Friday Flashback #129

Last week’s Friday Flashback — showing a snowy Post Road sidewalk from 1993, with the Fine Arts Theatre prominently featured — sent alert “06880” reader/ amateur historian Fred Cantor scurrying down the internet wormhole.

He found Cinema Treasures, a website devoted to 51,000 movie theaters from around the world. (“Because you’re tired of watching movies on your laptop,” the tagline says.)

There’s a page devoted to “Fine Arts 1 and 2” — though the photos show only the original theatre (now Restoration Hardware), long before it was subdivided into a pair of cinemas. (Later offspring included Fine Arts 3 in the back — now Matsu Sushi restaurant — and Fine Arts 4 down the block, across Bay Street from Design Within Reach.)

One image is from 1939. It shows the theatre entrance, flanked by an unnamed restaurant and Vogel Electrical Service.

Other photos show Fine Arts after a major 1940 renovation. Here’s the exterior. It looks like the neighboring businesses are gone.

Here’s the new, modern interior:

But the money shots are these 2. They show the Art Deco lounge.

Cinema Treasures is right. The Fine Arts was definitely better than watching movies on your laptop.

Since Parkland

Yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the Marjory Douglas Stoneman massacre. Across the country, we remembered the 17 students and staff members murdered in their Florida high school.

Survivors — and countless others with no connection to the school — believed that finally, something would change. At rallies, online and in legislatures, calls for new gun regulations grew stronger.

Yet in the year that followed, 1,200 children and teenagers have been killed.

Far fewer people know their names, or where they lived, than know the Parkland students. Their stories have never been told.

Until now.

Since Parkland” is a powerful media project. With the help of the Miami Herald, McClatchy publishing company and The Trace — an independent, non-profit news organization — 200 journalists set out to profile all 1,200 people 18 and under killed by guns. Since Parkland.

The Since Parkland home page.

Sophie Driscoll is a proud participant in this important effort.

Like many Staples High students, she’s busy. She’s an editor-in-chief of Inklings, the school’s award-winning newspaper. She’s president of the Young Democrats.

But she made time for “Since Parkland.” And she helped make it a stunning piece of journalism.

A year ago, Sophie published a story in Ms. Magazine. It started as a piece about Reshaping Reality — the Staples club that helps middle schoolers and their parents deal with body image, eating disorders and social pressures. But it soon became much more.

Sophie’s piece highlighted teenage feminists who started clubs at their high schools. She interviewed students in all over the US. It was “interesting and exciting,” she says. She worked with an actual editor, Katina Paron.

Sophie Driscoll

Last summer, Sophie joined 83 other rising seniors for a 5-week journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While she was there, Katina called. She was looking for students with “good research skills,” for a project she described only vaguely.

In early August, Sophie and dozens of others participated in a video conference. They learned a bit more about “Since Parkland.”

Sophie was assigned 6 stories. There was Nicholas Glasco, 18 of Stone Mountain Georgia, shot accidentally by a friend a month before his high school graduation.

Christopher Jake Stone, 17, was one of 10 killed and 13 injured at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, 3 months after Parkland. He was trying to block the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman’s entry.

Tahji McGill, 17, was shot outside an Illinois club.

Chavelle Tramon Thompson, 17, was murdered while walking with friends to a store in Union City, Georgia.

In Virginia, a 2-year-old died when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shot him in the head. The very same day — also in Virginia — another 2-year-old was killed. He shot himself with a handgun he’d found.

The story that resonated the most with Sophie was Xantavian Pierce’s. She wrote:

The Brunswick High School athlete played basketball and football. The numbers on his jerseys were 15 and 28, respectively. Throughout his athletic career, the 17-year-old worked to make his mother proud. She said he succeeded.

“He was amazing,” his mother said. “He was wonderful. He was a loving, God-fearing child. He  was just a wonderful person. He was my heartbeat.”

Xantavian “Tae” Pierce was helping someone move when a gun went off inside a box he was carrying, accidentally shooting him in the stomach at the Eagles Pointe Apartments in Brunswick, Georgia, on March 25, 2018.

“He was a straight arrow, close with his family,” Sophie says. “He was just like someone I’d know at Staples.”

Xantavian Pierce

The process was wrenching. Sophie tracked down news reports, and scrutinized Facebook pages. She read what family members, friends and teachers said.

“They seem like such vibrant, alive, regular kids,” she notes.

Each profile is 3 paragraphs long. The first 2 give life to each young person. The 3rd describes his or her death.

That was hard. “I had to take a step back, and write as if he was alive,” Sophie says. But they were not.

The research itself was arduous. Sophie was stunned to discover there is no national database to track gun deaths. State records might list a date — but no name. Sometimes, there was not even a local news report.

It was a truly collaborative process. The 200 young writers — from across the nation — used the Slack app and Zoom video conferencing to work together. They helped find information, and supported each other through tough times.

Still, they did not realize the scope of the project — or how it would appear online — until nearly the end.

And “the end” was, literally, 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. Just as they had every day — Since Parkland — young people were killed that night.

The project drew immediate attention. The New York Times highlighted it. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — a staunch gun regulation advocate — tweeted about it.

Sophie — who hopes to pursue journalism in college, and beyond — notes, “this was journalism, not activism.” But — like all good journalism — she hopes it will force people to think about an issue in deep, different ways.

Her goal — and that of every student journalist — was to humanize all 1,200 young people lost to gun violence Since Parkland.

“The statistics are staggering,” Sophie says. “But each statistic is a human being.

“These kids are not statistics. They’re athletes, artists. A lot were college bound. It’s so hard to think about the people they were, and could have become.”

It is hard. But — thanks to Sophie Driscoll, and scores of other determined high school students across America — right now we are doing just that.

(Click here for the 6 stories written by Sophie Driscoll. Click here for the “Since Parkland” home page.)

Pic Of The Day #668

There’s a tree in David Squires’ Greens Farms yard with a natural, heart-shaped knothole.

He noticed it a few years back. He painted it red.

Now, every February, he touches it up.

If he and his wife ever argue, he tells her to look at the tree.

“Trees don’t lie!” David says.

Happy Valentine’s Day — the Squireses, and everyone else in our “06880,” wherever you live and love.

(Photo/David Squires)

Give A Little Chocolate

Uh-oh.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and you forgot your chocolates.

You have 2 choices:

  1. Kiss your relationship goodbye.
  2. Head to Le Rouge by Aarti — and help not only yourself, but a good cause.

Since 2016 Aarti Khosla — the handmade chocolatier at 190 Main Street — has run a “Give a Little Love” campaign. She donates 10% of the proceeds from any heart-shaped creation to charity.

This year’s recipient is “She’s the First.” The organization — dear to Aarti’s, um, heart — empowers and helps educate young women who are the first in their family to go to college.

But Aarti is not stopping there. She just introduced a second campaign: “Give a Little Woof.”

Aarti designed a mini-heart box, with 3 hand-painted dark chocolate “bones.” A full 50% of sales goes to the Weston Dog Park. The initiative honors Brian Gordon, the town’s beloved 2nd selectman and 1987 Staples High School graduate, who died in November.

Give a Little Woof!

So what are you waiting for?

Well, actually, you’ve still got a couple of hours. Le Rouge opens at 11 a.m.

Allyson Maida’s Valentine To Westport

As Westport celebrates Valentine’s Day, “06880” reader Allyson Maida writes:

On that recent 6-degree day, 3 of us met to discuss business over an iced tea. After a while, our talk turned to living in Westport.

One person has lived here for over 30 years. She reflected on her post-corporate home-based entrepreneurial efforts. It led to meeting wonderful people, many of whom became friends. She spoke about community-based activities. We smiled, nodding as we thought of all the good that has been done within this 22.4-square mile town.

A defining moment to move our young family to Westport happened one summer night. In Westport visiting my cousin, we decided to drive to Main Street. As we turned from the Post Road, we saw a teenager on his skateboard zigzagging down the center of the straightaway.

Music filled the air, as a band played on Onion Alley’s roof. The skateboarder stopped to speak with a man who stood by his parked car. This was a Rockwell moment.

Main Street at night (Photo by Katherine Bruan)

The newer resident spoke of moving here a few years ago, to join her daughter’s family and continue her healthcare practice. She talked about her transition into town, how her career has continued to thrive as she interacts with community members who are considerate and kind. She smiled, sharing stories of the good people she has encountered and her volunteerism within her house of worship, of which she is extremely proud.

Our discussion was not unique. However, I realized that these types of talks often lead to the same place. Speaking about experiences in Westport often includes a sense of connectedness.

This is not to suggest that Westport is perfect, or the lone holder of this characteristic. But these thoughtful conversations frequently veer toward sharing information about people helping people, people doing good for others, community-minded businesses, nonprofit efforts, local business with engaging owners/employees, community changes over time, and how Westport’s history is the underpinning of that which makes this little town profoundly great.

Allyson Maida — author of this Valentine’s piece — and friend.

The root of amorous, chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day is actually the commemoration of those who had done good works.

It is no different than any other commemorative holiday, except that in the evolution of this annual celebration, we may have missed the point. According to historians, up to 3 priests named Valentine (Valentinus) offended nobility and Roman penal codes as they acted on behalf of others who were vulnerable. All were in ministry (also referred to as community service). In helping others, they were executed, in different years — but all on February 14, now known as Valentine’s Day.

Overall, this town has maintained its sense of goodwill and community concern. There are diverse interests, and activities that reach out to every social issue. We have a bridge that hosts world peace and international understanding efforts. Civil rights chants are heard there, while nearby knitted scarf-bombed trees extend anonymous gifts of warmth to those who are cold.

We have concerts and dancing, dog parades, art shows, rubber ducky races and individual initiatives designed to make someone else feel good. We raise awareness and funds to help support those at home and abroad. We sew and donate heart-shaped pillows for patients who suffer. We pack resident-donated trailers with supplies when another state falls victim to a storm, and we celebrate one child who insists on giving the contents of their piggy bank to another who needs school supplies.

Every year, many hands help create Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Feast.

All of this barely scrapes Westport’s surface.

Take a moment to think about all that happens within our small community. Opportunity is not arbitrary. It is deliberate. There is an expectation that this town will bring the best to its residents and visitors.

That comes from somewhere. From those who settled here in the 1600s to those who live and work here now, each person has added to this community in a way that has affected someone else.

So, to each of you, near and far, who are a part of the heart of Westport: Happy Valentine’s Day!

(This post is adapted from a story Allyson originally wrote for her blog. Click here for that version.)

Pic Of The Day #667

Bright sunshine this morning behind Saugatuck Congregational Church, near Winslow Park. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Unsung Hero #85

Yvonne O’Kane’s dog barked frantically at 1 a.m. last month. She woke up, looked in the back of her Old Hill area home for deer, then took him outside to do his duty.

A few hours later, her husband went outside. Yvonne’s Mercedes convertible was gone.

The police arrived within 3 minutes. A great officer, Rachel Baron  — “lovely, compassionate and professional” — took the information. She described the work of crime gangs in Waterbury and Newark.

Because Yvonne’s checkbook and credit cards had been in the car, the officer told her to call her bank and card companies to freeze her accounts.

That morning, Yvonne headed to the police station to provide more information. Detective Phil Restieri was “awesome,” she says.

Detective Phil Restieri

He already had information: Her car had crossed the George Washington Bridge at 4 a.m. Someone had tried to use her credit card at Starbucks and McDonald’s in Newark. He gave her more advice on how to handle her lost items, and deal with her insurance company.

Phil told her that her car might be headed for a container ship. He was working with law enforcement contacts on the docks. “Everyone was already alerted,” Yvonne says.

Phil was calm, and reassuring. “His diligence and confidence gave me confidence,” Yvonne says.

Whenever she checked in, he had time for her. He — and the department — “really stayed on the case,” she adds. “No one ever made me feel like an idiot.”

After 3 weeks, Phil called. Yvonne’s car had been found, on the side of a Newark street.

He explained that stolen cars are often left on roadsides — or moved from garage to garage — until an order comes in from operatives for that particular make or model.

But Phil’s work was not done. He told Yvonne that he’d already arranged to have her vehicle towed to a safe place.

Yvonne got Westport Center Services to bring the car back from New Jersey. They delivered it to a service center in Bridgeport.

Yvonne was hesitant to go there at night. She worried there might be a weapon in the car. So — long after his shift was over — Phil met her in Bridgeport.

“It was awesome to have a police officer there,” Yvonne says. “He couldn’t have been nicer. And he said if I needed anything else, to just call.”

Phil Restieri — and all his colleagues at the Westport Police Department — are Yvonne O’Kane’s Unsung Heroes.

But here’s the thing: This is the kind of thing they do all day, every day.  We don’t hear about stories like this, unless they impact us. Or unless someone like Yvonne tells us.

So: If you’ve got a Westport Police Unsung Heroes story to share, click “Comments” below.

(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net) 

Rats!

Three or four times a year, for decades, Earthplace sent a truck to Charles River Laboratory in Kingston, New York.

They’d load it with frozen rats, mice, gerbils and guinea pigs. Back in Westport, volunteers would bag thousands of them, then pack them in 3 large freezers.

For the next few months, the dead animals were meals for Earthplace’s raptors and reptiles.

Dinner for an owl …

The food was free — excess from the research lab.

The last pickup was January 10. That’s when Charles River stopped donating their excess rodents.

Which means Earthplace must now find a new source of animals to feed its animals. At 75 cents a mouse and $2 per rat, that’s tens of thousands of dollars a year.

… and an eagle.

The Westport natural history museum, nature center and wildlife sanctuary already pays for chicks and quail from another supplier. (Hey, snakes like a varied diet too). And Stew Leonard’s donates salmon (!) for eagles, crows and vultures.

But, says Becky Newman — Earthplace’s director of nature programs — sourcing new rodents is tough.

So is paying for them.

If you know of a good source for rats, mice, gerbils and/or guinea pigs (be serious, please!), or can help fund them, please contact Becky (203-557-4563; b.newman@earthplace.org).

One of 3 freezers filled with dinners.

If you’re a grocery store that can donate outdated or unsalable (freezer burn, etc.) meat, Becky would love to hear from you too.

NOTE: Earthplace cannot accept rodents trapped in your house (they may contain poisons).

And — because I know my “06880” readers — no roadkill either. Sorry!

(Hat tip: Matthew Mandell)

Pic Of The Day #666

Snow day on Main Street (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Beachside Eraser Installed In West Palm Beach

Last month, “06880” reported that “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” — Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s 19-foot, 10,300-pound sculpture of, yes, a typewriter eraser — was gone, after 20 years, from its Beachside Avenue lawn.

Its new home would be the Norton Museum of Art, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

It’s now fully installed. If you’re in the area — and, given today’s weather, who wouldn’t want to be? — you can see it, tilting proudly on the front plaza. Sam and Ronnie Heyman — who commissioned the piece in the late 1990s — donated it to the Norton.

(Photo copyright Nigel Young for Foster + Partners)

The work welcomes visitors to a completely renovated museum. And the new Norton — sparkling in the sun — came about thanks in large part because of 2 Westporters.

Ronnie Heyman is a Norton trustee.

And Gil Maurer  — who brought in architect Foster + Partners, and saw the renovation through from start to finish — has lived here since the 1950s.

He and his wife Ann — equally passionate about the arts — own a winter home in Palm Beach.

The new Norton is a game-changer for the arts scene in Florida. We should all visit it, and enjoy the Heymans’ and Maurers’ efforts.

In fact, today would be a great day to go!

(For an in-depth story on the new Norton Museum, click here. Hat tip: Meredith Hutchison.)