Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

70 responses to “Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

  1. I guess historic preservation means nothing to the NEW WESTPORT Museum. It should be named the Westport Museum for revisionist history based on contributions!

  2. There’s much more lurking……..

  3. The damage to the original mission of the WHS keeps getting worse and worse. Once again, time for the current administration to resign and change the name back. The new name is just cover for destroying our History and Culture……

  4. You have no idea how pissed I am and I rarely ever use a word like that in one of Dan’s postings! I write this on behalf of the Backiels who came here in 1903, and for 29 years gave Westport sports and entertainment!

  5. Wow wow wow

  6. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Can’t some of you who are still Westport residents attend the Budget hearings of the Town to see if ANY money is being given to this “museum” that doesn’t value our History or our Culture? They should drop any support.

  7. It is truly hard to imagine this new management team doing any worse optically. It almost appears deliberate but if it is not the shear level of incompetence and mindlessness is REMARKABLE

  8. Judith Marks-White

    What the NEW (ugh) Westport Museum… blah…blah…bah… has done is to unilaterally try to erase memories. Fact is, thy haven’t a clue what Westport is about. Sad for the Sheffer’s, sad for the Kramer’s and sad for all of us. The Remarkable Book Shop lives on in us all, as does the Westport Historical Society. This is utterly and incredibly pathetic.

  9. Even stranger still, their Facebook page recently called the Remarkable Gift Shop the Peggy Jorgensen Gift Shop. No mention of that name change or explanation either.

    • While I am also opposed to the removal of the Sheffer family name and The Remarkable Bookshop Dude sign, I can explain the Peggy Jorgensen mystery.

      While Peggy did not grow up in Westport, she was a beloved teacher in Weston for 26 years and always recommended to her students and parents that they visit the WHS archives for primary sources for their ‘History Day’ projects and other research. A few of her students were even state champs that represented CT in Washington DC!

      This Fall, while in attendance at a charity event for WHS called A Night at the Museum: A Benefit for the Westport Historical Society, she bid on an auction item to have ‘your name placed on the gift shop’ temporarily. There were a few silent auction items not taken so she generously purchased this one. She promoted the Gift Shop during the tree lighting ceremony, the holidays and to her many families. Her name is NOT a replacement for the gift shop, it was just a temporary use.

      I’ve known her for 28 years, and all of her students would agree that she would NEVER want to erase history!!!

  10. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I’d suggest that an inventory be taken covering two elements: 1. The items/artifacts so graciously donated by long term Westporters. 2. The dwindling list of benefactors that the WMHC leadership hasn’t insulted or otherwise screwed. It shouldn’t take long. But hurry, the WMHC is on a mission. At the town meeting, perhaps 1st Selectman Marpe May be asked to consider designating WMHC as a domestic terrorist organization as evidenced by recent hate crimes.

  11. The Shop at Wheeler House? Sounds the pretentious name of something to be found in an upscale mall. Who ARE these people?

  12. This is so depressing

  13. Jill Turner Odice

    Granted I have not lived in Westport since 1989, but it is where I grew up from 1966 until I moved to Florida. The Remarkable Bookshop was my very favorite place to hang out, I never went downtown without stopping in there.When the Remarkable closed it’s doors, and it was such a big deal we saw it on the news all the way down in Florida…My dad, Gerry Turner wrote children’s books and taught me to read and love books. The Remarkable always carried his books.
    The Historical Society was such a fun place to go in later years when I would visit. They always had such wonderful exhibits. They were very helpful in answering questions I would have concerning the history of Westport, and I enjoyed keeping in touch with my hometown over the years as I relocated to Cape Cod, California and finally Maine, through their website.
    I have watched the old Westport I loved slowly changing, beautiful old homes being ripped down to be replaced by ugly modern McMansions, Main Street turning into an anywhere USA mall of overpriced chain stores…hearing about every place I considered to be Westport disappearing…
    How sad that whoever these people are who have taken over the Historical Society have totally destroyed what made Westport the unique special place I remember. They have no clue what it means to be a Westporter.
    Luckily we have Dan’s 06880 and “You Know You’re from Westport If” ( Chou Chou’s group on FaceBook) to preserve our memories

  14. Nothing like the New Broom Sweeps Clean mantra. What a pack of insensitive historically ignorant people. Their theory behind all this is “ in time people will forget about the whirlwind we are reaping now. Don’t count on it!

  15. This is indeed a sad one.

  16. Ditto to Judith Marks-White comment. This is deplorable behavior and unacceptable to the community that has enjoyed all the good deeds of the Sheffer and Kramer families.

  17. Every update Dan has neededto post on this continuing saga gets sadder and more suspicious. This does seem deliberate, intentional and bordering on cruel to the kind and benevolent Westporters who have given so much to WHS over the many decades. Remarkable is iconic to Westport and no one, hard as they may try, can erase that. Just such a cheapened thought running amok for who knows for what end here, seems to me.

    Who are these unremarkable people who appear as of late on the historical scene of Westport, some bragging about their youth which is so distasteful and rude, and age should have no bearing on anything going on. Aren’t there laws against ageism? Seems to me, this group is systematically attemting to destroy the history of remarkable Westport with crude and unfeeling remarks and actions. It is pathetic. They obviously have ZERO clue or respect for the strong, pioneering, shoulders they stand upon. My ancestors founded Stonington, Ct. Westport and the Connecticut land is in my dna so this feels personal to me as well. Just read some of their callous statements…unbelievable!!! As humans, we must honor the good people and their deeds who have gone before us. This is my opinion. Free speech still lives for now.

    Keep the dream alive and if I were closer, I would join you all to knock on their door to ask for answers. Please think about starting up a some peaceful protests with signs, chants, photos of Remarkable, the Sheffer Gallery, and more in front of WHS and start demanding some accountability. Keep the heat on.

    • Katherine Mozier-Tichy

      Oh, Stonington you say? So am I! Descended from Palmer, Denison, and Miner. Sounds like we are probably cousins!

  18. Looks like the way this is going –
    Westport is in the name of the museum because that is where it is located, however, that does not mean it is a museum of Westport history and culture, it is a museum “for” history and culture. Think of The Bruce Museum in Greenwich.
    This is all about status and recognition on a national scale…and keeping it about Westport won’t get them there.
    This is progress, and if you disagree you are old and in the way….
    Just a matter of time until the Wheeler House itself gets a modern upgrade, wine bar included, for the private social events with its international donors

    • I have read their annual reports, which I posted links to, and this is the part that I am completely mystified by: why do they think they have the amount of exhibit space and sufficient parking to significantly upgrade the stature of this organization?

      At its current location with its current space, I do not understand how a major transformation can take place.

      And, in response to Margaret’s comment below, I believe it is up to the Board of Directors of the WMHC, who are voted on by the members (as far as I know), who have allowed these changes to happen.

      Look, I was a member during this period of transformation and, being out of Westport for much of that time, I didn’t pay close attention to what was happening. I‘m sure that was true of many individual members, even if they live in Westport.

      I had posted that I would not renew my membership until the Sheffer Gallery renaming was rectified. I should probably reconsider that to have a voice in all that is happening.

      • Thank you Fred however wasn’t the WHS an institution in part supported with taxpayer funds since it was very specific to representing Westport thereby necessitating a final “ok” from the Westport citizentry? Just trying to understand how this theft happened.

        • Regarding the matter of theTown’s (Town of Westport) financial support of the institution formerly known as the WHS, Morley Boyd has posted that, currently, the Town only makes a small contribution to them. They are not a Town body or the recipient of significant taxpayer funds. I recall they used to receive some $ as the custodian of Town records but I believe that ceased – again Morley can weigh in there.

          I point this out because, while Jim Marpe may have an opinion about the situation there, the Town has little power or control over them. Not sure about favorable arrangements they may have with the Town that might be disrupted.

          • Jack, the Historical Society did, in fact, receive some taxpayer money this fiscal year; $7,500.00 in the form of a “grant” – and $5,943.00 which was to go towards the Society’s (ticketed) First Light event held this past New Years. The check for the latter was cut on 12.31.19 and was intended to cover a portion of, among other things, the hourly rate of WHS staff and its Executive Director. Whether the Society kept whatever proceeds it received from the sale of tickets remains unknown to me. But I do know that the event included the use of town owned property.

      • Hi, Fred. Doesn’t this kerfuffel remind you of something that occurred back in the fifties, and became a 1958 film « Rally Around the Flag Boys » starring our own Paul and Joanne ? Maybe you can put it together as a new movie or TV series…..it’s almost as big as the impeachment thing now going on!
        Cheers, Wally Woods

        • Wally, it’s funny you bring this up. After reading the latest story today and clicking on the link to the new gift shop photo, I wondered where this would lead if Max Shulman or Peter De Vries were alive.

          Staples classmate, Cathleen Schine, wrote a wonderful novel inspired by The Remarkable Book Shop, and wrote a second book that was set in Westport. Both were superb, by the way.

          I believe she reads “06880.” Who knows? Perhaps she will find some material here for her next novel.

          • She’s the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, right? But that’s not the novel inspired by the Remarkable Book Shop is it? Let her know about all that’s happening in Westport today, and maybe her next novel is halfway completed! Stay healthy, Fred.

  19. I grew up in Westport & Wendy Kramer was in my Staples graduating class. I have been following this blog regarding the autrosity of the changes taking place with the Westport Historical Society, The Kramer’s & the other donors are very much a part of Westport’s unique & colorful history. Deleting this is just wrong! As I read the various blogs regarding this institution I began to think about how did the name get changed. I would like to know if this was ever presented at a Town Meeting? Was it ever put on a ballot for the Westport citizens to vote on? How did this horrendous change get stolen from the Westport population & it’s history? I would like someone to let me know if there was ever a vote taken to afford this disastrous change. Thank you I will look for an answer. Hopefully this will be put up for discussion in Westport’s upcoming Town Meeting.

  20. WHS, Urgent! Please tell us that you did not sell or throwaway the Remarkable Guy like you have reportedly done with so many other Westporter’s donations?!? Please! Not the Remarkable Guy!

    • Dear Mr. Suggs,

      Thank you for your recent inquiry about the character formerly known as “The Remarkable Guy”. While we recognize the value of such memorabilia to some older Westport residents who are still hanging on to life for reasons unknown, please understand that our strategic vision requires that we present a fresher, more relevant face to the public. With that said, we are excited to announce that the beloved figure you inquired about is currently available as a naming opportunity. Please contact the museum should you wish to discuss this matter at greater length.

      Regards,

      The Westport Museum of High Culture and Approved History

  21. I lived in Westport for over 37 years. It is hard for me to remember any screw up of this magnitude. Why are there no coherent explanations for the behavior that has alienated so many? Who owns the business plan? Why would the town fork over one dime to support this entity? Why have so many board members fled the scene? At this point I can only wish the residents of Westport good luck in their efforts to resolve the hurt and confusion.

    • Bill Boyd Staples 66

      Somehow it keeps getting worse…but I think they will regret their actions in the end…let’s hope so. …Westporters don’t quit!

  22. Who ARE these people who made this short-sighted (I’m trying my best to be polite here.) decision and are ANY of them even from WESTPORT?
    As a long-time former Westporter, and one of thousands who, as a child, practically lived in the cherished REMARKABLE book store on MainStreet, I even struggle to find the adequate words to describe the ignorance and sheer stupidity, along with a stinging slap-in-the-face to the Kramer family, and for that matter, all Westporter, past and present who consider the long-gone Remarkable Book Shop are strong, solid part of Westport history.
    The Westport Historical Museum is no longer about the rich history and culture of Westport, is is now clearly about the wealthy “sound” of its name. The former was haute local history and culture. The latter (and current), nouveau riche.

  23. How much salary are these folks paying themselves? Is there a mortgage on the property? If not, are they planning to take one out to extract money to pay themselves?

  24. Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

    I’ll bet they will delay the opening of their new ‘Harvey Weinstein Reading Room’ now.

  25. Shame on these people at the former WHS for their lack of respect to the Kramers, Sheffers and all others who made Westport what it is today!

  26. I don’t understand how this could happen. How has the new management at WHM been able “go rogue” like they have? Do they report to anyone or do they have total power to do whatever they want?

  27. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Perhaps this has been noted previously but on the WMCH website Newman’s Own is listed as an annual sponsor. It’s no secret that Paul and JoAnne played key roles in the development of the original WHS. Perhaps someone could solicit the input of Newman’s Own as to whether or not they were consulted.

  28. Michael Kopko SHS '76

    Sad as it can be, I think that we all realize that the only unchangeable thing is change, and so Westport will develop and change. Houses, businesses, streets. The Remarkable was once “that new funky pink shop”. And isn’t that all the more reason to preserve the past in those places where it is their primary mission to preserve the past? How is it that the mission of the custodians of our history is to erase that history? These people are in the wrong business…

  29. Yvonne Senturia

    The following notice just arrived. The town website lists the members of this committee.

    RTM Library Museum and Arts Committee
    Date: 01/29/2020 11:00 AM
    Location: Town Hall – Room 309
    NOTICE OF MEETING AND AGENDA

    The RTM Library, Museum and Arts Committee will meet on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 11am in Town Hall Rm 309 for the following purpose:

    BUSINESS TO BE CONDUCTED:

    1. To discuss the “proper sphere of business of the Library, Museum and Arts Committee.”
    2. To discuss the appropriation of town funds to various arts and museum councils and arts programs, as proposed in the
    Selectman’s Proposed budget.
    3. To discuss this committee’s role in the Library Trustee appointment process.

    • is this meeting filmed/televised?!

    • Is there a way to publicize this meeting in a big way? Especially #2 discussing appropriation. The meeting is next Wednesday, Is the public invited? Maybe someone can post it on one of the Westport Facebook pages? These actions are deplorable. I hope the remarkable guy has a warm place to sleep tonight.

  30. Why aren’t the Board of Directors acting in their proper roles to protect the museum?
    Sadly, it appears that certain people are more interested in big $$$s rather than the preservation of a historically significant community that was the seat of much of the culture in the greater NY City area.

    Return the money and start an unbiased fundraising drive to restore the “old museum” that truly represents the town!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      It’s clearly a community issue and therefore incumbent on the 1st Selectman to pull the relevant principals into a room and start communicating face to face. Too many emails, website postings and blogging like we’re doing here.

  31. This is completely uncool

  32. Dan. I have been watching this pot simmer for a few days. Now I have to jump in. Removing the Remarkable Guy and Name? What are these folks thinking? Clearly, they were not Westporters in the 1960’s when Remarkable Book Shop was a pillar of main street. And my first job at age 15 as janitor/bookkeeper. I smile everytime I see it on my Social Security statement. From 1967. How could these “newbies” hijack our history in this way? Makes me sad. And a tad angry.

  33. As Brooke Glen said, Who ARE these people? Have they no shame? They’re about to learn that you can mess with a lot of things in Westport. But you don’t ever mess with the legacy of the Remarkable Book Shop.

  34. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    On Tuesdays I am gone from early morning to late afternoon or my outrage would have been expressed immediately. The first glance at the tittle of the entry gave me very brief hope only to be dashed and now I am saying this is so totally unacceptable. This is an outrage. I am a Westport native, Staples High School ’58 but like many who have commented I was transplanted to another place. I simply can’t imagine this happening but it is. Many of us are cheering for those of you fortunate enough to live in Westport to prevail. Is there any way that those of us who have ben transplanted can do more to help other than express our dismay and outrage here?

  35. Looks like the new gang at the Westport historical society just doesn’t learn. How many other supporters are left to alienate?

  36. This is like a bad nightmare…you know the one where where you wake up and realize you are still trapped in that nightmare! This is it!

  37. This is like waking up from a nightmare …only to realize you are having another nightmare.
    Sickening the shameful dismantling of Westport history.

  38. Holly Hightower

    I am so sad to read what is happening at the WHS.
    Thank you for keeping us informed!
    One of the amazing parts of Westport is people who have donated significant time as volunteers to build organizations like WHS, First Night (in its original form), donated goods and memorabilia to preserve the quirky and fun history of the town, led grass roots efforts to help fund the WHS or the “new” library several times over… There are so many wonderful volunteer led organizations in Westport! The Remarkable Bookstore is iconic – and the sign so wonderful! The joy it brings to so many people – and now to the mobile cart at the beach so many years later – makes it difficult to what is motivating the current leadership to take these steps in the manner they are apparently proceeding.
    It does seem the new leadership could continue to recognize and celebrate the unique aspects of the town over the last 50-100 years and also set new goals that build upon these past successes. It does not take much to find a win- win solution for all in these scenarios that are popping up. I suggest the new leadership team step back and reconsider some recent decisions. This could help garner goodwill and perhaps they can continue to benefit from – and perhaps learn from – the many people who have donated time, memorabilia, money, artwork or purchased bricks, books, artwork at the shop, etc – all treasuring the past while continuing to build the future.

    Perhaps it would also help if everyone who is moved to do so – regardless of current Westport residency or WHS membership status – could also raise our voices the “old fashioned” way and directly suggest some ideas through an in person visit, a snail mail letter or by phone call directly. This may help provide direct feedback, new ideas and more context to the new team and the board – perhaps generating positive changes.

  39. REMARKABLE1

  40. Call me crazy, but what is being done to the Westport Historical Society reminds me of what has been done to our country in the last 3 years. It makes me sick to my stomach.

    • Not crazy at all, Carolyn….it seems just as random as Trump’s gratuitous undoing of Obama regulations just to punish Obama and the “Left.”
      Good call.

  41. I am so sorry to hear this. My whole family adored Remarkable bookshop…and it was nice to hear the name live on. I hope they saved the guy! He’s a part of Westport history.

  42. Unless he has been destroyed, let’s put Mr. Remarkable in the Town Hall lobby.

  43. My wife and I have both lived and worked in or around Westport for most of our lives. We both graduated from Staples in the sixties. I was brought up in Weston, which at the time, was (and still is) very rural. We didn’t have a high school, so we went to Staples. We now live in Redding, and have done so for the past 40 years. However, Westport has always been the go-to place — at least, for me.

    We both remember it as kids, as working adults, and now as two people who remember it “when.” Main Street was different then: Much more charming than it is now. . . but, hey, that’s old news. Now, my wife refuses even to go down Main Street. What used to be Oscar’s is now but a reminder of what once was, years ago. And what has happened to the “Remarkable” is just one example of the “rebranding” of Westport.

    That’s right: Westport has been and is in the process of being “rebranded” by groups of people who couldn’t care less about its history or integrity. It doesn’t matter what went before; it doesn’t matter who gets hurt. Money talks. It’s just too bad progress can’t be made in a more decent and respectful way. But, hey, that’s just a guy from Redding talking. Exactly.

  44. Dorothy Broadman

    Is anyone else curious to know who Wheeler was? Or, is he irrelevant to Westport history because he wasn’t during OUR time?

  45. Deb Madison Rosenfield

    I call this the “Pottery Barn” effect. Everything is in its place, oversized, sanitized, meant for the mass appeal/fad of the moment, and then the new catalog comes out. So sad.

  46. I think we should look into the possibility of being absorbed by the Weston Historical Society and have it be called the Westport/Weston Historical Society. I doubt they’d have us.. but that’s where I am at. We already have Westport Weston Health District, the Westport Weston YMCA.. so Westport Weston Historical society would be possible. Their facility is very close to the Westport line in a former Coley Property and it’s huge. The director is lovely. She is a knowledgable, respectful lovely women who is a native (or almost native) Westporter who’s family has deep historical roots here. Let’s think about it. Turn the current Wheeler house into an actual museum that you pay to get into, and that houses no researching resources or physical collections and is run by all volunteers. Generate income renting out for community events and corporate meeting. But more seriously.. Has anyone seen the Remarkable Guy or was he sold?

  47. Just maybe, this is just the most brilliant fund raising gimmick ever. How much do they need to thrive and replace this insensitive group? Is anyone willing to lead a new effort to replace this group? If so,how many of us are willing to step up and donate to reversing this destruction? I am.

  48. Something stinks in this situation. I’d be interested in seeing who’s agenda has been enhanced By these decisions…. The ED, a board member….. Who benefits, not the Historical society.

    • Sara Krasne sent back, at their expense, my aunt’s 1932 Bedford Junior High Diploma! I wanted that ,and although they didn’t have to send it back to me, they honored my request. I am grateful that she did that! With that said, I’m finished with giving anything to the new organization. Everything is now going to my kids, including my father’s 1936 Staples diploma that looks like it as issued last week. There needs to be an “organization” that is a part of the town, and that is controlled by the town, that will keep forever family heirlooms that are donated. This new organization should not have the authority to sell, throw away, or in any way discard what is donated! Start an organization like that, and you’ll get my aunt’s 1932 diploma back.

  49. Jack (Stress-Free) Backiel

    Has Dan Offutt ever lived in Westport? Who is this guy? Again, I want to thank Sarah Krasne for sending back my aunt’s 1932 diploma! You saved me a lot of stress!

  50. As long as we’re changing names, how about this name change for the current Westport Transfer Station “The Daniel Offutt III Transfer Station (aka the town dump.)

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