by Matt Fagan

PATERSON — Everyone who came into contact with Joe Clark, the no-nonsense, unconventional and legendary Eastside High School principal, had a strong opinion of him, good and bad.

Clark, who died in December 2020, was notorious for carrying a baseball bat and bullhorn as he roamed the halls of the high school. His story was turned into the 1989 movie “Lean on Me.”

On Saturday those who loved, admired and a few who had leaned on him, gathered at the Paterson Museum to celebrate the pending release of the new book about Clark: “Ghost Stories: The Legend of Principal Joe Clark.”

“If you asked 20 people to describe him in one word, you might get 20 different answers,” said Chanie Peterson, retired teacher and administrator of Paterson Public Schools. Peterson worked as an English teacher at the Park Avenue school when Clark was principal.

“Some would be positive, some negative. All of them might be right,” Peterson said.

The book draws heavily on the accounts of the members of Eastside High School’s Class of 1987. Alumni and former staff and faculty shared stories that are included in the coffee-table book.

The book is expected to be released in July. It was assembled and edited by Monique Davis and Leila Renee Grubbs, both Eastside Class of 1987 alumni. Staff and students and a few Paterson residents were also asked to provide anecdotes of Clark for the book.

Proceeds from the book will go to a nonprofit group that promotes research and awareness about an obscure neurological disorder known as Chiari malformation, which is a condition where a portion of the brain bulges through a normal opening in the skull where it joins the spinal canal.

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