Category Archives: Places

Weekend In Westport: Pandemic Edition

Spring is here. And here’s what Westporters saw this weekend:

As always, the Minute Man saves Westport. (Photo/Bruce Becker)

The Senior Center is closed — but open for beauty. (Photo/Molly Alger)

As he did in life, Cameron Bruce provides a ray of sunshine. His garden is at the corner of Old Hill Farms and Winding Lane. (Photo/AnneMarie Breschard)

Walking — carefully apart — on Canal Road. (Photo/Gene Borio)

Park Lane (Photo/Molly Alger)

Baron’s South (Photo/Molly Alger)

Sue Terrace (Photo/Molly Alger)

Saugatuck Shores (Photo/Gene Borio)

Waiting to meet, properly socially distanced at Winslow Park. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Unable To Mourn: A Cemetery Confronts The Coronavirus

Joseph Ariale led quite a life.

A project manager at GE Capital and longtime Norwalker, he did it all: handing out flags at the Memorial Day parade, volunteering at the Oyster Festival, supporting children’s organizations.

He was a golfer and tennis player; a kind, generous and spirited man; a devoted grandfather who never missed a dance recital, sports game or any other event.

Joseph died last week, after battling cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. As a Korean War veteran, he was entitled to a full military funeral. A bugler should have played “Taps,” and presented an American flag to his family.

But Joseph died in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of being mourned by hundreds of family members, friends and fans, there was no celebration of life.

Following CDC guidelines, his burial at Willowbrook Cemetery was limited to 8 people. Pallbearers wore N95 masks.

Mourners and cemetery officials at Joseph Ariale’s burial on Friday.

The coronavirus has changed the way everyone lives. Now it’s affecting what happens even after we die.

Joseph’s final goodbye on Friday was not the only one at the beautiful cemetery on North Main Street, opposite Cross Highway.

A few hours earlier, another tiny crowd said goodbye to Connie Wilds. She earned 2 master’s degrees. She served Western Connecticut State University for over 30 years, as a professor of black studies and dean of student affairs. She sang in her church choir, and was a founder of the Stamford Afro-Democratic Committee.

Her entombment was witnessed by only 5 people — including funeral staff. That left only her son William, and his wife Daisy, to bid their final farewell.

“This is surreal,” William said. “We can’t give my mother a proper sendoff.”

From left: William Wilds; Daisy Wilds and funeral director Karen Graves-Medley of Stamford, at Connie Wilds’ entombment.

Even more sorrowfully, the few mourners must stay 6 feet apart. They can’t hug, or offer a literal shoulder to cry on.

“This is so difficult,” says Danny Amoruccio, manager/sexton of Willowbrook Cemetery Association.  “They’re being stopped from doing what comes naturally to all of us: grieving together.”

Relatives and friends understand, he says. But at a time of intense pain, it’s one more burden to bear.

Daily operations at the cemetery have been whittled down to just sales of property, and scheduling of burials and entombments.

One section of the vast cemetery.

All communication is initiated by phone. There is minimal contact with the family.

The many other usual queries — where is someone buried? can I buy a monument? — are deferred to May, or done impersonally by phone or email.

Many families call just to verify their property. “They want the comfort of knowing that their deed and final plans are in place,” the manager says.

But Amoruccio still has work to do. In fact, recently — during what is normally a very quiet quarter — sales of graves spiked significantly, to 40 per month.

Families are securing property for their elderly parents — or themselves. They tell him directly: “With the coronavirus, we have to be prepared. We don’t want to run around at the last minute, taking care of final arrangements.”

When Amoruccio meets a family to sell property, he now speaks to them — no more than 2 people — outside their car. They follow him to view it, from the comfort of their vehicle.

If they see a property they’d like to purchase, he heads to his office to write up a contract. The family never goes inside. That once-comforting moment is gone too.

The newest section at Willowbrook Cemetery.

This month, Willowbrook completed an extension of its property. Earlier they bought a house on Richmondville Avenue, and razed it. They can now accommodate 500 additional burials, or 100 cremations.

So far, the cemetery has served one family whose loved one succumbed to COVID-19. They’ve received one additional call about a deceased person with the disease.

“We don’t treat them any differently,” Amoruccio notes.

He feels very badly for what mourners go through during this pandemic. “You see the frustration in their faces when it comes to the restriction of mourners” — once 10, now down to 5.

“But they seem to understand it’s for their own good. I hear in Italy, 2 family members are allowed at the burial. Or none — just the funeral director and cemetery staff.”

He is grateful that Willowbrook’s gates are open 24/7. Mourners can visit loved ones’ graves any time. Those who are barred from the burial have, at least, that chance to grieve.

And though dogs are not allowed on the property, Amoruccio sees a dramatic increase in walkers. “Visitors are always welcome to enjoy the peace and solitude here at Willowbrook,” he says.

The cemetery’s “daffodil mile” — the gorgeous rows of flowers fronting North Main Street — will bloom soon. The dozens of flowering trees — which always herald springtime in that part of town — will be even more beautiful and welcome this year.

Willowbrook Cemetery — established in 1847, and partly designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — is a non-profit community resource, Amoruccio notes.

“No one wants to think about an increase in deaths in our area,” he says. “But for me personally, I feel valuable right now. More than ever, we can be available for families at the worst of times.”

Even if death in the age of coronavirus robs those families of one of humanity’s most basic needs: saying a final goodbye.

Gambling, Gaming And The Teenage Brain

Gambling is a tough illness.

It takes a gambler’s money, and pride. It’s got the highest suicide rate of any addiction.

It affects a gambler’s entire family, friends and colleagues.

And gambling impacts not just people with too little money to begin with. Connecticut has 50,000 problem gamblers. Plenty live in places like Westport.

We have neighbors who spend their weekends at casinos, where they’re treated like kings.

We have kids who are addicted to gambling via video games. It starts when they buy treasure chests, with their parents’ credit cards. Some become binge gamers.

Rob Zuckerman knows all that, and much more. He’s a recovering gambling addict.

A 1968 graduate of Staples High School with a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he took over his father’s business after his death in a 1978 automobile accident.

Rob moved the studio to South Norwalk in 1981 — an early pioneer in the new SoNo real estate venture. He ran it successfully for 20 years, before relocating to Fairfield.

During the 2008 recession, and with the rise of smartphones and other technology, the photography business changed dramatically.

In 2009 his son Ben fell off his bike, and was run over by a UPS driver. In the year it took him to recover, Rob got addicted to online gambling.

He got himself clean, and has not gambled in a decade. Along the way, he learned a lot about the disease — and his own compulsive side.

He credits much of his recovery to Renaissance — a Norwalk-based treatment center — and Gamblers Anonymous in Darien.

Rob Zuckerman

To pay it forward, Rob became one of the state’s 5 peer counselor for people with gambling issues. He answers hotline calls, escorts people to GA meetings, and helps with gamblers’ denial, guilt, remorse and anger however he can.

Rob is also a recovery coach at Renaissance.

Now — with plans rolling along for a casino in Bridgeport — Rob wants Westporters to be alert to the dangers of gambling for young people.

Rob is proud that Renaissance is sponsoring a talk on “Youth, Internet Habits and Mental Health.”

Set for Sunday, March 1 (12:30 to 2 p.m., Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road), it features Dr. Paul Weigle. An adolescent psychiatrist, he’ll speak about how gaming and screen habits impact physical and mental health of children.

The church’s addictions recovery ministry is a co-sponsor of the event.

He’s seen the effects of gambling first-hand. Rob has seen too the work that can be done — by community organizations and his own church — to help with recovery from addictions.

He’s betting this is an important event, for anyone who lives with or works with young people.

Regan’s Good Westport Poetry

Regan Good never expected to work at Bridgewater.

Her father was noted civil rights journalist Paul Good. Her mother Ruth was a poet. A graduate of Barnard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — and before that, a Staples Players actor and Orphenians singer, in the high school’s class of 1985 — Regan was always passionate about words.

After “the starving years” as a freelance writer, editor and fact-checker — plus a stint in publishing at St. Martin’s Press — Regan joined a Manhattan hedge fund. They were hiring artists, to “flesh out their culture.” She worked in recruitment.

That led to Bridgewater.

Regan Good

She calls her experience “a Randian nightmare.” She made $750 a day — “which a poet can’t pass up” — but, she says, “I can’t even tell you what I did there.”

Regan lasted a year and a half, at the largest hedge fund in the world

But living in Brooklyn, and commuting back to her home town, sparked a new appreciation of Westport for Regan. She sat in her office at Nyala Farm, looked across the former dairy meadow, and saw the house where her father once lived.

“My mind went back, mourning for the ’70s,” she says.

Regan has not lived in Westport for 25 years. She seldom returns now. But she still feels connected. She still considers it “my town. It’s where I came to consciousness. It’s where I began to think thoughts. It’s a place with primordial feelings for me — the physical and intellectual place I grew up in.”

As her mind flashed back to places like the flooded marsh on Old Road, where she skated in winter — and as she thought about her father, mother and brother, all of whom have died — Regan wrote poetry.

Now they’ve been published. “The Needle” is a collection of Regan’s work. There are poems about Brooklyn, Maine and Iowa.

But Regan keeps coming back — literally and figuratively — to Westport.

She writes about the Saugatuck River, Nyala, making jelly, and worms and wasps. She writes about Bridgewater. One poem is dedicated to her childhood friend, Paige Griglun.

Nyala Farm holds special meaning for Regan Good. (Photo/David Squires)

You don’t have to be from Westport (or Brooklyn, Maine or Iowa) to be moved by Regan’s work. Her poems are vivid, accessible and universal.

But, at the core of many, is the town where Regan grew up, and which nurtured her sense of self and the world.

“My mind keeps going there,” she says. “I just follow it.”

Some of her favorite poems include “To the Saugatuck River and Its Source at Sugar Hollow,” “The Dairy Still Stands,” and “Reverse Commute Through Grand Central: All Doors Open at Westport, Connecticut.”

The Saugatuck River looms large in Regan Good’s life. (Photo/John Kantor)

Her poems have drawn great praise. Poet Tom Thompson says:

“The Needle” comes barreling out of time in an utterly original and necessary way. The poems inhabit a landscape that is recognizably our own but at the same time ancient, burning with celestial fire and hunger. intoxicating and grounded in the stuff of the earth, with echoes of Stevens and Yeats, “The Needle” is extraordinary.

Of course, a poet — even one who worked at Bridgewater — cannot subsist on poetry alone.

Regan teaches writing at Barnard, Pratt and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

And she’s just finished a memoir about Westport.

It’s called “The Good Family.” Get it?

Regan Good truly does have a way with words.

(To order a copy of “The Needle,” click here.)

Longshore Kids’ Wall Resurfaces At Library

Nearly 20 years ago, 1,400 Westport middle school students created what is believed to be the largest piece of public art in Fairfield County.

Designed by students in their art classrooms — with help from noted artists Katherine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — the “Kids’ Wall” rose 8 feet high, and stretched 44 feet wide.

Costing $18,000 — donated by dozens of individuals and organizations — it included 1,500 pounds of tile and adhesive, 1,000 pounds of “Wonder Board” (tile backing), and 200 pounds of grout.

There are 64 panels, 500 pieces of broken tile, and other objects on each panel. That’s 32,000 individual pieces on the mural, give or take a few.

Each panel was completed in one 50-minute art class. There were 64 classes, covering every 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

The Kids’ Wall, at Longshore.

The approval process took 2 years. The Planning & Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board, Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works, Police Department, Conservation Commission, RTM, Arts Advisory Council and Board of Selectmen all weighed in

Finally, it was done. The Kids’ Wall was unveiled near the Longshore pool on May 28, 2000.

It’s still there.

But it’s also at the Westport Library.

Just inside the upper parking lot entrance, there’s an exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary. It includes a 1/3-scale banner of the wall, plus newspaper stories and more.

The Kids’ Wall exhibit at the library.(From left): Artists Miggs Burroughs and Katherine Ross; outgoing Library exhibits director Chris Timmons; incoming exhibits director Carol Erger-Fass.

Somehow, this enormous public art project never got the publicity it deserved. If you go to the Longshore pool or sailing school, you see it.

But no one else does — or even knows about it.

The “transformed” library opened 3 months ago. Perhaps this exhibit will transform the little-known Kids’ Wall into an artistic treasure, known far and wide.

Or at least beyond Longshore.

KIDS’ WALL BONUS: Click below for a video on the making of the mural:

On Greens Farms Road, A Vigilante Traffic Stop

It’s no secret — unfortunately — that when I-95 backs up, Greens Farms Road can be an alternate route.

Neighborhood residents don’t like it. But — in this age of Waze and other traffic apps — there’s nothing they can do about it.

That did not stop one man from trying.

Alert “06880” reader Josh Stein reports:

Driving southbound yesterday on Greens Farms Road, I came upon a car parked perpendicular across both travel lanes.

I thought there was an accident. I ran up to the car, and was greeted by a man who said he represents the Greens Farms Association.

I’m sure he doesn’t. But, Josh continues:

He said was protesting through traffic. Dozens of cars were stopped.

A less congested view of the area on Greens Farms Road where a vigilante stopped traffic yesterday.

When Josh returned home, the same thing happened. He called the Westport Police Department. They arrived quickly.

Apparently, Josh says:

This guy has been doing this all week. The police are aware of him.

He actually accelerated and aimed his car at me this second time. He has a large dog in his back seat. The first time he blocked both lanes of traffic, he was in front of 286 Greens Farms Road. This second time he was in front of 350 Greens Farms Road or thereabouts. He told the officer he lives on Greens Farms Road, in the 300s.

No, we don’t like what Waze is doing to our town.

But there must be better “ways” to address the problem than this.

You Can Be A Star. Well, Your House Can, Anyway.

Sure, jobs are fleeing Connecticut like fans at a Bengals game. It seems the only work left here is in a hedge fund, consulting or (who knows?) perhaps Nordstrom, when the new Norwalk mall opens (whenever).

But there is one growth industry in the Land of Steady Habits: TV and movies.

Specifically, renting out your house (or organization) for a television or film shoot.

The state Office of Film, TV & Digital Media — part of the Department of Economic and Community Activity — acts as a liaison between production companies, towns, local crews and vendors.

Part of its function is to help find appropriate locations for TV networks, movie studios and commercial producers. In other words: If you need a nice suburban home, bustling city, beach, farm, railroad station or other scene for your show, film or ad, they’ll find it for you.

Scene from a movie recently filmed in Connecticut. No, there was never a “New York and New Orleans” railroad.

Presumably, they can also find a crumbling highway, dilapidated apartment or abandoned corporate headquarters too.

Locally, a variety of sites have told the office they’re eager to be used. Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Saugatuck senior housing complex, Westport Museum for History & Culture (nee Westport Historical Society), Westport Little League and Sherwood Island State Park have all chimed in.

So has Main Street (probably the Downtown Merchants Association) and the Saugatuck River (no clue).

A number of homeowners also offered their houses for filming. Styles range from Colonial and contemporary to shingle cottage and (somewhat immodestly, but hey, it’s the movies) “Perfect New England Home.”

The self-described “Perfect New England home.”

According to a recent New York Times story, compensation ranges from $1,500 to $50,000 for use of a home. At least, those are city prices.

Westport is no stranger to filming. “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “The Swimmer,” “The Stepford Wives” — all were shot, in part, right here.

So was “Manny’s Orphans” — Sean Cunningham’s unforgettable film about a hapless soccer team.

Hey, it was unforgettable to me. I was in it.

I have no idea how much Greens Farms Academy was paid for the use of their facilities.

But whatever Sean paid, it was worth it. We had a food fight of epic proportions right there in their beautiful, staid library.

And if that story doesn’t want to make you offer your home or business to the movies, nothing will.

(Click here for a direct link to the state of Connecticut’s “Locations” page. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

[OPINION] Please, Pick Up Pooch’s Poop!

Tracy Porosoff is an alert “06880” reader/frequent Pic of the Day photographer. She’s also an avid — and perturbed — dog lover. She writes:

Westporters are fortunate to have such a wonderful place as Winslow Park to bring our dogs.

The people are friendly. The dogs are too.

There are acres of beautiful wooded terrain to let your dog run off-leash. And a freshwater stream where dogs can paddle in refreshing, clean water, even take a drink.

Just another day at Winslow Park.

Other resources include a bulletin board of dog-related notices, and a water fountain during warm months for both dogs and people to hydrate after their romp through the woods.

The town even provides trash bags and garbage cans to pick up and dispose of your doggy’s waste.

Idyllic, right?

Unfortunately, some people take these fabulous resources for granted.

Bag after bag of poop litters the park. Despite the presence of garbage cans, people leave their waste on the ground, benches and wherever they choose.

Some are surely inadvertently left. But if everyone takes an extra moment to remember to toss their poop, Winslow’s beauty can be preserved.

So please: The next time you visit Winslow Park, toss your (pup’s) poop!

(Photos/Tracy Porosoff)

Nyala: New World Champion

“Nyala” is back in the news. This time, it’s international.

Westporters of a certain age have heard of Nyala Farm. That’s the office complex tucked into rolling hills and meadows between I-95, the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road.

It is not a cute, throwback name. Back in the day it was an actual, working dairy farm. In 1910, E.T. Bedford bought 52 acres in Greens Farms.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

His son, Frederick T. Bedford, named the property in honor of the beautiful nyala (antelope) he’d seen on an African safari.

In 1970 Stauffer Chemical developed their world headquarters there. It was Westport’s first corporate office park. Today, Bridgewater — the world’s largest hedge fund — is a major tenant.

But this morning’s Nyala news is nautical.

Nyala is the name of a racing vessel. Yesterday, it won the 12 Metre World Vintage Division Championship, off Newport, Rhode Island.

The International Twelve Metre Association event drew 21 boats from 6 countries. That’s the largest fleet ever gathered in North America.

Nyala, in action.

The name is no coincidence. The Nyala sailboat was commissioned by F.T. Bedford, president of the Standard Oil Corporation. She was given as a wedding present to his daughter Lucy and her new husband, Briggs Cunningham.

(He is credited with inventing the “Cunningham hole,” still used today to provide luff tension in a mainsail.)

After restoration in 1996, Nyala attended the 2001 Jubilee regatta in Cowes, off the UK. She won the 12-Metre Worlds in Barcelona in 2014.

Nyala had already secured the 2019 championship, before yesterday’s final day of racing.

She didn’t have to sail. But Patrizio Bertelli took her out anyway. Nyala posted her 8th victory in 9 races.

Next up: This weekend’s New York Yacht Club 175th Anniversary Regatta.

Bridgewater may want to send a cheering section.

Friday Flashback #150

If you were a teenage driver in Westport around the time this photo was taken — and judging by the car, it was the 1970s — you remember this scene:

The target was painted on Bayberry Lane — the hill just north of the Merritt Parkway.

It was a real hill then too — not the measly mound it is today. (It was probably flattened because someone painted that target.)

I don’t know the artist. Someone did a great job.

And had the right idea.

You really could get air, particularly with a good rate of speed southbound.

Of course, those were the days when auto repairs were fairly cheap.