Friday, September 30, 2016

Robert Lewis Taylor: 
Pulitzer-winning author
Robert Lewis Taylor was one of a half-dozen Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to have lived in Ridgefield, but it was his ability to profile celebrities for The New Yorker that first earned him a reputation in the world of literate writing.
Taylor won the Pulitzer for “The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters,” a 1959 novel about a 14-year-old boy and his father who trekked across the West during the Gold Rush. It was one of his first novels.
The Illinois native was born in 1912 and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1933. He began his writing career as a reporter for The Carbondale (Ill.) Herald, leaving after a year to hop a steamer to Tahiti, where he stayed until he ran out of money and returned to the U.S.
When he applied for a job at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the editor asked me if I was a journalism school graduate — I wasn’t — and I briefly considered lying about it, but my better nature prevailed and I admitted that my degree was in humanities,” he told an interviewer in 1978. “Thank God,” replied the editor, “If you had been, I wouldn’t hire you because it would take us too long to unlearn all the nonsense those schools stuff into their students.”
By 1939, he was on the staff of The New Yorker, where he was noted for his witty profiles of such characters as conductor Artie Shaw, muscleman Charles Atlas, and even the then-famous circus ape Gargantua. He had a reputation for highlighting characteristics that gave a precise and graphic look at a person. For example, in a piece on Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail, Taylor wrote: “His habitual expression seems to be a silent appeal for Bromo Seltzer.”
A reviewer characterized a collection of his New Yorker pieces as showing “an alert but tolerant inquisitiveness, a large amount of understanding and decency, and the warm and irresistible humor of a born raconteur.”
After the war, he returned to the New Yorker, wrote for other magazines and began producing books, both novels and biographies. His biography of W.C. Fields and Winston Churchill were well-reviewed. In all he wrote nearly a dozen books.
When “The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters” appeared, The New York Times reviewer said “about a year’s supply of exciting episodes for a weekly television show like Wagon Train could be taken from this novel, a top-quality tale of the trail to California’s gold fields and grassy valleys in 1849.” The book, in fact, inspired a 1960 television series of the same name that starred a nine-year-old Kurt Russell.
“A Journey to Matecumbe,” a novel set in the South after the Civil War, became the 1976 Disney movie, “The Treasure of Matecumbe.” 
Taylor lived on Old Branchville Road in the 1950s and 60s, later moved to Sharen, then Kent, and finally Southbury where he died in 1998 at the age of 88.
He served as a Navy lieutenant commander during World War II, observing later, “I enjoyed the Navy. I think the best thing to come out of the war was the camaraderie among the men — no doubt, a uniformity of misery.” However, he was glad that his son Martin did not have to serve in the Vietnam War. “I hate our senseless wars and the politicians who get us into them,” he said. “If I had my way, politicians would be against the law.”

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Franklin Lischke:
Artist and Model
Millions of people have seen Franklin Lischke running naked, but he didn't mind at all. 
In fact,  Lischke was proud of the fact that as a boy, he frequently modeled for Norman Rockwell, the legendary artist of American life in the 20th century.
Rockwell posed  young Frank for many of his 321 Saturday Evening Post covers, including the famous scene of three skinny-dipping boys, clothes in hand, running by a “No Swimming” sign as they flee the law. It was painted in 1921.
“I still remember the day I posed for it and how I would sit there and have my legs propped up with books” to simulate running, Lischke told the Associated Press in 1991. 
Lischke was a favorite subject for Rockwell’s paintings. “He always said, ‘The kid can raise his eyebrows. He makes a good model.’ ”
Besides having great eyebrow movement, Lischke was convenient. Rockwell in the 1920s rented studio space from the Lischke family in New Rochelle, N.Y. 
“We had an old barn on our property, and Norman Rockwell called my father and asked if he could remodel it,” he told The Litchfield County Times in 1991. “He wanted the second floor for a studio and said he’d pay $25 a month in rent.”
Lischke himself was paid the then-princely sum of 50 cents an hour (about $6.70 in 2016) to model. He later got a raise to 75 cents and was eventually hired as Rockwell’s “studio boy” at $5 a week.
Lischke, who was 13 when he posed for the “No Swimming” cover, continued to model for Rockwell until he was 17 when he became “too old to be a kid model and not good-looking enough to be an Arrow Collar Man,” he said.
Rockwell, who became a lifelong friend, urged the young Lischke to pursue art as a career, and he did. He became a well-known commercial artist in New York City, specializing in fashion work for stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks, and Bonwit Teller.
Franklin H. Lische was born in 1908 in New Rochelle (where Frederic Remington also had his studio before moving to Ridgefield). He wound up studying at the Art Students’ League under a man who had taught Rockwell, George Bridgeman.
While living in Ridgefield from 1946 to 1986, Lischke maintained a studio in New York City to work as a freelance commercial artist.
In Ridgefield, he used his talents to contribute to the community, doing many of the illustrations for Silvio Bedini's 1958 history, “Ridgefield in Review,” the Bicentennial commemorative book, “Heritage '76,” and the 1975 history of St. Stephen's Church, where he served on many parish committees. 
He also designed graphics and did art for the Keeler Tavern, the Ridgefield Library, the Ridgefield Garden Club, and the Ridgefield Orchestra. 
In 1986, he retired and with his wife, Martha, moved to Litchfield, where he died in 1991 at the age of 83.
One of Lischke’s favorite childhood stories involved how he addressed his boss. “I remember going to the studio when I was 13 or 14 years old,” he told the Litchfield paper. “I always called him Mr. Rockwell, and one day he said to me, ‘Frank, you don’t have to call me Mr. Rockwell.’ Well, I couldn’t very well call him Norman, so he said, ‘Call me Bosco.’ I don’t know where that came from.
“One day I bounded into the studio and called out, ‘Hi, Bosco!’ before I saw him sitting on a window seat with a fine gentleman going over sketches. I got a cool reception that time, so I left. Later, he said, ‘It’s all right to call me Bosco, but not in front of the art director of the Saturday Evening Post.’ ”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ralph T. Walker: 
Architect of the Century
Though he probably never lived here, one of America’s leading creators of the skyscraper is spending eternity in Ridgefield — practically next to another skyscraper architect. 
The New York Times called Ralph Thomas Walker “the architect of the century” and Frank Lloyd Wright considered him “the only other honest architect in America.” 
Walker designed many of the major art deco skyscrapers in Manhattan, including the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building (lately called the Verizon Building, heavily damaged on Sept. 11, 2001), the Irving Trust Building, the Western Union Building, the Salvation Army Headquarters, and the Walker Tower.
His reputation was so great that he was elected president of the American Institute of Architects and, in 1957, the AIA’s 100th anniversary, the organization created a special award for him, the Centennial
Gold Medal of Honor, for his extraordinary service to architecture. In covering the award, The Times dubbed him the "architect of the century."
Born in 1889 in Waterbury, Walker apprenticed at $1 a week under a Providence, R.I., architect while studying at MIT (in his third year of apprenticeship, he got $3 a week). During World War I, he was a lieutenant in the camouflage section of the Army Corps of Engineers; the unit created sometimes elaborate ways of hiding arms and materiel from the Germans, often using painted fabric.  
After the war, he moved to New York where he began designing many tall buildings in cities in the Northeast, was closely involved in the design of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and became a partner in a major architectural firm that still exists today as HLW International.
So what are his mortal remains doing in Ridgefield, a town in which he probably never lived? Ridgefield was the home, late in their lives, of his parents, Thomas and Marion Shipley Walker, who lived at what is now 83 West Lane, just northeast of the junction of Olmstead Lane. Since Thomas was a construction worker of modest means, Ralph may have bought the house for his parents.
Ralph probably visited his folks here and may have stayed at their house for periods of time. But his home from the 1930s until his death was in Chappaqua, N.Y.
The Walkers moved here around 1930. The couple purchased a “family plot” in Fairview Cemetery on North Salem Road, where both are buried. Thomas died in 1934, Marion in 1947.
Three years after being so highly honored by the AIA, Ralph Walker quit the organization after the AIA charged that a member of his firm stole a contract from another architect. While Walker was found to be completely without fault in the case and eventually rejoined the AIA, he destroyed his Medal of Honor in anger over the incident. Meanwhile, his wife, Stella, was committed to a sanitorium; she died in July 1972. Within months, Walker married Christine Foulds, a widow from England. However, not long afterward, on Jan. 17, 1973, Walker placed a silver bullet into a pistol and shot himself.
One wonders whether Walker, in planning for his death, chose to be buried with his parents, not only for family reasons but also because a few dozen feet away, in the same cemetery, is the grave of another master of the 20th Century building design: Cass Gilbert.
Thus, a relatively tiny, rural cemetery, containing about 625 graves, holds the remains of two of the 20th century’s greatest architects.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The Bulkleys: 
The Home on the Hill
In 1902, Jonathan and Sarah Tod Bulkley established one of Ridgefield’s many grand estates. More than a century later, Rippowam is the only remaining estate that is virtually unchanged in acreage and in use from that “Golden Era” when many New Yorkers built their country homes here.
What’s even more amazing, Rippowam is still owned and occupied by the same family.
Descended from the founders of Fairfield, Jonathan Bulkley was born in 1857, graduated from Yale in 1879 and joined the paper manufacturing firm of Bulkley, Dunton and Company, which his father had established in 1833. The company still exists; it calls itself  the largest paper company in North America providing paper products to magazine, book, and catalog publishers. It’s also one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in New York State.
Bulkley was also a director of various other companies, a member of New York social clubs and an influential man in the life of the city. 
The home he and Sarah built at 600 Park Avenue in 1911 is considered one of the city’s architectural treasures. The mansion was designed by James Gamble Rogers, whose many major projects included Sterling Memorial Library and a dozen other buildings at Yale and more at other universities, including Northwestern, Columbia and NYU; the Federal Courthouse in New Haven; Presbyterian Hospital in New York; Butler Library at Columbia; and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. 
The Bulkley home was the scene of one of New York’s costlier burglaries. According to an account by New York City building historian Tom Miller: “On Feb. 22, 1927, Sarah Bulkley left the house at 3 to attend a tea. Around her neck hung a pearl necklace valued at $50,000 and her fingers were weighed down with several expensive rings. It was a fortunate choice of accessories for Mrs. Bulkley.
“When she returned at 6:30 she found her safe opened and empty. Gone was all of Sarah’s jewelry – diamond bracelets, diamond and emerald rings and a lorgnette chain with 97 diamonds valued at $20,000. ($20,000 then was equivalent to $275,000 in today’s dollars.)
“Bulkley and his sons, who were 29 and 27 years old at the time, had been home all afternoon; none of the servants knew the combination to the safe other than Sarah’s personal maid, Ida Kaemfer; and police called it an ‘inside job.’ All circumstantial evidence pointed to Ida.
“Mrs. Bulkley, however, insisted that the maid was ‘above suspicion.’  The case was never solved.”
Both Jonathan and Sarah were involved in many in philanthropic and social endeavors. He was president of the East Side House Settlement, one of New York’s oldest organizations helping the poor (it still exists today in the South Bronx). Sarah was vice president of the New York Y.W.C.A and active in the the Girls Service League in New York. 
Sarah was also president of the Garden Club of America from 1932 to 1935 and traveled widely in the United States and in Asia promoting the aims of the club. At one point in the 1930s, Japanese Prince Fumimaro Konoye came to Ridgefield to visit Mrs. Bulkley at Rippowam. When she later went to Japan on behalf of the garden club, the prince entertained her. (Konoye went on to become prime minister of Japan, but resigned shortly before Pearl Harbor. In 1945, he was closely involved in efforts to stop the war.) 
Sarah Bulkley, who summered in Ridgefield for 40 years, was a charter member of the Ridgefield Garden Club, serving as its president in the 1920s. Along with her daughter, Sarah Bulkley Randolph (1897-1982), she was one of the founders of the Ridgefield Boys Club. 
Rippowam, which is situated on Rippowam Road near the top of West Mountain, overlooks Lake Rippowam in Lewisboro and includes land in that town. The cave of Sarah Bishop, the legendary post-Revolutionary-era hermitess, lies within the estate’s bounds. 
The Ridgefield Press noted in 1939 that Rippowam was well-known for its “swinging bridge” which Sarah designed around 1920. The bridge extended from the edge of a 60-foot-deep wooded ravine some 50 feet out to the top of a large oak tree to which it was fastened and from which it swung from side to side a few inches from its anchorage. The bridge eventually deteriorated and was removed.
The family allowed kids from the Boys Club to use a pond on the property many years ago.
Jonathan Bulkley died in Ridgefield in 1939 at the age of 82. Sarah Bulkley, a native of Cleveland who grew up in Brooklyn, died in 1943 at the age of 72.
While the family still owns the Ridgefield home, it sold the Manhattan residence three years after Sarah’s death to the Royal Swedish Government. Today it is the residence of the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Aldo Travaglini: 
‘Squash’
No village merchant was more recognized and more enjoyed during most of the 20th Century than Aldo Travaglini. Known to many thousands of his customers as “Squash,” Travaglini was a center of the Main Street scene from the late 1920s until the 1990s.
His news store was as much a part of the village as the town hall — and was often busier and newsier. 
Decades of commuters in the morning or evening “would stop by Squash’s to pick up the paper and check out the local talk,” Gerri Lewis reported in The Ridgefield Press in 2000 when Squash was named Lions Club Citizen of the Year. “It was here that you’d find out how the high school football team was doing, what was going on in local politics, and all the other gossip.  
“ ‘I’ll meet you at Squash’s’ were words commonly spoken around town. It was the place where people arranged to drop off packages for someone else to pick up. You could buy stamps, greeting cards, or even check on the bus schedule because, yes, the bus stopped there. The Sunday newspapers were stacked outside the store and customers on the honor system would put their money in the cigar box.”
Aldo Travaglini was born in Ridgefield in 1914, the sixth of seven children and the first to be born in America. He got his first job when he was 14.
“I was lying down on the mason steps watching Bacchiochi design a foundation where Craig’s is now,” he recalled many years later. “Zandri came over and said, ‘Squash, want to work? Go home, get cleaned up and come to the store.’ I said, ‘OK.” 
The store was Bissell’s Pharmacy and the year was 1928.  Squash went on to spend nearly 70 years working in retail on Main Street.
At Bissell’s he ran the long-famous soda fountain (some say he was nicknamed “Squash” after his older brother, Louis, longtime state and town police dispatcher, who had worked at Bissell’s a few years before him). 
He remained at Bissell’s until 1953 when he bought the United Cigar Store from David Moore and his wife, Alice, who was daughter of Harold Finch, the store’s founder. He renamed it Ridgefield News Store, selling newspapers, magazines, cards, and stationery — and, until around 1970, maintaining a popular soda fountain. 
Over the years, he employed hundreds of Ridgefield High School students — kids loved working there for two reasons, said Scott Mason, who was one of them. “Everybody came in. Your friends came in, and all the girls came in that you could meet.” 
Travaglini was beloved as a first boss, and many former employees, returning to town, would always stop by. 
In 1989, he sold the business to his son Mark, who in turn sold in 1994 to owners who changed the emphasis from publications to office supplies and stationery.
Travaglini continued to work there until the mid-1990s. Then, after stints at a couple of other local businesses, he retired to his longtime home in Goldens Bridge, N.Y.  
In 2002, he received a Ridgefield Old Timers award, recognizing his many years of sponsoring youth sports teams and events.
He died in 2007 at the age of 93.
Back in the 1950s and 60s, Travaglini’s store and sidewalk would often be crowded with teenagers, especially after Ridgefield High School, then in the center of town, let out. While Squash hired countless students and supported numerous youth programs, he was not about to put up with youthful thoughtlessness that affected the ability of customers to comfortably access his store. He became famous for yelling at the packs of  kids who’d hang out on the sidewalk, “Get the hell away from the front door.”
One of those kids was Rudy Marconi, RHS 1966. More than 30 years later, when he was running for first selectman, Marconi stood in front of Squash’s one morning, handing out campaign leaflets to people picking up their newspapers. “I was talking and shaking hands,” he said. “Even those that didn’t want to talk — I was forcing myself on them.”
After a while, the front door opened and a voice yelled out, ‘Get the hell away from the door!’”
It was Squash playing a nostalgic joke on Marconi, but none of the people the candidate was talking to knew that.

“I was never so embarrassed in my life,” Marconi — wearing a big smile — told Travaglini a few years later.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Clayton R. Lund:
Uncontainable Compassion
Only two pastors in the three-century history of Ridgefield’s oldest church have served longer than the Rev. Clayton R. Lund. One was his predecessor, the Rev. Hugh Shields, and the other was the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll, from 1740 to 1778. 
The 17th minister of the First Congregational Church arrived in 1956 and retired just 30 years later. During Lund’s first 10 years here, the congregation tripled in size to 800 people, a church school was added, and an assistant minister was hired. 
A native of Providence, R.I., Clayton Reginald Lund was born in 1919 and graduated from Clark University and Andover-Newton Theological School.  He served congregations in Massachusetts and New York before coming to Ridgefield at the age of 37.
“A ministry is a life of service to other people,” Mr. Lund said in 1986 when he was retiring after 42 years of parish work. “My daily agenda is created by the needs of others. A minister has to be a teacher, preacher, pastor, administrator, and community leader.” 
Lund was all of those, often participating in community organizations and speaking up for people in need. 
He was also a strong leader. In 1978, just after extensive renovations were completed, a child playing with a candle ignited a fire that destroyed the Church House. Lund led the efforts to build a new church house, which was completed in 1980 and named Lund Hall in his honor. 
However, over his three decades in Ridgefield,  Lund was best known for comforting those in need. At his retirement, novelist and historian Kathryn Morgan Ryan, whose Roman Catholic husband, author Cornelius Ryan, was a close friend of the minister, called  Lund “a man of surging talent and uncontainable compassion. Very soon now…we in the town he loves will realize that, like others in our lives, we took him for granted, that we believed he would always be here for us — all of us, any of us, at any time. It is hard to let go of the security he represents.” 
He was so respected as a minister that in 1990, Andover-Newton, his alma mater, established a $20,000 Clayton R. Lund scholarship for ministerial students. 
Lund, who had moved to Danbury after his retirement, died there in 2000 at the age of 81.
“Clayton Lund brought a powerful blend of dignity, faith, wisdom, flair, and charm into the pulpit,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Charles Hambrick-Stowe in his 2011 church history, “We Gather Together.” “He was well-suited for leading the church through the rapid changes coming to the town of Ridgefield from the 1950s through the 1980s.”
Lund himself described those changes concisely in a 1987 church history, “Ridgefield … was on its way to becoming one of the East’s most desirable and expensive places to live. Ridgefielders watched with some apprehension as their beautiful town, in which they knew and greeted one another, was ‘invaded’ by newcomers. Change was rapid, construction was everywhere. Woods were cut down for new development; oddly named new roads ribboned the hills and valleys; personal service and shopping became a thing of the past.” 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Otto Lippolt:
Collector & Lover of Land
Otto Lippolt was a man who loved the land and collected what he loved. Most of what he collected is now town parkland.
A native of Massachusetts,  Otto F. Lippolt was born in 1891 and moved in the 1920s to a 100-acre farm at the corner of Ridgebury Road and George Washington Highway (the farmhouse later became the Ridgebury Congregational Church parsonage). 
A well-known and respected well driller and well serviceman,  Lippolt was on call 24/7. 
“His generosity was fabulous,” said his friend Carl Baumhart in a 1965 tribute after Lippolt had died at the age of 74.  “Let anyone call and say they were out of water and even if the hour be 3 a.m., he dressed and went to find out why. A cry for water was, to him, a cry of distress.”
Lippolt also collected Ridgebury land, especially during the Depression, when many large and long-unused  tracks would come up at tax sales. 
“Any man who loved trees and nature so much was bound to obtain as much of it as possible,” Baumhart said.  “So he acquired a considerable part of the Ridgebury area.”
By the 1950s he had amassed more than 700 acres, and began slowly subdividing a small portion that he called Hemlock Hills, which included Old Mill and Bear Mountain Roads. But he was not a cut-and-slash developer. 
“He knew there’d eventually be a population explosion and that Ridgebury would participate,” wrote  Baumhart, a former newspaperman and Famous Writers School teacher. “He meant to see to it that the lovely land he owned went to those who felt much as he did about it. He wouldn’t sell to just anybody. 
“He had an outdoorsman’s love of the land. You could almost see his keen, far-seeing eyes stroking the surrounding hills gently as he gazed across them. He liked to detour now and then just to take a look at a particular giant of a tree that had become almost a personality to him.” 
Lippolt developed only a small portion of his vast holdings. As it turned out, two years after he died, his widow Marion Washburn Lippolt, a Ridgebury native, sold 570 acres to the town at the modest price of around $5,000 an acre; she could have sold to a developer, but she knew her husband  loved the land. Mrs. Lippolt died in 1984.
The “Lippolt property,” as it was first known, became the Hemlock Hills and Pine Mountain refuges. The Hemlock Hills section included a few dirt roads that Otto Lippolt had created in preparation for subdividing; some roads even had drainage culverts that still function more than a half century later. Wildflowers, including rare Bottle Gentians and Ladies’ Tresses orchids, sprang up in the middle of some of these dirt roads and at an old sand quarry.
The main dirt road through the Hemlock Hills tract existed long before Lippolt. Bogus Road, the northern part of which is now a paved town road, ran down to the area of Lake Windwing, and was used by the British as they marched from the burning of Danbury south to Ridgefield village and the Battle of Ridgefield on their back back to their ships at Compo in Westport.
Today,  Hemlock Hills and the Pine Mountain Refuges are part of the largest contiguous piece of open space in Ridgefield and one of the largest in Fairfield County. Its trails connect to a large parkland in Danbury and Bethel. 


Friday, September 23, 2016


Charles Spire:
The Music Man
“Before he arrived,” former high school Principal Joseph Ellis said of Charles Spire, “the music program was practically non-existent. With Charlie’s leadership it became one of the finest music programs of any school district, anywhere.” 
In 1973, when Spire became supervision of music, excellent programs that Dr. Robert Rowe had started in the 1940s were long gone; music education had taken the brunt of budget cuts as enrollments exploded in the 60s. 
By the time Spire retired in 1990, music was flourishing in the schools and Ridgefield students were performing both here and across Europe. 
“My master plan is to see that every child, K through 12, is touched by culture,” he once said. Charles A. Spire was born in 1929 in Gowanda, N.Y., where, during the Depression, music was one of the few diversions and outdoor band concerts were regular community events. “I saw what music did for the small town where I grew up,” he said. 
As a boy he performed on any instrument he was given with any group he could. He studied music at Boston University, and with the likes of Arthur Fiedler and Paul Hindemith. 
He made his concert piano debut with the Boston Pops and also performed at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony. 
But after serving as an Army major during the Korean War,  Spire decided he wanted to work with children. He taught music in New York state from 1955 until coming to Ridgebury School as a music teacher in 1967. In 1971, he established the Ridgefield Youth Orchestra, which became so proficient it was invited to give concert tours in Europe in 1979, 1984, 1989 and 1991. 
Recalling the performances he’d heard or been a part of as a small-town child, Spire staged 73 concerts in Ballard Park between 1973 and 1990, showcasing hundreds of student musicians. 
A member of the board of Opera New England, he brought opera stars to the schools and took many students to Lincoln Center for great performances. In 1975, he began spring Broadway musicals at the high school. 
A year later, he staged a huge, all-day school Art and Music Festival in Ballard Park to celebrate the Bicentennial. More than 2,000 students — from kindergarten through high school — performed. “Youngsters were dipping candles, weaving baskets, working leather, and compounding medicines, much like Ridgefielders two hundred years earlier,” wrote Lois Street in a 1990 Ridgefield Press profile of Spire.
The same day, “the polls were open for balloting on the school budget,” Street wrote. “The townspeople voted it down.”
To Spire, she said, that day symbolized “23 years of teaching in a town which is enthusiastic about strong programs — and equally enthusiastic about bashing the budgets that provide them.”
For his accomplishments, Spire was named Kiwanis Citizen of the Year in 1976 and Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1993. A longtime member, he had twice served as president of Rotary.
In his spare time, he wrote for Symphony Magazine and served on the board of the Charles Ives Center in Danbury. He lived for many years on Cherry Lane where he maintained a water garden in a pond on his property. He eventually moved to Florida where he died in 2011 at the age of 82.
On his retirement in 1990, Spire reflected on the countless students he had taught and led over the years.
“Today’s children are described as self-centered, as wanting everything given to them or else they’ll drink and do drugs,” he said. “Well, not the ones I see.” Describing a recent rehearsal, he said, “the kids were doing their best, showing respect for each other and pride. I walked away with such a joy. It was so wonderful — and it’s a feeling no different than 40 years ago.”
When he retired, he received a letter complimenting him for inspiring students “to strive for excellence in all things so that, in working hard and displaying individual initiative, they will know they can make a difference in the world.” The letter was signed by President George H.W. Bush.
Spire hoped that in retirement he would be able to find time to return to composing. One of his plans was to take a march he once sold to MGM and rewrite it for orchestra. MGM used the march as the theme in the movie, “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen.
When he sold the piece, Spire had not expected the film to become a classic.
“Boy, I wish I’d kept the rights,” he said with a grin.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

B.E. Sperry:
The End of An Era
A prominent Ridgefield businessman for a half century, B.E. “Bert” Sperry died amid much family sadness. His business also ended with a bang.
In the fall of 1946, Sperry drove to Michigan to visit his brother, Frank, who had been hospitalized with burns suffered when a relative’s house burned down. Frank had been staying at the relative’s house after a fire had destroyed the trailer he himself had been living in with his brother, former Ridgefielder Fleet Sperry — Fleet was burned to death in that blaze.
On the day before Halloween, Bert Sperry suffered a heart attack at a Ohio hotel and died. 
Born in 1871 in Michigan, Bert Eugene Sperry came to Ridgefield in 1892 and worked at the Adams and Keeler livery stable. Five years later, he opened his own stable in a huge building on Catoonah Street that had been Whitlock’s livery stable. He had as many as 75 horses at one point.   
Sperry handled in an effective way the arrival of the automobile and the departure of the horse.
“When automobiles began to provide better local transportation,” his Press obituary said, “Mr. Sperry turned to taxicabs.” 
He continued in the taxi business until World War II and also sold coal and wood. 
Sperry was active in the Lions Club and other local groups. 
Sperry’s livery stable was a huge edifice that stood opposite the Ridgefield firehouse. It was built to hold not only horses that could be rented or boarded, but carriages that could be rented with horses for use like an Avis car or U-Haul truck today. Upper floors held large amounts of hay to feed the horses and provide bedding.
When the horses left, the three-story barn, built probably in the 1870s, became obsolete and for some years had been poorly maintained. It was showing its age and perhaps lack of maintenance in the winter of 1947-48, when a couple of big snowstorms in late December and early January had piled huge amounts of snow on the roof. 
The building began creaking and sagging. Fire Marshal Horace A. Walker condemned the structure (there was no building inspector back then) and ordered the Harry Dodson family, who had an apartment in the rear section, to get out and take anything of value with them. 
At 4 o’clock on the morning of Jan. 17, 1948 — 12 hours after the Dodsons had moved out —  the building collapsed in a thunderous roar of splitting timbers and breaking glass that woke up people throughout the village. 

It was a dramatic end of an era.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Profiles on Facebook's
'Old Ridgefield' Group

Here is a list of more than 190 profiles of Ridgefielders posted as Who Was Who on the "Old Ridgefield" Facebook Group as of Sept. 21, 2016:
Abbe Family,
Abbot, Dr. Joel,
Adler, Larry,
Aldrich, Larry,
Allan, Edwin B,
Allee, William H,
Allen, William I,
Ancona, Joseph,
Atherton, John,
Babin, Jacqueline,
Bacon, Peggy,
Bailey, Annie Keeler,
Baker, Paul,
Bedini, Silvio,
Beers, Henry I,
Bennett, Harry,
Biow, Milton,
Bishop, Sarah,
Bissell, H.P,
Blackwell Betsy Talbot,
Blankenship, William,
Blum, Dr. Harry,
Blumgarten, James,
Boring, Wayne,
Boyce, Walter,
Brown, Eliphalet,
Buhrman, Bert,
Carboni, Benvenuto,
Carroll, Leo F,
Chekhov, Michael,
Cleves, Mabel,
Coca, Imogene,
Coleman, Rev. James,
Copland, Aaron,
Copp, John,
Costanzi, James,
Couch, Edward J,
Crocker Family,
Crosby, Fanny,
D’Addario, Dom,
Dick, Edwina Eustis,
Dielman, Frederick,
Donovan, Jeremiah,
Dowling, John E,
Dutton, E.P,
Eason, Myles,
Farrar, Geraldine,
Farrar, Sidney,
Fast, Howard,
Fawcett, Robert,
Fields, Gail Rogers Glissman,
Fossi, Louis J,
Franklin, Fabian,
Fry, Varian,
Gabor, Jolie,
Gage, D. Smith,
Gilbert, George Washington,
Gilbert, Victor,
Gilchrist, Huntington,
Gilkes, Lillian B,
Gillum, Pinky,
Gold, Andrew,
Goldstein, Mel,
Goodrich, Samuel, Parley,
Grafton, Samuel,
Green, Herb,
Gunther, Max,
Haight, John F,
Haight, Robert S,
Hampden, Walter,
Hanley, William G,
Hepburn, Emily Eaton,
Herrick, Gerard,
Hightower, John,
Hoban, Fairfield,
Holleran, Clifford,
Horblit, Harrison and Jean,
Hoyt, Irene,
Hughes, John B,
Hull, Harry E,
Jacob, Sereno,
Jacobsen, Sacha,
Johnson, Rev. Samuel,
Jones, Edward,
Joseph, James,
Kampen, Irene,
Keefe, Tammis,
Keeler, Capt. Benjamin,
Kemble, E.W.,
Kilcoyne, Marie,
Knox, Edward M,
Kraus, Robert,
Landegger, Karl,
Landis, Jessie Royce,
Leonard, Elizabeth,
Levy, B.E,
Lounsbury, George E,
Luce, Clare Boothe,
Maine, Florene,
Mallon, Mary,
Martin, Francis D,
McGlynn, Richard T,
McGovern, Gordon,
McNamara, Walter,
Medynski, Father Francis,
Meltzer, Alan,
Minot, Dr. Henry,
Mitchell, John Ames,
Montgomery, Douglass,
Moorhead, Lillian,
Moss, Donald,
Nash, Charles S,
Nelhybel, Vaclav,
Nevin, Hardwick,
Nevins, Allan,
North, Alex,
O'Neill, Eugene,
Oexle, William,
Oliphant, Elmer Q,
Olmsted, Ebenezer,
Olsen, Olaf,
Orrico, John,
Paccadolmi, Phyllis,
Paddock, Archibald Y,
Perlin, Bernard,
Perry, Gen. David,
Petroni, Romeo,
Pierrepont, Seth Low,
Pontello, Mike,
Recht, Charles,
Regney, Noel,
Remington, Frederic,
Richardson, Anne S,
Risch, Joan,
Roach, Joseph,
Roberts, Gail,
Rockelein, Conrad,
Rogers, Donald I,
Rome, Harold,
Rosa, Kathryn Venus,
Ross, C. Chandler,
Rowland, Alice V,
Rowley, John,
Ryan, Cornelius,
Ryan, Kathryn Morgan,
Safford, Theodore,
Salerno, Bartholomew T,
Salvo, Adam,
Scalise, George,
Scarry, Richard,
Scherf, Captain Meinhard,
Schuster, Patricia,
Scott, John Walter,
Scripps, Robert P,
Servadio, Gildo,
Shapiro, Joseph,
Shaughnessy, Thomas,
Sheehan, Dr. James,
Sheeler, Charles,
Shields, Hugh,
Shields, Laura Curie Allee,
Sholes, D. Smith,
Shortell, Richard E,
Skandera, Michael,
Smith, Duncan,
Sonnichsen, Eric,
Spong, Hilda,
Stebbins, Henry G,
Stengel, George,
Stevens, Carlton Ross,
Stockli, Albert,
Thomas, Harry,
Thomas, Norman,
Toffler, Alvin,
Trahey, Jane,
Turner, Aaron,
Ullman, Paul,
Van Lidth de Jeude, Erland,
Velte, Paul,
Vetter, George,
Wagoner, Philip D,
Warrups, Chicken,
Weissmann, Frieder,
Wheeler, John N,
Wilder, Gen. Wilber,
Wilk, Max,
Wills, Ruth E,
Wilmot, Tony,
Wohlforth, Mildred,
Wood, Lee B,

Bart Salerno: 
Big Shop’s Savior
“He was a character beyond imagination,” said business associate Thomas Quinn after the 1988 death of Bart Salerno, an entrepreneur who started WREF, fed Olympic athletes, renovated old buildings, and enjoyed talking to anyone who struck his fancy. 
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1923, Bartholomew T. Salerno grew up in New York City. He served as a sergeant in a U.S. Marine Corps bomber squadron during World War II and won the Distinguished Fly Cross “for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight, in actions against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations.”
After the war, he graduated from Springfield College and became a teacher. He moved to town in 1954 when he was teaching art at Ridgefield High School after earning a master’s degree at  Danbury Teachers College. A year later, he bought the  carriage house of opera singer Geraldine Farrar and converted it to a home off Silver Spring Road.
He operated Bart Associates, a real estate and insurance firm, which for many years operated out of a converted freezer building on Danbury Road. But he had many other interests. For instance, he spent 15 years getting licensing and antenna approval for WREF, Ridgefield’s AM radio station. In its early years under Salerno's ownership, WREF broadcast local news and programming but has since become a totally automated, computer-operated, oldies rock station with no local coverage at all.
He was a small-scale developer who also owned apartment buildings and other properties. His largest development was the subdivision of the former Firestone estate in the northwestern corner of Wilton.
Perhaps his most important contribution to Ridgefield was his renovation of the Big Shop, the early 1800s hall and factory that Hannibal Hamlin, as vice president under Abraham Lincoln, spoke in, and that had been a center of Ridgefield industry in the 1800s. The large building had stood at West Lane and Main Streets but when the “new” First Congregational Church was about to be built in 1888, the Big Shop was moved to the center of the village. By the 1970s, it had become a run-down tenement and had reached the point where the town condemned it as unsafe for human occupancy. Salerno bought it, carefully restored and remodeled it, and now the handsome Big Shop holds restaurants, shops and offices at the north end of the Bailey Avenue parking lot. 
Salerno had an eye for a winner, as demonstrated in 1977 when he sponsored Karen Kopins  in a Miss Ridgefield pageant. She went on to become Miss Connecticut, competed in Miss America, and wound up an actress who appeared in movies and TV series. 
He part-owned the company that fed the athletes at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and then supplied food to the American team at Sarajevo in 1984. 
“He was happiest around peasants and poor people,” said Quinn, another partner in the food service company. Instead of hanging around formal functions in Sarajevo, Salerno could often be found playing cards with the locals. 
When he did join in the formalities, he was sometimes lost. “I can remember him sitting next to John Denver and Kirk Douglas and calling John Denver Kirk Douglas and Kirk Douglas John Denver,” Quinn said with a smile.
“He told John Denver he enjoyed him in Spartacus.”
Salerno was 64 when he died while on a visit to Florida.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016



Donald Moss:
The Athletes’ Artist
Donald Moss was one of the leading artists of the world of sports in the last half of the 20th Century.
Moss painted hundreds of covers and inside illustrations for Sports Illustrated, produced scores of posters of athletes, golf courses, ski slopes, and other sporting themes, and designed more than a dozen U.S. postage stamps, including the 1976 Olympics set. 
His paintings are in all the major sports halls of fame, the Society of Illustrators Museum, the National Art Museum of Sport, the U.S. Sports Academy, the U.S. Air Force Art Collection, and the U.S. Marine Corps Museum. 
Born in 1920 in Somerville, Mass. Donald Francis Moss was attending art school when World War II broke out. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps and with the 1st Marine Division,  landed at Guadalcanal in August 1942, fighting through that campaign. He eventually serving four years.
After the war, he attended Pratt Institute in New York, where he met his wife,  Virginia “Sally” Hardesty Moss. He started out painting for various ad agencies, along with Good Housekeeping, Collier's, and Esquire magazines, but soon began focusing on sports.
“I have always been impressed by athletes who give everything to their sport,”  Moss said in his biography for the Sport Artist of the Year award given to him in 1985 by the United States Sports Academy. “I admire their intensity, their ability to please others and to make a good living at the same time. I like to think that I do the same.”
He got his first assignment with Sports Illustrated in 1954, and over 30 years, painted  more covers and editorial illustrations for that magazine than any other artist, said Anne Kent Rush of the American Sport Art Museum and Archives. “Donald Moss was working on the cusp of the change from painting to the camera,” Rush told The New York Times. “His art helped change the way we visualize sports scenes and players.”
He produced Super Bowl posters, the Best 18 Golf Holes in America, and countless logos — including the art for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics raccoon mascot.
One of his more unusual series of posters involved aerial views of golf courses and downhill ski runs. “I usually fly over each course, take hundreds of aerial photographs, and translate these in the studio to very tight 24-by-36-inch aerial paintings,” he told The Press in 1996 about his golf course series.
Why did he paint courses and ski runs when aerial photos could accomplish the same and more easily? The Times asked in 1979. “Photographic aerials cannot define fairways and traps or ski trails hidden by terrain and foliage,” he said. “Photos do not bring out the values, color, depth, length, or height that an illustration can. And they do not glamorize the majestic mountain or the dramatic pitch of a downhill trail.”
Moss designed a dozen U.S. postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service and 48 First Day Cover envelope cachets. He painted the signature illustrations for many major sports events, such as the New York City Marathon and the U.S. Tennis Open at Forest Hills.
His paintings of Ted Williams and Jack Nicklaus are included in Champions of American Sport, published by the Smithsonian Institution, and others hang in the collections of museums and the American Sports Halls of Fame. His painting of football star and coach Don Shula is in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
Over the years, his style of painting varied. “I go from pointillism to pop-art to impressionism to realism,” he told The Press in 1975. “I like surrealism because it’s a more cerebral type of painting.”
Moss was an author:  He wrote “How to Paint Watercolor,” published by Grumbacher in 1968. 
A hockey player as a boy, Moss was a lifelong skier and tennis player, and an avid golf, football, hockey, and baseball fan.
He lived on Peaceable Street for 23 years before moving to Farmington in 1999. During his years here, he often contributed his works to various local non-profits’ fundraising efforts. He died in 2010 at the age of 90. 
“He had a ready smile, innate charisma, and a gift for connecting with anyone, human or canine," said his daughter Margaret Moss Painter. “He loved his sports car, outdoor concerts with champagne and fireworks, dogs, his backyard garden, and a crisply pressed shirt.” 


Monday, September 19, 2016


Clifford A. Holleran:
Beloved Principal
For 36 years,  Kip Holleran was principal of Ridgefield High School and over all that time, he could knew each and every student by name. 
“Whenever a graduate would return to the halls of his secondary school learning, he or she would first stop at Mr. Holleran’s office, not because he had to, but  because he wanted to,” The Ridgefield Press said in an editorial about the principal. 
Born in 1895,  Clifford Ambrose Holleran grew up in Watertown, Conn., and graduated from Bucknell in 1920. A year later, he was hired as both a principal and a teacher at Hamilton High School, the original Ridgefield High School, then located on Bailey Avenue. 
The late Dick Venus, town historian, told this story of Holleran’s first day in a classroom in Ridgefield: 
“He wanted the names of each of his pupils. He asked that each one arise and give his or her last name as they were called on. 
“My brother Joe sat in one of the front seats and when Mr. Holleran pointed to him, Joe dutifully arose and said his name was Venus. The new principal blinked at the rather unusual name and then called on the next student, who declared his name was Romeo (probably Fred Romeo). 
“With that, Mr. Holleran called a halt to the proceedings as he had a feeling that he was being taken advantage of. In a loud voice, he said, ‘Some of you think you are pretty smart but if the next one who gets up tells me his name is Juliet, there will be trouble.’ 
“When the two boys were able to prove that their names were actually Venus and Romeo, Mr. Holleran had a big laugh over it.”
In his early years, he spent more time teaching than principaling — he taught geometry, trigonometry, science, chemistry, physics, and mechanical drawing. 
When he arrived at the school, there were no organized athletic teams, and he created baseball and basketball squads. For 20 years, he coached both, transporting them to out-of-town games, running magazine drives to pay for them, and sometimes winning championships.
Occasionally he’d even referee the games — because of his reputation for fairness, opposing teams didn't mind. 
After World War II, when the school grew large enough to hire an athletic director to take over, football was finally added and Holleran became a full-time principal — and twice was acting superintendent of schools.
“Mr. Holleran [was] a very kindly man,”  Elsa Hartmann, longtime teacher of history and German at RHS, recalled in 1983. “Even so, he was a strict disciplinarian and woe betide any student who got out of line. 
“On one occasion he heard a noise in the hallway and opened the door to see what was going on. Jim Sullivan had been sent to a window at the rear of the hall to clap the chalk dust out of some blackboard erasers. Lawrence Brundage opened a door at the other  end of the hallway and Jim promptly threw an eraser at him. Of course, the eraser was returned with gusto and soon the air was flying erasers. 
“As the door between the two combatants opened, a balding head appeared and caught the full force of an airborne eraser. When Jim saw what he had done, he clambered out the window and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.”
Holleran retired in 1957, but like many educators of the first half of the 20th Century, he lived here, was active in the non-school community, and remained so in retirement. 
He was a founder and the first president of the Rotary Club, served on the Ration Board during the war, and was a director of the Boys Club for 14 years. He loved golf, and his favorite partner was Tabby Carboni. 
In 1947, he married his longtime sweetheart, Grace C. White, after her retirement following 44 years of teaching here. She died in 1963 at the age of 79, he in 1971, age 78. 


Sunday, September 18, 2016


Sereno Jacob:
Fighter Pilot, Playhouse Fighter
A pilot who won the Croix de Guerre for shooting down German fighters in World War I and who was among the earliest to fly commercial airliners may have been largely responsible for the venue that is now the Ridgefield Playhouse.
Born in Brooklyn in 1896, Sereno Thorpe Jacob grew up in Westport. He became a carpenter, but soon ran away from home and joined the Merchant Marine.
Early in World War I, he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in France. While there he became interested in aviation, trained as a pilot, and wound up joining the Lafayette Flying Corps, a group of American volunteer pilots who flew in the French Air Force before the U.S. entered the war. 
He piloted Nieuport 27 and SPAD S.XIII fighters against the Germans from October 1916 through January 1918. He earned the Croix de Guerre with Palm for exceptional bravery after a battle in which he and another pilot shot down a German observation balloon and were then attacked by five German planes. “The American aviators succeeded in sending two of the German planes to earth and drove off the three others,” said a contemporary account.
A record of his service in France reported that “most pilots are glad of an occasional rest from flying, but Jacob, according to his comrades, was always ‘gonfle’ [“pumped up”] — three patrols a day were nothing out of the ordinary for him. The habits of the local Boches [Germans] formed a study of never-failing interest; it was his delight to lie in wait for the wary Rumpler [a German plane] which so often made its photographic reconnaissance at noon, heralded by tracery of white shrapnel puffs across the sky. Though he has three official victories to his credit, Jacob had had bad luck in getting confirmation, and among the chalky hills of the Champagne, ... there are without doubt several fast-disappearing heaps of wreckage which are rightfully his.”
Jacob later served briefly in the U.S. Army at the end of the war..
When the conflict was over, Jacob worked for a while for an American automobile company selling Cadillacs in Belgium, but returned to the states in 1921, when he married Marion Couch Wakeman of Westport. Soon after, the couple moved to Ridgefield to a house on the corner of High Ridge and Barry Avenue (behind the big stone wall built by Joe Knoche) that had belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Sereno Allen. Their arrival was almost legendary. 
“My father’s greatest public relations coup was arriving in Ridgefield with his beautiful bride, wearing two raccoon coats, in a Stutz Bearcat,” son Merritt Jacob said.  “People were always ready to tell me about their ride in the Stutz — which had an exhaust cutout so that the roar of the engine could be heard miles off.”
For a brief period Jacob flew Ford Trimotors for a regional airline providing service to such cities as Bridgeport, Newark, N.J., Albany, N.Y., and Springfield, Mass., but he left around 1930 when the airline lost its mail contract and went belly-up. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War I flying ace who founded Eastern Airlines in 1926, knew him, hired him and Jacob flew Eastern’s Curtiss Condor airliners for seven years.
“He was a very early member of the airline pilots union and wrote a paper defending the union, which did not please Captain Eddie,” said Merritt Jacob. “And so they parted ways.”
Jacob’s new career was very land-based: real estate. He worked with Harold E. Finch, a prominent oldtimer and owner of what became Squash’s New Store and is now Ridgefield Office Supply.  However, though he wasn’t flying, he often spoke to clubs and organizations about his years as a pilot, both in World War I and with the airlines. The challenges were many and the instruments few. “Flying blind is like walking a tightrope in a dark closet blindfolded,” he told a First Congregational Church club in 1938 about piloting a plane in overcast weather.
Jacob served three years as chairman of the Board of Assessors and, according to The Press, “devoted his talents to putting that office on a more business-like basis.”
He also served on the building committee that expanded the “old high school” on East Ridge in the late 1930s. Merritt Jacob reports that, “according to my mother, he fought very hard for a separate gym and auditorium — which put Ridgefield way ahead of any of the neighboring towns facilitywise and gave us the auditorium that is still in use” — the Ridgefield Playhouse. “I myself got to see Toscanini conduct in that auditorium. My father could be very forward-looking.”  
During World War II, Jacob was chairman of the Ridgefield Defense Council and worked to bring about greater public appreciation of the danger of the war reaching this country. He was not always successful. In March 1942, he asked the town for $25,000 for civilian defense projects; the Town Meeting later authorized $2,500. 
He was a member of the Republican Town Committee, the Lions Club, and the American Legion. He also belonged to the Last Man’s Club, a group of World War I veterans who met annually to remember their comrades  until the last man died. When Jacob died in 1947 at the age of 51, he was only the second of 31 members to pass away. 
Sereno Jacob loved traveling not only on land and in the air, but also on the sea. He was an expert yachtsman, and had owned 40 and 50 foot sailing vessels that took part in many major racing events. But he also loved a good ride in that Stutz.
One day he was parked in front of town hall when Joe Zwierlein happened by. (A local house painter, Zwierlein was well-known in town; he was a volunteer fireman for 60 years and dog warden for 30.)
“My father asked Joe if he wanted to go for a ride,” Merritt Jacob said. “Well, Joe jumped at the chance. After about 30 minutes of driving, Joe asked my father where they were headed, and my father said, ‘Montreal.’”
It took Zwierlein a bit of time to recover from the shock and figure out what he would tell his wife. 

Lee B. Wood:
Rockefellers’ Dimes
When Lee B. Wood was a student at Amherst College, Talcott Williams, head of the Columbia School of Journalism, told him he’d never make it as a newspaperman. 
Williams may have been a good journalist, but he was a poor judge of talent; Lee Wood went on to become an editor of a New York City daily newspaper when he was only 33 years old, and led a team that collected four Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure. 
Born in 1893 in Pennsylvania, Wood got his first job in 1916 was as a reporter for a newspaper in Cleveland where he made a point of attending the same Baptist church as John D. Rockefeller Sr.  Each Sunday, he’d approach Rockefeller and ask for a comment on current news and each time, he’d get an answer and a dime. Some of those answers turned into big stories and the dimes — worth about $2 in today’s money — helped the $12-a-week reporter to eat. 
Years later, sitting next to Nelson Rockefeller at a dinner, he described his experiences with the vice president’s grandfather. 
“Did you save your dimes?” Nelson Rockefeller asked. 
He hadn’t. 
“Well, I saved mine and if you like, I’ll send you one.” 
Rockefeller did and Wood saved it. 
Lee Wood spent 64 years in journalism, working in Cleveland, Paris, and Oklahoma City before coming to New York in 1927 as an editor at The New York Telegram, a Scripps-Howard newspaper. He eventually became both editor and president of The New York World-Telegram and Sun, which won four Pulitzer Prizes while he was an executive. 
He retired in 1965 to become president of the Scripps-Howard Investment Company, which owned newspapers, and the Scripps-Howard Foundation, which awards journalism scholarships.
Wood and his wife Mildred came to Ridgefield in 1934, buying a Ridgebury farm. When they were older, they moved to a smaller house nearby. 
In 1979 the Woods moved to Ohio and he died there two years later at the age of 88. 
Before he left town,  Wood gave more than 1,000 books to the Mark Twain Library in Redding, founded by Twain himself, for its famous annual summer book sale. 

“Mark Twain was quite a newspaperman,” Wood said at the time. “And it seems quite fitting to give a newspaperman’s library to a library named after him.”

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.” 


Douglass Montgomery:
The Acting Life
A number of accomplished people in the arts seem to have come to Ridgefield and soon died. That was the case with R. Douglass Montgomery, a stage and screen actor whose roles included Laurie, in the classic 1933 film version of  “Little Women.” 
A native of Ontario, Canada, Robert Douglass Montgomery was born in 1907 and as a boy, moved to Pasadena, Calif., where at 14 he became involved in the famous Pasadena Playhouse — while still in high school, he was named assistant director. He quit high school to go to New York where he won a role on Broadway when he was only 17. He went on to perform as a teenager in a half dozen New York shows.
While visiting his family in California in 1930, he was signed by MGM which loaned him out to other studies and which changed his name to Kent Douglas because another Montgomery — Robert — was already a well-known actor. He earned second-lead roles in such films as “Paid,” in 1930, with Joan Crawford, and “Little Women,” in 1933, in which he played Laurie, the sweet young man rejected by Jo, played by Katharine Hepburn. In all, he appeared  — and often starred  — in 17 films in the 1930s.  
When he returned to doing some Broadway shows in the mid-1930s, he changed his name back to Douglass Montgomery, and used that name for the rest of his career.
Montgomery gained some unusual notoriety in 1934 when he was a victim of what was then styled as a madman’s attempt to kill Hollywood actors. According to a contemporary account, “He was rehearsing a stage play at the Pasadena Community Theatre. Night after night, he parked his car in a dark and obscure corner of a lot adjoining the theatre. And he drove to his mother’s home in Altadena each night after rehearsal.
“One night, he was leaving the theatre when Universal Studios called him on the phone and asked if he could come right over to make a retake. He dashed out, climbed in his car and started for Hollywood, instead of up the hilly and winding mountain road to Altadena, where the slightest mishap would send his car careening over steep embankments to the rocks far below.
“And as he sped along the wide, smooth highway toward Universal City, one of the front wheels of the car came off and the car veered crazily, tilted to one side, crashed to the ground. The wheel rolled swiftly through the darkness and struck a nearby house. People came running to the scene. Then it was discovered that some fiend had taken off the hub caps of all four wheels, had removed the nuts that hold on the wheels, and had slipped the caps back on the wheels so that no one would notice what had been done — until too late.
“Montgomery shuddered as he made the discovery and realized that, had he gone to Altadena, as was his custom, his car would probably have been a tangled mass of wreckage in a canyon with his crumpled body beneath it. Pure luck saved him, and thwarted the vicious attempt at murder.”
The incident gained even wider exposure after, a few nights later, actor Jack La Rue was sleeping in his home when a four-by-four log came crashing through a bedroom window, landing only a few inches from his head.
“Police are seeking for a madman who, they think is trying to avenge some imaginary wrong; or perhaps a man who has failed in pictures and is trying to gain satisfaction by maiming or killing men who have risen to prominence that he never can reach.,” the account said. No one was ever arrested, however.
When World War II broke out, Montgomery joined the Canadian Army and was sent to England where, instead of fighting, he was “demobilized” to star in war propaganda films such as “The Way to the Stars,” with Sir Michael Redgrave and Trevor Howard; the movie, called “Johnny in the Clouds” in the U.S., was made to foster Anglo-American relationships and Montgomery considered it his best film. (When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Montgomery was asked to broadcast over the BBC, dubbing in Roosevelt’s voice.)
While in England, he met Kathleen Tamor Young, an actress and costume designer; she was married at the time to Michael Wilding; they divorced in 1951 and he married Elizabeth Taylor. Kay Young had appeared in several English movies including “In Which We Serve” in 1942.  She and Montgomery became close friends.
He returned to the United States in 1945, appeared in several early television shows, but perhaps drawn by Young, returned to England where he made several movies and appeared in plays.
In 1952, back in the states, he and Kay Young were married at the Connecticut home of his old friends, Governor and Mrs. John Davis Lodge. (Lodge was a former actor who also appeared in the film, “Little Women.” Like Ronald Reagan, Lodge turned politician and became not only governor of Connecticut but also ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland.)
The Montgomerys lived in California for a while, but in 1958 moved to New York where he appeared on Broadway, but soon decided to retire. He lived  several years in Darien and in January 1966, probably aware of his illness, he, his wife and his longtime friend, Thomas Wanamaker, moved to Fairfields, the Georgian-style brick mansion on Golf Lane built in 1903. There, Montgomery continued his interest in raising Irish wolfhounds. But in July that year, he was taken to Norwalk Hospital where he died of spinal cancer. He was only 58. 
Kay Young then married Australian-born actor Miles Eason. The Easons lived at first at Fairfields and later in a home on Olmstead Lane. 
Kay Young Montgomery Eason died here in 1994 at the age of 78.  


Irene Kampen:
Life without Owen
Irene Kampen’s divorce led not only to a new career, but a popular TV series starring another recent divorcee, Lucille Ball. 
Kampen and her husband, Owen, moved to Ridgefield in 1954 and almost immediately, their 15-year marriage fell apart. 
“I was brought up to believe that if you cooked, dusted and baked blueberry muffins for your husband, you would both live happily ever after,” Kampen said. “Well, I dusted, I baked and one day I looked around our house, high on a Ridgefield hill, and ‘George’ was gone. 
“Now the advice I give to all young brides is ‘Don’t dust! Light a lot of candles. They’re much more romantic.”
Forced to support herself after the divorce, she was soon exhausted commuting to work at her father’s New York City flower shop, and turned to writing. A few years later, she produced the light-hearted “Life Without George,” published by Doubleday in 1961, based on her new life as a single mom. The book became the inspiration for The Lucy Show, a comedy about a divorced woman starring Miss Ball, who had recently divorced Desi Arnaz. 
Kampen and her then 17-year-old daughter Christine used to watch the show every Monday night. “It’s our lives we’re seeing,” Kampen told Associated Press. “They’ve changed specific incidents, but the characters are recognizable and so are the situations.”
Many changes were made from book to sit-com script, including the elimination of Kampen’s two cats — “Cats are untrainable and impossible to use in a show filmed before a live audience as is ‘The Lucy Show,’ ” explained AP TV-radio writer Cynthia Lowry.
“But,” added Kampen, “they’ve left the house pretty much the way it was — they even have the location right, only instead of Ridgefield and Danbury, they call the towns Ridgebury and Danfield.”
Ball won two Emmy Awards during the show's seven-year run.
Although she wanted to, Kampen never did get to meet Lucille Ball. She probably did meet Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz on both I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show — Vance lived on Route 116 in nearby North Salem.
Kampen went on to write 10 humorous novels, often based on her own experiences, with such titles as “Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Mother” (based on the 1966 wedding of her daughter, Christine, to Ridgefielder Stephen Guthrie), “Fear Without Childbirth,” “Due to A Lack of Interest, Tomorrow Has Been Cancelled,” and “Nobody Calls at This Hour Just to Say Hello.” 
Irene Trepel Kampen was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1922 — her father, Jack, who later lived in Ridgefield, owned a flower shop in Rockefeller Center, was an amateur magician, and was president of the American Society of Magicians for 12 years. Her mother Mary co-starred in Trepel’s magic shows, including on USO tours in World War II.
Kampen attended the University of Wisconsin where she was editor of the campus humor magazine and graduated in 1943. She worked for a while at The New York Journal-American and after her marriage, moved to brand-new Levittown, Long Island, where she worked for the local weekly newspaper as a reporter and gossip columnist.
Living in Ridgefield for more than 30 years, Kampen had homes on Stonecrest Road, Lookout Drive, and finally Rockwell Road. She was active in the Women’s Town Club and the Ridgefield Woman's Club, helped with Red Cross fund drives, and was a frequent luncheon speaker
Soon after her divorce, she began writing pieces for The Ridgefield Press, including a column  under the pseudonym, H. Loomis Fenstermacher. 
“I poked fun at local subjects such as the Southern New England Telephone Company, CL&P and the Ridgefield police department,” she told an interviewer about her column. “I thought the column was funny, my mother thought it was funny, and the publisher, Karl Nash, thought it was funny. However, the people I wrote about did not think I was funny, and I was let go.”
So, instead of the column, she sat down and wrote “Life without George.”
The way to become a writer, she said years later, was: “Get divorced. And also, if you want to write books, get fired.”
Kampen enjoyed pulling off stunts, as well. One time, to draw attention to how long it took to get a walk light on Main Street, she set up a typing stand with typewriter on the sidewalk by town hall  to suggest she had enough time to work on a novel while waiting for the walk light.
Irene Kampen moved to California in 1988 and died 10 years later at the age of 75.
How did Owen Kampen feel about becoming “George” to millions of readers and viewers? In a 1961 letter to The Press, Owen, a commercial artist who did many pulp fiction covers and taught at Famous Artists School, said he had picked up a copy of his ex-wife’s book soon after it came out and began reading it with trepidation. 
“There is nothing funny about divorce, but Irene’s book is; from the flyleaf on, I smiled and finally laughed. In retrospect, it’s a little rewarding to know you had some part in bringing a long-stilled and genuine talent to the fore, for all to enjoy.”

And if that praise from an ex-husband wasn’t surprising enough, consider who selected Kampen’s book as the model for Ball’s new show: The head of Desilu Productions, Desi Arnaz.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Noël Regney & Gloria Shayne:
What They Heard
When Noël Regney and his wife, Gloria Shayne, wrote the classic Christmas song, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” they had no idea it would be a hit — or even published.
“Columbia records was doing a cute Christmas song and they asked us to do something offhand for the other side of the record,” Ms. Shayne told The Ridgefield Press in 1969. 
“This is my chance to write a Christmas song for myself,” Mr. Regney later recalled thinking at the time. “I had thought I’d never write a Christmas song: Christmas had become so commercial. But this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated.”  
He was walking home to his apartment on East 52nd Street when he “saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. “The babies were looking at each other and smiling, and all of a sudden, my mood was extraordinary.” He got home, sat down, wrote the lyrics, and handed them to his wife, who wrote the tune. 
“We couldn’t sing it through; it broke us up,” Gloria Shayne said.
The flip-side deal fell through, but Mercury records decided to produce the song, performed by Harry Simeone Choral, as a lead recording. A quarter of a million copies were released just after Thanksgiving 1962; they sold out within a week. 
A year later, Bing Crosby did a version, and for many years and under various artists, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” sold more than one million copies annually.  Now ranked among the 25 top Christmas songs of all time, the composition has been recorded on more than 120 albums by not only Bing Crosby, but also such other stars as Perry Como and Mahalia Jackson. The Regneys also did two other Christmas songs, still sung today: “I Sing Noel” and “Three Wise Men, Three.”
The daughter of an attorney and a professor, Gloria Shayne was born, nee Shain, in Brookline, Mass., in 1923, a next-door neighbor of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and their children—including John F. Kennedy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Boston University and headed for New York City where she worked as a pianist and was an arranger for the likes of Stephen Sondheim and Irving Berlin.
In 1951 she met Noël Regney while she was performing at a hotel in New York City and the two collaborated on a number of hits, including “Rain Rain Go Away,” sung by Bobby Vinton, “Sweet Little Darlin,” by Jo Stafford, and “Another Go Around,” by Perry Como and Doris Day. Ms. Shayne also wrote the hit song, “Goodbye Cruel World,” recorded by James Darren — it was his biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit.
   The Regneys moved to High Ridge in 1969. After their divorce in the mid-1970s, she moved to Stamford, but Mr. Regney remained for many years in Ridgefield, where he was a frequent performer—often at benefits—and could also be found playing the piano at The Elms Inn. He also often made appearances in schools.
   A charming man with a deep voice whose accent reflected his native land, Mr. Regney was born in France as Leon Schlienger. He eventually took that name and spelled it backward—subtracting the LHCS and changing I to Y—to create Noël Regney. During World War II, the German army drafted him—he had grown up in Alsace near the German border and could speak German. He soon deserted, and joined the French resistance, acting as a double agent for the French, and was once wounded when he led Nazi troops into an ambush. 
After the war, he came to the United States as a working musician. After his collaborations with Ms. Shayne, Mr. Regney also wrote songs on his own, including several musicals. He also wrote the English lyrics for “Dominique,” the 1963-4 top hit by The Singing Nun. 
In 1975, he wrote the five-part cantata, “I Believe in Life.” “Writing it,” he said in 1977, “was like coming back to my first love. I began to think this would be my musical testament, something lasting.”

He died in 2002 in Brewster, N.Y. at the age of 80. Gloria Shayne Baker, who had remarried, died in 2008 in Stamford, age 84.