Category Archives: Looking back

Question Box #8

Our Question Box is once again full.

Unfortunately, I have almost none of the answers. I thought I knew a lot about Westport. Now I see how clueless I am.

So readers: Please chime in with any additional information. Click “Comments” below.

If you’ve got a question for our box, email 06880blog@gmail.com.

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I’m curious why there is a staircase leading down to the Saugatuck River, at the Riverwalk near the Library. Did people used to swim (or bathe?) in it? (Tracy Porosoff)

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

I don’t know, Tracy. I’ve often wondered, though.

And I’ve wondered when was the last time anyone used it.

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There are 2 ancient-looking doors on the west side of Saugatuck Avenue, just north of the railway overpass. They’re unmarked, and wouldn’t make any sense to have there with the traffic whizzing by. One is on the 2nd floor, so they probably pre-date the road there. Any idea what they were for? (Marc Frankel)

No. But I’m sure some longtime Saugatuck residents do. And — to be honest — I’ve never noticed them. The next time I’m stuck in traffic there, I’ll look.

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The photo above brings up my own question: Why do so many drivers not believe the 10′ 11″ warning sign on the Saugatuck Avenue bridge? 

If I drove a truck for a living — or rented a U-Haul, and was responsible for damages — I like to think I’d be a bit more aware than all of those ding-dongs who suddenly come to a screeching, roof-less halt.

And a related query: Why are there so many fewer accidents on the similarly low railroad bridge on South Compo? Does it have something to do with coming off I-95 onto Saugatuck Avenue, and still being in highway mode? Are there not enough warning signs? We may not be able to solve many world problems, but this one seems like it could be fixed.

Or at least cut down to, say, only one accident a month.

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Hooper Road is off Bayberry Lane. It is actually just a driveway with 2 houses at the end: #3 and #4. Where are #1 and #2? And who was Hooper? 

I have no idea. But it sure looks like a nice, quiet, leafy neighborhood.

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My Alvord children and I have just learned there is an Alvord Beach here. Where is it? For which ancestor is it named? And can we claim ownership? We’ve always wanted a private beach. (Lynn Flaster [Alvord] Paul

I know the answer!

Well, part of it, anyway.

Alvord Beach is the official name of the sandy area at Sherwood Island State Park.

I have no idea which Alvord it’s named for, unfortunately. But for the very interesting back story of Connecticut’s first state park, click here.

Alvord Beach, at Sherwood Island State Park.

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I’d like to know about the Lees family — early Westport industrialists.

They have a big cemetery plot at Willowbrook, with gravestones goin back centuries, plus an extension with more recent family members buried across the way.

The grandmother’s beautiful Italianate Victorian house set back on Main Street was in disrepair for many years, but looks well kept up now. Amazing to think that property goes all the way back. (Jeanne Reed)

“06880” has written several times about the Lees family, with great input from Mary Palmieri Gai Jack Whittle. Here are some excerpts:

Lees Pond, Lees Dam and Lees Lane, all in the Richmondville area, are part of the Lees family.

Lees Dam (Photo/Scott Smith)

Lees Manufacturing Company – they ran the cotton twine mill on Richmondville Avenur – was founded in 1814 by John Lees, who was born in 1787 in England, and perhaps a brother Thomas Lees was also a founder. John Lees was married to Martha (b. 1793). They are shown living in Westport in the 1850 US census, with their two youngest sons, George and Henry.

Edward M. Lees (Courtesy of Dale Call)

Edward M. Lees (born c. 1832) appeared in both the 1860 and 1870 US censuses with his wife Caroline. In the 1860 census Edward’s occupation was “blacksmith,” while in the 1870 census it was “law student.” Edward was appointed postmaster for Westport on April 7, 1867. He died in 1909, and is buried alongside his wife in Willowbrook cemetery.

Edward Lees also fought in the Civil War. He joined Fairfield’s 17th regiment too, ending the war as a 2nd lieutenant in Company K. He was wounded at Gettysburg, and captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

As far as precise Main Street Westport addresses of the Lees are concerned,  Robert Lees (b. 1855) and his wife Lucy lived “on Main street near Myrtle Ave” in Westport in the 1919 Westport City Directory. Robert’s occupation was listed as “cotton twine manufacturing.”

Robert died around 1919 but Lucy continued to live in Westport, with her address listed as “171 Main St.” beginning with the 1925 Westport City Directory and continuing through the 1933 directory (when Lucy was 83 or so; she may have died soon thereafter). (NOTE: Street numbers may have been renumbered at some point.)

Meanwhile, beginning with the 1910 census John A. Lees (b. 1875) and his wife Margaret Sniffen Lees lived next door at 169 Main Street, along with their son John A. Lees Jr. (b. 1905). According to the 1917 City directory John A Lees Sr. was the president of Lees Manufacturing, and Charles Sniffen (his wife’s father? brother?) was shown as the manager. Sniffen Lane was developed much later, near Richmondville Avenue.

The Mill on Richmondville Avenue is now being converted into luxury housing.

John A. Lees Sr. and Margaret moved into Lucy Lees’ house after she died, because they are shown living at 171 Main St. in the 1940 census. At that point John A. Lees Jr. was married (Jane) and from 1931 – 1939 living at 193 Main Street.

John A. Lees Jr. (who also ran the company) and Jane eventually moved to Turkey Hill Road South in the 1950s. John A. Lees Jr. died on April 24, 1966.

The old Lees House at 257 Main State was (finally) restored by the owner. The last Lees in Westport — a woman who never married — lived there until she was in her 90s.

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Friday Flashback #316

In the 1960s and ’70s, Staples High School buzzed with educational innovation.

There were English courses in things like filmmaking, and an Alternatives program for students who learned in non-traditional ways. The Staples Governing Board gave students, teachers and administrators a powerful voice in nearly every aspect of school decision-making.

But radical new ideas were not limited to the high school.

In 1969, Eric Bosch was a 9th grader at Bedford Junior High (today, the building is Saugatuck Elementary School). Principal Ken Brummel had an idea: Allow teachers to teach any course they wanted, in any area that intrigued them.

Allow students to choose any courses they wanted, across all disciplines. There were no restrictions. If they wanted, they could take 7 classes of phys. ed.

And, oh yeah: Letter grades were optional. Every instructor could provide any type of evaluation they wanted: “Outstanding, Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory,” for example, or a written set of comments.

Eric Bosch’s course evaluation for “Nutrition.”

Students also graded themselves.

The “Modular Teaching Experiment” began that spring, for the final 6 weeks of the marking period.

The other day — more than 50 years later — Bosch found material from those experimental days.

He did not choose 7 periods of gym. Instead, he took:

  • “Nutrition,” (taught by Don DiGennaro)
  • “Tube Talk” (Edward Elendausky)
  • “Vampires Unlimited” (Annette Silverstone)
  • “Keeping up with the News” (Karley Higgins)
  • “Metalworking” (David Conrad_
  • “The Athlete” (Ray Comeau)
  • “Track” (Ed Hall).

Course description for “The Athlete,” taught by Ray Comeau.

Looking back, Bosch finds the 6-week session “mind blowing.” It was also — well, different.

When he was applying to Clark University 3 years later, an interviewer asked, “What the hell was going on with your 4th quarter in 8th grade?”

Eric Bosch’s 4th quarter report card included grades from traditional and experimental courses. “French was not my strong suit,” he says.

But, Bosch adds , he is “grateful that Westport’s teachers and administrators were willing to try new approaches to teaching. While some college admissions personnel might not have liked it, isn’t that the price you pay for being on the leading edge of anything?”

Early in his first year of college, Bosch recalls, he told his parents he was more prepared than many of his classmates.

The Bedford Experiment ended. But Westport schools — in particular, Staples — continued to innovate.

And what happened to Ken Brummel, the BJHS principal who pushed the envelope?

A few years later, he was named Westport’s superintendent of schools.

(“Friday Flashback” is one of “06880”‘s regular features. To help support your local blog, please click here.) 

Bedford Junior High School, back in the day.

Roundup: Crosswalks, Branches, Lanternflies …

Connecticut’s Department of Transportation begins work next year on several local crosswalks — including the notorious “worst intersection in the state” (Routes 1 and 33, aka Post Road West, Riverside Avenue and Wilton Road).

The DOT will also work on:

  • Route 33 (Wilton Road) at Merritt Parkway Connector and Spring Hill Road
  • Route 57 (Weston Road) at Broad Street and Good Hill Road (Weston)
  • Route 33 (Saugatuck Avenue) at I-95 southbound ramps
  • Route 1 (Post Road East) at Playhouse Square Shopping Center
  • Route 1 (Post Road West) at Sylvan Road
  • Route 1 (Post Road East) at Turkey Hill Roads North and South
  • Sherwood Island Connector at Greens Farms Road and Post Road East.

The good news: Upgrades include countdown pedestrian indicators, accessible pedestrian push buttons, and “concurrent pedestrian phasing.”

The bad news: There are no actual traffic, sightline or other improvements.

The timetable: Design plans are expected to be completed in February, with advertising for construction in April.

So don’t expect to cross at the green quite yet.

Upgrades (of a sort) are coming here (“soon”).

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Speaking of the Post Road: Pam Kesselman sends along this photo of dead branches towering over Compo Road South, near the Route 1 intersection:

(Photo/Pam Kesselman)

She worries that they could fall on a driver or pedestrian, and hopes the town takes notice.

Tree maintenance there is (I believe) the responsibility of the state (state roads) or the owner of Compo Acres Shopping Center.

At any rate, Pam is not the first “06880” reader to have noticed these dead branches recently.

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Last week, when Y’s Men acting gardening chair Chuck Greenlee learned that a spotted lanternfly was spotted at the Westport Community Gardens, he did 2 things.

He sent a photo to “06880”:

Spotted lanternfly (Photo/JP Montillier)

And he reported it to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station (reportSLF@ct.gov).

They quickly replied: “Thank you for your inquiry concerning spotted lanternfly. The insect you have photographed is indeed a SLF. Your town is already known to be infested. For tips on dealing with SLF, please click here. Should you find any more insects, please kill them immediately with any means at your disposal. Thank you again for your interest.”

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Speaking of the environment: Tickets are on sale now for Earthplace’s famed Woodside Bash fundraiser. It’s October 1 (7 p.m.), under the stars and beside a firepit.

Though it’s adults-only, kids are welcome the following day (October 2, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), for the also-annual Fall Festival. Earthplace buzzes with a corn pool, obstacle course, climbing wall, food trucks and more. Click here for tickets.

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Last week’s story on Ed Capasse’s star turn as a Staples High School marching band member/Saturday Evening Post cover model cast a new light on Stevan Dohanos’ famous 1946 painting.

Ed Capasse is in the upper left.

It used to be sold at the Westport Historical Society. Now it’s available only online.

But — as former Westporter/longtime Oregonian/avid “06880” reader Robert Gerrity discovered — there are plenty of places to purchase it. Among them:

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Speaking of posters: Yesterday’s music memories from Woodstock — the “lotta freaks!” festival that ended 53 years ago (!) today — brought an email from longtime Westporter Matt Murray.

Plus this photo:

Matt explains:

“This is an original. I worked for the guys who started and funded the concert (Joel Roseman and the late John Roberts). They were partners in the NYC recording studio, Mediasound.

“I was an assistant engineer and gopher (go for this, go for that). Another guy and I saw a stack of these in their office. We asked if we could have a few. Sure!

“Still have ’em, 47 years later.”

Matt adds: “For the studio’s Christmas party, leftover Woodstock tickets were used as bar chits. Being youthful, I used mine for drinks. The bartender tore them in half. A fellow worker thought better of that idea, and hung on to his tickets. Smart person.”

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Today’s Entitled Parking post comes from already-narrow Railroad Place:

(Photo/Karen Kramer)

No, that’s not a parking space. And it never was, even back in the day when that very cool Camaro rolled off the line.

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August is usually a very green month in Westport (though the summer-long lack of rain makes it a bit browner than usual).

Soon, we’ll be awash in a gorgeous palette of leaf-changing colors.

Meanwhile, there’s this beautiful “Westport … Naturally” display, spotted by Fred Cantor on Hillspoint Road:

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

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And finally … August 17, 1969 marked the final day of Woodstock. Among the performers then:

Crosby Stills Nash & Young played that day too. This song later became an anthem for the event:

New Residents Will Change Westport. For Good?

Westport is changing.

Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of new residents have poured into town.

Some are singles, renting apartments springing up in the past few years on the Post Road and in Saugatuck.

Some are older folks, moving to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

But most are young: men and women in their 30s and early 40s, with kids in elementary school, preschool, day care or utero.

The influx of newcomers has put Westport at an inflection point. The new arrivals will make their mark on our community. Their influence will be felt for decades to come.

It’s happened before. In the 1950s and ’60s — the post-war, baby boom years — thousands of families descended on Westport. They turned a relatively prosperous, somewhat quiet town into a more affluent, very lively one.

The men and women who came here from all parts of the country — many transferred by companies like IBM and Procter & Gamble — jumped into civic activities. They ran for office, ran PTAs, ran Little League teams, ran around making their mark on the town.

They crossed the political spectrum, and often crossed swords. All cared passionately about making this place their home.

With help from the “Connecticut Yankees” and Saugatuck residents who had been here for years they built schools, stores, a synagogue. They bought Longshore. They brought creativity, energy and passion to every project they undertook.

In 1959, a developer wanted to buy the failing Longshore Country Club, and build 180 homes on the land. In just 19 days, the town bought it as a municipal club.

Some left soon, transferred by their company to somewhere else in America. Some stayed. A few are still here.

The newcomers of the 2020s are the same age as those who preceded them, all those years ago. They come now for a different reason: he pandemic. This time, nearly all are from Manhattan and Brooklym.

But they come with the same hopes and dreams my parents had. They want space. They want opportunities for their kids. They want a community, not just a town.

And they want to get involved, to make those dreams come true.

I am excited and energized by this wave of new Westporters. They have chosen this place for the right reasons — even if they can’t always put those reasons into words.

“It feels different than other towns,” they say over and over. “I don’t know — there’s just something about it …”

They appreciate the schools. They admire the beach. They discover the Library, the Levitt, the Playhouse. They explore the nooks and crannies that those of us who have lived here for years take for granted.

Part of the Children’s Playground at the Leonard Schine Preserve — one more often-overlooked jewel in Westport’s crown.

They want to know our history. They want to know how we got to be who and what we are. And they want to take what is here, and make it even better.

There will be battles over what that means, for sure. The Westport that the Connecticut Yankees and tight-knit Saugatuck neighbors loved — in their own, different ways — at times clashed with the changes the newcomers brought.

It will be the same in the years ahead. Our new neighbors look with fresh eyes at everything from downtown and Compo to the way we run meetings, and how we trim trees.

Westport will change. It’s inevitable. It always has, and it always should.

I won’t agree with all the changes. No one ever does.

But hey, this is not “my” town. It’s “our” town.

The next generation is ready to lead. The fathers work from home, at least part of the week; they spend more time in the community than my parents’ and peers did.

Mothers have always been the backbone of our volunteers. They were always intelligent leaders; today’s moms bring the added experience of years in the professional workplace.

I know I have described yesterday and today in broad, simplistic terms. Many other factors will determine the future of Westport — who moves into all the new apartments, for example, and the social and political trends whipsawing our entire nation.

But the bottom line is clear (to me, anyway): A new generation is here. They came for a community, and they’re eager to get involved in it. They’re making their mark already — and will continue to do so — in many important ways.

The future is not in good hands.

It’s in great ones.

Past generations had the Ice Cream Parlor. The current one has Saugatuck Sweets. Memories are made at both places.

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Ed Capasse’s Band

News of Ed Capasse’s death this week brought tributes from many quarters.

In his 91 years, the lifelong Westporter touched many lives. He was a Board of Finance chair, an active volunteer with the Westport Weston Family Y and Assumption Church, and a scrupulously fair, generous attorney.

He made his mark locally, for sure. But for one week in 1946, Ed’s face was seen in nearly every American home.

A few weeks earlier, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos invited 5 students from the 40-member Staples High School band to model for a Saturday Evening Post cover. He wanted to show a marching band.

The 5 musicians posed individually in Dohanos’ home studio. Each one earned $30 — $400, in today’s money — to sit still for a half hour, while pretending to play brass instruments.

What made the cover special was that every band member looked not straight ahead, at the director, but off to the side — where the football game was taking place. That action was reflected in the tuba.

Ed Capasse was on the top left, playing his trumpet.

The Saturday Evening Post — for which Dohanos drew 125 covers — was one of the most popular magazines in America. That October 19, 1946 issue, smack in the middle of football season, ended up in millions of homes.

Years later, Donahos donated the oil painting to what is now the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collections. For decades, it hung in the Staples band room. Then it moved to the principal’s office.

Former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — a big Stevan Dohanos fan — commandeered it for his office. Later, it hung elsewhere in Town Hall.

Today it awaits a new location.

The work — called “The Band Played On” — gained new attention in 2001, when Staples Players staged “Music Man.” The poster showed 5 current actors, mimicking the painting.

Staples Players’ 2001 poster …

Fifteen years later, Players reprised the musical. Directors David Roth and Kerry Long redid the poster too.

… and the 2016 version.

Two years earlier, WestPAC had raised funds to restore the painting to its full brilliance. It was displayed proudly in the Staples auditorium, throughout the play’s run.

In 2016, theater-goers admired Stevan Dohanos’ painting in the Staples High School lobby.

For over three-quarters of a century, Dohanos’ work has been a part of Westport history.

Trumpet player Ed Capasse is gone now. But his — and Dohanos’ — band plays on.

Ed Capasse, in the 1948 Staples High School yearbook.

(Hat tip: Kathleen Motes Bennewitz) 

(“06880” covers art, history, sports, Staples, and everything else — but we need reader support. Please click here to contribute.)

Roundup: Mill Pond Fence, Betty Lou Cummings, Jackopierce …

Pristine views of Sherwood Mill Pond are back!

Fencing has been removed from the pedestrian pathway leading from the Old Mill parking lot to Compo Cove.

It was installed in December 2020, during water monitoring tests.

Signs warning against jumping into the pond near the tidal gates remain.

But the decades-old ritual — a rite of passage for many Westporters — still goes strong. (Hat tip: Oliver Radwan)

Fencing has been removed from Sherwood Mill Pond. The black poles remain. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Have you heard about Westport’s scavenger hunt?

Hidden around town are 18 pieces of art, all inspired by town monuments, buildings and more that are part of the bicentennial quilt.

It’s part of a display in the Westport Museum of History & Culture. The show — in conjunction with MoCA Westport and CAMP Gallery — features textiles and other quilt-inspired artifacts. The hunt runs through August 20. Click here for details. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)

1st Selectwoman and Police Chief Foti Koskinas hunt for clues. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

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Happy 88th birthday to former 2nd Selectwoman, Apple Festival founder and organizer, super-involved and multi-tasked civic volunteer, and all-around wonder woman Betty Lou Cummings!

She celebrated yesterday with her husband Tom. Not pictured below: all her tens of thousands of Westport fans.

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When Cary Pierce was a student at Staples High School, he got his first big break.

Hall & Oates failed to appear for a 1985 concert at Longshore — to be fair, they never signed a contract — so Cary’s band, Pseudo Blue, entertained instead. (Click here to read all about that strange day in Westport history.)

Cary went on to graduate from Staples in 1987. He kept playing guitar, and singing.

For nearly 35 years, Cary and his Southern Methodist University classmate Jack O’Neill have fronted Jackopierce. The band has shared stages with Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Matchbox Twenty and Widespread Panic. They’ve performed in clubs and at colleges across America — and before 500,000 people at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Next Monday (August 15, 6 p.m.), Jackopierce comes to Milestone restaurant in Georgetown. The venue is small, so tickets will go quickly. Click here to purchase, and for more information.

No word on whether Hall & Oates will sit in too.

Jackopierce: Cary Pierce (right) and Jack O’Neill.

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Michael Scott crushed it.

The Staples High School Class of 2011 graduate — and star on the Wreckers state championship team — finished Juneau’s Ironman Alaska yesterday in an astonishing 10 hours, 18 minutes and 48 seconds.

He ignored stunning views to swim 2.4 miles in Auke Lake in 36:33. He biked 112 miles along the Glacier Highway in 5:49.09. Then he ran 26.2 miles through the lush Mendenhall Valley rainforest in 3:29:42.

That was good (great!) for 23rd place, out of 733 competitors — and 3rd out of 36, in his men’s age 25-29 age group.

Congratulations, Mikey. Now take a well=deserved rest!

Michael Scott

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Lifelong Westporter Anthony Gilbertie died last week, from complications of Parkinson’s. He was 84.

He was the 5th member of the Gilbertie family to serve on the RTM.

Anthony was devoted to Assumption Church, where he was a cantor for 13 years. Most recently, he was a US Postal Service carrier in Weston. Anthony enjoyed history, current events and the New York Yankees.

He was predeceased by all his siblings: John Jr, Mario, Linda Gilbertie-Bullard and Michael, and baby siblings Thomas and Gloria.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Diane Taylor-Gilbertie; children, Tom (Anne). Peter (Dee) and Nancy Gilbertie-Loshuk, and grandchildren Griffin Gilbertie, William Gilbertie, Thomas Gilbertie, Christopher Gilbertie and Jack Loshuk.

Anthony’s wake will be held Friday (August 12, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Harding Funeral Home). A Mass of Christian Burial will follow there at 11 a.m., followed by burial at Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family asks that all attendees wear masks, as some family members are immunocompromised.

In lieu of flowers, donation may be made to Assumption Church or The Parkinson’s Foundation.

Anthony Gilbertie

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Longtime Westporter Jeanne Wylie Crist died last week. She was 99 years old.

Jeanne married her Albany high school sweetheart, Robert “Mike” Crist in 1947 after working with the Naval Department in New York City. Two sons were born there before they moved to Westport, where Karen was born in 1956.

They lived in Westport for nearly 50 years before moving to Lenox, Massachusetts to be close to their daughter in 2011, when Mike’s health faltered.

They were members of Saugatuck Congregational Church, loved walking Compo Beach and cherished many friends. In retirement they purchased a cottage on Lake Bomoseen in Vermont, where Mike had enjoyed his childhood. Jeanne and Mike also traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Jeanne was preceded by Mike in 2011, and their son, Robert “Lee” Crist in 1983 and Jeffrey Crist in 2017. She is survived by her daughter Karen (Matthew Miller), grandchildren Chas (Ashley), Geoffrey (Michelle) and Kaylee Wylie,  and great-grandchildren Charley, Nuala, Declan, Wylie and Penelope.

A graveside service will be held at Evergreen Cemetery in Westport, where she will be interred with her beloved Mike and 2 sons. To share memories and stories click here,

Jeanne Wylie Crist

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Tracy Porosoff thinks this dramatic photo shows a wasp beetle eating a cicada at the Compo Beach baseball fence.

Whatever it is, it’s a perfect way to start off our “Westport … Naturally” week.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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And finally … speaking of Jackopierce (as we were above): Here’s a little preview of their Milestene show:

(Keep the music coming! Please click here to support “06880.”)

Roundup: Ted Diamond, Twiddle, Epstein …

In the days following Ted Diamond’s death at 105, Westporters have shared memories of the World War II hero, former 2nd Selectman and 67-year Westport friend and neighbor.

Scott Smith shares something else: a pair of videos.

In 2010, Smith chaired the town’s 50th-anniversary celebration of the purchase of Longshore. As part of the event, he conducted a series of interviews with longtime residents.

In this clip, Diamond describes how he and 1st Selectwoman Jacqueline Heneage worked to save the Inn at Longshore:

Smith also interviewed Diamond and Victor DeMaria about their Longshore memories:

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Speaking of videos: A capacity crowd welcomed Twiddle last weekend, for a 2-day Levitt Pavilion festival.

They were not disappointed. The Vermont-based jam band put on great shows.

And Twiddle was not disappointed with Westport.

Yesterday on Facebook they said: “Still thinking about how incredible last weekend was at Levitt Pavilion in Westport, CT. So much love for everyone who came out and joined us. See you tonight in Wisconsin for Phlowfest.”

They also uploaded a fantastic video of their shows to social media. Their videographer captured the music, the audience, and some killer drone footage too.

We’re not quite Woodstock or Newport. But it makes us look pretty damn close. Click here to see.

Screen shot from the Levitt Pavilion Twiddle Festival.

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Speaking of the Levitt Pavilion: There are many things to worry about in Westport.

Having a concert stage named for a convicted sex offender and disgraced financier is not one of them.

At 9 p.m. last night, I got an email from a worried Westporter. She said: “This stage name for Levitt Pavilion is a disgrace for Westport. Can you investigate? Just trying to enjoy a nice night at Levitt Pavillon. My visitors are very concerned about my home. EPSTEIN?”

It’s okay.

The handsome stage was named — and dedicated — in 2015. It honors Geri and David Epstein, in recognition of their $500,000 gift during the renovation of the outdoor entertainment center.

Relax. Chill. Enjoy the show!

Tens of thousands of people enjoy the Levitt Pavilion every year. I Before last night, I don’t think anyone thought the stage was named for Jeffrey Epstein. (Photo/JC Martin)

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“Westport … Naturally” has featured ospreys on the Post Road by Fresh Market, and at Longshore, Sherwood Mill Pond and Burying Hill Beach.

There’s osprey on Cockenoe Island too. Carl McNair snapped this photo of the much-less-noticed raptor:

(Photo/Carl McNair)

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And finally … on this date in 1789, the US established the Department of War.

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Classical Music World Watches Westport

From August 11 to 13, the eyes of the piano world will be on Westport.

Will we notice?

After a 2-year COVID absence, the Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition returns. The winner — one of the top young pianists on the planet — will earn $10,000. The other 3 finalists receive $2,500 each.

The 4 finalists (clockwise from upper left): Nathan Cheung, Katherine Benson, Artem Kuznetsov, Aaron Kurz.

The musicians will compete at MoCA, on the Hamburg Steinway “D” piano that once graced the Carnegie Hall stage. Sandwiched around the performances and awards ceremony are master classes at the Westport Library, plus a lecture on Nathaniel Dett — the pioneering yet long-forgotten Black composer whose work will be featured in the competition.

The international event has a strong local flavor, too. Staples High School 1983 (and Yale University and King’s College Cambridge) graduate Alexander Platt serves as artistic director. Longtime resident, internationally renowned pianist (and 1986 Hermanns winner) Frederic Chiu chairs the jury.

This is Big Time. So how come you haven’t heard of it?

You should have. The Heida Hermanns Competition is 50 years old. It alternates every other year, between pianists and vocalists. Both events draw enormous attention, in the classical music world.

The venue and sponsors have changed. It bounced for years between the Westport Arts Center’s various homes, and Town Hall. Now, MoCA has taken the reins. Hopefully, they can give it the press it deserves.

The public needs to learn a bit about its namesake, too.

Born in Germany in 1906, Heida Hermanns studied with some of Europe’s top musicians. She debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic at 18, then toured Euroope.

She married Artur Holde, a noted music critic and author. In 1936, with Nazi power on the rise, they emigrated to the US.

Hermanns made her debut at New York’s Town Hall in 1942. She gave annual recitals by composers outside the mainstream repertory, and performed often with John Corigliano. (The New York Philharmonic concertmaster lived in Westport. He’s buried in Assumption Cemetery.)

Heida Hermanns and John Corigliano (father of today’s composer).

A few years later, Hermanns and her husband moved here. The couple liked the town’s “eclectic, liberal, creative, artistic” reputation, Platt says. They quickly became involved in its cultural life.

She recorded frequently with Ruth Steinkraus Cohen (the musician and UN activist, for whom the Post Road bridge is named).

Hermanns and Holde formed Friends of Music and Performers of Connecticut (now called the Connecticut Alliance for Music). She also supported the Levitt Pavilion. When the Westport Arts Center was built in the 1980s, she underwrote the Artur Holde Concer tHall.

Hermanns died in 1995. But her support of young musicians lives on.

Musicians like Chiu and Platt are paying it forward. One way is by carrying on Hermanns’ legacy of highlighting overlooked musicians.

Nathaniel Dett

Artistic director Platt first learned of composer, organist, pianist, choral director and music professor Nathaniel Dett while in college. Platt is thrilled to program Dett’s music. Each finalist will include some of his work, as part of their recital.

“This will be the greatest Heida Hermanns Piano Competition ever.”

MoCA executive director Ruth Mannes, her staff and board are fully behind the event. The 3 American and 1 Russian competitors have a packed schedule — and should draw packed houses.

They should certainly enjoy conducting master classes at the Library, and playing at MoCA. As for the piano itself: there’s nothing better than that Steinway.

“It’s exactly what Heida would have played on in Vienna,” Platt says. “It will be like she’s back here with us.”

(Click here for tickets and more information on the Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition.)

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Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

The Last Movie Stars

“The Last Movie Stars” is a fascinating 6-part documentary on HBO Max.

Beginning Thursday (July 21), stream, it documents Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s decades-long careers — and partnerships, as spouses and actors.  

Ethan Hawkes is the director. Paul and Joanne’s youngest daughter, Clea, recommended him for the job.

He had great material to work with: transcripts from 1991 interviews Newman commissioned, with fellow actors, directors, even his first wife. He wanted a record to show that his life had not been charmed; that not everything came easily.

The interviews were taped. But Newman later destroyed the tapes at “the dump” — presumably, the one right here in Westport.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, on what looks like their Westport property (Photo/Dennis Jackson, courtesy of “CBS This Morning”

I learned all that, and much more, from a 10-minute preview today on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Ben Mankiewicz gives viewers a thorough look into the series. It includes mentions of the couple’s professional and personal difficulties, and Newman’s drinking,

But it also mentions their astonishing philanthropy (they gave away between $800 million and $1 billion, Clea estimates), and their deep love for each other. It grew even stronger after Woodward’s dementia diagnosis and — 10 days later — Newman’s own, of terminal cancer.

For decades, people here thought of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward not as Hollywood stars, but as Westport neighbors.

“The Last Movie Stars” will show the rest of the country why we were so glad they were here. (Click below for the “CBS Sunday Morning” story. Hat tip: Dennis Jackson)

Remembering Sheila Murphy Foster — And Her Post Office

In 2011, the post office moved from its spacious, classical and long-time home downtown (now Design Within Reach, for all who have moved here since).

Just before relocating to cramped, parking-impaired Playhouse Square, I wrote: 

When the post office moves into its new Playhouse Square digs a few months from now, it will likely be without fanfare.

They’re downsizing, after all; you don’t cut a ribbon at some spare, utilitarian space.

It’s a far cry from 1936, when Westport’s shining “new” post office opened on (appropriately) the Post Road.

Sheila Murphy Foster remembers that ceremony like it was yesterday. She should: She cut the ribbon.

Sheila Murphy Foster

Sheila was back in town the other day. She’s lived in Florida since graduating from Staples in 1948 — but she’s 82 years young, and still loves Westport.

Her roots are deep. Her own mother Mary is a Staples grad — in fact, Sheila says, Mary helped develop the school lunch program, and came up with the name “Inklings” for the school newspaper.

Sheila’s father John commuted to New York City for his job as an accountant with American Standard. He had 3 children, and when his wife got sick he needed a job closer to Westport.

John Murphy was active in Democratic politics — locally and nationally — and knew Postmaster General James Farley. Soon, President Roosevelt appointed Murphy as Westport’s postmaster.

“It was a plum job,” Sheila says.

The job was even better because a new post office was about to be dedicated. The WPA project replaced what Sheila calls a “ratty building” across the street.

“It was the middle of the Depression,” she recalls. “Things were bad. Having the government build a new building was good. Thank heaven for the WPA.”

So one day in 1936, 7-year-old Sheila stood on the broad steps of the “magnificent edifice” and cut the ceremonial ribbon. Well, she tried to — the oversized scissors were too big, so her father the postmaster finished the job.

Sheila Murphy and her father, cutting the post office ribbon.

He had a lot to do besides pose for photos. Mail was delivered twice a day back then. Westporters — many of whom did not have telephones —  communicated with friends by mailing postcards back and forth, one delivery following the next.

The Westport Post Office, in 2011. Trees now obscure the front of the WPA-era building.

John lived only a couple of more years. He died very young — as did his wife.  From age 9 on, Sheila was raised by her aunt.

Sheila remembers her Imperial Avenue home — near the intersection with Bridge Street — as a wonderful former onion barn. There was sledding in winter, and playing on a nearby 10-acre estate. Owner Rose O’Neill had already earned fame as the creator of the Kewpie doll.

In town, Sheila took dance lessons at what is now Toquet Hall.

Though she stayed in Florida after college, Sheila returned regularly to Westport — with her 3 sons.

Sheila Murphy Foster outside the Postmaster’s office. It probably looked the same when her father had the job.

On her most recent visit, she stopped by the post office she dedicated 75 years ago.

How did she feel when she heard the building has been sold — taking with it three-quarters of a century of Westport history?

“I felt bad,” she says. “It still looks like a beautiful building.

“But it’s old,” she admits. “Maybe it’s too expensive to renovate.”

The clerks — and postmaster — may move to Playhouse Square. But one thing will never change, Sheila Murphy insists.

“It’s always been my post office.”

Sheila Murphy Foster died peacefully Monday evening at her Miami home, surrounded by her family. She was 92 years old.

Sheila Murphy Foster

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