Category Archives: History

The Day The KKK Came To Westport

The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor brought the issue of killings of unarmed Black people into our national consciousness.

It’s been happening for years though — and not just in “other” places.

In 1981, a Meriden, Connecticut policeman shot and killed a Black man suspected of shoplifting. Several dozen Ku Klux Klan members demonstrated at City Hall in support of the officer. A far larger crowd protested the KKK.

But the men in robes — representing a faction called the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — did not remain only in central Connecticut.

A year later, Chandra Niles Folsom was enjoying lunch at Soup’s On in Westport. The Staples High School graduate — a photojournalist who has been published internationally — looked up and saw several men with pointed hoods parading past on Main Street.

Oh my God! she thought. The KKK has come to Westport.

She grabbed her camera, and watched the group turn the corner to Parker Harding Plaza. She headed there the other way, to make sure she faced them as they marched by.

Outside Town Squire restaurant, they came toward her. They wore their intimidating white robes and hoods. But their faces were unmasked.

The KKK in 1982, at Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo copyright/Chandra Niles Folsom)

Chandra asked what they were doing. They strode silently past.

She was sure this was a big deal: The KKK was in town. No other journalists were there.

But, Chandra says, no newspapers or magazines wanted her photos.

In fact, one editor — someone she frequently wrote “society pages” for — said that if she published such a “controversial subject,” she’d be fired.

Chandra Niles Folsom

It took 20 years for Chandra’s photos to see the light of day. They eventually became part of a story she wrote called “Civil Rights and Wrongs,” with a Westport focus.

Her editor had to fight for its inclusion; the publisher said “nobody wants to see this at their cocktail parties.” The story ran — but Chandra says that’s the last time she was asked to write for them.

Chandra was happy to see the turnout for Westport’s recent Black Lives Matter protests.

“Everyone is talking now,” she says.

Unlike nearly 30 years ago, when the KKK marched in Westport.

And no one wanted to notice.

(For more history of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut, click here.)

Chandra Niles Folsom, at a Westport Black Lives Matter rally.

Pics Of The Day #1174

Happy 4th of July! Here’s the scene at 18 Bulkley Avenue South. Monica Ryan and her family decorated their front door this way — and added plenty of bunting, pinwheels in the yard, flags in the driveway, and sparkling lights at night.

(Photo/Gina Ryan)

Last year, historian Bob Weingarten wrote a story for Greens Farms Magazine, about flags in town.

Three caught my eye. May they continue to wave proudly!

Artists Walter and Naiad Einsel designed Uncle Sam and Miss Liberty, flanking the Stars and Stripes.

Little Barn, on the Post Road.

A replica of Betsy Ross’ original flag, flying on Greens Farms Road.

Decorations by Rebecca and Diane Yormark:

Westport, Weston Clergy: “Let Us Not Sleep Through This Revolution

On this Independence Day, the Westport/Weston Clergy Association says:

In recent weeks many of us have come to a greater understanding of the constant, oppressive, life-threatening, structural racism endured by those among us who are black and brown.

Many of our ancestors endured a history of injustice and murder. Our black and brown siblings continue to face injustice and murder on a daily basis. Many of us thought we knew and understood. We have come to realize that we have so much more to understand, particularly those among us who have benefited from a system that favors whiteness.

In 1964 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Westport at the invitation of Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein. In his address at Temple Israel he said, “One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes… that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Let us not sleep through this revolution.

This 1964 bnewspaper clipping shows Rev. Martin Luther King at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

Let us learn to oppose racism and bigotry with all our hearts, all our souls, all our might.

Let us become anti-racists, actively dismantling structures of inequality and injustice.

Let us one day look our children in the eye and tell them honestly that we did our part to create a world more righteous than the one we inherited.

Let each of our congregations commit to action, so that black people will no longer be, in the words of Rev. Dr. Bernard Wilson of Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, “treated as second-class citizens in the nation of our birth.”

It is not up to us to complete the work of repairing the world. But neither can we absent ourselves from it.

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… We Mutually Pledge To Each Other Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor …

Beach Access Back In The News

Westport has made the New York Times again.

This time, it’s in an opinion column by Andrew W. Kahrl. He’s a professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Virginia, and the author of “Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline.

But his reference to our town is not from the 1960s and ’70s, when Greenwich and other suburban towns famously excluded non-residents from their shores.

Writing yesterday in a piece titled “Who Will Get to Swim This Summer?” — with the subhead “History is repeating itself as pools, beaches and clubs open — but mostly for the privileged few” — he says:

In the summer of 1929, residents of the town of Westport along Connecticut’s Gold Coast reported a “new menace” threatening the health and safety of their community: New Yorkers fleeing the squalid, scorching city and flocking to a new state beach located on neighboring Sherwood Island. Because it was state-owned land, all the residents could do, one reporter noted, was “to make access as difficult as possible.” Which they did.

Westport officials hired a contractor to dredge a creek and flood the road connecting the state beach to the mainland. The move, one state official said, “will effectively prevent visitors from reaching the state property.” Westport officials insisted that they were simply seeking to eliminate a mosquito breeding ground — but as another state official remarked, “the real object is to keep the people off state property.”

Shewood Island State Park: 232 acres of prime real estate, right here in Westport.

The people in question were the “unwashed masses” from neighboring cities: the blacks, Jews, Italians and others denied membership to country clubs, who had few options for summertime relief. As America slipped deeper into the Great Depression, the nation’s swelling homeless population was added to the list. A state park, one resident decried, “would be an invitation to the scum.” Sherwood Island, another bemoaned, “looks like a gypsy camp and new tents are being erected every day.”

While Westport’s residents privately fumed over the park’s impact on the area’s property values, in public hearings they claimed to be concerned solely about the park’s purportedly unsanitary conditions. It was no coincidence that during these same years, several towns along Connecticut’s Gold Coast first adopted ordinances restricting access to town beaches and other places of outdoor recreation to residents only.

Westport has followed the lead of many municipalities in the tri-state area in banning out-of-towners — wherever they live — from parking at local beaches.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Kahrl concludes:

Public health experts agree that so long as people take precautions, outdoor activities are not only safe but also necessary for coping with the stress of the pandemic. But the exclusionary tactics of privileged communities and cost-cutting measures of underresourced ones this summer will force many Americans to suffer inside or seek out unsupervised, potentially dangerous bodies of water to cool off. And it’s not hard to imagine that pools and beaches with restricted access could become flash points of conflict with law enforcement officials, endangering black and brown youth.

It’s simple, really. Our ability to find relief from the heat, and to enjoy time outdoors this summer, should not be determined by where we live and the social and economic advantages we enjoy.

(To read the full New York Times column, click here.)

Roundup: Yarn Bomber; Rock Doc; Camper Fund; History; More


You can’t keep a good Yarn Bomber down.

In the latest installment of Westport’s ongoing, fun mystery, TV reporter Anne Craig reports on the unknown knitter’s latest creation.

But in addition to showcasing her work on Compo Beach Road — right by the marina — Anne also makes an offer.

The Yarn Bomber wants to help someone who needs a colorful, lively, humorous pick-me-up. That’s right: a “gift bomb.”

“It can be someone on the front lines, or someone who has suffered a loss,” Anne says. “Someone who has been through a lot, or has given a lot.

All that’s needed is a nomination. So watch Anne’s new video below — it’s another winner! — and if you know someone who could benefit from a yard bomb, put his or her name in the YouTube comments section.

Bombs away!


“The High School That Rocked!” — Fred Cantor’s documentary about the amazing bands that played in Westport back in the (glory) days — is going national.

From June 26-28, it’s part of the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience’s online “Best of the Fest” programming.

In 2017, the film was chosen as Best Short Documentary 1st runner-up at the event.

“THSTR” is part of 6 music documentary shorts and videos. The cost to watch all is just $1. Proceeds are split 50/50 between the festival and filmmakers — but Cantor is turning his share back to the organizers.

To see this intriguing film — and 5 others — click here.


One consequence of COVID-19: closures and reductions in summer programs has left working families without affordable childcare options.

Westport’s Department of Human Services can help. They’ve created a Campership Fund, to help cover the cost of programs.

The average weekly cost of a day camp is $300. Donations of any size can help a child attend for a day, week or the entire summer. Contributions can be made online (click here), or by check (payable to Westport Human Services “DHS Campership Fund,” 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, call Annette D’Augelli (203-341-1050) or email adaugelli@westportct.gov.

Summer camp is always fun. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)


This year’s National History Day them was “Breaking Barriers.”

Long before the eyes of the nation focused on forgotten Black heroes, Staples High School sophomores Emma Nordberg and Lea Rivel chose Robert Smalls. A former enslaved man who stole a Confederate vessel and joined the Union, he convinced President Lincoln to allow African American men to join the army, was the first Black commander of an American warship, and became one of the first Black congressmen during Reconstruction.

The coronavirus forced this year’s History Day competition into cyberspace. But working together, Emma and Lea placed 4th nationally. It’s a great achievement for them, and their US History teacher Drew Coyne.

That’s not the first National History Day competition for Westport students — or even for a Nordberg. In 2016 Emma’s brother Konur and 4 Bedford Middle School classmates won 1st place at the state level, and went on to the national competition. They interviewed Claudette Colvin, the first Black woman who refused to give up her son, even before Rosa Parks’ famous act.

Congratulations, Emma and Lea!

Emma Nordberg


And finally … let’s all keep thinking about (and being aware of) stereotypes.

Roundup: Reopening; Juneteenth; Renters’ Rebates; More


Phase 2 of Connecticut’s reopening plan began yesterday with indoor restaurant dining, fitness facilities, all personal services and many other business sectors allowed to welcome customers again.

2nd Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker says that business owners are “empowered to make the decision to open their doors. If they do, the ReOpen Westport team is working diligently to support them through this complicated process.  We are taking this seriously. It is our goal to build confidence throughout the entire community during this reopen period.”

For a complete list of Connecticut’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 business sectors and rules, click here. For ReOpen Westport Advisory Team information and FAQs, click here. To contact the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team, email reopenteam@westportct.gov.

While local COVID-19 transmission rates continue to be low, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper says, “following safety protocols like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and good hygiene practices are all critical. I urge residents to use common sense and to take advantage of testing, especially if experiencing symptoms.”

St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center on Long Lots Road is a local testing site option with open time slots. Call 860-972-8100 for an appointment.

2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker


The Westport Museum for History & Culture and TEAM Westport are partnering for a special Juneteenth Zoom program.

Tomorrow (Friday, June 19, 5 p.m.), theater professor and playwright Kyle Bass discusses his play Possessing Harriet. It’s the story of enslaved woman traveling with her captors from the South to upstate New York, who finds refuge in the home of an abolitionist where he meets his young cousin Elizabeth Cady (later Stanton).

Bass will also discuss his play in progress about his ancestors Tim & Lill Bennett. They were slaves in Westport, in a home on Compo Road South.

The event is free, but registration is required. Click here to join.

Kyle Bass (Photo/Brenna Merritt)


Elderly and disabled Westport residents can apply for the Connecticut Renters’ Rebate Program. Qualifications for the program include:

  • Age 65 as of December 31, 2019, or totally disabled and collecting Social Security disability income.
  • The maximum gross income for the program is $37,000 for a single person, $45,100 for a married couple.
  • One year of residency in Connecticut is required. People renting an apartment, room or mobile home, or living in cooperative housing, may be eligible for this program.

The application deadline for the Renters’ Rebate Program is September 28.

Qualifying Westport residents should call the Human Services Department for an appointment: 203-341-1050.


Carol Alexander took this photo at Old Mill. She writes:

As more people come to enjoy this beautiful neighborhood beach, we need to treat it with respect. Please clean up before you leave!


Playwright/director Tazewell Thompson is familiar to area residents. In 2006 and ’07, he was artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse.

When his opera “Blue” premiered last summer at the Glimmerglass Festival, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini called it “one of the most elegant librettos I’ve heard in a long time.”

Thompson wrote about a black family — the father of a police officer — that is torn apart when the son is killed at a protest by another officer.

“Blue” has now been named Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. The Times calls the honor “sadly timely as the nation is roiled by unrest over police brutality and race relations.” (Click here for Thompson’s story on how he wrote the opera. Hat tip: Nina Sankovitch.)


As an Ivy Film Festival screenplay staff member, Brown University senior Elena Levin reads scripts from undergrad and grad students across the country. Each spring, the staff holds a screenwriting workshop for high schoolers.

Now the Westport resident is bringing the experience to her home town.

Elena offers an “Intro to Screenwriting Workshop” for rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors (no experience required). It meets outdoors at 4 p.m. every Wednesday in July for 2 hours. By the end of the 5th session, everyone will have written — and workshopped — a script.

Click here for more information. Questions? Email elena_l_levin@brown.edu.

Elana Levin


And finally … Patti Smith has power. She knows that people have it too.

Robert Augustyn Maps Westport

Many Westporters have seen the H. Bailey map of Westport.

Drawn in 1878, it’s an “aerial” view of the town. Every house, shop and church is shown, precisely where it was. It’s a fascinating view of a thriving village. Every time I see it, I learn something new — about the Westport of nearly 150 years ago, and how we got where we are today.

The 1878 map.

Robert Augustyn is an antique map dealer. He’s spent most of his professional life examining maps like these.

He’d planned to spend his life teaching English. But in the late 1970s, a job with a New York dealer he thought would be temporary turned into his passion.

Eventually he owned Martayan Lan, a New York City hub for collectors of maps, atlases, rare books and manuscripts from the 16th to 19th centuries.

But the market softened. When the lease ended last summer, Augustyn closed the gallery.

Robert Augustyn

He and his wife Katie have lived here for 25 years. She’s a very involved civic volunteer.

Now he had time to join the Y’s Men, mentor young people, and teach tennis through Bridgeport’s First Serve program.

Slowly too he developed his own antique map and fine prints business here. He built up inventory, created a website, and began selling online.

But it’s hardly impersonal. Just as he did in New York, Augustyn enjoys showing maps to clients, taking them through the many stories of each particular item.

After decades in the business, he still finds maps he never thought he’d see. One of his favorites — an early 18th century plan of New York City — is the first to show a synagogue. Only 3 such maps exist.

Fifteen years ago, Augustyn found an 1837 map. Drawn just 2 years after the official founding of our town, he believes it’s the first to show our “new” borders. It hangs in his study (and is available for purchase).

The 1837 map. Note the spelling of Cockenoe Island.

He’s also got the first printed map of Connecticut. It dates to 1758, when it appeared in an English magazine.

Among Augustyn’s prints: an engraving of Henry Richard Winslow’s “Compo House.” It was Westport’s first mansion (on the site of the park that now bears the owner’s name).

Richard Winslow’s Compo House.

He’s always on the lookout for “good Westport material.” It’s not easy to come by, he says.

His job is not easy, either. Which is why he’s a “rare” map and print dealer indeed.

Friday Flashback #196

Town arts curator and historian Kathleen Motes Bennewitz reminds us that next Wednesday — June 17 — is the 110th anniversary of the unveiling of the Minute Man monument.

In an essay for ConnecticutHistory.org, she describes “Bunker Hill Day,” which drew over 1,000 state residents.

Temporarily concealed by canvas and a bunting-clad dais was a life-sized bronze of a farmer-turned-soldier — with his powder horn and musket at the ready — kneeling atop a grassy pedestal that rose some 6 feet above the roadway. The monument was erected to honor the heroism of patriots who defended the country when the British invaded Connecticut at Compo Beach on April 25, 1777, and in the ensuing two days of conflict at Danbury and Ridgefield.

Created by Westport artist H. Daniel Webster (1880-1912), The Minute Man is sited in the center of the intersection at Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, said to be the exact spot of the fiercest engagement between British and Continental militias that April evening. After accepting the statue and turning it over to the town’s care, Lewis B. Curtis, president of the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution, declared that “Westport should always cherish among their brightest possessions, this spot and the monument, which we have erected to commemorate the noble deeds enacted here.”

The Minute Man statue, around the time of his 1910 dedication.

Surprisingly, our Minute Man is one of only 4 honoring those Revolutionary War civilian patriots. The most famous, Bennewitz says, is at Concord, Massachusetts near “the shot heard ’round the world.” The other 2 are also in the Bay State (Lexington and Framingham).

Bennewitz notes that the 1910 unveiling capped an 8-year campaign for a monument. It began in 1902, when the town “secured title to Compo Beach as a public resort.”

As for the sculptor, Webster was just 29 years old when he received the commission in 1909. Three years earlier, he had moved from New York to Westport’s “nascent artist community.”

After modeling the figure at his Westport studio, he had it cast by Tiffany & Co. at Roman Bronze Works, the country’s preeminent art foundry. To complete the monument, he asked nearby residents to donate fieldstone for the foundation wall and large, asymmetrical boulders for the earthen mound and to house the bronze plaques. The finished cost was $2,900.

Our Minute Man (Photo/Tim Woodruff)

Four years after its unveiling, the Minute Man was a destination for owners of newfangled automobiles, who followed George Washington’s route from Philadelphia to Cambridge to assume command of the Continental army.

In 1935 the monument was the emblem for the town centennial; in 1986, the centerpiece of Miggs Burroughs’ town flag.

In 1957, it was even featured on “I Love Lucy.” You can’t get more American than that.

(For Kathleen Motes Bennewitz’s full WestportHistory.org story, click here. For an “06880” account of the Battle of Compo Hill, click here.)

The Minute Man is beloved by Westporters. He’s decorated with Santa Claus caps at Christmas, bunny ears on Easter, even a COVID-19 mask. Some people think it’s sacrilege. Many more think it’s a tribute to our favorite son. (Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

Pics Of The Day #1134

Betsy Kravitz celebrates Memorial Day, on South Compo Road…

(Photo/Jimmy Izzo)

(Photo/Alexis Donnerstag)

… and with hands over hearts, a socially distanced crowd heart Gettysburg College junior Sophia Bookas play “Taps” this afternoon, at Saugatuck Sweets…

(Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

… while not far away, Lt. Ryan B. Weddle of the US Naval Reserves and his sons John and Ben — Cub Scouts, and Greens Farms Elementary  School students — decorated veterans’ graves at Christ & Holy Trinity Cemetery.

They honored Joseph J. Clinton, who died in France during World War I, and for whom the local VFW Post 399 is named for, as well as John H. Darrow, 28th Connecticut Volunteers, who was killed in Baton Rouge during the Civil War. 

Lt. Weddle and his sons also placed US and Navy flags at Westport’s World War I and World War II memorials, at Veterans Green.