Memorial Day: Back In The Day

If you’ve ever been to a Memorial Day parade in Westport — and the ceremony that follows on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall — you know it’s one of our most fun, diverse, community-minded (and small-town) events.

If you’re a newcomer — or an old-timer who always sleeps in — you really need to see it. Stand anywhere along the parade route (from Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue, across the Post Road bridge, left on Myrtle), and enjoy the passing parade of cops, firefighters, EMTs, Y’s Men, young soccer and lacrosse and baseball and violin players, fifers and drummers, and random others having all kinds of retro fun.

It seems like it’s been this way forever (except for talking on cell phones while “marching,” and taking selfies). Now we’ve got proof.

Alert “06880” reader and indefatigable historic researcher Mary Gai unearthed a news story from 1921. It describes Westport’s plans for the upcoming Memorial Day parade. The details are a bit different — but any of us magically plopped down 95 years ago would recognize it instantly.

Participants included a color guard and bands; veterans (from the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, riding in cars); the Red Cross, American Legion, VFW, and Boy and Girl Scouts. “As usual,” the story said, “a number of autos and many marchers” were expected to follow behind.

Hotel Square -- the start of the 1921 Memorial Day parade -- was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it's being renovated at Bedford Square.

Hotel Square — where the 1921 Memorial Day parade began — was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it’s being renovated as Bedford Square.

The parade began at 9 a.m. sharp, at Hotel Square (near the soon-to-be-constructed YMCA, at the corner of Main Street and the Post Road — then called State Street).

The route took marchers over the bridge, then to King Street (Kings Highway North), with a halt by the Catholic cemetery. The parade then headed south to Canal Street and North Main, stopping at Willowbrook Cemetery before doubling back down Main Street to Myrtle Avenue. Everyone ended at Town Hall (now Rothbard Ale + Larder, next to Restoration Hardware), for services on the lawn. The ceremony ended with a gun salute.

Exactly 50 years later — in 1971 — Mark Groth took some Memorial Day photos. He stood on the 2nd floor of Main Street, in the Youth-Adult Council offices, as the parade passed by.

Now another 45 years have passed. How much has changed — and how much hasn’t?

Check out Mark’s shots below. You be the judge. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

Staples High School band. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

Staples High School band. West Lake Restaurant was located at the foot of Main Street, by the Post Road. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street (in 1971, a two-way road). Note spectators watching from 2nd-floor windows along the route.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street. Note spectators watching from 2nd and 3rd-floor windows above the Westport Food Center grocery store.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel) march in front of a banner urging peace.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church, beard) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel, hand on head) march in front of a banner urging peace.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans. (All photos/Mark Groth)

16 responses to “Memorial Day: Back In The Day

  1. Jill Nash von Schmidt

    The parade was always such fun! I remember the pancake breakfast at (what was then) Bedford Jr. High on Riverside Ave. put on by members of the Kiwanis Club.

    I remember arriving early with my dad, Edward (Ebb) Nash and he and some of the other gentlemen would start making the pancake batter or getting the sausages ready to be cooked. Any of the kids present would help by getting plates & utensils ready or some other small job.

    Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little Leaguers, and other townsfolk would arrive before the parade for a yummy hot breakfast, and then go out to watch or walk in the parade. Others would watch the parade first & then have some pancakes. What a fun time it was! Thanks for the memories. 😊

  2. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    THE PARADE ( Caps not an accident) was always a highlight. I loved it when I got to march with the Scouts. Memorial Day and the parade signaled the start of summer. I was amazed, when, as an adult I learned that some places did not have a parade. I still miss Westport’s parade..

  3. William Adler

    Great photos – thanks Dan! I marched in the Parade as part of the Staples High School Band (pictured, with Mr. Genualdi clearly at bottom left). In 1970, all but one of the drummers boycotted and stood with Westport peace activists (also a great picture you displayed), so the band was strangely silent, echoing the tensions of the Vietnam War era.

    • Peter Schwartz

      Are you in the shot, Bill? I don’t recognize anyone except, maybe, for Tim Head playing trombone?

  4. The pictures of “old” Westport put a lump in met throat. E.O. Nigel Chomley-Jones made us all stand straighter.

    Because I wore a black armband, the Girl Scouts asked me to be at the end of the parade. Those were divisive times. mmm

  5. Guy Northrop

    Memorial day in Westport was one of my favorite holidays. In 1973 I was the assistant manager at WJ Sloans furniture store on Main st. Our home office announced that we would be opened for the holiday This was a first for the store to be opened on Memorial Day. We had only been opened for ,10 minutes when police showed and advised the Store manager to close the store or face arrest. Ah the good old days.

  6. Fred Cantor

    Terrific vintage pics by Mark. Thanks for posting.
    PS–is that Debbie Thomson holding the peace banner (walking right behind Rabbi Rubenstein)?

  7. Dorothy Abrams

    And we all seemed to stand at the same place, year after year. We would meet people we hadn’t seen since the last parade.

  8. Karen Bulakites Gibbens

    My late father was always in the parade marching with the VFW, I was only able a few times to watch the Westport Parade, due to the fact I was marching in the one in New Canaan, I miss the parades, parties after the parade,Out here in Ca they don’t have the same feeling that we did back in Conn, We do have a few things but nothing like hearing a pipe and drum corp, The only big parade we have is the Palm Springs Veteran’s day parade which is wonderful also, But there is nothing like the parades in New England,

  9. Great photo. Facebook forensics identify it as 1972, rather than 1971, based on the appearance of several of us from the Staples Class of ’74 in the photo. Somehow, it was always so damn hot that day.

  10. Jay Sherwood

    Regarding the photograph of Hotel Square where, on the left, the YMCA later stood, shows a building on the right where Patagonia now stands. The building on the right was moved circa 1923 down Church Lane and is now the home of the Spotted Horse.

  11. Ann Marie Flynn

    Thank you, Mary Gai for reviving up our Memorial Day spirits. It’s wonderful that so much is remembered for this DAY….and it can bring a tear or two.
    Plus, the striking figure of E.O. Nigel Chomeley-Jones is awesome.
    All who,assisted on this article should be saluted.

    • Thanks Ann Marie! Guess what everybody? That hotel still exists!! They never knocked anything down back in the day. The old hotel is now part of Colonial Greem. It’s the building that is toward the back parallel with route one. Imagine the folks who stayed there! That Westport had anything called “hotel square” is amazing.

      • Wendy Crowther

        I think you might be mixing up the Westport Hotel with the Westport Inn. According to Eve Pott’s book, “Westport…a Special Place,” the building in the rear of Colonial Green was the Westport Inn, formerly the home of the Dolge family. It originally stood closer to the Post Road but was moved to the rear when the Colonial Green shopping center was built.

        • Could be Wendy..If I find the article I found this information in, I’ll let everyone know.

  12. Jonathan Maddock

    Staples had two bands, White & Blue, in The Parade when I participated. I don’t remember which color represented the Freshman versus Junior/Senior band, but I believe this is the freshman band for that year. I see Mark Bryant playing trombone next to Mr. G., and several other musicians I recognize (Hi Craig Barrett in percussion!!).
    I also played trombone but I was a class year ahead, so I was in the Junior/Senior band for the 1972 parade. The band director for the J/S band in 1972 was Dean DePoy. He was from the Midwest, and very much used to the marching band tradition.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the Memorial Day Parade every year, whether as a participant or spectator.