Tag Archives: 4th of July fireworks

Friday Flashback #303

It’s been 10 years since Mark Krosse sent me this broadside, and I wrote this story.

But with July 4th approaching — and last night’s fireworks already a memory — it’s time to celebrate a long-ago Westport Independence Day tale again.

The broadside Mark found (above) invites Westporters to an “Exhibition of Fireworks!” — on the “Evening of the 4th of July, 1860.”

The site was “Compo House,” and the “programme” was extensive.

Signal Rockets will be fired from sun-down to 9 o’clock, when a brilliant display will commence with the splendid GREEK BENGOLA LIGHTS, illuming the whole entire area of the Fireworks Ground. This brilliant reflecting light was invented by the celebrated Indian Chieftain, TIPPOO SAIB, and is the most powerful known to the present age, eclipsing the Drummond Light for its brilliancy, &c. After which the following beautiful pieces will be fired in the order of the Programme.

Reading habits 2022-style not being what they were in 1860, I’ll note a few highlights:

  • Splendid Vertical Wheel
  • Rockets
  • Chaplet of Flora
  • Torbillions
  • Fairies’ Frolic
  • Glories of Mexico

Casting aside the question of why we were celebrating the “Glories of Mexico,” I’ll close with this description of the final Bomb Shells:

Commencing with a splendid wheel of Chinese, Egyptian and radiant fires, forming all the variegated and beautiful mutations of the Kaleidoscope, changing  to the American Coat of Arms, displaying the shield with the Stars and Stripes on each side in the appropriate colors, Red, White and Blue.

A rare old photo of the July 4th, 1860 fireworks. Or not.

On an arc above will appear the motto, UNION.

The whole mutating to a grand Mosaic Battery, composed of Greek and Roman Candles, filling the air for several hundred feet with all the beautiful colors known in Pyrotechny.

Sounds like Fun!

In fact, the descriptions are so vivid I can just imagine the scene. Colors fill the air. The crowd applauds. Finally everyone heads home, creating a massive horse-and-carriage jam on the roads from Compo House.

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So what was “Compo House”? That’s worth a story in itself.

Also known as the Winslow Mansion, it stood where Winslow Park is today: the corner of Post Road East and Compo Road North.

Between 1855 and 1860, alert “06880” reader and super historian Wendy Crowther notes, “Henry Richard Winslow and his 2nd wife, Mary Fitch Winslow, invited everyone in town to their extensive and lavish property to enjoy July 4th fireworks. Henry died in February 1861, so the 1860 fireworks extravaganza advertised in the poster (above) was his last.”

How extensive and lavish was his house?

A lot more than you may imagine.

Unbelievably alert “06880” reader Paul Greenberg found 2 prints at the George Glazer Gallery website. Here’s the back story to what they show.

Winslow — a state representative and senator — built Compo House in 1853. Six years later, former president Millard Fillmore was a guest. The property also included guest houses, servants’ and gardeners’ quarters, and gorgeous gardens.

The mansion no longer exists. It was torn down in the 1970s, after serving for many years as a sanitarium (and, in its final incarnation, a vacant party house for Westport teenagers). The outbuildings were demolished too.

The iron gate — alongside unpaved North Compo — still stands.

The Winslows also owned the land across Post Road East (then called State Street) from the park. Both properties were bought in the 1950s by Baron Walter von Langendorff, an Austrian-born chemist who founded Evyan Perfumes.

The town now owns the 2 parcels: Winslow Park and Baron’s South.

And how they have remained undeveloped is a tale for a non-holiday weekend.

Ghosts Invade Compo Beach

It’s only 8:30 a.m.

But much of the prime Compo Beach real estate has already been claimed for tonight’s 30th of June fireworks.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Hundreds of chairs and dozens of tents fill the sand, from jetty to jetty. A large towel is draped across the Soundview Avenue seawall, near a particularly enormous circle of empty chairs.

There’s no report from South Beach, but I’m sure most of the picnic tables’ “Tables May Not Be Reserved” signs are covered up.

Some folks play nice  — staying with their stakeouts. (Okay, maybe they’re just protecting them.)

Others will return in a few hours.

(Photo/Karen Como)

Perfect weather, plus the return of Westport’s Best Party Ever after 2 COVID years, ensure that tonight’s crowd will be huge.

Remember: The beach closes at 4 p.m. Only vehicles with fireworks passes can remain. No one can enter Compo again until all passes have been checked — predicted to be around 5 p.m.

See you there!

A Need-To-Know Basis: The Basics

A reader writes:

My wife and I just bought a home in Westport. We will move there in September.

As a soon-to-be resident, reading “06880” has helped me get to know the town. For example, I already know that everyone on the railroad parking wait list will soon get a pass.

But what else should I know?

I’m looking for a quick crash course about the town. It could be anything from “avoid this road during these hours” to “this parking lot always has spaces” to “what do I need to know about Compo Beach.”

I realize you could write hundreds of tips. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Great idea!

You’re right. I could give hundreds (if not squintillions). Here are a few quick ones, in random order:

You need a ticket for the 4th of July fireworks at Compo Beach. (Which in Westport are never actually on the 4th. This year, they’re June 30th.) Westport PAL puts them on, with help from Melissa & Doug (the innovative toy company). Tickets are available at Parks & Rec headquarters (in Longshore, near the 1st tee) and police headquarters (Jesup Road). The $40/vehicle ticket supports a huge variety of PAL programs — so even if you watch the fireworks elsewhere, or don’t park at the beach, consider donating to PAL.

If everyone cooperates, getting into the beach for the fireworks goes smoothly.

Speaking of which: Unfortunately, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department website is the least user-friendly I’ve seen since dial-up modem days. From the non-intuitive way to sign up for hand passes (for tennis, golf, Longshore pool, etc.), beach emblems (we actually call them “stickers”) and boat launch permits — hint: click on “Memberships” — to the random, dizzying list of options in every category, on through all the clicks needed to jump from page to page and back again, it’s a cluster****.

The good news is: If you’re free when the office is open, head there yourself. (As noted above, it’s in Longshore, near the golf course 1st tee.) The employees are fantastic: knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and fun.

The bad news is: I can’t tell you when the office is open. It’s nowhere on the website — at least, nowhere I could find.

The Parks & Rec Department office, at Longshore. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Speaking of the beach: The best sunsets for miles around are at Compo’s South Beach. That’s the area from the cannons to the kayak launch. There’s often a convivial crowd — perhaps because that’s the only area on a Westport beach where alcohol is permitted. (No glass, please!)

South Beach is also where, on a beautiful evening, every grill might be taken. Tables are first-come, first-served. Despite that notice on every table, some people “reserve” them by leaving blankets, chairs, even coolers all around, then leaving the beach for the next few hours.

You are perfectly within your rights to take that table. However, I am not responsible for whatever happens next. I’m just sayin’….

This does not reserve you a South Beach table.

A few other tips: The town dump is called the “transfer station.” On the Sherwood Island Connector, it’s  where you toss household garbage, furniture, carpeting, lamps, televisions, electronics, batteries and similar items. Much of it is recycled. Workers there are very helpful and friendly. On Saturday mornings especially, it’s a great place to meet other Westporters.

The best shortcut in town that does not involve annoying other residents is the Merritt Parkway between Exits 41 and 42. You get from the YMCA/Wilton area to Coleytown/Weston without circling through Wilton Road, North Kings Highway and Main Street. Even when the Merritt traffic creeps along, it’s usually quicker.

The Imperial Avenue parking lot is underrated – not only for events at the Levitt Pavilion, but even for downtown. The pedestrian bridge connecting it to the Levitt and Library is easy and gorgeous — and the lot is nearly always empty.

Deadman Brook bridge, between the Levitt Pavilion and Imperial Avenue (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

You will see the Remarkable Bookcycle parked somewhere around town: the beach perhaps, or Bedford Square or the Westport Book Shop on Jesup Road. The concept is cool — take a book, give a book — but there’s a back story. It’s decorated with the “dancing man” logo of the Remarkable Book Shop, a beloved (and long-gone) Main Street institution. Fun fact: The Bookcycle is the brainchild of Jane Green. Yes, that Jane Green. The internationally known author is a fellow Westporter.

(Photo/Judith Shaw)

Those are just a few top-of-the-head ideas. I am sure every “06880” reader — at least, those who have been here more than 10 minutes — can add his or her own.

So, let’s do it. Click “Comments” below to pass along info that every newcomer needs to know. Along with this last one:

You don’t need to buy milk and eggs every time snow is predicted. But do pay attention to rain and wind advisories.

There’s not a lot that’s certain in Westport, but this much is: You will lose power.

Often.

Welcome to Westport!

Roundup: Salsa Fresca, Library Cafe, Fireworks …

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Chipotle didn’t make it. Neither did Qdoba.

But Salsa Fresca is betting the 3rd time’s the charm.

The idea is the same: build your own Mexican meal — burrito, bowl, taco, salad, nachos, quesadilla — from a list of items.

Salsa Fresca is a lot smaller than either of the 2 chains that preceded it. They had hundreds. This will be just the 9th Salsa Fresca in New York and Connecticut. The closest locations now are Danbury and Bedford Hills.

They’ll open in the exact same spot — at the foot of Playhouse Square, underneath Kennedy’s Barber Shop — that Qdoba vacated more than 3 years ago.

So I’ll say this about Salsa Fresca: They’ve got some big cojones.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

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The Westport Library Café is — like so much else — reopening up more and more.

Hours are now 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Come for the treats. Stay for the views!

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Hey — it was a great idea while it lasted.

With no 4th of July fireworks yesterday, “06880” reader Jennifer McCarthy floated the idea of rescheduling the pyrotechnics — this year only — to Labor Day.

Looks like a washout, though (just like Friday night’s would have been). Westport PAL — longtime sponsor of the annual event — says that town officials nixed the concept a while ago, not wanting to risk being a super-spreader.

In addition, staffing would be tough. Many seasonal employees will already be back in college.

See you at Compo in early July, 2022!

Fears of another super-spreader event mean no fireworks until next year. (Photo/Rick Benson)

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The Gillespie Center food pantry is out of essentials.

Items needed include canned meats (chicken, tuna, salmon, Spam), pasta sauces, jams and jellies, hot and cold cereals, canned fruits and vegetables,, and paper and reusable bags.

They can be dropped off at the Gillespie Center courtyard (behind Don Memo restaurant) today, tomorrow and Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Yesterday, America celebrated its 245th birthday.

But anyone wandering by the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot across from the Southport Diner yesterday — just over the town line — might have thought it was our 145th.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows delicious raspberries, ready to ripen at Baron’s South. Yum!

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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And finally … on this day in 1954, Elvis Presley recorded his first single, “That’s All Right,” at Sun Records in Memphis. The world was never the same.

Roundup: Fireworks, Mill Pond Jumping, River Cleanup …

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Jennifer Rago McCarthy grew up with Westport traditions. Like the Yankee Doodle Fair. And the 4th of July fireworks.

In 2020, COVID knocked out the June fair. To be safe, the Westport Woman’s Club moved this year’s event to September.

For the second straight summer, the fireworks wee canceled.

Which got Jennifer — a 1985 Staples High School graduate — thinking: Why not have the fireworks on Labor Day weekend?

Why not indeed?!

Jennifer asked me to post her idea. If enough people are interested, it may be worth pursuing.

So, “06880” readers: What do you think? If you’re down with fireworks on Labor Day weekend, click “Comments” below.

And if you think that’s a bad idea, click “Comments” too — and tell us why.

Labor Day, 2021?(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

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“The show must go on” is a time-honored tradition. On Friday night, Drew Angus honored it well.

The Staples High School graduate, recording artist and all-around good guy was booked for the Levitt Pavilion. Right before showtime, a hard rain fell.

But Drew — standing behind his band’s covered instruments — gave a fantastic performance.

Most of the crowd was far in back, under the overhang. A few hardy folks sat on the grass. But it didn’t take long for many to get up and dance. It was an amazing scene. (It didn’t hurt that one of his numbers was “Singin’ in the Rain.”)

Carleigh Welsh announced that Drew will be booked for another performance this summer. Hopefully he knows “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” (Hat tip: Laura Schwartz)

Drew Angus, singing in the rain. (Photo/Laura Schwartz)

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For decades, kids jumped off the Sherwood Mill Pond bridge.

When the water got grotty, they stopped.

The pond is back in great shape. Several years ago, the jumpers returned.

Last summer, some of them were loud and rude. They ruined it for everyone. Residents complained. Parks & Rec put up a “Danger/No Jumping or Diving” sign, complete with little red-slash pictographs.

Yesterday, Ann Becker Moore, Pam Washburn and Karen Como spotted a new sign. It says simply: “Jump.”

(Photo/Karen Como)

WTF?!

If anyone knows what’s going on, click “Comments” below.

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This was 90 Morningside Drive South, when it was on the market.

It was bought last July for $2.64 million, by Mattera Construction. Here’s how it looked yesterday:

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Every other Saturday morning, Longshore Sailing School hosts a Saugatuck River cleanup.

Despite yesterday’s weather, 40 single and double kayaks headed out. Each came bag with incredible amounts of trash.

Paul Danielewicz and Mark Jaffe collected the most. They don’t win anything. But everyone who loves the Saugatuck River is grateful.

The next cleanup is July 17 (9:30 to 11 a.m.). Anyone interested should meet at Longshore Sailing School, behind the pool.

Paul Danielewicz and Mark Jaffe.

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Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Eastern Conference finals. They advance to the championship for the first time since 1974 (when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the starting center).

The Westport connection? The Bucks are co-owned by Westport hedge fund manager Marc Lasry. PS: They were named the Bucks long before the billionaire bought them. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

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Conversion of the former Armstrong Rubber Company headquarters in New Haven — the concrete box on the left as you head north, next to Ikea and just before the I-91 merge — into what may be the most energy-efficient hotel in the country has “Westport” all over it.

Hotel Marcel’s developer and architect is Westport-based Bruce Becker. He’s building it to meet net-zero energy standards. It will generate as much energy as it uses. All electricity is produced on site, and it’s the first passive house-certified hotel in the US. 

Saugatuck’s LANDTECH is the project’s site/civil engineer.

It’s a great project. To learn more, click on the video below. (Hat tip: Peter Gold)

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The weather hasn’t been great this 4th of July weekend. But Jolantha of Kellogg Hill proves you can put lipstick on this pig.

Or at least decorate her for the holiday.

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

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“Naturally … Westport” ventures today to Bermuda Road, on Saugatuck Shores:

(Photo/Diane Yormark)

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And finally … happy birthday, America. We’ve made it through 245 years. Here’s to the next 245!

Friday Flashback #199

Today was supposed to be the 4th of July fireworks (which Westport traditionally celebrates before Independence Day — we’re always ahead of the crowd).

Here is some of what we’ll miss:

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/Ted Horowitz)

(Photo/David Squires)

Here is what we won’t miss:

COVID Cancels Memorial Day Parade — And Fireworks

If you didn’t think the coronavirus crisis was real, today’s announcement from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe brings it home. He says:

It is with great regret that we must announce that due to the COVID-19 crisis, the town of Westport’s annual Memorial Day parade and July 4 fireworks have been canceled. Unfortunately, many nearby communities have made similar decisions to cancel their summer events.

Both events draw hundreds of participants and thousands of onlookers each year. In an abundance of caution, and with the health and safety of our community at the forefront of our perspective, it is only appropriate that we notify the public well in advance that these scheduled events have been canceled.

The decision to cancel does not come without reservation or sadness from all our public officials. However, the current environment dictates that we determine the best way to manage these types of events in the future. We cannot make assumptions at this time on whether or not it will be safe to congregate in any size crowd, much less ones of this magnitude, by the end of May or the beginning of July.

Westport’s Memorial Day parade doesn’t get more classic than this. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

The Memorial Day Parade and the following ceremony at Veterans Green, organized by the Westport Veterans Council and Westport Parks and Recreation Department, was to be held on Monday, May 25.

The town of Westport will always remember the ultimate sacrifices made by so many service men and women in defense of our freedoms. We plan for an alternate virtual event for Memorial Day to honor our veterans, and commemorate those selfless soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Details will be forthcoming.

Speeches on Veterans Green by grand marshals — like Larry Aasen, above — are among the most meaningful parts of Westport’s Memorial Day celebration. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The Westport Police Athletic League-sponsored Independence Day fireworks was scheduled for July 2, 2020. This family outing annually draws thousands of attendees to Compo Beach and the nearby neighborhoods for an evening of fun and fireworks.

“The PAL had to make a difficult decision regarding the Independence Day fireworks. Please understand that organizing an event of this magnitude requires not only a significant amount of pre-planning, but also a financial commitment that must be made several months in advance. With the uncertainty surrounding current restrictions on large gatherings and when these might be lifted, it would be ill-advised to plan an event which may ultimately not be possible and safe to execute,” said PAL president Ned Batlin.

Although the fireworks celebration will not be held this year, the community will be encouraged to remember and celebrate the spirit of the Independence Day holiday in their own private way.  We are confident that soon, the crisis will be lessened and we will once again be able to hold these longstanding community events.

Please be assured that when that time comes, they will be organized with effective pre-planning, precision and with abundant public safety considerations. Thank you for your continued understanding and commitment to maintaining the health, well-being and safety of our entire community.

A timeless scene — and one we won’t see this year.

PAL Fireworks And Parking Passes: The Back Story Many People Miss

Since 2003, Westport PAL has awarded over $400,000 in college scholarships.

In the past few years they’ve donated $153,000 to the Field of Dreams turf field project, $49,000 to Westport Baseball and Softball, $23,000 to Special Olympics, $15,000 to the Compo Beach playground, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to many worthy, kid-related causes.

Each year, they help sponsor the 4th of July* fireworks. They are allowed to sell a maximum of 2,000 Compo Beach parking passes. The cost — $35 per vehicle — has not risen in years.

Last year, they sold fewer than 1,900. Yet an estimated 15,000 party-goers thronged the beach, for the best community event of the year.

You do the math.

A small portion of the very large crowd.

Westport PAL was organized in 1948. A few years later, they started the fireworks tradition.

It takes a ton of work. The volunteer organization partners with the Westport Police, Fire and Parks and Recreation Departments; EMS; Fireworks by Grucci — and many others — to make the event a smash.

About 20 years ago, PAL offered to hand it over to the town. First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said thanks, but no thanks.

Everyone — including out-of-towners — pitches in to make the fireworks a success.

The fireworks is PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help run programs in football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, rugby and track. They impact thousands of boys and girls each year.

In addition to the recipients of PAL money listed earlier, recent donations include $24,000 for health and wellness programs, $20,000 for lights at Staples High School, $5,000 for wrestling mats, $2,000 for a WWPT-FM Wrecker Radio tent, thousands to Staples’ Gridiron Club — the list goes on and on.

The fireworks is a true community effort. Melissa & Doug — the internationally highly regarded, locally owned children’s toy company — generously covers the cost of the actual pyrotechnics each year. (Grucci offers 3 levels. Westport’s is the top-tier.)

Happy birthday, America! (Photo/Suzanne Sherman Propp)

But PAL picks up other costs: the barge ($15,000 a day). The Cobra marching band, with Sapphire dancers. The Nassau County bomb squad. Food and drinks for police, fire and Parks and Rec workers (beyond what Jersey Mike’s provides). This year, PAL is even springing for a new barge mooring.

PAL president Ned Batlin, and past president/current vice president Sam Arciola, are both Staples grads. They grew up going to the fireworks — and playing PAL sports.

They want Westporters to know: Those $35 parking passes are not a ripoff.

They’re a bargain.

Parks and Rec operations supervisor Dan DeVito helps collect tickets. The process is quick and easy.

Last year’s non-sellout — despite the packed beach — was part of a trend. Some fireworks-goers arrive by Uber. Others park — as far away as the Children’s Community Development Center on Hillspoint Road — and walk in.

Of course, there are people like the homeowner on Soundview Drive. Like many neighbors, he throws a huge fireworks bash every year.

But he also buys 30 parking passes, and gives them to guests. He wants to support PAL; he doesn’t want friends to freeload.

Party on Soundview!

“One of our longtime executive directors, PJ Romano, used to say, ‘It’s all about the kids,'” Batlin says.

“PAL — and the fireworks — is all about local police and citizens who really care about the town, and everyone in it. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. But if we don’t sell out, it really handcuffs our ability to help.”

That’s the back story too few people know. So pony up, Westporters. PAL needs you to buy those fireworks parking passes.

They’re available at the Parks & Rec office in Longshore (opposite the golf pro shop) during business hours, and 24/7 at police headquarters (50 Jesup Road). You can pay by cash or check (“Westport PAL”).

If — er, when — they sell out, you can buy a pass to park at Longshore. Dattco donates buses, which shuttle back and forth to the beach from 5:45 to 11 p.m.

With a police escort.

*Okay, the 3rd of July. You know what I mean.

Westport’s fireworks are timeless. This shot is from 2016. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pop-Up Pyrotechnics

Westport has welcomed pop-up outdoor dining.

A pop-up Halloween shop.

Now — just in time for July 4th — we’ve got a pop-up fireworks stand.

It popped up in the parking lot of the Rio Bravo/Julian’s shopping center — the one near Maple Avenue that was once anchored by Pier 1.

Of course, this being Connecticut, you can’t get the real, big, honest-to-goodness finger-losers here — not in the parking lot, or anywhere else in the state.

For those, you have to go to Pennsylvania.

You know: the Keystone State.