Category Archives: History

Bedford Middle School Students, Staples Freshman Make History

I’ve covered the accomplishments of Westport’s National History Day  competitors before.

I’ve used the headline “Do Know Much About History” too, so I can’t do that again.

However, earlier this month 5 Bedford Middle School students and 1 from Staples proved Sam Cooke wrong. They do know a lot about history.

The 8th graders — already state champions — placed 5th in the national event in College Park, Maryland. Freshman Ishan Prasad — a Bedford National History Day alum — placed 2nd in the High School Individual Paper category, for his work: “Shah Bano and India’s Post-Colonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.”

Bedford Middle School National History Day competitors, with club advisor Caroline Davis (rear) and their project.

The Westport program is only 5 years old. But what a history it has!

When Caroline Davis moved here from New Jersey, she brought a dozen years’ experience as a middle school National History Day Club faculty adviser. She asked if she could start one here.

Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the idea. A year later, Bedford qualified for the national competition. They repeated in 2017, ’18 and ’19 — all 3 times as state champs. Last year, they finished 4th in the country.

Davis calls her students “incredibly motivated. They want to explore outside of Goggle and readily available sources.”

She’s not kidding. Last year — delving into the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court interracial marriage case — one group tracked down and interviewed the Lovings’ attorney.

Chris Fields, in the famous photo by Charles Porter IV.

Another group made a website about the Oklahoma City bombing. They found — and interviewed — Chris Fields, the firefighter in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from that 1995 day.

(I know — to many “06880” readers, that’s a “current event.” But it happened a couple of decades before the current BMS kids were born. So history it is.)

The club meets twice a week. Students bring their lunch to Davis’ classroom, eating and working together. She helps them stay on course. But finding sources, organizing information, laying it out, offering peer reviews — that’s all on the students.

The national competition in Washington, DC was a fantastic educational and fun experience. In addition to teams from all over the US, the BMS students (and Ishan) met others from South Korea, China and Guam.

They also met Senator Richard Blumenthal, who spoke with them about the importance of history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the US Capitol with some of Bedford’s National History Day team.

This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy.” The BMS team — Rhea Choudhury, Sharmila Green, Emma Losonczy, Malika Subramanian and Lucia Wang — researched and presented the career of Lise Meitner.

Never heard of her? Neither had I.

She’s a Jewish Austrian physicist who helped discover nuclear fission in the late 1930s. She never received credit, though — and was even excluded from receiving the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, the Bedford students (and Ishan) got their prize. Congrats to them, to Caroline Davis and Westport 6-12 social studies supervisor Lauren Francese.

Take that, Sam Cooke!

Larry Aasen: “North Dakotans Never Give Up”

Larry Aasen has just written his 4th book about North Dakota.

That may be a world record.

“Very few people write books about North Dakota,” the Peace Garden State native and longtime Westporter says modestly.

“Then again, very few people live in North Dakota, period.”

At 96 years old, Aasen still has all his wits — and his wit.

So I should note here: Very few 96-year-olds write books, period.

Aasen’s oeuvre includes “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” The postcards are fascinating — some are from his parents’ collection (they corresponded that way when they were courting, and lived 30 miles apart) — and so are the photos his mother took using a new-fangled camera (they were sent to Minneapolis to be developed, and arrived back 3 weeks later).

Larry Aasen has written 4 books. All focus on North Dakota.

His latest book — “North Dakotans Never Give Up” — goes beyond images, postcards and history. It’s a personal memoir, weaving together Aasen’s youth in the still-pioneer state with the inspiring story of residents who overcame great adversity, and achieved big things.

(Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk and Peggy Lee, to name 3.)

“The Depression was a terrible time,” Aasen says of his youth. “Many young people in North Dakota today have no idea. There were grasshoppers, drought — you name it.”

Those North Dakotans who never gave up survived by raising cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs. They made their own food. They built chairs and benches out of wood they chopped. They were self-sufficient. They had to be.

“Winters were tough,” he says. “Kids really did walk to school in the snow.”

He was one of those kids. And he’d go to school after milking cows. “We smelled. The town kids teased us,” he recalls.

Larry Aasen’s garage is filled with North Dakota — and political — memorabilia.

Aasen’s grandparents were certainly tough. All 4 lived into their 80s. Their stories form an important part of the new book.

“Weak people died,” Aasen says. His grandparents never went to the hospital. They didn’t even have medical care.

“It cost $1 for the doctor to come to the farm. That was too expensive.” He doesn’t remember ever seeing medicine in the house — “except maybe cough syrup.”

His mother kept a diary, which he still has. “She would talk about whatever happened that day,” Aasen says. “‘Today an airplane flew over the farm.’ ‘We butchered a pig.’ ‘Hoover was elected president.’ There were a lot of bank robberies too.”

Larry Aasen’s mother’s 1929 diary (left), and 2 pages from 1937.

Aasen is an assiduous researcher. He spent 9 months writing the most recent volume — and did all the layout too. (His son-in-law got it copy-ready.)

“I’m 96, but I’m too busy to be a senior citizen,” Aasen — whose Mississippi-born wife Martha, 89, is equally active — says.

Aasen’s books sell well — and all over the country. They’re bought by libraries, universities, people who live in North Dakota, and those who have left.

They’re reviewed regularly in publications like the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and Forum of Fargo.

Aasen promotes his books himself, partly through direct mail. After 4 volumes, he’s built up a robust mailing list. (Robust by North Dakota standards, anyway.)

He used to go back every year. His trips now are less frequent.

“I had 31 cousins there. Now there’s 1,” Aasen says. “My classmates, my Army mates — they’re all gone.”

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Larry and Martha Aasen moved to Westport in 1963. They’ve been involved in town life — too many activities to count — ever since.

But nearly 6 decades later — after nearly a century on the planet — Larry Aasen still loves his home state. And he’s proud to honor the people he grew up with there.

“A lot of people today, if they can’t get a job they sit around feeling sorry for themselves,” he says.

“In North Dakota, you couldn’t do that. You’d starve.

“You had to be tough, and figure things out.”

Like his book title says: North Dakotans Never Give Up.

(To buy a copy of Aasen’s book, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.)

VFW Posts An Impressive 100 Years

We pass it every day. For nearly 100 years, it’s sat proudly at one of Westport’s busiest intersections.

Yet VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 is also one of our town’s best-kept secrets.

It’s not for veterans only. It’s not a private club. It’s not smoke-filled (anymore).

It is a place where “guests” are welcome (just sign the book!). It is a place you can rent for your next reunion, birthday or anniversary party, shower or club meeting.

It does boast some of the best-priced food and drinks in town.

Oh yeah: There’s also a dock in back, with low-cost moorings, and slots for anyone to tie up before enjoying a great lunch or dinner.

(From left) Bob Tirreno, Tom Dubrosky, Phil Delgado and Joe Gallo, at the VFW’s 24-slip dock.

The VFW has been a Westport institution since 1920. Named for a World War I veteran, it occupied a couple of different sites in Saugatuck. It moved to its present Riverside Avenue location — at the junction of Saugatuck Avenue, across from Treadwell — in 1973.

The property was donated to the chapter, which is part of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. Westport veterans like the Kowalsky and Veno brothers, and Buck Iannacone, helped construct the current, spacious and welcoming brick building.

Out in front — seldom noticed — is one of the original cannons made in 1799, placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate the 1777 battle against the British.

It was vandalized in 1957. The Rotary Club restored it, and presented it to the VFW. The cannons at the beach today are replicas.

A Compo cannon, in front of the VFW.

In the 1980s, there were 150 or so active Post 399 members. Most were in their 60s or older, veterans of World War II and Korea.

That’s the traditional pattern of the post. Younger vets are busy raising families, and with careers. Once they retire, they have the time — and desire — to join.

Westport’s VFW counts over 180 members now, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But most are inactive. Leaders include Phil Delgado (Bosnia), and Tom Dubrosky and Bob Tirreno (both Vietnam). Viet vet Frank Veno is vice commander.

Joe Gallo runs the excellent food service. Lunch is 6 days a week in the summer, 7 in fall and winter. Dinner is served Friday nights; Saturday is usually private parties.

One of 3 main dining areas, this room is bright, warm — and boasts a killer view of the Saugatuck River.

Though many Westporters don’t know it, Post 399 is available to rent. The lower level fits 150 people; the 2 rooms upstairs seats 60 and 45. Sports fans love the 9 flat-screen TVs throughout the 2 levels.

An open deck in back — with a stunning view of the river — was enclosed a while back.

Beyond the parking lot, the post has a dock with 24 slips. Most are rented (2 are donated to volunteer organizations). A few are available for anyone passing by, who wants to go in and enjoy lunch.

The Westport Fire and Police Departments hold regular events at the VFW. So do the Y’s Men, Kiwanis and other civic groups. VFW officials would love to host more.

But the VFW is not just about meeting, eating and drinking. Every Memorial Day they help provide the flags the Scouts place on veterans’ graves, and comprise the honor guard at the ceremony after the parade.

On Memorial Day last month, VFW Post 399’s honor guard stood proudly. From left: Tom Dubrosky, Johnny Deilus, Bobby Tirreno, Allan Chavez, Phil Delgado, Rob Custer, Frank Veno, Brad Menkin and Bernie Rombout.

They collect flags so they can be disposed of properly; furnish buglers for vets’ funerals, and are a resource for veterans with questions of any kind (whether VFW members or not).

There’s an active auxiliary too. Once limited to service members’ wives, it’s now open to their children and parents too.

Fairfield County is not fertile ground for veterans’ organizations. The Norwalk VFW post closed a while back, and Fairfield’s is inactive.

But — nearly 100 years old — Westport’s Joseph Clinton Post 399 is going strong.

They want to be even stronger.

As the post’s century anniversary approaches, they’ve got big plans. They hope to raise $100,000 from the community. Funds will retire the mortgage, and help dredge the river.

“We hope to be around for the next 100 years,” says Tom Dubrosky. “We want to be here, so people who serve now and in the future will have a place to go.

“We’re here for veterans — and the entire town.”

(For more information on Westport’s VFW Post 399, click here or call 203-227-6796.)

Remembering D-Day, And Tracy Sugarman

As the world honors the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Westport should not forget Tracy Sugarman, and his role in that historic event.

Tracy Sugarman

We often think of the artist, writer and longtime Westporter — who died in 2013, age 91 — for his civil rights activism. He published 3 non-fiction books and 1 of fiction about his experiences as a Freedom Rider during the 1960s.

But he also served as an officer with the Navy’s Amphibious Corps during World War II. On D-Day, he stormed the French beach.

In 2011 — a few days before he spoke as Memorial Day grand marshal — I wrote about Tracy’s experiences. 

As a junior at Syracuse University’s College of Fine Arts, Tracy Sugarman had a great time.  He was on the lacrosse team, was dating a wonderful woman named June — “it was all Joe College,” he says.

Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Tracy and a fraternity brother took a bus to Buffalo.  When they returned to campus, they were in the Navy Reserve.

Tracy Sugarman and June, during World War II.

He was allowed to finish school.  But 2 days after graduation — May 13, 1943 — Tracy headed to midshipman’s training at Notre Dame.

“We kept ‘invading’ England,’” Tracy recalls.  “Then one day, it was time to invade France.”

June 6, 1944 was “extraordinary,” says Tracy.  “There were 3,000 planes, and 3,000 ships — as far as the eye could see.”

The day was sunny, but the seas rough.  They circled until 3 p.m.  Everyone was seasick.  As an officer, Tracy had to pretend he was fine.

“Finally we hit the beach,” he says.  “It was just awful.

“It was noisy.  It was smoky.  Ships were blowing up.  There were bodies in the water.”

Tracy made his way through the maze of iron.  He kissed the ground, then returned to the assembly area.

World War II watercolor, by Tracy Sugarman.

He spent the next 6 months unloading ships, working with troops, ammunition and hospitals.

Finally — with the ports secured — he helped 2 other officers close up Utah Beach.  He went back to England.

On April 12, 1945 he had to announce to his ship that Franklin Roosevelt had died.  Most of the sailors had never known another president.

“I was 23,” Tracy says.  “I took 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds to the D-Day beach.  They looked at me — the ‘old man’ — to take care of them.”

Among Tracy’s many works is “My War.” In 2000 he published a collection of over 400 letters, drawings and watercolors he sent to his young wife, during the harrowing days of World War II.

“06880” reader Douglas Davidoff reminds us that the Library of Congress has an online portfolio of Tracy Sugarman’s drawings of D-Day. They’re available here.

There’s much more on Tracy Sugarman and World War II too, Doug notes. For a treasure trove of material via the Veterans History Project, click here.

Tracy Sugarman was grand marshal at Westport’s 2011 Memorial Day ceremony.

We Remember …

In the years following the Civil War, Americans began a springtime ritual of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags.

That was the start of Decoration Day. Today we call it Memorial Day.

On Saturday, Boy Scouts with Troop 39 — and Troop 139, Westport’s first female Scout troop — continued the tradition.

They decorated the headstones and markers of scores of military members at 5 cemeteries: Greens Farms Congregational Church upper and lower; Assumption; Christ & Holy Trinity, and Willowbrook.

I saw them, as they finished at Christ & Holy Trinity cemetery on Kings Highway North. After they left, I visited those graves.

Some honored men killed in action, as far back as the Civil War.

Others led long lives, after service in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

The Boy Scouts remember them.

All of Westport should too.

(Cemetery photos/Dan Woog)

Thank you, Troops 39 and 139!

(Photo/Laurie Cizek Brannigan)

 

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

Woodstock: Westport Remembers

If you grew up when I did, you’ve got a Woodstock memory.

I had a ticket and everything (except actual plans about how to get there).

Me, in my Woodstock days. Or should I say, Woogstock.

Then I got grounded. (Well deserved, I must admit.) Instead of getting rained on, sleeping in the mud and being awakened by Jimi Hendrix, I sat at home. I read about the huge festival in the New York Times. A few months later, I saw the movie.

Several years later — now out of college — I was cleaning my old room at my parents’ house. I found my Woodstock ticket: still pristine, never used.

“Oh,” I said to myself. “That’s interesting.”

And promptly threw it out.

That’s not the most compelling — or financially savvy — Woodstock story. But it’s mine.

Other people have much better ones.

Like Michael Friedman (Staples High School 1961 grad/music producer/ photographer). Roger Kaufman (Staples ’66 musician/musicologist). Dodie Pettit (Westport actress/singer/Woodstock attendee). Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter’s guitar player). Ira and Maxine Stone (Woodstock performers). Bruce Pollock (author).

They’ll all be at the Westport Woman’s Club this Wednesday (May 15, 7 p.m.). They’re part of a “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” panel, talking about their experiences at that almost-50-years-ago/seems-like-yesterday historical event.

“Lotta freaks!” Arlo Guthrie said. “The New York State Thruway is closed!”

After the discussion, the Old School Revue’s Woodstock All-Stars will play  favorite hits from Woodstock. Performers include Kaufman, Pettit, the Stones (Ira and Maxine, not Mick and Keith), Pete Hohmeister, Frank Barrese, Bob Cooper, Billy Foster and Nina Hammerling Smith.

Special guests include Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step, Robin Batteau and the Saugatuck Horns (Joe Meo and Fred Scerbo).

The event is free (but register online; seating is limited).

In other words, you don’t need a ticket.

That’s good. If I had one, I’d probably throw it away.

(For more information, click here. “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” is sponsored by the Westport Library.)

Temple Israel Celebrates 70 Years

Before World War II, most American Jews lived in cities.

Other places did not always feel comfortable. So in Fairfield County, Judaism was centered in Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

After the war, suburbs boomed. By 1948, enough Jewish families lived here that leaders like Leo Nevas formed one of the first Reform congregations in the area: Temple Israel.

Members came from Westport, and newly suburban areas of Norwalk. They sought fellowship, community, and the chance to educate their children in the Jewish tradition.

For years they had no permanent synagogue. They purchased land near the current Whole Foods, but it proved not a good place to build.

Coleytown Road was much better. The cornerstone was laid in 1959. Just 5 years later, Martin Luther King preached on the bimah.

Temple Israel under construction, 1959.

This year, as Temple Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, congregants look both back and forward.

Dorothy “Dood” Freedman remembers much of that 7-decade history. The niece of Leo Nevas, she joined Temple Israel in 1962. There were only a couple of hundred members. Both the sanctuary and religious school were small.

Temple Israel grew gradually but steadily through the early 1980s. The congregation included Conservative as well as Orthodox Jews. It was the only synagogue in Westport.

“But it was quite Reform,” Freedman recalls. “I loved it.”

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein was a longtime activist in the cause. In June of 1964 — a month after Martin Luther King preached at the temple — the rabbi joined him at a protest in St. Augustine, Florida. Both were arrested.

Rev. Martin Luther King, before speaking at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

The Vietnam era was a testy — and testing — time. The congregation was divided politically. But — led by Rubenstein — they were united in their support for civil rights.

In the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, Westport’s Jewish population grew rapidly. Temple Israel did too. At one point, there were 900 family units (single individuals, and families of any size).

Today, there are about 750. Members still represent a variety of leanings. But there are now 3 other Jewish congregations in Westport too: the Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim (modern Orthodox) and Chabad Lubavitch.

Freedman served as Temple Israel’s first female president, from 1980 to ’82. A lot was going on. The congregation was building a major addition to the sanctuary, and searching for a replacement for the legendary and long-serving Rabbi Rubenstein.

“The building campaign was a literal — and actual — symbol of the growth of the congregation,” Freedman says. So was a subsequent building project: expandiing the school wing in 2003.

Rubenstein’s legacy was “kindness, teaching and civil rights justice,” Freedman notes. His successor — Rabbi Robert Orkand — presided over great growth in numbers. The education and nursery school programs expanded greatly too.

Rabbi Robert Orkand, surrounded by young congregants.

Orkand was also one of 3 founders of the Westport-Weston Interfaith Clergy group.

He was very active on a national level too, Freedman says.

Orkand retired in 2014. He was succeeded by Rabbi Michael Friedman. It was a time of transition for the temple, as the longtime cantor and senior staff members also left.

The new chapter is “an opportunity to redefine the temple,” Friedman — only the 3rd permanent rabbi in the congregation’s history — says.

“It’s a period of creativity, growth and renewal,” Dood Freedman adds. “There’s a great feeling of the congregation being a family, working and worshiping together. There are lots of people in the pews on Friday nights.”

Temple Israel’s current clergy (from left): Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar, Senior Rabbi Michael Friedman, Assistant Rabbi Danny Moss.

The 70th anniversary is marked by several events. Orkand came back to Westport for a scholar-in-residence weekend. He, Freedman and others shared stories, and re-examined the history of the congregation.

Volunteers are conducting video interviews with some long-time congregants — including Freda Easton, the longest-tenured member.

“We have not always done a good job of memorializing our past,” Freedman admits. “Now we’re creating a documentary and digital archive.”

Hebrew school students are involved too. They’re studying Jewish life through the years — including the fight for Soviet Jewry and the integration of women into worship — including a focus on Westport.

Of course, there’s a party. It’s this Saturday (May 18, 7 p.m.), and includes honors for all 12 living presidents.

Dood Freedman looks back with satisfaction on 7 decades of Jewish life here.

“I think we’ve got quite a presence in Westport,” she says. “When I joined, it was something just to have a temple here.”

Mazel tov! L’chaim!

Temple Israel today.

River of Names Mural: The Library Responds

Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.

Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.

Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.

This morning, they did.

Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.

It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.

Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.

They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.

“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”

This view from the main floor looks toward the childen’s library above (behind the portholes). Library officials proposed hanging the River of Names nearby. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.

The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.

The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.

After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.

However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.

“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.

However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.

The River of Names includes tiles for places like the original Westport Library, and others honoring families, local businesses and historic events.

“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”

“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”

In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.

“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”

Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”

For Sale In Westport: JFK’s DNA

John Reznikoff has sold George Washington’s hair. He’s auctioned artifacts from Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte and Albert Einstein.

Now up for grabs: a piece of leather from the limousine President Kennedy was riding in when he was killed.

But not just any leather. This one has blood stains — JFK’s actual DNA, Reznikoff says.

He should know. As founder and president of University Archives — the Richmondville Avenue auction house specializing in historical relics and documents — he’s one of the world’s foremost authenticators of this stuff.

Reznikoff’s clients include the U. S. Justice Department, FBI, state law enforcement, and the largest rare book dealers in the world.

So when he says this swatch of leather is the real deal: Believe him.

Of course, you’re not exactly buying the entire seat.

Reznikoff said he bought a small bit of the leather years ago. He cut it into even smaller pieces — less than an inch square.

Most have already been sold. Now he’s putting one more up for bid.

President Kennedy, his wife Jackie and Texas Governor John Connolly, moments before the assassination.

“Any blood relic, by its nature, some people are a little squeamish about it,” Reznikoff told NBC5DFW.com, the TV station and website in Dallas — the city where Kennedy was assassinated.

“Unfortunately, part of our history isn’t necessarily so rosy. There’s a lot of violence in the history of America, and every country for that matter.”

Though this auction is for just a tiny piece of leather, it’s not Reznikoff’s first foray into JFK’s blood-stained death.

In 2003, he sold the white Lincoln Continental convertible that the president rode in the morning of November 22, 1963. The trip was from his Fort Worth hotel, to the airport for Dallas.

It was the last car he got out of alive.

(For the full NBC5DFW story, click here. Hat tips: Bart Shuldman and William Strittmatter.)