2017 marks the 50th anniversary of some significant events.
1967 was the Summer of Love. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War. “Race riots” consumed Detroit, Newark and other cities.
Meanwhile, here in Westport, we debated whether building a 14-story nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach was a good idea.
The story is remembered by many — and unknown to many more. It starts with United Illuminating, the statewide utility that in 1965 secretly bought Cockenoe Island, a popular spot for boaters and fishermen.
Another key player was Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the fledgling Westport News. She crusaded tirelessly against the idea.
It was not easy. Although plenty of Westporters opposed the plan, the more established Town Crier was all-in. What a boon for the tax base, the paper said.
Brosious helped rally a coalition of common citizens, conservationists, fishermen, attorneys, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker, and Congressman Stewart McKinney.
Local artists Walter and Naiad Einsel created a memorable (and very 1967-ish) poster with the group’s rallying cry:
Under pressure — with national coverage in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and thanks to the threat of a bill in the Connecticut legislature that would curb eminent domain requests of power companies — UI agreed to sell Cockenoe.
To the town of Westport.
The deal was struck in 1967. The purchase price was $200,000. When the contract finally closed 2 years later, the Westport News headline read: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”
That’s the bare-bones, SparkNotes version. You can read more by clicking here.
Or — this being 2017 (not 1967) — you can watch a YouTube video about it.
The 9-minute mini-documentary comes courtesy of Julianna Shmaruk. A Staples High School sophomore, she created it for a National History Day competition.
The contest theme was “Taking a Stand” — which is exactly what Westporters did.
Julianna tracked down old newspaper clippings. She interviewed 91-year-old Joe Schachter (a boater involved in the battle), and got vintage home movie footage from Ed Stalling (a then 11-year-old who wrote a postcard decrying the sale).
Julianna’s video offers vivid evidence that — as Stalling says — “the people can win.” And that newspapers can rally public opinion.
Those lessons are just as important today as they were half a century ago.
To see Julianna’s video, click below: