In 2014, the hand-wringing goes, no one has any privacy. Between social media, computer cookies and people’s voracious appetite to tell (and hear) all, everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Ah, for the good ol’ days.
Presumably, those days were not 1935.
Back then, people really knew each other’s business. And that business — who applied for a marriage license or mortgage, who visited whose home or went where, who inherited money (and how much) — has been preserved for nearly a century.
An old-fashioned technology — newspaper — has given us an up-close-and-very personal look into the Westport of 8 decades ago. The population was just over 6,000 — it’s 4 times larger today — but the Westporter-Herald published twice a week.
Every Tuesday and Friday, on enormous pages and in very small type, it described the (relatively) big stories of the day. Two days before Friday, November 8 for example, the Town Plan commission discussed widening Church Lane, “now a very narrow and dangerous thoroughfare for traffic in both directions.”
They also “approved the location for the new high school,” though no further mention was made of that momentous decision. (It turned out to be the location of the current Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue. The “modern” school complemented a nearby 1884 building, which stood for another 32 years.)
But it’s the smaller stories — there were an amazing 37 of them on Page 1 alone — that truly tell the tale of a supposedly sleepy small town in which a lot went on.
John Gault — secretary of L.H. Gault and Son, former 2nd selectman and Board of Finance member — died at home. The death of his wife several years earlier “rested heavily on the deceased and friends say it was a blow from which he never recovered.”
Another death — that of Broadway actor Moffat Johnston — was honored with a funeral at Christ Episcopal Church. Among the attendees: Lillian and Dorothy Gish.
Rev. H. H. Mower, pastor of the Westport M.E. Church, escaped serious injury Wednesday afternoon in “an unusual automobile accident.” Turning onto Elm Street from Main Street, he struck the embankment on property owned by Miss Jennie Thorpe, crashed through a wooden fence and “dropped down ten feet to land on the top of a roadster owned by Joseph Picard, employed at the A.P.”
Westporters drove at least as poorly then as they do know. Police reported 125 arrests in October, mostly for automobile violations. There were 26 arrests for speeding, 31 for passing red lights, and 29 for violating “the town parking ordinance.”
(Perhaps one of those parking violations came at the corner of the Boston Post Road and Cedar Street, where Anthony Ralph Migliarese had just applied for a liquor permit. That tavern stood for many years. Today it’s our parking-impaired Starbucks.)
A judge upheld a $3,000 award given to Viola I. Plant of Richmondville Avenue. Her husband, the late James G. Plant, was a “gateman and watchman” at Longshore who drowned when “an automobile he was operating for one of the club members went over the wall into the yacht basin.”
Armistice Day was going to be observed “quite extensively” on Monday. Most offices would be closed, but stores would be open for “business as usual.” There would be “no work on relief projects.”
Readers learned too that Captain and Mrs. Increase A. Parsell had “closed their home in Greens Farms and have left for DeLand, Florida where they will spend the winter at their home, in the sunny south.”
Miss Betty Meszaros was operated on at Norwalk Hospital for appendicitis, by Dr. H.S. Phillips.
Mrs. Julia Kish, Turkey Hill road, broke several ribs “in a fall down the cellar stairs yesterday morning.” She was now resting comfortably at Bridgeport hospital.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Fable were guests of Mrs. Fable’s father in Willington, Connecticut the day before. Mrs. George R. Miller and Mrs. R.D. Murphy spent Tuesday in New York city as the guest of Mrs. Cara Maisch. Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Lexen spent the night before in New York city, where they attended the automobile show at Grand Central Palace and took in Hollywood Restaurant review.
That’s just a small part of Page 1. The other 13 pages are filled with other news — social, sports, and everything else you’d want to know about everyone else in town.
Including the fact that Mrs. Mary Ann Dingee Bedford — widow of the late Edward T. Bedford — left an estate totaling $580,779. Her 4 children (all named) inherited $102,359 each.
At that time, the Westporter-Herald cost 5 cents. Ads touted steaks for 39 cents a pound, fur coats for $44, and a new Chevrolet (with “shockproof steering”) for $495.
Mrs. Bedford had some serious money. And — along with Rev. Mower’s accident, Betty Meszaros’ appendix, and everything else that had happened during the previous 3 days — every person in Westport knew all about it.
(Hat tip to Sarah Hickson, for providing copies of the 1935 Westporter-Herald. Workers renovating her house found them, stuffed as insulation between walls.)