Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #83

Buell Neidlinger — longtime “06880” reader and commenter/Westport native/world-renowned musician/all-around good guy — died last week. He was 82 years old.

Three days before his sudden death, he emailed me a suggestion for a Friday Flashback.

He sent a few pages from an old cookbook he’d found. “The New Connecticut Cookbook, Being a Collection of Recipes from Connecticut Kitchens” was compiled by the Woman’s Club of Westport, and illustrated by Connecticut artists. It belonged to his mother.

Buell’s pages did not include a publication date. But — judging from the car in the illustration, which may or may not be parked on a stylized version of Main Street — it was early in the papacy of Pope Pius XII.

Why that example? Because the preface (below), by literary critic/ biographer/historian Van Wyck Brooks — a Westport resident — notes that as Cardinal Pacelli, “the present Pope has been a visitor here.” Pius XII was Pope from 1939 to 1958.

Brooks mentions two other famous visitors to Westport, separated by more than a century: the French gastronome Jean Anthelem Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), and Luigi Pirandello. The Italian writer and poet attended a performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. That was sometime between 1931 — when the summer theater opened — and 1936, when Pirandello died.

The pages that Buell sent are fascinating. Then again, everything he did for “06880” was.

This one’s for you, good friend.

Friday Flashback #82

Winter keeps hanging on.

It always does. Hey — this is New England.

Snow falls. Winds blow. Trees and wires fall down. Eventually, spring comes.

This was the scene 84 years ago, after the Blizzard of 1934:

(Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

The view is from Post Road West, looking west on Riverside Avenue.

The building on the left hasn’t changed at all.

Neither has the traffic.

Friday Flashback #81

From the March on Washington and discussions of pay inequality to the #MeToo movement, women’s issues are hot topics of national debate.

Just as they were in the “women’s lib” days of 1975.

That year, “The Stepford Wives” — Ira Levin’s satirical novel about suburban men and their fawning, zombie-like, beautiful and big-breasted wives — was released as a full-length film.

Stepford Wives, in a Westport supermarket.

Though Levin said he based the book on Wilton — where he’d lived in the 1960s — the movie was shot largely in Westport.

And most Americans made little distinction between the 2 towns. “Stepford Wife” quickly became national shorthand for the vapid, monotonous lives of suburban housewives — and the shallow regard they’re held in by the men who marry them.

It still is.

Alert “06880” reader Billy Nistico unearthed a 2001 documentary on the making of “The Stepford Wives.” It focuses largely on the screenplay and casting, but shows a few scenes from the film — including one near the train station — plus interviews.

Director Bryan Forbes recalls that he and his wife — actress Nanette Newman — rented a house in Westport for nearly a year. Their children went to local schools; their daughter graduated from Staples High.

Bryan Forbes directing Katharine Ross, in Westport.

“I enjoyed it,” he said of his time in Westport. He chose to film here for our “white picket fences and manicured lawns.” All scenes were real; no sets were built.

Others in the documentary recall renting houses near each other, eating outdoors together, and enjoying the suburban life their film was about to skewer.

And, Forbes notes, the film was not anti-female. It was actually anti-male.

“Anyone who wants to change his wife by enlarging her breasts” is someone of the lowest order, he explains.

Click below, to see the 2001 documentary called “The Stepford Life.” Discussion of Westport begins around the 12:00 mark.


Friday Flashback #80

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

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

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

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

Three things strike me as noteworthy.

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

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

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

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

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Friday Flashback #79

The Black Duck — Westport’s favorite dive/karaoke bar — has sat tilting in the Saugatuck River forever, right?

Well, sort of.

Seth van Beever posted this painting on Facebook:

He wrote that his grandfather — Gerry Haehl — owned the barge, and ran a bait and tackle shop there.

Seth says the barge was later replaced by a new one.

In the early ’70s, it looked like this:

Some things never change.

Others change very, very slowly.

Friday Flashback #78

Back in the late 1970s, Long Lots Junior High School published a cookbook.

It was a fundraiser. Teachers submitted their favorite recipes. Some were legit. Others — well, let’s say a few staff members had their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

The other day, alert “06880” reader Kathleen Fazio found a copy in her mother’s house.

You may remember some of the teachers. You may or may not want to try some of their recipes.

Social studies teacher Lloyd Stableford

Phys. ed teacher Pete Benedetti and band teacher Jack Adams

Science teacher Marty Tafel

Social studies teacher Tom Marshall

Industrial arts teacher John Day

Friday Flashback #77

February is Black History Month.

It’s a time to celebrate the many contributions and accomplishments of African Americans — and to reflect on our country’s often tortured relationship with race.

It’s a time to think about how Americans treat every person in our country.

And it’s a time to look back at how we did so in the past.

Alert “06880” reader — and amateur historian — Mary Palmieri Gai made an astonishing find recently. The Town Crier of December 15, 1949 ran this photo:

The caption reads:

For the first time in Westport history, a Negro attended one of this community’s town meetings. The group was especially interested in the debate on public housing.

It’s amazing — and embarrassing — to see what qualified as “news” nearly 70 years ago.

It’s also probably quite wrong.

Among Westport’s most historic homes is 108 Cross Highway. Built in 1805, it’s one of a few dwellings in town documented as being built by “a free black.”

Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. Munroe’s descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church.

Black families lived here throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Some were servants and housekeepers. But others — like Munroe — were farmers, shopkeepers and businessmen, with a vested interest in town.

I can’t believe that 1949 was the first time a “Negro” attended a town meeting.

And I’m surprised that the Town Crier did not even dignify him with a name.

Which is one more reason why Black History Month remains vitally important today, for all of us.

Friday Flashback #76

Today, Westporters love and appreciate 2 great hardware stores. Crossroads Ace is next to Coffee An’ on Main Street heading out of town. Westport Hardware is on the Post Road, opposite Fresh Market.

In the 1960s and ’70s, 2 hardware stores sat just a few feet from each other on the “main” part of Main Street, in the heart of downtown. (A 3rd — Western  Auto — was not far away. Today it’s Five Guys.)

Welch’s was closest to the Post Road. It had sawdust on the floor.

Westport Hardware was bigger:

(Photo courtesy of Bruce Jones)

By the mid-1970s, it had become a furniture store. One winter afternoon, it burned to the ground.

Later, an odd vertical “mall” took its place. But Westporters did not want to go up and down, and the mix of small shops never took off.

It was gutted, and a new tenant took its place.

Today, the building weathers the ups and downs — literally and figuratively — of Main Street.

It’s the Gap.

Friday Flashback #75

We’ve lost many handsome buildings in Westport.

Some are gone because of neglect. Others outlived their usefulness. Still more were torn down because they were in the way of something newer, different or “better.”

For years, a handsome building stood at 50 Jesup Road. It was once a private residence. Later, it became the Open Door Inn:

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

It was demolished in the 1950s. The town had outgrown its police headquarters — in the basement of what was then Town Hall. Today the building houses 2 restaurants: Jesup Hall and, below, Rothbard Ale + Larder.

If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine the cops who worked there — and prisoners in the lockup, staring through bars at the alley outside.

Friday Flashback #74

Once upon a time, (nearly) everyone smoked.

And once upon a time, (nearly) every restaurant and business promoted itself by handing out personalized matches.

Check out Chip Stephens’ vintage collection:

Some of these — Westport Bank & Trust, Three Bears, Manero’s, Sakura (!) — are long-time local institutions.

Some — Beefsteak Charley’s, Tanglewoods, Leong’s Palace, Premier Market — are great mind-joggers.

But Boss Tweed’s?! That must have been here for a New York minute.