Category Archives: History

Dr. Bud Lynch: A Loving Look Back

In 1967, Buddy Lynch made a fumble recovery that helped key Staples’ 8-0 victory over Stamford Catholic, in the 2nd FCIAC football championship game ever played. It was a huge upset, over the #1 team in the state.

Lynch went on to play at Dartmouth College, then became a noted surgeon. But he was not the first well-known Dr. Lynch in town.

He followed in his father Bud’s footsteps. The older man spent decades as a beloved Westport-based pediatrician.

And now the son has written about his dad, for the Dartmouth alumni newsletter.

Bud Sr. was born in 1915 in Rowayton. He played 4 years of football at Dartmouth — including an undefeated season in 1937.

Dr. Bud Lynch, in World War II

After Dartmouth med school, 2 years of rotations at Colubmia, then back to Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover for internship, he headed out as a medical officer to England for D-Day.

His LST followed minesweepers to a point 13 miles off Utah Beach. His ship was set up to evacuate wounded — from both sides — with racks holding stretchers as beds. He never spoke of that action. But, Buddy notes, it must have been very difficult.

Two months later, a 2nd operation took place in southern France. The Germans attacked Allied forces.

It was a brutal battle. Bud was blown off the bridge and onto the deck, 30 feet below. He broke his right femur. He may have had a spinal fracture too.

A former lifeguard, he realized he’d be better off in the water than staying on an exploding ship. Dragging his broken leg, he pulled himself over the rail — and plunged another 30 feet into the ocean.

The pain, Buddy writes, must have been excruciating. Bud was rescued, and evacuated to a hospital tent in Italy.

He returned a month later to the US. But the wound had become infected. Bud spent the next 3 years in hospitals, and in wheelchairs.

Dr. Bud Lynch’s LST, after the German attack.

Eventually, Bud recovered. He returned to medicine — choosing pediatrics because it required less walking and standing than other specialties.

Buddy was born near the end of his father’s residency at Columbia. He spent his first year in a New York apartment — with a drawer as his crib — and moved to Westport in 1951, when his father joined a practice here.

Bud could no longer play football or baseball. But he umpired Little League, swam, played golf and skied. Back pain, stiffness and a pronounced limp often troubled him, but he never complained.

In 1962, Sports Illustrated named Bud as a Silver Anniversary All-American. The honor was given for talent, accomplishments and outstanding citizenship.

Bud closed his Westport practice in 1979. He moved to Hanover — where Buddy was doing his orthopedic residency. Bud saw patients at his new home, and kept up to date with the latest medicine at Mary Hitchcock Hospital.

In 1994 he fell. His leg continued to bother him. A month later, X-rays revealed that for 45 years he had walked on a femur fracture that never healed.

An operation finally healed the bone.

In his late 80s, Bud Lynch’s determination, endurance and memory began to fail.

But his memory lives on, in all his former patients and their parents in Westport.

Now — thanks to the Dartmouth ’72 newsletter story, by his son — his story lives on too.

(Click here — then scroll down to page 9 — for a much fuller version of the Dartmouth newsletter story. Hat tip: Peter Gambaccini)

Remembering Selma Engel: Holocaust Survivor Told The World

On Sunday, the New York Times published a remarkable obituary.

It began:

Selma Wynberg Engel, who escaped a Nazi extermination camp after a prisoner uprising and was among the first to tell the world about the camp’s existence, died on Tuesday in East Haven, Conn. She was 96.

The story told how — as a young Dutch Jew — Selma was among 58 prisoners who braved machine gun fire to escape from Sobibor. Only one other is believed to still be alive.

She and a young man named Chaim were on the run for 2 weeks before a Polish peasant family hid them in a hayloft.

Selma Engel (Photo courtesy of New York Times, via Alexander Perchersky Foundation)

Back in the Netherlands, Selma told Russian reporters about the Sobibor extermination camp. A September 1944 story was the first public description of the place where up to 350,000 were murdered.

Selma and Chaim married in 1945. They faced prejudice in the Netherlands because he was a Polish Jew; more than 100,000 Dutch citizens had been deported to camps there.

The couple moved to Israel in 1951. Six years later they came to the US.

And though the Times does not mention it, their new home was on Wilton Road in Westport. They were sponsored by the  owners of Gilbertie’s Nursery.

Chaim got a job at Gristede’s on Main Street, and drove an Arnold bread truck. Selma ironed clothes.

“You can imagine how difficult that was for them,” recalls Selma’s daughter Alida. “They were depressed — especially my mother.”

It was the first time Alida — known then as “Lidy” — and her brother Fred learned about the war. In Israel, their parents never talked about it.

Selma and Chaim Engel with their baby daughter Alida, in the Netherlands in 1946. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

But, Alida notes, “there were many kind folks — especially those my mother ironed for. They tried to help.”

Still, Alida and her brother were different. “Westport was not used to foreigners,” she says. “They didn’t know what to do with me in the public schools. So they taught me diagraphing and speed reading.”

The Engels went through Bedford Elementary and Junior High in Westport, then Staples. She graduated in 1964; he followed 2 years later.

Yet Alida ended up feeling extremely happy in school, and still has many friends from those days. She made plenty of friends, in part through sports. She played field hockey and ran track for Jinny Parker at Staples High School. Fred played soccer.

Alida Engel (2nd from left, red hair) with dolls at Klein’s Department Store in Westport.

Chaim and Selma eventually bought a card shop in Stamford. They ran it until they purchased a jewelry store with Alida’s ex-husband in Old Saybrook. In 1973 the couple moved to Branford. She lived there almost until her death.

But the story comes full circle. Alida’s niece, Emily Engel Riley, now lives in Westport, with her husband and children.

And speaking of stories: The Times says that although Selma and Chaim told theirs many times,

it was largely unknown in the postwar Netherlands until the last decade, when a team of Dutch historians, including Mr. Van Liempt, visited Mrs. Engel in Connecticut to research a book about her. It was published in 2010 as “Selma, the Woman Who Survived Sobibor” and led to a documentary film of the same name.

Now Selma’s story is known all over the world.

Including her first American hometown: Westport.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary.)

Check Out These Decked-Out Holiday Houses

It’s one of the most interesting — and oldest — places in Westport. I’ve lived here my whole life, yet never been inside.

Adams Academy — the low-slung yellow building on North Morningside — was the spectacularly named Ebenezer Adams’ private school from 1837 to 1867. He taught over 600 students — including (rare for the time) girls. Most of the graduates — male only, of course 😦 — went on to Yale.

After Adams sold his academy, it served as a public school, town park, home for the  needy and town offices.

Now restored, it’s back to a 19th century schoolroom.

Adams Academy (Photo/Michael Mombello)

It’s rarely open. But next Sunday (December 9), it’s one of 5 stops on the Westport Historical Society’s 32nd annual Holiday House Tour. Ebenezer and his daughter — well, WHS volunteers dressed as them — will be there to greet guests.

The tour offers a peek inside some of Westport’s most historic structures. It combines our natural voyeurism curiosity with our intrigue in our past — and our love for New England-style holiday decorations.

Each stop on the self-guided tour includes WHS docents, explaining how people of the period celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. Halls (and more) will be decked with boughs of holly (and much more).

The event begins at the Historical Society’s own Wheeler House home on Avery Place. Built in 1795, then remodeled in the 1800s in Italianate style, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos.

Wheeler House — dressed in Victorian splendor — is complemented by the only octagonal-roof cobblestone barn in Connecticut. It will be open too, showcasing the fantastic, intricate wintertime train set that for years thrilled shoppers at Swezey’s Jewelers on Main Street.

The  Goodsell-Grumman Toll House dates back to 1760. It originally stood on Catamount Road, but when a private highway — Easton Road — was built in 1817, it was moved to its present location there. It’s one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Westport.

The Goodsell-Grumman Toll House on Easton Road. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

Two other Holiday House tour homes are in Southport. A 1673 (!) colonial saltbox — one of the oldest still standing in Fairfield — features an original entryway staircase, exposed beams and massive fireplaces.

The John Osborne House, Kings Highway West in Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

A converted barn, built in 1705, has original framing and reclaimed period wood for all walls and floors. This house sits atop a burial ground from the Great Swamp War. In the 1940s, it was used as an artists’ studio.

The Osborne Barn, Oxford Road, Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

There’s a lot going on this season. It’s not easy to fit a House Tour into your schedule.

But there’s no better way to get in the old-time holiday mood.

Just ask Ebenezer Adams.

(The Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour takes place Sunday, December 9, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Playhouse “Pianist” Teaches Children About Holocaust Horrors

You can’t say the Westport Country Playhouse isn’t timely.

The most recent production — “Thousand Pines” — was a provocative look at gun violence, through its effect on 3 families.

Now comes “The Pianist of  Willesden Lane.” It’s an encore performance, thanks to raves before.

The pianist — Grammy-nominated Mona Golabek — tells the gripping, true tale of her mother. A piano prodigy herself, whose dreams were threatened in 1938 by looming war, she flees Vienna for England on the Kindertransport.

Golabek describes it all, while interweaving music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, even a bit of Gershwin.

The elegant, beautiful show is also crucially important. It comes at a time of rising anti-Semitism worldwide, and just weeks after the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” should be seen by audiences of all ages. But on Sunday, December 16, the Playhouse will be filled with young people.

The 3 p.m. production will be followed by age-appropriate group discussions led by local Holocaust survivors. The goal is to educate children about that horrible time in a sensitive way, stressing the importance of standing up to bigotry and hatred, with the power of hope.

Monique Lions Greenspan’s mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She knows first hand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that Holocaust survivors possess.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from their experiences.”

(The recommended age for this show is 10 and older. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 16 performance. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 5-22 run. The program is sponsored by Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Jewish Federation Association for Connecticut, Holocaust Child Survivors of CT and the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut.)

We’re All Immigrants. Westport Historical Society Wants To Know How We Got Here.

We may not realize it. But Westport — like America — is a land of immigrants.

From the Bankside Farmers of 1648 to the Irish in the mid-1800s and the Italians a few decades later, then to the many international executives and their families we’ve welcomed recently, our town has served as more than just a home.

Whether for economic or education opportunity, or religious freedom — and yes, we are very different from neighboring suburbs when it comes to the latter — Westport has promised freedom, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness to many, for many years.

In January, the Westport Historical Society installs a new exhibit: “Liberty to Set Down: Migrants and Immigrants in Westport.”

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

To make the new exhibit work, the WHS needs your help.

You can:

  • Share your family’s immigration story. Whether your people settled here in the 1700s or you arrived just last week, tell how they or you came to Westport.
  • Loan artifacts or photos that represent your family heritage. They’ll be displayed as part of the exhibit.
  • Participate in a video oral history project. Describe a highlight of your or your family’s story, as part of an online exhibit that will live on the WHS website.

The exhibit runs from January through June. It launches in conjunction with the Westport Library’s WestportREADS book selection. “Exit West” follows the plight of a couple forced to flee their war-torn homeland.

To participate in the Historical  Society’s exhibit, email info@westporthistory.org, or contact them via Facebook or Instagram (@westporthistory).

Photo Challenge #203

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. It was also Veterans Day.

In honor of all the Westport service members who gave their lives throughout American history, I posted a photo of a plaque. It lists the names of 14 Westporters who died in World War II.

It’s an important piece of who we are. But where is it?

Those names provided a clue. Many more than 14 from this town were killed in action, in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

Those 14 soldiers, sailors and airmen were members of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The plaque hangs on the church’s back wall, just inside the rear entrance.

It must be unnoticed by many. Sadly, no one knew the correct answer. Linda Amos was thinking “a church,” but she did not know which one. She came closest, until hours later Mary Cookman Schmerker nailed it.

Hopefully though, the plaque won’t be overlooked much longer. Christ & Holy Trinity congregants should seek it out. And because the church is used by so many community groups, others should find it too. (Click here to view the plaque.)

This week’s photo challenge, by contrast, is passed by every day by many Westporters. Still, how many of us actually see it?

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

Friday Flashback #116

The other day, alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton was checking out Westport’s Wikipedia page.

He noticed we have 3″sister cities”: Marigny-le-Lozon, France; St Petersburg, Russia, and Yangzhou, China.

I guess we’re one of those families where siblings don’t really communicate. It’s been ages since we’ve chatted with our French, Russian and Chinese sisters!

But Alan wanted a closer relationship. He took a virtual drive — aka Google Street View — through Marigny.

And there — smack in the center of town — he saw this:

“Pharmacie Westport”!

He wondered if there is a story to this.

Bien sûr!

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up in Marigny. It’s just 25 miles from Utah Beach.

A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.

Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and — of course — “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

Janet Beasley Memorial Service Set For Sunday

The life of Janet Beasley — Holocaust survivor and educator, wildlife advocate, and beloved wife of Dr. Albert Beasley — will be celebrated this Sunday (November 18).

A memorial service is set for Earthplace — an organization she served well for decades — beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Janet Beasley

Pics Of The Day #573

Westport photographer Ted Horowitz captured these moving scenes this afternoon, at the Veterans Day ceremony at Town Hall:

 

(All photos/copyright Ted Horowtiz)

 

 

Honoring Our Vets: Y’s Men Who Were There

In 2002, Bruce Allen and Jack Schwartz contacted Jim Honeycutt.

Members of the very active, wide-ranging Y’s Men retirees’ group, they asked the Staples High School media instructor for help with a project.

Both had served in the military during World War II. They wanted to produce a video, filled with memories and reflections of 18 WWII combat veterans. Already, the ranks of service members from that war were thinnning.

His father was in the navy. Honeycutt was happy to help.

Plaques, memorials and a statue fill Westport’s Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.

As he interviewed the nearly 2 dozen veterans, Honeycutt was stunned. One man had waved at a low-flying airplane. The pilot waved back. Then he torpedoed a battleship in Pearl Harbor.

Schwartz himself bombed Japan, at the same time an atomic bomb was dropped to the north. He saw the sky filled with colors.

“The stories are so important to remember,” Honeycutt says.

So earlier this year — now retired from teaching — he took the DVD, re-edited it, and uploaded the finished product to his personal YouTube channel.

There’s almost 3 hours of content. As Veterans Day approaches, Honeycutt invites “06880” readers to honor all who served America by hearing their stories. Just click below.