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Showing posts from 2016
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Richard E. Venus:  Historian and Storyteller Every era has its grand storyteller, and for the last third of the 20th Century, Ridgefield’s was surely Dick Venus, historian, postmaster, town official, dairyman, and raconteur extraordinaire.  Venus came to epitomize the way Ridgefield was during most of its 300 years — a small town of mostly kind and gentle people who participated in all aspects of their community, who enjoyed their fellow townspeople, and who loved a good story and knew how to tell it.  Born in 1915 in a Main Street house still standing at the north edge of Casagmo, Richard Edward Venus was named for Father Richard E. Shortell, the longstanding and popular pastor of St. Mary Church.  He grew up listening to the many stories of adults, tales told in an era before radio or TV and tales he never forgot. He became a master storyteller, enchanting countless people with his recollections of the days when Ridgefield was dotted with the summer estates of wealthy N
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Mary Fuller Frazier:  The Heroine of Perrypolis One of the more peculiar — and at the same time, one of nicer — people to have lived in Ridgefield was Mary Fuller Frazier.  The eccentric heiress arrived in town in 1946 at the age of 81, lived in a small portion of a large house, and then departed for a sanatorium and her death. While here, however, she made out a will that gave $1.5 million — $15 million in today’s money — to a small, impoverished town in southwestern Pennsylvania where she was born, but which she’d visited only once in 60 years. And despite being contested by greedy relatives with a champertous lawyer, her bequests helped provide her home town with schools, a library and even street lights. Mary Fuller was born in 1864 in Perryopolis, Pa., and grew up there. She spent much of her childhood with an uncle, Alfred M. Fuller, a multimillionaire coal and cattle man who was among the first Americans to ship beef to Europe by freezing the meat. After her uncle d
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Thomas Walsh:  Man of Mysteries “Writing mysteries takes a thief’s mind,” Thomas Walsh told The Ridgefield Press in a 1962 interview. But he also confessed that “the life of a writer isn’t all beer and skittles.  “One good thing is that you can work wherever you hang your hat,” he said, “but writing is a frightening business. You sit down there with a blank piece of paper and you have to fill it. A doctor or lawyer or insurance man gets out and talks to people, but a writer just sits by himself and writes.”  Walsh did plenty of writing. He turned out 11 novels including “Nightmare in Manhattan,” which won a 1950 Edgar Award and was made into the film, “Union Station,” starring William Holden and Barry Fitzgerald. “The Night Watch,” a 1952 book, became the 1954 movie, “Pushover,” starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak. A native of New York City, Thomas F. M. Walsh was born in 1902 and began writing for his high school newspaper. He dropped out of Columbia in his sopho
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H. Dunscombe Colt:  Archaeologist of the Desert The historic Peter Parley house on High Ridge was home to not only its namesake author and his minister father, but another man who shared with them an interest in history, literature and religion. H. Dunscombe Colt was an internationally known archaeologist and an expert on Rudyard Kipling. Together with his father he lived in the 1920s, 30s and 40s where S.G. Goodrich (Peter Parley), son of the third minister of the First Congregational Church, grew up.  Harris Dunscombe Colt II was born in 1901 in New York City, son of Harris Dunscomb and Elizabeth Bowne Colt. (Unlike his father, he ended his middle name with an E.)  His dad, a Yale-educated lawyer, and his mother,  great-granddaughter of a New York City mayor, came here in the late 1910s and for a while, owned the Bluebird Apartments, located across the street from the West Lane Inn (though they never lived there). The Peter Parley property was much bigger when they bou
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Charles Ashbee:  Ridgefield’s Santa When Charley Ashbee died in 1962, the front page of the May 31 Ridgefield Press announced: C.F. Ashbee, Santa Claus, Dies at 89 By then Ashbee, a retired insurance executive, had become a local legend. “Mr. Ashbee spent nearly as much of his long life portraying Santa Claus and delighting the children of this town as he devoted to the insurance business,” the newspaper said in his obituary. “Donning a Santa Claus suit became a habit with Uncle Charley soon after he and Mrs. Ashbee settled here.” Charles Francis Ashbee had been born in New York City in 1872, and moved to Wilton Road West around 1929. Soon after, he began his Santa services when he pinch-hit for someone who was unable to play the part at a church school party. He took on other appearances and by the early 1930s had already become a fixture at Christmas celebrations on Main Street and with various organizations. In the 1940s, Ridgefield Savings Bank (now Fairfield County
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Joseph Hartmann:  Artist and Historian on Glass Joseph Hartmann may have thought himself an artist, but it’s doubtful he considered himself a historian. Yet, the photographs he took of Ridgefield and its people from the 1890s through the 1930s are a graphic history of the town in one of its most fascinating periods. Pictures of rich and poor, young and old, luxurious mansions and dusty workshops, are included in the 6,000 negatives he left behind. Almost all the negatives are on glass plates — he worked most of his years with a large-sized camera in the days before “film” was available. For each photograph, a glass negative had to be inserted into the back of the camera. He stuck with glass well into the 1920s, switching to a plastic negative late in his career. A son of a physician, Josef Hartmann was born in 1867 in a German village not far from Munich, a great artistic center. He studied photography in Italy and was accomplished at his art when he came to the United St
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Kay Young Eason:  Actress Who Missed the Battle Kathleen Young Eason, an actress who was a friend of some of England’s greatest theatrical figures, was better known locally as a pillar of her church and garden club. A longtime Ridgefielder,  Eason acted on the British stage, a half dozen movies and later became a costume designer for RKO in Hollywood. She had been married to actors Michael Wilding, Douglass Montgomery, and Myles Eason. A native of England who was born in 1912, Kay Young began her theatrical career as a student at the Guildhall School of Music where she had hopes of becoming an opera singer. “I was a lyric soprano, but I was very tall and decided I couldn’t be a great, fat opera singer,” she said in an interview in 1989, adding that she was five feet, ten inches tall when she was 13. While still a student, she auditioned for a part in an opera being produced by Australian actor Cyril Ritchard, who was to later live in Ridgefield and be a major catalyst in her l
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Albert Tramer:  The Last Outpost From the 1920s until 1962, one of the most popular — and most beautiful — places to dine or spend a weekend in southwestern Connecticut was the Outpost Inn on Danbury Road. Guests seeking an escape in the country included Marilyn Monroe and her then husband, playwright Arthur Miller; Walt Disney and his family; and Broadway star Ethel Merman. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt drove herself over to have lunch there one day. The Outpost Inn began life in 1928 when Col. Louis D. Conley, who owned nearly 2,000 acres of northeastern Ridgefield and nearby Danbury as part of his Outpost Nurseries, decided to create a country inn on a piece of his property along Danbury Road just north of the village. The main inn building was a house built in 1816 by Albin Jennings, a popular Ridgefield carpenter in the early 19th Century. Jennings had waited four years to gain permission from the parents of Polly Dauchy to marry his sweetheart, and once the parents
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Henry Leir:  Visionary Philanthropist A captain of industry whose writing was once likened to Jules Verne’s, Henry Leir is remembered today as a philanthropist who gave away millions in his lifetime and whose foundations still donate large sums to universities, hospitals and other organizations around the world. He and his wife established a retreat house at their Ridgefield estate that annually sponsors and hosts conferences on humanitarian, scientific and health-related subjects. Born Heinrich Hans Leipziger in 1900 in Prussia, Leir was one of seven children. His father died when he was 11, forcing him to help support the family at an early age. When he was still a teenager, he began working for a German steel company and eventually rose to leadership positions in Magnesit, a German manufacturer of heat-resistant materials. However, in 1933, as Hitler was becoming chancellor, he and his wife, Erna, fled Germany and settled in the tiny duchy of Luxembourg, where he establ
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Jim Lowe:  The Green Door Ridgefield once had a Green Doors motel. It also had the man who sang the number-one hit song, “The Green Door.” That, however, was the only connection between the motel and the song. Jim Lowe, who sang the “The Green Door,” and was a longtime New York City disk jockey, died Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 93 years old. A radio personality for more than a half century, Lowe had lived at Twin Ridge in the 1970s while he was an afternoon disc jockey on WNBC in New York. Though he sang “The Green Door,” which became a number-one hit in 1956, he admitted in a 1971 Ridgefield Press interview, "I knew I couldn't really sing." So after his brief but successful flirtation with recording, he returned to being a disc jockey, a career he'd begun in 1948 when he graduated from the University of Missouri. Over the years Lowe worked as a DJ on such radio stations as WCBS, WNBC and, for more than 20
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Dr. Newton Shaffer: Helping the Crippled On Sept. 2, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was visiting Pittsfield, Mass. While traveling through the town, his horse-drawn carriage was struck by a speeding trolley. Roosevelt’s carriage was thrown 40 feet and his Secret Service agent was “ground under the heavy machinery of the car into an unrecognizable mass” — the first Secret Service agent ever to die in the line of duty. The president was hurled to the ground. The impact broke a bone in his leg and lead to an infection that took more than two months to heal. The injury occasionally flared up during the rest of his life. The president’s condition that autumn worried Dr. Newton Shaffer, a longtime friend of the Roosevelt family. Shaffer was also one of the country’s first orthopedic surgeons and probably the top man in the field in the late 19th Century. On Oct. 2, he wrote Roosevelt at the White House: My dear Mr. President The time is coming — I hope it may be soon —
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Dr. Peter Yanity:  Making Things Happen Few people have been more involved in Ridgefield’s public life than Dr. Peter Yanity, who was a community leader for a half century. Today, the gym at the old high school — used both for  athletics and as a voting place — recalls his name and symbolizes his immense involvement in youth sports and local government.  “We named Yanity Gym after him because of all the efforts and work that heʼs done with kids over the years,” said Parks and Recreation Director Paul Roche. “Pop Warner, Boys & Girls Club, Parks and Recreation, baseball, basketball. He really had the kids in mind throughout his whole life, and really was committed to making things happen for them.” Peter Vincent Yanity was born in 1927 in Homer City, Pa., and grew up there and in Athens, Ohio. He entered Ohio University, but — still a teenager — dropped out in 1945 to join the Army Air Corps. He hoped to become a pilot, but the training program was full and the war was wi
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Mahonri Young:  The Greatest Moment Mahonri Young, a preeminent American sculptor of the 20th Century, was a month short of his 70th birthday when perhaps his most famous work was unveiled: A tribute to his grandfather, Brigham Young, on the centennial of his arrival at what was to become Salt Lake City. “This is the greatest moment of my life,” Young said at the 1947 unveiling of the 60-foot monument outside Salt Lake City, Utah, attended by 75,000 people. Yet only two months earlier, his beloved wife, Dorothy, daughter of American Impressionist artist J. Alden Weir, had died. Mahonri Mackintosh Young was born in Salt Lake City in 1877, the same year his grandfather, Mormon leader Brigham Young, died. Twenty days after his birth, the infant Mahonri received the blessing of his grandfather, who was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the governor of Utah territory. Brigham Young had led the Mormons to their promised land in the Salt Lake