Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Everett Ray Seymour: 
First to Die in Combat
Everett Ray Seymour was described as “a bright young man of straightforward, clean-cut
habits” and “a fine, manly fellow” who was “well-liked.”
He was also a brave: He was the first Ridgefield soldier to die in combat in World War I. As a result, his name lives on a century later, thanks to a venerable veterans organization.
Born in 1895, Seymour was a son of Rufus and Ada Seymour, who lived on Wilton Road West just south of Olmstead Lane. A descendant of founding families of Ridgefield, his father was a farmer and served as Ridgefield’s chief postmaster from 1903 to 1916. (Much of the Seymour family farmland became the Seymour Lane subdivision off South Olmstead Lane in the late 1950s.)
Everett was an apprentice carpenter working for local contractors when he became among the first Ridgefield men to be drafted into the war, enlisting in October 1917. Trained at Camp Devens and Camp Merritt, he was soon shipped to France with Co. L of the 165th Infantry from Connecticut.
     In July 1918, Private Seymour and his company, then part of the 42nd Division, were involved in a battle near Fere-en-Tardenois, northeast of Paris and west of Reims. The troops were
working their way up a hill on a farm. The Rev. Francis P. Duffy, chaplain of the 165th, explained what happened in a letter to the Rev. John M. Deyo of the First Congregational Church.
     Seymour, he said, “died fighting gallantly in the most desperate charge made by men of this regiment in its long annals. His battalion crossed the Ourcq River, near Fere-en-Tardenois, in the early morning of Tuesday, July 29th and were, for hours, the only American troops opposed to the Germans. 
“They fought their way up high all that long morning, cleaning up machine gun nests, and near the very summit young Seymour was brought down by a bullet that suddenly ended his brief but glorious career.”
He was 23 years old. (His memorial marker in Ridgefield Cemetery incorrectly says 22.)
Father Duffy was often in the thick of battle and became the most highly decorated cleric in U.S. Army history (Duffy Square at Times Square in Manhattan is named in his honor and actor Pat
O’Brien portrayed him in the 1940 movie, “The Fighting 69th.”) Duffy told Deyo, “I buried him on the field where he fell, his fittest resting place; his grave is marked with a cross, and the place recorded.”
Today his grave can be found on Row 10 of Plot B at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, very near where he fell.
Seymour’s parents did not receive word of their son’s death until late September. Two months later, his father, Rufus, died at the age of 70.
In August 1920, a post of the American Legion was formed in Ridgefield. Because Seymour was the first to die in combat during the war, the new organization was named  the Everett Ray
Seymour American Legion Post #78 — the 78th post to be chartered in Connecticut, which has more than 200.
When the post’s American Legion Auxiliary was organized for women in 1924, one of the first to join was Gold Star Mother Ada Seymour.

(Note: Everett Ray Seymour was the first to die in combat, but not the first Ridgefield soldier to die in the war.  Private First Class William J. Cumming, an Army ambulance driver who is also profiled here, succumbed to an illness Jan. 5, 1918 in France.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Melbert Cary: 
A Man of Many Parts
Melbert Cary was — as they used to say — a man of many parts. He was a lawyer, a politician, a novelist, a historian, a leader in medical education, and a philanthropist. He came close to being the third Ridgefielder elected governor of the state. But one of his more unusual, and probably least successful “parts” was being an inventor.
Cary’s namesake son and his daughter in law gained even more notoriety for their accomplishments and gifts than he did.
Melbert Brinckerhoff Cary Sr. was born in 1852 in Racine, Wisc. By his own account, after graduating from Princeton, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1872, he “spent a year cattle-ranching in the far West.” He returned to Wisconsin, practiced law briefly in Milwaukee and then became assistant general solicitor of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway until 1882. He moved to New York in 1883 and formed his own law firm, which grew into Cary, Miller and McEwen.  His specialty was railroads.
Cary came to Ridgefield in the early 1890s, owning “Wildflower Farm” along both sides of
lower West Lane. His mansion stood atop a hill across from Cedar Lane. The spread included a sizable farm on the north side of West Lane; two barns on the property were later converted into houses at 334 and 336 West Lane.
Cary quickly became active in the Democratic party in Connecticut, and served as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee for several years. 
In 1902, a year after Republican Governor George E. Lounsbury of Ridgefield left office, Cary ran for governor on the Democratic ticket.  He lost to a Meriden Republican named Abiram Chamberlain, but remained a power in state politics as well as influential in Ridgefield goings on. He was a delegate to the 1908 Democratic National Convention that nominated the golden-throated William Jennings Bryan for president. (Bryan spoke in Ridgefield in 1907 — “Main Street looked as though half the population of the town had turned out,” The Ridgefield Press reported. However, Bryan was as successful in his bid as Cary had been in his.)
Cary was also a writer, whose four books included “The Connecticut Constitution” (1900) and “The Woman Without A Country” (1934) and, when he was in his 80s, the novel, “Back Stage” (1938). 
His wife, the former Julia Metcalf, was active in the woman suffrage movement.
Although Cary moved around in New York’s high society, hewas  evidently in touch with the ordinary folk of Ridgefield. When the son of a local farmer ran into trouble with the New York City police and, with his wife, was thrown in jail, Cary volunteered his services to rescue them.
It was like an episode from “Downton Abbey” or “Upstairs, Downstairs.” In 1896 young newlyweds David and Susan Dann were held in Manhattan’s notorious “Tombs” prison, accused of involvement in the theft of silverware from a banker’s Manhattan townhouse where Susan worked as a maid. Susan was a recent immigrant from Ireland and David was a poor housepainter who grew up on a Ridgefield farm.
There was no real evidence that Susan or her husband had anything to do with the stolen silver, yet they, along with Susan’s sister, spent 10 days in the Tombs.  “They put [her and her sister] in with the lowest kind of women,” Susan told a newspaper. “We heard things that were terrible to us, and were compelled to associate with women who were awful. They said things that men would not say.”
David Dann’s father, Levi, was a farmer who lived near Cary’s Ridgefield mansion. He knew Cary was a prominent New York lawyer and approached him about helping his son. Cary did so immediately, and soon told The New York Times, “I have gone through the evidence … and the only way it connects Susie Dann with the silver is through the fact that she had charge of it. The only way her husband is connected with it is through the fact that the morning after the robbery, he walked with her in public for an hour ... Yet our clients were kept in jail ten days. It was simply an outrage.”
Cary not only got the Danns freed from prison and the charges dropped, but also sued Susan’s employer, blaming the banker for convincing the police that she should be arrested.
(The unusual story of David and Susan Dann is recounted in much more detail in “Wicked Ridgefield, Connecticut,” a book published by The History Press in 2016.)
Cary became quite involved in the stock market in which he invested heavily. However,
according to Ridgefield historian Dick Venus, “there were times in the early part of [the 20th] century when the world of finance sent out some unmistakable signals that it might be ailing. Then came the Panic of 1907 and 1908, and Mr. Cary was one of those who suffered serious financial setbacks.”
This probably led him to decide to sell his Ridgefield mansion in 1909. However, he held onto a couple of hundred acres of the estate with the hope of one day building a new house for himself. That never happened, and his home remained Manhattan, at first on Broadway and finally in the Hotel Gotham on Fifth Avenue (now called The Peninsula New York).
Cary remained active in community service. He served for 12 years as president of the Board of Trustees of New York Homeopathic Medical College, now New York Medical College, and 20 years as president of the board of the college’s Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital, the first teaching hospital in the United States to be owned by a medical college.
When Cary retired from the law in 1926, he was apparently able to spend more time with other pursuits. He sought — and successfully obtained — a patent on a rather unusual  lamp device that, as he put it, “can be easily and quickly attached to a vase or other receptacle without requiring any preliminary adjustment of or mutilation of the article to which the device is attached.” Simply put, it was a pair of opposing light-bulb sockets, attached to a flange that fit over the top of vases or jars so one could instantly create a decorative lamp. The top socket held the bulb that would provide illumination and support the shade while the bottom socket’s bulb would make the vase glow and provide weight to keep the array from tipping over. 
In 1926, two years after he applied, the U.S. Patent Office granted patent number 1,573,805 for the “lamp structure.” It is not known whether the device was ever subsequently marketed, successfully or otherwise.
When Cary died in 1946 at the age of 93, he was the oldest living Princeton graduate. 
Melbert Cary’s son, Melbert Jr. (1892-1941), who had lived at Wildflower Farm as a boy and was known as “Mike,” became even more famous than his father. The Yale graduate was a celebrated graphic artist and an expert on printing, who brought many European typefaces to America and wrote books on the printing and type.  
Cary founded the Press of the Woolly Whale, which republished out-of-print titles that he felt should be reintroduced to the public. 
His own professional library of 20,000 volumes was donated to Rochester Institute of Technology, where it is today considered “one of America's premier libraries on the history and practice of printing.” For many years, RIT has had the position of “Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Distinguished Professor,” and the school periodically presents the “Melbert B. Cary Jr. Award”  to those “who have advanced technology in graphic communications and related industries.”
One of his more unusual interests was antique and unusual playing cards, and his collection of more than 2,600 packs of cards was donated to Yale where it is now at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
 In 1923, Melbert Jr. married Mary Flagler (1901-1967), a wealthy granddaughter of Henry Flagler, who with the Rockefellers founded Standard Oil and who was largely responsible for developing Florida by creating railroad lines and towns there. Melbert and Mary eventually acquired a 1,8000-acre estate outside Millbrook, N.Y., which they turned into a vast wildlife refuge called Cannoo Hills. In her will Mary Flagler Cary established a charitable trust to oversee the estate, which became the Cary Arboretum. Today it is the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, a nonprofit institution that has 120 staff members and maintains one of the largest ecological research programs in the world. Its areas of expertise include disease ecology — especially tick-related diseases, urban ecology, forest health, and freshwater ecology.
Mary also made another, rather astounding gift: She left $50 million — about $365 million in today’s dollars — to create a trust fund for the State of New York. She said the money could be used for any public, religious, scientific, charitable or educational purposes. The only restrictions were that the trust could not “carry on propaganda or otherwise attempt to influence legislation” and that it “not participate in or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

In 1936, Melbert Cary’s Wildflower Farm became the home of another New York lawyer, William Matheus Sullivan, who called it Dunrovin and built a small theater on the property where Metropolitan Opera stars would periodically perform. The opera house is still there, but the mansion burned to the ground late one Sunday night in 1977 after the owners left a bucket of hot fireplace ashes on the porch and returned to their New York City home.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Henry K. McHarg: 
A ‘Santa’ to Many
Ridgefield has been the home of many generous people, but often they were little known for their munificence, preferring not to publicize their generosity. One of them was Henry McHarg, a railroad tycoon who, it it said, over his lifetime quietly gave away some $2 million — equivalent today to more than $50 million.
While most of his gifts were behind the scenes,  one couldn’t avoid being showy.
In 1906, McHarg sold one of his railroads (Virginia & Southwestern) for $6-million ($162-million in today’s dollars). To show his appreciation for the Virginia & Southwestern employees,  he arranged just before Christmas for a special “Santa Claus” train on which a conductor, dressed as St. Nick, traveled the length of the railroad with presents from McHarg to all his former employees. The gifts included full years’ salaries to the higher officials, month’s salaries to all others who had been employed by the railroad for at least a year and various other gifts for the remaining staff. 
 In July 1910, after the sale of the Texas Central Railroad, he did the same thing.
How many corporate leaders of today would do that?
Henry King McHarg was born in Albany, N.Y., in 1851. His great grandfather was Lt. Joshua King, the Revolutionary War “celebrity” and prominent Ridgefield businessman, and his great great grandfather was the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll, the second minister of the First Congregational Church (both King and Ingersoll are profiled in Who Was Who).
McHarg attended a private school in Geneva, N.Y. At the age of 15, he joined the investment offices of LeGrand Lockwood, a Wall Street stockbroker. Lockwood’s interests included railroads, among them the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad, of which he was a major stockholder and eventually president. Lockwood’s interest in railroads may have inspired McHarg, who also became fascinated with that rapidly growing industry and wound up owning a at least four railroads around the country. (Lockwood, a Norwalk native who died in 1872, built and lived in what is now the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, a historical museum in Norwalk.) 
When Lockwood ran into some financial troubles in 1869 and had to downsize his office, McHarg joined the Third National Bank and worked his way up in the world of finance so that on the day after his 21st birthday, he became a member of the New York Stock Exchange (when he retired from the exchange in 1926, he was its oldest member). In 1873, he went into the bond and investment business in partnership with William Adams, under the name of Adams & McHarg. After 12 years, the two split and McHarg continued the business alone.
According to The Encyclopedia of Connecticut biography, published in 1917, “The railroad
interests of Mr. McHarg have for a long period been numerous and important.” His specialty was taking over failing railroads and turning them into successful, profitable operations. Among them were the Texas Central (of which he was president for about 20 years),  the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern, the Virginia & Southwestern, and Detroit & Mackinac. He was president of all those railroads but also served as a director of many others, including the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford (later the New Haven railroad), which took over the Danbury and Norwalk line.
“Mr. McHarg’s railroad work has invariably been constructive,” the encyclopedia said. “While the element of speculation, which is never wholly absent from any business undertaking, had its part in his ventures, more especially as they were all the rehabilitation of unsuccessful enterprises, he has contributed substantially to the advancement of the railroad interests of the last third of a century, having imparted to everything he undertook some portion of his vitalizing energy.”
It was through his railroading ventures that McHarg wound up naming a town. For many years he had a home in Stamford. According to Texas historian Tammy Hill Harvey, in April of 1891, a group of Texas Central Railroad bondholders that included Henry McHarg bought the railroad, which was in foreclosure.  McHarg made many trips to Texas to reorganize the Texas Central and in 1899, after a meeting with two men named Swenson who owned a large tract of land for a new town, he struck a deal in which the Swensons gave half their land to the Texas Central in exchange for making the town the new end of the line. A 40-mile track was laid from Albany, Texas, to the new town site, which McHarg named “Stamford” in honor of his own home town. On Jan. 8, 1900, Stamford, Texas was officially incorporated.” (Today, the city of some 3,100 people is best know as the home of the annual “Texas Cowboy Reunion.”)
McHarg was an avid yachtsman and in the 1890s owned the 65-foot cruising schooner, Neaera. He was a founder in 1895 of the Stamford Yacht Club (the club proudly points out that Commodore McHarg was responsible for naming Stamford, Texas, and that McHarg’s vice-commodore at the club was Schuyler Merritt, the Connecticut congressman for whom the Merritt Parkway was named).
Around 1925, after his wife Fredericka had died, McHarg decided to move to the town of his family’s roots, buying a house on Nod Road a little south of Whipstick Road. Two years later he married Elizabeth Clark Pierce; she was 36 and he, 76. The Nod Road home remained his main residence for the rest of his life. 
McHarg was a philanthropist who usually went out of his way to keep his donations anonymous. “It is reported that they totaled $2 million, but rarely was public mention made of them,” The Times said in his obituary. But the newspaper did point out that one of his many New York City contributions was $5,000 ($70,000 today) to the “Home for Old Men and Aged Couples,” operated by the Episcopal church.
He showed considerable generosity in Stamford, where he had lived for more than 35, giving large amounts of money to organizations like Stamford Hospital, the YMCA,  and the
Ferguson Library.
His contributions in Ridgefield were kept quiet — except for one he made 37 years before he moved to town. McHarg donated to the First Congregational Church the land on which its landmark stone church was built in 1888.
Henry McHarg died in 1941 of a heart attack while wintering in Florida. His wife, Elizabeth, continued to live in Ridgefield until 1966 when she moved to Apache Junction, Ariz. She helped pioneer the organic gardening movement in the Ridgefield area in the 1930s, was active in the Red Cross during World War II, and after the war revitalized the Ridgefield chapter of Children’s Services of Connecticut (now Family and Children’s Aid). She died in 1976 at the age of 85. 
What must have been one of the most trying periods for the McHarg family occurred in the 1930s when the aging Henry Sr., then 82, was sued by his son, Henry Jr., then 53, for failing to give him control of the Detroit & Mackinac Railroad as Senior had apparently promised. Junior had
worked for years as the railroad’s vice president and general manager at a small salary that he accepted with the understanding the railroad would someday be his.
But after his mother died and his father remarried, dad decided he wanted to sell the railroad so he could give most of the proceeds to charity. The son would get $300,000 after dad died.
Henry Jr. did not like that, and sued his father for $1 million. The two became “enemies” for several years.
When the suit was finally settled, the story in The New York Times brought tears to the eyes of many readers.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Aaron J. Levy presided over the case in October of 1934. After several conferences, a settlement was reached in which Senior would make a new will, leaving a third of his estate — nearly $1 million — to Junior and Junior’s three children. 
The lawyer for Junior tried to get the son to shake hands with his father and become friends again. Junior refused. The judge then told the younger McHarg: “Don’t you know this defendant is your father, whether he is right or wrong?”
“You don’t know the bitterness I have suffered over these years,” replied the son.
“I don’t want to hear about that,” said Justice Levy. “My suggestion in the light of this settlement, and even apart from it, is that you go and tender your hand to your father and ask him to forgive you.”
“The son then asked for time to consider the proposal,” the Times said, “but Judge Levy asked him to act at once. The younger McHarg then agreed, and walked up to his father at the counsel table, extending his hand. The father looked up, blinked in surprise and then took his son’s hand and embraced him. Both wept for some moments. 
“After they sat together for a time, the son told the court, ‘I am glad Your Honor brought me to think of it. Now we will both be very happy and I know my children will be also.’
“‘I would give this boy my soul,’ said the father.”
The two left the court, arm in arm.

Junior died in 1943, only two years after his father.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Harry E. Hull: 
Hero Who Led the Town
Harry E. Hull accomplished two things few others could: He was elected a Democratic first selectman four times in a hugely Republican town and he led the Memorial Day parade for more than 65 years. 
A Ridgefield native and house painter who became a selectman in the 1930s and first selectman in 1947, Mr. Hull was respected in his prime years and virtually venerated in his later life. 
“You could learn a lot from Harry,” fellow Selectman Richard E. Venus once said. “He was superb in the way he could organize and get things done.” 
His administration’s accomplishments included building the town’s first “modern” school – Veterans Park; buying the Community Center property that includes Veterans Park; establishing a real police department instead of using state police and town constables; and leading the recoveries from two natural disasters – the 1950 “tornado” that blew the roof off part of the high school and the famous flood of 1955. 
He served on almost every board and commission in town, including the school board – which he chaired — and Board of Finance. He also headed the Democratic Town Committee, was a deacon of the First Congregational Church, and a member of the volunteer fire department, among many other organizations.  When still in his early 20s, he was a prosecutor in the Town Justice Court.
In his later years, he was best known as a veteran. Harry Hull had sailed for France on his 19th birthday in 1917, fought in many of the major battles of World War I, was wounded at Chateau Thierry, and sent home in 1919 to recuperate. 
“It was supposed to be the war to end all wars,” he said in a 1981 Press interview. “The theory was right but the actuality wasn’t.” 
He helped establish the local American Legion, and was not only the first grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade, he was the only one for 67 years. For almost all of those years and into his 80s, he marched at the head of the parade; for his last few years, he rode. 

He died Jan. 11, 1987, at the age of 88.

Monday, June 12, 2017

John B. Hughes: 
The News and Views
In the 1940s and 50s, the rich and cultured voice of John B. Hughes was as familiar to millions of Americans as the voices of Walter Cronkite, Charles Osgood, or Huntley and Brinkley would become to another generation.
Hughes was a newscaster and commentator whose long career spanned  the golden age of radio well into the early days of television.
A native of Cozad, Nebr., John Broughton Hughes was born in 1902. He began his news career in print journalism, working for the Portland Oregonian. He also enjoyed the theater and his work with an acting company led to going into radio.
He worked for the Warner Brothers’s Los Angeles radio station, KFWB, and during the late 1930s, had a daily NBC news commentary, called “Hughes Reel.” 
By 1940, he had joined the Mutual network where he was considered a specialist on the Orient — he predicted that the Japanese would attack the U.S. When Pearl Harbor occurred, he quickly became an important newscaster for the Mutual network on the West Coast.
Early in the war, Hughes supported the interning of Japanese-Americans who, he felt, would support their home country instead of the U.S. (The famous newsman, Edward R. Murrow, held a similar view.) Later in the war, however, Hughes did an about face, and in his commentaries became a leading voice supporting the rights of minorities and criticizing prejudice against Japanese-Americans. 
During the war, Hughes was a correspondent attached to General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, covering the advance from Australia to Japan. He made several amphibious landings and saw combat with guerilla forces and American troops. He was wounded twice, and twice refused the Purple Heart. 
He was sent home before the war ended, and was in the newsroom when the announcement of the Japanese surrender was made over KFWB — with actress Marlene Dietrich and basketball star and broadcaster Sam Balter assisting.
After the war, his “News and Views with John B. Hughes” was carried nationwide, first over
NBC, then CBS and later the Mutual radio network.  Many of his radio broadcasts can be heard today over the Internet.
The New York Times once observed that Hughes “has the polished diction of an ex-actor, which indeed he is.” Besides doing stage acting, he appeared in three films, “Meet John Doe” (1941), “Rhapsody in Blue” (1945) and “Gilbert and Sullivan” (1953) — he played himself in all three.
He was also the narrator of the World War II documentary, “The Battle of Britain,” produced by Frank Capra for the U.S. government.
He and his wife, Ariel, also founded a radio station, KXXX, in Colby, Kansas, which they ran for several years.
They came East around 1949, living first in Westport and then buying Ontaroga Farm, the former Starr estate, on the corner of Lounsbury and Farmingville Roads in 1950.
In the early 1950s, Hughes became one of the first TV anchormen, working for the Dumont network and WOR-TV with a nightly news programs. He also helped form the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
In 1958, he became the first anchorman and director of television news at WTAE in Pittsburgh, retiring in 1961, but working part-time as a radio and television news consultant for a while after that.
He died in 1982 in Pittsburgh, Pa., just two days before his 80th birthday. His survivors include a son, a grandson, and three grandchildren living in Ridgefield today.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thaddeus Crane: 
The Spectacular Exit
If you were to go house hunting in Ridgefield during the first third of the 20th Century, chances were good that you would call on Thaddeus Crane. But he gained a fair bit of notoriety for

something quite different from selling homes and insurance: Mr. Crane may have had the most spectacular death of any Ridgefielder in the 20th Century.
In May 1928, for reasons unknown,  Crane drove at high speed onto a railroad crossing in Wilton where a northbound train, “whistle shrieking,” smashed into his Hudson sedan and hurled it into the air. The car exploded, crashed into the second locomotive, bounced through the air into the baggage car, and flipped off into a trackside signal box, which also exploded. 
Witnesses risked their lives to drag him from the burning car, but Crane died within minutes. 
Typical of fatal automobile accidents of the era, The Ridgefield Press devoted more than 20 column inches to details of the crash, but only two inches to his life. 
Thaddeus Bailey Crane was born in 1862 in nearby Somers, N.Y., a great grandson of Colonel Thaddeus Crane of North Salem, who commanded the 4th regiment of the Westchester County Militia during the Revolution. (Col. Crane, then a major, was shot through the hip at the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, survived and later became a representative to the New York State General Assembly and was a member of the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1788 that ratified the Constitution.)
After schooling at an academy in Norwalk, Crane became a farmer and, in 1891, married Mary Lent Brown. In 1896 the couple moved to Ridgefield where they had a farm off South Olmstead Lane, and raised two daughters and a son. 
In 1909, a year after his wife died, Crane opened a real estate office, which was located  just north of where Planet Pizza (formerly Roma) is in the large Tudor-style building on Main Street. By
1920 he was one of only three real estate agents in a town that now has a hundred active Realtors; the other two were M. Estelle Benjamin and William R. Keeler.
Crane was well known in the community, serving on the school board in the 1900s and 1910s. He was a founding member of the Promoter’s Club, a predecessor of the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce, and belonged to the Jerusalem Lodge of Masons. Active in St. Stephen’s Church, he was a member of the vestry when the parish built its new stone church in 1915.
How did Crane manage to enter a railroad crossing whose warning lights were flashing and where the train was both visible and loudly sounding its whistle?
There was a good deal of talk that Crane, in a hurry, decided to try to beat the train to the crossing. As Town Historian Dick Venus put it, “Thad one time ran a race with a locomotive in Wilton and came off second best.”
The Press provided plenty of analysis at the time. The crash occurred on what is now Route
33 near Route 7. A bridge now brings 33 over the tracks; back then, the road crossed the tracks.  “Mr. Crane was driving a Hudson super-six sedan,” the account said. “The machine was going across the railroad tracks at a fairly good clip when it was struck.
“The Wilton-Ridgefield road had been oiled recently and it had rained slightly before the accident happened. Whether Mr. Crane felt he could not bring the automobile to a stop in time to avoid the train and thus put on more speed in an effort to pass the crossing before the train will probably never be known. The danger signal was in working order and was still red after the accident.  The engineer blew the whistle of the train a considerable distance from the crossing and blew it continously when he saw the automobile.”
The train used electric engines; the Danbury line had been electrified three years earlier and
remained electrified until 1961. The engineer, Andy Dougherty, said that “he saw the crossing and apparently slackened speed. He blew the whistle for a second as an additional warning, although still thinking the car was about to stop. When he saw the automobile continuing, he threw on reverse. The train came to a halt some 200 yards north of the crossing.”
In the end, The Press concluded, “Why the accident happened cannot be understood by the authorities unless Mr. Crane, just before reaching the crossing, was unable to stop his automobile because of the wet road.”
Two years after his death, Mr. Crane’s business was sold to Arthur J. Carnall, and operated under the name, A.J. Carnall Inc. for decades.  In 1999, Ridgefield Bank, now Fairfield County Bank, bought A.J. Carnall Inc., and 10 years later renamed it Fairfield County Bank Insurance Services. It’s still headquartered in the “Carnall Building” at the corner of Main and Catoonah Streets.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Jolie Gabor: 
A Chance to Play
Jolie Gabor, the colorful mother of the even more colorful Gabor sisters — Eva, Magda and Zsa-Zsa, considered her home in Ridgefield a quiet retreat compared to her places on Long Island and in California. "I only get a chance to play bridge in Ridgefield because the social life is so busy in Southampton and Palm Springs," Ms. Gabor once said. 
She was born Janka Tilleman in Budapest in 1900 — her wealthy parents, wanting a boy, called her Jansci or “Johnny.” She became a socialite, musician and actress and, in 1936, age 35 and married, was selected Miss Hungary. She operated several jewelry stores in Budapest in the late 1930s, but fled the country when the Germans invaded.  
She came to the United States in 1945; when she arrived she had only $100 and a diamond ring. However, she was hardly without means — daughter Zsa Zsa, who arrived earlier, was married to Conrad Hilton, the hotel magnate. With Zsa Zsa’s help, she established a Madison Avenue jewelry business that thrived off the reputations of her increasingly popular and marriage-prone daughters. (One of the saleswomen at her store was Evangelia Callas, mother of future opera diva Maria Callas.)
At one point, among mom and her three daughters, the Gabors had had 21 husbands. Actor George Sanders was married to both Magda and Zsa Zsa and was attracted to Jolie. “You know, Jolie,” he once wrote her, “I think marriage is for very simple people, not great artists like us.” Zsa Zsa, on the other hand, observed of Sanders: “When I was married to George Sanders, we were both in love with him. I fell out of love with him, but he didn’t.”
With the help of professional writers, she produced two books, Jolie Gabor, a memoir, and Jolie Gabor’s Family Cookbook, a collection of Eastern European recipes.
In 1966, Jolie and her then husband, Count Odon de Szigethy, bought a modest home on Oscaleta Road and immediately set about glamorizing the place. “I like to make from a nothing something,” she told The Ridgefield Press. 

The de Szigethys sold the place in 1970 and Ms. Gabor died in 1997 in California at the age of 96.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Tom Clark: 
A Man Everyone Knew
There was a time when it might be said: If you don’t know Tom Clark, you’re not really a Ridgefielder. While Clark was hardly the most important man in town, he was or decades among the best known and most liked.
Clark’s life literally spanned the 20th Century. Born here in 1904, he was still active  when the 21st Century arrived. 
The secret of his longevity? “I haven't had a glass of water in 60 years,” he told The Ridgefield Press in 1990. “I use lots of butter, eat meat with plenty of fat, and use plenty of salt and pepper.” Yes, he had smoked, too.
 That all may not have pleased his doctor, but his good nature and his active life — including many years as a local athlete —  may have kept  Clark ticking and clicking more than his diet did. He was still driving a car and bowling at the alleys well into his 90s. And when he died in 2002, he was 97 years old.
The son of Irish immigrants, Thomas Walker Clark grew up on the family farm on Wilton Road West and, as a teenager, went to work at the Davey Brothers’ market in Stamford, part in an old food chain. He did so well that he was made manager when he was only 17 — until executives in New York learned his age and “then I had no job.” 
He worked as a carpenter for a while, but in 1932 First National hired him to run its store here.  He managed the First National in Ridgefield until 1959 when the chain wanted to transfer him to manage its supermarket in Newtown.  Clark did not want to commute to work, retired from First National and went to work for the old Wayside Market on Danbury Road for 15 years. He also did work on two private estates until he was 85.
His wife, Ann Neil Hancock Clark, died in 1978, six weeks short of their 50th wedding anniversary.
In his younger days, Clark was active at baseball and basketball, but as a bowler,  he was almost legendary. At the age of 15,  he began bowling in the two alleys in the basement of the First
Congregational Church’s clubhouse, which stood on West Lane until it burned in 1978. Throughout his life he used the same ball, a two-hole, 16-pound model that was so worn, the manufacturer’s name eventually disappeared. “I think it’s a Brunswick,” he told an interviewer, “but I can’t be sure.”
He still bowled in his 90s, the oldest active bowler in the area at the time. He belonged to the Danbury and Ridgefield Bowling Leagues, and was inducted into the Bowling Hall of Fame.
As a youngster, Clark, nicknamed Eagle Eye, was a basketball star in the days when games were played in the town hall on Main Street. “If the whole team scored 30 points, it was a big night,” he recalled. 
He later coached the American Legion’s basketball team. He was also a softball player, and a former coach of the American Legion softball team. 
In his later years,  Clark was active in the Ridgefield Old Timers Association. The organization’s annual dinner in 2001 was dedicated to Clark, who had raised many thousands of dollars for ROTA scholarships. That year alone, when he was 96 years old, he collected more than $4,000 in donations.
“Tom Clark has been and continues to be the association’s major fund-raiser,” Old Timers Chairman Tom Belote said at the dinner. Added First Selectman Rudy Marconi, “he’s the Old Timers’ Energizer Bunny — he keeps on going and going, serving the association and Ridgefield High School scholarship recipients.” 
Because his good health and eyesight allowed him to drive long after many contemporaries couldn’t,  Clark would often serve as a free taxi service for Ridgefield’s elderly — many of whom were a good deal younger than he was.

Tom Clark was also a longtime daily patron and “chairman of the board” at the Early Bird CafĂ©, where he enjoyed discussing the “old days” with fellow old-timers.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll: 
A Historic Minister 
Ridgefield’s earliest Congregational preachers must have found something to their liking in Ridgefield. Between 1715 and 1811, nearly a century, there were only three settled ministers. But while each served many years here, the one in the middle — the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll — lasted longer than any minister in the First Congregational Church’s more than three centuries. He spent 39 years as the congregation’s leader, and would no doubt have continued to serve longer had he not died of  “an apoplectic fit” at the age of 64. He left behind a family that became part of the town until the 1960s.
Ingersoll’s predecessor — the town’s first minister, Thomas Hauley — was only 49 when he died after preaching 25 years here, and his successor — the Rev. S. G. Goodrich — also spent 25 years here before moving to upstate congregation.
Jonathan Ingersoll was born in 1713 in Derby (then part of Milford), a son of Jonathan and Sarah Ingersoll whose ancestors were among the early settlers of Hartford and the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Like so many ministers who came to Ridgefield, Ingersoll graduated from Yale, in 1736. His first preaching post was at a Presbyterian church in New Jersey (Congregationalists and Presbyterians were closely allied in the 18th Century) and in 1739, he was called to replace Mr. Hauley in Ridgefield. A year later he married Dorcas Moss, a minister’s daughter from Derby.
From all accounts he was well-respected in Ridgefield. “He is described as a man of brilliant intellect, of great strength and force of character,” said George L. Rockwell in his “History of Ridgefield” (1927).
Unlike most clergymen in Ridgefield’s long history, Ingersoll took a break from his local duties to serve in the military. He was chaplain for the town’s militia and, during the French and Indian War, he volunteered as a chaplain with Connecticut troops — including 22 Ridgefield men — serving around Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga (then called Carillon).  
According to Tim Abbott, a sixth great grandson of Ingersoll, “In 1758 he was chaplain for Colonel David Wooster’s 4th Regiment in Abercromby’s ill-fated expedition against the French at Carillon.  Wooster’s men were caught up in the attack, and Chaplain Ingersoll wrote to a fellow church colleague that God showed ‘distinguishing mercy to the Connecticut Troops’ who suffered few deaths in that dreadful slaughter.”
During Lord Amherst’s campaign the following year he was chaplain of the 3rd Regiment, again under Colonel Wooster, traveling from captured Fort Carillon to Oswego and then down the St. Lawrence.
His intellect, and perhaps also his notable family and his service with Wooster, gave Ingersoll a wide reputation and in 1761, he was invited to preach before the General Assembly on Election Day. He offered the colonial politicians a word of gentle warning: “You are the fathers of the common-wealth, and all our eyes are upon you,” he said. “See to it that your powers of mind are sanctified by grace, and always remember that you judge for the Lord. Let the interest of religion, and the welfare of the community (which indeed are necessarily connected), let these lye near your hearts.”
When it came to the Revolution, Ingersoll probably tended to be on the conservative side of the issues. When George III became king in 1760, Ingersoll had praised him as “richly endowed with all royal gifts and graces,” adding that through his influence, “we hope for the enjoyment of the best of liberties and privileges for for a great while to come.”
In “We Gather Together,” a 2011 history of the First Congregational Church, author Charles Hambrick-Stowe says, “Circumstances soon forced the church to decide how to pray for civil authorities, whether to continue to support George III and the Empire or the movement for independence. Jonathan Ingersoll probably shared  the views of his brother Jared, a political leader in the colony who hoped that compromise and moderation would resolve the Stamp Act crisis of 1765. Jared Ingersoll worked to reduce the rate of the tax and accepted the position of stamp distributor for Connecticut in order to soften its impact. His efforts were rewarded with accusations of treason that destroyed his political career.”
Ridgefield in the mid-1770s leaned to the Tory side. “Jonathan Ingersoll’s leadership is often cited as influencing a town vote opposing the Continental Congress in January 1775,” the Rev. Hambrick-Stowe writes. However, “the beginning of armed conflict at Lexington and Concord in April and the subsequent siege of Boston swayed many in town to the Patriot side.” It is unknown whether Ingersoll was among those so swayed, but many in his congregation were leading supporters of the revolutionary cause. So were three of his sons in law.
Capt. David Olmsted, who was married to Abigail Ingersoll, fought at the Battle of Ridgefield. He became a leading town and state official after the war.
Another of Ingersoll’s daughters, Anne, married Lt. Joshua King, a Revolutionary officer who was in charge of the imprisoned British spy, Major John Andre, before his execution. Because of Anne, King settled in Ridgefield, established the King and Dole store (which grew into Bedient’s Hardware), and became a major landowner. But, in the church’s eyes, what is perhaps more remarkable about this union is that it led to Henry King McHarg (1851-1941),  great great grandson of the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll. McHarg,  a wealthy banker and railroad president, donated to First Congregational the land on which its current landmark stone church was built in 1888. (McHarg lived on Nod Road until his death in 1941 but his much younger wife, Elizabeth, remained in town until the 1960s, dying in 1976 at the age of 84.)
Another of Ingersoll’s sons-in-law, a lieutenant in the Revolution, did not fare so well afterwards. Ebenezer Olmsted, husband of Esther Ingersoll, got caught pocketing state tax money he had taken in as a Ridgefield tax collector and wound up having all his property confiscated by the town. Perhaps fortunately for Ingersoll, he had died before Olmsted’s malfeasance took place and threw the town nearly into financial ruin (see separate “Who Was Who” profile).
Ingersoll’s son, Jonathan (1747-1823), became a respected post-war political leader. The Ridgefield native, another Yale graduate, served as lieutenant governor of Connecticut and as a Superior Court judge. He was also elected a congressman from Connecticut, but declined the job before being sworn in.
Finally, his brother’s son, Jared Ingersoll, not only supported the Revolution, but also helped write the U.S. Constitution and was a signer of the document.
Although most people would not think of Ridgefield as being a place where people were enslaved, slaves were found in most Connecticut communities in 18th Century — and in the Ingersoll household. In 1730, Connecticut’s 38,000 residents included about 700 slaves. By 1770, it had more than 6,400 slaves, the largest population of any New England colony. Half of all the ministers, lawyers, and public officials owned slaves, and a third of all the doctors, reports Connecticut historian Jackson Turner Main.
Jonathan Ingersoll was among Ridgefield’s slave owners. However, in 1777, shortly before his death, Ingersoll asked the Board of Selectmen to approve making his slave, Cyphax, a free man. Under colony law, the selectmen had to make sure the freed person wouldn’t be a burden on the town. The selectmen approved of Cyphax, who was 20 years old, and he was freed. 

By 1790,  five slaves were still left in Ridgefield.