Friday Flashback #138

One of my earliest childhood memories — I  was just 3 or 4 — is from a grocery store on Main Street.

My mother leaned down, pointed to a woman standing nearby and said, “Danny, remember this. That’s Helen Keller.”

Helen Keller

It’s an urban (suburban) myth that Helen Keller lived in Westport. Her house — “Arcan Ridge” — was actually on Redding Road in Easton, near the corner of Route 136.

But 136 is called also called Westport Road in Easton. And when the remarkable deaf-blind author, political activist and lecturer died in 1968, at 87, the New York Times datelined the story “Westport, Conn.” — and said she died “in her home here.” (Click here to see.)

That error was picked up by publications around the world. It persists today.

Helen Keller moved to Easton in 1936. But she had a Westport post office box. And — as my long-ago memory attests, and those of other longtime residents affirm — she and her companions did much of their shopping here.

Staples High School Class of 1965 member Jack Backiel has a special connection. His aunt relative Agnes Pazdan took care of Helen Keller.

And in 1944, she signed her autobiography The World I Live In to her this way:

(Do you have a Helen Keller memory? Click “Comments” below.)

14 responses to “Friday Flashback #138

  1. That’s intense, Dan, thanks for sharing!


    wow, amazing history teller

  3. Bill Coley - Staples 1967

    She may have had a PO Box in Westport, but my father delivered her mail (out of the Weston Post Office). He had an RFD route out of Weston, but much of his route covered southern parts of Easton and also a little of Westport as well as Weston. Helen Keller’s Cook and care giver would always offer him coffee and pastries whenever he had a package to be delivered to the door. In the early to mid 60’s, PBS did an hour-long documentary about Helen Keller and they filmed him delivering the mail, but I’ve never been able to get a recording of that.

    • Bill, is it possible the documentary was done in the 1950s? If so, is this your dad at the 5:00 mark?

      • Bill Coley - Staples ‘67

        WOW! Thank you Fred!!! That is definitely my dad. I was under the impression that the documentary was around 1960 but this must be the one I was told about. I would only have been four at the time of the clip in the link you sent so that would explain why I don’t remember seeing it on TV.

  4. Jill Turner Odice

    As a kid “The Miracle Worker” was one of my favorite movies. I read all of Helen Keller’s books.
    After she passed away there was an auction of her estate. My Dad took me and I bought 3 little carved wooden deer. I still have them and treasure them knowing that she held them in her hands.

  5. Jack Backiel

    Dear Readers, Actually Agnes Pazdan was my maternal grandmother’s niece, and not my aunt. Of course that’s just a small detail that doesn’t detract from Dan’s amazing story. (Also, I would have graduated in the class of 1965, but my parents decided to ship me off to private school.)

  6. Helen Keller travelled far and wide, as everyone knows. She visited a small town in Texas in December 1941, Mineral Wells. The town had become famous with the expansion of the railroad and was home to The Crazy Water Hotel, run by my Grandfather and his brother-in-law. Carr P. Collins. Helen Keller stayed there with her companion Polly Thomson to “take the waters.” My mother, who was three years old at the time, was invited to sit on Helen Keller’s lap so that she could “read” her face. Miss Keller was a lovely guest and kindly gave my great-grandparents a photo of herself, her companion Polly Thomson and Helen’s Akita dog inscribed in her unmistakable square handwriting: “To Mr and Mrs. Woodall: Under Whose hospitality two weary guests found blessed rest”. The photo continues to be a treasured family memento. 06880 where Westport meets the world… and even a small town Texas story can reveal local connections.

  7. I have a fun story- wanted to share the pic that goes with it. Love this! Thanks for all you do!


  8. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    I,too, remember watching same Helen Keller PBS documentary (many years ago with my mom,Jane Pomerantz,
    and she then pointing out ‘That’s Bill Coley’s dad delivering mail to Helen!’..
    we lived off Lyons Plains Rd. not far from North Ave. where the Coley
    family lived.) I also remember our driving past her house in Easton..(perhaps
    coming back from Aspetuck apple orchards?.. long-ago memories..:-)

    • Bill Coley - Staples ‘67

      Hi Linda – do you remember about when you saw the show on PBS? I was wondering if they ran it again after 1954. I hope all is going well for you and your family!! Say hi to Jeff for me.

  9. Linda Pmerantz Novis

    Hi Bill-I’m guessing we saw this show sometime in the early 1960’s-?
    All goes well with the family, thanks!

  10. Fascinating, terrific story. The comments perhaps best of all. Thank you to Westport long-timers for sharing these wonderful stories and memories. (That includes you, Dan!)