Tag Archives: Adam Stolpen

Friday Flashback #337

Adam Stolpen moved to Westport with his parents in 1958, and has lived here on and off since then.

As he heard stories of impressive men and women during February’s Black History Month, he remembered Ernestine White. She is not a famous name — but she made an impact he has never forgotten.

Adam writes:

When I started 7th grade at Bedford Junior High on Riverside Avenue in 1959 we had most of our academic classes in the “new” building, which exists today as Saugatuck Elementary.

Our enrichment classes (such as mechanical drawing, metalwork and shop for the boys) were held in the adjacent old Stapes High School building, regrettably torn down and now replaced by an auditorium. Music classes were on the top floor of the Staples building, tucked under the rafters.

The original Staples High School. When it became part of Bedford Junior High in 1958, music classes were taught there.

Chorus was taught by Mrs. Ernestine White. She was the best teacher I have ever had and was, I believe, the only Black teacher in the school at that time.

She was tall, elegant and definitely the kindest, most caring and compassionate teacher I had in all my schooling. Her skill as an educator who somehow magically coaxed actual choral music out of rambunctious pre-teens was only surpassed by the self-awareness, respect and deference she awoke in her classes.

You had to earn her accolades, and you definitely had to deserve one of her hugs. It was a singular privilege to have been in her classes.

In May 1960 I was being Bar Mitzvah. My parents asked me to choose who I wanted to invite to my party, which would take place at our home. My request to invite one of my teachers who they had never met surprised them, but they offered no resistance.

I took the invitation to Mrs. White in school. The following day she asked me to stay after class. She said she would not be able to come, as Mr. White was still living in Washington for work.

She said it would not be appropriate to come alone. I asked if she had any other family around. She said her sister-in-law was in the area, so I invited her also.

Ernestine White, from the 1959 Staples yearbook. In addition to Bedford Junior High, she also taught at the high school.

Weeks later when I had my ceremony, Mrs. White and her sister-in-law listened as I sang my portions of the Torah. Immediately after my grandmother. there was my teacher to give me a big hug and congratulate me on my singing. It felt good; I knew I’d earned it.

At the party that afternoon, there were reactions I remember to this day. Eisenhower was president. The Civil Rights Act had not been passed; Dixiecrats controlled federal legislation, and it was only 5 years since Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat, and Emmett Till was murdered.

When my favorite teacher and her sister-in-law walked into the party, the room fell silent. My mother immediately walked over to the 2 ladies, who were clearly uncomfortable. My mother said how pleased she was to have them there, and ushered them over to the chair right next to my grandmother: the best seat in the house.

The room divided. I heard someone tell my mother that she wouldn’t stay at a party with a person of color. My mother replied that it was a shame she would be leaving, but Mrs. White was our guest too. It mattered to us that she felt welcomed.

It’s interesting that those who were nicest to Mrs. White turned out in later years to be those people I remained closest to, while those who scorned her were those I subsequently found reasons to avoid.

The party was wonderful, but I find that what I recall most vividly from that day was my teacher’s smile while sitting alongside my grandmother, both kibitzing away and as happy as if they were old friends.

I’m sure I was not the only student this marvelous woman encouraged in a positive way. I’ve often wondered what her career was like in the years after I left Bedford. She is an important part of Westport’s Black history.

Adam adds one final note:

By Monday morning word had spread at school that a teacher had attended a party. That day, in the crowded hallway passing between classes, and for the first and only time in my life, I faced prejudice.

Someone loudly yelled, “Adam Stolpen is a kike.” I never knew for certain who it was, and it never happened to me again, anywhere else.

But for that moment I experienced — in my safe place — what Mrs. White had to face daily in society.

Remembering Dusty

“06880” reader Adam Stolpen writes:

My best friend died Sunday morning, and I was responsible. Though a vibrant personality to his last breath, he was quite ill and in pain. I wanted him to die naturally at home, but could not cause him to keep suffering simply because I loved him too much to say goodbye when he depended on me not to prolong the inevitable through heroic means.



We first met Dusty at the Westport Humane Society nearly 2 decades ago. He won all of us over. As any friend of a cat knows, he quickly proved that our home was now his place. He seemed to tolerate me as well as my son Eduard, but it was clear he was my daughter Betty’s cat.

Dusty was a constant presence, and a singularly pleasant companion. As he approached a people-age of 100 he began to slow down. He spent his days watching life from the window, sleeping in the sun on his favorite chair and developing a psychic way of knowing every time I approached the refrigerator (which held his fresh shredded Stew Leonard’s turkey).

Recently his body began to fail him. Couch backs were replaced with cushioned seats, high beds ignored. By last week his favorite hidden shelf became too much of an effort to reach. He lay in the sun on a rug. Wonderful vets tried what they could. He’d knowingly look into our eyes. We sensed he was saying, “It’s not that you live, but how you live. For me it’s over.”

Dusty and Betty.

Dusty as a kitten, and Betty as a pre-teen.

Betty came up on Saturday. They lay near each other, his head resting on her hand. He slept by her all night. The next morning he came to me. We sat for an hour talking — ok, I talked. He listened and snuzzled my leg. We followed our morning routine, watching the sun come up one final time.

We took Dusty to the vet early Sunday morning. He was not alone at the end. He knew he was deeply loved. It was quiet, peaceful and gentle. I have little doubt he was aware of what was happening, and was content. How different the life of this abandoned kitten could have been 20 years ago if we’d not met.

But this story is not just about Dusty, or how much is missing from our home since his death. It’s about how much he brought into our lives, and how glad we all are that we visited the Westport Humane Society and adopted that little ball of dust.

They’re open today, with animals waiting for a new home. I know, because we took all Dusty’s things, to pass along to the next stray kitten who wanders in.

Dusty, once more.

Dusty, once more.

Humane Society logo

Smoking: The Sequel

It happens like clockwork: I write a random, Westport-related post. Someone responds with an even more interesting back story.

Within minutes of this morning’s look back at our town’s former smoking culture, alert “06880” reader  Adam Stolpen clued me in to a May 16, 1987 New York  Times piece.

Cigarettes 1Headlined “A Tough Smoking Plan is Debated in Westport,” it said a proposed law would require restaurant owners to “erect walls, set up partitions or install separate ventilating systems to segregate smokers from non-smokers.” It would also limit cigarette smoking in the workplace to designated areas.

The RTM would vote on “one of the nation’s most restrictive smoking laws, rivaling ones recently approved in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Aspen, Colo.”

The Times quoted Stolpen, an RTM member and principal author of the proposal:  ”Westport is a relatively enlightened community. People come to Westport for variety of reasons. One is clean air. (People) are aware of what’s healthy and not healthy, and studious of what is in their best interest.”

Calling Westport — with about 100 restaurants — a “dining center of Fairfield County and the state,” the Times noted that many restaurateurs opposed the ban.

”I come from an Eastern bloc country,” said Horst Antosch, owner of La Cle d’Or, who was born in East Germany. ”And I am seeing a freedom of choice being taken away. This is not like an airplane. A customer does not have to come into my restaurant if he doesn’t want to.”

Chez Pierre owner Brendan J. Donohoe added, ”A restaurant, since time immemorial, has been a place where people have gone to eat, drink, smoke and make outrageous statements or whatever they want. What’s wrong with that?”

Chez Pierre was a famed French restaurant on Main Street. Today it's Tavern on Main.

Chez Pierre was a famed French restaurant on Main Street. Today it’s Tavern on Main.

The Times noted that some customers were also upset.

”People smoke in restaurants — period,” said Mitchell L. Katz, 37, a pension consultant, as he dined at the Mansion Clam House. ”If you don’t want to be in a restaurant where people are smoking, then don’t come in. ”

The piece ended with a quote from Second Selectman Wally Meyer:

I would hope that we would approve an ordinance that did not allow stray smoke to move from a smoking area into a non-smoking section. But we’re not boutique-ee. We’re going to come up with the most sensible solution that respects the rights of smokers and non-smokers.’

In fact, what followed was a typical Westport controversy. Following intense and contentious discussion, the RTM voted the proposal down.

After which Stolpen received death threats from an overwrought restaurant owner, and his mailbox was blown up.

“I attributed it to nicotine withdrawal and cherry bombs,” Stolpen says 27 years later.

A March, A Dream, A Half-Century

This Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington — and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Longtime Westporter Adam Stolpen remembers it well. He was there.

He writes:

As I recall, Temple Israel sent a bus or 2 of people to The March. So did several other groups. People from town were very involved in the civil right movement.

I was a teenager, and happened to be in DC with my folks for unrelated reasons. The day before the march, I wandered down from the Wardman Park Hotel to the Mall to see if there was anything I could do to help. There weren’t many white folk around working, certainly no one else 16. Everyone was friendly, and seemed genuinely pleased to have me help.

March on  Washington buttonIt was hot and sweaty in the still humid air, in the tents set up along the Mall. An older man who seemed to be in charge handed me a staple gun. He pointed to piles and piles of printed signs, alongside mounds of rough cut flimsy wooden stakes. He asked if I knew how to make picket signs for people to carry in the march. Seemed like a good idea, so I started working some time in the late morning.

I worked far into the night, making hundreds and hundreds of signs for the marchers to carry the next day — until a small, soft-spoken man surrounded by several other men entered the tent. He walked around shaking people’s hands, and speaking to them.

He came over to me.  It must have been about 10  p.m., pitch dark, the tent illuminated by bare bulbs, and I guess I seemed tired and out of place. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing — and if my folks knew where I was.

I told him they did not know where I was, that my dad would not approve of what I was doing since he did not like black people, and if he knew I was involved with the march he’d most likely lock me in my room. He smiled sadly at me. and said it was time for me to go home and let my parents know I was okay. He said that sometimes you needed to listen even to those who disagreed with you, so long as you followed your own heart.

He said that I should do as the Bible said, and honor my father and mother — but be my own man. He said if I could not come back the next day it would be okay, as long as I kept the purpose of the march in my heart when I went home. He shook my hand, and made me propose to go home.

Rev. Martin Luther King, the day after inspiring Adam Stolpen.

Rev. Martin Luther King, the day after inspiring Adam Stolpen.

I did not make it back to the march the next day. As expected, my father forbid me to go, but I felt I was part of it just the same. The night before was the only time I ever met Dr. King, but I was touched by his grace and the sense of calm he projected. I was proud to have been a very small part in helping our country grow and mature.

There must be many more interesting stories Westporters can share of involvement in a movement that was not just for black Americans — but was a civil rights march that opened the way for today’s Latinos, immigrants and gays, and helped pave the road for real American equality.

Adam’s right. If you have a Westport story about that historic day 50 years ago — or if you were not a Westporter then, but are now — hit “Comments.” We want your insights (and please, use your real, full name!)

The scene in Washington, 50 years ago this Wednesday.

The scene in Washington, 50 years ago this Wednesday.

Big Cats

The news that a 140-pound mountain lion was killed by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford on Saturday brought this email from alert “06880” reader Adam Stolpen:

I told Earthplace we had this issue, but they said Connecticut has no mountain lions.

The mountain lion killed in Connecticut. (Photo/Greenwich Time)

Now there have been credible sightings in Greenwich, along with the one killed in Milford and one upstate last year.  They seem to be moving along, using the land abutting the Merritt Parkway as a cruise way.

The sighting in a yard near the ballfield off Route 7 in Wilton/Georgetown is equally alarming.

I saw prints in the freshly fallen snow going from the area of the Merritt across my lawn in the direction of the pond behind my house in the winter of 2009-10.  I downloaded images online of actual cougar paw prints.

I measured what was in the snow, and compared them to the online images.  They were a dead-on match.

I never bothered to photograph them after I asked Earthplace to come look at them, and they refused.

If you recall, a coyote jumped out, snatched and ran off with a small dog that it ate off Red Coat Road a few years back.  Interestingly, I have noticed a falloff in coyotes around here lately, coinciding with the “alleged” presence of the mountain lion(s).

The issue is why, in the face of hard evidence, both Earthplace and the state refuse to acknowledge the existence of big cats in the area.  I am not crying wolf (or mountain lion, for that matter), but it would be wise to remember that forewarned is forearmed.  People need to exercise appropriate caution.

Frazier Peters’ Houses

Adam Stolpen has a thing for Frazier Forman Peters houses.

As a child he lived in a South Compo Road home designed by Peters, arguably Westport’s most famous architect.

Today he lives in another Peters house on Spring Hill Road.  Neighboring homes are also Peters-built.

Adam Stolpen's Frazier Peters house. (Photo by Douglas Healey/The New York Times)

This Saturday (April 24), Stolpen will host Laura Blau.  Peters’ granddaughter — and an architect in her own right — she and Stolpen will ride around Westport, looking at the handsome stone homes created in the 1920s and ’30s by her grandfather.

Her visit comes at a propitious time.  The Westport Historical Society is considering a 2011 exhibit devoted to Peters.  Under the direction of Bob Weingarten, the WHS is also identifying Westport homes designed and built by the legendary architect.

They’ve found 25 so far.  Ten more are being investigated.  They’re on the lookout for others.

Though Weingarten will be away when Blau visits, she’ll have a full itinerary.  And she’ll enjoy seeing — first hand — the mark her grandfather made on Westport.

Writer Susan Farewell wrote about Peters:

Were Frazier Peters to build houses today, he’d be receiving all sorts of accolades for being an architect on the leading edge of environmentally-conscious, energy-efficient, sustainable design and construction.

The thick fieldstone walls (as much as 16 inches) typical of a Peters stone house make them energy-efficient; the stones effectively hold the heat in winter and keep the interiors cools in summer….

He segregated rooms by giving each one a separate identity, and through the use of step-downs, varied building materials, and interesting transitions. He was also taken by how beautifully European stone structures aged and compared them to American-built frame houses that “droop and pout if they are not continually groomed and manicured.”

Another important component of Peters’ designs was the marriage of the house and its surroundings. He wrote a great deal about this and was especially enamored with the brooks, hillsides, and woods of Connecticut.

Stolpen has a copy of Peters’ final — and unpublished — book.  Decades ago, the architect wrote about urban planning.  “He was our first ‘green architect,'” Stolpen says.  “And he was completely self-taught.

“These are definitely not cookie-cutter McMansions.  They are homes meant to be lived in.  And each one has a bit of whimsy.”

The rear of Adam Stolpen's house. (Photo by Douglas Healey/The New York Times)

Blau — who co-founded BluPath Design, a Philadelphia firm specializing in environmentally sensitive spaces — has been to Westport before.  Stolpen drove her around.

“We just looked at the homes,” she recalls.  “One or two people were in their yards.  We introduced ourselves, and chatted.”  For the 1st time she understood the depth, breadth and impact of her grandfather’s work.

This weekend, she hopes to get inside more properties.  She also plans to meet WHS volunteers who are considering next year’s Peter’s exhibit.

Blau, her husband and son will stay in Stolpen’s guest house.  Of course it’s a Frazier Peters structure — built elegantly to house masons, as they worked on other Peters homes that still stand proudly, all around town.

(If you think you live in a Frazier Peters house — and the WHS does not know about it — email Bob Weingarten: rwmailbox@aol.com.  If you’d like Blau and Stolpen to see your house when she is in town, call Stolpen at 203-227-8758.)

When The Times Talks

After months on the market, Adam Stolpen might have wondered what he had to do to create a buzz for his stunning 1928 Frazier Peters stone house on Spring Hill Road, off Wilton Road.

Then the New York Times came calling.

Before becoming a realtor, Stolpen’s agent — Dorothy Salisbury of Weichert — had done PR for Calvin Klein.  Twenty years ago she rolled out Obsession, so she knows something about publicity.

(Photo by Douglas Healey/The New York Times)

Intrigued by the house’s lineage — Peters’ unique stone houses are revered, for good reason — and its amenities like a sun porch, guest cottage and pond, Salisbury called the Times‘ real estate section.

A reporter spent several hours walking through the house, and interviewing Stolpen.  Three days later, photographer Douglas Healey arrived; he too spent nearly all day, taking shots.

That Saturday, Stolpen’s home appeared in the Sunday Times’ “On the Market in the Region” — in print and online.

The texts started immediately.  By the time Salisbury got to her snowy office on Sunday, she’d received 40 calls.  They kept coming.

A woman in New York was particularly fascinated by the house — and the town.  She said she’d be up as soon as she could — she wanted it for a weekend place.  She asked Salisbury not to show it to anyone else.  She said she’d pay the asking price:  $1,999,999.

(Photo by Douglas Healey/The New York Times)

Stolpen, meanwhile, was hearing from friends in California, Texas, Washington — all over the country.  A cousin from New Jersey asked:  “Is that your home in the Times?”

Stolpen wondered:  “Why do all these people look at the real estate section, when they’re never going to buy here?”

I have no idea.  But I do the same thing.

So was there any downside to having his house featured in the New York Times?

“None,” Stolpen said firmly.  “When you’re selling residential real estate, any publicity is good.”