Author Archives: Dan Woog

Photo Challenge #165

Last week’s high-tech photo challenge image could be found at a fairly low-tech spot.

Gene Borio’s shot showed a sleek, silver apparatus at the Westport train station.

The best description came from Lee Emery: “Random charging station on the train platform. Just appeared one day.”

John D. McCarthy, Lawrence J. Zlatkin and Jonathan McClure also recognized the device, and knew why it was there.  Also nailing the site: Earl Carlyss.

Apparently, most commuters do what they’ve always done: Just look past their surroundings, and wait for the train. (Click here to see what it looks like.)

This week’s photo challenge is a 2-fer:

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

  1. Where in Westport would you see this? And
  2. Who the heck was Doc Skerlick?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

Lambdin Mural Hangs In New Home

For nearly 50 years, a spectacular mural hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School, on Bridge Street.

Created by Westport artist Robert Lambdin as a WPA project, “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure” greeted every visitor to the school. (It was also stared at by generations of mischief-makers, as they waited for meetings with the principal.)

Lambdin is well known for other murals, including a pair called “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (one originally in a Saugatuck bank, now at Town Hall; the other at Westport Bank & Trust, preserved by the current tenant Patagonia), and “Spirit of Adventure,” which hangs over the entrance to the Town Hall auditorium.

But, says town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, “Pageant” was Lambdin’s masterpiece. Its complexity, and the wide variety of characters he painted, “touch everyone who sees it,” she says. “People just get pulled into it.”

The left side of the 7-foot high, 20-foot high mural depicts an array of classic fictional characters: Minerva, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Don Quixote, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe.

A closeup of the Robert Lambdin mural… (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Lambdin included himself too — as Long John Silver.

One of his models was Janet Aley, who now — near 90 — still lives in Westport. Another model was Howard Brubaker — great-grandfather of Westporter Brian Crane — who went on to become editor of Colliers.

The right side of the mural portrays great historical figures, like Leif Erikson, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas, George Washington, Clara Barton, Davey Crockett and Abraham Lincoln.

… and the right side.

The middle section shows the history of writing, from ancient Egypt to a quill pen, then a typewriter.

When Saugatuck Elementary School closed in 1984 — due to declining enrollment —  the Bridge Street building was unmaintained. Weather and vandals took their tolls.

In 1992, the town decided to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing. The murals were slated for demolition.

But a group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.

For nearly 25 years, the Robert Lambdin mural hung above the Westport Library’s Great Hall. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Opened just 6 years earlier, the library was an inspired choice. Hanging above the Great Hall, the mural — with its representations of literature and history — was visible to all.

Plus, back in the day Lambdin had actually been a Westport Library trustee.

More than a quarter century later though, the library is in the midst of its own renovation. A suitable spot could not be found, during or after the project.

Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic. They — with architect Scott  Springer — found it, at Staples High School.

Which is how, the other day, the enormous mural was removed from the library, transported, and reassembled near the auditorium lobby. Hung proudly — and even closer to the public than at the library — “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure” will be seen by thousands of students every day, and folks of all ages at plays, concerts and other events.

Moving the mural was no easy task. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Bennewitz praised many groups, for making the move possible. Town Hall, the Westport Library and Westport school system worked together, coordinating manpower and equipment. Support also came from the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Friends of WestPAC.

The mural was installed during school vacation. Students have not yet seen it. But everyone who passed by during the installation was impressed.

That includes Staples custodian Jeff Allen. A former Saugatuck El student, he remembers the mural well. He’s proud to see it back up in the school where he now works.

Staples custodian Jeff Allen admires the artwork.

He and many others will be in attendance this Friday (March 2, 2:45 p.m.). A rededication ceremony will include brief speeches, appropriate music (“House at Pooh Corner”) — and students, teachers and others dressed in costumes. (First Selectman Jim Marpe will portray Abraham Lincoln.)

Anyone who remembers the Lambdin mural from its original location at Saugatuck Elementary School is particularly welcome.

Of course, everyone who loves art, literature and history is encouraged to be there too.

BONUS FUN FACT: Robert Lambdin was not the only Westport WPA artist. During the 1930s, 17 local artists produced 34 artworks, and 120 photos.

Robert Lambdin’s “Pageant of Juvenile Adventure,” in its new home.

Pics Of The Day #313

Old Mill at low tide (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Joseph Califano Sounds Democracy’s Alarm

Westport is home to far more than our share of famous people. We see them all the time — in restaurants, at the supermarket and CVS. They’re the biggest names in movies, music, finance, TV, fiction and business.

But — with the exception of a few folks like James Comey and Scott Gottlieb — we’re not real big on Washington movers and shakers.

On the other hand, you have to know where to look.

Joseph Califano

In 2007, Joseph Califano moved to town. He’s a legit DC insider. As special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s — aka the chief domestic advisor — he played a key role in shaping initiatives like civil rights bills and Medicare through Congress.

As President Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, he was involved in important childhood immunization and anti-smoking campaigns.

Califano worked as an attorney for the Washington Post during Watergate, and represented clients as varied as the Black Panthers and Coca Cola.

After leaving Washington, he founded and chaired the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. He has written for The New York TimesWashington PostWall Street JournalReaders Digest, New Republic and Journal of the American Medical Association.

Califano is the real deal.

At age 86, he’s just written his 14th book. Our Damaged Democracy: We the People Must Act is timely and passionate. Looking at our 3 branches of government, Califano reveals the political, cultural, constitutional, technological and institutional changes that have rendered so much it dysfunctional.

He is blunt: We must fix our democracy before it’s too late.

Using anecdotes and examples from every modern president, and the actions of both parties, Califano says we do not need to agree on everything. We must, however, trust each other, in order to bring back systems of government that protect freedom, promote fairness, and work.

Our Damaged Democracy is gaining well-deserved national attention. On Thursday, March 1 (7 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club), we’ve got a chance to hear this remarkable and articulate longtime political insider — our neighbor — as he sounds the alarm.

The talk is sponsored by the Westport Library and League of Women Voters of Westport. It’s free, and open to the public.

And — for anyone who cares about the state of democracy — absolutely worth your time.

[OPINION] Phillip Perri: Put Resource Officers In Westport Schools

“06880” reader Phillip Perri writes:

Following Westport superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer’s initiative to place school resource officers in schools, and the subsequent horrific shooting in Florida, some local residents are letting their voices be heard. They say that regardless of which side of the aisle your loyalty rests with, protecting children and school staff in Westport should not be a political decision.

An online petition has been started by myself and Adam Schorr. We contend that the need and time for action is immediate, with no time for debate. Many school districts around the country have already stationed police at or in their schools, as a deterrent.

Security against threats from outside the schools is really only one part of the proposed SRO position, however. SROs are used in many school districts across the country, as well as in our neighboring districts. They are educators; relationship builders between students and the police; active, visible deterrents to the crime, drugs, harassment, bullying and alcohol use that is prevalent and growing in our schools.

The right candidate is trained to be friendly, open and approachable. Westport has long enjoyed the successful DARE program (although not well funded) and the Westport Police Youth Group, run by officers who know our kids from grade school through high school. Think of the SRO as a DARE officer actually stationed at the school, not the fatigue-wearing, machine gun toting SWAT members we see at airports. But make no mistake, in this day and age, his main duty is security, protection, quick action and notification of threat to the police department. When time means lives, every second counts.

A school resource officer at work.

According to the group, none would argue the threat is real and urgent. None would say this is a better solution than effective gun control, better funding for school security from the government, better mental health intervention or Congressional action. But no one can also argue that any of these things are going to happen in time to prevent or mitigate the next “professional school shooter” who is out there plotting.

This Monday evening (February 26, 7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria) the Board of Education will hear a report from a team of administrators, district security staff, our police chief and deputy police chief on their investigation into the SRO position in place at nearby schools. It is an excellent opportunity to gain the truth about what the position is and is not, and make up your own mind on the subject.

When asked why the SRO position is so urgently needed and should be expedited to approval, one individual says, “We don’t want to be in a position to have to say we should have.”

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, schools superintendent Colleen Palmer said:

We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, district security staff, both our police chief and deputy chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers.

SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives.

I am a proponent of School Resource Officers in schools, and in fall 2017 I proposed that the district seek to have at least one SRO in place for the 2018-19 school year. At the board meeting on Monday evening, the board will be discussing this topic as one of its first agenda items.

Jumbled Jetty

We tend to think of the jetties at Compo Beach as strong, permanent, unyielding.

You know — rock solid.

The other day, alert “06880” reader Scott Smith took a walk by the cannon jetty — the one separating the main beach from South Beach. For more than 20 years, he’s admired those huge rectangular slabs of schist.

This time, he was surprised to see the rocks jumbled. “Humpty Dumpty-style,” he says.

One view of the jumbled rocks …

He wonders if that’s normal this time of year — the type of thing Kowalsky puts back together every spring — or if something else is happening.

… and another. (Photos/Scott Smith)

He checked with Google Maps, for an aerial view. To his surprise, the jumbled jetty has been there for a while:

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

All of which got Scott wondering: What would happen if the jetty wasn’t there? Sure, the marina channel would fill in much more quickly — but wouldn’t there be much more sand on South Beach?

If you know what’s going on with the jetty, click “Comments” below. Inquiring minds want to know.

Pic Of The Day #312

Jetty in fog (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Friday Flashback #80

The other day, “06880” celebrated the end of WestportREADS — this year’s book explored World War I — and the 100th anniversary of the “Great War” armistice with a story on military contributions of Westport artists a century ago.

This photo did not make it into the story. But it provides a fascinating peek into a local link between two wars that, today, we think of as completely distinct from each other.

As the caption notes, the photo above shows “soldiers, sailors and veterans from World War I and the Civil War.” They posed together on “Welcome Home Day.”

Three Westport Civil War veterans were there: James H. Sowle, Christopher Tripp and Edwin Davis. Sowle — in the 2nd full row, 2nd from right — presented medals to the newest veterans.

Three things strike me as noteworthy.

First, for a small town, the number of men serving seems remarkable.

Second, though Westport was still a small town in 1918, much had changed in the more than half century since the War Between the States.

Third, 50 years after this photo was taken, American would have fought — and helped win — World War II. We fought to a standstill in Korea. And then got mired in Vietnam.

There would be no more “Welcome Home Day” ceremonies then.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Remembering Patsy Englund

“06880” Mark Basile was surprised that the death in January of his longtime friend — and fellow actor — Patsy Englund did not receive any local notice. She was 93. Mark writes:

I knew and loved Patsy for 26 years. We met at the Theatre Actors Workshop. She was a very impressive woman.

Patsy Englund

Patsy’s mother, Mabel Albertson, played Darren’s mother on “Bewitched.” Her uncle was Jack Albertson, Academy Award-winning actor for “The Subject Was Roses.”

Patsy was raised in Beverly Hills by Mabel Englund and  her husband Ken. He was a screenwriter whose credits include “No No Nanette” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

At UCLA, Patsy was directed by Charlie Chaplin in a production of “Rain.” After college she went into the Broadway company of “Oklahoma!” She then did the London production, returning to New York to take over the role of Ado Annie. She also toured the US with that show.

Patsy was then cast in Katharine Hepburn’s Broadway production of “As You Like It.” That’s where she met Cloris Leachman — who married Patsy’s brother George.

Patsy Englund in “As You Like It.”

During the 1950s Patsy did dozens of live TV dramas, including “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One,” while continuing to perform on Broadway and in regional theater. She married Dunham Barney Lefferts. They had a son, Nick, who survives her.

For several years, the family rented a 1920s cottage on Norwalk Avenue in Westport. They then bought it, and Patsy lived there permanently from about 1962 to 2002.

She was visiting Nick when Hurricane Sandy destroyed the house. She moved back to California, and lived there until her death.

In the early 1960s — while living in Westport — Patsy performed in the groundbreaking political satire TV show “That Was the Week That Was,” with David Frost. She also starred on Broadway in “The Beauty Part,” with Larry Hagman.

Patsy Englund (2nd from left) in “The Beauty Part.” The show — which also starred Bert Lahr and Larry Hagman — opened during a newspaper strike. That cost the production valuable publicity.

Throughout the ’60s Patsy commuted to New York while acting on several long-running soap operas. She also worked at Long Wharf, the Manhattan Theatre Club — and the Westport Country Playhouse.

In the mid-’80s, Patsy helped Keir Dullea and his wife Susie Fuller form the Theatre Artists Workshop. Longtime members included Theodore Bikel, Morton DaCosta, David Rogers, Haila Stoddard, and Ring Lardner Jr.

They met once a week to workshop new plays, scenes and songs, to audition pieces, and get constructive critiques from peers. The Workshop was housed at Greens Farms Elementary School and the Westport Arts Center, before moving to Norwalk.

Patsy Englund with Jim Noble of “Benson” in rehearsal at the Theatre Arts Workshop.

Patsy performed many play readings — including benefits for the Westport Library, Westport Historical Society and Westport Woman’s Club — during her 55 years in Westport.

She loved Westport very much, and is one of the great Westporters who contributed so much to the artistic legacy of this town.

The Most Interesting Person In Westport Drinks Tea

In a town filled with world leaders in finance, entertainment and industries that don’t even have names, there is no shortage of candidates for The Most Interesting Person in Westport.

Today’s candidate is Jonathan Greenfield.

I can’t — in one blog post — do justice to the many things he’s done. But here’s a brief summary of his life (so far):

He dropped out of NYU, then found himself a member of Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires.

Without even an undergraduate degree, Greenfield was accepted into the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s avant-garde MFA program.

But he left.

His sister had been a child actor, and Greenfield himself had been on “Another World” before he was 5. So when an agent invited him to California, he went.

He drank coffee, hung out, picked up a camera, and started shooting: homeless people in LA, the beach at Venice.

During Operation Gatekeeper — President Clinton’s attempt to halt Mexican immigration — Greenfield talked his way into photographing what went on on both sides of the border, in San Diego and Arizona.

A 1990s-era border wall. (Photo/Jonathan Greenfield)

He also made money photographing actors, and doing other photography “stuff.” This phase of his life is not suitable for a family blog.

In New York, he started photographing for brands like Laura Ashley. He said “yes” to everything. No one knew how little experience he had.

Greenfield had grown up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Now he was drawn to Camden, the dangerous city a few miles — and many worlds — away.

He photographed it all, from churches to crack houses. He also made a documentary about Camden. That hooked him on filmmaking.

At the same time, Greenfield was freelancing for the New York Times. One of his photos showed Governor Christine Todd Whitman in a muskrat swamp.

He met a woman named Susanne. They applied to an elite master’s degree film program in Germany. Both were accepted.

He made documentaries for German TV, on subjects like drug addicts in rough neighborhoods, and homeless neo-Nazi transvestites.

Wherever he went, Jonathan Greenfield found interesting subjects. (Photo/Jonathan Greenfield)

A project filming German Jews serving in the Israeli Defense Forces during the 2nd Intifada was — among his many projects — one of the most memorable.

On an extended visit in New York, Greenfield met Iris Netzer. She got pregnant. He stuck by her side. That was the end of his European career.

Greenfield had a show in development with Animal Planet. It featured high-end dog groomers from Yonkers, working in Scarsdale. He got great footage, but it was never greenlit.

Greenfield and Iris had a 2nd child. then a 3rd. Fatherhood changed him dramatically.

His father — a doctor who gave up his practice to trade commodities — told him to give it a try.

Greenfield did. He did very well.

But he missed the adventure and excitement of filmmaking.

In 2015 he got a concussion playing ice hockey. He was drinking a lot of tea.

He had an epiphany: He should focus on tea.

Greenfield found the Tea Association of the USA. He learned as much as he could. He traveled to Seattle, to become a certified tea specialist.

Jonathan Greenfield, recently.

These days, Greenfield is branding a budding tea company. He teaches for the Specialty Tea Institute.

He also surfs year round in Rockaway Beach. And he’s training for a triathlon.

He no longer feels the need to travel the world. He’s put his camera down. He loves tea. He’s at every game or swim meet for his kids. He skateboards with his son.

He does the books, and assists with marketing and social media for Iris’ acupuncture practice — she’s got a thriving business in New York, and a new studio called Noa (specializing in women) on Franklin Street near the train station.

“I’m just trying to go moment to moment,” Greenfield says. “I’m living the stoke.”

There may be other, equally interesting people in Westport.

But I know there is no one else in the world with a story quite like Jonathan Greenfield’s.