Category Archives: History

Houdini: The Great (Westport) Escape

You’ve probably never seen a movie of Harry Houdini.

You’ve also probably never seen a movie of Longshore, back in the day when it was Frederick E. Lewis’ private estate.

But now — thanks to Facebook — you can see both.

At once.

On the “Westport, Connecticut: Old Photos from the Westport of Our Youth” page, Colabella  — the young Representative Town Meeting member who was not even alive when the Longshore bathhouses were torn down — posted what is said to be the only surviving film of Houdini doing his “overboard box escape.”

The information comes from John Cox’s “Wild About Harry” blog. It covers all things Houdini.

For nearly a century, the date and location of the film — edited by the magician/ stunt performer’s brother Hardeen — has been a mystery.

Now — thanks to a letter at David Copperfield’s International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts — the back story is known.

The escape took pace on June 30, 1917, during a Red Cross And Allied War charities drive at Lewis’s home.

The film shows Houdini being lowered into Long Island Sound, at what is now Longshore.

It purports to show his escape too (though according to a YouTube commenter, that footage was spliced in from Houdini’s film “The Master Mystery”).

But there is no mystery about the gala affair in Westport.

Bridgeport Times story previewed it 3 days earlier:

Nearly every woman of prominence in the shore colony is busily engaged in the arrangements, which will continue throughout the week. Workmen and architects are transforming the Lewis estate into a veritable fairly land; tents are being put in place for the society circus, side shows, concessions and charity booths, while the boat house will be utilized as a petite theatre … and for moving pictures.

Frederick Lewis’ palatial home. Parts of it are recognizable today, as the Inn at Longshore. (Photo/courtesy of Alden Bryan)

There would be elephants, stage stars — and “one of the really sensational engagements … the wizard Houdini.”

He was expected to “make a new experiment which is filled with excitement and daring. The fearless magician will perform what he calls the ‘submarine submerged box mystery.'”

He would be:

shackeled hand and foot, placed in a packing case which is securely nailed and sealed by a committee and after the box is weighted a huge crane which is being placed on the landing pier of Mr. Lewis’ boathouse will carry the box out over the water and drop it into the Sound.

Houdini wagers that he will appear on the surface two minutes after the case has been submerged. This will be Houdini’s first appearance in the state of Connecticut and his last public appearance in America for some time.

As the film shows, that’s exactly what happened. The “wizard” was shackled, nailed in a packing case, dumped in the water … and then he re-appeared.

How he did it was one mystery.

Where he did it was another one.

Now — thanks, the Facebook post says, to “David Copperfield and the Westport Museum for History & Culture” — that mystery has finally been solved.

(Click here, then scroll down to see the Facebook post.)

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“Private Benjamin”: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

In January, “06880” profiled Ben Pepper.

The longtime (since 1958!) Westporter had kept a low profile. Hardly anyone here knew that he was a World War II paratrooper — let alone that he earned a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge.

He’d never even participated in a Memorial Day parade.

This year, he will.

And he’ll have a special seat of honor. “Private Benjamin” is Westport’s 2023 Memorial Day parade grand marshal.

Ben Pepper: in the Army.

Pepper was born in the Bronx in 1923. He was drafted into the Army on New Year’s Day 1943, and trained as a paratrooper. He would have participated in D-Day, but a broken back suffered in an earlier jump put him in a near-full body cast.

He participated in the Battle of the Bulge though, in that frigid winter of 1945.

Ben Pepper’s Purple Heart, dog tag and other mementoes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

After discharge, he answered an ad to be a photographer. In 1953 he opened his own studio in Stamford. In 1958 he bought property in Westport. Nearly 70 years later, he  lives in the same house off Cross Highway.

In 1960 Pepper and his wife Frances helped build Temple Israel on Coleytown Road. They spent the rest of their married life raising David (a Staples Class of 1966 graduate), traveling (including China before it opened to the West, the USSR, Africa and Asia), and working.

He still has his medals, his dog tag, his photos — and his Army jacket — but he has always been low-key about them.

Ben Pepper (Photo/Dan Woog)

This Memorial Day, Westport honors one of our last living World War II heroes.

The parade — with Ben Pepper as special honoree — begins at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 29. A special ceremony follows immediately, at Veterans Green across from Town Hall.

29 North Avenue: The 2nd Story [Photos Added]

29 North Avenue — the charming saltbox home featured in Monday’s “06880” — has a long history.

Jacques Voris — whose roots in Westport go back to at least the 1700s — knows that home, and the surrounding area, intimately. He writes:

I am grateful that Annette Norton chose to restore the house, rather than turn it into yet another generic, soulless, overly large one.

29 North Avenue, today.

In Monday’s article I am quoted as a background, using words I have said over the years. I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify and update some of that information.

I know that for many people this story is meaningless. The people discussed are long dead, and in the grand scheme of history had little impact. However, I find it to be a remarkably human story that gives a sense, a taste, of what life was like in bygone days.

My family has always called it “The Squatter’s House,” because it was said that when it was built they squatted on the land without title. That is why it is so close to the road: It was built in the right of way, a gray area where no one had clear ownership of the land.

The situation was normalized later, in a land swap with the town. Alas, while it is a juicy story, we have little in the way of proof.

The first house on the plot of land was probably built around 1780 by Daniel Mills. He was born in Stamford in 1748. When the situation at Lexington and Concord drew militia from all over New England, Daniel and his brothers marched off with their neighbors.

He seems to have given perfectly good service in his time under arms. But his views later changed, to that of a Loyalist. He and his brother Ezra were tarred and feathered in Dutchess County, New York.

Daniel’s other brother John moved to Canada after the war, so strong were his Loyalist views.

What changed? We don’t know. I have long had a feeling that the death of his uncle Beebe fighting the French and Native American allies around Fort Edward played a factor. Defending your rights “as an Englishman” is one thing, but allying with the hated French is another.

In any regard, after the incident in Dutchess County Daniel moved to Greens Farms, where some cousins lived. They were children of Beebe, as well as his uncle Robert Mills, and the descendants of his great-grandfather Aaron Fountain.

Hezekiah Mills, Daniel’s son, next owned the house. Kiah was veteran of the War of 1812, and a blacksmith. His shop was further up the street, about where 59 North Avenue is now.

He married Charity Mills, his second cousin once removed. She was the daughter of John Mills and Eunice Frazier. John was Kiah’s second cousin, being the son of Ebenezer Mills.

It is likely Kiah and Charity remodeled the house about 1830 into something close to its present form. An architectural review of the house done some years ago noted elements that were consistent with the 1830 date, but also cited tool marks on timbers that would be from earlier.

Undated photo of 29 North Avenue. The barn is in the background.

I have little troubling seeing my frugal Yankee kin reusing much of the material when rebuilding the house.

An undated hand-drawn map of the North Avenue neighborhood. #29 is on the left side, labeled “House.”

The stories of Native Americans visiting the house referred not to random passersby, but allegedly were kinfolk to Charity. That we have such ancestry is a longstanding story in our family, but I can find no documentation to bear it out.

Their son, William Henry Mills, next owned the house. When he marched off to fight in the Civil War with Company C of the 28th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry he left 9 children in the care of his wife Betsey Ann Batterson.

While she raised the children, tended the farm and was midwife to the neighborhood, she was not alone. There were many kinfolk around her. She was also a good churchgoing woman, who sat in the front pew in the east center of the Greens Farms Church.

This undated story from the Fairfield News notes the Mills family’s pew at the Green’s Farms Church. Horace Staples sat in the first pew. Other notable names include Burr, Jennings, Bradley, Wakeman, Taylor, Jesup, Sherwood, Hyde, Meeker, Hull and Bedford.

Then the house was owned by Henry Eldridge “Hen” Mills, the last large-scale onion farmer in Westport according to his obituary.

Henry Mills, 1936.

His son Elmer owned the house next. He is the source of much lore about the house. Elmer seems to have been interested in a good story more than good history.

He was a colorful person. Shakespearean actor, manservant to powerful people, he had style and panache among a family of dour Yankees. Elmer was the last person surnamed Mills to own the house.

The story doesn’t quite end there though. Elmer sold the house to James Edward “Jimmy” Godfrey, his cousin. Jimmy was the son of Eugene Godfrey and Julia Mills. He added indoor plumbing to the house in the 1950s.

Julia Mills was the daughter of William Henry Mills and sister to Hen Mills. People today still recall his daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Godfrey, known as “Nurse Betty.”

Henry Mills and family.

So Annette, there is a story about your house. It’s probably more than you will ever care to know.

You are now the trustee of a legacy of a family, a history that has deep roots in Westport. May you and yours add another long chapter to this history.

William Mills

Roundup: Drew & Leo, Police & Fire Dispatch, Honey Cakes & Latkes …

Yesterday marked the first snow day of the year.

For many youngsters, that was a chance to play. For older folks, it meant the chore of shoveling.

But all kids did not play, and all adults did not shovel. Let alert “06880” reader Bill Hall tell this tale:

“Imagine my septuagenarian joy yesterday morning when I heard a knock on my front door. Two young neighbor lads, ages 8 and 11, were there with shovels in hand.

“They said they would help shovel the heavy, wet snow — a frequent widow maker. I welcomed their offer. They went to it right away. clearing a walk ramp, paths to cars, accumulated snow from limbs of bushes and more. Their industry is to be admired.

“I remember thinking years ago, ‘where are the young folks who used to come to mow lawns and shovel snow?’ That breed seemed to have vanished.

“But not completely. Apparently there are still some ambitious young folks who offer their youthful strength (and charm).

“I asked before they started what their charge would be. They shyly said, ‘I don’t know, 5 or 10 dollars.’ I said, “you’re on!”

It was a joy to see them work so hard and fast. It was an equal joy first to meet these young lads, and see their joy upon completing my requests and receiving their cash. No Venmo here.

“Many years ago when I was a student at the University of Michigan, I sang a song in a musical with the lyric, ‘Where Is America, what has become of her? What strange place do I see?’

“I saw a glimpse of some good ol’ American and altruistic values today embodied in 2 boys, Drew and Leo. Thank you. guys!”

Drew and Leo, hard at work. (Photo/Bill Hall)


Beginning today, Westport Emergency Services dispatch moves from Westport Police and Fire headquarters to Fairfield County Regional Dispatch. 

This joint venture between Westport and Fairfield has been in the works for several years. Fairfield moved its dispatch to the combined center at Sacred Heart University a year ago.

Westport residents will not see any change in service. All calls will be routed to FCRD, to be handled by civilian call takers and dispatchers.

Westport’s knowledgeable, expert civilian dispatchers possess have moved to the new center.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We expect to provide better service to Fairfield and Westport, with better access to public safety in one combined dispatch center. Our officers, firefighters and emergency telecommunicators working in conjunction with each other, in one center, will enhance the level of service provided to our communities.” 

 Fire Chief Michael Kronick adds, “At the FCRD, there will be a call taker and a dispatcher to help expedite dispatch efforts to handle emergency situations more effectively. The FCRD includes built-in redundancy and an extra level of back-up to keep emergency communications operational should the need arise.”   


The Police Department’s non-emergency phone number remains the same: (203) 341-6000. 911 is still the emergency number. And every firehouse has an outside phone to report emergencies.


“Honey Cake & Latkes: How Food Memories Nourish the Soul” is the heart-warming title of an important upcoming event (March 16, 7 p.m., Chabad of Westport).

Westport food writer Liz Rueven and Dr. Maria Zalewska — executive director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation — join Holocaust survivors Tova Friedman and Eugene Ginter.

They’ll provide a deep look into a collection of heirloom recipes from concentration camp survivors.

Noshes will be served and the (more than a) cookbook, “Honey Cake and Latkes,” will be available for purchase.

The event is free, but pre-registration is required (click here).


Author and historian Richard DeLuca brings his illustrated lecture “Motion: Transportation, Climate Change and Big History” to the Weston History & Culture Center on March 26 (4:30 p.m.; free for members, $5 for non-members).

DeLuca will discuss 4 centuries of transportation history in Connecticut — from stagecoaches to interstates — and how that story has led to our current environmental crisis.

This event is part of the closing reception for the exhibition “The Curious Case of Eleven O’clock Road: How Weston Got Its Place Names.” It’s open every Thursday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., through March 26,


MoCA Westport’s next exhibit — “Rainbow in the Dark” — features German contemporary artist Anselm Reyle.

He is known for foil and strip paintings, and sculptures. Remnants of consumer society, discarded materials, and symbols of urbanity and industrial change play a central role in his works.

This exhibition includes neon installations, foil works, 2 vases in Reyle’s signature Fat Lava style, straw bale sculptures, a new collection of abstract photography, and a video.

The show is on view from March 19 through May 28. An opening reception is set for Saturday, March 18 (6 to 8 p.m.).

Untitled — Anselm Reyle (Photo/Matthias Kolb)


Gold Coast Connect’s popular networking event returns to Westport.

Nômade restaurant’s back patio is the site (March 28, 6 to 9 p.m.) for food, a cash bar, and music by DJ Mo. All businesses are welcome.

Click here for tickets ($40) and more information.


The BackCountry Jazz BeBoppers headline the next Voices Café concert. The energetic student ensemble comes to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport on Saturday, March 11 (8 p.m.).

As always at Voices, there is café-style seating at tables, or individual seating. Concert-goers bring their own snacks and beverages and food, or buy snacks there.

General admission is $25 per person; livestream is also available. Students can use Coupon Code “jazzstudent” for discounts. Click here for tickets and more information.


Thomas “Bo” Hickey — the legendary athlete and coach who died Tuesday at 77 — is best remembered as a football, basketball, baseball and track star at Stamford Catholic High School, Denver Broncos running back, and a state champion football and boys ice hockey coach at New Canaan High.

But his coaching career began at Staples High School, as an assistant under Paul Lane. Rams coach Lou Marinelli hired him away in 1980, and the pair went on to win 8 state and 4 FCIAC titles. Hickey was an assistant for 31 years, but his value to NCHS was immeasurable.

His 20-year hockey head coaching record includes 10 FCIAC and 1 state crown.

Bo Hickey, during his induction into the FCIAC Hall of Fame. (Photo/John Nash)


“Westport … Naturally” frequently features deer photos.

It’s been a while though since we saw one in the snow.

Claudia Sherwood Servidio snapped this shot yesterday, at (appropriately) Earthplace.

(Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)


And finally … in honor of MoCA’s upcoming exhibition of Anselm Reyle’s work (story above):

(You call 911 for emergencies. And you depend on “06880” for the basics. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)


Edward T. Bedford’s Legacy: Westport Y Turns 100

In 1864, Edward T. Bedford was 15 years old. He stood outside the Westport Hotel — a wooden building on the corner of State Street (the Post Road) and Main Street — watching men play pool. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Edward T. Bedford.

Decades later, Bedford was a wealthy man. He had become a broker of lubricating oils for railroads, and helped chemist Robert Chesebrough sell his new product, Vaseline. He was a director of Standard Oil, and associated with many other very successful companies.

He still lived in Greens Farms, where he was born. Recalling his years outside the Westport Hotel — and knowing the town needed “some place for boys and young men to congregate” — he announced in 1919 plans for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

He had a perfect place, too: The Westport Hotel. It was the same spot, in the heart of town, where half a century earlier he’d been denied entrance.

Bedford spent $150,000 on the Tudor-style building. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind. It included reading and writing rooms, bowling alleys, a gymnasium — and of course, pool tables. (Bedford also financed a new firehouse next door on Church Lane, designed in the same Tudor style.)

The Westport YMCA.

The Westporter-Herald called the YMCA dedication on September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The Bedford building lobby.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. He pointed to Bedford, noting that while he did not have “the opportunities the young men of today … he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Much has happened in the 100 years since. Several years after it opened, Bedford donated a pool. During World War II, boys walked the short distance from Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) to learn how to jump off flaming ships into the sea.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

In 1944, Y leaders searching for space for a day camp for boys found 30 acres of woods and fields along the Saugatuck River, near the new Merritt Parkway’s Exit 41.

Frederick T. Bedford — Edward’s son — said that his Bedford Fund would pay half the purchase price, if the town raised the other half. Within a few weeks Y leaders had collected $10,000. The Bedford Fund matched it.

Camp Bedford opened. At Frederick Bedford’s request in 1946, the name was changed to Mahackeno.

In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

As Westport grew in the post-war years, so did the YMCA. The downtown building became an unofficial teen center, hosting everything from the Downshifters hot rod club to Mrs. Comer’s ballroom dance classes. (Y membership was eventually open to girls, too — as well as families, and senior citizens.)

In the 1970s and ’80s the Y added a new pool. Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren and Ruth Bedford — granddaughters of the founder — provided $200,000 through the Bedford Fund to acquire the fire station, and convert it into a 2-story fitness center. (The brass pole stayed.)

There were squash courts, and other games upstairs. (Paul Newman was an avid badminton player.)

But the downtown quarters grew cramped. Y directors looked for new space, in places like the Baron’s South property. A protracted battle — legal, political, even involving the character of downtown and the Y’s responsibility to it — eventually ended.

The YMCA built a 54,000-square foot full-service facility — “The Bedford Family Center” — on a portion of its Mahackeno property. It opened in 2014, thanks in part to financial support from Lucie McKinney and Briggs Cunningham III — Edward T. Bedford’s great-grandchildren.

The Bedford Family Center, 2014.

Helping guide the construction process as members of the Y’s governing boards were 2 of Lucie’s children, John McKinney and Libby McKinney Tritschler. They’re the 5th generation Bedford’s involved with the organization.

Since then, the Y has added a gymnastics center, and more fitness rooms. They’ve upgraded nearby Camp Mahackeno. And they were stunned to receive a $40 million endowment from the estate of Ruth Bedford.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA — today’s official name — used a portion of the bequest to establish the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, to continue developing youth, promoting healthy living and fostering social responsibility.

All of which is a long way of saying: Happy 100th anniversary, Westport Y!

Officials have planned a year of celebrations. Highlights include:

Share Your Stories: Members and the community are invited to share Y stories, memories and photos. They’ll be featured on the anniversary web page.

100 Faces of My Y”: a project for youth to create self-portraits in the medium of their choice, for display in and around the facilities.

Healthy Kids Day (April 29): a free initiative celebrated at Ys across the country. with fun activities, healthy snack demos, food trucks, sports lessons, games, art, and free t-shirts for the first 200 children.

The 7th Annual Golf Tournament (May 22, Aspetuck Valley Country Club, Weston): A fundraiser for the Y’s financial assistance program.

100-Year Anniversary Gala (“Sneaker Ball,” October 6, Mahackeno Outdoor Center): Donations and sponsors will fund financial assistance to under-resourced families and those in need. In 2022, $746,000 was awarded to over 400 families.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA is no longer limited to young Christian men.

The world has changed since Edward T. Bedford stood outside a hotel — and then bought it, to build both a building and a legacy.

If the next 100 years are anything like the last, our Y will continue to grow, evolve — and impact countless lives.

A relic from the Y’s downtown days. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Public Beach Access: A Deep Dive

The issue of public beach access has been a topic of debate in Connecticut for many years. Connecticut’s shoreline is home to many private beaches, which are often inaccessible to the public.

The debate over public beach access in Connecticut dates back to the 1800s, when wealthy landowners began to build homes along the state’s shoreline. In the early 20th century, public pressure led to the creation of several state and local parks, which provided public access to some beaches.

However, the issue of public beach access remained contentious, and in the 1960s and 1970s, several lawsuits were filed in an attempt to secure public access to private beaches. In 1971, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in the case of Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association that the public has a right to access the beach up to the mean high water mark. This ruling established the so-called “public trust doctrine,” which states that the state holds certain natural resources, including tidal waters and the shore, in trust for the public.

In 1975, members of Ned Coll’s Revitalization Corps demonstrated in Old Saybrook, for access to the beach. (Photo courtesy of Bob Adelman)

Despite this ruling, public beach access in Connecticut remains a contentious issue, and many private beach associations continue to limit access to their beaches. In recent years, there have been efforts to increase public beach access through legislation and legal action. In 2021, for example, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that requires beach associations to allow the public to use their beaches in exchange for tax breaks.

Overall, the history of public beach access in Connecticut has been marked by conflict and controversy, but there have been some positive developments in recent years that have increased access to the state’s beautiful coastline.

Public beach access in Connecticut involves both pros and cons.


Equal access: Public beach access ensures that all people, regardless of income or social status, have the right to enjoy the state’s natural resources. This creates a more equitable and inclusive society, and allows everyone to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the state’s coastline.

Economic benefits: Public beach access can have positive economic impacts on local communities, as it can attract visitors, boost tourism, and support local businesses such as restaurants and hotels. This can result in increased revenue and employment opportunities.

Environmental protection: Public beach access can promote environmental protection and conservation, as it raises public awareness about the importance of preserving natural resources, such as beaches, dunes, and coastal habitats. This can encourage people to be more responsible and respectful towards the environment.

There is plenty of room at Compo Beach. But how crowded is “too” crowded? (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)


Cost: Providing public beach access can be costly for towns and cities, as it requires investment in infrastructure, maintenance, and staff. This can be a burden on local budgets, and may result in higher taxes or fees for residents.

Overcrowding: Public beach access can lead to overcrowding, especially during peak tourist season. This can result in congestion, traffic, and litter, which can negatively impact the environment and the quality of the beach experience.

Property rights: Some people argue that public beach access infringes on property rights of private beach owners, who have invested in maintaining and improving their beaches. They argue that it is unfair to force them to allow access to their beaches, which can result in security and liability issues.

Overall, public beach access in Connecticut can provide a range of benefits, but it also has some challenges and limitations. The debate over how to balance the interests of property owners, local communities, and the general public is ongoing, and requires careful consideration of the potential impacts and trade-offs involved.

Interesting, no? But I have a confession to make: I did not research or write this. Neither did an “06880” reader. Today’s post was generated entirely by ChatGPT, the chatbot launched in November that has electrified the world (and terrified educators).

My only involvement with today’s post was generating the questions for ChatGPT, selecting the photos, and writing the headline and this end note.

My takeaway: We have much more to fear from this new technology, than from opening our beaches to non-residents.

Roundup: Valentine’s Candy, Collective’s Art, Spirit Shop’s Whiskey Barrels …

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today’s sweet Westport connection comes from reader Deb Rosenfield. She writes:

“Did you ever wonder where all those heart boxes for candy came from?

“My grandfather, Louis Rosenfield, developed the manufacturing process for them. He first made them for Barracini and Loft’s.

“He, his brother and cousin started a paper box/container company called Miro Container in the 1920s in Brooklyn. They were known for their high-end set-up boxes (not folding), such as the outer ones that hold large portfolios of prints by artists like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, candy boxes, etc.

“They also designed and made the boxes for Ideal Toys (I had the original prototype for the game Mouse Trap as a kid, and one of the original Betsy Wetsy dolls). They also made Dixie cups for the US military during World War II.”

“One more Westport connection: Miro Container made the boxes for Evyan — the perfume company owned by Walter Langer von Langendorff.” (He’s the “baron” who owned the property now named “Baron’s South.”)

Louis Rosenfield’s 1952 patent for a heart-shaped candy box.


The Westport Artists’ Collective has a collection of upcoming events.

A members’ exhibit reception at Gordon Fine Arts Gallery, 1701 Post Road East (this Saturday, February 18, 4 p.m.; show runs through March 19) will be followed by:

  • A pop-up show (Westport Playhouse barn, reception March 1, 6 to 8 p.m.; show runs through March 5, 2 to 6 p.m.)
  • A “Music to our Eyes” show at the Westport Library (March 8, 6 to 8 p.m.), with  a “Piece by Piece” reveal March 8 (6:30 p.m.).

Click here for more information.


Seen around Redcoat Road yesterday:

(Photo/D. Sweet)

Be careful out there! (Hat tip: Nancy Beard)


Greens Farms Spirit Shop is auctioning off 20 whiskey barrels.

Unfortunately, they’re empty. Fortunately, they’re great for indoor or outdoor decor — or for aging beer or other spirits.

Even more fortunately, all proceeds benefit Connecticut Greyhound Adoption. They’re a nonprofit organization that finds loving homes for retired racing greyhounds, while offering pre- and post-adoption support to facilitate the transition from track to home.

Click here for details, and to bid. The auction ends this Thursday, at 9 p.m.


The relatively warm, very snowless winter continues to draw swimmers to Compo Beach.

Six women waded into the water yesterday — joining a steady stream of fearless, cold-but-not-frozen folks over the past few weeks.

Today’s forecast calls for sun, a high of 52, and winds of 5-10 mph. Everyone down to the shore!

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)


Last September, “06880” reported on Mark Perlman.

The longtime Westporter had just published his first historical novel — in French.

No US publisher was interested in his story weaving together the Jazz Age, romance, murder, World Wars I and II and the rise of fascism.

Perlman persevered. He found a French company that bought the rights, translated it, and published “Le Soldat Involontaire” in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada.

The other day, “The Reluctant Soldier” was finally published in English.

Alert “06880” reader Tom Carey calls it “compelling. While there are a slew of novels about World War II, Mark’s book spans a longer time frame and is told from the point of view of an African American.”

Tom knew Mark from their previous service together, on Westport’s Conservation Commission. “In addition to his writing skills, he has a fantastic sense of humor,” Tom says.

But, he adds, he was halfway through the book before he realized he knew the author.

Click here to order, and for more information.


Thursday’s Jazz at the Post features pianist Janice Friedman.

She tours internationally, is in demand at the best New York venues, and is very popular around here too.

Friedman has played with Greg “The Jazz Rabbi” wall — founder of the weekly series, at VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 — since the 1980s.

They will be joined by Boots Maleson and Tim Horner. The duo first played with Wall in the 1970s, in Boston.

This Thursday’s (February 16) sets begin at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. Dinner service starts at 7. Reservations are highly recommended:


Victoria Cerra Vebell — an illustrator, author, art professor and former Westport resident — died peacefully on January 29 in Hamden, after a brief illness. She was 70.

The daughter of Edward and Elsa Vebell, the New York City native grew up in Westport. She lived in New York, Austin, Tucson, Washington, Connecticut and — for 22 years — New Haven, where she was very involved in the community. She helping save her local park from developers, while also organizing holiday art projects and games inside the park for neighborhood families.

Vicki was a widely admired illustrator who worked in publishing, editorial and advertising art for 38 years. She worked in a variety of formats but specialized in paperback book covers. Her work won awards from the Society of Illustrators.

Vicki was also an assistant professor of art at Pratt Institute for 22 years, and taught online for the Academy Art Institute University in California. She had a vibrant, passionate personality and was loved and respected by her students. She was known and appreciated for her teaching skills that enabled students to “learn to see,” and create quality art.

Vicki was classically trained in both drawing and painting, earning a B.F.A. from Philadelphia College of Art, and M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University.

Vicki wrote illustrated the best-selling textbook “Exploring the Basics of Drawing” (2004).

Vicki was an accomplished fencer; a lover of classical music, good wine, food, and her cats Stella and Freddie.

She  is survived by her sisters Renee Vebell (Jeff Cohen) of New Hampshire, Andra Vebell (Larry Hoy) of Westport, cousin Elsa Calderon Thomas, and nephews Jason Cohen, Dylan Hoy and Colin Hoy.

Vicki Vebell


Compo Beach’s Ned Dimes Marina gets a lot of “06880” photographic love.

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature takes a different perspective: the one at Owenoke Park.

(Photo/Laurie Sorensen)


And finally … I could only find 4,285,996,018 songs about love, to celebrate Valentine’s Day today.

Here are 3 of my favorites. What are yours? Click “Comments” below.

Daniel Ellsberg, Christian Appy: Peace, Democracy And UMass

W.E.B. DuBois — the writer, professor and civil rights activist — was once called “the most dangerous man in America.”

Decades later, Henry Kissinger said the same thing about Daniel Ellsberg.

It’s fitting then that The University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s W.E.B. DuBois Library houses hundreds of boxes of Ellsberg’s papers.

UMass is also home of the Ellsberg Institute for Peace and Democracy. Its director is professor of history Christian Appy.

Appy — one of America’s foremost Vietnam scholars — is an apt choice to oversee the institute named for one the most historic figures from the Vietnam era.

Christian Appy

Appy’s love for history began in Westport. A 1973 Staples High School graduate, he earned a BA in history at Amherst College, a Ph.D. at Harvard, and taught at MIT before moving to UMass in 2004.

He earned the school’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2013, and a university-wide graduate mentoring honor in 2019.

His Vietnam books include a social history of American combat soldiers; an oral history from multiple perspectives, and a history of the war’s impact on American national identity, culture, and foreign policy.

The other day, Appy talked about his work on — and with — Ellsberg. At 91, the former military analyst whose daring release of the Pentagon Papers led to his indictment under the Espionage Act, precipitated a landmark court ruling, and was the first criminal act committed by President Nixon’s Plumbers, has “more intellectual energy than most people of any age.”

Ellsberg works with Appy — and his students. And, the professor says, “I learn something every time I talk with him.”

Appy has been immersed in the multi-faceted Ellsberg project since the papers arrived 3 years ago.

He never knows what he’ll find. There are pamphlets, underground journals, and reams of personal papers.

Ellsberg is not “organizationally gifted,” Appy laughs. “But he saved everything.”

Daniel Ellsberg at work, around 1982. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts)

There was a lot to save. The more he studied, traveled and had access to high-level reports, the more the RAND military analyst and Department of Defense aide became first a skeptic, then a critic and finally an activist against the Vietnam War.

Appy calls it “one of the most dramatic reversals ever by a government official with access to information and power. He broke so radically, and at such great personal risk.”

Daniel Ellsberg emerging from a National Liberation Front tunnel in Vietnam, around 1966. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts)

Ellsberg tried for 2 years to publish the Pentagon Papers — photocopies of classified documents that revealed that government officials knew that winning the war was nearly impossible, and the Johnson administration lied to both the public and Congress about it. 

In 1971 the New York Times published the first excerpts. The Nixon administration tried to block further publication. While eluding an FBI manhunt for 13 days, Ellsberg leaked the documents to The Washington Post. On June 30, the Supreme Court ordered the resumption of publication.

Soon a group of men, including E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, broke into the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. The goal was to obtain damaging information, to discredit the activist. That was the precursor to the more famous break-in of Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building, 9 months later.

The psychiatrist break-in — and evidence of illegal wiretapping — helped Ellsberg at his Espionage Act trial. He was the first American charged with leaking classified papers to the press, public and Congress — not to a foreign agent or country.

In 1973, a judge dismissed all charges, due to gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering,

Appy’s students — just over a dozen, including juniors, seniors and post-grads — are learning all that and more, in a special seminar. Begun in 2020 — and continuing through COVID, the Black Lives Matter movement, the presidential election and January 6 — it “had the same crisis feel as the late ’60s,” Appy says.

“I’ve never seen students so engaged.”

Ellsberg — who joins occasionally via Zoom, from his home near Berkeley — says they ask questions he has never, in his long public life, heard before.

Daniel Ellsberg, today.

A 2-day conference at UMass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers drew more than 2 dozen whistleblowers and journalists, including Edward Snowden, John Dean, Frances FitzGerald and Hedrick Smith.

As director of the Ellsberg Initiative, Appy is planning 5 years of programming. Upcoming events will examine US imperialism, threats to democracy, secrecy and surveillance, and existential threats.

Ellsberg — who was once a nuclear war planner — has long been an ardent proponent of nuclear disarmament. The Ellsberg Initiative will also address those issues — and other concerns, like the environment. “The military is the biggest user of fossil fuels on the planet,” Appy notes.

After decades of political activism, the professor says that Ellsberg “gets depressed at how little things have changed. The same problems are still here.”

Daniel Ellsberg, after one of his 80 arrests for civil disobedience. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts)

Appy tries to bolster his spirits. “I tell him our work at UMass may lead to good things. He tries to be optimistic. But he’s dubious.”

Appy, though, is motivated by his students. Most came to his class knowing little about Ellsberg, or even the Vietnam War.

Still, he says, “they’re looking for political, even moral, inspiration, as they face this dangerous world we’ve passed on to them.

“Daniel Ellsberg is a model of civil disobedience for them. He’s been arrested about 80 times. He is an inspiring model for everyone.”

(To learn more about the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace & Democracy — including how to donate — click here. To see the Ellsberg Archive Project, including a timeline of events and podcast, click here. For a story by Professor Christian Appy on how Nixon’s obsession with Ellsberg and Pentagon Papers sowed the seeds for his own downfall, click here.)

(“06880” is truly “where Westport meets the world.” Please click here to support our global work. Thank you!)

Maria Callas And Chris Murray

Chris Murray has done many interesting things, since graduating from Staples High School in 1969.

After majoring in theater at Rollins College — where he headed originally to be a golf pro — he moved to New York. He acted in dozens of theater, film and television productions.

A role in “Covert Action” with David Janssen moved Chris’ base
to Athens, Greece, where he directed plays and musicals, He formed his own writing, producing and directing company. He also created TV spots and documentaries for the Greek National Tourist Organization.

In the early 2000s, Chris moved back to the States. Eventually, he found his way home to Westport.

Chris Murray

Several years ago, while searching for an international story that would incorporate his musical background, along with his Greek and American experiences, he had a “eureka!” moment: Maria Callas.

He began researching and writing “Callas,” about the famous Greek-American opera singer.

Despite phenomenal talent, she began life with profound difficulties. Through relentless perseverance she overcame daunting adversities to reach the pinnacle of her profession, one of the most famous women in the world. 

It’s now a limited series, being developed for streaming services like Netflix, HBO, Amazon and Hulu.

“This is the story of a great artist,” Chris says. “This is the real woman behind ‘The Voice of the Century.’

“Women’s stories are very important right now. They have become important leaders and influencers in all aspects of today’s world,” Chris notes.

“But it hasn’t always been this way. Maria Callas’ achievements in a male- dominated world, against all odds and given the context of the time in which she lived, was nothing short of miraculous.  Her story is an inspiration to all. It needs to be told now.”

Part of Chris Murray’s pitch deck.

Chris held a “Callas” fundraiser event at the Westport Women’s Club in November. It was so well received, they invited him back. He’ll give his presentation — an “info-entertainment,” not a fundraiser — to club members on Monday (February 6).

He will describe Callas’ life, from a “poor, overweight daughter of immigrants” in Depression-era New York City, to her vocal training in Athens during World War II, her rise to international opera stardom in the 1950s and ’60s, and her abandonment of it all for “the love she yearned for” with Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Chris’ film begins in black and white in the 1930s and ’40s; it transitions to colors in the decades that follow. It will include arias from great operas, “images of triumph, roaring audiences, romance, famous people, glamour, wealth and
style, intertwined with scandals, paparazzi, and the burden and price of fame.” and portray “rage, heartache, betrayal, entrapment, pills, loneliness — and fortitude, hope, and a longing for love, family and a simply life.”

Chris notes that Callas succeeded at a time when most women could be only homemakers, nurses, secretaries or teachers.

“She struggled mightily with the timeless issues of self-esteem, her unsupportive family and forbidden love, while rising from obscurity to become the ‘Voice of the Century.'”

(For more information, contact

Roundup: 8-30g, Crime, Med Kits …

Connecticut’s 8-30g regulation may be in for a change.

House Republicans have proposed a “technical adjustment” to the affordable housing law that allows developers to bypass most local zoning restrictions for new developments. unless a municipality has at least 10% of its stock designated as “affordable” under strict guidelines.

Westport’s housing stock includes “affordable” units that were built before 1990, but are not included in the formula because that is the law’s start date.

The proposed adjustment would “put many Connecticut towns well over the threshold that exempts them from potential legal action if they deny developers’ proposals for certain affordable housing — without any new housing going up or changes to zoning policy,” the CT Mirror reports.

It would add would add properties that are not deed restricted, but are affordable to people whose income is up to 80% of the area median income.

Click here for the full CT Mirror story.

Westport’s approval of a 187-unit apartment complex on Hiawatha Lane was driven in large part by 8-30g factors.


Westport Police made 5 custodial arrests during January 19-25.

One — for burglary, larceny, conspiracy to commit larceny and failure to appear — dated back to an April 11, 2020 burglary at a residence. Approximately $70,000 in jewelry and personal effects were taken.

Another arrest for larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny was connected to a January 25, 2022 incident in which checks worth over $28,000 from a local business were altered and fraudulently cashed.

A woman was arrested for third degree assault, following an incident on December 7, 2022 in which she bit the arm of someone in the Walgreens parking lot.

A man was arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol after he was seen speeding and driving erratically on Post Road West. When an officer caught up with him, he was driving extremely slowly in the left lane.

A man was charged with breach of peace after he took a neighbor’s cat.

Police also issued the following citations:

  • Traveling unreasonably fast: 5
  • Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 2
  • Speeding: 1
  • Improper passing: 1
  • Failure to obey control signal
  • Failure to drive in the proper lane: 1
  • Criminal mischief: 1
  • Breach of peace: 1.

Not the stolen cat. But bad luck for the thief.


Meanwhile, in related crime news:

On Tuesday, people got out of 2 vehicles in the Westport Weston Family YMCA parking lot, then smashed the windows of several cars and snatched laptops, credit cards and other items.

The Westport Police responded promptly, but no arrests have yet been made. The license plates on the vehicles were obscured; the thieves wore hoodies, and the car visors were down to further obscure their faces. They most likely made their getaway on the adjacent Merritt Parkway.

The Y offers this advice to members (but it applies to everyone):

Before you exit your vehicle, make sure:

  • Your personal items and valuables are out of sight – including phone, cash, laptop/laptop bag, small electronic devices, briefcase, shopping bags, etc. Items visible on the seat, dashboard, floor may elicit unnecessary interest.
  • You always lock your doors and close windows (including sunroof).
  • Take your keys/fob with you.


Since graduating from Staples in 2003, Jesse and Sefra Levin have been on a mission: preparing people around the globe to survive. They bring “readiness skills” to the veteran, disaster response and entrepreneurial communities.

Their company — Tactivate — outfits customers with gear, and offers advice and training, for every conceivable emergency. They call themselves “bespoke readiness outfitters. For a while, they had a pop-up shop on Church Lane.

They have been in Ukraine since February. They’ve assembled a team of 20 people, focused full time on efforts there and throughout Eastern Europe.

This Sunday (January 29, 7 to 9 p.m.), they’re hosting a “medical kit” maker space event at The Readiness Collective, in Norwalk’s SoNo Collection.

The goal is to build 600 kits, to be hand delivered next month to front-line units.

Everyone is welcome to help create the kits. Questions? Email


There’s a special, behind-the-scenes look this Saturday at the development and pre-production of “The Team Room” — a new play about Army Special Forces immediately before, during and after 9/11.

The sneak preview is set — very appropriately — at VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 (Saturday, January 28, 3:30 p.m.).

Playwright Bill Raskin and producer Michael Hare will discuss the production and premiere in Washington, scheduled for this coming October.

The 501 (c)3 show will raise awareness for veterans’ services. Following the run, all net proceeds will be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Saturday’s event is free. The production team is excited to share their story, and raise awareness of the show. Click here for more information.


Generations of Westporters remember the Country Playhouse kids’ shows. For many, those weekday summertime events were their first introductions to live theater.

They’re still around — in a different form. Three family-friendly shows are on tap on weekends, to liven up the long (if snow-less) winter.

They include:

“Woof Woof” shadow theater; grades pre-K and up (Sunday, February 12; 1 and 4 p.m.).

“Pete’s Big Hollywood Adventure”; grades pre-K and up (Sunday, February 26; 1 and 4 p.m.).

“Scaredy Kat Presents”; grades 6-10; Sunday, March 5, 2 p.m. Click here for details.

All tickets are $25. Click here to purchase, and for more information.


CronArt — a cool little pop-up gallery — enlivened Bedford Square in 2018.

Artist/owner Ryan Cronin is back in New Paltz, New York. But his many Westport fans may want to know that his “Obama” painting has been accepted into the Obama Presidential Center’s permanent art collection in Chicago.

The curatorial process took a year and a half. But now Ryan’s work lives forever.

Ryan Cronin, with his “Obama” painting.


Staples High School Class of 1979 graduate David Halsey died unexpectedly in his sleep earlier this month. He was 61, and lived in New Canaan.

His family said in his obituary that he died of natural causes, and was active, healthy and happy in the days before his death.

The Kalamazoo, Michigan native spent much of his life in Westport. He was described as :a voracious reader with wide-ranging interests,” and “an avid rock hound.” He loved the outdoors, animals and music.

Dave is survived by his mother, Carol Halsey of Knoxville, Tennessee; Karen and brothers John and Peter. He was preceded in death by his father Philip B. Halsey of Underhill, Vermont.

No funeral services are planned.


Rev. Demetrios Recachinas of Westport, protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne, died Sunday. He was 74.

Born on the island of Lefkada, Greece, he came to Washington in 1966. He graduated from Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Father Demetrios earned a master’s of theology from Princeton University School of Theology. He attended Catholic University, working towards a Ph.D. program

Father Demetrios was ordained as a deacon in 1977 and ordained into holy priesthood at Saint Paraskevi in Greenlawn, Long Island, four months later. He was assigned as Assistant Pastor at his home parish of Saints Constantine and Helen.

Father Demetrios served on several committees in the DC area, including the National Conference of Christian and Jews Executive Committee, the White House Conference for the Elderly and the President Reagan Inaugural Committee for the International Sector, Catholic University and Maryland University Ethnic Studies Committee, and the UN Environmental Program Committee. He represented the Archdiocese in many official capacities as well.

In 1983 Father Demetrios was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Bridgeport. His emphasis in his ministry was on youth. He served as president of the Orthodox Clergy Association of the Greater Bridgeport Area. He was a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Commission and the Advisory Board of Sacred Heart University, and a chaplain at St. Vincent’s and Bridgeport Hospitals.

Father Demetrios served on the Board of Trustees and Executive Board of Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology and also served on the Board of Trustees of St. Basil’s Academy.

Father Demetrios represented the church at the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Third Millennium first World-Wide Orthodox Ecumenical Conference, and represented the Archdiocese at the World-Wide Biennial SAE Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece.

In 2001, Father Demetrios was bestowed with the highest honor awarded to a married clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Church, “Protobresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne,” by Patriarch Bartholomew on his visit to Holy Trinity.

In addition to his wife Eleftheria he is survived children, Tassos Recachinas, Katerina (Daniel) Pergola and Emmanuel (Paige) Recachinas; grandsons Christopher, James and Nicholas; brothers, Dion (Laura) Recachina and Andrew (Sophie) Recachinasl sisters, Sophia Espanopoulos and Christina Plotas; sister-in-law, Haido Neda, and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Trinity Church. Click here for online condolences.

Rev. Demetrios Recachinas


Harold Gross died peacefully at his Westport home on Tuesday. He was 96.

Born in the Bronx, he graduated from high school in 1944, then proudly served as an Army paratrooper in World War II. He remained in Japan with the occupational forces, and lived there for 13 years.

He saw the world through his work, selling medical and dental equipment and supplies to countries in need. He became fluent in Japanese and Portuguese.

Harold is survived by his wife Francine Schweiger; son David Grosz, stepson Jordan Schweiger (Wendi) and their children Chase, Mason and Sloane Schweiger and son-in-law Michael Collins; grandson Nick Grosz and nephew Daniel Gross. He was predeceased by his daughters Diana Gross and Debbie Collins, grandson Brian Grosz and brother Joseph “Lenny” Grosz.

A memorial service will be held tomorrow (Friday, January 27, 11:30 a.m., Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home, 88 Beach Road, Fairfield). Shiva will be observed immediately following services at Francine Schweiger’s home in Westport. For more information and to share a condolence message, click here.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jewish National Fund to plant trees in Israel.


“Westport … Naturally” can’t resist dogs-at-the-beach photos. From October 1 through March 31, that’s their playground.

The other day, Bobo had a blast.

(Photo/Sunil Hirani)


And finally … the Army Special Forces featured in an upcoming play (story above) are also known as the Green Berets.