Finding New Life In An Old Cemetery

As COVID cases soar, Westporters search for safe activities.

Among the best places to explore on your own: cemeteries. Odds are you won’t find anyone infected there (or anyone else alive, for that matter).

Our town is filled with fascinating graveyards. Willowbrook, off Main Street near Cross Highway, is the biggest. Greens Farms Church — Westport’s first meetinghouse — has 2 (“upper” and “lower”) on Hillandale and Greens Farms Roads, near the Sherwood Island Connector.

Saugatuck Church’s Evergreen Avenue cemetery and the one shared by Assumption and Christ & Holy Trinity Churches on Kings Highway North near Old Hill are also filled with Westport names, both famous and obscure.

Smaller cemeteries include Compo Beach Road, Longshore Club Park, Post Road West near the Norwalk town line, and Wilton Road near the Merritt Parkway.

Gray’s Creek cemetery on Compo Beach Road. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

All are easily accessible. But the Kings Highway Colonial Cemetery is not.

It’s a small graveyard at the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. Unless you walk or bike there, the only access is by parking at the medical office across the street, then taking your life in your hands (bad analogy) as you cross Route 33.

The other day, David Wilson did just that. He grew up in Westport (Staples High School Class of 1975), and still spends plenty of time in the area.

Yet in all those years, he had never explored that cemetery.

He was dismayed to find parts in disrepair. Headstones were knocked over. Brush littered the grounds. Broken trees were everywhere.

(Photo/David Wilson)

Intrigued, David found 2 archived Facebook Live tours of the cemeetery. They were led by Nicole Carpenter, director of programs and education at the Westport Museum for History & Culture.

Once in a driving rain, and once on a beautiful spring day, Nicole gave viewers a look at the gravestones. She explained back stories too, including the changing styles and meanings of the stones’ shapes and colors.

The Taylor family — who gave their name to the neighborhood then called Taylortown (the nearby marsh is still called that) — share a large section with the Marvins (of tavern fame).

Abigail Taylor’s grave.

A non-family member is also interred there: Dinah, a “colored” servant and cook. That’s highly unusual, Nicole explained.

There’s the Judah family too, among the first Jewish residents of Westport (then part of Norwalk). Michael moved from New York City because of anti-Semitism. His son Henry became an Episcopal minister; Henry’s son, Henry Moses Judah, was a brigadier general in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars.

The Judas family owned an estate in Saugatuck, which was named for them. Over the years, Judas Point morphed into Judy’s Point.

The 2 tours are fascinating. If COVID keeps you indoors, click here and here to watch.

Kings Highway Colonial Cemetery.

But Nicole missed one of the most fascinating parts of the cemetery. At a mound not far from the road — perhaps the spot where Benedict Arnold (not yet a traitor) set up a cannon to thwart the British as they returned from their 1777 raid on Danbury (they thwarted him, by taking a different route back to Compo Beach) — there was a secret, spooky spot long known to kids like me, growing up in Westport.

If you lay flat on your stomach, and peered into the area where the ground had shifted, you could see all the way down to the bottom. There — arrayed like a horror film — sat a set of bones.

I’ve forgotten many things about being a kid here.

But as long as I live, I’ll always remember that skeleton.

A section of the burial mound, near where the earth has moved.

Pic Of The Day #1320

Railroad footbridge (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Cribari Bridge Is Lit. Let The Holidays Begin!

The crowd was far smaller than usual.

But even the coronavirus can’t dampen the joy of one of Westport’s favorite traditions: lighting the William F. Cribari Bridge.

The bulbs are new. The colors are beautiful. And now more than ever, we need this annual Al’s Angels gift.

(Drone photos/Patrick Sikes)

Roundup: Turkey, More

 


Spotted on Soundview Drive:

(Photo/Mary Sikorski)


And finally … Ian Finkel, “the world’s greatest xylophonist,” has died at 72. Who even knew there was such a thing?

Friday Flashback #220

John Kantor is my source for all sailing-related news.

The other day, the Longshore Sailing School founder — a native Westporter who grew up by and on the water — sent a link to the Sailing News’ “Scuttlebutt” website.

The site featured the back story to this month’s photo in the Ultimate Sailing calendar. It showed sailors bundled against the cold off the coast of Italy, on a 12 Metre called Nyala.

The November 2020 Ultimate Sailing calendar photo, by Carlo Borlenghi.

A South African reader wondered why “an active yacht in Italy was named after an antelope found in the game reserves of his region.”

Scuttlebutt explained:

Nyala was built for Frederick T. Bedford of Westport, Connecticut. His father, Edward T. Bedford, was a director of the original Standard Oil who established a large family farm in then-rural Westport in 1910.

Frederick, who was also an industrialist, named the farm “Nyala” for the antelope he had seen while on safari in Africa. Later, the name would be used for the Olin Stephens-designed 1938 12 Metre. Like the wooden twelve, the 52-acre farm remains a going concern where the last family member resided until 2014.

Nyala Farm (Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

I’m not sure that’s true. Nyala ceased to be a working dairy farm long ago. The property just off I-95 Exit 18 became Westport’s first office park in the 1970s, when Stauffer Chemical Company moved in (and, thanks to progressive land-use policies, kept much of it as rolling hills and meadows).

Nyala Farm (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

The main tenant today is Bridgewater Associates. None of the Bedford descendants lived there. They had their own large estates on nearby Beachside Avenue.

The Nyala Farms office complex. Much of it is hidden from view, on nearby I-95, Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.

Scuttlebutt continues:

Built of the finest hardwoods at the famous Henry Nevins yard (City Island, NY), Nyala carried the unique identifier 12-US-12 (ie. the 12th 12 meter in the USA).

Several sources note that she was a wedding present by F.T. Bedford to his daughter, Lynn (Lucie) Bedford (aka LuLu) and new son-in-law, Briggs Cunningham (yes, that Cunningham – winning 1958 America’s Cup skipper on Columbia).

It’s also reported that FT and Briggs had previously owned an 8 Metre together (late 1920s), and Briggs is said to have credited his wife-to-be with teaching him to sail (Stars) at Pequot Yacht Club, so maybe a 12 Metre for them to campaign together is not as surprising a wedding gift as we might, at first, be tempted to surmise!

As an aside, there are at least a couple of 6 Metres still sailing that are named for Mrs. Cunningham (Lucie and LuLu) which Briggs had raced to good effect.

John Kantor did not know the back story to the Nyala name. But he knows the farm. And, he says, “I knew Briggs Cunningham. I knew the boat. But I had no idea how all the names interconnected.”

Briggs Cunningham II was also a race car driver. That’s how he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

(Click here for the full Sailing News Scuttlebutt story.)

 

Remembering Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan — a longtime teacher and administrator, who had a profound impact on the Westport Public Schools — died Monday, surrounded by his family. He was 81.

Sullivan (not to be confused with the Staples High School Latin teacher with the same name) began his career here in 1964, as a Long Lots Junior High School math teacher.

He was named department chair in 1969, then vice principal in 1973. In 1986 he moved to Coleytown Elementary School as principal. He retired in 1997; served as a special assistant for building, planning and construction, then returned full-time in 2001 as principal of Greens Farms Elementary.

Those are the facts. But they don’t convey the warmth, empathy or great good humor that made Dan Sullivan a legend in Westport education.

I was not exactly an Einsteinian math pupil. But I had Mr. Sullivan in 8th grade, and he made math actually fun. Like any great teacher, he loved his subject. But he understood that not all of us would be mathematicians — and that was okay. He also had a wicked sense of humor.

Dan Sullivan

Later, when I was a substitute teacher, Long Lots was a favorite school. Mr. Sullivan fostered a warm, loving schoolwide environment. I saw how he treated every student sent to the office as a special individual, worthy of his time, his ear and his respect.

In the 1980s and ’80s, Long Lots had a very complex schedule. Classes were varying lengths: science labs were long and met only a couple of times a week; foreign language classes were short but met often, for example.

Because of those time periods, very few classes let out at the same time. The halls were never crowded — the bane of any school.

It was a brilliant schedule. It was devised completely by Mr. Sullivan — all by hand. Many schools could have benefited from the setup. Of course, no other other had a Dan Sullivan to create and implement it.

And — this would never happen today, for many reasons — he allowed a neighborhood dog the free run of school. One day Doozer wandered in to Long Lots, and never left. He roamed the halls, sat in on classes, and lay down in the cafeteria.

Most vice principals would have called Animal Control. Mr. Sullivan turned a blind eye (when he wasn’t petting him). It helped make Long Lots feel not like a school, but a home.

Mr. Sullivan had a similar impact on colleagues throughout the Westport Public Schools. He was an innovative thinker, a wise mentor, and a very funny guy.

Dan Sullivan graduated from Milford High School in 1957. He earned a BS from Southern Connecticut State College, an MS in secondary supervision from the University of Bridgeport, and certificates in advanced studies for administration and supervision from Fairfield University and Teachers College, Columbia University.

He later became an adjunct professor at both the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University.

Mr. Sullivan is survived by 4 children: Kevin of Los Angeles, Maureen and Lorna of Philadelphia, Daniel of Fairfield, and 6 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Lorna.

A private service will be held tomorrow. Donations can be made to Alzheimer’s research, in his memory. Click here to send condolences to his family.

It’s Black Friday. Shop Local!

Today marks the much-anticipated, endlessly reported and bizarrely grim start of the holiday shopping season.

Americans leave Thanksgiving dinners to stand outside superstores. They bop each other over the head and ram strangers with shopping carts, frenziedly buying wide-screen TVs and must-have dolls. It is a sick spectacle, and it sets the tone for the entire month that follows.

If COVID-19 has done anything good, it’s put the brakes on this explosion of materialism. Unlike (cough, cough) some places, people here understand the virus is not a hoax. We won’t see hordes of humans pushed into glass doors like Walmart’s version of a Who concert.

Every year, merchants, town officials — and “06880” — urge local folks to buy local.

This year, it’s important more important than ever.

In fact, it’s crucial.

Main Street (Photo/Jillian Elder)

But saying it is one thing. How do we put our Christmas and Hanukkah money where our civic mouth is?

Jillian Elder can help.

The founder of Finding Westport — a website that for over 2 years has linked business owners and customers — created a special page for today and tomorrow. (Black Friday is followed immediately by Small Business Saturday — who knew?)

“When we need retail therapy, our friends on Main Street and the Post Road are there for us,” Jillian says. (Don’t forget Saugatuck!)

“Now is the time to return the favor, and let our friends know we are there for them.”

Jillian spent days asking stores about their Black Friday and Small Business Saturday plans.

Say it with chocolate!

“Finding Westport” includes hours of operations, special offers and sales, links to stores’ websites and gift cards, and pickup and delivery options.

Toys, apparel, jewelry, chocolates, honey, liquor, CBD — and just about anything else you’d give as a gift — is included. Click here for Jillian’s Black Friday and Small Business Saturday page.

You can find everything here for your honey.

That’s not all. Jillian compiled similar lists for Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Stamford and Wilton. Click here for that page.

Sure, you could have spent last night wrapped in a blanket outside Best Buy. But — thanks to Jillian Elder — you know the best buys are right around the corner.

(PS: Jillian is still adding stores to the list. To be included, email submissions@findingwestport.com)

Pic Of The Day #1319

Sherwood Island, late fall (Photo/Sharon Fiarman)

Roundup: Toy Drive, Y Pool, More


If it’s Thanksgiving, it must be time for the Westport Police Department’s annual Toy Ddrive.

Local union 2080 and the Westport Police Benevolent Association are sponsoring the event. Each year, thousands of toys are distributed to underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and at Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s Hospitals.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys at the ASF parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on the first 2 Saturdays and Sundays in December (5, 6, 12 and 13), from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition, collection boxes will be set up now through December 14 at:

  • Age of Reason, 9 Post Road West
  • ASF Sports & Outdoors ,1560 Post Road East
  • Awesome Toys and Gifts, 429 Post Road East
  • The Toy Post, 180 Post Road East

Questions? Email anowinski@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6000.

What a great gift for a kid!


Swimming at the Y has been my COVID happy place. Nothing like a pool-ful of chlorine to keep the coronavirus at bay.

No longer. The Westport Weston Family Y announced yesterday that effective immediately, both the lap and warm pools will be shut down indefinitely.

The decision was based on updated guidelines from the governor’s office. Under those rules, only 4 swimmers could be allowed at any time.

The wellness center, gymnastics center, group fitness classes and school-age childcare programs remain open.

The Westport Y pool will look like this for a while.


And finally … c’mon! You didn’t really expect anything different today, did you?

Marpe Offers Holiday Message

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Westport is a place where we live by, and teach our children, the values that we cherish — values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.

This Thanksgiving, we reflect upon these qualities in light of a tumultuous year that has, quite frankly, brought heartache, anxiety, and turmoil. There are many among us who are isolated and alone. Emotions and situations brought about by an unseen virus and other national events have caused all of us to re-think how we behave and how we react as a society. No doubt, it has taken its toll and has caused significant adjustments in how we live our lives.

However, recent news and guidance from scientists and health officials is very promising. If we continue to stay aware and respectful, actively follow the protocols in place such as wearing a mask, keeping distance and avoiding gatherings, we can see a path to where we can once again enjoy a way of life without fear of harming our neighbors, friends and family.

Masked up, at the Westport Y’s child care program.

And I would like to echo Governor Lamont’s request to please keep your in-home Thanksgiving celebrations to immediate family and to 10 persons or fewer.

Besides COVID, there were other events that caused upheaval, unrest and concern in this country and on the local level. Westporters have historically been leaders in social movements, and this year was no different. We will continue to have the difficult dialogues about social injustice while encouraging and setting an example of mutual respect for all humankind. We remain grateful and thankful for those in our community who have led the way in standing firmly against hate and intolerance, and for those who protect our health and safety.

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune while recognizing that there are others who are less fortunate. I am personally thankful for our extraordinary teachers, civic leaders, clergy and volunteers of all kinds. They, along with many other residents, work tirelessly and diligently to care for and help meet the needs of those who require additional emotional, family and economic support.

Religious, civic, educational and other institutions are more important than ever. (Photo/Anthony Evans)

COVID has caused us to adjust the manner in which their work is accomplished, but they remain steadfast in their commitment to helping. I want to acknowledge their contributions – they are valued and appreciated.

I wish all the residents of Westport a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing contributions to making Westport an inclusive place where all feel welcome. We are proud to call it “home.”

Happy Thanksgiving.