Friday, March 15, 2019


A Lost Landmark
The black-and-white picture here is a rather remarkable snapshot in several ways: The crowd, the trees and the beauty of a long-lost landmark.
First off, for newer-comers, the scene is Main Street looking west from about where folks sit in front of Tazza and drink coffee. That big, handsome building is the Jesse Lee Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Catoonah Streets. The accompanying color photograph shows what the same corner looks like today.
The occasion is the September 1958 parade that marked the end of Ridgefield’s six-month celebration of its 250th anniversary. That tent at the right with a cross on it was part of a float, possibly done by St. Mary’s School pupils. (Many other pictures of 250th anniversary parades have been posted here.)
Trees dominate the picture, especially that Norway spruce at the right. It was one of two spruces that stood tall in front of the rectory, hidden at right by the boughs. The other, just a bit north, snapped in half when Ridgefield’s village was hit by a twister on July 13, 1950.
The tree at the left would have been near the front of Bedient’s or now, Books on the Common.
Then there’s the church. This picture does a remarkably good job of capturing the beauty of the facade of the building. If you enlarge the picture and look closely, you can see many find details like dentilated moldings, gable carvings, and nice use of clapboards and facings. And, of course, there are the two handsome towers.
Why, many have asked, would a building as beautiful as this, in the very center of the town, be torn down, as happened in 1964?
Several factors contributed to the church’s demise. To the growing congregation of Methodists, the church’s serious lack of parking space became a real problem. The building could not be expanded to handle the increasing needs of the membership. Then, too, the building was old — the earliest parts dated from 1841 — and was probably expensive to maintain.
So the congregation moved a couple blocks south to its present site, building a much bigger church, with support facilities and plenty of parking spaces. 
Couldn’t the building still have been preserved? Probably, but in the early 1960s, Ridgefielders were only beginning to develop a strong preservationist movement that resulted in establishment of historic districts and a commission to oversee them, as well as organizations like the Keeler Tavern Preservation Society, the Ridgefield Preservation Trust, and the Architectural Advisory Committee. 
The church might have been nice for a new, smaller religious congregation, but none was available or wanted the building. It could have been “repurposed” but apparently its age and the fact that it looked so much like a church dissuaded potential buyers. (However, the rectory next door — which looks like a Victorian house — was repurposed, and today serves as offices and shops.) 
If the same opportunity were to occur today, the church would probably have been preserved,
perhaps for use as shops or offices, or maybe even as a historical museum.
The church was replaced by a two-story, flat-roofed building of stores and offices that was aimed at looking colonial, with brick to match the town hall and the Ernest Scott buildings on two other nearby corners, and the firehouse and telephone building up Catoonah Street.
Incidentally, in 1964, the historic Philip Burr Bradley/Biglow/Ballard house farther north on Main Street was also torn down. That was not the choice of the townspeople, however; part of Elizabeth Ballard’s bequest of the land to the town included that the house be razed so the land could become Ballard Park. She also did not want the house to be a burden on a community that had only recently set up the Community Center in the Lounsbury mansion — Ridgefield already owned one big old mansion on Main Street and didn’t need another, she felt.

Monday, February 11, 2019


War Horses
This odd scene recalls the era of World War II when Ridgefielders, trying to do their part in the war effort, went out of their way to collect scrap — what we today would call “recycling.” 
The horse-drawn wagon is loaded with metal contributions in what was later called “Ridgefield’s greatest wartime scrap drive.” We believe the snapshot was taken Oct. 17, 1942, when hundreds of local volunteers collected more than 133 tons of metal in a huge, one-day scrap drive. (That total, by the way, equalled 166 pounds per resident of Ridgefield at that time.)
The use of the horse-drawn transportation was probably designed both to entertain and to emphasize the need to conserve gasoline.
Scrap drives — wartime versions of today’s “recycling” — were important sources of metal and other materials to be melted and reformed into ships, tanks, guns, ammunition, and other pieces of weaponry. 
During the last three years of World War II, Ridgefielders collected 539,262 pounds of iron and steel — nearly 270 tons. They also donated 12,644 pounds of waste fats from kitchens; 48,925 pounds of tin (mostly cans); 4,000 pounds of rags; and 292,975 pounds of paper.
According to a Ridgefield Press account, “great piles of scrap metal began to appear in George G. Scott’s lot at the rear of the town hall (about where Colby’s is today). People put out piles of metal in front of their homes and it was picked up and transported to the main collection points by Irv Conklin’s horses, Ray Keeler’s trucks and a Dodge truck that belonged on the Swords estate on West Lane.  (In 1975, 50 years after the war, Ralph Deli-Bovi, then owner of the former Swords estate, still had that truck.)
As noted in an earlier posting on Old Ridgefield, the town’s scrap metal-collecting efforts gained national attention when the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Westbrook Pegler, who lived on Old Stagecoach Road, was photographed in Life magazine, removing his car’s bumper in front of town hall to contribute to the war effort. 
A bumper is nice, but nothing compared to Mrs. B. Ogden Chisholm’s donation: She gave her entire 1933 Cadillac roadster.  The car was shown in The Press (and on Old Ridgefield) being dismantled and turned into “scrap.”

Monday, February 04, 2019


Albert H.Wiggin: 
Chase’s Controversial Chief 
Throughout his long career, Albert H. Wiggin of Peaceable Street did wonderful things for his company, the Chase National Bank in New York City. He helped make Chase one of the biggest and most influential banks in the country, if not the world, and aided European countries recovering from World War I. But his reputation was tarnished  after the Crash of 1929, during which he pulled off maneuvers that made millions for himself in ways that wound up being investigated by the U.S. Senate.
Once listed among America’s richest people, Albert Henry Wiggin was born a minister’s son in 1868 in Medford, Mass. He never attended college and instead went to work in Boston straight out of high school, soon becoming a bookkeeper for a local bank. By the age of 23, he was an assistant for a national bank examiner. 
He continued to rise in the Boston banking world and in 1899, moved to New York where he became at the beginning of the 20th Century one of the founders of Bankers Trust (which, at the end of the century, was acquired by Deutsche Bank).
It was around this time that Wiggin caught the eye of Alonzo Barton Hepburn, CEO of Chase National Bank. Hepburn liked the young man’s ideas, hired him, and in 1904 Wiggin was named the
youngest ever vice president of Chase National Bank. He also became the youngest member of the bank’s board of directors, a situation that irked many veteran Chase executives.
Hepburn liked Wiggin so much, he encouraged him to establish a summer place in Ridgefield, and sold him some of the backland of his own estate on High Ridge, called Alnacraig. Wiggin built a many-roomed mansion at 47 Peaceable Street, calling it Peaceable Acres. The estate overlooked the Ridgefield Golf Club, later Ward Acres horse farm.
Locally Wiggin was known for his beautiful daughters, Marjorie and Muriel, and for being among the first owners of an automobile.
In 1911 Wiggin became Chase’s president. Under his leadership the bank’s deposits rose from $91 million in 1910 to more than $2 billion in 1930. He was CEO from 1917 until 1930. Time Magazine, which put him on the cover in 1931, called Chase “the biggest bank in the world” at that time.
In 1926, Chase merged with Mechanics and Metals National Bank to become the nation’s second largest bank, with Wiggin at its helm. At the time, The New York Times said Wiggin was
known as “a man of a million friends,” adding that “intimate associates in [the bank’s] various fields of activity describe him as a great organizer and an inspiring leader, quick in decision and unerring in judgment.”
Despite this acclaim, some authorities were soon labeling Wiggin a scoundrel after it was revealed that, during the period of the 1929 stock market crash, he had been selling short some 42,000 of his personal shares in Chase National Bank at the same time he was committing Chase’s money to buying. He put his earnings in a Canadian holding company to avoid taxes, and made millions that the bank itself did not discover until a later U.S. Senate investigation.
“This is like a boxer betting on his opponent — a serious conflict of interest,” said financial reporter Andrew Beattie.
And yet, he did nothing illegal.
Ferdinand Pecora, chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee, said of Wiggin, “In the entire investigation, it is doubtful if there was another instance of a corporate executive who so
thoroughly and successfully used his official and fiduciary position for private profit.”  
Economics professor and market historian Charles Geisst said what Wiggins did “gave banking and the stock market a bad name for at least two generations after the Crash.” 
Wiggin was forced to retire, but was never prosecuted for any legal wrongdoing. He was given a $100,000-a-year pension from the bank ($1.7 million in 2016 dollars), but later turned it down after a public outcry.
As a result of the case, Congress added what some called the “Wiggin Provision” to federal Securities Exchange Act to prevent company directors from selling short on their own stocks and making a profit from their own company’s bad times.
Despite this episode, Wiggin received praise for his efforts to curb the crash of 1929. Said The Times in 1951, “Mr. Wiggin was one of the banking leaders who made large sums available to boster the slipping market. The confidence that he and other leading bankers showed in the country was credited with having done much to prevent the complete collapse of the nation’s financial structure.”
Wiggin had sold his Ridgefield home in 1921, long before the crash, and eventually had a retreat on the shore in Greenwich where he died in 1951 at the age of 83.
He was a benefactor of many organizations. When he was a young man, he began collecting art prints, drawings, and watercolors, as well as antique books. He donated his huge collections of
these works to the Boston Public Library, the New York Public Library and the Baltimore Museum of Art. He contributed to the MIT library, endowed a scholarship at Middlebury College, and created a foundation that contributed to many organizations.
In 1949, Dodd, Mead and Company published Marjorie Wiggin Prescott’s biography of her father, New England Son. According to the dust jacket, “This is the life of Albert Henry Wiggin, a parson’s son who struggled his way out of Cousin Walter’s hand-me-downs to the eventual presidency of the largest bank in the world. It is a story of hard work, close friendships and salty New England humor — a uniquely American success story. It is a portrait of a remarkable man, the man who built the Chase Bank; but it is, more than that, the portrait of a golden era of American growth and optimism. You will share Mrs. Prescott’s amusement at the recollection of her father’s first job in Boston, when one of his daily duties was to make sure that a certain elderly party on Louisburg Square was likely to live long enough to pay off his bank debt. You will smile with her at the ironic Wiggin reply to a ceremonious cable from a banking group in London.”
The book, according to Ridgefield historian Richard E. Venus, also “presented a stirring defense of her father.”
He added, “One cannot read this warm portrayal of a father by his admiring daughter without gaining a large amount of respect for one of the most famous bankers that this nation ever produced.”

Friday, February 01, 2019


Ida Fossi Makes Her Own
Ravioli, Sauce & Passatelli 
Ridgefield Press, Feb. 24, 1977 — Homemade ravioli like the kind Mrs. Domenic Fossi prepares on special occasions is a whole different ballgame from the somewhat limp squares of stuffed pasta in sauce which we had tasted before we tried hers. And for anyone who has, or can borrow, a pasta machine, these little spicy Italian mouthfuls are not hard to make.
Her grandchildren love ravioli, Mrs. Fossi explained, and after one bite we came to the conclusion that anybody’s grandchildren would love them!
Ravioli takes time to make, however, so Mrs. Fossi also showed us how to make some marvelous cheesy noodles for soup which can be prepared quickly and ground out through an old fashioned meat grinder. These are called passatelli and are as unusual as they are good. Both ravioli and passatelli freeze successfully.
Ridgefield’s First Selectman, Louis Fossi, was one member of a large family which grew up enjoying such treats. Mrs. Fossi is his mother. Her daughter, Norma Contessa, and Mrs. Louis Fossi were on hand to learn exactly how to make the ravioli. With one accomplished ravioli-maker in the  family, they have tended to have other specialties.
Good eating has always been a family tradition, and Norma reminisced  about the homemade ice cream they took turns cranking in an old-fashioned machine when she was a child and the Fossis lived on a farm in Ridgefield with plenty of cream from the cows.
For  ravioli stuffing for one meal for eight people, you need:

One pound ground beef
A half pound ground pork
One pound spinach
One teaspoon salt
Half teaspoon pepper
Quarter teaspoon nutmeg
Half teaspoon clove
One egg

Cook pound of fresh spinach and chop fine. Mix well with other ingredients.
To make the pasta in which the filling will be stuffed, combine:

Yolks of 10 eggs  
Whites of eight eggs
Six cups sifted flour

Reserve extra two egg whites to use later.
Mrs. Fossi makes a mound of flour on a board, then scoops a hollow in the center of the flour and pours in the ten yolks and eight whites. Then she kneads the egg into the flour with her hands. If the dough were to be rolled out by hand in the old-fashioned way, it would require quite a lot of kneading, and then an hour’s time to rest before rolling out, she says. But by using a pasta machine, the cook cuts down the kneading to a minimum. Also, the pasta machine makes the hour’s rest unnecessary.
Mrs. Fossi pushes a small flat oval of the dough into the widest adjustment in the slot in the machine. The machine has two rollers and a handle which turns these in such a way that they pull in, and flatten the dough in the slot between them.
The long thin strip of dough which results gets folded double and put through the slot again, then folded and pressed through the rollers a third time.
An attachment on the machine will vary the space between the rollers. She adjusts the space between the widest and the narrowest, then puts the strip through again. Then she adjusts the machine to the next-to-the-narrowest width, and puts the dough through again. 
By this time the dough is in a long strip, several inches wide and very thin.
This strip of pasta gets laid flat on the board, and Mrs. Fossi beats the two egg whites till frothy and paints the strip with egg white. A pastry brush is best for this job. Then she places tiny mounds of the stuffing mixture two abreast on half of the length of dough and folds the other half of the strip of dough on top.
No need to press down to seal the edges. Just take a pastry wheel and cut down the center of the doubled strip of dough. Then cut cross-ways between each set of two mounds of stuffing. Next, trim the outside edges so the tiny dumplings are cut zig-zag and sealed all round. The scraps cut from the edges may be kneaded into a flat oval and put through the machine again, or cooked like noodles and served with a sauce on some informal occasion. 
Repeat till all dough and stuffing are used. This recipe makes between 200 and 300 ravioli squares, depending on size. Mrs. Fossi generally doubles the recipe and simply spends a day making lots of ravioli. She suggests a beginner might wish to halve it and try making ravioli for four.
To freeze the ravioli, Mrs. Fossi puts them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and, as soon as they are frozen enough to handle, packs them in plastic freezer bags, each bag containing enough for one meal.
To cook, drop the ravioli squares into well-salted boiling water with about one tablespoon of salt to three quarts of water. If the ravioli is fresh made, cook about five minutes and test one by
tasting. It should be “al dente,” or firm to the tooth, not mushy like canned ravioli. If frozen squares are dropped into the boiling water, the ravioli should be done about three minutes after the water comes back to a full boil.
Drain, top with tomato sauce and freshly grated real parmesan cheese  (we cut cheese in squares and grate it in a blender, but the texture is even nicer grated by hand the way Mrs. Fossi does it.) She served a dry red wine with the ravioli. At a holiday meal, this would be a first course, followed by a roast and vegetable and then dessert and coffee.
Freezer buffs may like to make spaghetti sauce wholesale the way Mrs. Fossi does. She browns five or six Italian sausages and a piece of chuck in sausage drippings, adds a small onion cut fine and two cloves of garlic, and when these are golden brown, takes out the sausage and chuck, and adds about a pound and a half of chopped meat, and browns that.
Then she puts sausage and chuck back, adds 28 ounces of tomato puree, eight six-ounce cans of tomato paste, and enough water to make a sauce that can simmer for three hours. Her daughters say they add some whole canned tomatoes, too, and Mrs. Fossi noted that the amount of onion and garlic can be varied to taste.  The maker also adds salt and pepper and spices as desired.
Generally, Mrs. Fossi removes the sausage and chuck and serves those for supper on the day she made the tomato sauce. The sauce gets frozen in quart containers and thawed as wanted for ravioli and other treats. Be sure to use a rich, meaty sauce on the ravioli, Mrs. Fossi says.
But suppose you don’t have a pasta machine, or time to make ravioli. Try passatelli. 
Mix well with hands:

A cup and a half of bread crumbs
Three eggs, beaten
One cup grated parmesan cheese 
One tablespoon of flour
A fourth teaspoon of cloves
A dash of nutmeg.

The mixture should be pretty firm, almost like bread dough, but moister. It will stick to the hands slightly as you kneed it.
Put dough through meat grinder. It will come out of the holes as small, slightly rough noodles. You can freeze these now and use later if desired.
Drop into simmering chicken stock and cook seven minutes. The resulting chicken soup is just the thing for cheese lovers. The chicken soup may contain diced chicken meat, or just the passatelli — marvelous either way.
Mrs. Fossi follows her usual custom of making lots of chicken stock all at once and freezing in meal-sized amounts. Into several gallons of water she puts one chicken, a few ribs of celery, carrots, a small can of tomatoes, and near the end when the chicken is tender, salt and pepper to taste. The chicken becomes chicken salad for immediate consumption and the stock goes in the freezer.

[Note: Ida Frances Montanari Fossi (1906-1987) lived on Mulberry Street and, at the time of this story, was a widow. She was born  in Senigallia, Ancona, Marche, Italy, a daughter of John and Matilde Montanari, and came to this country in 1917. She and Dominic Fossi were married in 1923 in St. Mary’s Church. They had seven children: Lou Fossi, Norma Contessa,  Elsie Craig, Dorothy Marconi, Thomas Fossi, John Fossi, and Robert Fossi. Members of the Fossi family still live in Ridgefield. The article was written by Elizabeth Daniels Squire, who became a successful mystery novelist in her later years. She also wrote books on phrenology and palm reading. A former resident of Ridgefield and Redding, she produced the “Food and Drink” column in The Ridgefield Press for many years.]


Sunday, January 27, 2019


A Treeful Of Artists
This remarkable photograph was taken in 1974 to mark the founding of the new Ridgefield Guild of Artists, whose members gathered in and about this huge oak on the grounds of the old Holy Ghost Novitiate on Prospect Ridge.
The guild had just gotten a $1-a-year lease for a small, old barn on the grounds that had been purchased by the town four years earlier. The artists renovated the building into their headquarters and gallery, still in use today. Their first show in the barn opened Memorial Day weekend, 1974.
Like the guild, that wonderful tree is also still alive and well near the building, which is at the end of Halpin Lane off Prospect Ridge Road.
The trouble is: We have no record of who took the picture and the identification of many of the people in the picture had not been found.
Thanks to the folks at the guild, we were able to obtain the accompanying copy of the picture, with the names of some of the artists overlaid on it. Those identifications were provided some years ago by the late Gail Rogers Glissmann Fields, who herself appears in the photo.
More than half the faces remain unidentified? Can anyone help fill in the artistic blanks?


Sunday, January 20, 2019


Cookie Casagrande in 1979
For decades, no one who visited Squash’s failed to meet — and like — Katherine "Cookie" Casagrande. She always wore a happy face — even clearing snow! 
Many Ridgefielders also knew her from her working in the cafeterias of the Ridgefield schools. 
Mrs. Casagrande and her husband, Pete, were both lifelong residents of Ridgefield, where they met, married and raised a family. They enjoyed both traveling and golf — and played golf together in every one of the original 48 states! 
Mrs. Casagrande was born on Jan. 1, 1924, a daughter of Harold and Alice Harding Finch — both Finch Drive and Harding Drive are named for her families. Her father had owned the United Cigar Store on Main Street, predecessor of Squash’s. 
Cookie grew up in a house on Catoonah Street and graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1942. Fifty years later, she and Pete decided to retire to a warmer climate in Summerfield, Fla., where they had a house next to, what else?, a golf course. 
“We’ve always gotten along with everybody,” Pete Casagrande said in 1992 interview, when he and Cookie were leaving Ridgefield and their many years at Squash’s. “Working a job like we had — you’ve got to get along. We never had any trouble. People have been great.” 
Pete died in 2004 and Cookie six years later.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Dick’s Dispatch #84
A History of A Little Dog
By Richard E. Venus
Economic laws can be very interesting when used to compare one era with another, or comparative prices in volume purchasing. The fact that coffee may cost $2 per pound does not mean that two pounds will cost $4 or less. Sometimes the two-pound can will cost more per pound.
Something like that applies to the barber trade. In the 20’s, when the population of Ridgefield was about 2,700, our tonsorial needs were administered by seven or eight barbers, working out of four or five barber shops. Since our population today is in the neighborhood of 22,000 to 23,000, it may be assumed that it would require more than 30 barber shops and some 60 barbers to keep us well trimmed. The last time I looked, there were less now than there were in the 20’s. Perhaps visits to the barber shop have become less frequent.
In the mid 20’s, a Mexican, whose name was Mike, opened a shop where the Candlelight Shoppe is now. He had two barbers working for him and one of them had a marked resemblance to the reigning cowboy movie star and was promptly dubbed “Hoot Gibson.”
At the time “Baldy” had his barbershop in the large three-story building where the Ridgefield Savings Bank in now. The venerable Conrad Rockelein had his shop across the street, over S. D. Keeler’s Store. 
Con moved his shop around quite a bit. He was a very good barber but it always seemed like you had to go looking for him. He was still cutting hair in his 80’s, at his home on the corner of Mountain View Avenue, and Danbury Road.
Mike Massamino had his shop at 3½ Catoonah Street where J. R. Interiors is now. Mike had a Charlie Chaplin-type mustache. He even looked very much like the “Little Tramp,” but no one ever called him Charlie.
Mike was a nice little guy and a good barber. However, he was the victim of hard times and experienced great difficulty in keeping his bills paid. I had a rather extensive newspaper and magazine route at the time and he was one of my customers. One time his bill got to be what was considered a rather large amount by the standards of the time. Mike offered to give me a dog in payment of the bill. Further negotiations looked hopeless and I reluctantly agreed to the settlement.
I had never seen the dog and did not know what to expect. The next time I went to the shop, Mike had a little white poodle waiting for me.
Daisy was a rather forlorn little bundle of white curls that were heavily infiltrated with burrs and nettles of all kinds. She was the albino type and her little pink eyes always seemed to be running. Mike had her tied with a rope that could have moored the Queen Elizabeth II.
In those days, a toy poodle was not considered the proper dog for a boy and I was thinking that I would be the butt of considerable kidding. All of this, plus her bedraggled appearance made me want to reconsider our agreement and I felt like backing out of the deal. However, it looked like my only opportunity to settle the bill so I finally left the shop with Daisy in tow.
When Daisy and I finished the route and arrived home, there was a lot of explaining to do. The first order of business was to make Daisy a little more presentable. My father was experienced in removing burrs from horses’ tails by using kerosene to make them slip along the hair. He helped me and we finally got the last one off the little dog, though the tight curls made it difficult.
After a bath that Daisy seemed to fully appreciate, we started the business of becoming friends. She followed me around each time, on my route and got to be a well-known fixture.
A year or so later, my brother Gus got married and I had nothing else to give him and Stella for a wedding present, so I presented them with Daisy. They lived on Market Street in a garage apartment at the rear of the Main Street home of Dr. William H. Allee (now the office of the D.N.A.) The building has since been moved further down Market Street and converted into a large home.
A year or so later, Daisy had four, very cute, little brown and white pups. Gus gave one of them to George G. Scott, who was then both town clerk and judge of probate. “Tippy” probably became one of the best known dogs in Ridgefield. She used to accompany Judge Scott each day to the town hall. They fixed a little window box for Tippy and she sat in the front window of the town clerk’s office for years and never missed a day. She yelped each time that someone came to the door and then would jump down to meet the visitor. She was a very friendly little thing and I guess you could say she was the official greeter.
In the meantime, Ridgefield’s dog population increased much more rapidly that did that of the humans, as Daisy continued to have puppies and her puppies began to have puppies. By now they began to increase in size and came in various colors.
In the 30’s Eddie Schmidt had one of the pups and in the 40’s Peter Edel had another of the offspring. Peter lived with his mother in the Ashland Cottage, at 321 Main Street, where the Hess family now makes their home.
By now the dogs, through the generations, had increased in size to that of a large springer spaniel. When Peter’s dog, Queenie, decided to join the production line, she had a litter under the kitchen floor. The year was 1948 and there was no basement under the kitchen at that time.
Queenie would crawl out to eat, but never brought the pups with her. They must have been about two weeks old when I brought them out to face the world. They were a nice shiny black and you could see they were going to be big dogs.
A couple of months later, the Knights of Columbus was having a carnival and a crisis developed when they ran out of prizes. I remembered the puppies and mentioned them to John Bacchiochi. Johnny took off for the Edel’s home and bought the litter. When he returned with the puppies, there was a great joy among young and old alike, and the games went on with renewed interest.
When our family moved to its Olmstead Lane home in 1951, we found that the John Moore family next door had one of these puppies. It was now as big as a small black pony. Peter Carboni had one and so did Joe Sheehy. They must have all been males so the lineage that started with a little white poodle, some 30 years before, had come to an end, as far as we know.
Mike Massamino sold that barber shop to Andrew Geria. Andy’s wife was a beautician and was herself, a beauty. They were great dancers and it was a great pleasure to see them glide over the floor at the many dances we used to have. After a few years they moved to Croton Falls, N.Y., and in 1937,  invented a therapeutic device for use in beauty shops and by chiropractors. Andy and Mary had the gadget patented and I guess it is still in use today.
The Gerias sold their business to Paul Laszig, who did his barbering there for many years. Paul made a sizable fortune in the stock market, by listening to advice from his customers; one of which was Philip D. Wagoner [head of the Underwood typewriter company].
Mrs. Laszig, who died only a few years ago, was kind enough to leave a portion of that fortune, in trust, for worthwhile organizations like Meals on Wheels.

(NOTE: Dick Venus, who became Ridgefield’s first town historian, wrote 365 “Dick’s Dispatch” columns for the Ridgefield Press, telling about life in Ridgefield during the first half of the 20th Century. This column appeared Jan. 5, 1984. We plan to publish many of them on Old Ridgefield in the coming months — and, probably, years.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019


The Colts of High Ridge
This handsome family portrait shows Harris Dunscombe Colt Jr. and his wife, Teresa Strickland Colt, with their son Harris George Strickland Colt, at their High Ridge home around 1937. Little Harris became  a memorable character on the New York City bookselling scene, the subject of a biography flatteringly reviewed by The New York Times.
H. Dunscomb Colt was an internationally known archaeologist who specialized in Middle Eastern deserts. Also an expert on Rudyard Kipling and a noted collector of old engraved views of New York City, he is profiled in a Who Was Who biography posted here (search “Dunscomb” to find it).
The Colts lived at 15 High Ridge, the Peter Parley House. This picture was taken by the then well-known Kaiden-Kazanjian Studios from New York.  
Teresa Colt died in 1955 and two years later Dunscomb married Armida Maria-Theresa Bologna Walsh, a native of Trieste. After his death she donated thousands of items in her husband’s archaeological, engraving and Kipling collections to museums and libraries in the U.S. and Europe. Many ancient pieces were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Armida died in Washington, D.C., in 2011 at the age of 99.
Little Harris, born in 1935, went on to graduate from Princeton and become a financial analyst on Wall Street with J.P. Morgan, Dean Witter and Auerbach Pollok & Richardson.  He lost his Wall Street job in 1975 and decided that was the chance to follow his dream. An avid student of history who read many books about Napoleon in French, he opened The Military Bookman, a New York City store specializing in military books and items related to the military.
His wife, Margaretta, “joined him in this endeavor, even though it meant wrangling with a predominately male customer base, including ‘Soldier of Fortune’ types and even some with ‘SS tendencies,’” wrote the New York Times’s Dwight Garner, reviewing her book, “Martial Bliss, The Story of the Military Bookman,” in 2015.
A “pleasure of Ms. Colt’s book is feasting on details about the store’s offbeat band of customers: the regulars, the cranks, the autodidacts, the dandies, the lurkers, the charmers, the cheats, the mouth-breathing Soldier of Fortune types,”   Garner said.
“Historians and journalists were devoted to the store, and leaned on it for their research. ... George C. Scott was a patron of the store. So were Paul Newman, Robin Williams, Bette Midler, and James Gandolfini. Richard Nixon’s office rang for books. The talent agent Michael Ovitz dropped in to buy a pile of gifts for Tom Clancy. The store became a hangout, a bookish ‘Cheers.’ ”
Garner was disappointed that the book did not have more about Harris Colt or the author herself. “We don’t learn a great deal about her or her husband’s lives before they wed in middle age,” he wrote. “She was tall and willowy; he was short and alert. In photographs, they put you in mind of Julia Child and her husband, Paul. What information there is about Mr. Colt arrives only haphazardly. He coxed crew at Princeton, for example, and collected Napoleonic sabers. Nor do we learn from this book the sad news that this man, who cuts such a warm and witty figure here, died in 2004.”
The Military Bookman closed in 2003, although today there is a store of the same name in Manhattan, operated by Chartwell Booksellers.

Friday, January 11, 2019


Dick’s Dispatch #120 
Harry And The Hooves
By Richard E.Venus
When we left off in our story, Harry [Thomas] was in the process of recuperating from a kick in the head, that had been delivered by a wild horse. During this period he must have wondered whether or not he was engaged in the right business. His excellent physical condition was a big factor in his recovery and the doctor suggested that he find less arduous work until his health was fully restored.
The Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien was looking for a farrier at the time so Harry closed his shop on Olmstead Lane and took the job. After wrestling with the great draft horses, shoeing the sleek little polo ponies was just a snap for Harry. 
We have seen farriers who felt that it was only necessary to cut down the horse’s hoofs and nail on the shoes. Harry was a perfectionist and settled for nothing less than a first-class job.
After removing the worn shoes, he would carefully cut and shape the hoof, just so. He would take his heavy rasp and smooth the bottom and the outer walls of the hoof. The new shoe was then placed on the hoof to size it up. The shoe was then placed in the forge and shaped until it fit the hoof perfectly. 
The shoe would be red hot when Harry removed it from the forge and when he placed it on the anvil he knew exactly where to apply his hammer in order to bend it to the correct shape. 
Sometimes calks were applied to the toes and heels of the shoe, to prevent the horse from slipping. The shoe was then subjected to more heat from the forge and while it was still hot, several trips would be made back and forth between the hoof and the forge to make sure that the shoe fit perfectly. 
The hot shoe would burn the hoof in each instance as Harry blew away the smoke so as to observe the fit. This all looked very barbaric but really was not and caused no pain or discomfort to the horse.
To carry the shoe back and forth during this fitting procedure, Harry used a punch that had a rectangular point and was inserted into one of the nail holes in the shoe. When he was entirely satisfied with the fit of the shoe Harry would again use this punch to clear all the nail holes in the shoe.
The punch would be set in a nail hole and then tapped with the hammer until the hole was large enough to accommodate the rectangular shaft of the horseshoe nail. Between the clearing of each hole, the punch was inserted in a hole in the large wooden block on which the anvil was set. Into this hole a piece of suet had been packed. I suppose this was to facilitate the removal of the punch from the shoe after each nail hole had been cleared.
Whatever the reason, this maneuver added to the many delightful aromas one could encounter in a blacksmith shop as the punch was hot enough to melt the suet and a gentle little cloud of smoke would arise from the anvil as each nail hole was cleared. 
There were eight nail holes, four on each side of the shoe. Actually Harry only used seven nails. The back hole on the inside of each hoof was not filled as there was the danger of drawing blood because of the location on the wall of the hoof. Harry was so expert at nailing the shoe that the eighth nail was not really needed.
There was a saying that went something like this, “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost and for want of a shoe, a hoof was lost and for want of a hoof a horse was lost,” etc. This did not apply to Harry’s workmanship and we do not recall any of his horses ever “throwing a shoe.”
As each nail came through the hoof as it was being nailed, Harry would twist off the end of the nail, leaving about three eighths of an inch of the nail to be bent over and “clinched.”
Before clinching the end of the nail he would carefully prepare a place for the clincher by using his rasp to make a little receptacle on the side of the hoof to receive it. He was so careful and painstaking in doing this that when the job was completed, the hoof was as smooth as it could possibly be.
If a horse’s hoof could be considered beautiful, then it would have to be said that when Harry was through, the hoof could be considered a thing of beauty. I think even the horses were proud of the way they looked and they probably stepped a little higher. 
There were times when a horse may have had a hoof problem and Harry was expected to correct whatever it might be. Sometimes the frog of the hoof became tender or it might have an infection. The hoof might also have become dry or brittle. 
Harry would cut a piece of leather to fit the shoe and before nailing the shoe he would stuff
pine tar and oakum into the bottom of the hoof. The piece of leather would then be placed over this concoction to hold it in place and the shoe was then nailed over it to keep the leather in place.
This must have felt good as we can remember a horse that was very sore, looking at Harry when be had completed his errand of mercy with a look of gratitude. Harry must have sensed it as well and it is doubtful if any man before or since ever thoroughly enjoyed his own work as much as he did.
Harry was very proficient at correcting many problems that afflicted horses. The speedy driving horses seemed to be particularly susceptible to overreaching (striking their front hooves with their rear hooves as they trotted) or interfering (striking one front hoof with the other or one rear hoof with the other). Harry would correct this by making a shoe with more weight in one area than another to make the horse throw his hoof away from whatever he was striking. Many times this resulted in some very funny shaped horseshoes.
Dr. Edwin B. Van Saun had a bay driving horse that was exceptionally fast. He used to enter it in the Sunday afternoon races on Main Street, along with William R. Keeler, Henry C. Swords, George G. Haven, Edward Payson Dutton, and others. Doctor Van Saun’s horse had a real problem with interfering and Harry was charged with correcting his stride to eliminate this serious problem. 
Harry was a very patient man and this assignment would test his patience to the limit. He must have made at least 15 different shoes before finally correcting the interference. The shoe that eventually would prove to be successful hung in the blacksmith shop for many years after the horse was gone as proof of Harry’s uncanny ability. It sure did not look like a horseshoe and caused many a comment but it enabled Van Saun to beat Haven and the great dentist was always loud in his praise of Harry M. Thomas.