Esta Burroughs: 100 Years Young

Esta Freedman’s mother left Poland for Ellis Island at 17.  Esta’s father worked in the gold mines of South Africa as a teenager.  He stowed away on a US-bound ship, but gambled away his nest egg before it docked.

Esta was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1913. She and her 4 siblings shared a room. At 17, she left home for New York.

Esta Freedman at 17.

Esta Freedman at 17.

A chance meeting in the subway led to a meeting with Bernie Burroughs, an illustrator.  They hit it off.  Soon they eloped.  They lived in Greenwich Village, then Neptune, N.J.  In 1946 their son Miggs was born.

Bernie’s artist friends were moving to Connecticut.   The Burroughses followed:  to Stamford in 1948, then Westport in 1950 when their 2nd son Tracy was born.

Bernie and Esta quickly joined the local artists and writers’ circle, making friends with the likes of Howard Munce, Tracy Sugarman, Max Shulman, Evan Hunter, John G. Fuller and their families.

Bernie played poker; Esta, bridge.  They entertained often, and went to parties.  At some, couples put car keys in a bowl, and drove home with the owner of whichever set they pulled out.  Esta says she and Bernie always left before that happened.

She wrote articles for local newsletters.  Then she met Sidney and Esther Kramer.   They were opening a bookstore, called Remarkable — the name included “Kramer” spelled backwards — and asked her to join them.

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

Esta stayed in the iconic pink building on Main Street — working in the warren of rooms, loving the tall stacks of books, sloping floors and comfy chairs — until the day it closed.

She also partnered with Pat Fay — running tag sales as “Those 2 Girls” — but her Remarkable work really defined Esta Burroughs for generations of Westporters.

She waited on Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis, Keir Dullea, Christopher Plummer and Patty Hearst.  She also massaged the egos of many local authors, who visited constantly to check on sales of their books.

An avid reader, Esta enjoyed meeting writers.  The opportunity to read any title was a great perk — and a huge advantage for customers.  They asked countless questions about books.  She answered them all.

After Remarkable closed, Esta worked at the Save the Children Gift Shop.  Until recently she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society.

Today, Esta Burroughs turns 100.  The Remarkable Book Shop is long gone.  So are Paul Newman, Bette Davis — and key parties.

But Esta remembers them all, quite clearly.  Those memories are all part of her 6 decades in Westport — and her much-loved, seldom-acknowledged contributions to our town.

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs!

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs! (Photo by Miggs Burroughs)

(More Burroughs news! Tomorrow — Saturday, March 16, 2 p.m. — Esta’s son Miggs will sign copies of his book, The What If? Book of Questions — at Barnes & Noble. It’s a benefit for the Coleytown Middle School Book Fair.)

22 responses to “Esta Burroughs: 100 Years Young

  1. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Miggs 🙂 Thanks for all the fun times at Remarkable !

  2. Hi Esta,
    Congratulations! My daughter, who lives in Westport now sent me the article. I worked with you ,Jan, & Rita in 1988 until we moved to Va.
    What a wonderful place it was, fun, laughs, interesting people & books.
    I have wonderful memories!

    My very best wishes to you
    Lynn Waters

  3. Steve Saunders

    Happy Birthday Esta! What a REMARKABLE life indeed!

  4. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Esta! Your presence in Westport has blessed us all.

  5. And we had many good times on the tennis court, helped keep us
    All going.
    Happy, happy birthday!
    Nancy Vener

  6. One of Wesrport’s special people. Great family. Have a wonderful birthday!!

  7. Suzanne Goldstein

    We enjoyed fun times playing bridge.

  8. I wonder why she picked “Miggs” ?

    • It is actually a rather funny story, which I will not attempt to recount as I am sure I have missed some of the facts. But, it was not really supposed to be “Miggs”, rather “Meigs”, I believe ,which was a name that Miggs’ folks had heard and liked (someone they admired). But it ended up getting spelled wrong. Great mistake, though….he looks a lot more like a “Miggs” than a “Meigs” . Happy birthday Mrs. Burroughs.

  9. Happy Birthday, Esta. I loved the Remarkable Book Shop! What is the tortie cat’s name? You look remarkable!

  10. Happy Birthday Esta!

  11. Anonymous, 1

    Happy Birthday! I am a very appreciative fan of yours since I first met you at Remarkable Book Shop in the late 1980’s. I had won Remarkable Book Shop – New York Times young writer’s contest. My mother became very unhappy with the topic of the essay that she only discovered when she brought me to the pink book shop to be photographed by New York Times photographer with the award. She still would not let me be photographed because the topic was not to be discussed but you really went out of your way to make sure I was still very happy to have won the contest. You are just a totally awesome person! Happy Birthday!

  12. I remember Esta well…and wish her 100 more.

  13. Sally Campbell Palmer

    As a teenager, I was a baby sitter for Miggs & Tracy, for the very busy Burroughs. Esta and Bernie would not let me call them Mr. & Mrs and treated me like an adult at 16 – brilliant! They were so attractive and vital, of course I adored them. The boys were great, fun and creative even then. Happy Birthday Esta! Love, Sally

  14. Happy Birthday Esta. I’m sure Bernie is looking down and smiling. And Bunni and I also left those parties before the keys were exchanged.

  15. what a “remarkable” woman, a treasure.

  16. Jill Ross Beres

    I wish you, Esta, A very Happy Birthday. You were the person I always looked for at the Remarkable. with love, Jill Ross Beres

  17. Joyce Barnhart

    What a milestone! Happy Birthday, Esta. It was a pleasure working with you and Olivia and sweet little Lisette at Save the Children’s Gift Shop. Your sense of style and your energy were always inspiring. Best wishes for another year of life lived fully. Love, Joyce .

  18. Gerry Kuroghlian

    As a new teacher at Staples, I was introduced to Remarkable Book Store. Whenever I received a paycheck I went down to see what was new and a good read. Esta was a better book critic than any NYTimes reviewer. Happy Birthday to a Westport Icon!!

  19. Wally and Denise Woods

    Dear Esta, A bit late, but we both want to wish you all the happiness for your wonderful birthday. It has been a joy knowing you and working with you at Save The Children (Denise) and at the Historical Society (Wally).
    We send you our love from up here in Westbrook.
    Denise and Wally Woods

  20. Happy birthday, Esta! We had a lot of great laughs working together at Remarkable — vintage — from 1964 to 1959. Now we live in Massachusetts, and I’ll soon have an accent just like yours. You look beautiful.

  21. What a wonderful neighbor you are Esta. We moved to Wakeman Place in 1974 and Esta and Bernie her wonderful husband were so kind to us. Their house was filled with so many interesting antiques and the yard had all these wonderful sculptures and signs on the house. Our best wishes to you on this special day. You are a true Westporter and good friend.
    tom and sandi kretsch