Category Archives: History

Roundup: Battle Of Compo Hill, Willy Wonka, Take Back Drugs …

Susan Iseman subscribes to the “Today in Connecticut History” news feed. Every day, a different event is highlighted.

Today is Westport’s turn. The site cites the 245th anniversary of 1,800 British troops’ march from Compo Beach to Danbury, where they burned a supply depot.

April 26: British Forces Attack, Burn Danbury

The event — including the subsequent retreat back to their ships off Compo Beach, and the Battle of Compo Hill on April 28, when the patriots made life miserable for the invaders — is memorialized by our iconic Minute Man monument.

Click here for the fascinating story of those historic 1777 days.

Remembering 1777.

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Happy National Prescription Drug Take Back Day!

This Saturday (April 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Senior Center), the Westport Police Department partners with the US Drug Enforcement Administration to accept medications (pills or patches) that are no longer needed.

The Senior Center cannot accept liquids, needles or sharps. Vape pens whose batteries can be removed are okay, those whose batteries cannot be removed are not.

The service is free and anonymous; no questions are asked.

Since its inception 22 years ago, the program has removed more than 15.2 million pounds of medication from circulation nationwide.

The WPD also has a year-round collection bin in the lobby of police headquarters. Prescription drugs can be disposed of any time there.

For more information about Take Back Day, click here.

Bedford Acting Group — the middle school theatre program — returned to the stage this year after a tough, 2-year hiatus due to COVID,

The fall production of “Annie” was a success, thanks to a cast of 7th and 8th graders (and professional actor dog Sandy).

This weekend the 6th graders debut on the Bedford stage. They perform “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” with the help of director Ryan Smith and nearly two dozen 7th and 8th grade student directors.

The youngsters shadow Smith, run scenes and lines, create blocking, make suggestions on character choices, and step in to read when students are absent.

This is Smith’s first year at the Bedford Acting Group helm. After performing with Staples Players before graduating in 1996, he acted professionally on national tours.

He returned to his hometown and served as associate director of Bedford Acting Group alongside Kevin Slater, then helped run the program with longtime director Karen McCormick.  Now in the head role, he works with assistant director Melisa Didio.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” features audiovisual and special effects, and surprises in the Wonka factory. Costumes reflect the 1970s, and the set is vibrantly colored.

Among the volunteers: theatrical designer Karen Root, whose daughter Helen acts in the show, and actor Colin Walker, whose daughter Brady is a student director.

Performances are Friday, April 29 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday, April 30 (2 and 7 p.m.), and Sunday, May 1 (2 p.m.). Click here for tickets and more information.

Harper Iglehart and Samantha Skopp are double cast as Willy Wonka

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A few days ago, “06880” announced the release of Alan Fiore’s first song, “Take the Bait!”

The 2021 Staples High School graduate/current Berklee College of Music student produced, mixed and mastered it all himself.

It’s already registered over 5,000 Spotify streams, and 2,000 on Apple Music. It earned rave reviews in Darkus (which called Alan “one of 2022’s newest rising stars”) and Wolf in a Suit (“with this stunning showcase of feelings and emotions (Alan) gives life to a tale so raw and so true”).

Click here for links to all streaming platforms. Click here for Alan’s website, and more music.

Alan Fiore

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The “06880” community has been heartbroken to learn of Charlie Capalbo’s death. The 23-year-old Fairfield hockey player — grandparents Ida Chadwick and Richard Epstein live in Westport, and whose mom Jennifer Wilde Capalbo graduated from Staples — battled cancer 4 times, before succumbing on Sunday.

The emotional toll on Charlie’s family over the past 5 years has been devastating. So is the financial toll.

A GoFundMe page is helping with medical expenses. Click here for more information, and to contribute.

Charlie and his mother, Jennifer Wilde Capalbo.

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Destination Haus — the new gallery and home décor store at 56 Riverside Avenue — invites everyone for cocktails and light bites this Thursday (April 28, 4 to 7 p.m.)

Like the original store in Montauk, Destination Haus offers

Offering curated artwork, furniture, glassware, candles, pillows, pottery, home accessories and jewelry from around the globe. It’s a “destination” for anyone moving into, redesigning or redecorating their “haus.”

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Designer/entrepreneur/humanitarian/Prince Charles’ goddaughter India Hicks comes to MoCA Westport on May 12 (5 to 7 p.m.).

After a cocktail hour, she’ll chat with Connecticut Cottages & Gardens editorial director DJ Carey about her recent book, “An Entertaining Story,” and more.

Tickets include hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and a copy of India’s book. Guests also get a peek at Hicks’ new collaboration with British luxury brand Tusting. Click here to purchase and for more information, or call 222-7070. Funds support visual arts, performing arts and educational offerings for the community.

India Hicks

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There’s no better sign of spring … nor a better candidate for “Westport … Naturally” than this image. Jill Grayson captured it, in her yard.

(Photo/Jill Grayson)

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And finally … in honor of Jill Grayson’s photo above:

 

 

 

Westport Values On Display Downtown

The sign went up quietly recently, on the bank of the Saugatuck River by the Taylor Place parking lot.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Under the heading “Westport Values” — and above photos including a multiracial family, one with 2 dads, an Asian American woman and a resident in his 90s — the text says that our town is “committed to fostering a civic culture that provides the equitable respect, belonging and treatment of all citizens, students, employees and visitors by its populace, government, schools, business and organizations.”

It mentions “races, ethnicities, religions, genders, abilities and LGBTQIA+,” but notes that the town’s civic culture commitment is not limited to those groups.

It adds: “Building on the richness of the past while acknowledging the challenges of its history, the Town of Westport commits to proactively making the town genuinely welcoming and inclusive.” (Click on or hover over the photo below to read the full statement.)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

A QR code brings up the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion page on the town website.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Many residents don’t know the sign is there, or haven’t noticed it.

A few have contacted “06880” to applaud it. The town is taking a firm stand, they say, in a very public place.

A few others are not thrilled. They consider it unnecessary, or unnecessarily woke.

The sign is part of a continuing effort to add historical balance to town markers, and address past exclusions. Plaques have already been placed behind Town Hall, and on Elm Street near what was once a thriving African American neighborhood.

The new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plaque by the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Advisory Committees, Beach Grooming …

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Tonight (Wednesday) is the night for the first of 3 community conversations on Westport housing.

“Drafting Westport’s 5-Year Affordable Housing Plan” is set for 7:30 p.m. at Temple Israel.

The sponsor is the Westport/Weston Clergy Association. Moderators include Rabbi Michael Friedman, Pastor Heather Sinclair and Reverend John Morehouse.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village. Tonight’s meeting will explore what’s ahead.

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Bored?

Or just looking for a board to serve on?

Westport needs registered voters to serve on 5 advisory bodies:

  • Arts Advisory Committee: advises on the preservation of Westport’s legacy as an arts community, provides oversight of the Westport Permanent Art Collections, and helps increase visibility of the arts in town.
  • Maintenance Study Committee: the Committee recently completed studies of all major town buildings, and reviewed buildings recently purchased by the Town, or under consideration for purchase and/or demolition.
  • International Hospitality Committee: advises town officials about local activities related to the United Nations and international visitors.
  • TEAM Westport: advises town officials about achieving and celebrating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport community.
  • Wakeman Town Farm Committee: helps WTF serve as an educational demonstration center for sustainable living.

Registered voters seeking an appointment should click here for an application. It must be emailed (selectwoman@westportct.gov) or mailed (110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880) by April 15.

With few exceptions, non-elected members of town boards, commissions and committees are appointed by the First Selectwoman.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker ways, “Westport’s electorate is dynamic and diverse. This community could not run successfully without the many citizens who willingly and enthusiastically give of their time to benefit us all.

“Among the many appointed boards, commissions and committees, there are a number of vacancies that may filled by the members of our community who seek an opportunity to volunteer, gain knowledge of their municipal government, and provide service to the town. Some boards have minimal commitments, others are more hands-on and skill-driven, but all play an important role in keeping our community strong and vibrant.”

Click here for a list of all town boards, commissions and committees.

Those alpacas didn’t fall from the sky. The Wakeman Town Farm Committee helps oversee activities there. (Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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It’s springtime.

Flower beds get mulched. Poodles get shorn. And Westport beaches get groomed.

Crews were out yesterday, smoothing the sand at Compo …

(Photo/Karen Como)

… and Old Mill.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Meanwhile, work began on the Burying Hill jetty/groin restoration project.

(Photo/Chris Swan)

Our shoreline is beautiful.

Thanks to these folks, they’ll soon be even more beautiful.

And safer.

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Wayne Blickenstaff — aka “Blick” — was a key member of the Eighth Air Force, part of the England-based World War II air campaign against Germany.  Rising to lieutenant colonel, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, he flew 133 destroyed 10 enemy aircraft.

After the war, Blickenstaff settled in Westport. For many years, he was part of Famous Artists School.

Now he’s written a book. “Ace in a Day” will be published in September.

Amazon calls it “Blick’s honest and gritty personal memoir of his air war in Europe. His vivid writing places you in the cockpit as he and his comrades battle the enemy in the skies or attack ground targets across Europe. His account conveys a true sense of just how dangerous flying World War II fighters, in all weather conditions, really was.

“It was not just the enemy that could kill you. A moment’s inattention, overconfidence or simple mistake could be deadly. As a keen observer of character, Blick’s pen portraits of those around him, including many of those who sadly did not survive the war, offer a poignant and deeply moving tribute to those with whom he served.” Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Laurie Woog)

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Staples High School sophomore Grace Power has a big role in Amy Schumer’s new series “Life & Beth.” It debuted on Hulu this month.

Grace — who was part of last year’s Staples Players radio shows — is seen in 7 episodes, as “Young Liz,” the best friend of Amy’s younger version of herself.

The New York Times says: “The straightforward, emotionally grounded acting that much of ‘Life & Beth’ requires isn’t Schumer’s strength, but … Grace Power (is) also good as Beth’s best friend in the flashbacks.” (Hat tip: Nicole Mayr)

Grace Power

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This Sunday (March 27, noon to 5 p.m., 190 Main Street), the CAMP Gallery hosts “Sip and Shop for a Cause.” It’s a closing event for the current exhibition: “Not Dior’s New Look III.”

20% of the gallery’s commission will be donated to Fashion Fights Cancer. The organization provides design-oriented therapeutic programs to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.

In addition, all participating brands — Kristi Vosbeck, Rosie Assoulin, The Hidden Gem, Johnny Was, Boho Prep and Le Rouge Chocolates — will contribute a percentage of all event sales towards Fashion Fights Cancer, and efforts in Ukraine.

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No, it’s not the Serengeti. But these deer grazing locally — today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature — do have something to do with Africa.

They’re at Nyala Farm. The corporate headquarters between the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road, just north of I-95 Exit 18, was once part of the vast Bedford estate.

E.T. Bedford’s son Fred gave the house and farm its “Nyala” name for the spiral-horned antelope that had captivated his attention during a safari.

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

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And finally … speaking of the Serengeti, and Africa:

Ted Aldrich: A Commuter’s Tale Of How George Marshall And Henry Stimson Won The War

As Metro-North trains grew progressively slower, Fairfield County commuters groaned.

When bad weather, aging infrastructure or acts of God turned delays of minutes into hours, men and women gnashed their teeth, or wished the windows opened so they could jump out.

Ted Aldrich was thrilled.

For 8 years, the banker used his time between Greens Farms and Grand Central not to try to answer emails, watch movies on a phone screen or wish he were anywhere else.

Aldrich read history books. He organized notes. Then he wrote a book.

Ted Aldrich

Not just any book. He wrote 800 pages — then edited it down to 500 — on the odd relationship, and amazing success, of George Marshall and Henry Stimson.

The general and diplomat, Aldrich says, are hugely responsible for America’s logistical success in World War II. It’s a fresh area of study, one no historian has previously examined.

Yet Aldrich is not a historian. He’s a banker.

And this is his first book ever.

The Rowayton native and former Brien McMahon High School all-state soccer player has been a history buff as long as he remembers. But after playing at Colgate University, living and working in Europe, then moving to Westport in 1999, that passion was limited to reading on trains.

In 2008 he realized he could put that commuting time to productive use, by writing a book he’d long thought about. He had a subject: the collaboration between the unlikely duo of the U.S. Army chief of staff and President Roosevelt’s Secretary of War.

From adjoining offices at the Pentagon, the career military man and the Wall Street lawyer — both from vastly different backgrounds — created and led a war machine that helped crush a powerful enemy.

Blending politics, diplomacy, bureaucracy and war fighting, they transformed an outdated, poorly equipped army into a modern fighting force.  They developed strategy and logistics, coordinated with allies, and planned for post-war peace.

General George Marshall, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Aldrich had the idea for the story. But with Metro-North’s spotty cell service, conducting the all-important research — during the only time he had available — was impossible.

Then he stumbled on Stimson’s 10,000-page diary. Because the men occupied adjoining offices, most of their collaboration took place in conversations. Little was written down — except in the diary.

It was housed at Yale, but not digitized. Aldrich paid to have it converted, and put it on a thumb drive. Suddenly, the train became his office.

The longer the commute was, the more productive and happier he became. Research took 3 years. Writing took 5 more.

Adlrich looked forward to to long business flights to Asia too. While most passengers slept or watched movies, Aldrich wrote, edited, and wrote some more.

That was the easy part. Selling his work to publishers seemed impossible. Major houses were not interested in a long book by a non-historian who had never written anything before.

Neither were smaller publishers.

Finally, Stackpole Books responded to Aldrich’s cold call. Three days later, they offered him a contract.

The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration That Won World War II will be published April 15. Best-selling author Walter Isaacson calls it “a valuable addition to history.”

Noted writer Evan Thomas adds:

The contrast to the current day will pop out at readers. Aldrich writes with a confident, readable style that carries you along. Through these men we remember how America truly did become great. At the same time, Aldrich has a clear eye about their foibles and blind spots. Stimson and Marshall were Olympian figures, yet in Aldrich’s capable hands, human and relatable.

Unlike many writers who head out on book tours, Aldrich has a full-time job. His personal promotion will be limited to groups in the tri-state area, and Washington — talks he can give while still working his day job.

Meanwhile, he’d love to write another book. But he has to find the right subject — and make sure much of the material is available on a thumb drive.

On the other hand, at the rate Metro-North is going, Aldrich may have even more time to write than before.

(For more information and to order Ted Aldrich’s book, click here.) 

Roundup: WTC, RTM, Y …

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A crowd of 100 people gathered in the cold yesterday evening at Town Hall, for a candlelight vigil to support Ukraine. Mark Yurkiw reports:

“I was surprised to learn how many Ukrainians and non- Ukrainians showed up. and how concerned so many were for their friends and family in Ukraine.

“They told stories of intermittent conversations between scrambles to bomb shelters, and children sleeping on thin mats on concrete. An invisible yet potent bond wove through the crowd.

“It took me by surprise, and made me realize how cathartic it is for a crowd of strangers to feel almost instantly connected.”

A rally in Westport is set for this Saturday (March 5), at 11 a.m. on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown.

Ukraine rally at Weston Town Hall (Photo/Mark Yurkiw)

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February 26 marked the 29th anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing — the one in 1993.

There’s a new memorial on the site, built after the 2001 terrorist attack. For almost a decade, RTM member Andrew Colabella has gone there on that date, to pay respects and join the survivors who gather there.

His cousin was one of 6 people killed in the 1993 attack.

This year, Andrew met Daniel Geraghty there. In November, the former Staples High School English teacher published Cast Away Stones: An Eyewitness Account of 9/11 and Memoir of a Survivor, Soldier Citizen, a gripping account of his 20-year battle to overcome PTSD.

Andrew Colabella (left) and Daniel Geraghty, at the 9/11 Memorial.

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Speaking of the RTM: Sure, you hear about it all the time. (Like in the item just above this one.)

But admit it: Do your know what it does? Or even what the acronym stands for?

On March 23 (7 p.m., Westport Library in-person and Zoom), Westport’s League of Women Voters presents “Know Your Town: The RTM.”

Former moderator (what’s that?!) Velma Heller will discuss its history. Current member Matthew Mandell will explain what it can do — and what it can’t. Current moderator Jeff Wieser will offer his insights too.

Click here for more information, and registration.

Okay, okay: RTM stands for “Representative Town Meeting.” Impress your friends!

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The other day, “06880” published Carl Addison Swanson’s “Kvetch of the Week.” He noted that an 80+ North Avenue neighbor was afraid to get her mail, for fear of being hit by a speeding car.

Carl noted his frustration at trying to get blinking lights or other traffic control devices on the heavily traveled road, home to 4 of Westport’s 8 schools.

Fast (ho ho) forward a few days. There’s now a sign showing “Your Speed” at the base of the hill, near the Bedford Middle School entrance.

Congrats, Carl — and everyone else who lived in the area. And let’s hope there are more such solutions to come.

“Your Speed” sign on North Avenue. (Photo/Carl Addison Swanson)

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The new manager and vice president of People’s United Bank’s Westport office is … Matthew Cummings.

It’s a homecoming of sorts. He’s a 1986 graduate of Staples High School, where he captained the ski team and played football and baseball. He lifeguarded in the summers, then graduated from the University of Colorado.

Matt’s (very proud) mother is Betty Lou Cummings, former 2nd selectwoman, Apple Festival co-founder, and volunteer with countless other organizations and projects.

She’s also a former Michigan State University cheerleader. And Betty Lou never stops cheering for her son.

Matthew Cummings

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After 34 years leading the Westport Weston Family Y’s gymnastics program, Sally Silverstein has retired.

But she won’t be forgotten.

This Friday (6:30 p.m.), the Y, hosts a naming ceremony for the Gymnastics Center’s new Sally Silverstein Viewing Area. Many of the program’s 500 gymnasts will be there. Of course, Sally’s many friends — and all her former athletes, and their families — are invited.

Sally Silverstein

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Speaking of plants: Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows some nice basil, flowering in Molly Alger’s windowsill:

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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And finally …  it’s March 1. It’s the month that comes in like a — well, you know:

Roundup: Anita Hill, Serena & Lily, Landscape Design …

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Today’s “balloon test” — designed to show what a 124-foot cell tower proposed for 92 Greens Farms Road — has been canceled. No further information is available.

Today’s event at 92 Greens Farms Road is off. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

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Lynn Grossman has a full-time job, as senior vice president, wealth management for Raymond James Financial in Westport.

But she spends nearly all the rest of her time giving back to those less fortunate.

A Westporter since 1985, she runs a non-profit in Queens. She also serves on Fairfield County’s Community Foundation professional advisor council.

The umbrella organization supports many good projects. Lynn is especially excited about the Fund for Women and Girls. Over the past 20 years, they’ve given out $8 million, impacting tens of thousands of females.

She is really excited about April 22 (12 noon, Greenwich Hyatt and virtual). This year’s guest speaker is Anita Hill.

The Brandeis University professor of law, public policy and women’s studies is the recipient of a 2019 PEN Courage Award. Her new book is Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence. In her  autobiography Speaking Truth to Power, Hill shared her story of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about sexual harassment during her career.

Click here for tickets and more information.

Anita Hill

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A $73 million settlement last week for families of 9 Sandy Hook victims shook 2 worlds last week: the legal one, and the gun manufacturing industry.

It also brought national attention to Josh Koskoff, the Westport attorney who led the long effort.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a long feature, headlined “How They Did It: Sandy Hook Families Gain Long-Awaited Legal Wins.” The piece explores Koskoff’s strategy, and its implications for similar lawsuits going forward. Click here for the full story.

Josh Koskoff, in his office. (Photo/Monica Jorge for the New York Times)

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A broken sprinkler caused water damage at Serena & Lily. The Elm Street lifestyle store is closed today. They hope to open later this week. (Hat tip: Sal Liccione)

Serena & Lily

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Mark March 13. Turn your clocks ahead — and at noon (EDT) enjoy an Aspetuck land Trust Sunday “Brunch and Learn” lecture with landscape designer/author/photographer Rick Darke.

He’ll discuss the vital roles native plants play in beautiful, ecologically sound, and broadly functional residential landscape design.

It’s free for members, $18 for non-members. Click here for details, and to register.

Rick Darke

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It’s mid late February. Time for some “Westport … Naturally” color!

(Photo/Judith Katz)

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And finally … happy 64th birthday to singer/songwriter, multi-Grammy-winning — and Brown University graduate — Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Koskoff Helps Settle Landmark Sandy Hook Suit

Nine families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacred have reached an agreement with the maker of the assault weapon.

The $73 million settlement seems to be the largest of its kind ever between a gun manufacturer and relatives of a mass shooting, the New York Times says.

The paper adds: “It also represents a significant setback to the firearm industry because the lawsuit, by employing a novel strategy, pierced the vast shield enshrined in federal law protecting gun companies from litigation.”

Josh Koskoff

The lead lawyer for the victims’ families — 5 children and 4 adults — is Josh Koskoff. The 1984 Staples High School graduate — and still a Westport resident — practices with Bridgeport-based Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder.

The Times explains:

The families contended that Remington, the gun maker, violated state consumer law by promoting the weapon in a way that appealed to so-called couch commandoes and troubled young men like the gunman who stormed into the elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012, killing 20 first graders and six adults in a spray of gunfire.

Koskoff said: “These 9 families have shared a single goal from the very beginning: to do whatever they could to help prevent the next Sandy Hook. It is hard to imagine an outcome that better accomplishes that goal.”

(Click here for the full New York Times article. In 2014, Koskoff appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” to discuss the lawsuit he’d just filed. Click here for that story.) 

Roundup: COVID Testing, MLK Followup, Stars On Stage …

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Westport’s newest COVID test center is now open.

Progressive Diagnostics offers same-day PCR results at no cost at the Greens Farms train station. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Appointments are required. To register online, click here.

Progressive Diagnostics’ testing center is inside the Greens Farms train station.

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Martin Luther King Day was Monday. CNBC’s Shepard Smith celebrated with a fascinating story about Martin Luther King’s summers in Connecticut.

As a 15-year-old freshman at Morehouse College, he spent the summer of 1944 working as a farmhand at the Cullman Brothers shade tobacco farm in Simsbury. It was part of a program to raise funds for tuition. He returned in 1947.

The summers were eye-opening. Foro the first time, King saw a world beyond the segregated South. He and his fellow students dined in restaurants with white patrons, and tasted freedoms they’d never experienced.

Smith’s report details those years — and the efforts by Simsbury High School students to delve deeply into King’s summers in their town. They helped lead a successful drive to preserve those 280 acres as a historic site.

What makes that event — and the CNBC story — even more compelling is the Westport connection. Cullman Brothers was a holding company owned by the uncles of current Westport residents Bob Jacobs and Joel Treisman. It was started by Bob’s grandfather, and Joel’s great-grandfather.

Click below for Shepard Smith’s must-see report:

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The last of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” shows airs this Friday (January 21). It’s 9 p.m. on New York’s Channel 13; check local listings for other PBS stations. The New York Times put it on their “What to Watch This Week” list.

Dixon — whose credits include Harpo in “Color Me Purple,” Eubie Blake in “Shuffle Along,” Barry Gordon in “Motown: The Musical,” and of course Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” — taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September, with a live audience.

The first 2 “Stars on Stage” shows — produced by Westporter Andrew Wilk — starred Gavin Creel and hoshana Bean

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There are few visitors to Burying Hill Beach this winter. Well, few human visitors, anyway. These guys are perfect for a mid-January “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Peter J. Swift)

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And finally … Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809. He died just 40 years later, under circumstances that remain mysterious. Many of his works endure more than 2 centuries later. Phil Ochs — who also died young — adapted this beautiful poem, and made it his own.

 

MLK

his story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.” After the events of the past couple of years, today — more than ever — we should think about the history of our nation before Dr. King was born.

And where we are, more than half a century after his death.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work. Some will sleep in; others will shop, or go for a walk. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Halper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

January 6: Mourning A Closed Capitol

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol.

Some Westporters will join a vigil, considering how close we came — and still totter — to the end of democracy. Others will urge: “Move on!”

Barbara Dunn Alfinito will think about that majestic Washington building itself.

She’s only been a Westporter since March. A Brooklyn native — with the accent to prove it — her daughter and son-in-law urged her to move here when they bought a home nearby. She resisted — until her 5-year-old grandson said, “Come!”

Barbara Dunn Alfinito

Barbara has spent 40 years as a tour guide. Her passion began in the early 1990s. When her family hosted foreign exchange students, she showed them the sights of New York City and the East Coast.

She soon created a business. Barb’s Getaway specializes in large group tours of New York and DC. She runs shopping, theater, eating and first-time traveler tours, but her favorites are for students. She introduces entire grades to the wonders of those fascinating cities.

Among all the sights, Barbara says, the US Capitol may be the most impressive. It is historic, majestic, and awe-inspiring. When youngsters leave, they are “proud and more knowledgeable. It’s an eye-opener.”

As insurrectionists overran the building a year ago today, Barbara was stunned.

“They got in with knives, guns — you name it,” she says.

One of Barbara’s tour groups, outside the US Capitol.

“When we were there, we went through metal detectors. They took away chocolates. I told the kids over and over again: hair spray, purchases, whatever you have — leave it on the bus.”

A boy once told her he had brass knuckles. He walked over to a planter, to bury them in the snow. Within seconds, the teenager was surrounded by security.

On January 6, 2021, hundreds of adults forced their way — or simply strolled — into the same Capitol. Some carried dangerous weapons.

The building is now substantially closed to visitors. It will not be as open as it was before “in my lifetime,” Barbara believes.

The loss for Americans — particularly students — is incalculable, she says. They’ll lose their sense of wonder and awe. They won’t be inspired to study history.

And the worst part is: “They won’t know what they’ve lost.”