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Tag Archives: Cockenoe Island
Last week’s Friday Flashback featured a 1967 poster It advertised a rally at Town Hall, to “Save Cockenoe Island” (from an electric utility, which wanted to build a nuclear power plant there).
This week’s Flashback also features a poster. It too references an August event — almost exactly 30 years ago today. And — go figure — it too has a strong Cockenoe connection.
Well, check out this video:
There’s a lot of bizarre stuff on YouTube. But this ranks right up there.
In tones befitting Marlon Perkins on “Wild Kingdom” — or, this century, an endangered-species documentary on the National Geographic Channel — a narrator breathlessly describes what seems to be a very odd tradition in our coastal community.
“Just another lazy day along the river in Westport, Connecticut,” the 1977 video begins. “Except that this is the day of the Great Race.”
After describing the event — a 1-mile run, a 3-mile row or paddle out to Cockenoe Island, picking up 1 pound of garbage, then rowing or paddling back for a 1st-place prize of $1,000 — the narrator declares that on Great Race Day, Westport is the center of “high international drama.” (Cut to an interview with an Australian guy.)
There are classic quotes — “We run to the liquor store to get our bodies in shape” — interspersed with vintage shots of downtown, and the not-sure-if-it’s-tongue-in-cheek-or-not description of a team that trained “in a handmade aluminum craft for an entire year, just for this race.”
In fact, I’m not sure if the entire video is serious, a satire, or just a goof. When you see 2 teams fighting over a piece of garbage on Cockenoe, you’ll wonder too.
But — as the narrator notes — “constant seamanship and vigilance” were keys to winning the Great Race.
And, at the end, “the townspeople have come together with their picnic lunches to cheer and debate their favorites. The memories will keep for a whole year.”
It was a tradition that lasted from the ’70s into the ’90s. If you participated in the Great Race — as a boater, a spectator or the guy who delivered the kegs — we’d love to hear what you remember. (If, of course, you remember anything.)
Click “Comments” below. Ahoy!
(Hat tips: Jack Whittle, Ted Friedman, Rich Stein)
Many Westporters are familiar with the iconic “Save Cockenoe Now” poster:
Created by Walter and Naiad Einsel, it helped spur citizens — who then pressured town officials — to purchase the island from United Illuminating.
In a move that sounds unfathomable today, the utility wanted to build a nuclear power plant right there, a mile off Compo Beach.
There was plenty of opposition. But UI had a good deal of support, too.
The Einsels were not the only ones rallying Westporters with artwork. Almost 54 years ago to the day, this was the scene:
The campaign worked.
The town paid approximately $200,000 for Cockenoe Island — UI’s purchase price. State and federal funds covered 75% of the cost. Westport now owns Cockenoe — in perpetuity.
Want to know more? Click here, for full details.
Former First Selectman John J. Kemish died April 25 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 93.
Kemish served three 2-year terms as Westport’s chief executive, from 1967 to 1973. Prior to his election, beginning in 1958 he was the town’s first professional controller (now “finance director”). He improved Westport’s credit rating from A to AAA by establishing the town’s first Capital and Non-Recurring Expenditure fund. As controller he also played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club, under First Selectman Herb Baldwin.
Kemish earned a bachelor’s degree from Hillyer College (now called the University of Hartford), and a master’s degree in public administration and municipal finance from the University of Connecticut.
Woody Klein, in his book Westport Connecticut, The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, called Kemish “a personable and highly competent public servant.”
At the time of his election, Westport “was about to face one of the most defining moments in the Town’s history.” United Illuminating Company, a statewide utility, had just announced its intent to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than one mile offshore from Westport’s Compo Beach…. Kemish would soon become one of the key figures in the Cockenoe campaign.”
UI’s announcement galvanized the town, and sparked a “Save Cockenoe Now” campaign spearheaded by Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the Westport News.
The First Selectman’s Committee began a year-and-a-half environmental battle, with national coverage. The solution involved the purchase of the Island by the Town. MrKemish engineered the financing that made the purchase possible, and recouped 75% of the money from the federal government. Westport now owns Cockenoe Island in perpetuity.
MrKemish also spearheaded construction of the first solid waste transfer station (the current site of the Levitt Pavilion), effectively ending sanitary land filling of garbage in Westport. This was a landmark for Connecticut, and culminated in the formation of the State Resource Recovery Authority.
Among other important contributions to the quality of life in Westport, Kemish created Westport’s Beautification Committee. Chair Claire Ford and her organization gained the support of the Planning & Zoning Commission. Significant changes included plantings and the restriction of signage along the Post Road.
Kemish was also responsible for the acquisition of the 38-acre Wakeman Farm, acquisition of the Nike Site on Bayberry lane, and a similar one on North Avenue (providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, now the location of Bedford Middle School).
During his years as first selectman, Kemish succeeded New York Mayor John Lindsay as president of the Metropolitan Regional Council, which was instrumental in improving services of the Metro-North railroad.
In addition, Kemish worked with Union Carbide and American Can Company on expansion of their municipal resource recovery and solid waste processing systems. In retirement he traveled extensively with his wife Gloria, and enjoyed family time in his homes in Connecticut and Florida.
He is survived by his wife Gloria Kemish, her family, and sons James and Steven.
First Selectman Jim Marpe says:
It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of former Westport 1st Selectman John Kemish on April 25, at the age of 93. John served three 2-year terms as Westport’s 1st Selectman from 1967 to 1973.
Prior to his election, John served as the town’s first professional controller (now the finance director), where he improved the town’s credit rating from A to Aaa. As controller, he played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club for the town under then-1st Selectman Herb Baldwin.
As 1st Selectman, John played a major role in the town’s campaign to save Cockenoe Island from United Illuminating Company’s plans to erect a nuclear power plant at that offshore site. Under John’s leadership, the agreement to sell Cockenoe Island to the town and eliminate the plans for the power plant proved successful. The town owes John a debt of gratitude, along with many others involved in that environmental fight to save the natural beauty and landscape of that island over 50 years ago,
According to Woody Klein in his book, Westport Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, John is credited with the “acquisition of the Wakeman Farm as open space; he led the town’s effort to acquire the Nike Site on Bayberry Lane for the Westport-Weston Health District and Rolnick Observatory; he was responsible for the acquisition of the North Avenue Nike Site, providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, (which became Bedford Middle School); he established the first major town beautification program by creating the Beautification Committee; and he played a role in the creation of the Transit District and the subsequent introduction of the Minnybus.” He also played an important role in the development of the original Levitt Pavilion.
Those accomplishments notwithstanding, I understand that John was a dedicated public servant who placed the issues and concerns expressed by many Westporters first. I know that generations of Westporters have and will continue to benefit from his due diligence, calm demeanor and leadership capabilities.
On behalf of the Town of Westport, I want to express my sincere condolences to his wife Gloria, his sons James and Steven, and his entire family.
But a bird-lover may have helped find it.
Yesterday morning — while scanning Long Island Sound and Cockenoe Island for birds, with her spotting scope — Tina Green noticed a bench on the Cockenoe sand spit. It’s where the common terns and American oystercatchers nest
This morning she headed to Saugatuck Shores. Here’s what she saw, with her long-range scope:
Tina — who in real life owns Renaissance Studio, the great stained custom stained glass company, with her husband Peter — suspects it might be one of the 3 now reported gone.
“Someone may have gone to a lot of trouble to remove the bench, and then get it out to Cockenoe,” she says.
She hopes the Marine Police can retrieve it, once their boat is in the water. Or, Tina says, “perhaps a Westporter with a large enough boat and a few strapping lads can return it to Compo where it belongs. It’s heavy!”
How did you spend election night?
I toggled back and forth between TV stations, Twitter and texts.
Some people headed to watch parties, at Wakeman Town Farm (Democrats) and Hudson Malone (Republicans).
A few folks gathered on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, to show support for their candidate:
Donald Trump lost Westport by a 3-to-1 margin: 12,775 to 4,184.
Nationally, of course, we will know the result — perhaps — by Inauguration Day.
Looking for a vintage 1967 “Save Cockenoe Now” poster? You can bid online for it here.
No idea what “Save Cockenoe Now” was all about? The quick answer: Back in the day, a nuclear power plant camethisclose to being built a mile off Compo Beach.
Want to know more? Click here. (Hat tip: William Strittmatter)
And finally …
There are many ways to get from Westport to Cockenoe Island.
You can sail. You can paddle. You can JetSki.
Or — if you are particularly adventurous — you can walk.
Alert — and creative — “06880” reader Jeff Manchester reports:
“With a super low tide at 8:09 this morning, some intrepid souls took their soles and walked from Saugatuck Island to Cockenoe Island.
“It was a brisk morning in the high 40’s when we started, and only in the 50’s when we returned. However, the water was warmer than the air, so it made for a much more enjoyable journey.
“This is a bucket list item for sure, when the tides and weather cooperate.
“And of course, we have the Einsels, Greens, Jo Fox Brosious and many more to thank for their herculean efforts, saving Cockenoe for future generations from an attempted nuclear power plant over 50 years ago.”
Indeed. Although if that Chernobyl-style structure had actually been built there, today’s water would be a lot warmer.