Category Archives: History

Half A Century Young: Stew Leonard’s, And The Miracle Mets

Alert “06880” reader/Terex director of internal communications/ 1970 Staples graduate/longtime New York Mets fan William Adler writes:

1969 was a magic time: Woodstock, and a man on the moon. It was also the summer of the Miracle Mets. New York’s lovable losers went from last to first in a historic season — capped by a seemingly impossible victory over the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Fifty years ago too, Stew Leonard’s store was opening.

At Staples High School, students like my classmate Phil Gambaccini raced home from school to catch portions of the fall classic (World Series games were played during the day back then).

Yesterday, 6 members of that 1969 Mets team signed autographs at Stew Leonard’s. They were celebrating both the 50th anniversary of their world championship, and the store’s 50th.

Phil Gambaccini recently moved back to Westport, after many years abroad. He was at Stew’s yesterday, of course. In the photo below, Ed Kranepool (center) and Art Shamsky autograph a ball for him.

Other Met legends in Norwalk were Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Jim McAndrew and Duffy Dyer.

The line for autographs snaked through the store and into the parking lot, for several hours. Near the end players moved through the line, shaking hands with fans (many as gray as the Mets), and handing out pre-autographed sheets of paper.

Most of the Mets — notably Shamsky, 77 — looked close to playing form, or at least fitter than many fans.

Kranepool has suffered with diabetes for many years, and is searching publicly for a transplant match. When fans asked about his health he quietly said, “Thank you. I just hope I get my kidney.”

To honor the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ championship season, Stew Leonard’s announced that its Wishing Well charity will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. That’s a tribute to Mets Hall of Famer and ’69 World Series ace Tom Seaver, recently diagnosed with Lyme-related dementia.

Toscanini Lives!

From 1937 to 1954, Arturo Toscanini was one of the most famous men in America.

Already acclaimed for his intensity, perfectionism and ear for orchestral detail as director of La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic, his appointment as music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra — first on radio, then TV — brought him into nearly every household in the nation.

“He had a singular approach to music making,” says Lucy Johnson. “He was what today we would call a rock star. Thousands of people lined up for tickets to see him perform.”

Today, she says, his work and vibrant reputation remain. He may not be a rock star, but he is revered in musical circles. “People are still inspired by the man, his personality and his musicianship,” Johnson says.

She should know. The longtime Westporter’s father, Samuel Antek, played first violin with the NBC Symphony.

Arturo Toscanini (left) and Samuel Antek.

He died at 48, of a heart attack. Before his death — one year after Toscanini’s, at 89 — he wrote a series of essays about the conductor, from the point of view of an orchestra member. They were published posthumously, in a book called This Was Toscanini.

Two years ago, music historian Harvey Sachs wrote a new biography, Toscanini: Musician of Conscience. During his research, he and Johnson became friends.

She had quite a career of her own. She majored in art history, then got an entry- level job at NBC in New York. She worked in production with Harry Belafonte and David Susskind.

Lucy Johnson

Moving to Los Angeles, Johnson became senior vice president of daytime and children’s programming with both NBC and CBS. She launched The Smurfs, and worked with the legendary Fred Silverman.

She met Bill Klein. Thirteen years ago, they decided to move back East.

Her LA colleague Sonny Fox — the former “Wonderama” host, now a broadcast industry consultant — had lived in Weston. He suggested she look at Westport, and introduced her to friends he thought she and Bill would like: library director Maxine Bleiweis, and Larry and Mary-Lou Weisman.

They moved here — and have remained friends with those first contacts. “Westport is a very cultured town,” Johnson says. She has met many people who remember Toscanini — either first hand, or through his recordings.

Several years ago, Johnson took Weisman’s memoir writing course. So when Sachs was speaking with her about his Toscanini biography, he told Johnson she should reissue her father’s old memoir. She did — adding her own essays before each chapter.

Thanks to the efforts of Johnson — and others — Toscanini still lives. Tomorrow (Saturday, March 9, 3 p.m.) biographer Sachs speaks about “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience” at the Westport Woman’s Club.

When World War II began, Toscanini fled the fascism of his native Italy. After Mussolini fell, Toscanini participated in a legendary film, “Hymn of the Nations.” It honored the role of Italian-Americans who aided the Allies.

Toscanini took Verdi’s 1860’s work, including the national anthems of European nations, and added arrangements of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “The Internationale” for the Soviet Union and Italian partisans.

Sachs will talk about all that tomorrow. He’ll also include rare film footage of the NBC Symphony.

Perhaps Lucy Johnson will see her own father on screen, playing violin under the baton of one of America’s most legendary maestros.

(Hat tip: Joel Davis)

Chris Coogan’s “B Minor Blessing”

Chris Coogan is getting married.

Fairfield County’s favorite jazz and gospel composer/pianist/singer/ teacher/choir director/producer ties the knot in June with Marion Howard. She’s got her own artistic background.

Marion Howard and Chris Coogan.

But that’s not what this story is about.

As Chris was thinking about his impending step-fatherhood, Marion was reading to him from a recently discovered memoir. “U Bernátū” describes the lives of her Jewish ancestors from Osek, a tiny village in Bohemia (today it’s the Czech Republic).

Marion had discovered a link to that heritage through an English-language Radio Prague story. Her uncommon family name Wedeles was noted in the story as “Wels.” She realized the piece was about her own ancestors.

In a beautiful passage mixing heartbreak and joy, the narrator describes how his mother prepared luggage for her 2 children, before they emigrated to America in the late 1850s. She knew she would likely never see them again. Her 14-year-old son was leaving to be spared from enforced conscription, as happened to many Jewish peasants.

The mother stuffs baked goods into the luggage, then fills even tinier spaces with dried fruit. Her children’s journey will be long; she does what she can to help them make it, with food and love.

The Wedeles family: Marion Howard’s ancestors.

At the same time, Chris was writing a new composition. He chose B minor, because of the key’s mystical and meditative qualities. It ends in D major, signalizing the realization of hope for the next generation. Marion’s relatives’ losses — not everyone made it out of Bohemia alive — and triumphs live forever now, in Chris’ “B Minor Blessing.”

One stunning moment — the children are loaded onto an oxcart to carry them to the train bound for Bremen; the mother runs after them shouting prayers and blessings, following behind until it disappears from view — is reflected in the music.

Marion and Chris learned from the “U Bernátū” memoir that the ship was lost at sea for months. The passengers’ food was cut to 1/4 rations. Many became weak, and illness spread. But because of the mother’s loving foresight, the dried food kept her children fed and well.

The “B Minor Blessing” starts with one female solo voice — the mother — singing an Aaronic blessing in Hebrew. The choir then follows. The music swells to a piano solo by Chris; it represents the overseas journey.

The final verse is in English. It’s quiet and reflective — much like a prayer for the now-distant family, sung in the language of their new lives.

The Fairfield County Chorale presents the world premiere of “B Minor Blessing” this Saturday (March 9, 7:30 p.m., Norwalk Concert Hall). It’s part of the evening’s “journey through time and across the globe.” Chris will accompany the chorale on piano.

The other day, he shared his new piece’s back story with the Chorale. They connected on a personal level. Nearly everyone, Marion says, has a similar tale of brave immigrant ancestors who boarded boats, mules or planes — or arrived somewhere on foot.

Everyone does have a family story. As Chris Coogan and Marion Howard prepare to merge theirs, they’ve collaborated on a new story — told in music — for all of us to hear, think about, and appreciate.

(The Norwalk Concert Hall is at 125 East Avenue. Tickets to the March 9 Fairfield County Chorale performance are $30 in advance, $5 for students, and $35 at the venue. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)

Happy Birthday, Marian Anderson!

Marian Anderson was born 119 years ago today. The vibrant, ground-breaking contralto is remembered still for historic acts like her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and for inspiring young black singers like Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. Next year, she will appear — along with Eleanor Roosevelt — on the back of the redesigned US $5 bill.

Suzanne Sherman Propp remembers Marian Anderson for another reason. In 1973, Suzanne was a 3rd grader at Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall). A staff member wrote a play about the famous singer — and cast Suzanne in that role. Then she invited Marian Anderson to come.

It’s an amazing story. And here to tell it is Suzanne Sherman Propp:

The playwright, Realand Uddyback, was a teacher at Bedford Elementary. Art teacher Ed Clarke did the sets, and music teacher Judy Miller Wheeler was the music director.

Besides asking me to play a young Marian Anderson, Mrs. Uddyback cast a black student, Robin Spencer, in the role of Marian’s white teacher.

Kids asked Mrs. Uddyback if they were going to paint my face with black make-up, and Robin’s with white make-up. She adamantly replied, “Of course not! I chose the best actresses to play the roles. The color of their skin does not matter.  That’s the whole point!”

I sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” plus several songs written just for the play. One was “I like vanilla, it’s just like me: Plain when you see it, but, oh what it can be.” I think I still have the script.

Mrs. Uddyback boldly invited Marian Anderson, who was living in Danbury at the time, to see the play. To this day I cannot believe she actually showed up.

Here’s a photo of me, Robin and Marian Anderson. Also in the photo, at top left, is Cindy Gibb. She graduated with me from Staples in 1981, and went on to an acting career in “Fame” and “Search for Tomorrow.” She’s now a vocal coach in Westport.

Today, Suzanne Sherman Propp is a music teacher at Greens Farms Elementary School. Every morning, she posts a very popular “Sing Daily! Song of the Day.”

Today’s is special: A clip of Marian Anderson singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for her to sing to an integrated audience in their Constitution Hall. Click here to see and hear!

It’s a thoughtful birthday honor for a true American hero. And a very fitting end to Black History Month.

Marian Anderson (2nd from left) applauding Suzanne Sherman Propp’s performance. With her are (from left) her friend Elizabeth Hughes; Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, president of the Westport-Weston Arts Council; Bridgeport schools superintendent Howard Rosenstein, and James Curiale, Bridgeport school aide in charge of Project Concern at Bedford Elementary School.

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLK speech

Dr. Kendi’s Journey

Exactly one year ago, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi was the keynote speaker at Westport’s annual Martin Luther King Day ceremony. A full house listened raptly as the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction described exactly what it means to be anti-racist.

It was a powerful, insightful lecture. Attendees contributed almost $3,000 toward anti-racism training in Westport.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

In the weeks following, the MLK Planning Committee — TEAM Westport, the Westport Library, Westport Playhouse and Westport Weston Interfaith Council — worked with Dr. Kendi and his team to develop anti-racism training for senior management of key organizations in Westport. It includes town government, the police and the school system.

The year-long, successful pilot project is now in the action stage.

Dr. Kendi’s impact on Westport has been profound.

And it came while he was engaged in his own, very different struggle.

Last week, the Atlantic published a first-person piece by Dr. Kendi. Titled “What I Learned From Cancer,” it describes his whipsawing emotions as he was diagnosed with — and then battled — Stage 4 colon cancer.

It’s powerful, personal and raw. During grueling chemotherapy, he continued to research and write his new book, “How to Be an Antiracist.” It was, he says, “perhaps my way of coping with the demoralizing severity of the cancer and the overwhelming discomfort of the treatment, furiously writing and fighting, fighting and writing to heal mind and body, to heal society.”

Dr. Kendi’s Atlantic piece ties together his professional work, and his new insights into America’s healthcare. He writes:

America’s politics, in my lifetime, have been shaped by racist fears of black criminals, Muslim terrorists, and Latino immigrants. Billions have been spent on border walls and prison walls and neighborhood walls, and on bombs and troops and tax cuts—instead of on cancer research, prevention, and treatment that can reduce the second-leading cause of death.

Any politician pledging to keep us safe who is drastically overfunding law and order, border security, and wars on terror—and drastically underfunding medical research, prevention, and health care—is a politician explicitly pledging to keep our bodies unsafe.

Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, who with Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church has helped lead the local anti-racism initiative — notes that Dr. Kendi’s Playhouse talk last year was his first public appearance after being diagnosed with cancer.

Bailey — but few others — knew of that back story as they worked through the year together.

Today, Dr. Kendi stands a good chance of joining the 12% of people who survive a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis.

In fact, on Wednesday, January 30 (8 p.m., Quick Center for the Arts) he will be the keynote speaker at Fairfield University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation. (Click here for details.)

As for Westport: This year’s 13th annual Martin Luther King celebration scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday, January 20, Westport Country Playhouse) has been postponed. A new date has  not yet been announced.

The keynote speaker will be James Forman, Jr. He wrote the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction: “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

James Forman Jr.

He is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color. The Brown University and Yale Law School graduate clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He then spent 6 years as a public defender.

Forman has contributed op-eds and essays to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, and the Washington Post.

(For Dr. Kendi’s full Atlantic article, click here.)

Dr. Bud Lynch: A Loving Look Back

In 1967, Buddy Lynch made a fumble recovery that helped key Staples’ 8-0 victory over Stamford Catholic, in the 2nd FCIAC football championship game ever played. It was a huge upset, over the #1 team in the state.

Lynch went on to play at Dartmouth College, then became a noted surgeon. But he was not the first well-known Dr. Lynch in town.

He followed in his father Bud’s footsteps. The older man spent decades as a beloved Westport-based pediatrician.

And now the son has written about his dad, for the Dartmouth alumni newsletter.

Bud Sr. was born in 1915 in Rowayton. He played 4 years of football at Dartmouth — including an undefeated season in 1937.

Dr. Bud Lynch, in World War II

After Dartmouth med school, 2 years of rotations at Colubmia, then back to Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover for internship, he headed out as a medical officer to England for D-Day.

His LST followed minesweepers to a point 13 miles off Utah Beach. His ship was set up to evacuate wounded — from both sides — with racks holding stretchers as beds. He never spoke of that action. But, Buddy notes, it must have been very difficult.

Two months later, a 2nd operation took place in southern France. The Germans attacked Allied forces.

It was a brutal battle. Bud was blown off the bridge and onto the deck, 30 feet below. He broke his right femur. He may have had a spinal fracture too.

A former lifeguard, he realized he’d be better off in the water than staying on an exploding ship. Dragging his broken leg, he pulled himself over the rail — and plunged another 30 feet into the ocean.

The pain, Buddy writes, must have been excruciating. Bud was rescued, and evacuated to a hospital tent in Italy.

He returned a month later to the US. But the wound had become infected. Bud spent the next 3 years in hospitals, and in wheelchairs.

Dr. Bud Lynch’s LST, after the German attack.

Eventually, Bud recovered. He returned to medicine — choosing pediatrics because it required less walking and standing than other specialties.

Buddy was born near the end of his father’s residency at Columbia. He spent his first year in a New York apartment — with a drawer as his crib — and moved to Westport in 1951, when his father joined a practice here.

Bud could no longer play football or baseball. But he umpired Little League, swam, played golf and skied. Back pain, stiffness and a pronounced limp often troubled him, but he never complained.

In 1962, Sports Illustrated named Bud as a Silver Anniversary All-American. The honor was given for talent, accomplishments and outstanding citizenship.

Bud closed his Westport practice in 1979. He moved to Hanover — where Buddy was doing his orthopedic residency. Bud saw patients at his new home, and kept up to date with the latest medicine at Mary Hitchcock Hospital.

In 1994 he fell. His leg continued to bother him. A month later, X-rays revealed that for 45 years he had walked on a femur fracture that never healed.

An operation finally healed the bone.

In his late 80s, Bud Lynch’s determination, endurance and memory began to fail.

But his memory lives on, in all his former patients and their parents in Westport.

Now — thanks to the Dartmouth ’72 newsletter story, by his son — his story lives on too.

(Click here — then scroll down to page 9 — for a much fuller version of the Dartmouth newsletter story. Hat tip: Peter Gambaccini)

Remembering Selma Engel: Holocaust Survivor Told The World

On Sunday, the New York Times published a remarkable obituary.

It began:

Selma Wynberg Engel, who escaped a Nazi extermination camp after a prisoner uprising and was among the first to tell the world about the camp’s existence, died on Tuesday in East Haven, Conn. She was 96.

The story told how — as a young Dutch Jew — Selma was among 58 prisoners who braved machine gun fire to escape from Sobibor. Only one other is believed to still be alive.

She and a young man named Chaim were on the run for 2 weeks before a Polish peasant family hid them in a hayloft.

Selma Engel (Photo courtesy of New York Times, via Alexander Perchersky Foundation)

Back in the Netherlands, Selma told Russian reporters about the Sobibor extermination camp. A September 1944 story was the first public description of the place where up to 350,000 were murdered.

Selma and Chaim married in 1945. They faced prejudice in the Netherlands because he was a Polish Jew; more than 100,000 Dutch citizens had been deported to camps there.

The couple moved to Israel in 1951. Six years later they came to the US.

And though the Times does not mention it, their new home was on Wilton Road in Westport. They were sponsored by the  owners of Gilbertie’s Nursery.

Chaim got a job at Gristede’s on Main Street, and drove an Arnold bread truck. Selma ironed clothes.

“You can imagine how difficult that was for them,” recalls Selma’s daughter Alida. “They were depressed — especially my mother.”

It was the first time Alida — known then as “Lidy” — and her brother Fred learned about the war. In Israel, their parents never talked about it.

Selma and Chaim Engel with their baby daughter Alida, in the Netherlands in 1946. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

But, Alida notes, “there were many kind folks — especially those my mother ironed for. They tried to help.”

Still, Alida and her brother were different. “Westport was not used to foreigners,” she says. “They didn’t know what to do with me in the public schools. So they taught me diagraphing and speed reading.”

The Engels went through Bedford Elementary and Junior High in Westport, then Staples. She graduated in 1964; he followed 2 years later.

Yet Alida ended up feeling extremely happy in school, and still has many friends from those days. She made plenty of friends, in part through sports. She played field hockey and ran track for Jinny Parker at Staples High School. Fred played soccer.

Alida Engel (2nd from left, red hair) with dolls at Klein’s Department Store in Westport.

Chaim and Selma eventually bought a card shop in Stamford. They ran it until they purchased a jewelry store with Alida’s ex-husband in Old Saybrook. In 1973 the couple moved to Branford. She lived there almost until her death.

But the story comes full circle. Alida’s niece, Emily Engel Riley, now lives in Westport, with her husband and children.

And speaking of stories: The Times says that although Selma and Chaim told theirs many times,

it was largely unknown in the postwar Netherlands until the last decade, when a team of Dutch historians, including Mr. Van Liempt, visited Mrs. Engel in Connecticut to research a book about her. It was published in 2010 as “Selma, the Woman Who Survived Sobibor” and led to a documentary film of the same name.

Now Selma’s story is known all over the world.

Including her first American hometown: Westport.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary.)

Check Out These Decked-Out Holiday Houses

It’s one of the most interesting — and oldest — places in Westport. I’ve lived here my whole life, yet never been inside.

Adams Academy — the low-slung yellow building on North Morningside — was the spectacularly named Ebenezer Adams’ private school from 1837 to 1867. He taught over 600 students — including (rare for the time) girls. Most of the graduates — male only, of course 😦 — went on to Yale.

After Adams sold his academy, it served as a public school, town park, home for the  needy and town offices.

Now restored, it’s back to a 19th century schoolroom.

Adams Academy (Photo/Michael Mombello)

It’s rarely open. But next Sunday (December 9), it’s one of 5 stops on the Westport Historical Society’s 32nd annual Holiday House Tour. Ebenezer and his daughter — well, WHS volunteers dressed as them — will be there to greet guests.

The tour offers a peek inside some of Westport’s most historic structures. It combines our natural voyeurism curiosity with our intrigue in our past — and our love for New England-style holiday decorations.

Each stop on the self-guided tour includes WHS docents, explaining how people of the period celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. Halls (and more) will be decked with boughs of holly (and much more).

The event begins at the Historical Society’s own Wheeler House home on Avery Place. Built in 1795, then remodeled in the 1800s in Italianate style, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos.

Wheeler House — dressed in Victorian splendor — is complemented by the only octagonal-roof cobblestone barn in Connecticut. It will be open too, showcasing the fantastic, intricate wintertime train set that for years thrilled shoppers at Swezey’s Jewelers on Main Street.

The  Goodsell-Grumman Toll House dates back to 1760. It originally stood on Catamount Road, but when a private highway — Easton Road — was built in 1817, it was moved to its present location there. It’s one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Westport.

The Goodsell-Grumman Toll House on Easton Road. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

Two other Holiday House tour homes are in Southport. A 1673 (!) colonial saltbox — one of the oldest still standing in Fairfield — features an original entryway staircase, exposed beams and massive fireplaces.

The John Osborne House, Kings Highway West in Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

A converted barn, built in 1705, has original framing and reclaimed period wood for all walls and floors. This house sits atop a burial ground from the Great Swamp War. In the 1940s, it was used as an artists’ studio.

The Osborne Barn, Oxford Road, Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

There’s a lot going on this season. It’s not easy to fit a House Tour into your schedule.

But there’s no better way to get in the old-time holiday mood.

Just ask Ebenezer Adams.

(The Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour takes place Sunday, December 9, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Playhouse “Pianist” Teaches Children About Holocaust Horrors

You can’t say the Westport Country Playhouse isn’t timely.

The most recent production — “Thousand Pines” — was a provocative look at gun violence, through its effect on 3 families.

Now comes “The Pianist of  Willesden Lane.” It’s an encore performance, thanks to raves before.

The pianist — Grammy-nominated Mona Golabek — tells the gripping, true tale of her mother. A piano prodigy herself, whose dreams were threatened in 1938 by looming war, she flees Vienna for England on the Kindertransport.

Golabek describes it all, while interweaving music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, even a bit of Gershwin.

The elegant, beautiful show is also crucially important. It comes at a time of rising anti-Semitism worldwide, and just weeks after the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” should be seen by audiences of all ages. But on Sunday, December 16, the Playhouse will be filled with young people.

The 3 p.m. production will be followed by age-appropriate group discussions led by local Holocaust survivors. The goal is to educate children about that horrible time in a sensitive way, stressing the importance of standing up to bigotry and hatred, with the power of hope.

Monique Lions Greenspan’s mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She knows first hand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that Holocaust survivors possess.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from their experiences.”

(The recommended age for this show is 10 and older. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 16 performance. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 5-22 run. The program is sponsored by Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Jewish Federation Association for Connecticut, Holocaust Child Survivors of CT and the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut.)