Tag Archives: Lillian Wald

Hail To The Chiefs

Happy Presidents Day!

Whether you spell it with or without an apostrophe (President’s Day?  Presidents’ Day? — the jury is out), a few things are certain:

  • You’ll forget there’s no mail delivery and the banks are closed, and
  • You won’t honor our presidents.  Not even guys like John Tyler, who never gets any recognition at all despite having 15 kids and still finding time to annex Texas.

Westport is not exactly Presidentsville, U.S.A.  Unlike New Haven, no president was born here (though George W. Bush scrubbed that fact from his official biography).  We’re not even as attractive as Chappaqua as a presidential retirement community.

Still, we’ve had brushes with presidential glory, starting with the Father of our Country.

George Washington traveled through town several times.  At Marvin’s Tavern on the Post Road near King’s Highway South the president declined the feast prepared for him, asking only for bread and milk.  Yet in his diary he called it “not a good house.”  Perhaps his wooden teeth bothered him that day.

James Buchanan was our only gay president.  Did he ever get jiggy at the Cedar Brook Cafe — the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country?

Abraham Lincoln supposedly slept at Morris Ketchum’s Hockanum estate on Cross Highway, during a trip north to raise funds for the Civil War.  No word on whether his wife, Mary Todd, accompanied him, though as a noted shopaholic she would certainly have loved Main Street.

Andrew Johnson had no formal education.  His wife taught him reading, writing and arithmetic.  Some “06880” commenters accuse the Westport school system of a similar lack of preparation for real life.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to run against a woman:  Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 nominee of the Equal Rights Party.  Direct descendants of the former suffragette/spiritualist/stockbroker/free love advocate now live in Westport.

William Howard Taft weighed over 330 pounds.  If today’s kids keep being driven to school — and not even allowed to walk to the bus stop — they’ll look like “Big Bill” too.

Warren Harding — on every historian’s list of Worst Presidents Ever — has a high school in Bridgeport named for him.  (It’s in the FCIAC league with Staples.)  I’ve always wondered how that happened, and why Harding students don’t demand a change.

Franklin D. Roosevelt made a campaign stop in Westport in 1936.  He spoke on the Post Road, in front of the YMCA.  FDR and his wife Eleanor also visited Westport as guests of social reformer Lillian Wald, at her famous South Compo “House on the Pond.”  Wald’s guestbook includes the names of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, who according to historian Woody Klein “spent his boyhood summers in Westport” — an intriguing factoid I discovered 3 seconds ago.

Harry Truman started as a haberdasher.  So did Ed Mitchell and his family.  Truman grew up to be president.  The Mitchells were much more fortunate.

Among the many women John F. Kennedy boinked was Marilyn Monroe.  She was a summer resident of Westport.  While there is no evidence that any presidential hanky-panky happened here, there is also none that it didn’t.

Lyndon Johnson sent millions of Americans — and dozens of Westporters — to Vietnam.  On the other hand, local resident Adam Stolpen once worked for LBJ, and has some amazing stories about him.

Bill Clinton visited Westport several times as president, including a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Inn at National Hall.  Also, since his presidency, no Staples senior has been allowed to do an internship at the White House.

Hail To The Chiefs

America celebrated Presidents Day yesterday in the usual manner:  with special sales, no mail delivery, and absolutely no thought given to Zachary Taylor, Benjamin Harrison or Gerald Ford, let alone actual presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and (the big one) William Howard Taft.

Westport — a national leader in areas like hedge funds, education and nannies — would seem to be a natural for presidents too.

We’re not.

Besides passing through on the railroad or highway, our town has few connections with our commanders-in-chief.

George Washington, of course, slept here — he slept everywhere.  In 1780 he is said to have discussed war strategy with the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de  Rochambeau at the Disbrow Tavern (where Christ & Holy Trinity Church is today).  He returned twice in 1789 as president, coming and going on an inspection tour of the Northeast.  He spent 1 night at the Marvin Tavern — located on the Post Road, opposite King’s Highway South — but did not have a bang-up time.  In his diary, he called it “not a good house.”

This may be the only time Millard Fillmore appears in my blog. Or any blog.

Millard Fillmore was a guest at Richard Winslow’s “Compo House” mansion on the North Compo/Post Road corner (it later became a sanitarium, then was torn down before tear-downs became fashionable).  But he was here 6 years after he left office.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency.  Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.  Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke on the steps of the YMCA’s Bedford Building during his re-election campaign of 1936.  He was the 1st sitting president to visit since George Washington.  In addition, FDR’s grandson David lived here for several years in the 1990s.  And FDR’s wife, Eleanor, often visited Lillian Wald’s South Compo “Pond House.”  I know, I’m stretching here…

Hey hey, LBJ...

Lyndon Johnson was friendly with Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas — so friendly that that helped scuttle Fortas’ nomination to be Chief Justice in 1968.  Fortas had a summer home on Minuteman Hill, and some beach residents say that Johnson was an occasional guest.

Bill Clinton trolled here for money, before and during his presidency.  As president he attended fundraisers at the Inn at National Hall, and a private home on Saugatuck Avenue.  Both were low-key affairs, if you don’t count the 25-car motorcades, sharpshooters on top of buildings and helicopters whirling overhead.

Westport has had better luck with presidential candidates.  Like Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, in recent years many have made their way here — more for fund-raising than actual vote-seeking.  Who knows?  Soon, Sarah Palin may come to town.

I’d prefer Millard Fillmore.