Tag Archives: Mark Kramer

Remarkable Guy: The Sequel

When the Westport Museum for History & Culture jettisoned the nod-to-local-history name of its Remarkable Gift Shop — it’s now the much-more-meh The Shop at Wheeler House — it thankfully did not also toss out the Remarkable Guy.

That’s the wooden, Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure that greeted folks browsing for books, posters and other Westport-themed gifts at what used to be called the Historical Society, on Avery Place.

Remarkable Guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Remarkable Guy had been exhibited at the WHS thanks to the Kramer family. Sid and Esther Kramer owned the Remarkable Book Shop, a long-lived, much-loved funky bookstore on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza, a few feet from Wheeler House. (Westporters know it now as the long-vacant Talbots building.)

WMHC officials tracked down Sid and Esther’s son Mark. Executive director Ramin Ganeshram emailed him that the Remarkable Theater — the new organization that hopes to bring a theater to Westport, staffed by people with disabilities — had asked for the “wooden die cut image.”

She suggested Kramer take it from the museum, and give or lend it to the theater for their events. (It is of course still in the early planning stages).

She noted that because the Remarkable Guy had never been “formally gifted or accepted into the collections,” it was not the museum’s right to lend.

Though the museum did not have the funds to ship the Remarkable Guy to Kramer, who lives in Massachusetts, they promised to keep it safe until he could retrieve it.

Or perhaps, Ganeshram said, he could officially donate it to the museum. Then, however, it could not be lent to anyone, because of insurance complications. She noted, “It is our understanding that the figure was brought to the museum but never intended to be an ‘artifact’ per se.”

Kramer worried that the museum might not treasure the Remarkable Guy.

A solution arose when Kramer’s longtime Westport friend Pam Barkentin offered to keep it in Westport, so it can be loaned when appropriate.

Chris O’Dell — whose O Living Experience builds high-quality, high-efficiency new homes and renovations — quickly agreed to move the Remarkable Guy to Pam’s garage. gratis.

Chris O’Dell (left), O Living Experience owner, and employee Chuck Hilman volunteered to move the Remarkable Guy.

That’s where he sits now, safe and sound.

And waiting to be loaned, to lend a bit of local history to organizations that appreciate and cherish him.

Pam Barkentin is keeping the Remarkable Guy safe for Mark Kramer.

Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

Mark Kramer: A View From The Bridge

Mark Kramer spent 3 decades as a writer-in residence at Smith College, Boston University and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. He also enjoyed a storied career as a book and magazine writer, editor, speaker and consultant.

Mark has not lived in Westport since graduating from Staples High School in 1961. But — as an alert “06880” reader — he notes from afar that “the Saugatuck (Cribari) Bridge is threatened by traffic and time.”

It meant a lot to his childhood — and the town. Mark also has an idea for the bridge’s future. He writes:

I fished from that bridge in the 1950s. I loved watching the crew of volunteers (including John Santella from his dad’s barber shop), Paul Nette from Bridge Garage, and a few firemen from the nearly adjacent firehouse answer the call to pivot it open.

They appeared with a giant wrench — a waist-high T of iron, shaped like 3-pins of the traditional lug wrench that came in auto tool kits.

They stuck the socket into an embedded peg in the center of the bridge, and leaned into the crosspieces of the wrench. Slowly the massive bridge swung parallel to the river, a sailboat or two passed under, they swung it closed again and walked back to work.

Hand cranking the “Bridge Street Bridge,” back in the day.

People crossed the walkway for the pleasure of the view from midstream. They probably still do.

There’s an example of bridge preservation, connecting the twin towns of Shelburne Falls and Buckland, Massachusetts — not far from Smith College — that might be a feasible way for Saugatuck to go.

The “Bridge of Flowers” has had a big part in invigorating the commercial life of the twin towns, which has seen craft workshops and good restaurants come, along with scads of tourists on weekends.

After the local trolley quit, its bridge was long neglected. Then a local committee, led by a visionary real estate woman, raised some minimal funds, turned out lots of volunteer help, and turned it into a 3-season amazement, a walkers’ bridge bulging with horticultural wonders.

The “Bridge of Flowers.”

Now active committees, and perhaps a paid employee or two, keep flowers planted and flowing. It is a community-binding wonder, defying time and making folks happy.

Meanwhile, a new bridge across the Deerfield serves traffic a few hundred yards upstream.

I lived a town away for years, and my perspective on the Bridge of Flowers shifted.

At first it was a great place to bring the in-laws. But then I aged enough so the neighborly generosity that made it happen came into view.

The visitors’ book at the Buckland end of the bridge fills daily with thanks from  people who drive there, and walk the bridge. Many stop for lunch or supper, and browse the shops selling ice cream, used books, ceramics and paintings — a good sort of tourism to draw.

Mark hopes Westporters will look into the idea of a Bridge of Flowers — with a new bridge built nearby. Click here for the Bridge of Flowers website. For more information and personal insights, email Mark directly: kramernarrative@gmail.com.

 

Writing The Mark Kramer Way

What do a public radio reporter, former press secretary to the Maine governor, Buddhist priest and Wall Street Journal Pulitzer Prize winner have in common?

Mark Kramer

Mark Kramer

All gather every Sunday, in Mark Kramer’s Massachusetts living room.  For the next few hours they share stories, discuss their work and prepare to publish non-fiction books.

They’re living proof that you’re never too old to learn.  All mid-career professionals, they know plenty about writing.  But they want to know more.  Under Kramer’s guidance, they do.

Kramer — who before retiring spent 3 decades as a writer-in residence at Smith College, Boston University and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation — was born to write.  His father, Sidney, co-founded Bantam Books in 1945; he’s been in the business ever since, and at 94 still practices publishing law.

Kramer’s mother, Esther, started Westport’s beloved Remarkable Books (the shop’s name spells “Kramer” backwards — who knew?).  Esther and Sid still live on Bluewater Hill, and remain active in town affairs.

Growing up here, Mark Kramer considered himself an outsider:  “Jewish in a Christian town, ultra-liberal in my beliefs.”  Not until high school did he find kindred spirits — other students who also read Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.   With “fellow outsiders” Deb Fortson and Betty Boulware, Kramer edited Soundings, Staples’ literary magazine, in 1960-61.

Yet he flunked high school English.  “My teacher did not allow more than 3 spelling errors,” Kramer recalls.  “I was completely ADD, and not very interested in spelling.”  Three years later, he had a part-time professional editing job.

After a long career as a book and magazine writer, editor, speaker, teacher and consultant, Kramer retired.  Now, his Sunday seminars keep him involved in writing — and offer inspiration to experienced, yet non-non-narrative-book-savvy, writers.

“They’re very skilled people who have not structured book-length projects,” Kramer says.  “This is like a piano teacher teaching professional musicians who have spent their lives playing non-solo instruments.  I feel very privileged to spend time doing this.”

Kramer doesn’t say it, but the implication is clear:  He works with very “remarkable” writers.

(For more information on Mark Kramer’s seminars, click here.  Email:  kramernarrative@gmail.com)