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Seawater On Main Street — Or More?

Like a number of buildings on Main Street, #69 is under construction.

Developers are working hard to resuscitate downtown. In addition to the usual retail challenges — online shopping, the opening of the new Norwalk mall, finding the right “mix” — Main Street stores face frequent flooding.

A web of federal, state and local regulations cover building lots near rivers and wetlands.

So when Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix — both members of the Planning & Zoning Commission — noticed excavation work at #69, and saw water being pumped into storm drains in Parker Harding Plaza, they wanted to know more. When they smelled a strong odor in the water, they grew concerned.

The back of 69 Main Street, on Parker Harding Plaza, in an undated photo.

That night, coincidentally, the P&Z met. The developer sent a representative to ask for approval of work they’d already begun.

Stephens asked about the pump, and smell. The representative replied that it was seawater, brought in by high tides. She said the work involved removing slab, replacing a drainpipe and bathing the project.

The next day, Stephens and Gratrix returned. This time, they noticed soil work. Town engineer Peter Ratkiewich told them there were 7 fuel tanks there. Two still contained fuel. He said the smell from the excavation reached Elm Street — and one store in the area had to be closed at one point, due to the strong oil odor.

A number of old oil tanks are located by the river. They date back decades, to the days when the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of stores on the west side of Main Street. Parker Harding Plaza was developed on landfill, in the 1950s.

P&Z staff discovered documents that showed the developer knew back in 2018 that the oil tanks and oil contamination would be a problem. However, at the P&Z meeting the representative simply said that the odorous water — being emptied into storm drains — was “seawater.”

Last night, Stephens and Gratrix requested a new meeting to reconsider the decision; for the developer to explain why the P&Z was not informed of contamination at 69 Main Street, and the remedies required; a timeline of knowledge of contamination, and why excavation and demolition occurred without a permit for new construction — and, most important, an outline of steps going forward for remediation of 69 Main Street, so construction can continue properly under Coastal Area Management code.

Photo Challenge #247

We pass it a million times: the iron statue of a buck, on the Post Road.

But — because it’s a bit hidden by shrubbery — we don’t always notice it. (Click here for the photo.)

Some “06880” readers thought it was at Terrain. Seems like it should be there, with all the other plants and such.

But it’s not.

It’s at Mitchells — the upscale clothing store, diagonally across the street.

I have no idea why it’s there. But Mary Ann Batsell was first with the right answer.

If anyone knows the back story behind the Mitchells buck, click “Comments” below.

Click “Comments” too if you know where in Westport you’d find this week’s Photo Challenge.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Can Capitalism Survive? Westport Students Explore With An Expert.

Back in the day, Staples High School students marveled at the ham radio technology that — thanks to physics teacher Nick Georgis, a ham radio enthusiast — enabled them to talk with luminaries like Senator Barry Goldwater and King Hussein of Jordan.

Imagine what those 20th-century students would think of our 21st-century Westport Library, and teachers like Drew Coyne.

The other day, Advanced Placement Economics classes headed to the transformed library space downtown. There, in the Forum, nearly 175 students teleconferenced with a business and economics writer whose work has enormous relevance for the future of, well, the world.

The project began last spring. AP Economics teacher Rob Shamberg suggested a summer reading text for all incoming students: Steven Pearlstein’s “Can American Capitalism Survive?: Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and George Mason University professor believes that without trust and social capital, democratic capitalism may be doomed.

Coyne worked with Library staffers Alex Giannini and Cody Daigle-Orians to arrange Pearlstein’s virtual (and pro bono) appearance.

Steven Pearlstein, live in the Westport Library Forum.

Eight sections of classes filled the futuristic Forum. They spent a very interactive hour, engaging with the columnist and professor over the merits and logistics of a universal basic income, his theories on American social capital, China’s economic and political rise, income redistribution and the emerging 2020 political field.

When a student asked about the changes Pearlstein has witnessed since his book was published last year, the author noted the recent Business Roundtable redefinition of the purpose of a modern corporation.

Staples student Cassie Lang — who calls herself and her classmates “stakeholders in the American system” — describes the session as “the best introduction to the Economic course I could have asked for.”

Pearlstein’s talk reinforced what she learned from his book: “opportunity is not equal.” She uses this real-life example: “I doubt that Mr. Pearlstein would have been this accessible if we resided in a less affluent school district.”

Because the library Forum is such an open space, library-goers who are not AP Economics students participated too.

Student Owen Dolan saw his grandmother. They hugged, then watched the presentation together.

Capitalism may not survive. But family ties — and interactive education, Westport-style — sure will.

Oh, Brother! Library Podcasts Offer A Seat At The Table

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project has drawn raves from Westporters. The community spaces, video technology, children’s section, even the café– all are re-imagined, welcoming and well used.

But the transformation was never just about physical spaces.

The library is transforming ideas about access, creativity, arts and communication too.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the new studio spaces. Music production, filmmaking, video editing — it’s all part of the Westport Library experience.

The library’s state-of-the-art recording studio.

Some of those features are not yet fully ready. But podcasts are.

Starting this week, anyone with a computer or smartphone — in other words, anyone in Westport, and billions more across the globe — can enjoy, be entertained by and learn from some of Westport’s most interesting people.

Like Miggs Burroughs, Trace Burroughs, Bill Taibe and Lori Cochran-Dougall.

They launch the library’s first 2 podcast series. The Burroughs brothers — Staples graduates, artists, and longtime Westporters — will chat with intriguing area residents for what they call “Oh, Brother! Not Another Podcast.”

“It’s about people who are the fabric of this town,” Miggs explains. “We’re personality driven. It will be like an expanded cocktail party conversation.”

Taibe owns and runs Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni and The Whelk restaurants. Cochran-Dougall directs the Westport Farmers’ Market. Their podcast is “A Seat at the Table.” They’ll focus on interesting ideas and trends, like CBD and farming.

“It’s table banter,” Cochran-Dougall explains. “When people talk, everyone learns.”

The Burroughses, Taibe and Cochran-Dougall will “create conversations that are crucial for this area,” library executive director Bill Harmer says. “We can help get those conversations out there — and preserve them.”

The 4 podcasters are working with Jay Miles. As the library’s manager of studio space, he’ll help them — and other aspiring podcasters — become experts at the craft.

(From left) Bill Taibe, Jay Miles, Lori Cochran-Dougall and Miggs Burroughs.

Since the transformed library opened in June, Harmer has been thrilled to see plenty of new faces. Many are young.

Podcasts and related studio services help support and encourage “the next generation of creative people,” he says. “Creativity, arts and writing is all part of Westport’s DNA.”

Harmer hopes to welcome many more podcasters to the studio. “Westport has no shortage of expertise,” he notes. “CEOs, financial gurus, entrepreneurs — anyone can use this, to the benefit of all.”

Governor Ned Lamont was wowed by the entire library — including the studios — on a tour prior to the June ribbon-cutting. His staff has called twice, asking if he could record podcasts there.

Of course, the studios are not just for young people — or only for podcasters. Harmer envisions senior citizens using them to record stories for grandchildren.

Right now though, the podcasts are the first big use of the studios.

The library will download one podcast each week, via their Vimeo and YouTube channels. The first are already available here:

Spotify and iTunes may be added soon.


LobsterFest: Old Tradition Embraces New Recycling

The Westport Rotary Club‘s LobsterFest is a great Westport tradition.

Over 300 volunteers serve 2,400 lobsters, 300 steaks, 1,600 ears of corn, and plenty of raw oysters to 1,200 ticketholders.

Though the goal is great — proceeds support more than 30 local organizations, plus international Rotary projects — it can be an environmental mess.

At the end of the event, there’s a lot of trash.

Where are you — well, all those volunteers — gonna put all those lobster and oyster shells, steak bones and husks, not to mention thousands of knives, forks, paper plates and napkins?

Don’t worry! These folks think of everything.

This year’s event — set for Saturday, September 21 (3 to 7 p.m., Compo Beach) — is environmentally friendly. Thanks to a partnership with Sustainable Westport, LobsterFest focuses as much on recycling as on raising money for charity.

Tony McDowell — Rotarian, former Fest chair and now a member of the organizing team — explains that this year’s feast picks up where other town local initiatives like the Maker Faire left off.

Last spring, that townwide event recycled in a big way. Every garbage can was labeled for the different type of trash to be deposited in it. Greens Farms Elementary School does the same thing, in their cafeteria.

Greens Farms El offers 3 choices for waste:

LobsterFest will do it too. A company will haul away lobster shells, and compostable plates, trays and cups. Almost all waste will be reused.

But not all. Some plastic knives and forks remain from last year. Moving forward, the event will use all corn-based utensils.

The red trays are plastic. But they’re reused every year.

LobsterFest is a fun, family event. Kids’ activities include the Melissa & Doug children’s tent. The Hot Rubber Monkey Band returns too.

A $60 ticket includes two 1-and-a-quarter-pound lobsters, or a 14-ounce New York strip steak, plus corn, cole slaw, bread and butter, potato salad, peppermint patties, and all the beer or wine you can drink. There’s also a $10 menu for children 12 and under.

Tickets are available only in advance. Click here to order online. They can also be purchased at Joey’s by the Shore, or from any Rotary Club member.

NOTE: The Westport Rotary LobsterFest is different from the Westport Lobster Festival, sponsored by Westport Lifestyles magazine. That event is September 28, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club; it includes a polo match and balloon festival.

No word yet on how much they’ll recycle their lobster shells, utensils and trays.

Marlowe Goes To Kindergarten

School started a week ago. Students — even kindergartners, taking that giant step — adapted quickly.

It took parents a bit longer.

Eva Amurri is an actress and lifestyle blogger (“Happily Eva After“). She writes about food, beauty, wellness, and life here in Westport with her husband Kyle Martino and their 2 young children: home renovation projects, water safety, dealing with a toddler’s broken leg.

When Marlowe entered kindergarten, Eva shared her reflections with her worldwide followers. She wrote: 

I’ve always firmly believed that one cannot truly know the “type” of parent one will be or the exact values one will strive for in parenting until one actually becomes a parent. We all have preconceived notions, of course, but something different is hatched in your mind and heart when you hold your child in your arms for the first time and really connect to your hopes and dreams for that person. It’s a pretty difficult feeling to describe and a completely revolutionary one to experience.

Eva Amurri

When I became a mom, it became clear to me that the number one value system I wanted desperately to instill in my children revolved around kindnessself-love, and independence. I think the thing that would make me the most proud of my children, and of myself as a parent, is to see them out in the world one day, making brave and solid decision on their own and navigating their own lives…without me. Although it’s a bit of a stretch (and hella emotional), I would argue that sending a child to elementary school for the first time, is that very first sliver-of-an-example of independence from the “nest.”

Marlowe started kindergarten three days ago, and it has definitely been a huge step in my life as a mom. And it’s been a little traumatizing, especially because it hasn’t been traumatizing at all for her.

Do these two concepts seem completely at odds with each other? Yes, they do.  As do many emotions in the motherhood space, actually. So I figured I would unpack it and share a bit about how I’m feeling this week.

The first day of school was a big surprise to me. I had prepared to the max: packed everything the night before, labeled extra clothes in a bag, color coordinated everything, and asked around town for any information about the school, drop-off, pickup, and teachers. For a newbie, I felt ultra prepared, and as a Type A person, this made me feel great.

As I lay in bed the night before the first day, I played out the next morning in my mind — what I would feed the kids for breakfast, what I would wear, what she would wear, the photo we would take outside our new home, which route we’d take to school, and how I’d hug and kiss her as I left her at her cubby in her classroom.

Marlowe, on her first day of kindergarten.

The entire morning, everything went exactly as I had planned. I was feeling really level emotionally, and not at all on the brink of tears. In fact, I thought to myself “Wow! I’m surprising myself here! We are all doing great!”

Kyle and I walked her up the stairs in to the school foyer, and there were about 10 volunteer moms and teachers waiting there. They told me they’d take it from here.

And just like that, the most precious part of my plan, my “goodbye” was turned in to something totally different.  I knelt, knowing that I had to say goodbye for the first/last/whatever time to my 5-year old and send her in to this big, new place – and that I had to do it in front of all these people I didn’t know. I felt so anxious and exposed, and so stupid for expecting my alternate fantasy plan to happen.

It wasn’t these people’s fault, of course, but I felt hot tears spring to my eyes. It took everything in my power to give Marlowe a tight squeeze and a smile, and watch her turn to walk happily away before I walked quickly outside and sobbed.

Kyle was really nice about it and suggested we try to go down to her room to have a “redo goodbye.” I actually laughed and reminded him that the last thing our daughter needed was for me to be That Mom, who disregards school rules because she is an emotional mess. No, this breakdown was all about me, and really had nothing to do with how she was feeling. In reality, she was doing great! She hadn’t even looked back at us once and she skipped down the stairs to her classroom.

Little brother Major gives Marlowe a kiss. (Photos courtesy of

While we walked home I thought a lot about the conflict of the 2 things I was feeling all at once: the pain of the next “phase” of life as a parent, and the swelling pride that my child is showing signs of the type of independence I have hoped for her all her life. I suddenly realized how easy it is as parents to get in our own way when we reach these crossroads.  Needing something for ourselves, while wanted something for our kids.

I definitely don’t have the answer for this, or any other examples besides my own life as a mom (obviously), but it has inspired me this week to remove more of my own judgments when I see conflicting behavior in parents I encounter. My own conflicts on the first day of school were internal, but they very well might not have been. I can see how we can need something for ourselves, and convince ourselves that it’s our children’s need instead.

When I picked her up from school, I was expecting her to be relieved to see us, maybe even emotional. I expected to see some kind of flicker on her little face that told me she had felt the length of the day in a new place and been so happy to return home.

Instead, she emerged flanked by 2 older kids, mid-conversation. She glanced at me and flashed me the brightest, happiest smile, and continued walking with her friends up the sidewalk from me all the way home.

This time, I watched in awe and with envy. I remembered my anxious youth, the different promises I would need to make to myself, the visible and invisible talismans, the routines – just to make it through the day at school.

And this time the tears came from relief. I’m so proud of my girl for being exactly who she is, and having her own story – separate from mine. I’m grateful for her confidence and independence, and while it stings a little to be an accessory now to her bigger and bolder life – I know she knows I’m always her touchstone right her waiting in case there’s a bad day.

(Click here to see Eva Amurri’s blog post.)

[OPINION] Stop & Shop — & Chop — Trees

Alert “06880” reader — and Greens Farms Association president — Art Schoeller writes:

Not one, not two, but all the trees lining the Post Road in front of Stop & Shop are headed for the chipper.

Surprised? So was the board of directors of the Greens Farms Association after listening to Westport Tree Board member Dick Stein at our last monthly meeting.

He shared large-scale aerial drawings of the Connecticut Department of Transportation safety improvements for the Post Road (click here for details). The shocker was his commentary and insight exposing details of tree removal not covered by state officials.

Dick shared that the proposed safety improvements and addition of a sidewalk require taking away some of the grass strip, and relocating the utility poles closer to the Stop & Shop parking lot. The poles would then be too close to the trees, so they would have to be removed.

Some of the trees bordering the Stop & Shop parking lot.

Twelve sycamores and 1 elm tree would be affected. (Looking more closely at the State presentation, 12 trees would be cut down and the one remaining on the west end of the parking lot might be saved.) Dick believes these trees were planted as part of the “Greening of the Post Road” which began in 1972, making them nearly 50 years old. The trees are 70 to 90 feet tall.

There could also be tree loss across the street, on the Bulkley Avenue portion of the project.

Aside from the obvious environmental advantages,  these trees provide an aesthetic benefit of scale, softening of the area, and noise reduction.

Installing underground utility service during the road excavation and construction might allow the trees to remain intact.

At this point the state has not offered to replace any trees. Small trees such as dogwoods, flowering cherry and hawthorn would be permitted under Planning & Zoning Commission regulations.

The proposed project start date is spring of 2021, with completion estimated for fall of 2023. There are safety benefits to this project, including sidewalks which do not currently exist.

Other areas of road improvement will be on the Post Road in front of Fresh Market, and the Hillspoint Road and Roseville Road intersection. Both locations will probably result in the loss of additional trees as well.

The Fresh Market shopping center. Trees were removed from here a few years ago.

The state Department of Transportation has already closed the period for public comment. They have been unresponsive to requests to reopen them, and hold an additional meeting.

We ask concerned Westporters to contact town officials and state representatives to get this issue back into a public forum for comment and debate.

Is the answer to bury the utilities, or some other redesign that takes less expansion of the Post Road? Let’s have that debate, and find a way to save these trees!

Job Seekers, Employers Connect With Jasmine and Runa

A few years ago, Jasmine Silver was a divorce attorney. She cut back on full-time work to raise her young children, but still wanted clients. However, she had no idea how to find them.

Runa Knapp was a senior manager in KPMG’s credit practice. When her kids were born, she too left the full-time workforce.

The 2 women met through their children’s Westport pre-school. Realizing how many friends they have with corporate backgrounds — “intelligent women who took time off for their kids,” but who wanted either part- or full-time  jobs — they brainstormed ideas.

Jasmine Silver

“There are so many super-educated, super-ambitious people here, and in the rest of Fairfield County,” Jasmine says. “They’re untapped talent. But they needed a resource to re-enter the job market.”

Now, they’ve got one. ConneCTalent helps both stay-at-home professionals and employers by, well, “connecting” them with each other. Opportunities include law, engineering, finance, marking, public relations, non-profits and “creatives.”

They’re also a great resource for commuters looking for opportunities closer to home. Plus people already employed, hoping to move up the corporate ladder.

It sounds like it’s aimed solely at women. Yet, Runa notes, many men face the same job market issues.

In some ways, conneCTalent is like a typical recruiting agency. Employers pay a commission, based on the first year salary. However, Jasmine explains, their rates are lower than others.

In addition, there’s a human touch lacking in most keyword-driven agencies.

Runa Knapp

She and Runa source jobs personally. They also hear of opportunities directly from employers.

Their database of job-seekers is filled with people who are not listed elsewhere. Some are just beginning their search. Others simply like Jasmine and Runa’s personal touch.

“We don’t just match buzzwords on resumes with jobs,” Runa says. “We have conversations with people and businesses. That’s how we make thoughtful, curated matches and connections.”

ConneCTalent is growing rapidly. It will grow even more after a launch party on September 5 (6:30 to 8:30 p.m., B:Hive Southport). The event includes a career transition coaching workshop led by Morgan Mermagen; a resume writing workshop with Lesley Vanderlee, and a roundtable discussion on social media tips headed by WestportMoms co-founder Megan Rutstein.

ConneCTalent will sponsor more workshops this fall. Runa and Jasmine hope to see many new faces at those events. After all, the idea is that everyone in their current database will be busy working.

(For more information, or to RSVP for the September 5 event, email 

Seniors Feast On SMORES

Jake Motyl’s grandparents lived through the Holocaust. He’s learned a lot from them.

Jake is proud that he’s able to teach them something in return: technology.

With his help, his grandparents in Washington, DC and Florida now use FaceTime, Facebook and Skype to stay in touch with the Staples High School rising junior and his family.

But Jake did not stop there. This summer, he and his friends took their expertise to the Senior Center. Twice a week — under the name “SMORES,” and with help from program manager Holly Betts — they offered free sessions. From iPhones and iPads to alarm clocks (yes, alarm clocks) they demystified the process of connecting with today’s world.

Jake Motyl

“They teach us a lot. I’m glad I can teach them,” Jake — who, in his spare time, is a varsity tennis and squash player, and member of Staples’ Service League of Boys — says of his “students.”

He and Josh Suggs, Sam Seideman, Eli Herman, Phoebe Miller and Caroline Motyl — Jake’s younger sister — have had an eventful summer.

They helped set up tablets. They taught a woman having trouble typing on her phone how to use Siri (she, in turn, taught her husband). They showed people how to open photos online. They answered questions about email, and the functions of all those mysterious icons.

The man who brought in his alarm clock — hey, anyone who has tried to use one in a hotel knows how confusing they now are — learned how to set the alarm on his iPhone. “He was amazed,” Jake says.

Working with older men and women is an act of joy for Jake. “They helped build this community,” he says. “It’s so gratifying to help them. We can really empower them, to stay connected.”

Phoebe Miller and Caroline Motyl take a break from teaching and learning. In the background, Jake Motyl helps out.

Teaching comes naturally to him. In fact, he says, he may go into education as a career.

Jake’s friends have talents beyond technology. Josh gave a lecture at the Senior Center on cryptocurrency. Sam is an accomplished cook.

“Westport teens get a bad rep,” Jake says. “I want to change that. My friends and I really like helping. And I think everyone learns a lot.”

Sam Seideman demystifies an iPhone.

When the school year starts, SMORES will probably move to 3-5 p.m. on Mondays. They hope teenagers in other towns pick up the concept, and start similar programs.

(From left): Holly Betts, Jake Motyl, Sam Seideman, Josh Suggs and Eli Herman, outside the Senior Center.

It’s a great idea. So what about the name?

“We wanted something creative — not just Tech Help or something like that,” Jake says. SMORES stands for Social Media OutReach EducatorS.

And whether you’re a young digital native or a senior citizen, everyone loves S’mores.

(There are many ways to learn more about SMORES. Click here for the website; for more information, click “Contact Us” at the top of that page. You can also email Jake encourages people to book sessions for their parents and grandparents in Westport.)

We* Were There: Westport And Woodstock

*Well, some of us, anyway. 

Earlier this month, I put out a call to “06880” readers: Send in your Woodstock memories.

Sure, many of you were not even alive 50 years ago this weekend. (One or two of you may have been conceived there, though.)

But plenty of you were around then — either at the historic festival, or somewhere else and heard about it.

Whatever your age, sit back. Relax. And read these Woodstock tales. I don’t vouch for 100% accuracy — but this is how some readers remember it.


Peter Gambaccini, former Westporter, journalist: I used to estimate that about 50 Stapleites had been at Woodstock on that August weekend 50 years ago. As I heard more tales over the years, I figured it must have been 100. Now I’m convinced  there may have been 300.

Whatever the number, I’m wondering how many of those Westporters (and Westonites) had a very strong scene of deja vu as Richie Havens took the stage on a sunny afternoon.

Havens, with just his acoustic guitar, was ready to go when the other headliners were delayed by weather, traffic snarls (many ultimately arrived by helicopter), and equipment issues. He began his typically electrifying performance, walked off to the back of the stage, played and sang some more, walked off and then came back again, ultimately running out of material and improvising “Freedom,” which became his best-known song.

For what by some estimates was 3 hours, Havens kept the festival multitude entertained, occupied and sufficiently distracted. I didn’t make the connection at the time — and probably no one did — but in the Staples auditorium we’d been witness to precisely the same situation 2 years earlier.

The concert headliners, the Blues Project, were running extremely late at a recording session in New York, and were not going to make it to the show on time. Someone had to be dispatched to the Staples stage to keep the teenage crowd from getting too restless and ornery.

That person arrived, in the form of Richie Havens. He saved the evening in much the same way he’d save the afternoon in front of a few hundred thousand people in ’69.

There was an expanding youth counterculture by 1969, of course, though few would have dared estimate how large and influential it would prove to be. Everyone I knew who was there went because they’d seen the lineup of performers, far surpassing in quality and quantity anything we’d seen to that point.

Four years after Woodstock — strongly influenced by the experience — Peter Gambaccini still reveled in the counter-cultural revolution. He’s shown here in London, with his then-girlfriend Margot.

We went there for the music. Period. We didn’t think about any possible hardships, like having to abandon and retrieve cars, getting drenched in the rain, and having very little to eat.

We watched Santana, a Bay Area band almost unknown in the East, make perhaps the most colossal breakthrough from obscurity in one single afternoon that any rock band has ever made. Sly and the Family Stone seemed magical and superhuman; I couldn’t fathom how they accomplished what they did. The Who, already my favorite concert band, reached a new peak. And with the sunrise we were prepared for, and rewarded by, what the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick accurately called “morning maniac music.”

That sunrise, after sitting absorbed (and pulverized) by heavily amplified sounds for 18 hours. That’s the memory I treasure most deeply. From the hillside, we saw an expanse of acres and acres of darkness behind the stage. But as morning came, a part of the New York State countryside that must have been miles away suddenly became lighter. And bluer.

Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock.

One section of horizon and the sky; it must have taken more than two hours  before it fully illuminated Grace Slick.  I can’t say how many of my 400,000 new best friends were affected like I was. It’s up there with my moments in a rural Swiss train station on a winter morning, and my emergence through the Canadian Rockies into Lake Louise, or my first glimpse of the domes of Yosemite. It endures, and it’s deep.

I’ve written several Woodstock articles over the years, and the one thing I strive to do each time is to correct the impression that the weekend was some kind of horrifying disaster. Even as this 50th anniversary approached, I was seeing reports to that effect.

I was 19. My brother Phil, who was with me, was 17. We could handle a couple of days of torrential weather, and a night (or two) without much sleep. We’d be able to get our cars out when everybody else wanted to get their cars out. I ate very little but have no memory of ever being hungry. Somehow I got an olive loaf sandwich and a bowl of granola. Both were new experiences for me. One was never duplicated.

We were not connected by communications with the outside world (I suggest try it sometime). When stage announcers read newspaper accounts of how Woodstock sounded like Pompeii crossed with Sodom and Gomorrah without a meal plan, it all sounded like fiction to us. This was not a disaster. The word never crossed my mind.

We got along. We all smiled. I don’t recall one single instance of a lack of consideration in 3 days. I didn’t even hear a cross word all weekend. No one got visibly angry, except when The Who’s Pete Townshend clobbered Abbie Hoffman with his guitar because Hoffman got to the microphone and kept ranting about antiwar radical John Sinclair’s legal problems in Michigan. We were antiwar, we loved Abbie, and those who knew about Sinclair liked him, too. But this was about the music. Shut up, Abbie.

By 1974, Peter Gambaccini was managing editor of the upstart Westport newspaper Fairpress. He interviewed labor leader and Latino civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.

The other impression I always hoped to correct is the notion that these were just a bunch of “hippies” gathered outside to get blasted on drugs and otherwise misbehave. Yeah, some of that happened. And I like hippies. But I really believe that by and large, Woodstock Nation was comprised of suburban teenagers (and early 20-somethings). One was my own class’ valedictorian. If they’d all been hippies, why were there only about 50,000 of them left when Jimi Hendrix took the stage, hours late, as the final performer?

We had jobs to get back to. Somehow, Phil and I got our car out of the quagmire. I was back on time Monday morning for my summer gig at the Westport News. When I walked in the front door my colleagues, who’d been following TV and newspaper accounts of the Woodstock adventure, told me they really hadn’t expected me to be back in the office that day.

A bit chagrined by the underwhelming reception, I proceeded to my typewriter and wrote one of my many articles about Woodstock, which ran with Phil’s pictures. Someday I have to find that story.


John Gilbert Plantinga, former WestporterIt was a hell of a summer.

A month before Woodstock, I was at the Newport Folk Festival when we landed on the moon. On Sunday afternoon Joni Mitchell was in the middle of her set when someone came on stage and whispered in her ear. She announced we just landed on the moon. The crowd booed.

They weren’t booing her. They were booing NASA and nationalism. Joni finished her set, and we went home.

I don’t know how I got home. I was living part time at the beach, but I ended up at my girlfriend’s house in New Canaan. I was 17.

So here’s how I got to Woodstock. I was hanging out at Compo Beach, probably playing the guitar and smoking pot, when 3 people came up the boardwalk. They said they were going to Woodstock, and showed me their tickets.

I hadn’t even thought about going. A few minutes later, I walked away. A while later I was back on the boardwalk. I looked down in the and, and saw the 3 tickets. The 3 people were nowhere to be seen.

I picked them up. “I’m going!” I thought. I figured when I got there, someone would need the other 2 tickets.

John Gilbert Plantinga, back in the day.

Wednesday morning I woke up early, packed my duffel bag, walked to Roseville Road and put out my thumb. I don’t remember my rides, but I got to the other side of the Hudson and made my way toward Bethel. I never had to use the tickets, because the gate wasn’t built yet.

I had my Martin guitar, my sleeping bag and some clothes. I was comfortable with my thumb out. I had been a runaway. I just wanted to get the fuck out of Westport with a guitar.

That night there was a campground set aside for people to build the stage and get everything going. There was a kitchen under tarps in case it rained. The Hog Farm was serving free rice.

Ken Kesey was there with his Merry Pranksters. Other school buses had also been set up like a circle of wagons. People were playing music.

More and more people showed up. Thursday night someone gave out free hits of psilocybin. I think it was the Pranksters.

Then a band started playing. It was the Grateful Dead.

By Friday morning you couldn’t get to the festival site. I probably dropped acid before noon. The daytime concerts I remember were Sly & the Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Country Joe, Richie Havens and Melanie.

At some point I ran into Liz Yoder, who had been my girlfriend during the school year. We spent the rest of the weekend together.

John Gilbert Plantinga held on to his original program.

I never got too far from the stage once the concert started. I was in the middle of the hill. People came around with food and big jugs of Almaden wine. You had to go to the top of the hill to use the Port-a-Potty.

Then it rained. It got really, really muddy.

At some point the Who played. I think it was Saturday night. During their set Abbie Hoffman got a mic, and started politicizing. Pete Townshend kicked him, and shoved him off stage. It was the only violence I saw all weekend.

I woke up Monday morning soaked, muddy, filthy. I heard a guitar: Jimi Hendrix. I made my way as close as I could to the fence in front of the stage. He played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a solo, then the Band of Gypsies came on with him for an awesome set.

Jimi was done at 9:30 a.m. Iron Butterfly came on. “In A Gadda Da Vida” didn’t cut it. I started figuring out how to get home. I can’t remember if I was still with Liz.

Then I ran into this guy Zang from Norwalk, who’d worked with bands in Fairfield County. To move them, he had a decommissioned ambulance (still red and white). He gave me a ride back to Norwalk with a bunch of hippies. I hitched the rest of the way home.

Then it was time to go back to Staples. I was bored. I had done the same stuff sophomore year at Pomfret, then again before dropping out junior year.

The draft lottery was coming. I graduated, and got accepted as a math major at Ithaca College. That summer of 1970, I headed west in a van with friends. I won a quarter in the slots, and bought a paper to see my lottery number. I was 336. I wasn’t going to war.

My friends dropped me off in Berkeley. I had no money, no plan, just a duffel bag and a guitar. I called my parents and said, “Tell Ithaca I’m not going. Sorry about your deposit.”

I went back home, worked, got drunk and acted like a jerk.


Bruce Salvo, Westport architect: Driving back from Boston in my orange Beetle, I picked up a young woman hitchhiking to Woodstock. She changed clothes from her backpack right there in the front seat. Later she changed back to original outfit, right next to me.

Dropping her off as I headed south, she begged me to come along to the festival. Square that I was, I declined. She got out and continued hitching. I drove home.


Pat Workman, longtime WestporterMy husband Jim and I just got back Bethel, New York. I was feeling nostalgic. I wanted to see the museum at the Center for the Arts, and visit the hill where I sat for 3 days.

My first journey to Woodstock began with hearing advertisements on a New York radio station. I bought 2 tickets for $18 each, a new camera, and asked my boyfriend (now my husband) if he wanted to go. He turned it down; his music was country (and still is). A friend of a friend of a friend offered to drive n exchange for the ticket.

I was 22. I wore my trendy puka shell necklace, but I was not a hippie. I was just a girl from Westport.

We arrived Thursday, before the roads got clogged, and parked in a field. The plan was to return after each day of music to sleep, and eat the food we brought.

That never happened. Once we walked a short way to the hill, we never left. We realized if we didn’t claim a spot then, when the concert began Friday afternoon it would be impossible to return.

My camera stayed in the car. So did the food and sleeping bag. We didn’t even lock the car!

We were way up on the hill. It was a bowl, so no matter where you were you could see the stage.

It rained the first night. Plastic arrived from someone nearby.

Pat and Jim Workman were married in 1970, at the Westport Woman’s Club.

Food didn’t exist. The Hog Farmers did their best, but the lines were long and they ran out of provisions quickly. Every once in a while oranges and apples were passed around. But we were there for the music.

I don’t even know if used the bathroom facilities. The lines were very long, and they were way up on the hill far from our spot.

Mud was in great supply. We still had grass around us.

Everyone got along. We were all in the same situation. Stories were shared while we waited for the next band. No one complained.

We left on Sunday afternoon, missing so many more performers. I arrived home to find my mom was worried I wouldn’t make it out of there.

In the days that followed, newspapers printed stories about things I never knew had gone on: tents, drugs, swimmers, children, etc. Most of that happened if you left the concert site and walked through the woods. I’m glad I stayed in my spot for 3 days.

And I’m glad to have been part of such a historic event that can never be replicated.

I’ve come a long way. Today I’m a preschool teacher at Greens Farms Nursery School, mother of 3 and grandmother of 7.

I recommend the easy drive to Bethel Woods Arts Center. I was thrilled to walk onto the hill and find what I think was the very spot I occupied. Standing there, looking down where the stage was, I could almost hear Richie Havens singing “Freedom.”

Pat Workman, on her recent visit to the Woodstock site.


Carl Shea, former Westporter: Your request inspired me to dig out my little black book, which I miraculously found in my basement desk. I had made notes in it about my trip home from Vietnam.

I left my unit (327 Signal Company, Long Binh, about 20 miles from Saigon) at 10:30 a.m. on August 15, 1969. We left Bien Hoa airfield at 5:23 p.m. local time. Given the 11 hour time difference, that was 6:23 a.m. on the East Coast.

We stopped in Okinawa and Wake Island, which we left about the time Richie Havens took the stage to begin the concert. Then on to Honolulu, and San Francisco/Oakland (3:30 a.m. local time), where we exchanged our fatigues for new dress uniforms.

Carl Shea (right) in Long Binh, 1968. He says, “I had 32 weeks of electronics training to learn this.”

About 12:15 on August 16 (3:15 p.m. EDT) I boarded a plane for New York. I arrived around 8:45 p.m. My parents and sister excitedly told me about half a million people at some concert on a farm in New York, and how the New York State Thruway was closed.

I was unimpressed — or unconscious, since it was 45 hours since I’d left my company in Viet Nam.

My response was: “Great. Can we go get some pizza? I haven’t had pizza in a year.”

I missed the moon landing too. War is hell.


Hedi Lieberman, former WestporterWe lived very close to Woodstock. My mother made 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Temple Sholom Sisterhood. My father — principal of Monticello Middle School — opened the building for emergencies.

My brother, who was 11, was helicoptered back and forth to help with overdoses, and to bring people to the schools where my BFF — whose father was a local dentist — helped with child care.

I was not allowed to go. I was stuck making sandwiches with my mother.


Eric Burns, former Westporter/author/media criticI was living in Boston. Five of us packed into an old Pontiac one Friday morning. We never made it.

We still had another 10 miles to go when traffic on our 2-lane country road came to a dead stop. We couldn’t go forward, couldn’t back up. We took shifts in the front seat because the air conditioner couldn’t reach further. We were starved and thirsty.

Eric Burns, during the Woodstock era.

Finally, it seemed that help was on the way. People living along the road poured out of their houses with food and beverages for us poor, stranded wayfarers. Or so we thought.

It wasn’t what it seemed. They were not Samaritans; they were capitalists. A peanut butter sandwich went for $10. Margarine sandwiches were $5. The Wonder Bread was stale. A small cup of water was a dollar; so was each refill. When we finished, we had to return the cups to be used for the next customer.

By the time my friends and I pooled enough money for a few bites and sips, the traffic opened up a few feet. We executed a u-turn, and headed back the way we came.

We never heard so much of a measure of music from Hendrix, Joplin, the Who, the Dead, Creedence or Crosby, Stills & Nash. Instead we rolled down the windows, blasted the radio, and sang along with the Archies to “Sugar, Sugar.”


Marcia Wright, retired Westport teacherI remember how polite everyone was. Legions of tatted-up bikers carefully maneuvered their bikes through throngs of people, saying “pardon me.”

There was lots of nudity. People casually walked around butt naked, enjoying life and music. Few gave them a second glance. Many rinsed off in Yasgur’s pond. Lines for the Porta-Potties were impossibly long.

The wafting odor of marijuana was everywhere. And the mass of individuals was so dense it actually changed the acoustics. Even though we were outside, it sounded like inside.

It rained a bit, so we used our motorcycle to secure a tarp.

I gave my pictures of Woodstock to the Staples social studies department in the 1980s. I imagine they are long gone, the victim of construction and time.

Not Marcia Wright’s picture. She did not get backstage.


David Barton, native Westporter: I wanted to go to Woodstock for months. The DJs on WNEW made it sound like if you didn’t, you’d be a loser who could never look at your friends again.

The only problem was, I was too young to drive. And none of my friends’ parents would let them go. I whined, pestered and eventually bribed my college-age brother Artie to drive me there.

We left totally unprepared: no tickets, directions, sleeping bags or food.

We followed the traffic toward the Catskills, and parked in a farmer’s field 4 or 5 miles from the site. Artie says we coincidentally parked next to fellow Westporter Pete Gambaccini.

Dave and Artie Barton, a couple of years after Woodstock.

We joined the procession hiking to the concert. Almost every male wore army fatigues and jeans. Local residents handed out cups of water. In retrospect, they were incredibly tolerant. I even used someone’s hose to cool down.

We arrived just as the music started Friday afternoon. I think it was Richie Havens. That’s the last music I remember. My brother says Santana was great. I have to take his word for it.

We sat on the lawn close to the stage. Our neighbors passed around water, food, beer and lots of pot. I didn’t smoke anything the entire weekend. I don’t remember anyone passing around acid or pills. Maybe we were in the PG section.

I was quite a bit younger than most of the crowd, but didn’t feel out of place. Everyone was happy and friendly. A lot of frisbee tossing and balloon swatting.

One thing does stand out: I was a barely 16-year-old Westport kid surrounded by lots of topless college girls. I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. Of course, it was.

This photo is not by David Barton.

The first day was the best. After the rains hit, it wasn’t quite the same for me. After the announcers told us to stay away from the light towers, as everyone rushed toward them to get shelter, my memory is largely of lots of mud, and lines for the bathroom.

We got a few hours of rest (not sleep) back at our car at one point, but we were pretty sleep deprived the 2nd day, which is why I don’t remember the music. Also, we moved further back and to the side, for more room to play frisbee and toss a football. That’s what I would do in front of the Staples cafeteria during lunch — except now there were rock bands.

By the end of the 2nd day I was hallucinating — not from drugs, but lack of sleep. We decided to head home after it rained again. It was so muddy we had to be towed by a tractor out of that poor farmer’s field. I hope we paid him something.

My only regret is not seeing Jimi Hendrix play “The Star Spangled Banner” on the final day. Woodstock seemed like a really big, most fun, party to me — not a generation-defining sociological event. Maybe I was too young to know better.


Fred and Kathy Fassman, longtime WestportersIn 1969 Kathy suggested going to Woodstock, to see what it’s all about. We bought tickets, and loaded our car with a tent, 3 friends and a dog.

No problem camping at a state park a few miles away, and driving to the site on the first day. Five of us and a dog fit into a 2-man tent just fine after a day listening to amazing bands and enjoying the atmosphere.

Day 2 was a bit different. We had to park a distance away, and find our place on the hillside among so many happy people.

Walking through the woods to the site was an event in itself. There were lots of makeshift tents, people dancing, singing, smoking. The second night the rain started, but nobody moved. All was peace, music and rain.

Cathy and Fred Fassman (center), flanked by Cynthia, Nora and a dog.

We had jobs waiting for us in New York, so we left to be at work on Monday. That’s when we found the news, and most people talking about the most amazing concert and event. Who knew we would be a part of history?


Ann Chernow, Westport artist: In the early 1970s, we and our best friends bought a walk-up studio on the East Side. It wasn’t beautiful; it was burglarized 3 times; we endured our next door neighbor who was in scream therapy. But for 10 years, every other weekend we enjoyed New York’s shows, museums and restaurants.

When I could no longer climb the stairs, we decided to sell. We took out a few ads and spread the word. After no takers for several months, we decided to spruce up the room. Although none of us were at Woodstock, we were big fans of The Happening.

My partner had purchased an original Woodstock poster that we hung on the wall near the front door. The first prospective buyers took one look around. Instantly they said they were buying, because anyone who would hang a Woodstock poster near their front door was cool and must enjoy life.

Their only caveat: We had to leave them the poster.

Can you find yourself in the crowd?


Nomi Meltzer Jacobs, longtime Westporter married to a Westporter: I was 16 when I went to Woodstock with Kevin Buckley, Tullio Ferri and another girl way too young.

We left on Thursday, and hit the traffic jam 10 miles before the site. It took 8 hours to go 10 miles. It was a party the whole way. We ran into Tim DeHuff and Geoff Ferguson on that road.

We finally put down our tent. We saw a lot of Richie Havens, because nobody else could make it through the traffic.

None of us had tickets. It didn’t matter, because the fence surrounding the concert area was torn down.

The next day w saw a lot of nude bathers and the Pig Farm bus (kind of like the Merry Pranksters).

Saturday we saw everyone that played. But there was not food — or not enough, anyway. Someone threw pears to the crowd.

Of course, I hadn’t been allowed to Woodstock. So I ran away. My father called my older sister, who worked at Carvel’s, and said he was going to call the police. My sister laughed, knowing the police would do nothing.

I was in deep trouble when I got back. It was worth every memory I have now.

A week after Woodstock, Westporter Jon Sinish’s photos illustrated a Bridgeport Sunday Post story about the already-historic event.


Jim Grosner, former Westporter: August 16, 1969 was my 23rd birthday.  I was a year out of the Navy, and had just purchased a blue Harley Davidson. I found this photo of me and a friend on that Sportster on the Woodstock 1969 video.

Woodstock was absolutely amazing…the parts that I can remember.


Matt Murray, longtime WestporterWhen I went to work at the Mediasound recording studio in the mid-70s, I learned that 2 of the partners — Joel Rosenman and John Roberts — had put together the funding for Woodstock, and hired the production staff.

Being a gofer for the studio, another guy from shipping and I were sent across 8th Avenue and 57th to get some office furniture. In the storage area was a stock of Woodstock posters. We asked if we could have a few. They said sure. I still have my 2.

Matt Murray still has his original poster.

For a Christmas party, they had unused Woodstock tickets as drink chits. I should have saved those, and bought my drinks.

(The studio opened a couple of months before Woodstock. They took a financial beating, but the movie and record offset the losses.)


Dan Woog, longtime Westporter, blogger, soccer coach: My friend Neil Brickley and I were planning to go. We hadn’t thought much about logistics. We just thought the music would be cool.

Dan Woog, a couple of years after Woodstock.

I never made it. A couple of weeks before Woodstock, I got grounded. For good reason: I wrecked my parents’ car. So even if I was not grounded — which, I must emphasize, I well deserved — we would have had to figure out alternate transportation.

A few years later, I was cleaning out stuff at my parents’ house. I came across my Woodstock ticket: forgotten, unused, and in pristine condition.

“Hmmmm — that’s interesting!” I said to myself. And promptly threw it in the trash.

I had no idea collectibles were ever going to become a thing. If I had held on to that $18 ticket for a few years, I would have been able to pay for many, many car repairs.

Even at today’s prices.