Category Archives: History

COVID-19 Roundup: Free Business Help; Easter Eggs And Bagels; Wash Your Car; Holistic Health, And More

These days, many Westport businesses need help navigating the current COVID crisis — and planning for whatever follows.

Now they’ve got it. Town officials have partnered with Westport-based non-profit Social Venture Partners for a free service.

SVP volunteers —  talented, experienced businessmen and women — will be paired with local owners. SVP provides individual, confidential advice in areas like financial modeling; understanding COVID-related government programs and loan options; online business platforms, marketing and social media; and HR issues.

Second Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker oversees the program. Businesses can participate if they have a physical presence in Westport, an employee base, and have been established for at least one year.

Interested businesses should email LBAPinfo@westportct.gov. For more information on SVP, click here.


WestportMoms — the amazing Melissa Post and Megan Brownstein — have a great last-minute idea: a virtual Easter egg hunt. With, of course, a way to help our heroes.

It’s called “Bagels & Bleach” (because … read on). For every family that participates by hanging a decorated egg in their window between now and Sunday, New York’s Bantam Bagels (whose owners live here) will donate a box of bagels to the front lines at Norwalk Hospital.

But wait! There’s more! Winged Monkey will also donate bottles of bleach.

Just post your creation on Instagram. Be sure to tag #westportmomsegghunt for your box of bagels to count.

PS: WestportMoms will send a sampling (of egg photos, not bagels) to “06880.”


If you’re like me, you haven’t driven anywhere much in weeks. I now get 3 weeks to the gallon.

But if your car is looking grotty — perhaps from sitting underneath all that pollen — Scott Tiefenthaler has good news.

The owner of Westport Wash & Wax reopens tomorrow (Saturday, April 11). New hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Scott spoke with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Police Chief Foti Koskinas. In accordance with state guidelines listing car washes as an essential service, he’ll offer exterior wash services and interior/exterior detailing, all on a virtually no-contact basis.

Westport Wash & Wax also provides express interior/exterior detail services (the customer waits), and complete interior/exterior detail services (cars are dropped off), which require no contact between customers and staff.

Fresh towels are used on each car. They’re cleaned and sanitized between each use.

For complete detailing, call 203-227-9274. For other services, stop by during business hours.


Jim and Nancy Eckl of Gold’s Delicatessen say that beginning Monday (April 13), they’ll be closed on Mondays. New hours (Tuesday through Sunday) are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“W e love our customers,” they say. “But we also love our employees! That’s why we are adjusting our hours: to give them some much needed time off to restore and recharge, so we can be here for you when you need us!  Thanks for your support, and stay safe.”

For curbside and delivery orders, click here.


Katie Augustyn is part of a group of holistic health practitioners. They provide a variety of healing services — shamanic, reiki, guided meditation and the like. But they’ve joined together under the umbrella “Healers for Humanity.”

Their rates are far below what they normally receive. All they ask is what you can afford to pay.

“We are living through incredibly challenging times,” Katie says. “If you are feeling anxiety or stress, you are not alone. We are here to help.”

Click here to find a practitioner who matches your needs, and schedule a session. For more information email transformationcenterct@gmail.com, or call 203-820-3800.


As Westport’s COVID-19 lockdown began, Diane Dubovy Benke helped her disappointed kids put things in perspective by reminding them of what their grandfather went though as a Jewish child in Nazi Europe.

“In Czechoslovakia when the Nazis came, we were put under house arrest from 1940 to 1942,” she says. “It meant no school for me from December 1939 until the end of the war. I was 7 years old in 1940. We were allowed to go out for only two hours on Friday, from 3 to 5 pm. How did I cope under house arrest? I don’t remember, but somehow I survived without TV, no internet, only books and some toys.”

Diane’s father Carl Dubovy tells his incredible Holocaust survival story– coming within steps of  the gas chambers at Auschwitz — in an interview with Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer. Your kids can send him their own questions by downloading the Persona Interviews app, and sending Carl Dubovy a question.

Click below for the full, fascinating interview:


And finally, not a song — but a video definitely worth watching. Bellissimo!

Friday Flashback #186

This week — much to some Westporters’ dismay — the New York Times shined a spotlight on our town’s role in, and reaction to, the coronavirus crisis.

On September 8, 1832, the Springfield Journal took note of a cholera epidemic here.

Of course, there was no “Westport” yet — it would be 3 years before we broke away from Fairfield, Norwalk and Wilton.

I have no idea why a newspaper in Illinois would take note of what was happening here. But here’s how they reported it.

Worth noting, nearly 190 years later:

  • Then, as now, people who were able to left New York for the suburbs
  • Quarantines worked
  • Newspaper writing was a lot different then, but …
  • Just like today, mistakes crept in. “Newark” in the last sentence should be “Norwalk.” The river referred to is the Saugatuck.

I have no idea how very alert “06880” reader Mary Gai found this. But it’s important proof that we are not the first generation to face a crisis like this.

In 1832, New York’s population was 250,000. The cholera epidemic killed 3,515. In today’s city of 8 million, the equivalent death toll would pass 100,000. For more on that long-forgotten epidemic, click here.

PS: The Norwalk Gazette is long gone. But the Springfield Journal  — now the State Journal-Register — is still around. It calls itself “the oldest newspaper in Illinois.”

PPS: Did Abraham Lincoln read this story? Probably not. He moved to Springfield in 1837.

Eloise Reilly: The Centenarian’s Great Sequel

I was so glad this morning to run an upbeat story. Westporter Eloise Reilly turned 100 on Sunday, and — from a safe distance — her neighbors helped her celebrate.

I called her a “longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member.” I didn’t know the half of it.

Today, alert and inspired “06880” reader Kristin McKinney sent along a profile of Eloise she wrote a couple of years ago, for the Westport Garden Club newsletter. In honor of Eloise, she graciously shares it with us.

She picked up her landline on the second ring, old school style, no email, no cell phone. Connecticut native and Westport Garden Club member since 1977, Eloise Reilly was cheerful, bright and as receptive as she could be, certainly she would meet with me tomorrow for a WGC newsletter profile.

She gave me directions; we agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Approaching her property and ascending the longish driveway I noticed the American flag hoisted proudly on a tall, metal flagpole. Ellen Greenberg tipped me off that Eloise served in some capacity during World War II, and seeing Old Glory so elegantly displayed convinced me that was indeed the case.

I parked, found the door after looping around the house which coincidentally afforded me a very nice glimpse of Eloise’s gardens, and gave a gentle knock. Two sets of beautiful eyes met me, Eloise’s piping blues and those of her two-year old rescue kitty who viewed me somewhat suspiciously.

Eloise Reilly, on her 100th birthday. (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

I was invited in and led to a comfy chair near a large bay window where the next three hours passed like a New York City minute. Not having the advantage of searching a Facebook page or Linked In profile in advance of our interview, I proceeded conversationally, looking for common ground.

Eloise was charmingly forthcoming; our initial topic of discussion involved her very successful career as a human resources manager for advertising giant Young & Rubicam that began in 1953, and a second career after tiring of the NYC commute as a realtor with Helen Benson Real Estate.

Talk moved to her home, a beautiful structure designed and built by none other than Eloise herself in 1956, in a time and era where women “just weren’t doing those types of things.” I asked Eloise where she developed her fondness for gardening and asked if as a little girl, she spent time in her mother’s gardens.

The answer was not only yes, but it turns out that like Janet Wolgast, her mother knew the Latin names of every variety of plant, flower and shrub that is identified by the American Horticulture Society.

What is her passion? Growing from seed. Eloise shared that she loves watching things grow, geraniums in particular. As a curious seed novice, I asked about her method for obtaining them, her quick-witted response was, “Order them from Fark’s!”

Eloise Reilly, during World War II.

An interview with Eloise wouldn’t be remotely complete without going into detail about a period in her life which she describes as, “a fabulous experience. Never happened before, will never happen again.”

After reading an article in Life Magazine, Eloise discovered women could go overseas with the Red Cross. She applied unsuccessfully multiple times, each rejection letter specifying the same reason:  she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 25.

That year was 1943 and according to Eloise whose two brothers were in the Naval Air Corps, “1300 of Westport’s 7K residents were in active service, everybody and anybody enlisted.”

Not to be deterred, Eloise finally scored an interview in DC and in battling the age argument audaciously stated, “I’m not 25, the war is going to be over by the time I’m 25, but I’ll match my family against anybody you have in the Red Cross.” She was officially in.

Eloise Reilly became a member of the Clubmobilers, a unique unit of service recognized by U.S. Senate Resolution 471 dated May 23, 2012, for exemplary service during the Second World War. Clubmobiles, established in 1942 and conceived by Harvey Gibson, the Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, provided fresh coffee, doughnuts, entertainment and a listening ear to troops across Western Europe and eventually the Far East.

Eloise’s tour of duty took her through England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium, as she says, “zigzagging all over the place.” According to Eloise, “I learned to drive a six-wheel, two-ton truck with a double clutch and no power steering. We were assigned to a division, the 12th army group, and we had to meet them upon request in various towns or even countries. There were 8 trucks per group, 3 girls apiece, 24 in total. There was also a supply truck with two girls who could sing or play the piano.”

Eloise Reilly, as a Clubmobiler.

In the event of capture, the ladies were made second lieutenants and although this allowed them admittance into the officer’s club for a meal, they preferred to dine with the GI’s. The Clubmobilers found themselves living in tents, chateaus or even theoccasional, local bordello.

If they asked for directions to the powder room, most often the response was met with a nod toward the surrounding woods. Eloise remarked that in a world of men, the Clubmobiliers were placed on a pedestal, treated like sisters, aunts, mothers.  “They were protected,” said Eloise. “Nobody got out of line, the GI’s were self-policing.”

I asked Eloise if she was ever afraid and the answer was a resounding “no.”  While she admits to being apprehensive at times and despite some accidents and fatalities sustained by fellow Clubmobilers, she was never concerned for her own life.

In fact, her goal was to get to the Front.

FUN FACTThe Westport Garden Club is 96 years old. To Eloise, that’s almost a child.

100 Years Ago: Spanish Flu Strikes Westport

As Westport — and the world — grapple with the spread of COVID-19, comparisons are made with past pandemics. Long before the Ebola virus and SARS, there was “Spanish flu.”

Alert “06880” reader Bruce Becker went to the archives, to find out how we coped back then.

On October 17, 1918 — over 100 years ago — the Bridgeport Telegram said that “the cases continue to spread through Westport in the Italian quarter there.” About 200 cases were reported, “all of them being foreigners.”

Throughout the world, hospitals were overwhelmed with victims of the Spanish flu.

In Norwalk, meanwhile, the city banned concerts by Italian and French military bands, and the dedication of the Norwalk Honor Roll.

Residents wondered though why those outdoor events were canceled, while people still gathered indoors in schools, churches and theaters.

Norwalk reported 75 new cases of Spanish flu that week, bringing the total to more than 1,200. Stores, offices and the post office were all affected, sometimes closing.

There had been 32 deaths in that city alone. The Telegram described some of them, including a man who rose from his chair to go to his bedroom, but “pitched forward, his head hitting the fender at the fireplace.”

The Spanish flu continued to rage for over a year. Another Bridgeport newspaper — the delightfully named Republican Farmer — reported on January 20, 1920 that of all the communicable diseases in the area (diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, typhoid fever, mumps, tuberculosis, chickenpox, German measles, pneumonia, septic throat and spinal meningitis), influenza deaths continued to be the most deadly, by far.

Not far behind, however, were gonorrhea and syphilis.

By March 17, 1920 — almost exactly a century ago — the Spanish flu seemed to be abating. The Telegram reported “only” 174 deaths from that disease in this area in the month of January, and fewer still in February.

It was a different disease,  but then — as now — certain warnings were true, Becker says:

“Wash hands. Avoid gatherings, and contact with those who are older and more vulnerable.”

Friday Flashback #183

Most Westporters no longer read physical newspapers.

We get our news online. If we’ve got an actual dead-tree copy of the New York TimesWall Street Journal or Westport News, chances are we only glance at it.

There were fewer news sources 191 years ago. And newspapers looked a lot different.

Alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter found this copy of the May 13, 1829 edition of the Saugatuck Journal. Our ancestors must have had great eyesight.

The news was hard to decipher. The ads were more prominent.

They included seasoned lumber for sale by 27-year-old Horace Staples: 1,400 pieces of spruce plank, 500 pieces of white pine plank, and 300 of yellow pine plank.

There were other still-famous names, like Charles Jesup. I’m not sure what exactly he sold — would you buy “1 bale Bed Tick”? — but whatever it was, his dry goods and groceries were offered to “his friends at wholesale or retail, much lower than he has ever sold them.”

There was this sobering ad too.

Connecticut blocked the importation of slaves in 1774, and began a gradual emancipation of slaves in 1784. But slavery was not finally abolished until 1848 — nearly 2 decades after this edition of the Saugatuck Journal went to press, offering a penny reward for the return of a 12-year-old boy.

Roe Halper Lands In The Principal’s Office

Every year on Martin Luther King Day, I tell the story of the civil rights icon’s 1964 visit to Westport. I note that local 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.

The artwork — once believed lost — has been preserved. When King’s house opens as a National Park Service site, Halper’s carvings will be back in their prominent spot.

Roe Halper, with her “Birmingham Series.”

Another civil rights-era work by Halper already hangs in Westport. All you need to see it is to be sent to the principal’s office.

Shortly after being named Staples High School principal last year, Stafford Thomas learned that the piece was part of the Westport Public Art Collections.

The 5-foot tall wood carving was another work in Harper’s 1963 “Birmingham Series.”

Burt Chernow had selected it for the collection, when he began it decades ago. For many years it was displayed at Coleytown Middle School (Halper’s 2 children went there, when it was a junior high).

When CMS was closed due to mold, the carving was removed and refurbished. Thomas heard about it, and asked town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz for more information.

She asked if he wanted it, to display in his office.

He calls it his favorite piece.

Stafford Thomas and Roe Halper, with the artist’s wood carving in his office.

The other day, Halper visited Thomas. She described the background of her work, and elaborated on the other carvings in the series.

When King visited Westport in 1964, Halper said, she was invited to Shabbat dinner with him at the home of Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein. She brought some of her work, inspired by the March on Washington several months earlier. She told King to choose whatever he wanted.

After the artist sent him the 3 wood carvings, Halper and her husband Chuck visited King and his wife Coretta at their Atlanta home. Coretta explained that the works could not hang separately, as was planned, in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference offices of King, Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young. She brought them together again, in her house.

Roe Halper presents woodcuts to Coretta Scott King. The civil rights leader’s wife autographed this photo “To the Halpers, with deep appreciation and warm personal regards.” The artwork was displayed in the Kings’ Atlanta home for many years.

Art has been Halper’s life work. She majored in art education at Skidmore College, and after moving to Westport in 1960 began drawing and working with wood. She worked in her basement studio while raising children, and was heavily influenced by events like the civil rights movement.

Halper did wood carvings until 1990, when the physical toll on her back became too great. Now 83, she teaches gifted high school students 3 hours a day, twice a week.

Chances are they won’t get sent to the principal. But if they’re in his office for a meeting — or any other reason — they’ll see their teacher’s work on his wall. Like all good art, it impresses and inspires him every day.

Photo Challenge #269

Last week’s pre-Presidents Day Photo Challenge featured Anne Bernier’s shot of a plaque, honoring George Washington’s November 11, 1789 visit to Westport. (His 4th time here, though his only one as president.)

So where was the old Marvin Tavern — and where is the plaque today? (Click here for the photo.)

As Morley Boyd, Peter Barlow and Amy Schneider quickly noted, it stood on what we now call Post Road West, near Kings Highway South. Specifically, the plaque is at #290. That’s the United Food & Commercial Workers building, next to the empty UBS headquarters. Probably the only people who see the plaque are in the parking lot. Not a lot of foot traffic there.

According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, President Washington spent the night of November 11, 1789 at the inn of Captain Ozias Marvin. His wife Sarah and her daughters cooked up a mammoth meal: “loaves of brown bread, pies, the finest vegetables from their farm, huge roasts hanging from an open fire.”

However, President Washington asked only for a bowl of bread, and milk. (The rest of his party enjoyed the feast.) In his diary, Washington called it “not a good house, though the people of it were disposed to do all they could to accommodate me.”

Today’s Photo Challenge seems pretty easy.

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

Obviously, it’s 157 Riverside Avenue.

So here’s the question: Why is this a Photo Challenge?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

Saugatuck Church Opens Black History Art Show

The Saugatuck Congregational Church mission statement includes a commitment to “welcome all people.”

Those are not just words.

The downtown congregation hosts a wide range of 12-step programs. Last year they sponsored a show of immigrant art.

In 2018, Saugatuck accepted an invitation from the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport to pair with a predominantly African American church. The goal was mutual learning about the impact of racism in our culture and communities.

Small groups from Saugatuck and St. Matthew Baptist Church met several times. A Westport participant said he was amazed to learn what he had not been aware of.

Saugatuck’s Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton and St. Matthew’s Rev. Aaron Best remain in touch. Their congregations will continue to connect.

St. Matthew Baptist Church

Dan Long participated in the exchange. An artist and member of Saugatuck’s arts committee, he helped organize last year’s “Art Beyond Borders” show, featuring works by Latin American immigrants.

The opening — with art, music and poetry — drew a very diverse crowd.

Dan wanted to organize more shows at his church, honoring diversity and fighting racism.

He died suddenly in June. His wife Priscilla and arts team members have taken up the cause.

A special exhibit — “Celebrating Color in Black History Month” — opens this Friday (February 21, 6 to 8 p.m., Hoskins Hall). Six area artists of color — Jeffrey Nelson, Amir Hines, Clyde Theophilus McLaughlin, Shanna Melton, Michael Brinkley and Lesley Koenig — will share their work.

Some of the work in the Saugatuck Congregational Church art show.

The show ends March 10. But Saugatuck Church’s commitment to multi-culturalism, and against racism, continues.

In May Rev. Donique McIntosh — minister for racial justice for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ — will be a guest preacher.

(“Art Beyond Borders” is open to the public, whenever the Saugatuck Congregational Church is open. Call first — 203-227-1261.)

Hail To The Chiefs!

No, not the ones from Kansas City.

I’m talking about our nation’s presidents. You know, the guys — and yeah, they’re all men — who we celebrate today in the usual manner: with special sales, no mail delivery, and absolutely no thought given to Zachary Taylor, Benjamin Harrison or Gerald Ford, let alone actual presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and (the big one) William Howard Taft.

Westport — a national leader in areas like hedge funds, education and nannies — would seem to be a natural for presidents too.

We’re not.

Besides passing through on the railroad or highway, our town has few connections with our commanders-in-chief.

George Washington, of course, slept here — he slept everywhere. In 1780 he is said to have discussed war strategy with the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de  Rochambeau at the Disbrow Tavern (where Christ & Holy Trinity Church is today). He returned twice in 1789 as president, coming and going on an inspection tour of the Northeast. He spent 1 night at the Marvin Tavern — located on the Post Road, opposite King’s Highway South — but did not have a bang-up time. In his diary, he called it “not a good house.”

 

This may be the only time Millard Fillmore appears in my blog. Or any blog.

Millard Fillmore was a guest at Richard Winslow’s “Compo House” mansion on the North Compo/Post Road corner (it later became a sanitarium, then was torn down before tear-downs became fashionable). But that was here 6 years after he left office.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency. Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest. Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke on the steps of the YMCA’s Bedford Building during his re-election campaign of 1936. He was the 1st sitting president to definitively visit since George Washington. In addition, FDR’s grandson David lived here for several years in the 1990s. And FDR’s wife, Eleanor, often visited Lillian Wald’s South Compo “Pond House.” I know, I’m stretching here…

Hey hey, LBJ…

Lyndon Johnson was friendly with Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas — so friendly that that helped scuttle Fortas’ nomination to be Chief Justice in 1968. Fortas had a summer home on Minuteman Hill, and some beach residents say that Johnson was an occasional guest.

Bill Clinton trolled here for money, before and during his presidency. As president he attended fundraisers at the Inn at National Hall, and a private home on Saugatuck Avenue. Both were low-key affairs, if you don’t count the 25-car motorcades, sharpshooters on top of buildings and helicopters whirling overhead.

And, of course, in 2012 Barack Obama flew in for a fundraiser at the Beachside Avenue home of not-yet-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. I’m sure the former president would like a do-over on that one.

The presidential motorcade at Harvey Weinstein’s Beachsdie Avenue house, in 2012. (Photo/White House pool, courtesy of WestportNow)

Westport has had better luck with presidential candidates. Like Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, in recent years many made their way here — more for fund-raising than actual vote-seeking. Who knows?  Soon, Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren — or one of the guys — may come to town.

Though I’m guessing — for different reasons — we’ll see neither #45, nor Mike Bloomberg.

Photo Challenge #268

Last week’s Photo Challenge rang a bell with many readers.

Ed Simek’s image showed the large bell that sits outside the Saugatuck fire station — officially, it’s “Saugatuck Hose Company Engine Company 4” — on Riverside Avenue. (Click here to see.)

The bell is a favorite with kids who wander over from nearby Saugatuck Sweets. They also enjoy the restored 1940s-era fire truck — and the friendly, welcoming vibe from all the firefighters there.

Of course, sometimes they have to leave the station on a call. That’s why — as tempting as it is to inch forward — you should never block the road in front of the bell.

Andrew Colabella, Fred Cantor, Diane Silfen, Matt Murray, Wendy Cusick, Tom Risch, Mary Ann Batsell, Amy Schneider and Rick Benson all knew the answer to this very easy Photo Challenge.

Tomorrow is Presidents Day. (Or Presidents’ Day — the jury is out on that apostrophe.)

In its* honor, we present Anne Bernier’s Photo Challenge. Way back in the day, George Washington** really did sleep here. This plaque commemorates his visit.

(Photo/Anne Bernier)

So today’s Photo Challenge is: Where in Westport would you find Marvin Tavern today?

And if you’d like to get into the weeds, answer this one too: Why doesn’t the plaque call it Marvin’s Tavern?

*Not, for some reason, it’s.

** Whose February 22 birthday has been co-opted as a federal holiday, by all 44 presidents who followed him.