Friday Flashback #148

A few days ago, I posted the back story of the Police Athletic League’s nearly-70-year sponsorship of Westport’s Independence Day fireworks.*

That sent alert “06880” reader/amateur historian Fred Cantor scrambling to the stacks.

He found the July 8, 1954 Westport Town Crier. There — on the front page — were photos and a story of that year’s pyrotechnics.

Held on Sunday, July 4**, the event drew a crowd of more than 3,000, the paper reported.

Some of them were dressed quite a bit fancier than today’s revelers.

Announcer Don Tedesco introduced the national anthem, then the fireworks.

They were shot from the sand, near the cannon. I remember that site well (though not from 1954!). The smell was strong and distinct. I always wondered what would happen if one landed next to me, sitting a few feet away from where they were launched.

Here’s a black-and-white photo from the paper. I’ll let you decide whether it looks very cool, or like a radiology report.

There was a lot going on, that holiday week.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish “sojourned” in Westport, at the home of Dr. John V.N. Dorr. Their visit was the lead photo on Page 1, as they posed with the equally famous Lucille Lortel:

Meanwhile, the Westport Country Playhouse advertised an upcoming production starring Eva Gabor and Richard Kiley.

The current production did not fare well. The last line of “Court Olympus” was “Let’s go home” — exactly what the Town Crier‘s reviewer advised audiences to do.

Other front-page news on July 8, 1954: “First Jewish Temple in History of Town Set For Construction” (the 6-acre site on a former Hills Lane nursery was eventually abandoned, due to issues with the land); town prosecutor Robert Anstett was named head of Westport’s Civilan Defense Corps, and 600 people were expected to attend the 6th annual Compo Beach Clambake, sponsored by the Saugatuck Fathers Club.

But the most intriguing story was this: “Teen-Agers Make Problem at Beaches.”

Turns out the Beach Commission was considering closing all beaches at night, “to stop teen-age beer parties.” In addition, “vandals, not yet apprehended, defaced many bathhouses and destroyed a new stone fireplace” at Compo.

Fishermen reported “beer cans piled along the shore,” while residents complained of “noise and speeding cars late at night.”

The town employed “special constables” to patrol Compo and Burial Hill.

If you’re reading this now, and were a teenager then — making you in your 80s today — click “Comments” below. We’d love to hear how that worked out.

* Bottom line: If you haven’t yet bought a ticket, do it now!

** Unlike these days, when the fireworks are shot off NOT on the actual holiday. Overtime for the scores of workers would be prohibitive.

10 responses to “Friday Flashback #148

  1. Amazing coincidence: four women in one picture with the same first name as their husbands. What are the odds?

    • Hah! I thought of that long-ago naming protocol too. I wonder what editorial styles we have in 2019 that will sound anachronistic in 2084?

  2. William Strittmatter

    I’m surprised you featured a picture of Lillian Gish. I thought we no longer mentioned her name in polite company due to her role in Birth of A Nation. You know, lest we trigger someone with the micro aggression.

    Maybe silliness like that will sound anachronistic in 2084. Or the trend continues and mention of Dan Woog will banned for having once featured a picture of Lillian Gish.

  3. Pete Kelley, Centerport NY

    My goodness! Really? There were nightly teenage beer parties and other wild escapades at the beach back in 1954? The cannons? At least in the later 50s and early 60s we were far more orderly and always cleaned up after ourselves!! After all, we had Mike Cofelice (RIP) and his “Doly” limo as night watchman and the occasional police car patrolling the beach to keep the peace and not allow the submarine races to be canceled. We certainly didn’t want to mess up a good thing! Many fond and indelible memories….

  4. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I am pleased to read that the famous Submarine Races are remembered fondly. I am a little younger than the asked for responders, but not much. I checked my ’58 Staples Yearbook and the ’57 yearbook. I was sure that one class or the other mentioned them as their favorite sport. Yes, Compo was a favorite gathering spot night and day. I was really a wallflower in High School. However, once I had a date that wanted to end the evening at the submarine races. Mr. Aleunti, (wish I had the right spelling) who was a Westport Policeman and our neighbor had duty that night at the guard station and he turned us around as my “date” was from out of town and he did not have a sticker. Believe it or not I was grateful. That was ’56, ’57 or ’58. There were parties but In my memory and experience they were not as wild as described in the article. Guess the policeman at the guard station was a calming influence.

  5. Amy Schneider

    ** Last I knew, police and fire employees working at the fire works do so on days off and get extra pay. Fire fighters get 4th of July holiday pay whether on not they work that day.

  6. Caryl Beatus


  7. Rosemary Milligan

    Fond memories of the halfway house on Longshore and Angela always there swinging a club! This would have been around the sixties, so long ago but great memories.