All The Westport News, Back When You Really Could Read All About It

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.

Page 1 on Friday, November 8, 1935. Don't worry if you can't read all 37 stories; I've picked out my favorites below.

Page 1 on Friday, November 8, 1935. Don’t worry if you can’t read all 37 stories; I’ve picked out my favorites below.

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.

A close-up of the top half of Page 1.

A close-up of the top half of Page 1.

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.”

Speaking of relief efforts: The Relief Office was moving to new quarters. You'd think that would be bigger news.

Speaking of relief efforts: The Relief Office was moving to new quarters. You’d think that would be bigger news.

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.

More news from Page 1, on November 8, 1935.

More news from Page 1, on November 8, 1935.

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.)


13 responses to “All The Westport News, Back When You Really Could Read All About It

  1. Mrs Bedfords inheritance: $580,779.00 in 1935 had the same buying power as $10,100,743.67 in 2014
    I remember attending the auction at the Beachside Avenue house with my mother before they tore it down in the 60’s… what a place!

  2. David J Loffredo

    Was there a letter to the editor from Bart Shuldman’s great grandfather questioning the Town’s Old Age Pension Quota?

  3. Dan Lasley (Laz)

    I attended a panel discussion where it was suggested that our sense of privacy/isolation is a relatively new thing (70s-80s), possibly starting with the broad acceptance of telephones and television. It was then possible to stay home for days and still feel connected to the world. No one knew your business, including what you watched on TV, or how cute your cat was.
    In the olden days, villages were smaller and everyone knew everything about each other, including the local constable. Today, communities are global, and it’s possible to learn almost everything about anyone. Perhaps true privacy and anonymity were just a passing fad.

  4. Marcy Fralick

    There’s never been real personal privacy going back to the beginnings of human language. Humans gossip, and have a need to know everything about everybody. In small towns, gossip around the pickle barrel at the general store kept men busy, and teas, quilting bees, and sewing circles kept the women busy. People were out and about in their towns and saw or heard everyone else’s comings and goings, good or bad.

    We moan about privacy now, but the only difference between then and now is the scope of the lack of privacy. Whereas we might have made the news in our small town in the 1800’s, two towns over and they knew nothing about it. Nowadays, we make our own news. We post our lives (complete with pictures and video) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a personal blog or any other number of social media. Society columnists don’t track down information to print about us these days, we post it ourselves. We moan about the lack of privacy, but we can’t get enough of ourselves, so we share all our minutiae and all our major moments with the world.

    I’d rather read that Mrs. Smith hosted seven ladies from her quilting bee to an afternoon of gaiety and mirth at her summer home in Estes Park than read another word about Kimye.

  5. The Westport Library has the Westporter-Herald on microfilm dating from 1903-1955 for anyone who would like to come and have a look. We also have Staples High School yearbooks beginning with 1938!

    • Gary Singer

      Marcia, didn’t the W-H publish after 1955? I was Sports Editor during the final year or so, but my (often-faulty ) memory thought it was in the late 50s or early 60s. Research hint: It was the year Max Shulman coached a Little League baseball team.

  6. Cathy Jones

    My great granddad’s paper!! I’d never seen one, thanks Dan!

  7. Diane silfen

    My grandmothers sister was John Gaults wife. That was interesting to read

  8. Ed Stalling

    Dan, great post! Thank you

  9. Jeff Northrop

    Great mention of Westporter Herald. The original paper was housed in the brick building, (national hall) on the west side of the river and sported its own basketball court on the 3rd floor. I have a picture somewhere of my great grandfather, John Jones, editor and owner standing out front with a big wheel bicycle with the then Westport fire chief who I believed was an Allen at the time. The paper later morphed into the Town Crier and was headed for a time by its late, great editor, William “Les” Smith and was located on Taylor Place.

    • Wow — I had no idea of your connection to the Jones family, Jeff. The reason the basketball court was on the 3rd floor of National Hall was (I believe) that it was the original site of Staples High School, before Horace Staples built the Riverside Avenue building. (His bank was on the first floor.)

      And I remember the Town Crier being housed on the Post Road, a couple of doors east of what is now Patagonia.