okay, good one. Let's hop over to the Board of Education and continue along the lines of academic theory. Board member and sometime gadfly Tom Troyer is always good for an opinion.
"Harmon?" Troyer said. "I haven't got the foggiest...."
The mystery wasn't clearing up much.
We had Indians, we had airplanes...we had Indians and airplanes.
The only thing that could turn the story around was some sort of relation to Harmon Killebrew. Maybe the famed slugger hit his first Little League homerun in Secaucus?
Nope. Turns out that Killebrew was born in Payette, Idaho in 1936.
Maybe the people who lived or worked in one of these "Harmons" knew.
A woman working at the Van Heusen outlet store on the corner of Harmon Plaza and Meadowlands Parkway looked to be a sure thing.
"Excuse me, ma'am, um, we're trying to track down Harmon," said the reporter, "as in Harmon Cove, Harmon Towers, Harmon Plaza... any ideas on who Harmon is?"
"Oh, that's a tough one. What do you have so far?"
"So far we have Indians and airplanes."
"Well, I like the Indians. Maybe it was Indians who lived in harmony - they were a peaceful tribe, one that lived in harmony and gave the name to the area...."
Harmon, harmony, what a nice sentiment.
"Do live in town, ma'am?"
"Yes, I do."
"Can I get your name for the paper?"
Of course, no harmony. Thanks.
Needless to say, certain, more important priorities arise in the life of a journalist. Sometimes, ideas get lost in the shuffle and temporarily misplaced - but never forgotten.
After a few months, it was time to clear the mystery up. The boys of Franklin Street were nowhere to be found, probably playing Playstation 2 to keep warm during the winter season. That lead was lost.
Who knows a lot about Secaucus? Who has been here for a long time?
Senior resident Frank MacCormack, Sr., who owns the MacCormack insurance agency, was certainly a good bet.
"Harmon? I can tell you that it is nobody that I know of in my lifetime," said MacCormack. "Seems the name came up when all the development began in town."
Is that your final answer?
MacCormack was onto something. Development could be the key.
A call was placed to the Town Historian Dan McDonough. McDonough gave theories surrounding development, as MacCormack Sr. had indicated, as well as ideas similar to Sheehan's. It seems that the Curtis Wright company sold their land along the Hackensack River in the 1970s, only to be developed into the Harmon Cove Towers.
So who built the towers?
Hartz Mountain Industries, based in Secaucus, is the developer of Harmon Cove as well as the other Harmon-related structures. Now we were getting somewhere.
A call was placed to Emanuel Stern, president and chief operating officer of Hartz Mountain Industries.
"Hello, is Emanuel Stern available? This is the Secaucus Reporter calling to inquire about a very urgent matter."
"I'm sorry," said the voice on the other end. "Manny is out of the office for the rest of the week."
Excellent. The story was really developing.
"I can put you through to our PR person," said the woman. "Would you like to speak to him?"
Sure, what the heck. Maybe he can tell me about a monkey and a hot dog.
"Hi, this is Ron," said the man.
"Ron, we're trying to track down Harmon - as in Harmon Cove, Harmon Towers, Harmon Plaza... any ideas on who Harmon is?"
Chuckle. Pause. Chuckle.
"Sure, I know who Harmon is - he's us!"
Of course, it was obvious all along. The power of denial can be strong.
"Get it?" he said. "HAR-MON. HARtz MOuNtain. It's the first three letters in each word, minus the U, of course."
Of course, minus the U.
Upon his return, Emmanuel Stern added, "The term Harmon has become synonymous with commercial real estate in the Secaucus area, as many of the major streets and buildings include Harmon in their name...Internally, it is a continual reminder of the standards my grandfather [Maxwell Stern] and my father [Leonard Stern] expected. A lot of people might not make the connection, but if you've been around here a while, you know what Harmon means."