In 1957, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo “moved” from their East 68th Street brownstone to Westport. Their good friends Fred and Ethel Mertz joined them.
It was the 6th and final season of “I Love Lucy.” And in the very last episode, Lucy accidentally smashed the Minuteman statue that Ricky is about to unveil at the “Yankee Doodle Day” celebration. Hilarity, of course, ensued.
Lucy Ricardo, posing as the Minuteman statue.
The episode — including a cameo appearance by 5-year-old Desi Arnaz Jr. — was watched by over 35 million viewers. (The top-ranked comedy in 2013-14, ” Big Bang Theory,” averaged 20 million.)
So how did Lucy end up in Westport, demolishing the Minuteman statue?
According to a fascinating story by Marshall S. Berdan in the December 2006 issue of Westport Magazine, the show’s writers needed “a whole new set of zany predicaments” that the suburbs could provide. (The reason given on TV: With young Desi Jr. growing up, the apartment was too small.)
Bob Weiskopf — one of the 4 writers — had actually lived in an old Victorian house on Canal Street, before moving to California. He suggested Westport as the Ricardos and Mertzes’ new home.
Broadway set designer Ralph Alswang and his wife Betty — Weston residents — drove a senior writer around town in December of 1956. They showed her Compo Beach, downtown and the train station, then had dinner at Cobb’s Mill. That one day in Westport sealed the deal.
According to Berdan, actor Arthur Kennedy’s 1928 home on Old Hill Road — with plank floors, wooden beams and a massive stone fireplace — served as the model for the Ricardos’ home. The Mertzes moved into the “guesthouse.”
Lucy did find “a new set of foils,” Berdan wrote, “in the form of Westport’s somewhat stiff, commuting corporate types and their patrician Yankee wives, the latter in collective form as the Westport Historical Society, the Westport Garden Club and an unnamed country club.”
In one episode, Lucy lost control of a power lawnmower on Main Street and the Boston Post Road. In another, the Ricardos and Mertzes attempt to surprise each other at the train station, but miss connections. I’m sure it looked funnier than it sounds.
In the Minuteman episode, Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in “Westport.” It says: “Yankee Doodle Day Celebration — Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green.”
In the final scene of the Minuteman episode, Berdan said, “the Ricardos’ dog nuzzles the replacement statue (Lucy) to life while Ricky extols the bravery and heroism exhibited by the patriots at the Battle of Compo.”
That’s a far cry from the scene on Monday, when Westporters got their first look at the newly restored Minuteman.
But it sure puts the complaints about the old guy wearing a Santa cap in perspective, no?
*Not as old as the Minuteman, but still.
For exceprts from the “I Love Lucy” Minuteman episode, click below:
The Minuteman statue — Westport’s most recognized symbol — will be officially unveiled at 3:30 this afternoon (Monday). He’s undergone a nearly year-long restoration effort, for the 1st time since Mollie Donovan took up the task. The Minuteman dates back to 1910.
Alert “06880” reader Matt Murray saw the Minuteman this morning, in all his glory. His features are once again firm, his muscles taut, his boots polished.
And you gotta love that holiday hat! Here’s hoping it stays on for the big ceremony a few hours from now.
Westport is filled with alert “06880” readers. Many have emailed me recently, asking, essentially: WTF is up with the Minuteman statue?
After a frenzy of restoration activity in late summer, our beloved town symbol has remained wrapped in plastic. On Halloween, no one turned him into a ghost or pirate. It’s Christmastime — but no Santa hat. Easter is far off, but already we’re worrying the Minuteman won’t wear his traditional rabbit ears.
The Minuteman, under wraps. (Photo/Catherine Rondeau)
Hold your fire (ho ho ho).
The Minuteman is all spruced up. The hang-up is the fence around him.
It was in very bad shape. (No surprise. Like the Minuteman, it’s over 100 years old.)
According to Francis Miller — a Hamden conservator working on the project — final touches include galvanizing, light abrasive cleaning, painting, installation, then grade adjustment. Target date for completion is the end of the month.
Organizers want to unveil the entire project at once, rather than piecemeal. So — someday next year — the Minuteman will again look like this:
For over a century, the Minuteman has stood as Westport’s most beloved symbol. Harry Daniel Webster’s statue was dedicated in June 1910.
But this will make you feel really old: The skirmish it commemorates — the Battle of Compo Hill — took place 126 years before that.
The Minuteman statue in 1912 — 2 years after its dedication.
According to Mollie Donovan and Dorothy Curran, 2000 British troops under the direction of General William Tryon landed at Compo Beach at dusk on April 25, 1777. Tory loyalists planned to guide them up Compo Road to Cross Highway, across to Redding Road, then north through Redding and Bethel to Danbury, where they would burn a major munitions depot.
Patriots fired a few shots at the corner of the Post Road and Compo, but the British marched on. In Danbury they destroyed the Continental Army’s munitions, then headed back toward their waiting ships at Compo.
Hastily assembled patriot forces fought them in the fierce Battle of Ridgefield. Led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold — not yet a traitor — and outnumbered 3 to 1, the patriots deployed a strategy of selective engagement.
British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, returned south and — after the Battle of Compo Hill — retreated to Long Island.
The next day — April 28, 1777 — patriot marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road). They did not stop the redcoats — 20 colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but they gave them a fight.
Graves of some of the patriots who fell that day lie along Compo Beach Road, just past the Minuteman statue.
Though Tryon returned to burn Norwalk and Fairfield, never again during the American Revolution did British troops venture inland in Connecticut.
This Friday (April 26) the Westport Historical Society celebrates the 236th anniversary of that engagement. There’s a 6 p.m. lecture by John Reznikoff (a professional document and signature authenticator with Rockwell Art and Framing), plus a display of historic documents related to the skirmish.
One of the documents on display — and for sale — at the Westport Historical Society this weekend.
All documents are available for purchase. If you can’t make Friday’s event, additional sale days are Saturday (April 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (April 28, 12 to 4 p.m.).
And if you can’t make any of those days, at least think about the Battle of Compo Hill. That’s the reason our Minuteman stands guard, facing Compo Road.
Like his fellow patriots 236 years ago, he’s ready to give the Brits his best shot.
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