Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Peter J. Wick:
Artist, Athlete and Advocate
Peter Wick seemed like a man of contrasts. Tall and burly, he was a former boxer and champion wrestler who became a prolific artist, painting countless scenes of the Connecticut countryside, the New England shoreline, old sailing ships, and tropical islands.
What’s more, Wick was also a veteran New York City police sergeant who, as both a cop and a Ridgefield prosecutor, was an advocate of intelligent treatment of wayward teenagers.
Peter John Wiczkowski was born in New York City in 1902, the son of immigrants from
“Peter Wick was a great sports figure who enjoyed wrestling and boxing,” said his family on a website created in his memory. “He sparred with famous boxers such as Jack Dempsey and worked with Gene Tunney at the West Side YMCA in New York City. He coached young boxers and one of his best-known pupils was middleweight champion, Rocky Graziano.
“Mr. Wick later became the national amateur wrestling champ of the U.S., going on to win four AAU medals.”
He continued to box as late as 1947 in police leagues.
Wick passed on his love of those sports to city kids. In the 1920s, he became one of the
Wick became interested in art in the 1930s, and eventually studied painting under Howard Chandler Christy, a noted portrait artist, and Gordon Grant, who famous for his maritime scenes. In a 1945 Christy mural, which depicted negotiations between the United States government and the American Indians, Wick modeled as an Indian chief. The mural is in the Ohio State Rotunda.
When he and his wife, Henrietta, and family moved to Ned’s Mountain Road in 1940, that wild area of Ridgebury helped foster a love of nature and the countryside, and inspired many of his paintings.
He retired from the NYPD in 1953 after 29 years. He wasn’t rich, said his grandson, Bert Fortin. His pension at the time was about $500 a month. So to bring in extra money, he began selling his paintings at shows throughout the area. In 1959 he opened a gallery on White Street in Danbury.
Some of his paintings sold for as much as $300 ($2,700 today), helping considerably with the retirement income.
In the 1950s Wick became involved in town government, serving as a grand juror. In 1959, he was appointed a prosecutor in the town’s Trial Justice Court, a job that wound up sparking some controversy a year later when a case he was prosecuting against two teenagers had to dropped for lack of a complaint.
The youths had been caught with an automobile distributor they’d stolen from a wrecked car parked at Pamby Motors. The police arrested the boys, but the owner of the wrecked car refused to press charges — a fact that Wick did not know until the last moment. Carleton Scofield promptly quit as town justice, complaining that Wick had not properly prepared the case and maintaining that prosecutors should be attorneys. The two had argued over prosecutions in the past.
Wick also resigned. He said that he had not gotten timely information from the police, but also did not want any further clashes with Scofield. Scofield immediately returned to his job.
However, the case also involved how tough the town should be on teenagers. Scofield was upset that the teenagers got off scot free but Wick — who had spent many years helping young people in New York City — took a different tack, saying he did not believe in being “too harsh on
In an interview in the Bridgeport Post, Wick favored reorganizing how the police handled youth cases, feeling that the police should be encouraged to “adjudicate instead of arrest,” The Post said.
“Ridgefield is growing, and modern methods must replace some of the outmoded ones,” Wick said. “A good policeman doesn’t arrest everybody brought to his attention.”
He recommended that the town name a committee or commission to deal with teenagers before and after they commit minor offenses.
In 1984, Wick retired to Lakeland, Fla., bringing along with him a truckload of paintings he had done in Ridgefield. He died five years later at the age of 87.
In 2015, his family offered 200 of Wick’s paintings to Lighthouse Ministries, which provides food, clothing, shelter, and various programs to the homeless communities of Central Florida. Lighthouse scheduled an auction of his paintings that year that raised more than $16,000.
Note: A 29-page color catalogue of his paintings can be viewed here: https://issuu.com/eringeiger/docs/charity_art_catalog
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Frederic and Mary Lewis:
The Showplace on West Lane
Ridgefield had many great homes early in the 20th Century, but few surpassed Frederic and Mary Lewis’s “Upagenstit,” an estate that town historian Dick Venus called “one of our nation’s showplaces.”
At one time this 100-acre spread on West Lane employed nearly 100 people. The house had more than 40 rooms, and the estate was equipped with an indoor swimming pool, immense greenhouses, and a dozen other buildings. Many houses were provided for workers – most still exist along West Lane, Olmstead Lane and on Lewis Drive. At one point, Mr. Lewis’s private physician lived in one of them and his personal chef in another..
His home was so big that, with little modification, it became a college in the 1940s.
Frederic Elliott Lewis was born in 1859 into a wealthy New York City family. He grew up in Manhattan and at a young age, began working for National City Bank, where his grandfather, Moses Taylor — one of the richest men in the 19th Century — was president (National City Bank is today’s CitiBank). Lewis was eventually elected vice president of the bank.
However, poor health forced Lewis to leave his banking career at a relatively young age, and he spent time traveling in Europe, resting in Florida, overseeing his investments, and generally
Mary Alice Russell was born in 1862 in Middletown, Conn., also to a very wealthy family, involved in international trade. She and Frederic were married in 1887 and had three sons: Reginald, who later had a gentleman’s farm on South Salem Road near the New York line, but eventually moved to an estate in Norfolk, Conn.; Wadsworth, who built an estate on Great Hill Road (and has been profiled in Who Was Who); and a third son, Frederic, who died when he was 11.
Frederic and Mary lived in Manhattan and maintained a summer home in Tarrytown for many
In 1934, The New York Times reported that the Lewises had spent nearly $2 million (some $54 million in today’s money) on the improvements at Upagenstit. They included:
- A network of paved roadways, lined with yellow brick gutters, at a time when none of the main roads in town were paved. Electric lighting was provided for many of the roads.
- Various barns and poultry houses for a stock that included Guernsey and Jersey cows, Berkshire pigs, and Plymouth Rock fowl.
- An ice house that could hold up to 3,000 cakes of ice, cut from their own pond and stored for the warm months. (A cake of ice could weigh more than 300 pounds; the foundation for the ice house was two feet deep and included a drainage system for melting ice.)
- Two tennis courts, one clay and the other grass.
- Specimen trees and shrubs from around the world — many of which are still part of the Ridgefield Manor.
- A stable that could handle 14 horses and a garage that could hold 15 cars.
- A fleet of automobiles that included Mary Lewis’s Rolls Royce that had flower vases on each side furnished with fresh flowers each day; it featured a speaking tube through which she could converse with the chauffeur (their estate had three chauffeurs).
- 2,000 feet of finished stone wall, mostly along West Lane and Golf Lane (and mostly still standing)
- A pond that still exists on western Lewis Drive (it later held the Ward Acres exotic waterfowl collection). A small octagon boathouse/bathhouse built by the pond was later moved to East Ridge to serve as part of the airplane-spotting facility during World War II. The building is now an office on Bailey Avenue.
- Last but not least, squirrel houses. According to The Ridgefield Press in 1908, “Mr. Lewis’s favorite pets are the tame gray squirrels, having brought about 50 from Tarrytown. There are special houses for these sleek, interesting little fellows. When Mr. Lewis gives his call, he is surrounded almost at once by them.”
Former town historian Dick Venus described the house, which had more than 40 rooms. “The
The house included a dairy room, which had a cream separator, a butter churn, a bottle washing machine, and a “gigantic ice cream freezer.” Milk was provided by the estates herd of cows to make butter, cream and ice cream.
The laundry room was 40 by 30 feet in size. “It had the usual apparatus one would expect to
The place was heated by two enormous furnaces, and had bins that could hold more than 60 tons of coal.
Dick Venus reported that every morning Mr. and Mrs. Lewis would go for a walk around their estate. While walking, Frederic “whistled constantly, in order that the people working on the estate would know that they were coming. He did not mind if they sat down again after he and Mrs. Lewis had passed by, but felt that they should give the appearance of being industrious while they were passing.”
The whistling was especially important to the workers in the cow barn. “One of their duties each morning was to listen for Mr. Lewis’s familiar whistle,” Venus said. “The whistle was their signal to unroll a large red rubber carpet that covered the platform between the cows from one door to the other. After the Lewises had passed through the barn, the carpet was rolled up to await the next visit.”
The Encyclopedia of Biography, published in 1922, described Frederic Lewis as one who
He was also a generous man. “He was a friend of the worthy needy and he freely, but absolutely anonymously, has contributed largely to the relief of the distressed,” said The Press when he died in 1919 at the age of 60. “The extend of his philanthropic work will never be known as he never spoke of it and would not permit others to mention it. Many a worthy case that received timely help will never know the identity of their benefactor.”
Venus described him as “a very jovial individual, but for all his good nature, he was known to possess a vocabulary that would match that of a longshoreman, and when he felt that it fitted the occasion, he did not hesitate to use it.”
Frederic Lewis was not much involved in Ridgefield’s business and social life, though he did lend his banking expertise to the First National Bank of Ridgefield, where he served as a director (the bank, through many mergers, is now Wells Fargo).
Mary Lewis was more involved in the town. She was responsible for a work of art that visitors
Mary Lewis was also involved in the operations at St. Stephen’s, including helping get the parish out of a financial problem caused by a church treasurer who embezzled a sizable amount of money earmarked for the new building. She and her husband also contributed $19,000 of the $25,000 cost of the new church rectory ($19,000 then would be around $425,000 today).
Mary Lewis served as the first president of the Ridgefield Chapter of the American Red Cross, founded at the start of World War I, and held that post many years. She was vice president of the District Nursing Association (now Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association) for 31 years.
Not surprisingly, Mary Lewis was a charter member of the Ridgefield Garden Club and involved in the club’s efforts to beautify the town. After all, she oversaw vast Upagenstit gardens and
With the Depression causing the family to scale down, Mary Lewis sold Upagenstit in 1934 to bridge expert Ely Culbertson and moved to Norfolk to live with her son, Reginald. She died in 1950 at the age of 87.
In the early 1940s, the estate became Gray Court Junior College, a school for women. The college opened in September 1941 with about 100 students and 15 faculty members and lasted until around 1945. The greenhouses were used for classrooms and the glass walls were praised in a college brochure for having the “obvious” advantages “to sight and health.” One section of greenhouses was called “Crystal Hall.”
By 1949, the place had turned into the Ridgefield Lodge and Health Resort, aimed at elderly visitors, and was becoming a source of considerable controversy. First, the Zoning Commission got after the operators, alleging that they were running an illegal home for the aged, rather than a resort or hotel. Then, when the operation became the “Ridgefield Country Club,” the New York state insurance commissioner maintained that the corporation that owned the place was using it as a secret Communist Party headquarters for underground “indoctrination” and “propaganda.”
Finally, a developer named Harold F. Benel bought the place in 1954, tore down the house and created a subdivision of 46 one-acre lots on 66 acres. He called it The Ridgefield Manor Estates and used Lewis’s driveways for Manor Road and Lewis Drive, adding Fairfield Court.
As for why the Lewises named their estate Upagenstit — “up against it” — no one is certain.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Artists in Ridgefield have tended to focus on their art and avoid the political limelight. Not so with Simon Greco, who spoke at many meetings, penned many letters to the editors and challenged laws, budgets, schools and other matters.
However, though even The New York Times covered his feisty ways, Greco was much better known nationally for his art, not his complaints.
“Simon Greco was an extraordinary artist,” said art historian Terence E. Hanley. “His work is mesmerizing.”
A native of Italy, Simon Greco was born in 1917 to an Italian-American father and an Italian mother. The family came to the United States in 1921 and settled in St. Louis where his father
“Almost entirely self-educated, Greco is widely informed in such diverse arenas as philosophy, religious history, literature, and music,” said a 1952 profile of him in the Bridgeport Sunday Post.
By the 1940s, Greco had moved to New York to do commercial art as well as his own work. He was best known for his “magic realism” paintings, a style that was popular in the mid-20th Century, and was considered an expert at it. He became well known for two series he illustrated for Life magazine, The World We Live In in 1953 and The Epic of Man in 1956. He also painted many covers for magazines during the 1950s and 60s.
Greco’s moving to Hayes Lane in 1949 helped inspire a second direction in his art. “Since moving to Ridgefield, my thoughts have turned more and more to the manifestations of nature with which we are surrounded, and with the problem of extending the range of ideas and thoughts which
He began painting non-objective works — what some consider abstract expressionism — while continuing to produced the “magic realism” pieces. And it was the latter that were more popular. His works are in the Smithsonian Institution, the American Museum of Natural History, the U.S. Naval Academy, and other collections.
In Ridgefield, he became involved in the community, and was a frequent voice at town meetings and in letters to the newspaper. A Democrat, he tried in 1963 to vote in a Republican primary here in an attempt to challenge what he considered a flaw in a state law. He was unsuccessful, but his effort was covered by The Times.
He was a voice of conservatism when it came to schools, going so far as to maintain that libraries in elementary schools were wasteful. He felt that the proposed Ridgebury School should not be a spread-out affair, but an efficient, two-story, box-like building with many fewer toilets than planned. “I think it is absurd to have 12 rooms with separate toilets — if the children are so retarded beyond kindergarten that they require such toilets, then they should be in special schools,” he wrote in 1960. “We should not waste tax money on extravagant buildings. We should spend it instead where it will do the most good, that is, in securing the best teachers, books and educational materials available.”
Perhaps Greco felt a closeness to teachers and books. He himself taught at at various institutions in Fairfield County and, in 1968, he wrote the book, “The Art of Perspective Drawing,” for the well-known Grumbacher series.
Nonetheless, Greco criticized the way art and the arts in general were taught. Speaking at a gathering with the Connecticut Commission on the Arts in 1964, Greco was quoted as saying, “With
In 1964, Greco moved to North Salem Road and a few years later, relocated to Fairfield after joining the staff of the University of Bridgeport. He later lived in Westborough, Mass., where he died in 2005 at the age of 87.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Humorist from Hell
How can a humorist be a “lady” from hell?
Ted Shane wrote books and magazine articles, and created the “Cockeyed Crosswords” that were popular from the 1930s to the 1960s and appeared in various magazines. But before he became a humorist and writer, he went to Canada to enlist in the Black Watch, the famous kilted Scots division called the “Ladies from Hell.” Only 16 when he joined, he fought in World War I with the division.
Theodore Sidney Shane was born in New York City in 1900. His father was a tailor who had immigrated from Hungary in the 1880s and his mother was the daughter of German immigrants. After the war, Shane studied at Columbia, graduating in 1923, and began writing book and movie reviews and humor pieces for magazines that included the old Liberty, where his humorous crosswords also appeared.
He came to Ridgefield in 1930 when he married Margaret Woodward Smith Boyd, also a writer, and lived here off and on until his death — he and Peggy Boyd also spent three years in Hollywood writing for MGM and 12 years in Europe.
He wrote profiles, particularly of sports figures, for Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, and other magazines, and worked as editor of 1,000 Jokes magazine.
He published several books of crossword collections as well as “Heroes of the Pacific” (1944) and, though he did not drink, the light-hearted and popular “Bar Guide” (1950), illustrated by VIP (Virgil Partch).
In 1940 Shane and writer-broadcaster Lowell Thomas wrote “Softball, So What?” about their
Among the many celebrities who played in their games were critic Heywood Hale Broun, Believe It Or Not creator Bob Ripley, self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie, and baseball great Babe
In 1946, Shane tested the local political waters, running unsuccessfully for state senator from Ridgefield’s district. He was a Democrat in a very Republican district and lost mightily.
Ted Shane died in Ridgefield in 1967 at the age of 66.
In 1951 his daughter, Gretchen Shane, married Egbert W. Swackhamer (1927-1994) at Shane home in Ridgefield. Swackhamer later became a television director who did episodes for M*A*S*H, L.A. Law, Murder She Wrote, Bewitched, The Partridge Family, and The Flying Nun. He specialized in directing pilot shows for TV; of his 27 pilots, 18 became series, including Law & Order, Eight Is Enough, Quincy, M.E., S.W.A.T, and Nancy Drew.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Wadsworth R. Lewis:
Millions in Gifts
Countless thousands of Ridgefield people have benefited from the “Lewis Fund,” but few have known who “Lewis” was.
Since it began distributing money in 1950, the Wadsworth R. Lewis Fund has given local charitable, educational or religious organizations more than $3.4 million. In today’s money, if inflation were calculated into those gifts, that’s more than $15 million in help.
Waddy Lewis would be pleased.
Born in Tarrytown, N.Y., in 1889, Wadsworth Russell Lewis was a son of Frederic E. and Mary Lewis. Around 1908 his parents bought the West Lane estate of Henry B. Anderson and began turning the 100-acre spread into one of the grandest of country homes of the era. Called Upagenstit, the estate is now the Ridgefield Manor, including Lewis Drive and Manor Road.
“Waddy,” as he was called, grew up in New York City and at Upagenstit. As a young man, he apparently led a life of leisure; at the age of 27, when he registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 in Ridgefield, he listed “none” as his occupation. But as World War I loomed on the horizon, he donated his yacht to the U.S. Navy to use to patrol New York Harbor. Soon thereafter, when he joined the Navy himself, he was put in command of his former vessel which patrolled New York Harbor. He later served in Washington as a lieutenant in the Censoring Department of the War College.
After the war, Lewis spent more time in Ridgefield. According to town historian Dick Venus, he enjoyed local sports and in the 1920s, even sponsored a Ridgefield baseball team, buying the uniforms and equipment, and paying some semi-pro players to beef up the squad. They came known as “Waddy’s All-Stars.”
Venus tells the story of one game at the old high school field on East Ridge at which Lewis, in an effort to please the crowd, offered $5 for each home run hit by a member of the Ridgefield team. “The offer was only a few minutes old when a conference with the opposing pitcher was held behind the old grandstand,” Venus said. “The result was an eruption such as has seldom been seen on any ballfield. Baseballs began to rain on Governor Street and some even reached the lawn of the state police barracks (now the Ridgefield Police headquarters).
“They were not fooling Waddy — he was well aware that he was being taken. However, he enjoyed the demonstration as much as the players and the fans, and he had a broad smile as each crack of the bat sent the ball soaring in the air.”
It wasn’t just athletes that Lewis helped out. In the late 1930s, he came to the rescue of The Ridgefield Press which, a couple years earlier, been purchased by the brothers Karl and John Nash.
“We, of course, didn’t have the money. We managed to negotiate them down to $3,000, but we didn’t have that either.
“Somehow, Waddy heard about it, probably through our mutual friend, Joe Donnelly, who was the attorney on the original deal. One day he showed up with a chauffeur-driven Lincoln, and told us that he was going to take care of the problem. He drove us down to New York to his bank. He asked the bank manager to arrange a loan at a favorable rate for his friends. The bank manager said, ‘Of course, Mr. Lewis. Would a rate of 2% be okay?’ That solved the problem for us and saved the paper.”
In 1934, Mary Lewis, by then a widow, sold Upagenstit. Waddy Lewis, however, enjoyed Ridgefield so much that he decided to build his own estate here in 1939, located between Limestone and Great Hill Roads. He called the place Taghkanick, an Indian word that some have translated as “wild place” and others, as a “clearing in a forest.”
Lewis’s parents were always interested in the welfare of the people in their town. That sense of community was especially strong in their son and particularly as he grew older, he became more interested in the “serious” side of community life. He became a member of the Board of Education, served on the Draft Board, and during World War II, the Ration Board. He was on the building committee that renovated the town hall around 1940.
He was also an award-winning grower of orchids, helped along by the premier orchid expert, John W. “Jack” Smith, who was his estate superintendent (also profiled in Who Was Who).
Lewis was also an avid golfer and among his many friends on the local links was Alex Santini, a well-known Ridgefield caterer, chef and restaurateur. At some point Lewis gave Santini a putter. But it was no ordinary putter and Santini was no ordinary player. According to Dick Venus, “it was an exceptionally large putter and weighed considerably more than the ordinary club.” Santini used it not only for putting, but for driving, pitching and chipping. “Compensating somehow for its flat face, Alex was able to tee off and send the ball great distances,” Venus said. With that one putter, “he was able to beat other good golfers who used a complete set of clubs.”
In 1941, Lewis became ill for several months. While he recovered he was noticeably more frail. On Nov. 3, 1942, shortly after returning home from a meeting of the local Draft Board, he suffered a heart attack and died; he was only 53.
Lewis had established the fund in his will, stating that grants should benefit non-profits “which are conducted in whole or in part for the benefit or use of the residents of Ridgefield and its vicinity.” However, he stipulated that it not begin functioning until his mother had died — the cost of her care would apparently affect the amount of the fund. Mary Lewis died in 1950.
And it was in 1950 that the Lewis Fund made its first grants, totaling $15,000 — that’s equal to about $152,000 in today’s dollars. By 1983, the annual grants had risen to $59,000 ($144,000 in today’s dollars).
In 2015, grants totalling $116,000 were made to some 45 organizations.
Thus, the grants today amount to about eight times more than when they began. Yet, thanks to inflation, their buying power is noticeably less.
Waddy Lewis’s Taghkanick later became the home of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, and then of the rare-book dealer, Hans Peter Kraus (all three of whom are profiled here in the Who Was Who series). The house is still in use today, though much of the estate’s land has been subdivided in recent years.
Friday, February 17, 2017
George L. Rockwell:
For George Rockwell, a man of several careers, history was a hobby. But it is not for his vocations, but for his “History of Ridgefield” that Rockwell is remembered today. Its 583 pages, published in 1927, provide a comprehensive look at the town’s first two centuries.
“That history is a reflection of the man, his interests, his family, his devotion to his beloved community,” Press Editor Karl S. Nash once wrote.
A descendant of Jonathan Rockwell, one of the founders of the town, George Lounsbury Rockwell was born in 1869 in New Haven, but came to Farmingville as a boy. He lived with his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George E. Lounsbury — George was to become a Connecticut governor. The Lounsbury house and farm, The Hickories, later became Rockwell’s own home and is today still a working farm.
In 1888, Rockwell went to work for his uncle’s shoe factory in South Norwalk, remaining there 21 years and serving as a partner the last 16 years.
By the turn of the 20th Century, he was active in town and state politics. He served as state representative in 1904 and in 1937, as town treasurer, as a member of the first Board of Finance in 1921, and as a justice of the peace. In 1904, he was a Connecticut delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Theodore Roosevelt.
His work for the GOP won him appointments as Ridgefield postmaster from 1912 to 1916 and again from 1924 to 1935 (his son, George L. Jr., was postmaster from 1949 to 1953).
President Taft named him U.S. deputy consulate general at Montreal in 1910 and he served there two years.
In 1938, he made an unsuccessful bid to be Fourth District congressman on the Republican ticket.
His “History of Ridgefield” was published in 1927, the same year the town marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield. The book contains much information on the early settlement of the town, the Revolution, the community’s churches, schools, industries, and notable people. Some sections of the book had originally appeared as features by Rockwell in The Ridgefield Press over the first quarter of the century.
“He left no avenue unexplored, and considerable effort went into correspondence, personal interviews, examination of old records, and the study of countless tombstones,” wrote Smithsonian historian Silvio A. Bedini, author of “Ridgefield in Review.”
Rockwell’s history is also known for its extensive and detailed listings of Ridgefield veterans of all the wars from the French and Indian through World War I. Rockwell also provides many early
The volume is extensively illustrated with photos, mostly taken by Joseph Hartmann.
Rockwell had 1,500 copies of his book printed, some bound in leather, but most in cloth. Original copies today are rare, and can cost hundreds of dollars. A 1979 hardbound reprint of the book can be found used for anywhere from $25 to $175.
Rockwell died in 1947 at the age of 78. His first wife, Grace Frances Greaves Rockwell, died in 1903 at the age of 26, and his second wife, Anna D. Ryan Rockwell, was an aunt of Pat Ryan Nixon, wife of the president. She died in 1943.
Though history was an avocation, George Rockwell was well-known and respected for his knowledge of Connecticut’s past, so much so that Duquesne University in Pittsburgh invited him to speak on the Western Reserve, originally part of Connecticut, at its 1938 commencement. Though he had never gone to college, the university awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Hans P. Kraus:
Dachau Survivor Who Cherished Books
When Hans P. Kraus came to this country as a refugee escaping the Nazis, he had only $500 and a handful of books. By his death in 1988, Kraus was one of the world’s most renowned rare-book dealers — a man who had owned one of the three Gutenberg Bibles still in private hands and whose collection included a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a first printing of the U.S. Constitution.
He was also a major benefactor of the Library of Congress. In 1969, he donated 162 historical documents spanning 300 years of colonial Spanish America, including a narrative by Amerigo Vespucci of his four voyages to America between 1497 and 1502. The gift made the front page of The New York Times, accompanied by pictures of both Kraus and Vespucci.
“This is a modest token of my gratitude and sincere thanks to the United States, a great nation whose hospitality and spirit of freedom and equality have made it possible for me, once a poor refugee, to attain a decent place in free human society,” Kraus said at the time.
The son of a professor who was also a bibliophile and noted stamp collector, Hans Peter Kraus was born in Austria in 1907. As a young teenager, he began collecting — and selling — books. “He frequently picked up an honest krone by buying an old book at one antiquarian shop and selling it at a modest profit to a dealer a block or two away,” said John T. Winterich in a 1960 profile in Publishers’ Weekly.
After working for a couple of antiquarian book dealers, Kraus established a rare-book business in Vienna in 1932. Six years later, after the Germans annexed Austria, he was arrested as a Jew and interned at the concentration camps in Dachau and Buchenwald for more than a year before friends were able to obtain his release, provided he abandon his homeland. He had to leave behind a collection of 100,000 books.
He arrived in New York on Columbus Day, 1939. That happened to be also his birthday, “which he felt was a very good omen,” said his daughter, Mary Ann Kraus Folter.
With the help of friends and family in this country, he started a new dealership, H.P. Kraus, in a two-room flat in Manhattan. His business grew to the point where, in 1960, he had 16 employees and was world-famous for his vast inventory of rare publications.
Over the years he acquired some of the most famous books and manuscripts in the world, and helped raise the nature of the business to a more sophisticated level.
“Dealers are scholars,” he said in 1967. “We are not tradesmen.”
One biographer called him “without doubt the most successful and dominant rare-book dealer in the world in the second half of the 20th Century.”
He set a world record for the highest price ever paid for a book when, in 1959, he spent $182,000 ($1.5 million in today’s dollars) for a 13th century St. Albans Apocalypse, a very early movable type edition of the last book for the Bible.
Kraus’s Gutenberg Bible, acquired in the early 1970s, was sold in 1978 to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, for $1.8 million ($6.7 million today).
Kraus wrote many books and pamphlets, including “Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography.” His autobiography, “A Rare Book Saga,” has been called “a rare-books version of the memoirs of Casanova.”
In 1966, he and his wife, Hanni Zucker Kraus, bought the former home of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce on Great Hill Road. Kraus died at the age of 81 and Hanni Kraus soon moved away, but kept the rare book business on operation until her death in 2003.
The Krauses made a number of significant contributions to libraries. Among their gifts to the Library of Congress is the Hans and Hanni Kraus Sir Francis Drake Collection, which contains early books, manuscripts, maps, and memorabilia related to Drake's explorations.
Kraus was once asked by The Washington Post whether he ever read the rare books he owned. “Read them?” he replied. “Books are to be admired. To be studied. To be cherished — not to be read. The worst thing you can do to a book is to read it. That’s what paperbacks are for.”
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
No Apples on A Table
“There are thousands of apples-on-a-table paintings,” abstract artist Nicholas Krushenick told The Ridgefield Press in 1969. “I have a vocabulary of shapes that I hone and define. I can have no cliches of known values.”
A self-described “former starving artist,” Krushenick once supported himself by framing paintings and delivering them in an old Cadillac hearse.
His work, which has been called a combination of Pop Art, Op Art, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism, was discovered in the early 1960s and his work is now widely known and displayed; The National Gallery of Art owns a dozen of his paintings, and his works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
A native of New York City, Krushenick was born in 1929. One of his childhood memories was “of his fascination in watching a colorful mural progress toward completion in the Greek Orthodox church his family attended,” says the National Gallery.
While he was in the U.S. Army, he decided on a career as an artist and as soon as he was discharged, he entered the Art Students League in New York, studying from 1948 until 1950 under the GI Bill. He later studied under Hans Hoffman, a leading artist.
He then rented a studio and began to paint. “I revolted against commercial art,” he said in 1969. “I felt it would be ugly to sell myself that way.”
While he painted, he went through a decade of working at a variety of jobs to support himself including construction work and doing store window displays. “If you removed the mannequins, it would be art,” he said of his displays.
His career began to move in the early 1960s. While he was framing pictures, one of his clients was a man named Patrick Lannon and “one thing led to another and he bought seven paintings in 1963, long before the galleries became interested in me,” he said.
About the same time he was invited to paint the posters for the film, “Tom Jones,” which was
He and his family moved to Ridgefield in 1967, living on West Lane. It was during the Vietnam War, of which the Army veteran was an outspoken critic. In 1970, he was among a group of artists who withdrew their paintings from the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in protest against the war. He also donated a print to the Yale Art Department, which had organized an exhibition to raise money for the lawyers for the Black Panthers.
He moved to Stamford in 1972.
Krushenick eventually devoted less time to painting and more to teaching. He taught at such institutions as Cooper Union, Dartmouth, Cornell, the University of Wisconsin, Yale and especially, the University of Maryland. He also designed sets and costumes for stage productions including the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre's production of Haydn’s comic opera, “Man in the Moon.”
Krushenick died in his native New York City in 1999 at the age of 69. In recent years originals of his paintings have sold for more than $11,000 at auction.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
‘True Father of Baseball’
In 1857, Dr. Daniel Adams sat down, picked up a pen and wrote a document called “Laws of Base Ball.” Nearly 150 years later, those long-forgotten sheets of paper sold at an auction for $3.3
“He’s the true father of baseball and you’ve never heard of him,” said John Thorn, a noted baseball historian who was a consultant on the sale.
In Ridgefield, Daniel Adams was well known to most folk in the mid-19th Century as a prominent citizen who was the first president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. The retired New York City physician came to town in 1865 and bought the former home of Col. Philip Burr Bradley — a house later owned by the Biglow and Ballard families that stood in what is now Ballard Park.
By then, he had pretty much retired from the “national sport” he helped to establish. And few here knew of his prominence in fashioning the game.
Daniel Lucius Adams was born in a small town in New Hampshire in 1814. His father was a country doctor but unlike his Dartmouth graduate dad, Daniel went to Yale, Class of 1835. Three years later he earned his medical degree from Harvard and began practicing in New York City.
There Dr. Adams’ interest in athletics was whetted by the formation of the New York Base Ball Club in 1840. Five years later, he joined the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, which is said to have played the first full game of baseball as we know it today, on June 19, 1846, at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., with a team called the New York Nine. Adams continued to play for the Knickerbockers well into his 40s.
In “Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia,” John Thorn has called Adams “first among the fathers of baseball.” He and other baseball historians credit Adams with setting up essentials of today’s game.
Adams was an early president of the Knickerbocker club, and served as its president six times between 1847 and 1861. While president he promoted rules changes that resulted in nine-man teams
He headed the rules and regulations committee when the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed in 1858. Among the changes he instigated were that bases should be 90 feet apart.
A savvy businessman, he was also involved in manufacturing both baseballs and bats.
Adams retired as Knickerbocker president and as a physician before he moved to Ridgefield. A few years earlier, in 1861, he had married Cornelia A. Cook and the couple had four children while living here; the last, a son, Roger, was born in 1874 when Daniel was 60 years old.
Here he became active in all aspects of the community.
In 1870, he was elected a Ridgefield representative to the State House of Representatives. A year later, in 1871, he helped form and became the first president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank — clearly it was a wise move, for the bank grew steadily and is now the Fairfield County Bank with $1.6 billion in assets. He led the bank from 1871 to 1879 and again, from 1884 to 1886. Adams’s picture hangs in the bank’s main office on Danbury Road.
In 1876 Adams served on the building committee that erected the new “town house,” a building we now call the town hall. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the structure was built of wood, the material most buildings were made of then. Less than 20 years later, the town house burned to the ground in the great fire of 1895 that destroyed much of the village. Its replacement was fireproof brick.
In 1880, he was elected the first president of the Ridgefield Library.
Adams also helped form the Land Improvement Association of Ridgefield, serving as its
In 1971, one of those cannonballs was owned by Adams’s grandson, Daniel Putnam Adams, who happened to live in nearby Wilton. He himself was a retired banker, from New York City.
Doc Adams played his last formal round of “base ball” on Sept. 27, 1875, in an oldtimers game that was arranged by a longtime fellow Knickerbocker star, James Whyte Davis. However, he continued to play “backyard ball” with his sons even when he was in his 80s.
In 1888, Adams, age 74, moved his family to New Haven, the city of his alma mater. There he died in 1899.
Daniel Adams was an amazingly modest man who one baseball historian said “didn’t like to brag.” In 1881, Yale asked him for a biography for a historical record of the Class of 1835, and Adams wrote not a word about his leadership in creating the by-then popular sport of baseball. “The current of my life has been very quiet and uniform, neither distinguished by any great successes, or disturbed by serious reverses,” he said. “I have been content to consider myself one of the ordinary, every-day workers of the world, with no ambition to fill its high positions, and have no reason to complain of the results of my labor.”
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Hero of Pulpdom
In 1955, Frederick Nebel marked the 25th anniversary of his career as a full-time writer. “In that quarter century,” The Ridgefield Press said, “he has, by his own estimate, pounded out more than 4,000,000 words on his three typewriters — in the form of novels, novelettes, short stories, and articles.”
Many of those words were for some of the classic “pulp” magazines of the 1920s and 30s, such as Black Mask and Dime Detective. He and his friend, Dashiell Hammett, were leading producers of the era’s noir style of hard-boiled detective tales.
Seven of his stories were turned into Hollywood films, and many more movies sprang from characters he’d originated.
A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Louis Frederick Nebel was born in 1903 and dropped out of school at the age of 15. He worked on the docks, sailed on tramp steamers and labored as a farm hand in northern Canada until he was in his early 20s and began to write for money.
His first story appeared in Black Mask in 1926 and he soon created the MacBride and Kennedy series of mysteries about a police detective and a hard-drinking newspaper reporter. He later sold the rights to Hollywood, which turned the boozing male Kennedy into a female named Torchy Blane, and nine movies — not involving Nebel — resulted. “Hell, they always change the stuff around,” Nebel said when asked about the movie series. “But I don’t mind — as long as I don’t have to make the changes.”
Despite his output, he wrote only three novels; today titles are so prized that first editions of Sleepers East (1933), But Not the End (1934) or Fifty Roads to Town (1936) may fetch as much as $1,300. Sleepers East, which The New York Times Book Review said has a “full measure of action, suspense and emotional conflict . . . and thrills a-plenty,” was made into a 1934 movie. (Actor, raconteur and concert pianist Oscar Levant worked on the screenplay.)
After he and his wife, Dorothy, came to Ridgefield in 1934, his popularity continued to rise and he began writing for “slick” magazines such as Collier’s.
Unlike many writers and artists who’ve lived here, Nebel became active in the community. During World War II, he was a member of the War Price and Ration Board and later served as one of the first members of the Zoning Board of Appeals — including stints as its chairman.
However, in the late 1950s, after he became ill, the Nebels moved to Laguna Beach, Calif. where he died of a stroke in 1967 at the age of 63.
Long after his death, Nebel is being rediscovered and collections of his short stories are being published as books. His complete series of Dick Donahue private detective stories, published in the 1930s in Black Mask, were collected in a 2012 anthology, “Tough As Nails.” A year later, “Raw Law: The Complete Cases of MacBride & Kennedy Volume 1: 1928-30,” came out. They and other Nebel collections are still in print.
“While Nebel's work is not as well known as his good friend Hammett...he deserves to be read and reread as a hero of pulpdom,” said Hugh Lessig, a writer and student of the “hardboiled pulps.”
Friday, February 10, 2017
Gene H. Ellis:
Actress Turned Writer
Gene Ellis was talented on the stage, on the ice and on the typewriter. The former actress was for many years a writer of several of the most popular “soap operas” on television.
Born Gene M. Hufeisen in Seattle, Wash., in 1933, she spent much of her childhood in Fairbanks, Alaska, where her father had a construction company. She began ice skating as a grammar school student. She also studied dance with a young man named Donald Saddler, who at the time was serving in the U.S. Army in Alaska, but who later became a Tony Award-winning choreographer for both Broadway and Hollywood.
She returned to Seattle to complete her high school education, and continued to study both skating and dance, but ultimately decided to pursue the latter. She majored in drama at the University of Washington, but quit after a year to move to Europe to work on her acting and dancing. She dubbed films in Rome and studied dance in Paris.
Ellis moved to New York City in 1953 to pursue her theatrical career. After winning dancing roles in summer stock, she made her Broadway debut in the Josh Logan production of “Wish You Were Here.”
Her husband, Ralph, noted that the production was “complete with onstage swimming pool — she lied about not being able to swim so she wouldn’t have to get wet eight performances a week.”
She then joined the national tour of the musical “The Boy Friend.” She danced many major roles in summer stock, “always to critical acclaim,” said Ralph, who had been a fellow actor; they met and married in 1961.
Returning to New York City, she acted in several off-Broadway shows, including a revival of Shaw’s “Buoyant Billions” and “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” and became a featured performer in both winter and summer stock, appearing with such actors as John Raitt and Howard Keel.
She also appeared on television in the 1957 musical special of “Pinocchio” with Mickey Rooney and Walter Slezak, and a year later she used her skating talents in the TV musical special, “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” with Tab Hunter and Dick Button.
In 1963, she retired from acting and dancing — in her final performance, in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “West Side Story,” she was two months pregnant.
By 1964 Ralph had also stopped acting and had turned instead to a career as a full-time writer of daytime television dramas. After the birth of their third child, the Ellises moved to Ridgefield in 1972 where their fourth child — Ridgefielder Catherine Ellis Dulecki — was born.
That same year, her husband persuaded Gene to try writing scripts.
“Gene was always interested in writing,” Ralph said. “She wrote a weekly column for the Washington University paper when she was student there. It was humorous in tone and had a large readership, including a female student, who wrote her ardent fan letters. Needless to say, the fan was taken aback when they met and she discovered ‘Gene’ was a girl.”
In high school, she had won first place in a Seventeen Magazine contest for a short story that was subsequently published in the magazine.
Together with Ralph, and also separately, Gene wrote under the name Eugenie Hunt.
The Ellises wrote for many years in the 1970s and 80s for “As the World Turns,” the second
They also wrote many episodes of “Search for Tomorrow,” a show that ran from 1951 to 1986. In all, Gene wrote nearly 500 episodes of the program. Among the future stars who appeared on ‘Search’ were Morgan Fairchild, Susan Sarandon, Jill Clayburgh, Kevin Bacon, Lee Grant, Sandy Duncan, Kevin Kline, and Wayne Rogers.
She and her husband were also head writers for “The Doctors.” On her own, she wrote scripts for “Loving,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.”
Having both acted professionally was an advantage for the Ellises. “An acting background is a tremendous help in writing scripts,” Ralph said. “While some might be total failures at novels, which require descriptive passages, actors are very adept at improvisation and transfer that ability to creating dialogue. The best writers we ever hired were actors.”
When her daughters, Catherine Dulecki and Susan Ellis, were teenagers, their parents sometimes sought their help. “They would often ask me and my sister to read a line or two and tell them if it sounded like something a teenager would say,” Catherine recalled.
Both young women also got a chance to be a part of a show. “In 1984, my sister and I were in an episode where Jermaine Jackson and a relatively unknown Whitney Houston performed a concert in the fictional town of Oakdale on ‘As The World Turns,’” Catherine said.
Their brothers, Steve and Tom Ellis of Ridgefield, were also on “As the World Turns.”
In 1974 the Ellises won a Writer’s Guild of America award for best daytime show, “Search for Tomorrow.” In the years that followed Gene was also nominated for the Writer’s Guild Award for her work on “One Life to Live” and “Loving.”
Gene Ellis retired from writing in 1994, but remained active locally as a member of the Caudatowa Garden Club and volunteering at the Keeler Tavern Museum.
The couple had been married for 55 years when Gene died in October 2016 at the age of 82.
Over the years, the Ellises were often asked where they got their plot ideas. “We never used Ridgefield experiences in any direct way, although the tranquility of living here certainly provided a more comfortable creative atmosphere than our years in New York City,” Ralph said. “Since we didn’t know any murderers, blackmailers, amnesia victims, and only a few adulterers, we made them up.”
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Millions knew him, not by his name but by his character. For Cyril Ritchard played Captain Hook alongside Mary Martin when the acclaimed Broadway production of “Peter Pan” was staged live for television March 7, 1955, making TV history with its huge audience and high quality production.
His face and his voice were famous and he enjoyed telling of the time he was spotted by a rough-looking gang of teenagers who surrounded him.
“I thought they were going to attack me, but instead they stared and exclaimed: ‘You're
The witty actor from Australia starred in countless stage and screen productions around the world and over a career that started before World War I and ended in 1977 when he collapsed on stage of a heart attack.
Born Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard (a name he shortened to fit on marquees) in 1898, Ritchard was the son of a hotel manager father who wanted him to become a doctor. However, he quit medical school at the age of 19 and took to the stage, making his debut in the chorus of a Sydney musical. Three months later, he was performing the lead.
From there he went on to appear over the next half century in innumerable comedies,
“I have four notes, two of them good,” he said of his singing abilities.
Ritchard also made six movies, including “Half A Sixpence” in 1967.
Shakespearean comedy fascinated Ritchard, who often performed at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., and worked to raise money for its survival. In an effort typical of both his energy and his versatility, he directed the play and performed two parts (Oberon and Bottom) in a 1967 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Stratford.
“It’s really a mental feat,” he said at the time. “The changes would be quite impossible if my mind panicked...But I like the challenge.”
Throughout his career he was known for his smile and his sense of humor. He once told Leonard Lyons of The New York Post That he was unaffected by small audiences in theaters. “Fortunately,” he said, “my sight is bad, so I can’t even see the empty seats.”
“He was a very funny and witty fellow,” said actress Kathleen Eason, a longtime friend and fellow Ridgefielder. “His stories and anecdotes of happenings to him on and off stage were hysterically funny. Once, when he was very young and just starting to be successful, a fan asked for his autograph at a movie premiere. Cyril brightened right up and with his pencil poised, began laboriously to write: ‘Best wishes and good luck, Cyril Ritchard’ The irate fan said: ‘Come on, hurry up, don’t write a book. Here comes Greta Garbo!’ ”
He maintained that he developed his abilities at comedy as a child. “As I was taken to my room to be spanked by my father, I had to think of something to make him laugh,” he said. “If I could, it was a pretty weak spanking.”
He bought his Danbury Road home, which he called “Lone Rock,” in 1960, and “absolutely loved Ridgefield and that little house,” Eason said. “He couldn’t wait to get out of New York and to his Shangri-La, as he called it.”
Ritchard frequently entertained guests from New York at Lone Rock. One Sunday in the summer of 1965, he bused up the entire cast and crew from “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd,” in which he played one of his best-known roles. He had planned to serve them beefsteak and kidney pies, but changed his mind. “I remembered about Americans and kidneys, and substituted the beef Wellington,” he said, adding that Americans are likely to find kidneys appealing
He was often seen about town with his poodle, Trim (a trimmed version of his trimmed name). “He got to know a great many people in the town,” Mrs. Eason said. “He always raised his hat, helped old ladies across the road, and stopped to talk to people.”
Ritchard contributed to many local organizations including the Ridgefield Workshop for the Performing Arts. He read the Declaration of Independence at a 1976 Bicentennial ceremony at the Community Center. “I was shocked when they asked me to do this,” he told the crowd. “I'm not an American. I'm a citizen of Australia. And I love the British. So there!”
Despite his age — he had turned 79 a couple weeks before his death — and warnings from his doctor, Ritchard maintained a work schedule that would tire a much younger man. In 1974, when he was hospitalized after collapsing at work in California, he admitted that “the doctor here says in the future I should be a little less enthusiastic in my work. I had been under pressure for six weeks. I was directing (“Sugar”), but nine other people thought they were, and kept screaming.”
A few months later the 76-year-old appeared in three concerts of “La Perichole” in Miami and a short time after that, gave 22 performances of 11 different programs during a 2½ week Theatre Guild at Sea cruise in the Caribbean.
“I never worked so hard in my life,” he admitted afterward.
A devout Catholic who attended Mass almost daily, he was a benefactor of St. Mary's Parish.
Cyril Ritchard is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery next to his beloved wife, actress Madge Elliott, who had died five years before he moved to Ridgefield — he loved the town so much he had had her remains moved here from New York.
Under his name, Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard, on the gravestone, it says, “Captain Hook.”
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