Thursday, December 21, 2017

J. Mortimer Woodcock: 
The Forester Who Led Ridgefield
While most people today would assume a nature center named Woodcock celebrates the native bird, they would be wrong. The facility is in fact named for J. Mortimer Woodcock, a soft-spoken, cigar-smoking first selectman whose unusual vision led to the creation of the Woodcock Nature Center on the Ridgefield-Wilton border. Both the center and a local road recall his four-year tenure.
A forester by training and nurseryman by vocation, “Woody” Woodcock once led the huge Outpost Nurseries that provided the plantings for two World’s Fairs, and for many parks, estates and corporate headquarters in the Northeast. But he was better known as the town’s chief executive from 1967 to 1971, a period of unprecedented school construction resulting from record population growth.
Joseph Mortimer Woodcock was born on Bastille Day, July 14, 1904, in Fredonia, N.Y. In 1924, probably influenced by his years of childhood camping in Canada with the Boy Scouts, he enrolled in the College of Forestry at Syracuse University. He spent summers until graduation  as an instructor and guide at a lakeside camp for girls in the Canadian wilderness where, at night, he would often sleep in his canoe, letting it drift across the lake wherever the breeze took it.
In the early 1930s, Woodcock was a head forester with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era service that undertook many public conservation and recreation projects.
In 1933, he came to Ridgefield to take a job with the Conley family’s Outpost Nurseries. Outpost, which claimed to be the world’s largest supplier to landscaping plants, covered nearly 2,000 acres of Ridgefield and Danbury, including most of the Limestone and much of the Farmingville Districts.
He soon became manager of Outpost and, in 1944, purchased the firm, which became Woodcock Nurseries. Early on he owned 10 acres and leased 1,000 acres for his stock.
Working for Outpost or running his own company, Woodcock was involved in landscaping portions of the 1939-40 and the 1964-65 World’s Fairs, both in New York; many fully grown trees were supplied to each. Outpost and Woodcock also did plantings for the National Art Gallery in Washington; parks along Riverside Drive and elsewhere in New York City; parts of the campuses of Harvard, Yale and Williams colleges; the grounds of Narragansett and Monmouth Raceways; and the estates of such notables as songwriter Cole Porter, explorer Lowell Thomas, columnist Walter Winchell, actor Robert Montgomery, the William F. Buckley family, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During World War II, he helped manage a special saw mill at Outpost that produced long, wooden keels for PT boats. The mill was located on Route 7 between Route 35 and Haviland Road, and employed many Jamaican workers brought up from the island because of labor shortages here. Woodcock also supervised the felling of huge trees at Roosevelt’s estate at Hyde Park; the trees were trucked to Ridgefield to be milled into keels.
After the war Woodcock became more interested in the community and its government. A
Republican, he was elected a member of the GOP Town Committee in the 1950s and eventually became its chairman. He also served on the Board of Finance, the Parks Commission, and on committees studying school sites and the possibility of using an incinerator instead of a town dump.
In 1967, when Leo F. Carroll announced he was retiring after 10 years as first selectman, Woodcock was nominated to run on the Republican ticket. He easily defeated Democrat Otto H. Jespersen and won re-election two years later.
It was a time of considerable stress as the local government struggled with the pressures of a population explosion in which Ridgefield grew from a sleepy town of 8,600 in 1960 to a bustling bedroom community of 18,000 in 1970. The town had just finished building East Ridge Junior High School (now the middle school), construction of Scotland School was nearing completion, Branchville School was underway, and the town still needed a bigger high school and yet another elementary school.
During the Woodcock administration, townspeople battled for a year over what to do about the burgeoning high school enrollment — either expand the old high school on East Ridge or build a new 1,800-student school on land the town bought a few years earlier on North Salem Road. In a 1968 referendum at which more than 3,000 people voted, the North Salem Road site won by a margin of a mere 63 votes.
Around the same time, the town voted without much fuss to build Barlow Mountain School.  (However, after another blistering battle in early 1970s, voters defeated a plan to build a seventh elementary school on West Mountain.)
Woodcock took such controversies in stride and never seemed rattled or upset — not even when the Planning and Zoning Commission threatened to arrest him. The zoners served him with a “cease and desist order” for storing highway department snow removal equipment at a town-owned barn in Ridgebury, charging it violated zoning regulations. If he didn’t comply, the order said, the commission would have him arrested.
“Let them arrest me!” he said with a laugh to a young reporter in his office as he lit one of his ever-present cigars. “Now wouldn’t that make a great story for your paper!”
In the end the commission backed off on its threat.
Woodcock was probably the last of the old-time first selectmen who seemed more a neighbor than an official. His office was on the first floor of the town hall, near the front door, and to make himself accessible, he often left his door to the hallway wide open so that anyone needing help could walk right in — no appointment or secretary needed.
He believed in customer service and satisfaction — the customer being the voter. In 1971
when a resident wrote complaining about some regulation at Martin Park, Woodcock replied in a letter that began diplomatically: “I am always glad to receive a letter questioning our town regulations. As a member of our town, you have every right to question town rules which affect you.”
He would often deal with complaints himself rather than pass them on. One afternoon after a big snowstorm, he got a call from an irate citizen, complaining that the town plow crew had moved his mailbox to the opposite side of the road. Woodcock didn’t think that was likely, and he drove to the scene to find out what had happened. It turned out that a young highway department driver, new to the job, could not see exactly where the pavement was and wound up   plowing a path across the complainant’s front lawn, thinking it was the road. 
It was the “highway” that had moved, not the mailbox.
There were limits to how far he would go, however. One night at home, he received a call from a woman who demanded that he send someone to remove a dead cat from the roadside in front of her house. Woodcock said it would be rather expensive to call out a town crewman and pay him the union-required time-and-a-half for a minimum of four hours, and that the dead cat  would be removed first thing in the morning. The woman continued to demand immediate action, but finally slammed down the phone. 
The next morning a road crewman could not find the cat. That night, as Woodcock was presiding over a Board of Finance meeting, in came the complaining woman, carrying  a cloth bag. She dropped the bag on the table in front of Woodcock. 
“There’s your cat,” she said. She turned around and walked out.
During the Woodcock administration, the town made one of its most useful purchases: the 26-acre Holy Ghost Novitiate on Prospect Ridge. The main building became the school board headquarters for many years and is now the congregate housing for the elderly. The novitiate land is now used for town playing fields, for affordable housing, and for a dog park, and the outbuildings today house the Ridgefield Guild of Artists, the Ridgefield Theater Barn, and the Marine Corps League.
 Perhaps Woodcock’s least expensive acquisition was the one for which he will be remembered longest. During his administration, the state was buying up large tracts of land for the Norwalk River Flood Control Project. One section contained more than 140 acres and a house on the Ridgefield-Wilton line. Despite the fact that all but a small portion of this property was in the town of Wilton, Woodcock arranged to have the Town of Ridgefield lease it at $1 a year from the state to establish a nature center. It was probably one of the few times in Connecticut history that one town leased parkland in another.
At his retirement dinner as first selectman in 1971, it was announced that the new operation had been named the Woodcock Nature Center in his honor.
In 1989, when he was 85, he paid his last visit to the then-thriving nature center and expressed pleasure at how well it was doing. “I only wish I was 40 years younger and could be helping you,” he said. “It makes me glad to see somebody interested in the same thing I was and doing something with it.”
Woodcock was also deeply involved in other aspects of the community. In 1942, he joined the recently created Ridgefield Rotary Club; he became its seventh president five years later. He was named Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1966.
Though he and his wife had no children, he was active in programs that helped young people. He was treasurer of the Ridgefield Boys’ Club, a director of the Branchville Fresh Air Association which brought city kids to Ridgefield in the summer, and served as a director of the Great Pond Holding Corporation, predecessor of Martin Park, providing Ridgefielders with their first public first beach. 
He also served on the board of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, now Fairfield County Bank, and was a director of the First Congregational Church. He volunteered with the Keeler Tavern, Danbury Hospital and the Ridgefield Cemetery Association, and was active in local and regional Masonic organizations.
Three years after he retired from office, Marcelino Lavin subdivided some land off Barry Avenue and named the dead-end road serving it “Woodcock Lane” in honor of the former first selectman. It is one of only three roads in town named specifically for Ridgefield chief executives; the others are Tanton Hill Road, honoring Harvey Tanton — who himself voted to approve the name (Tanton also worked for Outpost Nurseries), and Hull Place, named for Harry E. Hull.
Woodcock and his wife, the former Anne Pomroy, lived for many years on Farmingville Road in a house that stood behind the Shell gas station (where  a car wash now operates). They later moved to Huckleberry Lane. He died in January 1993 at the age of 88 and she, seven months later. They had marked their 60th wedding anniversary in 1991.
Among the speakers at his 1971 retirement dinner was Connecticut Gov. Thomas Meskill. The governor helped present Woodcock with a clock, engraved, “To a grand guy who contributed unselfishly and faithfully so others may enjoy Ridgefield’s future.”
“I never watched a clock in my life, but now that I’m not going anyplace, I’ve got a beautiful one to watch,” he said.
When he visited the nature center in 1989, Woody Woodcock gave his last press interview. As he chatted, he was holding his legendary cigar, although both his doctor and Anne had long ago forbidden his smoking. 

“I haven’t lit one in years,” he said with a big smile. “I just need something to play with.”  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Alexander Ross: 
Artist of the Clinch and Cover
Alex Ross was an artist of many skills. But to magazine editors in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, he was the go-to man for a “clinch picture.”
Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1908, Alexander Sharpe Ross came with his family to Wilkinsburg, Pa., at the age of five and spent most of his early years in western Pennsylvania. 
His talent for drawing was recognized early but he could not afford a formal art education and  was a largely self-taught artist. He did attend a year of night school in art at Carnegie Tech. 
Over his long career Ross became a versatile artist, working in a wide variety of media —
oils, watercolors, serigraphs, collages, pastels, halftones, acrylics on gesso, and stained glass. While he spent his later years doing “serious” art, he is most remembered today for his three decades of magazine illustrations. Many of his magazine covers reflect an idealized, upbeat, post-war America — not unlike the pictures of Norman Rockwell and Ridgefield’s John Atherton; the three artists together produced hundreds of Saturday Evening Post covers. 
Ross began his career as a commercial artist in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, doing mostly
illustrations for advertising.
His first big break came in 1941 when Good Housekeeping selected one of his paintings from a roomful of candidates to be a cover on its magazine. It was the start of a 12-year relationship with the magazine during which he painted 130 covers. He was typically paid around $1,000 per cover — about $10,000 in 2017 dollars.
His work also appeared on the covers — and inside — of Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s,
Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and Collier’s.
Often the covers included at least one of his four children, all of whom learned to model for him early on in their childhood.
Ross also became popular with magazine editors as an artist of “clinch” pictures to illustrate fiction stories. They depicted men and women in romantic positions, especially kissing. One writer
called them pictures “heavy with romance.”
He also did commissions. An assignment for the U.S. Air Force took him to Alaska, where he painted impressions of America’s frontiers, some of which are now in the permanent collection of the Air Force and have won several awards. In 1969 he designed a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional.
Around 1965, with more than three decades of commercial art behind him, Ross was able to spent more time at fine art. 
“I became fascinated with French Impressionism,” he said. “After that, non-objectives occupied my interests — Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, Calder. But I got away from these because I hate hard edges. Painting should have  some mystery about it.”
He developed what one writer called “an entirely different and refreshing style” and what he called “inventive realism.”
“My subjects are mainly flowers and dream-like human figures,” he said. “Flowers have
beautiful shapes that lend themselves to abstraction, and I incorporate new dimensions in them, using the essence of ‘flower’ from memory to create a whole gamut of emotions.”
By the 1960s, Ross had also become interested in religious art.  “It’s one of the most fascinating fields of creation I can think of,” he said in 1974. He illustrated three religious books, including “Saints: Adventures in Courage” in 1963 for Doubleday and Company. In 1976, he designed several doors with stained glass windows for St. Peter’s Church in Danbury.
He exhibited widely and won many awards. His work is in the National Academy of Design, the U.S. Air Force Art Collection, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Mattatuck Museum, and in many private collections.  Originals of his magazine illustrations can fetch thousands of dollars at auctions and sales.
Ross and his wife of 57 years, Helen, lived for nearly 30 years on Hawthorn Hill Road in Ridgebury. Their house had large windows and panoramic views 35 miles westward across the Hudson Valley. He died in 1990 at the age of 81.
As a youth, Alex Ross wanted to become not an artist, but a professional acrobat. For a while, he actually earned money with acrobatic performances. 

“I wanted to fly through the air with the greatest of ease,” he said in a 1970s interview. “When sailing into a high layout back somersault, I felt like a bird, an eagle.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Elizabeth Hull: 
Feisty and Generous 
Teddy Roosevelt gave a flower to a young Elizabeth Hull. An old Elizabeth Hull gave Ridgefield countless flowers, the ground they grew on, and a lot more. 
A conservative, often feisty personality in the town for more than a half century, Hull  supported environmental, conservation, arts, religious, and humanitarian causes, both here and nationally, and at her death gave more than $4 million to many local, regional and national non-profits.
But Miss Hull could raise hell  — and did, especially when the town announced it was changing her house number.
Elizabeth Abernathy Hull was born in 1900 at the Government House for Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas, where her father, Albert Gregory Hull, M.D., was chief surgeon and hospital administrator. Her grandfather had been U.S. chairman of military affairs under Presidents James Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt, and Hull once met President  Roosevelt when she was five or six. “He gave me a white carnation,” she recalled with a smile in a 1992 interview.
Her mother, Cora Abernathy Hull, was a singer and ceramics artist.  
Early in the century the family lived on many military bases around the country, but in 1919, moved to New York City where Miss Hull studied music, a lifelong interest. She graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in 1921.
Fifteen years later, she and her mother came to Ridgefield, against the advice of friends who warned her, as she put it, “Ridgefield has the reputation of being terribly snobbish. You’ll never get ‘in’ there.”
“So what?” Hull told them.
So in 1936 she and Cora bought an 18th Century house at the top of Silver Spring Road, across from the Little Red Schoolhouse. Architect Cass Gilbert, designer of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Woolworth Building, had purchased and renovated the house for his daughter, but she died unexpectedly and never got to live there.
Hull almost immediately became involved in her new community. For most of her years here, she was active in environmental and conservation work, and was a member and past president of the Ridgefield Garden Club. She frequently championed efforts to acquire more open space in town. 
 During World War II, she was a member of the American Women’s Voluntary Services Mobile Transport Service, which taxied military and civilians around the area when cars and gasoline were in short supply. 
She was instrumental in founding the Ridgefield Auxiliary of Family and Children’s Aid, which helped the needy. She was the first president of the Women’s Town Club, an organization founded in 1956 to promote community improvements. 
Her interest in music led to efforts to bring concerts to town. Years ago she and Metropolitan Opera star Geraldine Farrar, who lived a few doors away on West Lane, arranged a series of musical programs. In some Farrar would sing and Hull would accompany her on the piano. Later she became a longtime benefactor of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra.
She was a supporter of the Keeler Tavern, the Visiting Nurse Association and was a substantial contributor to a children’s hospital and a college aimed at the underprivileged.
Hull was also interested in politics and local government, and was a frequent speaker at town meetings. In her later years she became somewhat discouraged with the direction the major parties were taking. “I wish they’d take all the politicians out and put women in their jobs,” she said when she was 92. 
Elizabeth Hull died four years later at the age of 96. Her mother, Cora Hull, had died in 1972 at the age of 101.
After her death it was revealed that Hull gave the bulk of her $4.4-million estate to conservation organizations, museums and charities.
The biggest grant went to the Nature Conservancy, the national conservation group. The gift of some $1.9 million came from the sale of Hull’s house for $821,000 plus the $1.1 million sale of an 18-acre parcel across West Lane at the corner of Golf Lane, which was subdivided as Golf Court. 
Another 24 acres off Silver Spring Road and West Lane, including woods, fields, wetlands
and a pond at the head of Silver Spring Swamp, was given to the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield. That tract was said to be worth nearly $1.5 million at the time.
Among the many recipients of Hull cash grants were the Ridgefield Library, Community Center, Visiting Nurse Association, Ridgefield Garden Club, and Keeler Tavern. Other bequests went to various Bible study groups, several museums, conservation organizations, and charities helping the needy.
She gave her Steinway grand piano to Charles Rex, an internationally known concert violinist and assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, who was a good friend. Two paintings went to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington.
Elizabeth Hull had strong feelings about a number of issues, including the issue of numbers.
In the summer of 1969, after a lot of debate, the Planning and Zoning Commission hired a professional firm to renumber the houses, businesses, and lots along all the roads in town. For years the police and fire departments had complained about the town’s haphazard house numbering — where numbering existed; some roads had no numbers at all.  The disorganized numbering may have been okay when Ridgefield was a few thousand people and everyone knew everyone, but as the town grew, it often made responding quickly to emergencies rather difficult. The commission’s renumbering followed a logical system that even created numbers for lots that might be developed in the future. The system started with the lowest numbers farthest from the center of town.
“They must be mad as a hatter,” Hull declared in August 1969 as she began a petition drive to have the renumbering program rescinded.  “We can easily get 1,000 signatures,” she said.
Hull and others argued that while numbering houses that had no numbers would be a good idea, making thousands of people and businesses change their long-standing numbers was expensive and time-consuming. She estimated that just sending change-of-address notices to correspondents, magazines and bill-senders — plus changing stationery — could cost homeowners $125 to $150, and would cost businesses even more. 
She also felt that numbering in 50-foot intervals — to allow for the possibility of future homesites on vacant land — “is playing into the hands of the developers.”
Finally, she objected to the commission’s system of numbering roads starting at the point most distant from the center. Other towns, she said, number from the center and work out.
In the end, Miss Hull was unsuccessful, and spent her final years at 478 Silver Spring Road instead of 1 Silver Spring Road.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Joseph Knoche: 
An Artist in Rock
Most artists work in media like paint, metal, stone, or fabrics. Joe Knoche worked in rocks — good, old, Connecticut countryside rocks. Like few others could, he created stone walls, fireplaces and foundations that have lasted more than a century and show no sign of deteriorating — unless at the hands of man. 
His craftsmanship was so good that one of America’s leading artists of the 20th Century drew him at work many times.
Joseph John Knoche was born in Germany in 1868. When he was 14, his family moved to New York City where he apprenticed as a stonecutter at a cemetery. In 1893, he decided to come to Ridgefield, perhaps drawn by the need here for fine stonemasonry work on the many estates that were being built then. He and his mother moved to Pelham Lane on the Ridgefield-Wilton border.
Knoche established his own contracting business, with several employees. They did masonry
work on many of the large new and renovated “summer cottages,” as the estates were called.
Among the first walls he did were on the South Salem farm of a Dr. Agnew, which later became the home of U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace. He did Henry deB. Schenck’s new estate on Tackora Trail, which became the Mamanasco Lake Lodge, the Jesuits’ Manresa retreat house and now Christ the King religious center. And he worked on the new home of artist Frederic Remington on Barry Avenue. 
For these and other projects Knoche would often do the foundations and fireplaces, and then would frequently build a stone wall along the front of the property or rebuild an old wall. In some cases he would also wall off  gardens or fields.
 Around 1918, Knoche gave up general masonry contracting to concentrate practically exclusively on dry walls — that is, walls that employ no mortar, and are held together by the shape, weight and position of the rocks. And he was good at it.
“Everybody didn’t make dry walls the way Joe did,” said his daughter, Teresa Knoche Sheehy in an unpublished 1961 interview with Ridgefield Press reporter Peter W. Roberts. “He fit them right, he cut them correctly.”
The virtue of a dry wall is its appearance, she said. 
“It’s more difficult than a wet one,” she pointed out. And when mortar was occasionally demanded by an employer, he would always conceal it. 
 Among the many homes on which he created rock walls and other stone structures were:
  • The John H. Lynch place on West Mountain Road, now the Ridgefield Academy and its campus.
  • “Oreneca,” the West Mountain estate of  P.D. Wagoner, the Underwood Typewriter magnate, later the home of rare book collector Harrison Horblit.
  • The Rainsford estate on the Ridgefield-South Salem line, which in recent years has been Le Chateau restaurant.
  • Sunset Hall, the Old West Mountain estate that was the country retreat of several prominent New York businessman and, for many years,  the home of actor Robert Vaughn and now the home of Dick Cavett, the television interviewer.
  • The Jonathan Bulkley estate on Rippowam Road, still owned today by the same family that established it more than a century ago.
  • The very visible and tall wall at the corner of High Ridge and Barry Avenue that surrounds the former Sereno T. Jacob home. (Jacob, a World War I fighter pilot and feisty town official, gave two reasons for commissioning this wall: To keep his small children safe from traffic at the busy intersection, and to protect the public from his rather aggressive police dog.)
  • Many long walls on the estate of Louis Morris Starr at the corner of Farmingville and Lounsbury Roads.
However, nowhere in the area is his work better known and appreciated than at the J. Alden Weir homestead along Nod Hill Road and Pelham Lane, now the National Park Service’s Weir Farm. Considered one of the great American Impressionist artists, Weir used Knoche’s talents to build walls
at his farm. So did his daughter, Cora Weir Burlingham,  who commissioned Knoche to erect more than a mile and a half of walls there. Knoche started that project in 1938 when he was 71 years old.
“Apparently, Mahonri Young liked to tease his sister-in-law, and the ‘Great Wall of Cora’ was his name for the system of elegantly constructed dry stone walls that Cora Burlingham had local mason Joe Knoche design and build on the property,” said Dr. Cynthia Zaitzevsky in a 1996 National Park Service report. “It is not yet clear whether Cora had a grand plan for the stone walls or whether they evolved incrementally, but they seem to have been completed by the late 1940s.”
  Mahroni Young was so taken by Knoche’s work that he drew many pen-and-ink sketches of the mason at work. The best-known shows him working on that “Great Wall of Cora.” 
“Joe Knoche and his men were one of Young’s favorite subjects,” said Dr.  Zaitzevsky. “He did numerous sketches of them, resulting in the etching [accompanying this profile], which shows the construction of one of the walls to the north of the house. The north side of the toolshed is also visible. 
“None of Young’s Knoche sketches and etchings is dated, but they must have been done in
the 1940s,” she said. (Young, who is also profiled in Who Was Who, is especially known for his huge sculpture of his grandfather, Brigham Young, outside Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Despite time, weather, vandals, and even rock thieves, Knoche’s walls are still a prominent part of Weir Farm and line both sides of Pelham Lane where the Weirs, Youngs, Burlinghams, and Knoche himself lived. (In modern times Knoche’s grandson, also named Joe Knoche and who also lives on Pelham Lane, has done much carpentry work on Weir Farm.)
In the late 1930s, Knoche took a break from wall building to work on his own plan for a monument to the memory of J. Alden Weir. “The monument was to have been built on an island in what is known as Weir’s Pond,” according to Peter Roberts’ profile of the mason. Knoche spent
weeks in the woods at his home,  searching for a granite ledge from which he could cut stone for columns and haul them out by truck. He found such a spot and “at once began his work of quarrying out these granite columns. He was several months at this project and each column was a masterpiece.” Each was a foot square and six feet long.
The final monument was never built, however.
Joseph Knoche married Mary Margaret Hickey, a native of Ireland, in 1905 in Manhattan. Mary, who had come to this country in 1896 at the age of 13,  died in 1927. Joseph died in 1949 at the age of 80. 
Joseph and Mary produced two sons and two daughters, plus many grand- and great-grandchildren, a number of whom still live in and about Ridgefield. One of those grandchildren, Joe Sheehy, was a young boy in the late 1940s. One of his strongest memories of his grandfather was the hands that had handled countless rocks and built miles of walls and foundations.

“They were like sandpaper,” he said.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Samuel Carter: 
The Drive He Couldn’t Escape
A Princeton and Oxford man who numbered F. Scott Fitzgerald among his friends, Samuel Carter started out as an American magazine writer in Europe during the 1930s, became a Madison Avenue advertising agency executive in the 40s and a radio-TV scriptwriter  in the 50s before turning to books in the 1960s.
Samuel Thomas Carter III was born in 1904 in New York, a son of a prominent New York City attorney. He studied at the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut and, like his father and more
than 35 other members of his family, graduated from Princeton University. (The university called the Carters “probably the largest Princeton family on record.”) As a senior in the late 1920s, he was managing editor of The Daily Princetonian.
He went on to study at Oxford College in England.
During the 1930s, Carter lived in Paris with his French wife, writing for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune and for several American publications. In 1936, he even wrote a 95-page, how-to guide on sailing, published by the Leisure League of America.
“Then, without knowing what was going on after a particularly dreary winter, my wife and I decided to go down to southern France and hike over the Pyrenees into Spain,” he recalled in a 1974 interview. “We took four weeks doing that, then we got to Spain and suddenly, we were in the middle of the civil war.”
After being stuck for five months in Spain, he and his wife escaped to Africa and decided the future of Europe was looking dim and to move to the United States.
“The Spain experience was good because I came back with a lot of material and started turning out short stories,” Carter said.
His varied career always focused on writing. Back in the States he wrote broadcast copy for two advertising agencies, J. Walter Thompson and then Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles, where he became a vice president. Eventually he left advertising, moved to Hollywood, and began writing for radio, mostly for the Lux Radio Theater, where he turned popular movie screenplays into one-hour productions that often featured the original film’s stars.
“That was a lot of fun because radio was so easy,” he said. But he also confessed that it was “awfully bad for you, simply because it was so easy. You had to turn it out in great quantities and do it hurriedly.”
He returned to New York and began writing for the new medium, television. Mostly he did screenplays for The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. But he was also writing non-fiction pieces for magazines, especially Reader’s Digest. Around 1960, an editor there suggested that the topic of one of his articles could make the subject of a good book. A publisher agreed and a new career began.
By the time of his death in 1989, Carter had written 20 books of nonfiction, almost all of
them on subjects of American history, many of them related to the Civil War and several of them aimed at teenagers. For many years he was turning out a book a year, a pace that annoyed him but that he felt was needed to support himself and his family.
“I don’t suppose I handle my budget very well,” he admitted, “but I live on my advances. When I sign a contract, I get $5,000 ($25,000 in 2017 dollars) so there’s a great temptation to sign contracts and get money quick.  Then you’re faced with the problem of having to produce the book.
“I’ve been producing about one book a year, but I’d much rather not. I’d like to have two, maybe three years to do it. You’re always under pressure. It has its moments of exhilaration, but on the whole, it’s just grind, grind, grind.”
Among the best known and best reviewed of his 20 books was “Cherokee Sunset,” about the travails of the Cherokee Indian Nation of Georgia.
“The Cherokees were extraordinarily civilized,” Carter said when he was writing the book in 1974. “They had a government long before the state government, they had a supreme court long before Georgia, they had very enlightened law, and they had their own newspaper, an Indian language newspaper, which was the only one of its kind in existence.
“The net result of that was that it outraged the Georgians,” he said. “Here were these ‘savages’ outstripping them in every department — the way they dressed, the horses they rode, the houses they lived in. So the Georgians wanted them out of there.”
The fact that gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia didn’t help the natives and when Andrew Jackson, no fan of the Indian, became president, the Cherokee were driven from their homeland. “They sent them out to Oklahoma on what was called the Trail of Tears,” Carter said. “A quarter  of them died on the way.”
Other books included “The Incredible Great White Fleet,” about a two-year, around-the-world voyage of 16 ships from Theodore Roosevelt’s refurbished Navy; “Cyrus Field: Man of Two Worlds,” a biography of the man who laid the first Atlantic Cable; “The Siege of Atlanta, 1864,”  “Blaze of Glory: The Fight for New Orleans, 1814-1815,” which was written for teenagers; “The Last Cavaliers: Confederate and Union Cavalry in the Civil War,” “Rebel: The Life and Times of John Singleton Mosby,” about one of the Confederate Army’s top officers; and “The Riddle of Doctor Mudd,” which deals with the man who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth just after Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Carter was proud of the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a friend. 
“I met him when he was down in Baltimore at the Turnbull estate — I roomed with his cousin,” he said. “He and I got very interested in the horse races and we used to go down to Chevy Chase, then we’d come back and stay at Scott’s house.
“It was a weird Charles Addams kind of place in the middle of a swamp,” he added. “Zelda was there for a while; then, finally, they carried her off to the sanitarium.”
He once considered writing about his experiences with Fitzgerald, but decided not to. “It sounded a little ghoulish,” he said. “It would have been capitalizing on a friendship I rather prized.”
Samuel Carter lived on Silver Hill Road in the 1970s and eventually moved to Heritage Village in Southbury, where he died in 1989 at the age of 84.
 Carter believed writing is a native talent — and not something at all romantic. 
“I think you're just born with that — it’s sort of a potential itch,” he said. “For people that ask your advice about writing, I say, ‘Don’t do it if you can possibly help it, but if you can't help it, you’re going to be a writer.

“I still have that feeling. I get so fed up and yet even though I’m fed up, I know I’m going to go on doing it. It’s just a drive you can’t escape.”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Marie H. Kendall: 
Early Woman Photographer
Ridgefield was blessed to have Joseph Hartmann photographing its people and places from the 1890s into the 1930s. But even before Hartmann turned his camera’s eye on Ridgefield, a remarkable woman began recording “glimpses” of the community — from streetscapes to house portraits to farmers plowing their fields.
And it all started because Marie Kendall couldn’t afford to pay a professional to take portraits of her children.
Marie Hartig was born in 1854 in the German-speaking Alsace section of France, an area of some turmoil in the 19th Century. In 1872, when she was 18, her parents decided to immigrate to the United States. Almost immediately Marie enrolled in the School for Nurses at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, a pioneering nursing school that used Florence Nightingale’s rules for hygienic cleanliness.
There, she ran into a problem: She fell in love with Dr. John C. Kendall, a resident at Bellevue. Hospital rules forbade “liaisons” between doctors and nurses and she was, in modern parlance, kicked out. 
That didn’t deter Ms. Hartig, who continued her studies and completed her nursing requirements at Charity Hospital on Blackwell’s Island in New York. 
She also married the doctor. But she did so in ways that were rather unusual in the 1870s. Marie told John Kendall that she did not want a wedding ring, which she considered a symbol of enslavement. Instead, she thought a watch would be a more practical symbol of love. 
What’s more, she did not wish a church wedding. Both the couple’s parents were shocked, especially John’s father,  a staunch Congregationalist and leader of the First Congregational Church. 
John Calvin Kendall had been born in Ridgefield in 1847, a son of another doctor, Calvin H.
Kendall, one of the handful physicians in Ridgefield in the 19th Century. Dr. Calvin Kendall lived and practiced at what is now 85 Main Street, a few doors south of where the First Congregational Church is now (and, back then, the Big Shop, a carriage factory, stood). Of pioneering New England stock, Calvin Kendall was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale who earned his medical degree from the predecessor of  Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a pillar of the local church, serving for many years as a deacon.
After their civil ceremony marriage in 1878, Marie and John Kendall are believed to have spent some time living in Ridgefield, probably with John’s parents on Main Street, while John practiced medicine in Norwalk. One of their four children was born here in 1884; Claude Roy Kendall was given his middle name to honor Marie’s mother-in-law, Jane Roy Kendall, who had died two months earlier. During this period of living in Connecticut, three of their four children were born.
      And it was her children that drew Marie Kendall to photography. “Unable to afford photographs of her three children,  Marie saved money to buy her own camera,” reports Ann  Havemeyer, a historian of Norfolk, Conn., and director of its library. To earn the money for the camera, she knitted and sewed clothing to sell, “using skills she had been taught as a child in Europe,” said American Heritage magazine in a 1989 article. 
      Ann Havemeyer has studied Kendall  because in 1884, John and Marie moved with their
children to Norfolk, on the Massachusetts border in the northwest corner of the state. At Bellevue Hospital, one of John Kendall’s classmates had been Dr. William Henry Welch, a son of Dr. William W. Welch, a local doctor in Norfolk. (Dr. William H. Welch went on to found the medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore). The Drs. Welch encouraged John Kendall to locate in Norfolk.
It’s not clear exactly when Marie Kendall began taking pictures. There are prints of Ridgefield scenes dated in the late 1880s and initialed M.H.K. By then she was living in Norfolk and probably visiting her husband’s family here. 
Marie taught herself how to use the camera which, in the 1880s,  meant a large-size box  fashioned of wood and using a bellows for focusing. Into this, a delicate glass negative, encased in a carrier, had to be inserted for each picture. The heavy and rather awkward device was mounted on a tripod. To take a picture, a cover was removed from in front of the lens for a brief period, exposing the 4 by 6 inch negative inside the camera. The photographer had to have a good sense of how long to expose the negative in order to get good results.
Kendall not only took the pictures, but also developed the negatives and prints herself in a darkroom set up in the cellar of her home. This was a lengthy, complicated and even dangerous process involving chemicals that were caustic and poisonous. Kendall would have to mix the i
ngredients for the developers herself, using such chemicals as sodium sulphite, potassium bromide, hydroquinone, and metol, a caustic substance that can lead to chronic dermatitis. After the plate was developed in those chemicals, it got a bath in a fixer that included even worse concoctions composed of extremely caustic sulphuric acid, sodium thiosulfate or “hypo”, and chrome alum, which can irritate both skin and eyes. 
After these treatments, each negative had to be washed for five to 10 minutes, and dried over a stove. Then began the process of making prints from the negatives, which involved more chemicals and more steps. Unlike most photographers of the era, Kendall preferred the more expensive and difficult-to-use platinum photographic paper for her prints because it was more
permanent than silver papers and could better handle subtle tones of gray. 
In a 1930s letter, Kendall said she had by then long ago stopped developing negatives and did not sound the least bit sad about it. She seemed pleased to point out that her old developing room was turned into a coal bin.
By 1893, Kendall had become such a skilled photographer and print-maker that her work was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where her pictures were given an award of merit. The judges praised her “for a series of photographs displaying a pleasing variety as to subjects, artistic taste, and marked skill in development and finish.”
In 1904, she showed her work at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (commonly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair and inspiration for the 1944 Judy Garland movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”) 
 Kendall published two “souvenir” books in 1900. “Glimpses of Ridgefield” and “Glimpses
of Norfolk” were printed by the Albertype Company in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was well known for its thousands of postcards of communities in the Northeast (many of them from 1915 onward were hand-colored by “starving artists” in need of supplementary incomes). 
Gravure-printed on heavy paper, “Glimpses of Ridgefield” contains more than 100 pictures of Ridgefield taken in the late 1880s and the 1890s, including Main Street views, many mansions and historic buildings, schoolhouses and churches, farm scenes, and a number of scenics including a series on West Mountain that clearly took some hiking — carrying many pounds of equipment in dense Victorian clothing —  to obtain.
In 1907, Kendall published a copy of Tennyson’s poem, “Song of the Brook,” illustrated with pictures she had taken. (Her work also appears in Naomi Rosenblum’s 2010 book, “A History of Women Photographers.”)
From the 1880s into the early 1900s, Kendall was also doing commercial work to supplement the family income, taking many portrait pictures, and producing postcard images, calendar pictures, and other shots for various businesses. One of her customers was the local railroad. However, by around 1910, she gave up commercial photography, largely because the advent of inexpensive Kodak box cameras and roll film had made taking pictures easy, and almost everyone was doing their own photography. She sold off some 30,000 glass negatives at a penny apiece,
probably to people who wanted the glass, not the pictures emulsified on it. She kept only “a small group” that were “personally interesting,” most of which are now in the archives of the Norfolk Historical Society.
The fact that Marie Kendall had 30,000 negatives reflects how many thousands of hours she must have spent at photography over three decades. At the same time, she was raising a family of four children and was a doctor’s wife who, as a nurse, probably helped with the practice. She also endured tragedy— her 21-year-old, Yale-educated engineer son was electrocuted by a wire while he was working for General Electric.
Dr. Kendall, who had been active in the civic life of the Norfolk community, died in 1921. Marie lived until 1943. Clearly, her extensive exposure to photographic chemicals did not affect her longevity — she was 89 years old at her death.
For decades after she stopped taking photographs, the work of Marie Kendall had been almost forgotten, except among a few historians of Norfolk, Litchfield County, and Ridgefield. However, in 2013-14 the Connecticut Historical Society mounted an exhibit, “Through a Different Lens: Three Connecticut Women Photographers,” that featured her work and two other pioneering women. 

In 2018, major Kendall events are planned including a Norfolk Historical Society exhibit of  her pictures, the digitizing of many of her images that will be placed online, and the publication of a book about her life and her photography. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

James J. Brady: 
First Police Chief
For most of the first half of the 20th Century, Ridgefield’s police protection was provided by state troopers, supplemented by a few town constables and deputy sheriffs. The constabulary, whose members dressed like policemen of the day, were led by the first selectman, who functioned as the police chief.
In 1955, the town voted to create a “real” police department, with a real police chief, all overseen by an elected Police Commission. James Brady was chosen its first chief.
James Joseph Brady Jr. was born in 1896 in nearby North Salem, N.Y. His parents moved to Ridgefield early in the century, and Brady grew up here, attending local schools.
As a young man Brady — affectionately known as “Diamond Jim” — worked for automobile garages, both as a mechanic and as a livery driver. After the U.S. entered World War I, he joined the U.S. Army medical corps in August 1918 and was sent to France where he served under fire on the Alsace Front. 
Back in Ridgefield, he continued working for garages, but in 1928 entered law enforcement, becoming a part-time town constable. In those days, only one constable was on duty during the day and one in the evening; Brady got the night shift.
Three years later, he became a deputy county sheriff, serving until 1935. In his favorite case he helped state police stake out an often-burglarized Georgetown store and capture the thief. He and a trooper spent 22 nights in Connery’s Store until finally, on the 23rd night at 3:30 a.m., the fellow came in through a jimmied window to make his haul. The burglar turned out to be stealing goods to trade for bathtub liquor, and wound up leading police to two Branchville bootleggers. The bootleggers wound up in prison and were later both killed in a Long Island gang war. 
In the late 1930s, Brady served as an inspector for the motor vehicles department. During World War II, he worked as a fire inspector at the Remington Arms Company in Bridgeport where he rose to the rank of lieutenant.
Brady became a full-time town constable in 1946, handling parking, traffic and minor
violations, and working out of a “closet” in the town hall, he later recalled. There was “very little vandalism and no domestic trouble at all,” he said in 1975. An occasional burglary would occur, but crime was “nothing like it is today.” 
When the town voted in 1955 to establish a formal police department, he became the first chief and got the fledgling force on its feet. It was a small department with only one patrol car, and despite his being chief, his duties included directing traffic on Main Street. 
Brady retired in 1965 due to poor health, but worked part-time for 10 years as the Martin
Park guard. He was also a longtime member of the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department. He died in 1976 at the age of 79.
While Ridgefield was not a high-crime area in the 50s and early 60s,   it did have a good bit of traffic. In that interview the year before he died, Brady said his biggest problem as a policeman were the motorists who failed to use directional signals.

“I’m out there trying to help them, you know, and keep them from cracking up,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll wave a car straight ahead and find out that the driver is making a turn — and almost causing an accident.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

Linette Burton: 
The L.O.L.
To anyone who sends a text message on a telephone, LOL is a staple acronym. But to thousands of readers of The Ridgefield Press from the 1950s to the 1990s, LOL meant something entirely different. Headlines would announce, “The L.O.L. Goes Round the World” or “Mr. Carter and the L.O.L. Talk Tobacco,” and readers would know the “Little Old Lady” had been off on another adventure.
Linette “Nat” Burton herself came up with the moniker, which started out as “the little old lady in tennis shoes,” got shortened to the “little old lady,”  and then became just “l.o.l.”
“Like lemmings going to the sea, the newsmen and the l.o.l. scurried across a snowy area and into the Cabinet Room in the White House,” she wrote in 1978 after she took part in a briefing with President Jimmy Carter, one of her many little old lady stories.  “As the l.o.l stamped her sneakers to get the snow off, she felt more than a little awed.”
Burton sat at the cabinet table in a chair that normally belonged to Joseph Califano, then the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, who had recently railed against smoking.
“Taking a deep breath, the l.o.l. quaveringly announced her name and the paper she represented,” she wrote. She then indirectly offered a question for the president: “I happen by pure chance to be sitting in the seat that really belongs to Mr. Califano, which made me think that isn’t it odd that, while the United States government continues its price support of the tobacco industry, Mr. Califano has come out so strongly against smoking.”
The president smiled and said, “I don’t think it’s odd. As you know, Connecticut produces a lot of tobacco, and so does Georgia.”
There was laughter and, Burton wrote, “the moment to be forever remembered by the l.o.l. was over — the moment when the President of the United States spoke directly to her.”
Little did she know that a few years later, she would sit right next to President Ronald Reagan at a similar gathering.
Linette Arny Macan Burton was born in 1916 in Easton, Pa., daughter of the headmistress of a private girls school and a machine tool salesman. In 1933, her mother became head of St. Agnes Episcopal School in Alexandria, Va., where Linette Macan spent her senior year and, among other things, wrote the school song. Fifty-six years later, Burton returned to the school to find “Hail St. Agnes” still being sung by its students. (Even though in 1991 St. Agnes merged with a boys prep,   “Hail St. Agnes” is still sung today at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School. So is the “St. Stephen’s Fight Song.”)
She majored in English at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and served as editor of The Wheaton News. After graduating in 1938, she became an intern for The New York Herald Tribune and always remembered her getting her first byline for a story for the “Home Institute” section of the paper on “double ball-bearing casters.”
She soon became a staff writer for  Click, an entertainment magazine published in Philadelphia. While there she met a copy boy named Earl Burton, who was working for the Washington bureau of Time magazine. The two were married in 1940, and for a while Linette commuted to work each day from Washington to Philadelphia.
When World War II broke out, she joined the Office of Civilian Defense in Washington as a writer and public relations person while Earl became a lieutenant in the Navy,  serving as a writer in London during the German blitz and later in the Pacific.
While they were apart, the Burtons wrote two children’s books using wartime “Victory mail,”  a military mail process in which each letter would be censored, copied to film, and printed back to paper on arrival at its destination.  Their V-mail collaboration resulted in “Taffy and Joe” (1943), about the friendship between a dog and a monkey,  and “The Exciting Adventures of Waldo” (1945), about a wooden decoy duck that comes to life in the wild.  Both were published by McGraw-Hill and illustrated by Helen Stone, a popular children’s book illustrator in the 1940s. 
After the war and stints with Time’s Ottawa and Toronto offices, the Burtons moved to to Ridgefield in 1954 after Earl joined Time/Life’s New York headquarters where he eventually became the director of correspondents for Sports Illustrated. He died in 1968, only 52 years old.
The Burtons and their children lived on Bennett’s Farm Road in a 1790s farmhouse that has since been torn down; where it stood is now the parking lot for Bennett’s Pond State Park.
In her first years here, Burton was concentrating on raising a family and dealing with a succession of farm animals, including a burro, sheep, a calf, rabbits and a “Toulouse goose” named Horace that “became so fierce that tradesmen refused to get out of their trucks unless a Burton was on hand to protect them,” she once said, adding,  “When the children went to the end of the driveway to get the bus to go to school, Horace would follow them and stand in front of the bus, honking. Until one of the Burtons got out and flung Horace back onto the driveway, the bus could not move — to the delight of the children inside.”
In 1958, with her youngest child in first grade, Burton wrote Karl Nash, publisher of The Ridgefield Press, looking for a job. She soon got it and began 40 years of writing mostly personality features, interviewing thousands of people — from truckers and masons to movie actors and best-selling authors — and the two presidents. She found tradesmen as interesting as celebrities and enjoyed writing about a transcontinental truck driver as much as about a television star.
However, she was understandably pleased to have been invited to meet with Presidents  Carter and Reagan and wrote entertaining accounts of both sessions.
“How can that man wield the tremendous power of the presidency?” she wondered when she met  President Carter. “He looks like someone’s favorite big brother. No wonder everyone calls him Jimmy.”
She wrote many travel features, usually as the l.o.l. “Nat traveled to all the fantastic places that most of us only wish we could go to,” said novelist Elizabeth Daniels Squire, a longtime friend of Burton. Among her journeys was a 1984 trip around the world with fellow Ridgefielder Alice Gore King. “It was fun from start to finish,” King recalled. “Her sense of humor made molehills out of mountains. And she was kindness personified.”
Her l.o.l. features would even light-heartedly describe her misfortunes. In 1994, she fell and broke her elbow and nearly two months later, doctors discovered she had also broken her pelvis and needed to stay in bed at her home for more than a month. “In the next five weeks while the l.o.l. lay like a beached whale, an incredible number of trained District Nursing Association staff kept her from having to become a patient in a strange environment,” she later wrote in an appreciation of what is now the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association.
Burton was also active in the community. In the 1950s, when her family was involved raising farm animals, she ran a chapter of the Grange, an organization that had once been popular and sizable in town. She twice served as president of the League of Women Voters, and she sang with the Charles Pope Choristers. A painter, she was active in the Ridgefield Guild of Artists for many years. 
Nat Burton died in 1999 at the age of 83. Three years later, St. Stephen’s Church, where she
had been a longtime member, dedicated the “Linette Burton Memorial Garden” just south of the church and in front of South Hall. “It’s not just for members of the parish,” said Rector John Gilchrist. “We want to invite people off the street to come in and enjoy it as a quiet place.”
Burton loved gardens and the woods near her home, but did once run into trouble with a tree. Her little old lady feature  about her winning a raffle just before Christmas in the mid-1960s reflects how she could have fun with problems.
“Some little old ladies play bingo or save string or knit afghans to keep busy, but we know one who takes chances on things,” she wrote. “Lots of things, like Mustangs and Cadillacs, trips to
Europe or Hawaii, electric carving knives, and pine-paneled dens. Through all the years, she never won anything until that Sunday night, Dec. 5, a date which will be indelibly imprinted in her mind along with such other important dates as the Battle of Hastings, her wedding anniversary, and the last day to pay taxes without paying interest.
“It was 9:32 p.m. when the telephone rang and the caller announced, as though proclaiming the dawn of a new era, ‘This is Mrs. Richard Jackson. You have just won a live Christmas tree!’
“‘A live what?’ the l.o.l. responded dully, thinking quickly of the live ducks, dogs, cats, sheep, cows, burros, alligators, hamsters, and rabbits that had graced her home.
“‘A live Christmas tree,’ the caller repeated. ‘Remember the chance you took on the tree when you went through the Keeler Tavern the other day during their open house? Well, your name was picked. And the tree is here, waiting for you.’”
The story goes on to describe the family’s struggles in dealing with moving an eight-foot evergreen with a large ball, weighing 200 pounds, how it was loaded into their little VW microbus, and how it sat in front of the house, awaiting someone to dig a four-foot “crater” in which to plant the huge ball in the freezing ground.

“The l.o.l. is seriously considering offering chances (free) to participate in a muscle-building program (particularly the biceps) to anyone who is as chance-happy as she once used to be,” she said.

  The Jeremiah Bennett Clan: T he Days of the Desperados One morning in 1876, a Ridgefield man was sitting in a dining room of a Philadelphi...