Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #187

COVID-19 has given many of us time to clean attics, basements, garages — all those places we haven’t organized in years.

Alert “06880” reader and native Westporter Nikki Zeoli did just that in her parents’ basement. She found this “Townopoloy Game”:

“I imagine it was from some fundraiser years ago,” she says.

“It denotes some cool old Westport establishments, like the Remarkable Book Shop, Quigley Electric, Bambi Lynn’s Dance Academy, Soup’s On, Silver’s, Daybreak Nurseries and CameraArts. Do you know anything more?”

I don’t. I’m guessing it’s from the late 1970s or early ’80s — my reference is point is Masters Sports Cafe, which occupied a cavernous space near the present Michaels Arts & Crafts around that time.

If anyone remembers this game — or any of its now-gone businesses — click “Comments” below.

Friday Flashback #186

This week — much to some Westporters’ dismay — the New York Times shined a spotlight on our town’s role in, and reaction to, the coronavirus crisis.

On September 8, 1832, the Springfield Journal took note of a cholera epidemic here.

Of course, there was no “Westport” yet — it would be 3 years before we broke away from Fairfield, Norwalk and Wilton.

I have no idea why a newspaper in Illinois would take note of what was happening here. But here’s how they reported it.

Worth noting, nearly 190 years later:

  • Then, as now, people who were able to left New York for the suburbs
  • Quarantines worked
  • Newspaper writing was a lot different then, but …
  • Just like today, mistakes crept in. “Newark” in the last sentence should be “Norwalk.” The river referred to is the Saugatuck.

I have no idea how very alert “06880” reader Mary Gai found this. But it’s important proof that we are not the first generation to face a crisis like this.

In 1832, New York’s population was 250,000. The cholera epidemic killed 3,515. In today’s city of 8 million, the equivalent death toll would pass 100,000. For more on that long-forgotten epidemic, click here.

PS: The Norwalk Gazette is long gone. But the Springfield Journal  — now the State Journal-Register — is still around. It calls itself “the oldest newspaper in Illinois.”

PPS: Did Abraham Lincoln read this story? Probably not. He moved to Springfield in 1837.

Friday Flashback #185

July 4th fireworks, 2019 and earlier. Before “social distancing” entered our vocabulary.

Those were the days!

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Rick Benson)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Rick Benson)

Friday Flashback #184

The debate over tolls on Connecticut highways is far from over.

If we ever get them — for all vehicles, trucks only, whatever — they will be the modern, E-ZPass transponder type.

They won’t look anything like the old toll booths that jammed up traffic every few miles on I-95. There was one on the Westport-Norwalk line, just west of Exit 17.

The West Haven tolls, near Exit 43.

They certainly won’t look anything like the rustic toll booths on the Merritt Parkway.

The Greenwich tollbooth, on the Merritt Parkway.

And they definitely will look nothing like the tollbooth that once stood on the east side of the Post Road bridge, in downtown Westport.

Yes, that really was a thing. The tollbooth was no longer operative, in this 1930s postcard from the collection of Jack Whittle. But at one point — decades (centuries?) earlier — people ponied up to cross the bridge.

Friday Flashback #183

Most Westporters no longer read physical newspapers.

We get our news online. If we’ve got an actual dead-tree copy of the New York TimesWall Street Journal or Westport News, chances are we only glance at it.

There were fewer news sources 191 years ago. And newspapers looked a lot different.

Alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter found this copy of the May 13, 1829 edition of the Saugatuck Journal. Our ancestors must have had great eyesight.

The news was hard to decipher. The ads were more prominent.

They included seasoned lumber for sale by 27-year-old Horace Staples: 1,400 pieces of spruce plank, 500 pieces of white pine plank, and 300 of yellow pine plank.

There were other still-famous names, like Charles Jesup. I’m not sure what exactly he sold — would you buy “1 bale Bed Tick”? — but whatever it was, his dry goods and groceries were offered to “his friends at wholesale or retail, much lower than he has ever sold them.”

There was this sobering ad too.

Connecticut blocked the importation of slaves in 1774, and began a gradual emancipation of slaves in 1784. But slavery was not finally abolished until 1848 — nearly 2 decades after this edition of the Saugatuck Journal went to press, offering a penny reward for the return of a 12-year-old boy.

Friday Flashback #182

Tomorrow is Leap Day.

Today’s Friday Flashback honors another kind of leap.

Since its construction in the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River I-95 bridge — back then, it was called “The Connecticut Turnpike” or “Thruway” — has been the scene of very occasional (and daring) (and stupid) leaps.

Startled drinkers at the Black Duck bar — and before it, Davy Jones’ — have watched teenage and 20-something guys (it’s always males) land in the water nearby.

The Saugatuck River bridge, under construction in 1957. Back then, I-95 was called the Connecticut Turnpike.

“06880” does not recommend this. The jump is spectacularly dangerous. And who in his right mind would even think of standing on the side of the bridge, with traffic whizzing by?

Nevertheless, if you have a story about leaping off this bridge — or any other one in Westport — click “Comments” below.

Feel free to comment too with any non-bridge Leap Year stories of your own.

Friday Flashback #181

Alert “06880” John Kelley found this map of the New York & New Haven railroad.

It’s even older than it sounds. The date was 1845.

The railroad was not completed until 1848. This was a projected route.

It was originally single tracked. A 2nd track was added soon.

The Westport station was on the east side of the Saugatuck River. The rail line merged with the New Haven & Hartford RR in 1874.

In the 1890s a major construction project created a 4-track grade separated railroad, with no rail crossings. At that point the Westport station — located on the east side of the Saugatuck River — was moved to its present location.

Starting in 1913, the rail line was electrified.

Those are all interesting facts. If you are reading them on a train — moving s-l-o-w-l-y between New York and Westport — we hope you arrive safely, and soon.

Friday Flashback #180

I’ve written about this before.

But every so often, a reader discovers a 35-year-old video about Westport. And sends it to me, as if I’ve never seen it.

If you lived here in 1985 — as I did — you know it well.

That year, the Marketing Corporation of America gave the town a 150th- anniversary: a 30-minute film.

MCA is no longer around. Westport is no longer the “marketing capital of America.”

But after 3 1/2 decades, “Westport’s Got It All” is the gift that keeps on giving.

The video is filled with celebrities who lived here. Strangely — or, perhaps, understatedly and on purpose — none are named. Jim McKay reads a newspaper by the river. Harry Reasoner sits near a tennis court. Joanne Woodward has a cameo.

ABC's "Wide World of Sports" anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

Okay, so Rodney Dangerfield cracks, “The town of Westport has my respect.” But that’s the closest anyone comes to identifying him or herself.

The video opens with a cheesy, “Westport’s Got It All” song (including the line “Kids hanging out at the Dairy Queen…”). It’s sung by former Westporter Dara Sedaka — Neil’s daughter.

But the pace quickens. There are shots of Main Street, the Playhouse, Staples, Compo, the downtown art show, Longshore, Cockenoe, the Levitt and the Memorial Day parade (ending at Jesup Green).

Most look pretty much the same today. But there are plenty of other places and things that are long gone: Remarkable Book Shop. The White Barn Theater. Mohonk House. Hay Day (in its original location, opposite Carvel). MCA.

And, of course, restaurants: Manero’s, Chez Pierre, Ships, Peppermill, Three Bears, Allen’s Clam House, Connolly’s … and on and on.

I found the voiceovers fascinating. Mason Adams, Alan Parsell, Herb Baldwin, Claire Gold, Julie Belaga, Dick Leonard, Cary Pierce — I recognized the voices of so many former politicians, educators, students and others.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Here are some of the things they said:

  • “Nothing goes on here that people aren’t concerned about. For every issue, there are at least 10 sides.”
  • “I’m worried the town is losing its mix of a variety of people.”
  • “Westporters have extraordinary aspirations for their children. And they’re willing to pay for it.”
  • “I work 2 jobs, 90 hours a week, to keep my head above water here.”
  • “Westport has the sophistication of New York, the exuberance of a California town, the quaintness of New England — and a sense of humor.”
  • “We do have latchkey children, as more and more parents go off to work.”
George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

  • “It’s a very loving community, in many ways.”
  • “We draw people into town, to go to the theater and movies.”
  • “The Post Road is a disaster. But every town has its Post Road. This one looks better than many.”
  • “Commercialization has really changed this town. It’s been good and bad.”
  • “It’s a generous, gregarious, outgoing town. You can dress any way you like. You can be anyone you want to be. That’s the uniqueness of the community.”

That was Westport, 1985. Thanks to MCA, we’ve got a video record — promotional, but still pretty honest — of who we were.

What’s happened in the past 35 years? Are we better, worse, just different — or the same — as we were back in the days when big cars roamed Main Street, the Church Lane YMCA was still new, and people came from out of town for the movies?

Click on the video below (then wait 10 seconds to begin). Then click “Comments.”

Friday Flashback #179

In 1958, Ed Mitchell quit his job in New York. He and his wife Norma opened a small clothing store on the Post Road (State Street), near North Compo. (Today’s it’s a People’s Bank branch.)

The original Ed Mitchell’s.

It was a huge risk — and a true family venture.

Ed’s mother was the tailor. Norma brewed the coffee.

Just before the new store opened Ed, his sons Jack and Bill, and their AFS student Per Haarr headed to the train station early in the morning.

They bought up the concessionaire’s New York Times supply, and plenty of coffee. Then they stapled this flyer with a catchy poem to the papers, and handed them to commuters waiting for the train:

It worked. Ed Mitchell’s flourished.

Today it’s called Mitchells of Westport. The family — soon to be on their 4th generation, with Jack and Bill’s grandchildren ready to move up — owns 8 stores, on the East and West Coasts.

And — including free coffee — the Mitchells’ customer service is as special and strong as it was 62 years ago.

Friday Flashback #178

It’s still a couple of months until the opening of the Longshore golf course.

But the other day, alert “06880” reader Phil Bancroft spotted an interesting item on an online auction site: A score card for that very course, signed by Babe Ruth.

Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote about that week in 1946 the Bambino spent at the River Lane home of Dr. Vito Caselnova, a longtime friend. The doctor was chairman of the golf committee at Longshore, at the time a private club.

Ruth played on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon with Caselnova; Ruth’s physician Dr. George Irwin; Norwalk police commissioner Thomas Murphy, and club pro George Buck. The Sultan of Swat shot a 79, highlighted by a 35-foot eagle putt on the 12th hole.

Babe Ruth at Longshore. (Photo courtesy of Norwalk Hour)

Babe Ruth at Longshore. (Photo courtesy of Norwalk Hour)

The next day, Hour sports editor Williard Williams wrote that Ruth “did not dub a shot. His drive was good, his approach shots excellent, and his putting almost perfect.

“In between his golf, he shook hands with scores of persons introduced to him on the course and took care of autographs for the youngsters who swarmed all over him. The Babe was as gracious as ever and seemed to enjoy it all.”

Ruth played several more times at Longshore that week. His partners included US Senator Brien McMahon.

Babe Ruth autographs a baseball for George "Nookie" Powers. A nurse looks on.

Babe Ruth autographs a baseball for George “Nookie” Powers. Powers’ fiancee looks on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth also visited Norwalk Hospital, where he met Westport firefighters injured in a horrific Post Road truck blaze. He signed baseballs for — among others — brothers Nookie and Chick Powers. Both had been legendary athletes at Staples.

Just 2 years later, Ruth was dead from cancer. It started in his throat, and moved to his brain.

Caselnova’s son, Vito Jr., told Albano:

When he stayed with us he used to complain about headaches. He would come downstairs in the morning, go right to the refrigerator, and pull out a can of beer. Not to drink it, but to rub the cold can over his head. He said it made him feel better.

He said he was going to come back next year, but he never made it. He said he was going to bring another player with him, a guy named Joe DiMaggio.

Bancroft remembered all that. But he was fascinated by something more: the score card itself.

The hole numbers, distances and pars were different from today’s course. He was confused too by some of the rules.

So Bancroft went sleuthing. Comparing a 1934 aerial view (below) with one from 1965, he determined that although none of the yardages are the same, identifying the par 3s and par 5s seems to fit — if today’s 17th hole is made into the original hole number 1, and today’s 16th is the original 18th.

A1934 aerial photo. Longshore is at the center; Compo Beach at the bottom of the image.

He adds, “Rules regarding balls on the then 2nd and 3rd holes have similar rules to today’s 18th and 1st. And the roads mentioned related to then holes 13 and 17 would be today’s 11th and 15th holes.”  

Bancroft concludes that when Babe Ruth played Longshore, the road ran to the left of today’s 11th hole. Today it runs down the right hand side. Today’s 11th and 12th holes would have been “oceanfront,” with 12 having an “over-ocean tee shot at high tide, and mud at low tide.”

Fore!

The holes that Babe Ruth played.