Category Archives: History

Trevor Noah Headlines “Show Of Unity” Event

An evening with Trevor Noah sounds special.

But the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut offers a lot more than just watching “The Daily Show.”

On November 11, the comedian/political commentator headlines ADL’s 2nd annual “Voices: A Show of Unity” event. Noah will talk intimately with the audience about his life and the world — tying it all in with ADL’s ongoing fight against bigotry, extremism and hate crimes, and for civil rights, interfaith and inter-group understanding.

Trevor Noah (Photo/Gavin Bond)

Noah knows. Born in South Africa to a black mother who converted to Judaism and a white father, his youth under apartheid was difficult. His parents could not be seen in public together.

Since replacing Jon Stewart as “Daily Show” host 3 years ago, Noah has been a leading voice for unity. Last year, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

“He’s funny. But he won’t be doing stand-up,” says Steve Ginsburg, a Westporter and ADL’s statewide director. “This will be a chance to hear his take on the world.”

The “Voices” event is both a fundraiser and a community-builder. The ADL gives free tickets to many local organizations, including Project Return, Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studio, the Triangle Community Center, and churches, mosques and synagogues.

Westporters will have a strong presence at Noah’s show. Sarah Green — co-founder of Kool To Be Kind — serves as artistic director. Claudia Cohen is event chair; Jill Nadel is vice chair.

Westporters will also sing in the choir, joining musicians from Bridgeport and other towns.

“There will be diverse voices on stage — and in the audience,” Ginsburg notes.

“We’ve seen a large spike in incidents of bigotry and bias,” he adds. “The ADL has worked hard to respond. And we’re doing education programs to try to prevent them.”

They’ve been active at Staples High School and with local police. This summer, Police Chief Foti Koskinas attended ADL training for law enforcement in Washington, DC.

The ADL event also features a civil rights award, in memory of Irwin Hausman. It goes to Lorella Praeli, who as a Dreamer child was taunted for her Hispanic heritage, and the loss of a leg.

The ADL provided support. She’s now head of immigration efforts for the American Civil Liberties Union, and works closely with the ADL on anti-bullying efforts.

“Voices: A Show of Unity” is set for November 11 — Veterans Day. Tickets are provided to vets’ groups, and service members will be honored at the event.

(“Voices: A Show of Unity” is November 11, 5 p.m. at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport. Tickets go on sale September 27. For more information, click here or call 203-530-7456. )

 

We Remember

Seventeen years ago today, America was shattered.

Westport was not spared on September 11, 2001. Neighbors and former residents were among the nearly 3,000 people from around the world who were killed that awful day.

Years before they fell, Ted Horowitz photographed the majestic Twin Towers.

(Photo/copyright Ted Horowitz)

He’s a Westporter now. His images capture the beauty of our town, and the many wonderful people who live here.

His photos are moments in time. They preserve forever the way things were.

Because — as we all learned on that clear, beautiful Tuesday morning — it takes just one instant for the world to change, forever.

Name That Lot!

You may have heard the name Sigrid Schultz.

A pioneering female war correspondent, broadcaster and author who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world, she hid her Jewish heritage from the likes of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, whom she loathed but entertained in her Berlin home for the sole purpose of extracting information.

Sigrid Schultz

After Schultz and her mother fled Germany, they bought a house and barn at 35 Elm Street. When Sigrid died in 1980, the town demolished her home to expand the Baldwin parking lot.

This famous woman has remained largely unknown in her adopted hometown. But that may change soon, if a Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recommendation to name the new Elm Street parking lot — the one next to Bedford Square, created by the demolition of Villa del Sol directly opposite the Baldwin lot — is approved by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the town’s Traffic Authority.

Then again, it may not be named the Sigrid Schultz Parking Lot.

DPIC member Dewey Loselle suggested celebrating former Public Works head Steve Edwards. The longtime but low-key director nixed that idea.

Another suggestion was to honor the residents of 22 1/2 Main Street — the African American boardinghouse that went up in flames (probably arson) nearly 70 years ago. The location was adjacent to the new parking lot.

It might be tough coming up with an appropriate name — “22 1/2 Main Street lot” would be too confusing for the Elm Street address.

But that hasn’t hasn’t stopped one Westporter from taking a second look.

Chip Stephens grew up here. As a Planning & Zoning Commission member, he attends DPIC meetings. He wants to make sure the name of the new lot reflects town sentiment — not simply the will of one committee.

Pete Wassell

Perhaps, he says, the lot should be named after the Wassell brothers. Harry, Bud and Pete were all killed within 15 months of each other, during World War II.

Or, Stephens says, maybe there are other Westporters we should consider.

So let’s have a townwide discussion, right here on “06880.” Click “Comments” to offer suggestions, and debate the ideas.

Sure, it’s only a parking lot. But, as Stephens notes, “it will be there forever.”

FUN FACTS: So who is this Baldwin that the other Elm Street lot is named for? Herb Baldwin — a former first selectman. 

And on the other side of Main Street, Parker Harding Plaza is named for co-sponsors Emerson Parker and Evan Harding. Fortunately — considering the state of that parking lot — everyone has forgotten those two.

36 Elm Street was demolished in January, to make room for a new parking lot next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)

 

Bikers Honor 9/11

Around noon today, more than 2,000 motorcyclists roared through Westport.

Police blocked all side roads, and waved the bikers through traffic lights. They sped up Saugatuck and Riverside Avenues, then along Wilton Road, on their noisy way from Norwalk to Bridgeport.

Some Westporters fumed at the delays.

Many others cheered.

The bikers were part of the CT United Ride. Held annually since 9/11, the event honors all the lives lost on that tragic day, 17 years ago.

It’s Connecticut’s largest 9/11 commemoration. And it’s a fundraiser, supporting state firefighters, law enforcement and United Way.

“06880” reader Susan Birk was caught in the traffic.

She did not mind one bit.

She says, “It was very moving. It was my pleasure to wait for them, watch, pray and remember.”

She took this photo from her rear view mirror. She particularly likes the family with the flag, near the train tracks. They too honor the many victims of 9/11.

(Photo/Susan Birk)

Jack Backiel: Westport’s Man In Washington

Jack Backiel left Westport a while ago. A member of Staples High School’s Class of 1965 who ended up graduating from private school — and the son of the owners of our local bowling alley and driving range — he’s now retired, living in Florida.

He still loves his hometown though, and comments frequently on “06880.”

He’s also a frequent visitor to Washington. If there’s a political hearing to attend, or a protest to join, Jack is there.

In March he flew north for the March for our Lives. Several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — the site of a mass shooting the month before, not far from Jack’s home — shared his flight.

The next month, he was there when Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about Facebook’s privacy issues. Jack was interviewed by BBC, for a report that aired in Britain.

Jack Backiel, on camera.

During Paul Manafort’s trial, he met the defendant’s attorney and Fox News’ Peter Doocy as they awaited the verdict.

A couple of days ago, Jack was at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing. He waited in line for 2 hours, to be seated for 20 minutes. Several protesters interrupted the event, with one man carried out by police “like a bag of potatoes.”

Though Jack’s “sense of history” drives his recent visits to Washington, it’s not a new undertaking.

In 1974, he was seated right behind Connie Chung as the House Judiciary Committee considered impeaching President Nixon.

39 Cross Highway: Past Meets Present

Alert “06880” reader — and proud homeowner — Deborah Howland-Murray writes:

In 1985, my husband and I purchased our antique home at 39 Cross Highway. Like any house over 200 years old, the walls held undiscovered mysteries.

Decades later, they are beginning yielding their secrets. Sifting through original hand-calligraphed parchment documents, my son Galen and I are learning that our cherished home of 33 years was equally cherished by generations of one family, all the way from pre-Revolutionary times until 1927.

We are realizing that the story of our house is interwoven with the story of Westport. We are also finding out how precarious is the fate of our antique repository of history, and of those like it in Westport.

Our house tells a tale of a people birthing a country. Captain Phineas Chapman, farmer and carpenter, built his home on land acquired in 1742, the year of his marriage to Sarah Ketchum. The home housed their family of 10 children: 7 sons and 3 daughters. We have come to know the part they played, and the price they paid, in our nascent democracy.

39 Cross Highway

Capt. Chapman’s forebears arrived in 1635. His father, Rev. Daniel Chapman, was the first pastor of Greens Farms Congregational Church.

The minister’s male descendants were highly respected for their accomplishments. Phineas was made lieutenant in the Connecticut Militia in 1755, then promoted to captain for distinguished service in the French and Indian War.

His son Joseph was this area’s first physician. Sons Daniel, Albert and James bore arms in the American Revolution. James and Albert were highly decorated; Major Albert received the paramount honor of admission to the Society of the Cincinnati.

The oldest part of 39 Cross Highway is lovingly maintained.

Our home bore witness to Gen. Tryon’s wrath during the Danbury raid in 1777. His advance toward Danbury took him along Cross Highway, arresting patriots along the way — including Captain Phineas and his brother Dennie. The same fate befell Daniel in Ridgefield.

Upon his return, Tryon was thwarted from crossing the Kings Highway bridge by Benedict Arnold. Instead, he forded the river upstream and flanked Arnold by marching through Chapman farmland.

The 3 Chapmen men were transported to a New York City sugar house turned prison. The 2 older ones were eventually released. Daniel died there. His health broken by the dank, horrifically overcrowded conditions, Captain Phineas died 5 years later.

The 1784 distribution of Phineas’ estate shows that he left a parcel of land a bit over 1 acre and 20 rods, with “dwelling and barn.” As we followed the land deeds throughout history, this parcel and dwelling — the “old homestead” — remained constant in description.

At some point, Phineas Jr. (1766-1823) was instrumental in building a school diagonally across from his house. The Chapman family valued education. Many relatives — including some of his 11 children — graduated from Yale.

The Cross Highway schoolhouse. The back of the photo says “Cross Highway near Daybreak Nursery on green.”

Through marriage, the Chapmans became linked to one of the most influential families in Westport. Their cousin and admirer, Morris Ketchum, was a financier and locomotive manufacturer who brought the railroad to Westport. His meetings with friend Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, led to the issuance of war bonds and the printing of our first paper currency.

Three Westport homes built by Capt. Phineas still remain: our own; the house built for Albert, comprising the oldest part of 150 Compo Road; and Dr. Joseph’s home (incorrectly called Charles Taylor House) at 268 Wilton Road, beautifully preserved and expanded.

268 Wilton Road

Ketchum’s Hockanum and others are nearby. Not located in a designated historic district, they are in peril of meeting the same end as the Redding home Daniel built with Captain Phineas, unceremoniously demolished in 2006.

Our research took on new meaning as I placed our home on the market. We met with representatives of the Historic Commission and the Westport Historical Society to determine what protections would keep our home safe from the developer’s bulldozer. I was astonished to find that there were virtually none.

Dedicated organizations have the power to forestall, but not prevent. Registering the house as a historical landmark will take more time than I have. And the restrictions are so severe that even an antique lover is dissuaded from purchase. There does not seem to be a middle ground.

I support progress. But there are uncountable new builds for sale in Westport. Is it progress to destroy homes that speak to us of our ancestors, of their sacrifice to create the democracy we enjoy? Shall we lose the opportunity they afford to teach our children about the entrepreneurial spirit that created our town, and country?

As a native Westporter, I sincerely hope not.

Tuskegee Experiment Comes To Westport

What does the Tuskegee Experiment have to do with Westport?

On the surface, nothing.

But the infamous incident — in which the US Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, spent 40 years tracking the progression of untreated syphilis in black men — popped up as the name of a cocktail at 323 restaurant.

According to a report on the Eater food blog, “It’s unclear what the cocktail — featuring ‘Myers dark rum, Malibu, pineapple juice, fresh lime, pineapple & jalapeño mash, dash tabasco’ — has to do with this disturbing period in American history.”

Westporter Eric Armour posted a photo of the specialty drink menu — including other names like Sucker Punch, The Queen Bee and The Red October — on social media. He wrote: “Umm. This is ridiculously horrible.”

Yesterday morning, Eater called the Main Street restaurant. A woman said “she removed all of the cocktail menus on Sunday following a customer complaint.”

Eater pledged to get more information on how the drink was named The Tuskegee Experiment in the first place.

I called 323 last night, and asked to speak to a manager about this story. The person answering the phone said, “We’re kind of busy right now.”

(Click here for the full Eater story. Hat tips: Bart Shuldman and William Strittmatter)

Take A Selfie With Sam And Betsy

For years, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty were packed away inside.

Now, the pair of Einsel kinetic sculptures — Walter’s tips his hat, and his eyes light up; his wife Naiad’s torch shines, and her heart pulsates — have been moved from the Westport Historical Society’s cobblestone barn, onto the Avery Place lawn.

The public is invited to take selfies with “Sam” and “Betsy.” (No, I don’t know why the Statue of Liberty bears Betsy Ross’ name — maybe it’s her flag dress?).

Photos can be posted to the statues’ Instagram account: Betsy_and_Sam. Each week, the WHS will give a prize from its gift shop for the funniest, most creative selfie.

Please respect Sam and Betsy. Don’t climb on them. After all, they were born in the 1800s.

Hey, Einstein!

John and Melissa Ceriale are giving, generous Westporters. They’re involved in a host of philanthropic organizations and endeavors, and epitomize the best of Westport.

Melissa is particularly passionate about Montefiore Health Systems. The other day, she opened up her Greens Farms home — and breathtaking 8 acres of gardens — for an informational session. Two doctors from the Einstein campus gave fascinating talks about their specialties: addiction and depression.

I learned a lot, and was inspired to learn more — about those subjects, and Montefiore Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Just before she asked for questions, Melissa introduced a special member of the audience: Bill Morse. “He actually knew Einstein!” she said.

If that’s not a perfect “06880: where Westport meets the world” story, nothing is.

A couple of days later, I called Bill. The educational consultant — a Westporter since 1988 — has stories to tell.

They start with his father, Marston Morse. A noted mathematician, he spent most of his career on a single subject: Morse Theory (a branch of differential topology, and a very important subject in modern mathematical physics, such as string theory).

In 1935, Marston Morse was invited to join the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His colleagues included Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer.

Bill Morse was born in 1942. From the age of 4 until 13 — when Einstein died — the boy watched the world’s most famous scientist walk past his house, nearly every day.

“I would be playing or rollerskating,” Morse recalls. “He would shuffle past, in sandals and that long hair.”

Then Einstein would turn the corner, and walk past Oppenheimer’s house. (He may have been the most brilliant man on the planet. However, Einstein never learned to drive.)

Morse’s mother Louise was 20 years younger than his father. When she was  just 30 years old, she was assigned to sit next to the physicist at an Institute dinner.

Einstein learned of the arrangement, and was worried. What, he asked others, could he possibly talk to her about?

Morse’s mother heard of Einstein’s concerns. She said, “And he thinks he’s got a problem?!”

Einstein heard her quip — and loved it. For the rest of his life, he always requested that she be seated next to him.

That story got plenty of mileage. Louise died a year and a half ago — at 105.

Bill also told me about the time Einstein said to Marston, “I don’t understand modern mathematics. Do you?”

Bill’s father did not reply. “It would have been crazy,” he told his son.

You don’t have to be an Einstein to write an “06880” post like this.

But it sure helps to know someone who knew him.

Ranky Tanky Gets Down At The Levitt

“06880” does not usually promote Levitt Pavilion concerts. There are too many good ones — rock, jazz, military bands, kids’ shows, you name it — and by now, most people know how to find the shows they like.

But the Levitt does not usually showcase Gullah music. So here’s a little promo for this Saturday’s event (August 4, 8 p.m.).

And — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — there’s a great local connection.

Ranky Tanky is the group you’ll want to hear. They celebrate Gullah culture — the unique evolution of West African slaves shipped to the South Carolina coast to work the low country rice plantations.

Because they were so skillful, the slaves were kept together — not separated, like those from other parts of Africa. The culture they created continues today.

Ranky Tanky celebrates Gullah life through spirituals, poems, children’s songs and lullabies, combining them with fresh, jazz-inflected music. It’s special, unique, and well worth seeing and hearing.

Ranky Tanky, in the low country.

The band is hot. Their first album zoomed to #1 on the Billboard, Amazon and iTunes jazz charts. They’ve headlined the Spoleto Music  Festival, played Carnegie Hall and been featured in Downbeat. Terry Gross interviewed them for “Fresh Air.”

But the world would not have heard about Ranky Tanky without the passion of a local couple.

Last year, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston started Resilience Music Alliance. The goal is to empower artists and creators who explore, challenge and celebrate the human condition of (you guessed it) resilience.

At the Spoleto Music Festival, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston presented Ranky Tanky with plaques commemorating the #1 performance of the first release on the Westporters’ label, Resilience Music Alliance

Ranky Tanky — the name comes from a Gullah phrase meaning “work it” or “get down” — has performed all over the country, and are booked well into 2019.

During a summer when — thanks to a superb Historical Society exhibit –Westport is  examining its African American past, and our town’s connection to slavery, Saturday’s Levitt Pavilion show is timely and important.

And if all that is not enough to draw you to the Levitt for Ranky Tanky, try this: