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Today Is Party Day!

It’s all good for tonight’s 5th annual “06880” Compo Beach “blog party.”

We’re set for 6 p.m. at South Beach — the alcohol-is-fine end, furthest from the cannons.

Bring your own food and beverages. If you’d like to bring something extra to share, feel free!

We’ll provide the “06880” community — a chance to meet commenters and lurkers. Each year there are oldtimers, newcomers, politicians and normal human beings. It’s a chance to talk, laugh and trade stories about this wild, wacky and only slightly dysfunctional town we share and love.

See you tonight!

PS: Park carefully. You don’t want to end up on “06880,” do you?

We’ll be just to the left of this jetty (near the boat and kayak launch). Without the car, though. (Photo/Linda Gramatky Smith)

Birdcage: The New Brook

When children comes out as gay, some parents (still) turn their backs.

Many (fortunately) embrace them.

When her son Julian came out, Mary Brooks created a business to celebrate the entire LGBT community.

She’s worked in lots of fields: marketing, eldercare, life coach, spa manager. Now she’s in real estate.

But she always wanted to open up a gay bar.

Mary Brooks and her son Julian.

When the Brook — Westport’s long-running gay bar (and no relation to her, despite the name) — closed, Brooks says, “something went missing in Westport.”

But real estate is expensive (and she sells it, so she knows).

So Brooks founded “a pop-up with a purpose.” She calls it Birdcage Events — in homage to the 1996 movie about a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion — and in April presented her first event. A hundred people — LGBT, straight, and everything else — jammed the Tru North restaurant in Black Rock. They enjoyed a piano bar, DJ, specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Brooks donates proceeds from Birdcage events to LGBT organizations, like Norwalk’s Triangle Community Center.

Next up for Birdcage Events: A Sunday, July 23 “En Blanc” party at Rive Bistro. From 5-11 p.m., guests will have the entire restaurant to themselves. Admission is $25 ($30 at the door): Titos drinks are $7.

Everyone is welcome, Brooks says.

Just like in the days of the Brook.

The Cedar Brook Cafe, before it was demolished in 2011.

(To reserve a ticket for the Birdcage pop-up party at Rive Bistro, click here.)

Me The People

On November 7, Marc Bailin and Nancy Holson went to bed thinking Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States.

On November 8, something unexpected happened.

When the couple woke up on November 9, their world had changed.

On January 21 they took part in the Women’s March in New York, not far from their Bleecker Street apartment.

Marc Bailin and Nancy Holson

But Marc — a 1970 Staples High School graduate (where he sang with Orphenians, and played bass and sang with Smoke; he’s now a noted entertainment lawyer — and Nancy (a longtime Westporter and Emmy Award-winning writer, director and producer, best known here for her “News in Revue” political satire that highlighted many First Night celebrations) believed they had to do more than march.

When Nancy saw Jim Russek — with whom she’d collaborated on “Bush Wars,” an anti-George W. show that ran off-Broadway a decade ago — a light bulb clicked.

Normally, it takes at least a year to stage a New York show.

“Me the People” went from germ of an idea to the stage in just 3 months.

It includes Trump’s crony cabinet, White House grifters Ivanka and Jared, the Supreme Court, Russia, Mar-a-Lago, Korea, Russia, climate change, Russia — and a literal shredding of the Constitution.

The website calls the show “a wake of sorts … a joyous celebration that helps endure the loss of a loved one … (it) is our way to endure the tragedy of a Trump presidency; a musical that laughs and sings about the loss of the America we love.”

That’s not fake news!

The Supremes — okay, the Supreme Court — sing “Stop!” (Photo copyright Steven Schwartz)

“Me the People” has settled in at the Triad Theater for an open-ended run. “We hope to be there until Trump is impeached,” Bailin says.

But he’s realistic about the audience.

“We’re not preaching to the choir. We are the choir,” the former Orphenian says.

“We’re not going to change any minds. We’re just giving people who think like us a chance to laugh for 90 minutes.”

But, he notes, a friend from Cedar Point Yacht Club — where Bailin sails every Wednesday — had seen the show the night before.

“I haven’t heard back from him yet,” Bailin says.

Sad!

(For more information — including tickets — click here.)

 

 

Melissa Kane Enters 1st Selectman Race

Jim Marpe has an opponent.

This afternoon, Melissa Kane announced her candidacy for 1st selectman of Westport. The Democratic activist opposes the Republican incumbent.

Kane currently serves as chair of the Westport Democratic Committee, and is a member of the non-partisan RTM from District 3. She is also co-chair of the Downtown Implementation Committee (appointed by Marpe).

Previously, as chair of the Downtown Steering Committee, she helped create a new Downtown Master Plan.

Melissa Kane

Kane recently received the Democratic Women of Westport’s first scholarship to the Yale Campaign School for Women.

She has been a Westport Library trustee, a board member of the Green Village Initiative and A Child’s Place, and active with Earthplace, the Westport Arts Center and PTA.

After moving to Westport in 2003, Kane launched and ran a floral design company, MKK Designs. She began her career as a columnist for Hearst New Media’s online publications, before becoming a publicist in the recording industry.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in international relations, she is married to Jonathan Kane.  Their children are George (18) and Lily (14).

In her announcement, Kane said:

First, I’ve loved Westport since I was a little girl. I spent my summers at Beach School and fishing in the currents off the bridges at the Mill Pond. Today, I love this town for all that it offers, and for its extraordinarily active community involvement.

Westport’s inclusive values, the importance of community, the integrity and beauty of our open spaces and beaches, and the quality of our schools, led my husband and me to choose to raise our family here.

Second, I have a vision for our infrastructure, public safety and economic sustainability that is critical to our future. We can do much more to protect the fiscal strength of our schools and to enhance our home values, to attract future generations, and support local businesses. As your first selectman, I will have a clearly articulated economic development plan. Times require more than just hoping to come in on budget each year without clear priorities.

At the women’s march on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Senator Richard Blumenthal posed with Connecticut protesters. Among the crowd was one of the state organizers, Melissa Kane.

Third, every Westporter deserves to have a leader who is willing to stand up for our most important priorities and values.

If you are concerned about maintaining excellence in our schools, know that I will advocate forcefully and effectively to make sure our schools are fully funded.

If you are a senior or have aging parents, know that I will work proactively with our P&Z officials and developers to make sure seniors have access to affordable, centrally located housing, or that they have the tax relief and support they need to be able to age in place.

If you are a commuter, know that I will work to make sure our traffic issues are finally addressed. I will improve mobility throughout town by working more collaboratively with DOT and the Citizens Transportation Commission on innovative solutions, and I will commit to investing in multi modal public transportation options as alternate ways to get around town.

If you are concerned about public safety, know that I will work with our local, state and national officials on responsible gun protection measures, and I will always stand up to hate in any form.

In this election we have an exciting opportunity to move Westport forward and to ensure that our town’s leaders represent the values we believe in.

 

How Do You See Saugatuck?

What’s your vision for Saugatuck?

Westporters are invited to a “community visioning open house” this Monday (June 12, 6:30 p.m., Town Hall lobby and auditorium).

In plain English, that means you get a chance to review — and provide feedback on — the Saugatuck Master Plan.

That’s the steering committee and consultants’ guide to “improvements” and the future development of the vibrant neighborhood bordered by the train station, river and I-95 exit 17.

Monday’s workshop is intended to elicit “more comprehensive, face-to-face feedback on a variety of issues and topics that will shape the future of Saugatuck,” a Town Hall press release says.

To offer feedback through an online survey, click here.

A juxtaposition of Saugatuck: raft, kayak and paddleboard rentals, underneath the massive I-95 bridge. The railroad bridge is in the distance.

Rolling Over Horace Staples’ Grave

He was the richest man in Westport. He founded a school that bears his name.

Now — 120 years after his death, at age 96 — Horace Staples lies forgotten. His gravestone sits, broken and overgrown, in one of Westport’s oldest cemeteries.

But it won’t be that way for long. At least, not if one teacher at Staples High School has her way.

Jeanne Stevens is an AP US History teacher, and amateur genealogist. This winter, as she planned Founders Day — the school’s revival of a long-dead tradition honoring Horace Staples on his birthday — she found old photos of his grave, in the Greens Farms Church’s lower cemetery.

A few days later, she and social studies department secretary Fran Evan headed off to the cemetery, at the corner of Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.

They found the Staples family obelisk. It was cracked, and propped up.

The Staples family obelisk. The base is heavily damaged.

They were even more horrified at the condition of the graves.

Horace Staples’ stone was broken. Half of it lay on the ground, overgrown with weeds and brush.

The broken gravestone of the founder of Staples High School.

Other relatives were in even worse condition.

Stevens asked Peter Jennings — the Greens Farms Church official who oversees the cemetery — for permission to help restore the plot. He agreed.

Soon, Stevens and Jennings met Jim Bria — a monument and grave restorer who owns Artista of Bridgeport — at the cemetery. He knew immediately which quarry the stone came from. Stevens was encouraged.

Bria and his assistant searched for other Staples gravestones. Charrey Couch — Staples’ 2nd wife — and his son Capt. William Cowper Staples were nearby. His daughter Mary Eliza Staples’ stone was buried, and broken into 5 pieces.

Mary Eliza Staples’ grave is broken into several pieces.

The headstone of Eliza Ann Hull — Staples’ 1st wife — is still lost.

Fixing the graves is quite a project. They must be cleaned, pieced together, reinforced and re-sunk. The obelisk must be re-set by crane.

Horace Staples

The cost is $10,000. (By comparison, Wilbur Cross — Horace Staples’ 2nd principal — was paid $700 for the year. Of course, that year was 1885.)

Stevens hopes the Staples High School class of 2017 can contribute some funds, if money is left after prom and graduation. She’s also reached out to fellow teachers.

But it would be great if others — Staples graduates, current students and parents, anyone else with any connection to the high school — could help restore the family plot of the man who founded it.

Without Horace Staples, we might not be here at all.

(A special account has been set up. Checks made out to “Staples High School” — with “Cemetery” on the memo line — can be sent to Mari Carroll, c/o Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.)

The broken grave of Horace Staples’ son, Capt. William Cowper Staples. (Photos/Jeanne Stevens)

“Peace Now!” — Back Then

January’s Women’s March on Washington sent news commentators scurrying back to the Vietnam War era for numerical comparisons.

And “Democracy on Display” a couple of months ago in downtown Westport rekindled memories of the day a similar demonstration took place there.

It happened on October 15, 1969. Part of a national “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam,” Westport’s protest was largely youth-driven.

Staples students streamed out of school. Led by Westport police, and joined by teachers and junior high students, more than 1,200 marched down North Avenue, turned right on Long Lots, then onto the Post Road all the way to the YMCA.

The cover of Staples’ 1970 yearbook included photos from that fall’s Moratorium march, in the form of a peace sign.

They wore black armbands and sported doves of peace. They carried American flags, and chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” Counter-protesters drove alongside, cursing them. A few threw eggs.

Massing in front of the old Bedford building — the only part of the Y at that time — a crowd that swelled to 2,000 heard speakers, including Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, denounce the war and demand peace.

The other day, a remarkable video of that Westport moratorium surfaced.

Guy Northrop — a Staples senior — shot 17 minutes of the march, with a Bauer Super 8 camera. Eleven minutes survive, and have been posted on YouTube.

The video — nearly 50 years old — shows with remarkable freshness the power of that protest. It also serves as a unique time capsule. Much of Westport has changed since then. But much has not.

As America prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to remember that our democracy remains strong for 2 reasons.

We have a great military.

And the men and women in it sacrifice every day, so that we can speak our minds.

 

(Hat tip: Mary Palmieri Gai)

A Farmers’ Market Tale

Today, the Westport Farmers’ Market begins its 12th season.

Its growth — from tentative beginnings in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot, to a vibrant, beloved and very popular Imperial Avenue Thursday tradition — is remarkable.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Every shopper, farmer and vendor has their own story about what the Market means to them.

But none is more remarkable than this.

Each week, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission selects men to pick up extra food. They bring the produce, bread and more back to the center, where chefs make meals. They also offer recipes to folks who pick up the food that’s not cooked.

The honor to be selected to gather the goods is reserved for men who are winning their battles against alcohol or drug addiction.

Two helpers from the Bridgeport Rescue Mission pick up produce at the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo courtesy of CTBites.com)

“These guys are great,” says WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall. “We get to know them well. They’re so supportive of our staff and the vendors. They stay, they help us break down the tents, they do so much for us.”

Last year, one man came every Thursday. He was excited about graduating from the Rescue Mission. But he worried he might not find a job.

At the end of the market season last November, he still did not have one. Cochran contacted a few area restaurants.

One hired him. But she didn’t know it …

… until a couple of weeks ago, when she and her husband went out for dinner at a Barcelona group restaurant.

The man approached her. He told her he was working there.

He added that he goes to church every Sunday. He has his own apartment.

And he got married.

Joyfully, he showed her pictures of his new life.

As Cochran left, the restaurant manager pulled her aside.

“All he keeps saying,” the manager said, “is that the Farmers’ Market gave him hope things would work out.”

Raise Funds — And Upper-Body Strength — For Kids

Westporters know that every day is different at the Levitt Pavilion.

One night there’s a rock group. The next night, a military band. Then comes a comedian, followed by Klezmer musicians. It’s Ed Sullivan on steroids.

But on Sunday morning, June 4 (10:30 to 11:30), the Levitt stage will be taken over by regular people of all ages.

Doing push-ups.

It’s the 8th annual Push Against Cancer for Kids. Individually and in teams, everyone is invited to bang out as many push-ups as possible.

Last year’s Push Against Cancer drew a wide variety of ages and sizes …

The only catch: You have to be sponsored. Friends, family members, colleagues — all pledge money, based on how many push-ups you can do.

All proceeds go to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the program for children facing severe medical challenges.

An anonymous donor will match all funds raised by everyone under 23 years old (up to $25,000).

… and both genders.

Paul Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang camp nearly 30 years ago. This year, Westport-based Newman’s Own Foundation is helping out.

The Westport and Danbury Police Departments are all in too.

Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. A Hole in the Wall Gang camper, now in remission from cancer, will deliver an inspiring speech.

DJ Sean McKee — aka Big Daddy — will motivate the push-up participants. He has a great reason to help: He’s a 2-time cancer survivor.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (5th from left) and his entire force are strong supporters of the Push Against Cancer.

Last year’s event drew over 400 people. They raised $79,000 for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Organizer Andy Berman’s goal this year is $100,000. The cost of a week at the camp is $2,500 — though all services are free to campers and their families. So Berman hopes to raise enough money for 40 kids.

How many push-ups will you contribute to the cause?

To register, or for more information, click here. Questions? Email andy@mentalgritfitness.com 

Barnes & Noble Throws Itself A 20-Year Bash

When Tricia Tierney was hired as Barnes & Noble’s Westport community relations coordinator 20 years ago, the bookstore had just replaced Waldbaum’s in the Post Plaza shopping center.

It moved there from smaller digs a few hundred yards east — where Pier 1 was (until recently) located.

Much has changed in 2 decades. The toys and gifts section grew exponentially. Children’s books got their own separate section. The music department saw the decline of CDs, and the resurrection of vinyl. Something called a “Nook” took over the front of the store.

To celebrate 20 years in the same location, Barnes & Noble has remodeled. Music area walls have come down. Comfy chairs — which vanished a while ago — returned. The Nook tables are gone.

Overall, it looks and feels much more open.

Barnes & Noble, after remodeling.

Tierney has seen other changes. In the beginning, she spent much of her time arranging author readings.

J.K. Rowling was here in 1999 to promote her 2nd Harry Potter book. “It was like having a Beatle,” Tierney recalls. The line wound around Purple Feet. Rowling sold over 1,000 copies — and looked every child in the eye.

J.K. Rowling in Westport, nearly 20 years ago.

Martha Stewart spoke several times. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Frank McCourt appeared too. (Full disclosure: So did I.)

These days, there are far fewer author readings. Tierney now has a different job — community business development manager — and is more involved in book fairs, and school and business events. (GE moved to Boston, but still orders books for meetings through the Westport store.)

Tierney has developed strong relationships with area educators, in both the Westport and Bridgeport school systems.

Saugatuck Elementary School staff members, at a Barnes & Noble book fair.

The “community” in Tierney’s two titles is important, she says.

“From the start, we wanted Westport to know that we were part of the town — not just a big corporate store,” she says. “We still do.”

She is proud that when people hear where she works, they exclaim, “I love Barnes & Noble!”

Tommy Greenwald

This Saturday (May 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), the store marks its 20th anniversary in Post Plaza. They’ve planned special story times and crafts for kids (including a make-your-own instrument activity). Young musicians will play. Wakeman Town Farm will bring animals. Food trucks — and a frappuccino bar — add to the fun.

And even though author appearances are now rare, local writers Tommy Greenwald, Michaela MacColl, Hans Wilhelm, Ramin Ganeshram, Christine Pakkala, Elizabeth Menke and Elise Broach will greet readers and sign books (12 to 2 p.m.).

Sure, Barnes & Noble — along with the internet, other technology (including the Nook) and many other factors — helped drive small, locally owned bookstores out of business.

But the Westport store has been an important part of our community for more than 2 decades. They’ve showcased local talent, supported tons of town causes, and helped many organizations raise money (holiday wrapping, anyone?).

On Saturday, Barnes & Noble celebrates that remarkable achievement.

Youngsters enjoyed Barnes & Noble’s Harry Potter trivia event last year.