Thursday, March 22, 2018

John F. Haight: 
First Career Policeman
John F. Haight Jr., who led the Ridgefield police for more than 10 years, was probably the town’s first career policeman.
Over a period of 30 years,  Haight rose from constable to chief and saw the police force grow from three to 30 officers. “He was one of the moving forces to get us from the town hall basement to where we are now," said Richard Ligi, who joined the department under Haight and later became its chief.
A native of Newburgh, N.Y., John Haight was born in 1920 and moved to Ridgefield as a child, attending classes in the old Titicus Schoolhouse, now the American Legion Hall. He graduated in 1938 from Ridgefield High School where he met his future wife, Marion Alice Roberts. The two were married in 1942; Mrs. Haight died in 1998.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army's Fourth Armored Regiment under General Patton, landing in Europe shortly after D-Day and receiving the Bronze Star for heroism.
One of his first jobs after the war was as an usher at the old Ridgefield Playhouse movie theater on Prospect Street. He also worked for the U.S. Post Office, driving bags of mail from the office on Main Street to meet the train in Branchville.
In 1947, he was hired as a policeman — then officially called a constable — joining Charles Wade Walker and James Brady in policing the town under the command of the first selectman and operating out of  70-square-foot “quarters” in the town hall. Constables handled motor vehicle violations and misdemeanors while the State Police, quartered at the barracks on East Ridge, did the major cases.
“In those days, we patrolled in our own cars,” the chief recalled. “We had no car, no radio, no equipment, no nothing.” The town bought its first patrol car around 1950.
In 1955, Ridgefield created a formal police department, with James Brady as chief, and John Haight was among the first officers. Ten years later, Chief Haight took command of the 10-person department, serving until his retirement in 1977 after 30 years on the job — a tenure   few others have attained with the police force.
During his nearly 12 years as chief, the department grew threefold to 30 officers, added a detective bureau, and moved from a few rooms in the town hall basement into its current quarters, the former State Police barracks, on East Ridge.
“In all humility, I believe I have turned over a police department to my successor of which you, the community, will be proud,” he said at his testimonial in 1977. 
Some 250 people attended that farewell party. “It is amazing that a man with a name like Haight can represent so much love,” emcee Paul Baker said at the event.
“He was always fair with his people and always concerned with their welfare,” said Chief Richard Ligi, who was hired as a teenaged clerk by Chief Haight in 1967.
Chief Haight’s first home here was on Washington Avenue, but in the early 1970s he built a house at the north end of Lake Mamanasco. After his retirement, he moved to Cape Cod, but returned periodically for visits and to host testimonials — after he stepped down as chief, he became a celebrated toastmaster, enjoyed for his wry wit. One of the last formal affairs he attended was a retirement banquet for Thomas Rotunda, who had succeeded him as chief.
He died in 2002 at the age of 82 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Max Gunther: 
A Prolific Writer
“The English language has an enormous amount of power if it’s used right,” Max Gunther told The Ridgefield Press in 1976. “In English, you can roll up your sleeves and really say what you want with impact.” 
And for nearly 50 years, doing it right was Max Gunther’s work. He wrote 26 books – several of them best-sellers – and countless magazine articles. 
A native of England, Gunther came to the United States as a boy, served in the Army, and graduated from Princeton in 1949. He began his career as news editor and staff writer for Business Week from 1950 to 1955, and was a contributing editor to Time. He also wrote for  Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, McCall’s, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, TV Guide, and many other magazines. In 1968, he became a contributing editor of True.
His first book, “Split Level Trap” in 1960, described suburban life and became a best-seller, as did “The Weekenders,”  a 1964 popular study of how Americans spent their weekends. 
His specialty was books on wealth. — one of his most quoted observations is “It is unlikely that God’s plan for the universe includes making your rich.”
A top seller was “The Zurich Axioms: The Rules of Risk and Reward Used by Generations of
Swiss Bankers.” The 1985 book was inspired by his father, Franz, who worked for what is now UBS, which is called the second largest wealth management organization in the world.
He also wrote “The Very, Very Rich and How They Got That Way” (1973) and “Instant Millionaires: The Secrets of Overnight Success”, both published in 1973.
Most of his   other books were non-fiction, many dealing with mystical subjects, including “D. B. Cooper: What Really Happened” which appeared in 1986, and “Wall Street and Witchcraft: An Investigation into Extreme and Unusual Investment Techniques.” Many of his books are still in print today.
Gunther lived on Peaceable Ridge and later Beechwood Lane from 1960 until 1987 when he moved to Heritage Village. He died in 1998 at the age of 72.
In a 1976 Ridgefield Press interview, Gunther credited his schooling in England and New Jersey with fostering his interest in writing. In England, “even in the very early grades, they were forcing us to write essays and they gave us topics that we could get our teeth into and could express our emotions about, not just dry expository subjects.”
In his Maplewood, N.J., high school, “there was a great deal of emphasis of writing. We had a couple of student magazines and a student newspaper and, of course, the yearbook, and there was abundant opportunity for writing. In this high school, writing was presented to us as an alternate after-school activity — as a way in which one could have some fun and get one’s creative urges working. It was presented as sort of an indoor sport, not as a type of work.
“I spent more time after school sitting at a typewriter than doing sports and things like that which other kids were doing.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Herb Green: 
A Good Ol’ Cartoonist
During his long career, Herb Green worked for some of the nation’s top magazines and socialized with many of America’s leading cartoonists. 
Herbert L. Green was born in 1927 in Olathe, Kans., and graduated from the University of Missouri. He drew cartoons for many national magazines, especially The Saturday Evening Post and Playboy, and was a former president of the American Cartoon Society.
Mort Walker, whose comics include “Hi and Lois” and “Beetle Bailey,” recalled in his book, “Backstage at the Strips,” when Charles Schulz first came to New York City in 1951. The young “Peanuts” creator stayed at Herb Green’s apartment, sleeping on the living room couch.
Green and Schulz became good friends.  In 1954, when Schulz decided to make a major change in the character of Charlie Brown — turning him from mischievous and smart-alecky  into the lonely and downtrodden kid he’s now well known as — he did so with the Feb. 1, 1954 strip. And he gave the original of that strip to Herb Green, together with the dedication, “For good ol’ Herb Green — Charles Schulz.” Herb Green’s widow, Crystal, donated it to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Two years later, Schulz snuck Green’s name in a strip — very unusual for “Peanuts.”
The Greens moved to Ridgefield in 1983. For many years, villagers often would see Mr. Green walking his dog along the sidewalks of Main and Catoonah Streets. He always greeted passersby with a smile.
He died at his home in 2012 at the age of 85.

Samuel Grafton: 
He’d Rather Be Right
Samuel Grafton, who lived on Barry Avenue from 1948 until 1962, was a prolific writer who was accomplished in many genres. He wrote a nationally syndicated current affairs column,  penned several books on politics and economics, freelanced for magazines, published a popular mystery novel, scripted television dramas, and with his wife, Edith, wrote a Broadway play.
Today, one of his observations is still being frequently quoted: “A penny will hide the biggest star in the universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.” 
Born in Brooklyn in 1907, Mr. Grafton grew up in Philadelphia, and began writing for The New Republic when he was only a teenager. In 1929, the year he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he won a $500 prize ($7,000 in 2016 dollars) from the American Mercury magazine in a contest for an article on the faults of American higher education. 
He had planned to go to law school but was swayed by the editor of the Philadelphia Record to join his staff; Grafton became an editorial writer there from 1929 to 1934. 
He then signed on as an editor of The New York Post and in 1939 began a daily column that appeared in 120 newspapers for more than 10 years. Despite its name, “I’d Rather Be Right,” the column had a liberal bent. The name played on the old adage, “I’d rather be right than president,” but was also meant to reflect the fact that he truly believed all his opinions were absolutely correct.
Early in World War II, Mr. Grafton was the leading American journalist supporting de Gaulle and the Free French, and denouncing Vichy as a Fascist front. For this, he later received the French Legion of Honor. 
While a Ridgefielder he often wrote for major magazines, including Look, McCall’s, Saturday Evening Post, and even TV Guide. During the 1950s, he also wrote dramas for television shows, including Kraft Theatre and General Electric Theater.
In 1955, Mr. Grafton published a mystery novel, “A Most Contagious Game,”  about  a magazine reporter who joined the New York City underworld to get his story. The book got good reviews, sold well here and abroad, and was made into a television drama broadcast on Westinghouse Studio One in October of that year.
After leaving Ridgefield, he and his wife founded Grafton Publications, a small firm that produced newsletters on youth and drug addiction. He died in 1997 at the age of 90 and Edith in 2000. 
Their son, Dr. Anthony Grafton, who grew up here, became Dodge Professor of History at Princeton, and author of 10 books of history. Son John was an executive with Dover Publications and daughter Abigail, a clinical psychologist and organization consultant in Berkeley, Calif.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Mel Goldstein: 
Connecticut’s Weatherman
Dr. Mel Goldstein loved Connecticut’s weather: hurricanes, blizzards, floods, tornadoes, ice storms, the hot and humid, the frigid and dry. 
“We, in our unique and special corner of the earth, manage to have it all,” the veteran meteorologist once wrote — with excitement. 
Born in 1945, Goldstein grew up in the Massachusetts fishing village of Swampscott. “Where I lived, the conversation was always about the weather,” he told The Ridgefield Press in 1987. “If a storm was coming, I’d be up all night, looking out the window. It was fun.” 
Those stormy roots led him to a 1967 Penn State degree in meteorology and a doctorate from NYU. 
In 1972, he and his family moved to Rowland Lane, and Dr. Mel, as his students called him, taught meteorology at Western Connecticut State University, ran its well-known weather station, did research, and supplied forecasts and other weather-related information to 20 radio and TV stations as well as many corporations and even the governor of the state. Locally, he was heard over WLAD in Danbury many times almost every day for many years.
By the 1990s, he was the full-time weatherman at WTNH, TV Channel 8, in New Haven and was writing a weather column for The Hartford Courant, the state's largest newspaper.  
In November 1996, Dr. Goldstein was found to have cancer in his back, a multiple myeloma that was supposed to kill him in less than three years and that was already crippling him. 
He and his wife Arlene moved to the New Haven area and he underwent the latest treatments at Yale-New Haven Hospital. 
“I received a flood, an avalanche of calls and mail,” he said. “Masses were held for me — even in Rome. I was able to see a part of human nature that so often is obscured during our routine tribulations … That, along with the exceptional medical care, provided healing for my body.” Within three years, he was back at WTNH, teaching, and writing. His “Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather,”   published in 1999, was a top-selling book and in 2009, he wrote “Dr. Mel’s Connecticut Climate Book,” which is still in print.
“Dr. Mel is one of our great natural resources,” wrote Lary Bloom, a noted columnist on Connecticut and its people.  “Others just talk of the weather. Joyously, he makes it a matter of life and literature.”
Goldstein finally succumbed to multiple myeloma in 2012. He was 66 years old.
“Dr. Mel was more than a meteorologist — with his charming character, warm smile and friendly personality, he became an icon in Connecticut and was loved by many,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said after Goldstein died. “He dedicated his working life to ensuring that the residents of Connecticut were prepared for whatever tumultuous weather system may approach, and for that we are forever thankful.” 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Andrew Gold: 
A Man of Much Music
“He is comic, creative and charismatic, and he likes people to treat him like the typical guy next door," said a 1998 Ridgefield Press interview with Andrew Gold. 
Mr. Gold was the voice and music behind many popular tunes including some of Linda Ronstadt’s hottest hits such as You’re No Good and Heatwave. 
Besides songwriting and singing, he was a producer, engineer and musician, and played an amazing variety of instruments, including, guitar, bass, keyboards, accordion, synthesizer, harmonica, saxophone, flute, drums, ukulele, musette, and harmonium.
Andrew Gold was born in 1951 in Burbank, Calif. That he started writing songs when he was 13 was no surprise; his father, Ernest Gold, was the Academy Award-winning composer of the many film scores including, Exodus and On the Beach, and his mother, Marni Nixon, was in films the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Deborah Kerr in The King and I. 
In 1973, Gold joined Linda Ronstadt’s band and also arranged much of the band’s music
throughout the 1970s. He also recorded with such artists as Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, James Taylor, Roy Orbison, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, and Cher.
Over the years Mr. Gold had also produced and wrote songs and music for many television and movie soundtracks, such as the theme to Mad About You on TV.  His biggest hit was “Lonely Boy,” a top-10 single in 1977.
Perhaps his most unusual accomplishment was serving as the voice of Alvin, the singing chipmunk on television! 
Many albums of his songs have been released, and he produced many albums of other artists. He had two hits of his own as high as number five on the charts. 
Mr. Gold maintained a studio on Bailey Avenue for a couple of years, but moved it to Nashville in 1999, and commuted between there, London and his home on St. Johns Road, where he lived with his wife and three daughters.  
In the early 2000s, he moved to California where he died in 2011 at the age of 59. He had been under treatment for cancer, but the cause of death was given as heart failure.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lillian Gilkes: 
Scholar and Democratic Stalwart
Lillian Barnard Gilkes was a nationally recognized scholar, author and critic whose notoriety in Ridgefield was chiefly civic and political.
“When I came to Ridgefield in 1942,” she recalled, “the Democratic Party was underground; to be a Democrat carried a social stigma: Merchants and tradespeople suffered a loss of business if affiliation with the minority party became known.”
She worked on presidential and congressional races and in 1947, helped Harry E. Hull become the first Democrat to be elected first selectman in decades. 
“It may truly be said, I think, that Harry Hull’s leadership throughout that time has been a positive force in bringing about a more equitable balance of power between the parties in Ridgefield, certainly a much healthier state of things, if the two-party system is indeed the keystone of our political democracy.”
Four generations of Gilkes’ pioneering family had lived in Jacksonville, Fla., before she was born in 1902. She graduated from Columbia and later taught there and at Hunter College, specializing in the short story. Her textbook, “Short Story Craft” (1949), was used for decades, but she was most known for her book, “Cora Crane: A Biography of Mrs. Stephen Crane.” (Cora, a flamboyant, well-born Bostonian who ran “the smartest ‘sporting house’ in Jacksonville,” had nursed novelist-poet Stephen Crane to health after a shipwreck, and became his common-law wife.) 
Gilkes also produced acclaimed short stories as well as book reviews for Saturday Review.
She not only wrote books, but also rediscovered them. Around 1939, she had edited the manuscript of a Southern novel called “The Wedding” and in 1975 proposed its republication in the then-new Lost American Fiction series. The problem was, its author, Grace Lumpkin, had disappeared, at least as far as Gilkes was able to determine. After much searching she found Lumpkin living in a small Virginia town and got the author’s permission for republication. The New York Times praised the book  “as a precursor of the Southern school of fiction and for its concern with family rites.”
In 1930, she had lived with a migrant farm worker family in Arkansas, wrote a novel about poor farm workers, and throughout her life she was interested in the social condition of migrant workers and the poor in general.
In Ridgefield Gilkes was active in civic and charitable work besides politics. During World War II, she was involved in many efforts to raise money for war relief in Europe and to aid refugees. 
Among her friends were Bert and Katya Gilden who, as K.B. Gilden, wrote the 1965 best-seller, “Hurry Sundown” — part of the novel was written while the Gildens were staying at Gilkes’ Olmstead Lane home. The book was made into an Otto Preminger film starring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine. Gilkes had been the couple’s professor in a creative writing class at New York University.
Gilkes had shared her Ridgefield home with stepsister Louise Davidson, who was also active in community service in the 1940s and 50s. Around 1962, she moved to Tryon, N.C., where she died in 1977 at the age of 74, with three books unfinished. 

Pinky Gillum: 
The Rod to Die For
Would you spend $8,000 for a fishing rod? Many people have paid that and much more to own a genuine Pinky Gillum fly fishing rod.
A Ridgefield native and lifelong resident, Gillum was better known to locals as a skilled carpenter. But in his workshop after hours, he turned out fly rods that today can command five figure prices at sales and auctions, even though they may be 60 or 70 years old.
Harold S. “Pinky” Gillum was born in 1896 in Ridgefield, grew up in town, and served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War I. He was a carpenter and homebuilder, and developed the Colonial Lane neighborhood in Ridgefield in the 1950s. 
Gillum loved fishing, especially fly fishing and, largely self-taught, began making and selling bamboo fly rods around 1923, establishing the Gillum Fly Rod Company. Between then and his death in 1966,  he produced some 2,000 rods — he was working on three the day he died, and his wife, Winnie, finished and delivered them. (Gillum and Winifred “Winnie” Beckley, who was much younger than he, had met in the early 1940s in Vermont where she was making rods for Orvis.)
He was a perfectionist, fashioning every part of the rods himself except the ferrules. 
“They are buying two weeks of my life,” he would say of customers who purchased his rods.
And he had no patience with buyers who would mistreat his creations. He once yanked a brand-new rod from a startled angler who was jerking it to free a entangled fly. He gave the man back his money and left the stream.
A customer told the story of walking into Gillum’s shop as he was slamming down the phone. He saw her standing there and declared, “That damn Bing Crosby, he’s been fishing lures with one of my rods again!”  
Crosby wasn’t the only celebrity to own a Gillum rod: Benny Goodman and Philip Pillsbury were among the proud owners. And some of the 20th Century’s top fly fishermen swore by Gillum rods. 
“If I could have only one rod, I would ask Pinky Gillum to make it for me,” said Jack Atherton. 
Harry Darbee owned a Gillum he would never part with. “This rod I’m taking in my coffin,” he said. “They say there’s fishing in the Styx.”
Gillum did not advertise his rods, believing word of mouth was enough. And indeed, he often had more orders than he could fill. 
He was very secretive about his techniques, but after he died, his wife, Winnie, continued the business, eventually with the help of her second husband, Marcus Prosser, an engineer and avid fisherman. However, those rods do not command the prices and respect that genuine Pinky Gillum rods do a half century after their creator died.  

Friday, March 16, 2018

George Washington Gilbert: 
The Hermit of Ridgefield
Some say George Washington Gilbert’s mind snapped when his sweetheart deserted him. Others say he was just odd from the beginning. But for years he lived, usually barefoot, in his pre-Revolutionary family homestead as it fell down around him, a situation captured in many photographs and even on postcards.
Born in 1847 in that homestead, he was educated at a private boys school in the village. Little is known of how he spent his early adulthood, but for his last 40 years, he lived alone on Florida Hill Road. 
“By his own account, he became a hermit following the death of the girl he planned to marry,” said Silvio A. Bedini in “Ridgefield in Review.
He lived by himself and rarely visited the village, existing on a budget of about 30 cents a week. However, Gilbert was not without visitors. Hundreds of people, young and old, would call on him each year and “he related many strange tales and yarns which gained in detail and wonder with each narration,” wrote George L. Rockwell in  “History of Ridgefield.”
He enjoyed posing tricky mathematical questions, such as “What is a third and a half of a third of 10?” and showing people the sword that his grandfather had supposedly captured from a Hessian soldier at the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolution. 
He would also take visitors to his cellar where there was a stone in the chimney basement that reportedly bore a striking resemblance to the profile of Queen Victoria.
Gilbert invariably dressed in a cotton shirt, overalls hung by suspenders, and an old straw hat.
And he wore no shoes for much of the year. In fact, The Ridgefield Press would sometimes announce the seasonal comings and goings of his shoes. For instance, the May 7, 1886 issue noted: “George Washington Gilbert has dispensed with his shoes,” a sure sign of the “approach of summer.” And on Dec. 23, 1887, “It has been demonstrated beyond question that winter is here. George Washington Gilbert has donned his boots.”
Gilbert’s home literally fell apart around him and for a while, he had to move his bed onto the hearth of the old fireplace, the chimney stack being the only shelter left. 
Finally, Col. Edward M. Knox, whose huge Downesbury Manor estate was down Florida Hill Road a bit, took pity on him. Knox had a cottage built for the hermit, where he spent his last years.
On Jan. 6, 1924, during a bitterly cold spell, a neighbor looked in on Mr. Gilbert and found him frozen to death in his cottage.  
George Washington Gilbert is buried at the New Florida Cemetery at Route 7 and Simpaug Turnpike under a stone that reads: “The Hermit of Ridgefield.” His father, Jeremiah (d. 1860), and mother, Eliza (d. 1884), lie next to him.