Tag Archives: Kewpie dolls

Westport’s History, In 100 Objects

The Westport Historical Society has a history of mounting fascinating exhibits.

Subjects have ranged from Saugatuck and famous artists to rock ‘n’ roll and our town 50 years from now.

But while the Sheffer Gallery in the back pulses with life, the front of 223-year-old Wheeler House on Avery Place has been oddly shut.

Now the WHS has opened its Victorian front door to visitors. And — just inside — a long-neglected display case offers an intriguing look into Westport’s past.

“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow (Monday, April 16). Every 2 weeks for the next year, the items will change. They’ll start with the original settlers in 1637, and work up to today.

Kewpie dolls will be on display later this year. In 1909, Westport illustrator Rose O’Neill created the characters.

Artifacts include books, land deeds, farming tools, clothing, toys, a railroad tie — anything that helped make this town what it is.

Each display will include a “mystery object” (though not necessarily from the era depicted). Visitors can guess its identity. One — drawn from all correct answers — will win an item from the gift shop.

A passport/online check-in will help children record their visits. After coming enough times, they’ll get scrip for gift store purchases.

An 1882 shipping book includes the noted Westport name “Wakeman.”

As each case changes, its items will be archived in a digital exhibit on the WHS website.

The Historical Society has plenty of objects. But they’d love more. If you have an item that might work for the exhibit, email 100Objects@westporthistory.org.

(“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow — Monday, April 16 — with a 4 p.m. reception focused on 5th through 8th graders.)

Another artifact: part of Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’ 1950s watercolor of our Memorial Day parade.

What Do Evelene Parsell, Swinburne Hale, The Westport Sanatorium And Kewpie Dolls Have In Common?

Read the story below to find out.

The other day, alert “06880” reader/amateur historian/all-around awesome woman Wendy Crowther was researching Alan Parsell’s connection with the Geiger barn.

Alan Parsell

Alan Parsell

(Important digression: Native Westporter Alan Parsell was the stereotypical crusty old New England Yankee. He served Westport in many capacities over many years, and despite throwing pennies around like they were manhole covers, he always had the town’s best interest in mind. For decades, his family owned Parsell’s Garden Mart, where Geiger’s is now.)

On the internet, Wendy found a record of Alan’s wife (Evelene) having mortgage transactions in Westport with a man named Swinburne Hale. Evelene was descended from one of Westport’s oldest families (the Couches). Intrigued, Wendy wanted to learn more about this fellow with the unusual name (Swinburne Hale, not Couch).

Swinburne Hale

Swinburne Hale

She found that he is connected not only to some of America’s most prominent professors, writers and artists — but that his life intersected with Westport a couple of times.

Hale published his only book in 1923: The Demon’s Notebook — Verse and Perverse. The frontispiece is by Rose O’Neill, an artist and writer who is far better known for creating Kewpie dolls. In 1922 she bought a 10-acre estate on the Saugatuck River.

In 1925 Hale was committed to an “insane asylum”: the Westport Sanatorium. He died there 12 years later, age 53.

The sanatorium was the 2nd use for the majestic building on the corner of the Post Road and North Compo. Built in 1853 for Richard and Mary Fitch Winslow, its original name was Compo House.

Today, of course, nothing remains of Compo House or the Sanatorium — except asphalt paths. You can see them as part of the 32-acre property, which today we call Winslow Park.

Compo House, back in the day.

Compo House, back in the day.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea — except that the “06880” tagline (“Where Westport meets the world”) is proven true every day, in sometimes crazy, but always interesting, ways.

(To read more than you ever wanted to know about Swinburne Hale, click here.)