What Do Evelene Parsell, Swinburne Hale, The Westport Sanatorium And Kewpie Dolls Have In Common?

Read the story below to find out.

The other day, alert “06880” reader/amateur historian/all-around awesome woman Wendy Crowther was researching Alan Parsell’s connection with the Geiger barn.

Alan Parsell

Alan Parsell

(Important digression: Native Westporter Alan Parsell was the stereotypical crusty old New England Yankee. He served Westport in many capacities over many years, and despite throwing pennies around like they were manhole covers, he always had the town’s best interest in mind. For decades, his family owned Parsell’s Garden Mart, where Geiger’s is now.)

On the internet, Wendy found a record of Alan’s wife (Evelene) having mortgage transactions in Westport with a man named Swinburne Hale. Evelene was descended from one of Westport’s oldest families (the Couches). Intrigued, Wendy wanted to learn more about this fellow with the unusual name (Swinburne Hale, not Couch).

Swinburne Hale

Swinburne Hale

She found that he is connected not only to some of America’s most prominent professors, writers and artists — but that his life intersected with Westport a couple of times.

Hale published his only book in 1923: The Demon’s Notebook — Verse and Perverse. The frontispiece is by Rose O’Neill, an artist and writer who is far better known for creating Kewpie dolls. In 1922 she bought a 10-acre estate on the Saugatuck River.

In 1925 Hale was committed to an “insane asylum”: the Westport Sanatorium. He died there 12 years later, age 53.

The sanatorium was the 2nd use for the majestic building on the corner of the Post Road and North Compo. Built in 1853 for Richard and Mary Fitch Winslow, its original name was Compo House.

Today, of course, nothing remains of Compo House or the Sanatorium — except asphalt paths. You can see them as part of the 32-acre property, which today we call Winslow Park.

Compo House, back in the day.

Compo House, back in the day.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea — except that the “06880” tagline (“Where Westport meets the world”) is proven true every day, in sometimes crazy, but always interesting, ways.

(To read more than you ever wanted to know about Swinburne Hale, click here.)

11 responses to “What Do Evelene Parsell, Swinburne Hale, The Westport Sanatorium And Kewpie Dolls Have In Common?

  1. Maureen O'Driscoll

    Hello, first time commenting. What comes to mind has been written before, ‘RESPECT the past’. We have a rich history in this town, things that are part of our past that still exist are not replaceable. The Gieger barn can never be replaced if it is destroyed. It will be a memory. I chose to restore my home, and chose the contractor because he wanted the same thing. Others said “tear it down”! It’s cheaper. Well, the barn still stands and will for a long time, location 69 Newtown Tpke Westport. It is not part of any historical landmark or on any historical register. I chose to preserve it anyway. It’s a choice, so we want to collectively ‘Respect the past’?

  2. There must have been some interesting “crazies” in there. It was always boarded up when I was growing up. Friends broke in and found a straight-jacket, a diary and a stamp collection from the 1920’s. The old barn was awesome.

    • When my friends and I went in there (junior high), we found strait jackets too. Also, hypodermic needles. We thought they were from long ago. Later, I found out it was a place people went to regularly to shoot up heroin.

      • Jack Rea had told me, he and the local kids painted a fence there for a scene from The Swimmer. They shot the scene and Burt Lancaster signed autographs for everybody. When Jack saw the movie he said it sucked and they had cut that scene!

        • Wendy Crowther

          Brad, your post is interesting and creates another connection to a Westport resident. The art director for The Swimmer was Peter Dohanos, son of Stevan Dohanos the famous illustrator. Both were Westport residents. Perhaps that’s how some of the location shots for The Swimmer ended up in Westport.

  3. Great post, and thanks to Wendy for her persistent digging on the Geigers barn. As a schoolboy in the 70’s, the highlight of my day was when our school carpool went by the Westport sanitarium. It was such an elegant wreck at that point and I was transfixed by the sheer scope of its epic creepiness. I always wondered what gothic horrors went on in the tiny little building out back with what must have been a ten story high brick smokestack – probably nothing other than burning garbage, but that thing really freaked me out.

  4. Sally Campbell Palmer

    When I was a kid in the 50’s the Winslow sanitorium was still functioning and the mansion was in relatively good condition…another of the big old beautiful houses around town that were let go to ruin and ultimately destroyed. Too many!

  5. Didn’t Zelda Fitzgerald spend some time there?

  6. When the now Winslow Park first came on the market the Baron was interested in preserving the property for the Town of Westport. He actually started or joined a fund to purchase the property and kicked in I believe $100K. With the lack of participants and B. Altman closing in the Baron decided to purchase the property with funds from his own company. As indicated by previous stories the property was an open invitation to all kinds of activities. The liability was overwhelming and the Baron decided to remove the buildings and the incinerator smokestack to eliminate any potential problems. A local company was hired to dynamite the smokestack but was busy and could not get to it as quickly as the Baron wanted. My company maintained all the shade and ornamentals trees at the Barons south complex. In my youthful exuberance, I had mentioned a few times that I thought that the smokestack could be felled just like a tree. The concept was fine until I was told I had the job. Bart Valiante managed specialized jobs over the years for the Baron and he and his two sons, Lee and Buddy came to witness the task. The boys were probably teenagers at the time but did participate in the sledge hammer and crowbar work. The idea was to bust a hole through the bricks and make it larger to form the notch. The problem was the walls were 10 bricks thick almost 40 inches. To break through the first hole took half a day of continual pounding. I keep telling the boys once we got through the rest would be easy. As we progressed I keep looking up thinking all the banging may compromise the structure and if it started to tumble did everyone know where to go. My plan and the analogy were beginning to show some flaws. The only way to proceed was to hold it up until we were ready to have it fall. We set a building jack in the mouth of the opening an applied pressure where the bricks once where. We attached a 120 foot cable from a winch truck to the jack. Morley’s estimate was almost right on the money as the stack was 110 feet tall. We chipped away another hour or so until we felt confident that we were more than half way around the circumference. Bart armed with an 8mm camera and the boys and I completely exhausted, decided it was time to pull out the jack. It fell exactly as planned. It didn’t make much noise but it did put up a soot cloud that looked like the early photos of the atom bomb. The soot was so heavy it just hovered there and then settled back without a sound. The entire structure broke up almost into individual bricks again. A week later the entire pile had been totally scavenge leaving behind only a few remnants of grand old stack. Morley said it best with freaked me out and epic creepiness. That would probably better describe the story about the building demolition…

    • Wendy Crowther

      Peter, what an interesting story. I’d love to hear more about your recollections of the place. The history of Mr. Winslow, the sanitarium and “The Baron” are among my many historic interests.

  7. Peter, what a terrific sketch of the stack’s final fate – kind of made my hair hurt as I waited for the 911 moment that mercifully never came. Well done, and thanks for filling in the details on something I only saw through the window of a VW bus. One question: given the substantial nature of the stack (40 inches at the base!) is it possible that it was originally constructed as part a remote steam plant for the sanitarium? I’ve noticed that other institutions (colleges, etc.) of this vintage took the same approach – with stream pipes trenched to the assorted structures that required heating. Seems like a lot of trouble to burn garbage when most people just dumped it behind their house – which, from the evidence, it would appear the sanitarium did in spades. Also, I know the sanitarium earned the undying enmity of the Town for its practice of flushing all manner of, lets say, inappropriate items, through its sewer line. Anyway, I was just now wondering if, at some point, the boiler and such might have been sold for scrap and the staff simply repurposed the stack for burning medical waste or other stuff? In any event, it probably didn’t occur to them to fell it like a tree. Thanks for sharing.