William F. Cribari: The Man Behind The Bridge

Everyone is talking about the William F. Cribari Bridge. That’s the official name of the historic 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. Yet many Westporters still use the old name: the Bridge Street Bridge.

That’s a shame.

William Cribari — or “Crobar,” as he was universally known in his native Saugatuck — was quite a guy.

He was a World War II vet. Serving under General George S. Patton, he took part in the invasions of Normandy, Sicily and North Africa. He also served in the Battle of the Bulge.

But that’s not why the bridge is named after him.

For more than 30 years, Cribari was a special police officer. He walked the beat on Main Street, and directed traffic at both the pre-light Riverside/Saugatuck Avenue intersection, and the Post Road by Kings Highway Elementary.

But that’s not why the bridge is named after him either.

His greatest fame came when he was shifted to Riverside Avenue, at the entrance to the Manero’s (now Rizzuto’s) parking lot.

William F. Cribari (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

There — with a smile, a theatrical wave and more than a few dance steps — he masterminded rush hour traffic through the heart of Saugatuck. Much of it went over the Bridge Street — now William F. Cribari — Bridge.

He was much more than a traffic cop, of course. Cribari’s full-time job was tool crib operator for Nash Engineering. He was a longtime Westport PAL volunteer, and a Knight of Columbus. He attended every Army-Navy football game from 1946 on.

At 12 years old he joined the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department as a snare drummer. He remained a life member.

More than 30 years later, he became drum major for both the Nash Engineering Band — marching every year in the Memorial Day parade — and the Port Chester American Legion Band.

In 2003, Cribari and his wife Olga were honored as grand marshals of Festival Italiano. That annual event was held in Luciano Park — not far from where he was born at home in 1918, and just around the corner from where generations of commuters learned to love Westport’s greatest traffic cop.

Paul Ehrismann found this great montage from the Westport News, and posted it on Facebook.

Cribari died on January 30, 2007, at 88.

A decade later his name lives on, through his namesake bridge.

Let’s all make sure his legend does too.

For years, William F. Cribari controlled traffic on the Bridge Street Bridge. Now it’s named for him. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

37 responses to “William F. Cribari: The Man Behind The Bridge

  1. Sharon Cribari-Saccary

    Thank you Dan Woog for the beautiful words about my Dad, I loved him and I miss him everyday but when I drive over that bridge I talk to him every time. He loved what he did and he loved the town and the people he did it for. Most of all he loved his family very much, he was a great Dad.

    • Hey cuz glad you saw this it saves me from trying to send it to you if i could figure out how to xxxxxooooo your cuz fifi

  2. awesome lil piece of recent history!

  3. Christine Bisceglie

    I loved that guy. I did not realize he passed away and wondered what happened. As a cyclist , Officer Cribari would always make sure the traffic from all directions was at a full stop before he would usher me through the intersection and over the bridge with his beautiful white gloved hands ! His calming mannerism with his alert actions and full command of hurried motorists , made cruising across the bridge whether on two wheels or four , a pleasure. Thanks for the story Dan and Paul.

  4. Lynn Turin Pokorny

    What a wonderful story to wake up to. I never knew any of the details of this special man’s life but I instantly recognized him from my childhood. Westport sure was lucky to have him as part of its history. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Tom Feeley Sr

    Bill made congestion fun. When you finally got to the Saugatuck intersection and saw his smile and waving hands, the delay didn’t seem all that bad👍🏼
    RIP soldier 🇺🇸

  6. Dan, when was the bridge named for Bill? I had my office for awhile at Bridge Square and we would chat all the time. What a super person! I am embarrassed to say I never made the connection, so thank you for educated me (and others.)

  7. Great stuff–and the way you bring Westport history to life is one of the reasons many of us really enjoy “06880.” I, too, have vivid memories of Officer Cribari which naturally evoke a smile.

  8. I loved this man like a Dad. He was my next door neighbor for most of my childhood. One of the best anyone could call a friend. Olga, his wife, was a sweet lady and a second mother to all of us who lived in Hales Court. I remember Bill’s smiling face and those fancy dance steps. Brings a smile to my face as well. He was there for all of us when my mother unexpectedly died. He was a friend and fellow Police Officer to my father, Joe (Bozo) Romano. Love you Bill, miss your smile.

  9. Michael Calise

    If my memory serves me correct Willie as we called him ran a drum and bugle corps out of Nash Engineering which many of us Staples students had the pleasure of playing in.

  10. I lived off of Treadwell Ave. and would see officer Cribari nearly every day. The image I recall is in the snow and rain he wore his overcoat and did his job with as much zeal as if it was a sunny day. He was an image of stability and dedication I can’t forget.

  11. He would always put a smile on your face!

  12. Fond memories of him…nice article…I always felt safe biking around there as a kid , he would always gracefully stop the traffic. 🌻

  13. “…..lets it does too” Amen to that keep my first cousin’s bridge were it is !!!!!!!

  14. Eva Tosenblatt

    I wanted to share one of our family’s fondest memories of officer Cribari. While strolling Main St. one day with our then young son Andrew, officer Cribari walked out of Dorian’s drug store with a package of baseball cards & bubble gum in hand. He stopped our son & handed little Andrew the cards & said he only wanted the gum & thought Andrew would enjoy the cards. Still makes me smile to remember his kindness.

  15. He had a smile and a wave for everyone! He was a joy to have known! I still miss him at his corner!

  16. I remember Officer Cribari. His enthusiasm made everyone feel good. But there’s a problem giving bridges and roads whole names – The William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge, The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge (another wonderful person) – they’re just too long for everyday use , they’re ceremonial. I-95 was originally called The Connecticut Turnpike, then just the Turnpike. Its official name is “The Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike.” Nobody calls it that! But a simpler name can work – Wilbur Cross Parkway for example.
    In Saugatuck you have the absurdity of the bridge being named after the road and the road named after the bridge it goes over. So, here’s an idea: Re-name the bridge The Cribari Bridge and re-name the road Cribari Street. Then you’ll a double honor for the man and simplified names to use every day.

  17. mary cookman schmerker '58

    What an uplifting article to wake up to today or any day. I will echo what everyone has said. The reason? Officer Carbari exhibited all the traits that made Westport a wonderful town to grow up in. He was a calming influence. He was stable and dependable, a veteran, dedicated to youth. He made difficult situations easier to handle. He put a smile on your face. He and his wife Olga were other parents to children in the neighborhood. “Other parents” when I was growing up were what kept you from getting into serious trouble. If they saw you do something they would let your parents know what was going on. Sometimes it was to report something bad that happened to us or to report what mischief we might have been up to. Our country today needs more people like Officer Carbari. A little more kindness and consideration would go a long way. The memory of the contribution he and his family made to Westport will live on and hopefully so will the bridge so correctly named for him.

  18. Stacey Saccary

    Thank you for this wonderful article about my grandfather. All of the comments and stories being shared are bringing tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. He was the most amazing man I have ever met and I miss him so much.

    Sincerely,
    Stacey Saccary or as he called me…”Stilts”!

  19. I used to love being stopped going over the bridge into Saugatuck because I could watch Officer Cribari go through his motions. It brightened my day.

    And to Peter Flatow — I still call it “The Turnpike,” and I think the “Bridge Street Bridge,” which everyone still calls it, is one of those quirky things that gives Westport its character.

  20. Picking up my father at the 6:02 every night was madness. Officer Cribari made for a smooth exit. I remember his white gloves signaling and the chirp of his whistle. When darkness encroached, his flash light was a beacon and later a streetlight was installed above to illuminate him in bad weather. I think he was featured in LIfe magazine.

  21. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Many memories of my family going to pick up my dad at Saugatuck train from NY.-and we’d
    Always smile at the way Officer Cribari so gracefully orchestrate the Bridge Street congestion, there..(Up until seeing these old photos,this nice article,I never knew his name!-we always
    just knew him as ‘that friendly policeman, always at that same intersection’-
    🙂

  22. Justin Cribari

    There are places I remember
    All my life though some have changed
    Some forever not for better
    Some have gone and some remain
    All these places have their moments
    With lovers and friends I still can recall
    Some are dead and some are living
    In my life I’ve loved them all

    That is how I feel about Saugatuck, and my grandfather! Or what’s left of the old Saugatuck. I’m not sure it can hold a candle to the one I grew up in. Crobar is my grandfather, and I am proud to be able to say that. That bridge ( and the firehouse ) are all that’s left!!! How can you call it Saugatuck when there’s no more Italian fest?!!! No more Mario’s or The Arrow, Derosa’s is gone and so is the Mansion. The even got rid of the post office. All staples of Saugatuck. Places where everybody knew everybody. Our own little town. How special it was to grow up there, my entire family on my fathers side for that matter. As far as tearing down or replacing my grandfathers bridge, and for the record, his father helped build the Saugatuck train bridge, it would be included in the long list of things that used to be. But tear it down and you will forever be known as the town that doesn’t care about its own history, or the people that MADE it, the blue collar folks, not the commuters that sold their houses and apartments to come and be apart of what was. Saugatuck and its 1st generation are dying off. “The Bridge” isn’t just about one man, its about a different way of life in a simpler time, it represents so much of what we had and grew up with, and now what used be. It could have been any name up there, Nistico, Romano, Arciola, the list goes on. None of those families argued with the name it got. And we’re proud that its Crobar’s. And for the record…Since the day he died, the morning traffic has been horrible. That bridge is unreplacable, just like the man it’s named after!

    Justin Cribari

    • Tom Feeley Sr

      Well said 🇺🇸

    • Amen.
      you hit the nail on the head, Justin.
      folks like Urana Clarke tried hard to keep Saugatuck like it was, but to no avail.
      everyone doesn’t know everyone any more hardly anywhere. politicians, property values and the tax base have seen to that all over our fair land.
      God Bless !

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

      Perfectly stated Justin. It is a way of life and a set of values that have all but disappeared. We need to hold on to what is left and do what we can to restore what has slipped away.

    • Amen Justin. You said it all. Thank You. As a founding member of the Westport Preservation Alliance (WPA), I thought I knew just about everything there was to possibly know about the history of our Bridge. See our website at http://www.preservewestport.com – And, yet, I learned something new about your family thanks to your comments above. I never knew that Crobar’s father helped build the Saugatuck Train Bridge. You and your family have much to be proud. Know that the fight continues to save the bridge but save it we (all of us) will!

  23. Michael Pettee

    I too have an indelible memory of him orchestrating traffic from the very middle of the intersection there. In addition to his white gloves, what I remember though, is his smile, his joy, what I realize now was his sense of rhythm, and his clear command over what would otherwise have been a chaotic mess.

  24. wouldn’t it be wonderful if Westport had one, just one, cop who had the outgoing, “we are together in this” attitude of officer Bill rather than the far more prevalent “we they” police mentality of today.

    • Westport Police have a great attitude. It emanates from the top. Chief Foti Koskinas is very much “all together” with the public — and so are nearly all the Westport police officers I know. They are a superb department.

  25. As he was know so affectionately as Crobar, I’ve always thought that it should be the Crobar Bridge, rather than the tongue-tying Cribari Bridge.

  26. You’re absouletly right about the Chief,Dan….a special person and, for sure, a special and forward looking Chief whom Westport is most fortunate to have.

  27. I remember him well – although I never knew his name! He bought ice cream cones for my three little girls when we first moved to Westport. Later when I started commuting, I always waved to him at the Riverside location. He was one of the fixtures that my family and I loved about Westport – although when we moved in from the Bronx we had no idea about the genuine friends we’d meet or the absolute wonder of a dead-end road, Webb Road.

  28. Brigid Zappia

    Justin I couldn’t agree more. I loved your grandparents. Saugatuck is a sad place to visit for me. No Italian fest? No Mario’s? It’s depressing. Leave the bridge alone. Xo, Brigid

  29. Thanks for posting the pictures and this article. I have vivid memories of Officer Cribari directing traffic at the intersection of Main St and Post Road, in front of the SHIPS restaurant, which to this day, still served the best seafood bisque. Great memories.

  30. Crowbar was a classy guy and I was fortunate to witness his dance moves and smile at the intersection in front of Tony’s Gulf for more than 20 years. In the winter when it got dark early he had a spot light directly over him and a big white circle for him to stay in (and do his moves!). He has a great family too. I will always remember him!

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