It’s an urban — well, suburban, legend — that happens to be true: Babe Ruth really did play golf at Longshore.
As George Albano — the elephant-memoried Norwalk Hour sports columnist —noted in June, the Bambino spent a week in the summer of 1946 at the River Lane home of Dr. Vito Caselnova, a longtime friend. The doctor was chairman of the golf committee at Longshore, at that time a private club.
Ruth played on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon with Caselnova, Ruth’s physician Dr. George Irwin, Norwalk police commissioner Thomas Murphy, and club pro George Buck. The Sultan of Swat shot a 79, highlighted by a 35-foot eagle putt on the 12th hole.
Babe Ruth at Longshore. (Photo courtesy of Norwalk Hour)
The next day, Hour sports editor Williard Williams wrote that Ruth “did not dub a shot. His drive was good, his approach shots excellent, and his putting almost perfect.
“In between his golf, he shook hands with scores of persons introduced to him on the course and took care of autographs for the youngsters who swarmed all over him. The Babe was as gracious as ever and seemed to enjoy it all.”
Ruth played several more times at Longshore that week. His partners included US Senator Brien McMahon.
Babe Ruth autographs a baseball for George “Nookie” Powers. Powers’ fiancee looks on.
Ruth also visited Norwalk Hospital, where he visited Westport firefighters injured in a horrific Post Road truck blaze. He signed baseballs for — among others — brothers Nookie and Chick Powers. Both had been legendary athletes at Staples.
Just 2 years later, Ruth was dead from cancer. It started in his throat, and moved to his brain.
Caselnova’s son, Vito Jr., told Albano:
When he stayed with us he used to complain about headaches. He would come downstairs in the morning, go right to the refrigerator, and pull out a can of beer. Not to drink it, but to rub the cold can over his head. He said it made him feel better.
He said he was going to come back next year, but he never made it. He said he was going to bring another player with him, a guy named Joe DiMaggio.
Those Ruthian stories popped up yesterday. Alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter spotted the scorecard from that June 26, 1946 round on eBay.
And we did it long before Westport became a baby boom ‘burb. Alert “06880” reader Mary Palmieri Gai has unearthed 2 fascinating Time magazine stories from 1938. Had a group of protesters not prevailed, Westport might look very different today.
On March 28, 1938 Time reported that Westport was bidding to become the next Salzburg, Austria — a world musical capital.
In this “arty village lying on the sluggish River Saugatuck,” Hendrik van Loon’s Connecticut Society of Friends of Music announced plans for 6 summer concerts.
While this would still leave Westport “trailing in competition with such established U. S. summer festivals as the Berkshire, Hollywood Bowl, St. Louis Municipal Opera, and Manhattan Lewisohn Stadium,” Time said, “such Westporters as van Loon, Grace Moore and Lawrence Tibbett hope for glamorous future expansion, to help keep American music lovers from stumping off to Europe every summer.”
Westporter Patrick A. Powers — “an enterprising Irishman, onetime backer of Walt Disney,” and organizer of a forerunner of RKO, had already purchased a 200-acre estate, where he built the Longshore Country Club. In mid-March he “promised Westporters a great gift: he would build a $100,000 ‘marine stadium’ at Westport” — presumably Longshore — and lease it to Friends of Music for $1 a year.
Longshore Country Club, back in the day. What a perfect site for a “marine stadium”!
It did not take long for Westporters to howl. The following week, Time reported:
200 embattled citizens of arty Westport, Conn, nearly shattered the rafters of their Town Hall with furious protests against the plan to make Westport a “Salzburg on the Saugatuck”…. Following the meeting, Westport’s Board of Zoning Appeals refused to grant Millionaire Patrick A. Powers a permit to continue construction on his $100,000 “Dream Stadium.”
Protesting Westporters, preferring rural quiet to culture and glory, feared that their “simple” village would be turned into a Connecticut Coney Island instead of an American Salzburg. “We don’t want to be the Salzburg of America,” declared one anxious Westporter. “We want to die in peace.”
So did those protesters exactly 75 years ago get it right? Or would it be pretty cool if today Westport was known worldwide as “Salzburg on the Saugatuck”?
Raise your voices. Hit “Comments” to join the debate.
Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair. Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.
Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.
This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.
But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought. Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.
Some will play in the golf tournament. All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.
Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.
So who was Herb Baldwin?
He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I. In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.
With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.
Four years later, he cleared $123.
He soon became a successful apple grower. But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.
He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.
He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman. When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.
He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review. He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman. He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.
He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee. Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.
Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.
When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected. Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned. Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding. Two new schools were built.
When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance. Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.
Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas. Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.
Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).
Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73. In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf. (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)
In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin. I asked him to sum up his life.
“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.
“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years. What else could anybody want?”
Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?
(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m. Both events are at Longshore.)
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