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SRO For Solar Eclipse

The largest Rolnick Observatory crowd since the formation of the universe clogged Bayberry Lane today. Westporters of all ages — particularly kids — headed to the highest spot in town, to watch the much-anticipated solar eclipse.

It was — at least this afternoon — also the coolest place to be.

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

A group of Coleytown teachers watched (safely) at Compo Beach:

(Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Meanwhile, Robin Singer had her own special glasses:

Autism Speaks — In Westport And New York

Evan Stein is 43 years old. His family has lived in Westport for 44 years. He and 4 siblings went all through the Westport school system.

He graduated from Staples High School in 1992. At Harvard University — as the internet dawned — Evan and his friend Darin McKeever started StaplesAlumni.org. It faded away after 8 years — but still draws visitors to its pictures and stories.

The extended Stein family. Evan’s parents Steve and Linda are in the center.

After earning his MD and Ph.D at NYU, Evan married Jennifer Sherinsky. Daniel was born at 25 weeks. He died 4 weeks later. Evan documented his son’s short life on a blog.

Eighteen months later, Joshua was born. He was “awesome — perfect,” his proud dad says. He knew the English alphabet at 15 months, the Hebrew alphabet shortly after. He memorized phone numbers. He loved license plates, and wanted to know the floor you lived on so that 2 weeks later he could push the button for your floor.

He loved to stand by the computer and type. He got very excited when a computer game he was playing made a noise. Evan created a blog for him, and posted about him constantly on Facebook.

Even as a toddler, Josh Stein loved computers.

On frequent trips to Westport, Josh visited Earthplace, played at Mahackeno and swam at Compo.

In June 2010, Evan finished his fellowship. He and his son spent the summer wandering around New York and Westport. That fall — when Evan began work as a neuroradiologist — Josh started pre-school.

Two weeks in, Evan and Jennifer got a call to see the director.

She and the school psychologist thought Josh needed extra services to maintain his focus in class. He could not sit still, or keep his hands to himself. He could not do what the other kids were doing.

Evan and Jennifer Stein, with Josh (right) and Sam.

Evan shrugged off their concerns, but made an appointment at the NYU Child Study Center. During 3 days of testing. Evan thought Josh performed incredibly. “I couldn’t believe the questions he seemed to be answering — and he wasn’t even 3 yet!” his dad marvels.

“But it turns out those tests are kind of a trick,” Evan reports. “The questions and answers are important — but the doctor is watching other stuff.

“How well does he respond to his name? (Not at all). How well does he look in people’s eyes? (Not at all). Does he follow your gaze to see what you’re looking at? (Nope). Does he like to do the same task repetitively? (Yep.) How does he play with a car? Does he pretend it’s a race car? (No.) Does he spin the wheels. giggle or rock? (Yep.)”

That December, Josh was diagnosed with autism.

Evan was devastated. He and Jennifer wondered what would happen next.

The Steins thought about moving back to Westport. Evan called people he or his parents knew here with autistic children. Everyone was supportive and helpful.

Josh at Compo Beach.

They heard many stories about children being successfully mainstreamed in Westport’s schools. It seemed very inviting.

But every expert the parents talked to said that would not work for Josh. After a year in pre-school with a special education teacher by his side, then a year in a special education class with only 12 students, 2 teachers and a para-professional assigned to him, it was clear he needed a specialized school with an extremely low student-teacher ratio, and with very specific and directed teaching techniques.

The Steins pursued a program offering Applied Behavioral Analysis. There aren’t many available — and even fewer that don’t charge $150,000 a year.

In the summer of 2012, the Steins got ready to sink every penny they had into getting Josh the right school and after-school support.

Suddenly, an opportunity fell in their laps. The New York Child Learning Institute had an opening — and they wanted to meet Josh.

“We’ve been very fortunate that Josh found a spot there,” Evan says. “They’ve kept him on track with his academics, while also teaching him how to care for himself and act appropriately in the community.”

Every month, Josh’s teacher comes to the Steins’ home. She shows Evan and Jennifer the most effective parenting techniques.

Josh still comes to Westport almost every weekend. Like every kid in town he loves the beach, Earthplace, Stew Leonard’s and Shake Shack. He likes to walk behind the Levitt Pavilion, and check out the Main Street tunnel.

However, Evan says, NYCLI is in jeopardy. After 24 years, the lease is running out. The convent that owns the building plans to sell it. If the school can’t buy it themselves, the future is uncertain.

Evan set up a GoFundMe page, to help raise the $600,000 down payment. Westporter Celia Behar and her Lil’ Mamas blog have helped spread the word.

Evan hopes his Westport friends — and strangers — will respond. He’s also looking for creative solutions. If anyone knows real estate investors or financiers, you can contact him directly: steine01@gmail.com.

After a lifetime in Westport, he is sure his hometown can help.

Westporters Score At World Rowing Championships

A pair of Westport rowers are wearing very prestigious medals.

Today — at the World Rowing Junior Championships in Trakai, Lithuania — Harry Burke helped the men’s 8 to a silver medal.

Harry Burke, competing earlier this year. (Photo copyright http://www.row2k.com)

A couple of hours earlier, Kelsey McGinley earned a bronze, in the women’s straight 4.

The bronze-winning women’s straight 4 boat, including Kelsey McGinley (far right). (Photo/Ian Warburg)

Both rowers are rising seniors at Staples High School. Last year, they won bronze medals in their respective events at the Junior Worlds in Rotterdam.

“Terrific mood here in Trakai,” reports Westporter Ian Warburg, who traveled with the Saugatuck Rowing Club athletes for the event.

“It’s wonderful sharing the stands with the friends and families of competitors from so many countries,” he adds. “It gives one hope.”

Keep Your Eyes On This 8-30g Prize

While the Planning and Zoning Commission has turned down — and the town has fought — 8-30g affordable housing proposals for sites like the Westport Inn and Wilton Road, it’s approved others at more workable sites (1177 Post Road East and the former Geiger’s property).

Word on the street is that the next parcel developers are eyeing is the crest of Post Road West, just west of the Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection, where dilapidated housing was demolished. They’ve stood empty since 2013. But a 165-unit 8-30g housing complex could be erected there.

Other Post Road land may also be in play.

Watch this space.

Two of the buildings on Post Road West, now demolished.

 

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)