Category Archives: Looking back

“Save Cockenoe Now” Posters: The Sequel

Yesterday’s post about the “Save Cockenoe Now” posters at Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale reminded readers of a past political battle: When Westporters saved Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant.

Everyone who was here then also remembers the Einsels’ iconic artwork.

But alert “06880” reader Jeff Manchester went over to the sale, and found other posters that never gained that cult-status attention. It’s kind of like finding unreleased Beatles tapes, nearly 50 years later.

Here, in all their late-’60s, trippy glory, are 3 of those “unreleased” posters. I particularly like the “Fishin’, Not Fission'” one.

Thankfully — with a big boost from the Einsels — we’re here today to tell that tale.

cockenoe-poster-2-einsel

cockenoe-poster-4-einsel

cockenoe-poster-3-einsel

Friday Flashback #17

Today’s Friday Flashback is different from most. There’s a reason.

(Photo courtesy of Ray and Patricia Donovan)

(Photo courtesy of Ray and Patricia Donovan)

The 1969 photo shows Jean Donovan on her horse Apple, at Fiddle Horse Farm. The farm was located the west side of Bayberry Lane, midway between Long Lots Road and Cross Highway.

Sam and Bernice Friedson owned it, as well as the Tack Room — a horseback riding supply store on the Post Road, opposite the old post office.

So why is this today’s Friday Flashback? It’s the 36th anniversary of the beating, rape and murder of 4 lay missionaries, by Salvadoran military men. Donovan — a 1971 Staples High School graduate — was one of those women.

Growing up in Westport, there was little evidence she’d become an internationally known martyr. She had a fairly secular upbringing here. She was introduced to horseback riding when she was young, and spent some of her teenage years riding and working at Fiddle Horse Farm. It was one of several working horse farms in Westport.

To share memories of those farms — or of Jean Donovan — click “Comments” below.

(Hat tip: John Suggs)

Save Cockenoe: Then And Now

Last month, “06880” previewed Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale. I don’t usually promote that stuff — but the longtime local artists’ Victorian farmhouse was filled with thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints and advertising items. It seemed like a great Westport tale.

Andrew Bentley was one of the many art lovers who was there. He says it was “more like a folk art museum than a house.”

Andrew wandered past mechanical toys, kinetic sculptures and books of illustrations, on into Naiad’s studio. Magic markers, colored pencils and scissors were all in place, as if she had gone downstairs for coffee.

Thumbing through a stack of posters, he spotted a large envelope. Inside was a shimmer of gold and bronze. Removing it, he discovered a beautiful metallic silk-screened “Save Cockenoe Now” poster.

save-cockenoe-now-poster

Bentley knew it was from the late 1960s, when Westporters opposed a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the island just a mile off Compo Beach. (Click here for that full, crazy story.)

But he’d only seen a black-and-white thumbnail-sized image of the poster, in Woody Klein’s book on the history of Westport.

Suddenly, he held an original. After nearly 50 years, he says, “the colors were still electric.”

Andrew turned to the stranger beside him. He explained that the poster represented a perfect confluence of Westport’s artistic heritage, revolutionary spirit and environmental priorities.

Then, in another Westport tradition, he gathered up as many posters as he could find, negotiated a bulk discount, and made a list of friends in town who deserved a gift.

In 1967, Westporters saved Cockenoe.

In 2016, Andrew saved its posters.

Both stories are worth telling.

(PS: Andrew Bentley designed the logo for The Flat — the new Railroad Place spot that mixes design, art and objects with contemporary lighting, accessories and jewelry. Owner Becky Goss has a few framed Save Cockenoe Now posters there, ready for sale.)

 

$100 Award Pays Millions In Dividends

Staples High School’s Class of 1943 had a less than joyful year.

In the midst of World War II, students with last period free left school early. Some worked for local industries, making items needed for the war effort. Others harvested crops on local farms, replacing older men who had been called up to serve.

Bill Torno’s shop classes built rifle racks, each holding 32 guns, for the Westport Defense Training Unit. He also taught welding. Miss Ossi’s home economics students made nearly 100 cotton hospital bags.

Boys headed to the YMCA every Tuesday for mandatory Commando training. Instruction included diving from the side of a burning ship, and swimming underwater while oil burned on the surface.

When they graduated in June, 10 students — exactly 10 percent of the entire class of 100 — were not there. Stars next to their names meant they had already left school, for the armed forces. The yearbook was dedicated to them.

Amid all the grim news, one announcement stood out. Valedictorian David Hughes received several awards: a DAR citizenship medal, the RPI math prize and a $10 English prize.

He also earned a $100 scholarship from the Staples PTA. That was the very first gift from the organization now known as Staples Tuition Grants.

David Hughes' writeup in the 1943 Staples yearbook.

David Hughes’ writeup in the 1943 Staples yearbook.

Hughes made the most of his award. He went to Harvard; married Janet Brandon of Staples’ Class of 1944, and became Mason Professor of Music at his alma mater. He traveled widely, and retired to coastal Maine.

In the more than 7 decades since Hughes’ scholarship, STG has grown into one of Westport’s most important community groups. Today they award college and trade school tuition grants of up to $6,000 a year, to Staples seniors. Scholarships — which are strictly need-based — can be renewed each year during college.

Last year, STG provided $300,000 to 115 deserving Staples seniors and alumni.

Staples Tuition Grants has provided literally tens of millions of dollars in scholarships. That’s been life-changing for thousands of students.

Some of the awardees at last year's Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

Some of the awardees at last year’s Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

The men and women who make up the STG committee perform some of the most important volunteer jobs in town. They scrutinize applications. They interview applicants. And they raise all those funds.

It’s not easy to ask Westporters — and Staples alums — to contribute to Staples Tuition Grants. The perception is that everyone here can afford college.

That’s certainly not the case. The thank-you notes — and heartfelt speeches during the awards ceremony every June — testify to the value of what STG does.

The holiday season — with so many competing demands on time and money — is also not the easiest time to ask for money. But STG believes that now is when donors will realize how far their funds will go.

Many awards honor specific individuals (click here for that list). A newly named award — the Westport Families  Scholarship — is a great way to honor favorite teachers.

Staples Tuition Grants new logoSTG is reaching out to former awardees for donations. The board also wants to hear stories of how their scholarships have helped. If you received a grant — any time from the 1940s to today — email alumni@staplestuitiongrants.org, and let them know what it meant.

Meanwhile, David Hughes’ legacy lives on. The first Staples Tuition Grants honoree died last year. But his daughter lives in Queens. She has been invited to the annual ceremony next spring.

There, she will see the magic that began 74 years ago — in some of America’s darkest days — continues brightly.

(Click here to contribute to Staples Tuition Grants. You can also mail a check to Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159. On Christmas Eve, STG members and recipients will wrap gifts at Barnes & Noble, in exchange for tips. For more information on STG, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor.)

Final Bell Tolls For 17 Soundview Drive

“06880” has chronicled the history of 17 Soundview Drive.

One of the most recognizable homes on the beach exit road, it played an important role in Westport’s musical history.

Today, the nearly 100-year-old house played its final chord. Paul Ehrismann was there. He took this photo, and posted it on Facebook:

17-soundview-drive-paul-ehrisman

(Photo/Copyright Paul Ehrismann)

I knew the old owners. They are good friends.

I know the new ones too. They are also friends. They respected the property — and its history. But they could not find a way to save it.

They’ll do right by the home that replaces it. It will fit in well with its neighbors, and the neighborhood.

In the 1920s the voices of Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Robert Merrill and others soared from the living room radio and onto the beach, thrilling neighbors and passersby.

Decades later, Meat Loaf played his next single on the roof deck. No one on the beach could see him there — but they heard him. At the end, everyone applauded.

The house is gone. But those musical memories — and countless others — will remain, long after the final notes have been played.

Remembering Al Brodax

Al Brodax died last week, at 90. The longtime Westporter led quite a life.

He enlisted in the Army in 1943, at at age 17. Wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, he was awarded the Purple Heart. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, then joined the William Morris Agency where he worked on “Your Show of Shows.

Al Brodax (Photo/Carol King)

Al Brodax (Photo/Carol King)

Brodax wrote and produced more than 500 episodes of “Popeye,” “Krazy Kat,” “Barney Google” and “The Beatles” cartoon series.

His greatest fame came as producer and co-writer of “Yellow Submarine.” It won more than 30 awards, including the New York Film Critics Circle in 1969. Brodax later became the animation supervisor for ABC, then a consultant for Marvel Comics.

In 2012 — before his appearance at a Westport Youth Film Festival event — I wrote this piece for “06880”:

More than 45 years after it supposedly happened, whether the Beatles actually visited Murray the K* at his Bluewater Hill home is up for debate.

But no one can deny that without Westporter Al Brodax, “Yellow Submarine” would never have left the dock.

In the late 1960s, Brodax was head of King Features’ motion picture/TV division. He pitched the idea of a full-length film based on the song of the same name to the Beatles. (I’m sure he knew someone who knew someone who…)

Yellow Submarine movieThe Beatles agreed to provide music for the animated film. (It was also a way to fulfill their contractual obligation to United Artists.)

With Brodax serving as co-writer and producer, “Yellow Submarine” was released to critical acclaim in 1968. The next year, it won the New York Film Critics Circle Award.

(Full disclosure: I always thought “Yellow Submarine” was the worst song in the entire Beatles discography. I had no desire to see the film, then or now.)

Brodax went on to produce, write and direct several Emmy-winning TV shows, including “Make a Wish” and “Animals, Animals, Animals.”

In 2004 he wrote “Up Periscope Yellow: The Making of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.” 

Given my antipathy toward the song, I have not read it. Nor do I plan to.

However, I am sure Al Brodax’s death is being mourned by Beatles fans everywhere.

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*Murray the K was a famous DJ.**

**DJ as in “radio disc jockey,” not “someone who plays music at proms, weddings and bar mitzvahs.”

Photo Challenge #100

Last week’s photo challenge was hiding in plain sight.

Only Leigh Gage and Linda Amos knew that the wagon wheel photographed by Seth Schachter stood next to the stone steps at Adams Academy. (Click here for the photo, and all the guesses.)

Seth also sent along a fascinating history of one of Westport’s early 1-room schoolhouses:

“The formidable Ebenezer Adams ran his private Academy from 1837-1867 offering a comprehensive classical curriculum. The academy was a highly regarded educational institute and a credit to the Town. Adams had purchased an existing academy from the Greens Farms Congregational Church after graduating from Yale University.

“He attracted hundreds of students from near and far, the majority of whom continued on to Yale, his alma mater. Many of his students, including E. T. Bedford, went on to attain fame and fortune. Bedford founded the Karo Sugar Company and helped contribute the building of the Westport Library, the YMCA and funds for public schools. Another Adams Academy graduate, William Marcey was United States President Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of State.”

Here’s this week’s photo challenge — our 100th!

(Photo/Jo Shields)

(Photo/Jo Shields)

If you know what Jo Shields’ photo shows — and where she took it — click “Comments” below.

 

 

Stevan Dohanos’ Thanksgiving

Decades ago, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos painted this Thanksgiving scene:

stevan-dohanos-thanksgiving-art

He often used Westport places — and people — as models.

Does anyone know the back story to this one?

But whether you’re a Westport native who remembers Dohanos personally, or you are celebrating your 1st Thanksgiving here: Enjoy the holiday.

We’re thankful you’re here!

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #99

Westport is a waterfront community. But usually we think of Compo Beach, the Saugatuck River, maybe Sherwood Mill Pond.

Last week’s photo challenge was a gorgeous shot of one of Westport’s most underappreciated gems: Nash’s Pond. Taken from Blind Brook Road by Peter Tulupman, it showed trees reflecting a fall scene. But any time of year, Nash’s is lovely and lively.

Dorothy Giannone, Barbara Sherburne, Dan Herman, Joyce Barnhart, Kathryn Sirico, Bruce J. Kent, Sharon Paulsen, Dorothy Fincher, Jeff Giannone and Katherine Golomb — most of whom live on or near the pond — knew instantly where Peter found his photo. Click here to see it, and read all the guesses.

Seth Schachter sends along this week’s challenge. Once again, it’s a fall beauty.

oh-my-06880-november-20-2016

If you think you’ve spotted this somewhere in Westport, click “Comments” below.

Historic House Tour Lives Up To Its Name

You’d think that a Holiday House Tour — sponsored by the Westport Historical Society — would feature, well, historic houses.

That’s what Ed Gerber thought in 2010. He’d just moved into his own historic home on Cross Highway.

Surprised that all the holiday houses he toured were McMansions, he set out to create a real New England event.

His goal was to showcase homes built before 1850 — where today, in 2016, families live comfortably, lovingly and enthusiastically.

Ed — who is now immediate past president of the WHS — has finally done it. Next month’s tour features 5 houses in Westport, 1 in Easton — as well as the very historic Adams Academy.

One of the homes on the Westport Historical Society's 30th annual Holiday House Tour.

One of the homes on the Westport Historical Society’s 30th annual Holiday House Tour.

Only one lies in a designated historic district. All others are owned by families who love the uniqueness of their homes, and make alterations consistent with their style and history.

The 30th annual Holiday House Tour is set for Sunday, December 4 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Tour-goers will enjoy:

  • The circa 1700 John Platt House, one of the oldest in Westport
  • A 1760 home
  • A house with multiple hearths (all ablaze) and a mystery mural in a stairway
  • The former residence of H. Daniel Webster, who designed the Minute Man monument at Compo Beach
  • An expanded renovation with a tavern room
  • Adams Academy, Westport’s 1-room schoolhouse.

All have been adapted for 21st-century living, but pay homage to the past with inspiring decorations and nostalgic holiday cheer.

Home is where the hearth is.

Home is where the hearth is.

We may think of Westport as the teardown capital of the world. But you can kick off the holiday season with a tour of homes that have stood the test of time.

A loooong time. Just think of all the Christmases that 1700 home has seen!

(Tickets for the December 4 Holiday House Tour are $60 in advance, $70 the day of the event. The day before, the Westport Historical Society sponsors a Holiday Soiree at historic Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk [6 to 9 p.m.] with food, drinks, live entertainment, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $150 in advance. Tickets for both events, and more information, is available at www.westporthistory.org, the WHS at 25 Avery Place, or by calling 203-222-1424.)