Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hubert Main: 
Holy Music
Ridgefield has had a surprisingly noteworthy history in the world of religious music: It was childhood home of one of the world’s most prolific hymn writers, it was the adulthood home of a major hymn publisher, and it was the birthplace of a major hymn composer. Oddly enough, Fanny Crosby, Lucius H. Biglow and Hubert Main all knew each other.
Hubert Platt Main was born in Ridgefield in 1839. His father, Sylvester Main, was a music teacher who became a compiler of hymn books and eventually joined Lucius Biglow in the music publishing business. 
But Sylvester was also a childhood friend of Fanny Crosby, the blind author of more than 3,000 hymns, who grew up on Main Street. In fact, Crosby fondly recounted how Sylvester often protected her from the local bullies when she was a young girl.
Hubert displayed an early love of both music and independence. According to J.H. Hall in his book, “Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers,” Main had an amazing memory of his early childhood to as far back as 1842 when he was three years old. “He hasn’t forgotten a whipping received in that year for repeatedly running off from home at evenings to the band room, hiding under the benches and listening to the music.”
As a child, he would compose tunes by speaking “do, re, mi, fa...” for the notes. “If, when walking on the street, any air came to his mind, he would apply the syllables to it, and sing away,” Hall said.
As a young man, he moved to New York City where compiled books of music, was a choir leader and organist in churches, and eventually joined Biglow and Main, the music publishing company that his father had owned with Lucius Biglow. (Biglow moved to Ridgefield in the late 1880s, buying the estate that is now Ballard Park — donated to the town by his daughter, Elizabeth Biglow Ballard.)
Over his lifetime, Main composed more than 1,000 works, including “singing school pieces, Sunday-school songs, hymn tunes, gospel hymns, anthems, sheet music songs, love songs, quartets, and instrumental pieces,” Hall reports.
He composed the music for hundreds of popular hymns of the mid-to-late 19th century, among them “We Shall Meet Beyond the River,”  “Blessed Homeland,” and “The Bright Forever”— the words of the last two were written by Fanny Crosby.    
In the 1915 book, “Fanny Crosby’s Story of Ninety-Four Years,” she called Hubert Main “one of my most precious friends.” The book includes a picture of the two, seated together, called “Fast Friends.” 
Main also collected a huge library on music — he was “a veritable antiquarian in old music books,” said Hall. In 1891, he sold 35,000 volumes to the Newberry Library in Chicago, one of the world’s leading research libraries to this day.
Main was known not only for his independent thinking but for his sense of humor. “In regard to his religious proclivities,” Hall reports, “he was brought up a Methodist, joined the church in 1854 before he came to New York but he quaintly says that he is not outrageously pious, and could laugh at a funeral, even his own, if he saw anything comical, and he could just as easily shed tears at anything tender and pathetic.”
Hall added, “He is full of sunshine and good humor. He is immensely entertaining in his conversation, and one of  the best of companions. His letters to his friends are usually full of wit and humor. He remarks that he might be more dignified, but it would increase his doctor's bills.”

Main lived his later life in New Jersey where he died in 1925. He is buried there beneath a stone that says, “We shall meet beyond the river.” 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Howard Young: 
Art and Ike
One weekend in 1952, four men gathered to discuss a decision that was to affect the history of the nation and even the world.
The four were multimillionaire art dealer Howard Young, Hearst newspaper columnist Bob Considine, former Scripps-Howard columnist Frank Farrell, and the president of Columbia University, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower.
Eisenhower had been toying with the idea of running for president. At the meeting Farrell told the general that he thought the powerful Scripps-Howard newspaper chain would support him if he were the Republican candidate. 
That was enough to make Eisenhower decide to run for president. As Farrell explained later, “without Scripps-Howard support, he would not have ventured into politics.”
The place where the meeting took place was Howard Young’s country estate on lower Branchville Road in Ridgefield.
Young called Eisenhower his closest friend, and over the years the two spent countless hours together, not only in Ridgefield but at Young’s Wisconsin retreat where the two would hunt and fish together.
A number of notable people spent time at the Branchville Road home on the shore of Candee’s Pond, including one of the 20th Century’s most famous actresses. Young’s longtime secretary was his nephew, Frank Taylor, the father of Elizabeth Taylor. As the actress’s great-uncle, Young played host to her on a number of occasions.
Stephen Howard Young was born in Belle Center, Ohio, in 1878, a son of a highway construction supervisor. “His mother told him at the age of nine that Belle Center would never be big enough for his ambitions,” said columnist Farrell, a longtime friend of Young.
He left home at the age of 10, earning a living with a newspaper route and delivering laundry.  
By 15, he was working for the sales staff of a printing company that was using a new method of color lithography. Three years later, he had amassed a small fortune, some $400,000, which he promptly lost in the panic of 1896.
Still only a self-educated teenager (he read voraciously), Young started over by establishing his own business of creating custom portraits in oils, hiring artists to do the paintings. He would read obituary notices, obtain a photo of the deceased person, hire an artist to paint a portrait from the picture, and then convince the family to spend $2,000 on the painting.
That soon led him into the world of buying and selling the artworks of established, even famous painters. He opened his first gallery in St. Louis, Mo., when he was in his 20s. 
While delivering a Frederic Remington painting to a customer in Oklahoma, Young happened to be invited into a poker game with Harry Sinclair, head of Sinclair Oil, and Frank Phillips, who founded Phillips Petroleum. It was the early days of the automobile, and the two oilmen encouraged him to invest in oil. He did so and eventually gained considerable wealth and with it, the ability to expand and improve his business. 
Sinclair also told Young he should move his art business to New York City, even offering financial assistance with the move. Young opened on Fifth Avenue and eventually became what The New York Times called “one of the world’s wealthiest art dealers.”
Over the years Young bought and sold some of the most valuable pieces of art to come on the market, including works worth more than $1 million. 
“His proudest single achievement was his discovery of ‘The Lost El Greco,’ titled ‘Christ Healing the Blind,’” Farrell wrote. Young found the picture, then attributed to Tintoretto, on sale at Christie's in London. He bought it for a customer for £37,000 (about $745,000 in today’s dollars), and had it authenticated in the Prado as the original ‘Lost El Greco.” The painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Young admitted making two major mistakes during his career. One was selling IBM stock that would have been worth millions of dollars had he held onto it. The other occurred in the 1930s when he bought a Van Gogh in Rotterdam for $5,000 and soon sold it for $10,000 ($174,000 in today’s dollars). While he doubled his investment, the same painting sold three decades later at a Parke-Bernet auction for $850,000 ($5.2 million today).
Young enjoyed vacationing at Minocqua, near Woodruff and Lakeland, in the north woods of Wisconsin. There, Eisenhower — and sometimes the president’s brothers — would visit to enjoy the woods and lakes; Eisenhower especially liked to swim in a lake on Young’s property.
After learning of his victory at his headquarters on election night in 1952, Eisenhower turned to Young and asked him where he would like to be ambassador. Young reportedly replied: “In Minocqua, Woodruff and Boulder Junction.”
After Eisenhower had his famous heart attack in 1955, Young built an electric tramway — a small funicular railway — down a steep hill from his home to the lake. “Its car carried Eisenhower for his daily swims that he loved so well,” The Lakeland Times reported. “Without it, Ike could not have negotiated the steep hill.”
Young had been a patient of a local Lakeland physician and once promised the doctor to donate to the Lakeland Memorial Hospital. After Young’s death in 1972 at the age of 94, it was discovered that he had more than kept his promise: He left some $20-million (more than $115 million in 2015 dollars) in a trust to build a new hospital. In 1977, the Howard Young Medical Center opened its doors in Woodruff.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Robert Wohlforth: 
Writer and Publisher
Robert Wohlforth was a journalist, novelist, government investigator, and publisher. And he was a successful survivor of attacks during the McCarthy era.
Born in 1904 in Lakewood, N.J., Robert M. Wohlforth attended Princeton University (where many of his papers now reside) and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point  in 1927. He served for a short time as an officer of the 18th Infantry, but was unhappy with the military and soon resigned.
In the late l920’s he worked for the New York Daily Telegraph as a reporter and theater critic, but also began to write articles critical of the military establishment. In one piece, which appeared in “The North American Review” in August 1934, he pointed out that the Army spent $2 million annually feeding mules and only $495,000 for armored vehicles.  
In 1934 he also published “Tin Soldiers,” an unflattering novel about cadet life at West Point. A New York Times review of the novel observed: “Mr. Wohlforth says he resigned from the army in 1928 because he was unable to keep up with the ‘straight-alcohol-and-ginger-ale drinkers’ at Fort Slocum, Camp Dix and Fort Jay, but it is obvious from the internal evidence of his novel that liquor had little to do with his distaste for the martial life. An individualist, he must have hated the routine of West Point, even in his relatively free upper-class-years.”
Wohlforth also wrote a series of reminiscences for the New Yorker, called “My Nickelodeon Childhood,”  recounting his experiences as a boy helping his father operate one of the first movie theaters on the New Jersey shore.
In 1934 he joined the staff of the U.S. Senate’s Nye Committee, which spent several years investigating the “merchants of death,” as the munitions industry was then called. This led to his appointment in 1936 as secretary of the La Follette Committee, which conducted a three-year investigation of labor spying, strike breaking, and other civil liberties violations that affected labor unions.  
In 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Wohlforth to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. When World War II broke out, he headed the War Division, which investigated an international web of economic connections among Nazi-run firms.  
He continued to work for the Justice Department until 1952, when “he was forced out of government employment by the McCarthyite witch hunt of the period,” his obituary said. Wohlforth had worked in government with people who were later identified as communists or Soviet sympathizers. 
In a 1953 piece, the caustic conservative columnist Westbrook Pegler, who had lived in
Ridgefield in the 1940s, linked Wohlforth to such people, but never claimed Wohlforth was a communist, or even disloyal. Pegler wrote of Wohlforth: “He said he had had a lot of ‘unfortunate associations,’ including professional relations on the Senate committees with Alger Hiss, John Abt and Charles Krivitsky, alias Kramer, named in sworn testimony by Elizabeth Bentley and others, as Soviet agents.”
However, Pegler continued, “Wohlforth lives at Ridgefield, Conn., formerly an ‘exclusive’ Christmas-card type of New England village which, of recent years, in common with Wilton and other scattered Connecticut communities, has become heavily infested with open and covert Reds.”
Among the Wohlforth “associations” Pegler attacked was former Vice President Henry Wallace. “He was a personal friend of the Henry Wallaces, who have a farm at South Salem where Bubblehead [Pegler’s name for Wallace] has been trying to breed a Rhode Island red to a French fried potato, but Wohlforth insists that he dropped Wallace, even socially, before he got going as the nominee of the Communists in 1948. However, they both are Episcopalians and sometimes meet in church.”
Wohlforth soon began a new career in publishing with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He was hired by Roger Straus, a founder of the company and  became treasurer of  the publishing house, retiring in the mid-l980’s. 
A 67-year resident, Wohlforth was active in the community, and often penned light-hearted pieces for The Press, calling himself “Ridgefield’s Oldest Living Continuous Vertical Commuter.”   
He helped write the town’s first zoning ordinance and served on the Zoning Commission  for many years. 
He and his wife, Mildred, who lived in an 18th Century house on Rockwell Road, were influential in the effort to create a historic district on Main Street. He served as chairman of the Ridgefield Library board and was a director of the Nature Conservancy.
When he was working for the government, Wohlforth also helped a number of Ridgefield families of Italian ancestry in obtaining citizenship for their relatives. 
In 1977 when the town celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield with an re-enactment, he played the part of General Benedict Arnold, one of the battle’s heroes, riding a white horse in colonial uniform.
He died in 1997 at the age of 97. Mildred, a journalist and a novelist (also profiled in Who Was Who in Ridgefield), died in 1994. They had been married for 64 years at her death.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Margaret Smith Boyd Shane:
Writer among Writers
Margaret Woodward Smith Boyd Shane grew up in a world of writers, wrote under several names, and became a best-selling author.
Margaret Woodward Smith was born in 1895 in Indiana. Her mother, Grace Woodward Smith, was a former high school principal who wrote articles for the Delineator, a popular magazine for women. Her father, Duncan Smith, was a newspaper editor and publisher, later a humor columnist. 
She attended the University of Chicago and worked for newspapers in Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., before marrying Thomas A. Boyd, also a writer. By 1920, she was writing novels.
The Boyds were both friends of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who recognized talent in each of them. As he had with Thomas Boyd’s successful novel, “Through the Wheat,” Fitzgerald brought Margaret’s novel, “The Love Legend,” to his famous editor, Maxwell Perkins, who published it in 1922. “The Love Legend,” published under the pen name Woodward Boyd, became a bestseller and was praised by The New York Times as “a lively, colorful tale.”
A year later she produced “Lazy Laughter” and then “The Unpaid Piper” (1927). 
The couple came to Ridgefield in 1925 and bought a house on North Salem Road, which she retained after their divorce in 1929. She married another writer, Ted Shane, and as Peggy Shane she produced more novels including “Tangled Wives” (1932) and “Change Partners” (1934). 
The Shanes made their home in Ridgefield except during a stint in Hollywood, writing for movies. 
In 1941, she and Arthur Sheckman wrote “Mr. Big,” a Broadway show directed by George F. Kaufman and starring Hume Cronyn and Fay Wray; it ran for only seven performances. (However it wasn’t a total loss; when a Hollywood studio later appropriated their title for the film of a different story, the playwrights successfully sued and collected damages.) 
Peggy Shane lived most of her last 10 years in England and France, but fell ill and came back to Ridgefield where she died in 1965 at the age of 69.
Her father was Duncan MacMillan Smith, also profiled in Who Was Who in Ridgefield. A Chicago journalist, he spent his last 25 years here and wrote the popular Ridgefield Press column, “A Birdseye View,” for many years. Her daughter, Elizabeth Boyd Nash, was an editor and co-owner of The Press for nearly 40 years. Her grandson, Thomas Boyd Nash, became the newspaper’s publisher. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Joshua King: 
Soldier and Statesman
King Lane, the short road from Main Street to High Ridge, recalls one of Ridgefield’s most prominent families from just after the Revolution into the 20th Century. The Kings made their mark on local and regional history by producing notable soldiers and businessmen.
The King family in Ridgefield began in 1783 when Joshua King of Bridgewater, “state of Massachusetts Bay,” and James Dole of Albany, N.Y.,  paid 150 pounds to Hezekiah Johnson of Wallingford to buy a house, barn, and six acres on the east side of Main Street, opposite what is now King Lane. There the two, who had met in the Revolution, established a store, called King and Dole (later “Old Hundred”) in what is today the second story of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum’s office building.
Joshua King was born in 1758 in Braintree, Mass. In 1779, he joined the Continental Army, initially as a cornet and later serving as a lieutenant in the Second Regiment of the Light Dragoons. 
During the war he was stationed near the Connecticut-New York line. “It was while in service here,” a family history says, “that there appeared one morning at headquarters an adjutant and four men belonging to the Connecticut Militia, having in charge a prisoner who looked somewhat like a
gentleman in reduced circumstances. He had on a purple coat with gold lace, worn threadbare, a small-brimmed tarnished beaver hat, nankeen small-clothes, and long white top-boots. His hair was tied in a queue, with a long black band, and his clothes were travel-stained.
“Lt. King, to whom the prisoner was delivered, saw at once that he had to do with a person of more than ordinary importance, and his own barber coming in to shave him, the same service was offered to the stranger and gladly accepted.
“When the ribbon was taken from his hair, the lieutenant observed that it was full of powder which, with other circumstances, confirmed his previous impression.
“After being shaved the prisoner asked the privilege of going to bed till his linen and small-clothes could be washed, but this was made unnecessary by Lt. King, offering a change of clothing, which was accepted.
“These little courtesies so won the confidence of the prisoner that he revealed to Lt. King the fact that he was none other than Major John Andre, the adjutant-general of the British army, and that he had been arrested inside American lines. Asking for a pen and paper, he proceeded to write to General Washington, but before midnight, orders came from the commander-in-chief to forward the prisoner at once to headquarters, and this was also done under charge of Lt. King.”
The story of Lt. King’s brief acquaintance with Benedict Arnold’s spy-mate is told in a letter written by King in 1817 to a friend, and reprinted in Teller’s, Rockwell’s, and in part in Bedini’s histories of Ridgefield. The King family history, written by Henry P. Phelps, adds that Lt. King “remained at headquarters till the execution and even walked with him to the gallows on which the brave and gallant Englishman met his shameful death.”
Sometimes addressed as General King because he held that rank in the postwar Connecticut militia, King became acquainted with Ridgefield during the war, liked the town, and decided to settle here. 
In 1784, a year after his arrival, he married one of the highest-placed women in Ridgefield.
Anne Ingersoll was the daughter of the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll, second minister of the First Congregational Church, and sister of Jonathan Ingersoll Jr., who was to become lieutenant governor of Connecticut from 1816 to 1823.
As a merchant he was evidently quite successful, for Lt. King was soon a wealthy man. (Dole dropped out of the business soon after it started.) King bought much land all over Ridgefield – he became perhaps the largest private property owner in town in his time; certainly he held more than any other non-farmer. 
He was also a sort of one-man bank, dealing out mortgages to many residents. He also had interests in several mills in town.
His house near the corner of Main Street and King Lane was considered one of the finest in town. When it burned down July 28, 1889, The New York Times described it as “the grandest old mansion in the village.” It was quickly replaced by the current house, modeled after the original but larger, which was placed much farther back from the road.  
Lt. King served several terms representing Ridgefield in the General Assembly and was a member of the 1818 convention that framed the modern Connecticut Constitution. 
Another noteworthy claim to his fame, locally at least, is the fact that Joshua King was Ridgefield’s first postmaster, a position that was once considered a mark of respect, equal almost to a judgeship. King was appointed in 1793 — four years after the Constitution officially authorized a post office department for the new United States of America. (Between then and 1983, every
Ridgefield postmaster was a resident of the town. Since then, when the job became civil service, none of Ridgefield’s postmasters has lived here.)
Joshua and Anne King had 10 children – four sons and six daughters. Samuel G. Goodrich (Peter Parley) described them in his “Recollections of A Lifetime”: “All reached maturity and constituted one of the comeliest groups I have ever known. The girls all married, save one; three of the sons – among the handsomest men of their time – professed bachelorism; a proof of what all shrewd observers know, that handsome men, spontaneously enjoying the smiles of the sex, feel no need of resigning their liberty, while ugly men are forced to capitulate on bended knees and accept the severe conditions of matrimony as the only happy issue out of their solitude.” 
This, from the son of a minister!
Lt. King died in 1839, a year after his wife. 
Several generations of Kings continued to use the Main Street estate until the early 1900s. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

Walter Tode: 
A Top-10 Chef
Ridgefield has been the home of the kitchens of some of the finest chefs of the 20th Century, but few were on a level of Walter Tode. Once listed among the 10 best chefs of the world, Tode owned and operated The Inn at Ridgefield — also called Tode’s — for 20 years.
Walker Karl Tode (rhymes with Cody) was born in Nancy, France, near the German border, in 1908 and even as a child, loved to cook. His parents paid to have him apprentice, at age 13, at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. He went on to work at a casino in Germany, then in Rio de Janeiro. He returned to Germany where he earned a degree in hotel management at the University of Heidelberg.
“I was then imported to the Fort Sumter Hotel in Charleston, S.C., U.S.A, the youngest chef they’d ever hired,” Tode told an interviewer in 1965. (The interviewer, Fred Reynolds, also described Tode as a man with “Charles Boyer charm, the Eric von Stroheim authority, the Roland Young [“Topper”] build and walk.”
Tode next worked at the Ambassador Hotel in New York, became executive chef for the Roney chain of hotels, and in 1935, opened and ran Jack Dempsey’s, a famous New York restaurant on Broadway, across from the old Madison Square Garden. The restaurant lasted until 1974, but Tode left in 1940 to open new restaurants in hotels in Miami Beach. 
In 1945, he came back north and briefly took over the kitchen at the Silver Spring Country Club. He liked Connecticut and a year later, bought the former Kane Inn on West Lane — once the
home of George Pratt  Ingersoll, ambassador to Siam.
His new restaurant, with what interviewer Reynolds called “elegant, intimate opulence,” drew diners from throughout Fairfield and Westchester Counties, as well as New York City.  
Tode suggested he had an advantage over most American restaurateurs. “Too few restaurant owners come up through the fine kitchens,” Tode said.
That “elegant, intimate opulence” of the dining rooms remained largely unchanged during his years at The Inn, even though he’d sometimes try to update the decor. “Every time I get ready to
make changes, people scream,” he told a magazine in 1966.
In 1951, Tode was named one of the 10 Outstanding Chefs of the World by the International Societe Gastronome in Strasbourg, France, one of only two Americans so honored.
While running The Inn, he also served as director of food service for American Airlines, was a consultant for Intercontinental Hotels, and was an associate professor at Cornell University, where he taught in the School of Hotel Administration. He also took a shot at producing gourmet foods for wholesale distribution, establishing the “Gastronomical Galley” line of foods in 1959. It did not last long.
Tode also made headlines in 1961 for getting into an early morning disagreement with his
bartender, and punching him in the face which reportedly broke his jaw. He was arrested, and fined $200 for assault and breach of the peace. However, he was also sued by the bartender for $15,000 ($120,000 in 2016 dollars), but a Superior Court judge ruled in Tode’s favor.
In 1967, after 21 years of operating The Inn and 46 years of creating fine foods, Tode sold the restaurant (which is now Bernard’s) and essentially retired, although he taught classes in the area for several years. He died in Danbury in 1984 at the age of 75. 


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Abigail Goodrich Whittelsey: 
Pioneering Magazine Editor
The Rev. Samuel Goodrich and his wife, Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, must have had a great love of letters. Their marriage produced two significant 19th Century writers and one of America’s first woman magazine editors.
And Abigail Goodrich Whittelsey’s magazines sometimes gave wonderful glimpses into the private life of the Ridgefield Congregational Church’s third minister.
Abigail Goodrich was born in 1788 on West Lane, just two years after her father came to Ridgefield. Mr. Goodrich served the First Congregational Church until 1811 when he moved to a congregation in Berlin, Conn., where he died in 1835.
Her brother, Charles Augustus Goodrich — who wrote a dozen books on history and on religion — was born two years later. Another brother, Samuel G. Goodrich — popularly known as Peter Parley, author of more than 100 books, mostly for children — was born six years later.
Abigail grew up in Ridgefield and undoubtedly through her father’s ministerial connections, met the Rev. Samuel Whittelsey, a Congregational minister in New Preston. They were married in 1808 and eventually moved to Canandaigua, N.Y., where her husband managed the Ontario Female Seminary, a private high school for girls, and where Abigail served as a matron. In 1828, the Whittelseys moved to Utica, N.Y., and founded their own girls seminary.
While there, she became involved in a networking group for mothers, called the Utica Maternal Association. In 1833, the group decided to publish a periodical, “Mother’s Magazine,” with Abigail Whittelsey as editor. The aim was to provide information on how to be a good mother — always with a religious slant. A year later, the Whittelseys moved themselves and her magazine to New York City, and by 1837, “Mother’s Magazine” had a circulation of 10,000 copies. It was even being reprinted and circulated in England.
Abigail’s husband died in 1842 and she began getting help with the magazine from the Rev. Darius Mead, a brother-in-law, who was an editor of “Christian Parlor Magazine.” In 1848, “Mother’s Magazine” merged with a rival, “Mother’s Journal and Family Visitant,” and Whittelsey soon opted to bow out of the operation after the new publisher decided to add pictures and more “popular” material to the magazine.
However, in 1850 she and her son, Henry Whittelsey, founded a new publication, “Mrs. Whittelsey’s Magazine for Mothers”; it lasted three years.
Whittelsey would use her own life as examples in articles she wrote in her magazines, and sometimes they would tell of growing up in Ridgefield. In an 1853 issue of “Mrs. Whittelsey’s Magazine for Mothers,” for instance, she related this story about her father, the Ridgefield minister:
“My parents had six children when the eldest was but eight years of age. 
“I love to recall to mind my father’s sunny face, always beaming with love and good-will to one and all. How often have I seen him sit with the three youngest children on his lap at a time, with all the rest about him, telling us stories of his boyhood — about his early companions — his college feats — his skating and ball-playing — his fishing and hunting excursions — his catching a whole flock of pigeons in a net at a haul, and quails in snares made of horse-hair, and now and then a young fox or a young raccoon.
“He would often sit in his chair and pretend to be fast asleep and snore and snore away. One child would be hold of one hand, another of a foot, another of his eyelashes, another of a lock of his hair, and so on; and presently, he would spring forward and manage to catch us, one and all, and bring us all into a heap on the floor together.
“But when he said, seriously, ‘Children, it is time to stop,’ we all quickly found our seats, and were as whist [quiet] as mice; there was no more play; not a whimper of noise after that.
“We all knew too well, even the youngest child, that we made too great a sacrifice of our own comfort and gratification when we displeased our father. We would not afford, for trifles, to lose the sunshine of his face, or his delightful companionship.
“It was too great a punishment for any of us to see him look displeased.”
Late in life, Whittelsey moved Colchester, Conn., where she spent her final years.  She died in 1858 at the age of 70 and is buried in Berlin, alongside her father and mother. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fred Orrico: 
The King of Neptune
Back in 1955, two men had a conversation at the famous Clam Box restaurant in Cos Cob where they both worked.
“What do you say we go into business and open our own place?” asked Fred Orrico, a kitchen steward.
“Sure, why not!” replied Joseph Chelednik, a chef.
The two scouted the region, finally coming upon an empty old house and real estate office on Route 7, a little north of Route 35. The spot was along a busy highway, and right between Danbury and Ridgefield.
They rented the place, knocked out some walls, and on June 28, 1955, opened the King Neptune, which was to become the most popular restaurant in the history of the town.
But the beginning was not easy.
That October, Connecticut was hit by the worst flood in more than 100 years. Pavement and bridges along Route 7 were washed away, and the new King Neptune suddenly became a difficult-to-reach destination. 
Despite that, Orrico and Chelednik hung on. “Men of extraordinary loyalty, they retained their entire staff of waitresses despite the lack of customers,” recalled Paul Baker in a tribute to Fred Orrico many years later. “In fact, they often had more waitresses than customers.”
The roads and bridges were fixed, the two soon bought the building, and the crowds began coming — many customers from New York City and some from as far away as Philadelphia. 
The choice of the upper Route 7 location proved wise. “I had no competition,” Orrico said in a
2005 interview on the 50th anniversary of the restaurant. “When I opened up, there were four restaurants in Ridgefield and 10 in Danbury. Now there’s — what? — 30 in Ridgefield and 165 in Danbury.”
The King Neptune started out seating 80 people. By 1980, 10 additions had been made to the building, which could then handle 320.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, hungry patrons often formed queues that ran around the outside of the building, as they awaited the loudspeaker announcements for their party to be seated.
“On Friday nights, particularly, long lines could be seen extending far beyond the entry doorway,” Baker said. “I’m not sure if King Crab made the King Neptune famous or if it was the other way around. Not far behind was the popularity of those tasty little five or six real lobster tails lined up in a dish. Diners came in droves to enjoy their incomparable fish ’n’ chips.”
King Neptune was always known for not only good food but modest prices. Back in 1955, that dinner of fish ’n’ chips cost 90 cents. 
As many as 65 people worked there when the restaurant was at its largest, including 35 servers. Over the years countless teenagers — mostly Ridgefield High School students — got their first jobs at the King Neptune.
The restaurant was particularly popular with the staff of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, later Ridgefield Bank and now Fairfield County Bank. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Orrico became a director of the bank, a post he held for 18 years.
Born in 1923 in Greenwich, Fred G. Orrico grew up in Greenwich and joined in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was serving on U.S.S. Missouri when the Japanese signed their surrender aboard the battleship. His wife, Helen Casey Orrico served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the war.
Orrico moved to Ridgefield in 1957 and continued to operate the King Neptune until his
retirement in 1985, after which sons George and Fred Jr. took over the operation. Chelednik had moved on to other pursuits some years earlier.
Orrico was well known for his love of golf, and often played at Ridgewood Country Club. For 25 years, he was chairman of Ridgefield’s Golf Course Committee, which oversees the operation of the municipal golf course in Ridgebury. He was proud of the fact that the course was not only self-supporting, but also earned money for the town. Once, in 1979 when the course faced a town budget cut, Orrico wrote: “My love of the game forces me to protect the golf course and help the citizens who want it. It is a financial success, not a burden in any way on the town.”
Paul Baker played many rounds with Orrico over the years. “He was good and knowledgeable enough to sincerely offer helpful hints to a golfer with a problem,” Baker said, adding that he also “took great delight in reminding me that he had four holes-in-one to my three.”
For many years Orrico suffered from myasthenia gravis, a disease from which he eventually died. “For years, while in its earliest stages, the affliction that took his life affected his eyelids and he had to play with those lids taped open,” Baker recalled.
In 1986, the original King Neptune property was sold to Pamby Motors for its new showroom, and the restaurant moved to a Route 7 building just south of the Route 35 intersection. There it remained until December 2005, when it was replaced by The Catch, another seafood restaurant (operated by RHS graduate Arthur Michaelsen, who now has Bartolo on Danbury Road). Son Fred Jr. is now with Gallo Ristorante at Grove and Prospect Streets, and son George is retired.
His son, John Orrico, who was killed in the Vietnam War, is also profiled in Who Was Who.  

Fred Orrico died in 2006 at the age of 82. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

E. N. Bailey: 
Frontiersman First Selectman
E. N. Bailey was no ordinary first selectman. He “surprised some and frightened others by arriving frequently in the village with large copperhead snakes twined around his neck and shoulders,” The Ridgefield Press reported at his death in 1955. “He wasn’t afraid of them and gave the impression that he wasn’t afraid of anything else either.”
Eldridge Nettleton Bailey was born in Shelton in 1876. Usually called “E.N.” or “Bill,” he came to Ridgefield at the turn of the century to work for Henry B. Anderson who was then developing his vast estate on West Mountain, now the Eight Lakes Estates (Anderson is also profiled in Who Was Who).  Bailey was a construction engineer, and supervised the building of Anderson’s roads as well as the Anderson mansion on West Mountain. “He was a tall man, carried himself erect, walked with great strides, and wore the striking clothes of a frontiersman,” said Karl S. Nash, Press publisher, who knew the man.
Bailey became head of the Ridgefield Water Supply Company, largely owned by Anderson, as well as Anderson’s Ridgefield Electric Company. 
However, he was better known for his political career. Bailey was elected first selectman 11 times. The post was then part-time, and the term, one year, and he held the job most years from 1911 to 1926. But now always.
His political career began in 1910 when he was elected to the Board of Selectmen to serve with Benjamin F. Crouchley, a rare Democratic first selectman. The next year he defeated Crouchley for first selectman, but lost in 1912 to Charles B. Northrop. He returned to power in 1913, and was re-elected in 1914 and 1915. Orville W. Holmes then won the Republican nomination in contests with Bailey for three years in a row, but Bailey did not give up, finally winning the job back in 1919 and holding it until 1926 when Winthrop E. Rockwell was the victor “in a memorable party battle in the town hall,”  Nash recalled. Rockwell went on to hold the job for 20 years — Bailey tried once to return and failed.
He was “a force in Ridgefield affairs and remained a controversial figure throughout his public life,” Nash said in Bailey’s obituary. 
Bailey was a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, now Fairfield County Bank. He and his wife, Lois, sang in the First Congregational Church choir. He also tried his hand at amateur theater, which led to a bit of a scandal. In rehearsing for a play in the 1920s, he fell in love with his leading lady, Miss Nina Olmstead. He and Lois were soon divorced and Bailey married Miss Olmstead. The two moved to a farm in Bradford, Vt., but, according to Nash, “his marriage foundered and he returned to Ridgefield and spent his declining years at The Elms Inn.”
He died in 1955 at the age of 77.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Joseph Juran: 
The Quality Man
Dr. Joseph Juran overcame a deprived, even abusive childhood to become an internationally famous expert in “managing for quality.” His work helped transform resource-poor, postwar Japan from a synonym for shoddy goods into an industrial superpower famed for the quality of its products. 
Born in 1904 in a dirt-poor, remote Romanian village, Juran and his family came to the United States in 1912, expecting the streets to be literally paved with gold.
“Not only did they find there was no gold, there were no pavements, and they were supposed to do the paving,” his son Charles Juran said at a 2004 testimonial.
He overcame an “abusive childhood,” said his grandson, G. Howland Blackiston. “It was extraordinary to me that he managed to turn that around. He forgave society for the many problems it presented him and decided to devote his life to paying it back.” 
Blackiston produced the 1996 documentary, “An Immigrant’s Gift: The Life of Quality Pioneer Joseph M. Juran,” that was aired on public television.
Juran earned degrees in electrical engineering and the law, and went to work for Western Electric. He focused on the quality of work and workers,  and over his career he wrote 16 books – including his famous “Quality Control Handbook” – and hundreds of professional papers. 
“Because of the work done by Dr. Juran and his counterpart, Edward Deming, quality tops the list of attributes consumers expect to find,” said Andy Mais in a 1996 profile of Juran in The Ridgefield Press. “But there is more to quality than simply putting parts together. Dr. Juran sees quality as the way for mankind to save itself from itself.”
For many years Juran was a professor and chairman of the Industrial Engineering Department at New York University, where he inspired many students. (Once, when there was a power failure and the classroom turned pitch dark, he remained unperturbed. “I can teach in the dark if you can learn in the dark,” he told his students.) 
In 1979, Dr. Juran founded the Juran Institute, then located in Wilton, “to create new methods and tools for making quality happen within organizations throughout the world.” 
He and the institute have advised hundreds of major corporations on how to attain high quality products. His concepts and methods have contributed to the creation of the new science of “managing for quality.”
“He created this institute, put a million dollars of his own money into starting that up…[yet] he’s never drawn a salary,” Blackiston said in 1996. “Matter of fact, at one time he owned essentially all the stock. He’s given it away to the employees, most of it.”
The institute is now located in Southbury.
Dr. Juran received more than 40 medals, fellowships, and honorary degrees from 12 countries. These included the Order of the Sacred Treasure, awarded by Emperor Hirohito of Japan for Dr. Juran's “development of quality in Japan and the facilitation of Japanese and American friendship,” and the National Medal of Technology, awarded by President George H. W. Bush “for development of key principles and methods by which enterprises manage the quality of their products and processes.”
Joseph and Sadie Juran lived on Old Branchville Road for 18 years, and moved to an assisted living center in lower Westchester around 2002. He died in 2008 at the age of 103. When Sadie died later the same year, she was six days short of her 104th birthday. 
The Jurans had been married for 81 years. 

Joseph Juran’s brother was motion picture director Nathan Juran who won a 1942 Academy Award as an art director for the classic John Ford/Darryl Zanuck film, “How Green Was My Valley.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mary Luke: 
Biographer of Ancient Royalty
A long-ago world of Tudor and Elizabethan royalty fascinated Mary Luke, a meticulous and critically acclaimed novelist and biographer whose specialty was the wives and children of Henry VIII. 
“History books give you the facts and we all know that Henry VIII had three legitimate children,” Luke told an interviewer in 1970. “What history books don’t tell is their relationship to each other and to those around them.” 
From her first book, “Catherine the Queen,” through her last published work, “The Nine Days Queen: A Portrait of Lady Jane Grey,” she set about chronicling the often complex relationships of royal characters of the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Born Mary Munger in 1925 in Pittsfield, Mass., Luke graduated from business school and worked in advertising,   for a documentary film company and for RKO Studios in Hollywood before finding herself as a writer. 
Between 1967 and 1986, she wrote seven books on Elizabethan and Tudor royalty, all well received by The New York Times and other reviewers. 
Luke researched her subjects thoroughly, visiting the places where the characters lived, reading their letters and journals, and viewing sites where dramatic episodes in her books took place. 
A Ridgefielder for nearly 40 years,  Luke lived on Hawthorne Hill Road and was active in the community. She was president of the Ridgefield Library and a longtime board member. She also worked for the District Nursing Association (now Visiting Nurse Association), and the Thrift Shop, and was active in the conservation efforts of both the Ridgefield and Caudatowa Garden Clubs.
A prolific letter-writer, she often penned comments on Ridgefield affairs in the letters column of The Ridgefield Press. She supported some officials and criticized others, backed some proposals and opposed others, all with an eye toward improving the cultural or environmental quality of the town.
“I have lived here long enough,” she wrote in 1971 after being in town 21 years, “to remember many of the things which, in such a relatively short period of time, have disappeared. When, for instance, we had no shopping centers and less wall-to-wall black asphalt. Instead there were historic homes in those areas — homes which might have been restored  and remained useful. When I could have tea at ‘Graeloe’ [the estate that is now Ballard Park] and dinner at the old Outpost Inn [now Fox Hill condominiums] and not be concerned about the disappearance of the majestic old trees along Cornen Avenue, now the Danbury Road, our ‘Gasoline Alley.’ It seems that familiar areas or landmarks are now being swallowed up so quickly, no one has a chance to protest — until it is too late.”
She died in 1993 at the age of 74. 



Monday, November 14, 2016

Dr. Francis Woodford: 
‘Country Doctor’
Every town had its “country doctor,” the kindly, beloved physician who had a gentle voice and would come to your home at any time of the day or night to cool fevers and soothe pain. 
That certainly describes Dr. Francis Woodford, about whom someone once said: “All I have to do is call him to feel better.” 
Born in New Haven in 1897,  Francis Bowditch Woodford graduated from Yale College and Medical School, was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in World War I, and came to Ridgefield in 1926. 
His first home-and-office was at New and Gilbert Streets, a rental. He moved in at the same time the state was converting Main Street from a dirt road to a paved road. That turned out to be an unusual benefit for the new doctor, who’d just hung out his first shingle. 
“People had to detour right past the house and it was so bumpy that they had to travel very slowly,” ‘Fritz’ Woodford said in a 1970 interview with Sally Sanders of The Ridgefield Press. “About the only thing they had to do was read signs.” People did, and soon nearly everyone knew there was a new doctor in town.
A year later, Woodford and his wife, Julia, moved to a house down Main Street across from the Community Center, where he was to remain for the rest of his career and life.
Back in the 1920s, there was no need for appointments. “We’d have office hours beginning at one, and people would walk in and wait their turn,” he said. Office hours ended when the last patient was treated.
Obstetrics was a part of a general practitioner’s job then, and Dr. Woodford delivered as many as 35 babies a year – often in homes. During the Blizzard of 1934, he skied to at least one home for a delivery. Another time, during a 36-hour period, he delivered four babies. 
The deliveries could be hectic. “I was with one mother, who was having her fourth or fifth,” he recalled, “when Irene [Hoyt of the District Nursing Association] called to say that I’d better hurry over to help the mother she was with.” He rushed there, delivered that baby and returned to the first mother who had promised to wait for his return. She did, and Dr. Woodford delivered that child, too. 
Homes where deliveries took place were sometimes pretty primitive. He recalled one house that had no running water or electricity — just a spring outside and a lantern held by the husband. “Doc, we’re 50 years behind the times,” the husband said. But the baby still got the most modern treatment, among the first to get the new triple vaccine, protecting her against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
From 1940 until 1970, he was the town health officer, but also served many years as the school doctor and as the medical consultant to the Selective Service Board in Danbury. 
He loved nature, fishing, and hunting, During hunting season, Dr. Woodford often carried a shotgun in the trunk of his car in case he spotted some game while on his rounds. One day, he saw a pheasant and pulled the car over to the side of the road to get his gun. Just then, one of the District Nurses came over the hill and, caught in the act, Dr. Woodford was about the give up on the bird, but the nurse motioned him to go ahead. “I treed that bird,” he said. “But I completely missed my shot.”
He also loved reading – even out loud. noting that his father had always real aloud, especially Alexandre Dumas’ “Musketeers” series. “He skipped pages, going from duel to duel, leaving out all the padding between.” 
“I read aloud and my wife likes to listen,” he said.  Julia, who was his secretary throughout his career, was active in the community, especially conservation.
Woodford died in 1977 on the day before his 80th birthday. “He was kind and gentle and good,” said former first selectman Leo F. Carroll, who knew him for 50 years.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Rev. John Ball: 
Church Founder, Rights Leader
In 1940, Ridgefield’s black community was large and active enough that members decided to establish their own church. They approached the Rev. John Ball, who had recently become a pastor in Norwalk and, led by Ball, the Goodwill Community Baptist Church had its first service March 5, 1941, in the First Congregational Church chapel. 
A year later, the 34-member congregation bought the former creamery on Creamery Lane from Samuel S. Denton, and converted it to a house of worship under Ball’s leadership.  
Born in 1908 in Richmond, Va., John Percell Ball was the son of a Baptist minister who was pastor of the Goodwill Baptist Church in downtown Richmond — Ridgefield’s church was named after his father’s congregation. He graduated from Virginia Union University in Richmond and was ordained a Baptist minister in 1934. 
He came north in 1938, first serving as pastor of a Methodist congregation in New London and soon settling in Norwalk where he was pastor of Grace Baptist Church for 20 years and then founder of Canaan Institutional Baptist Church. 
The new church on Creamery Lane was officially dedicated in 1942, and chief speaker at the service was the Rev. W. B. Ball, the pastor’s father. Among the guests were the Rev. William Lusk of St. Stephen’s, the Rev. George Tompkins of Jesse Lee Methodist, and the Rev. Hugh Shields of the First Congregational as well as Selectman Harry E. Hull.
Though he was primarily a pastor in Norwalk, where he lived, he participated over the years in many Ridgefield community events and was well known and liked here. At the town’s memorial service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 in the high school auditorium (what’s now the Ridgefield Playhouse), he was one of two soloists to sing — the other was Metropolitan Opera star Geraldine Farrar.
In Norwalk, he was much more active, serving on the Norwalk Common Council and as head of the NAACP. He was instrumental in getting Norwalk to hire its first black teacher, and was also behind efforts to hire the first black firefighter and policeman. He helped pass the city’s Fair Housing Law and was involved in creating the Fair Rent Commission. He co-founded NEON, Norwalk’s anti-poverty agency, and worked to help the homeless. 
Over the years, he lobbied for civil rights not only in Norwalk, but also in Hartford and Washington. 
Ball served the Goodwill congregation until 1959, and returned in 1969. However, dwindling membership led to the closing of the Goodwill church by 1975. The building is now an apartment house. 
Ball died in 1992 at the age of 83, leaving “his mark upon Norwalk as a mighty warrior and an ambassador for the cause of Christ,” his Canaan congregation said. 
*  *  *
For years it was thought that the Goodwill building had been moved to the site from the old Village Green, where it had served as the First Congregational Church from around 1800 to 1888.
However,  Robert J. Walker, who bought the building in 1976 and converted it to apartments, believed this to be impossible.
In renovating the structure extensively, he found that the first floor, rotted and termite-infested, was the only portion of the three-story building that could have been the old creamery. His study of the framing – it was actually two buildings joined together – indicated that the structure was not large enough to have been the old Congregational church, photographs of which he had examined. However, pieces from the old church, such as beams, may have been used in constructing the creamery.




Friday, November 11, 2016


Thomas Boyd: 
Novelist and War Hero
Many people have written tales of war, but few as well as Thomas  Boyd. Critic Granville Hicks called his “Through the Wheat,” published in 1923, “one of the earliest and best of the realistic war novels.” 
The book was based on Boyd’s World War I experiences in France where he fought at Belleau Wood and St.-Mihiel, and was with the first American advance through the wheat field at Soissons. 
He was gassed during one battle, and after the war, he received the Croix de Guerre from the French government. 
Born in 1898 in Ohio, Thomas Alexander Boyd quit high school to join the Marines Corps at 18. After the war, he worked for newspapers in St. Paul, Minn., and opened a shop called Kilmarnock Books, a name perhaps recalling his ancestral home in Scotland. The store became a literary center, frequented by the likes of Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of whom urged the war veteran to write about his combat experiences. 
Fitzgerald later called “Through the Wheat” “the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage.” Poet James Dickey said, “There is no battle scene in Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace,’ no conflict in Stendhal’s account of Waterloo, to equal the drama and terror of Boyd’s account of Private Hicks’ advance through the wheat.”
Boyd moved to Ridgefield in 1925 to be near Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s. He turned out a series of  biographies of notable Americans, including “Simon Girty, the White Savage” (1928), “Mad Anthony Wayne” (1929), “Light-Horse Harry Lee” (1931). The best reviewed biography was “Poor John Fitch, Inventor of the Steamboat” (1935), published posthumously as was a sequel to “Through the Wheat,” called “In Time of Peace” (1935).
Like many novelists of the time, Boyd also wrote for “the pulps” to make ends meet. His wife, Margaret Woodward Smith, was often co-author.
By the 1930s he was divorced and living in Vermont, where, concerned about the future of the country in the midst of the Depression, he joined the Community Party and at one point ran for governor of the state on the Communist ticket. He returned periodically to Ridgefield and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in January 1935 at his former home on North Salem Road where he had been staying while his ex-wife Margaret and her husband, Ted Shane, were in Hollywood working for MGM. He was only 37 years old. 
For the funeral at St. Stephen’s, World War I veterans from the American Legion post served as pallbearers, including Harry Hull (who later became Ridgefield’s first selectman) and Thomas Shaughnessy (who would be the “last man” of the Last Man’s Club of local World War I veterans) as well as John Morganti (who founded the big construction company, Morganti Inc.)
“The New York critics declared his death a loss to American literature,” his obituary in The Ridgefield Press said. 
Tom and Peggy Boyd had one child, Elizabeth Grace Boyd Nash, who for many years was an editor of The Ridgefield Press.
“He was an extremely attractive man, full of enthusiasm, and his death was a big shock,” Elizabeth Nash said of her father many years later. “I had hysterics at the funeral, standing by the casket, and I think they took me home and Dr. Woodford gave me a fizzy powder.”
His grandson, Thomas Boyd Nash, became publisher of the newspaper in the 1990s.
In 1978, “Through the Wheat” was republished as part of the Lost American Fiction series, produced by the Southern Illinois University Press. The book is still in print, now titled “Through the Wheat: A Novel of the World War I Marines,” published by the University of Nebraska Press. In 2006, Brian Bruce’s biography, “Thomas Boyd: Lost Author of the ‘Lost Generation,’” was published by the University of Akron Press.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Harold W. Scott: 
Lost in the War
Harold Scott was one of several Ridgefielders who went off to fight in World War II and never returned home.
Born in 1919, son of a local automobile mechanic, Harold Walter Scott grew up on Bailey Avenue. He was a member of the Class of 1938 at Ridgefield High School. 
After finishing school, Scott began working for the New York Central Railway but soon decided to enlist in the Army. He did so in March 1941, 10 months before Pearl Harbor.
Scott spent 18 months in the coastal artillery in Alaska, but apparently wanted to see more action. He switched to the Army Air Force where he became a gunner on a bomber.  
Scott was with the 417th Bomb Group, which flew Douglas A-20G light bombers, a two-engine craft that required only a pilot and a rear gunner. 
On March 23, 1945, his plane, piloted by Flight Officer Samuel Harmell, was on a mission in the Philippines when it was hit over Cebu.
An Army report written March 26, 1945, said Scott’s plane “while attacking a target at Cebu City was apparently hit by anti-aircraft fire in the left outboard fuel tank. Flight Officer Harmell ordered his gunner to bail out and Sgt. Scott was seen to leave the aircraft at very low altitude, his parachute opening and breaking his fall. The gunner landed approximately two miles west of Cebu City. The aircraft was seen to clear the land and crash in the water approximately two and one half miles southwest of Cebu City. 
“The 310th Bombardment Wing Air Sea Rescue Section was advised of the crash and a request made that Guerilla Forces on Cebu be contacted and an attempt made to assist Sgt. Scott. Flight Officer Harmell was not seen to survive the crash landing.”
Harold Scott, who was 25 years old, was never found.
He is among 36,285 soldiers and sailors listed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila
American Cemetery and Memorial at Fort Bonifacio, outside, Manila. The cemetery there contains the graves of 17,202 fallen soldiers.

In 1952, his classmates placed a plaque in his honor in the downstairs hall of the old Ridgefield High School.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


John C. Kelly: 
State’s Top Law Enforcer
John Kelly was a prime example of “local boy makes good.” He joined the Connecticut State Police when it was tiny but suddenly expanding agency, and wound up three decades later as head  of the entire state police force.
One of eight children, John Cornelius Kelly was born in Ridgefield in 1895. His paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Kelly, were among the first Catholic families to settle here. 
When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Navy and served on submarine chasers. 
Around 1920, he joined the state motor vehicle patrol, a motorcycle unit that enforced laws dealing with the increasingly popular automobiles, but more particularly, the increasing dangerous trucks. In 1921, the motor vehicle patrol became part of the rapidly expanding Connecticut State Police. 
The state police had been established in 1903, but had only five men covering all of Connecticut. The force wasn’t much larger than that by 1920, but the enactment of Prohibition that year meant a manifold increase in the need for law enforcement, particularly in Connecticut’s smaller towns.
Consequently, the state police force was greatly expanded, and “barracks” or local sub-stations established around the state. (Stations were called “barracks” because troopers ate and slept in them for shifts of five or six days.)
Kelly was quickly recognized as a leader and, in 1922, he was promoted to sergeant and given command of the new Ridgefield barracks, located on West Lane. In 1927 the barracks moved to a larger building on East Ridge Road — what’s now the Ridgefield Police headquarters.
By 1931, Kelly was instruction officer for the whole state and in 1945, he was made a major and executive officer of the state police department. Four years later, he was named chairman of the State Liquor Control Commission. 
In 1953, Governor John Lodge appointed him commissioner of the Connecticut State Police,
the equivalent of a chief of police, a command he held until 1955. He might have held the office longer, but Kelly was a Republican and by then the governor, who made the appointments, was Abraham Ribicoff, a Democrat.
After his retirement, he served several terms as a state representative from Ridgefield to the Legislature. After that, he worked as a legislative consultant until he was 82. He died in 1984 at the age of 88, still living in the town in which he was born.

In a bit of irony, two of the leading law enforcement officials in the state during the 40s and 50s lived next door to each other on Wilton Road West:  Kelly’s next door neighbor was Leo F. Carroll, who became second in command of the state police when Kelly was commissioner. Both started out together at Troop A when the barracks was on West Lane, and rose through the ranks — with Kelly always one step ahead.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Ely Culbertson: 
Revolutionary Bridge Guru
Ridgefield has had its share of colorful characters but few could match Ely Culbertson, anarchist, revolutionary, politician, author, peace promoter, and – above all – contract bridge expert and promoter.
Born in Romania in 1891 of a wealthy American father and his Russian wife, Culbertson grew up in the Caucasus, but as a teenager studied briefly at Yale and then Cornell, dropping out and returning to Europe where he fell in love with Nadya, daughter of a Georgian princess who was deep into the plottings of the local nihilists and anarchists. 
According to his own story, Culbertson began a career as a professional card player as a means of supporting the revolutionary movement. Nadya was eventually murdered and Culbertson imprisoned after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate a local governor. 
His father rescued him, but he eventually stowed away on a ship bound for Mexico where he took part in more revolutionary plottings, winding up in prison again. After his release, he went to Spain for yet another revolutionary effort, then finally settled in Paris where he studied at the Sorbonne. 
By 1921, he was in Greenwich Village, supporting himself by playing bridge and developing a bidding system that became world famous. 
In 1923 he married Josephine Murphy Dillon, who taught auction bridge and was a top woman player. Together they promoted his new version of the game, contract bridge. To gain publicity for the game, they’d stage challenge matches — one in 1931-32 lasted six weeks, made the front pages of hundreds of newspapers, and was covered on radio and in newsreels. 
Culbertson wrote many book on bridge during his career. “A deck of cards is built like the purest of hierarchies, with every card a master to those below it, a lackey to those above it,” he said in one of them.
In 1929, Culbertson founded and edited The Bridge World magazine, which is still published today and says it is “widely considered to be the world’s leading bridge magazine.”
“He manufactured and sold bridge players’ supplies, including the introduction of Kem playing cards, maintained an organization of bridge teachers (Culbertson National Studios), which at its peak had 6.000 members, and conducted bridge competitions through the United States Bridge Association and the World Bridge Olympics and American Bridge Olympics,” reports the American Contract Bridge League. “In its best year, 1937, The Bridge World, Inc., grossed more than $1,000,000, of which $220,000 were royalties payable to Culbertson before profits were calculated.”
In the mid-1930s, at the peak of his career, Culbertson bought the huge Lewis estate on West Lane, and while there wrote his autobiography, “The Strange Lives of One Man.” He also ran for Congress, but didn’t get far. 
By 1940, he was in financial trouble, and his home was foreclosed. It became a college, then a resort and was finally torn down and the land subdivided into the Ridgefield Manor Estates.
Over the years before and after World War II, Culbertson promoted world peace. “God and the politicians willing,” he wrote, “the United States can declare peace upon the world and win it.” he was also known for saying, “We must conquer war, or war will conquer us.”
Culbertson wrote several books proposing a United Nations-like system — he was like a one-man UN himself: he spoke Russian, English, French, German, Czech, Italian, and Spanish fluently, could read and understand Slavonic, Polish, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, and knew Latin and classical Greek.
He died in 1955 in Vermont at the age of 64.

The Bridge World in 1964 named Culbertson along with Charles Goren and Harold S. Vanderbilt as the first three members of a Bridge Hall of Fame, now maintained by the American Contract Bridge League.