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Showing posts from May, 2017
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Van and Gert Kaufman:  Successful Persuaders Van and Gert Kaufman were persuaders, but they used different tools for different aims. Both were very successful at their crafts. Van Kaufman was an artist whose work was seen by millions of people and who probably helped persuade many thousands of them to buy a Pontiac. Gert Kaufman, an environmentalist in the days before the term was commonplace, used well-chosen words to persuade not only local, state and federal officials, but also ordinary citizens to support innovative ideas about the environment and recreation. She was the moving force behind a pedestrian path from Norwalk to Danbury — what she and others called the “Linear Park” and what a half century later is being developed as the Norwalk River Valley Trail. A native of Georgia who grew up in California, Van Justin Kaufman was born in 1918. He loved painting from a very early age and by 10, was taking lessons at Otis Art School — a fresco he created as a student s
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The Tulipani Brothers:  A Five Star Family One of the happiest — perhaps one of the most amazing — stories of World War II was of the five Tulipani brothers, all of whom went off to serve in the armed forces and all of whom returned safe and sound to live long lives in their native Ridgefield. Aldo, Joseph, Albert, Alfred, and John Tulipani, children of Vincenzo and Evelina Branchini Tulipani, were all native sons, and grew up on the family’s 65-acre farm on Nod Hill Road. Aldo Anthony Tulipani (1916-2003), the oldest of the boys,  graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1934. He joined the post office in 1940 as a mail messenger,  transferring the mailbags between the Ridgefield post office and the railroad mail cars passing through the Branchville Station. In World War II Aldo served in the U.S. Army, which sent him to the Philippines with an anti-aircraft unit, in preparation for the invasion of Japan. Soon after he arrived, the atomic bombs were dropped and his
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Charles Cogswell:  He Volunteered for More Staff Sgt. Charles Cogswell had flown 43 combat missions as a waist gunner on the B-17 “Flying Fortress” and was eligible to come home and conclude his hazardous duty. Instead, he volunteered for more bombing runs. Soon after, on March 11, 1944, his plane was hit by German fire over  the Adriatic Sea near Padua, Italy. He was never found and was listed at the war’s end as “missing in action.” Wayne DeForest, a nephew of Cogswell, reports that, “The letters from the War Department that my grandparents kept all these years, and that I now keep, reported that the aircraft he was on took enemy fire and exploded. The Germans reported they patrolled the waters where it went down and the only survivor was the co-pilot who was sent to a POW camp.” Charles Gardiner Cogswell was born in Ridgefield in 1923, a son of Katherine and Richard Cogswell. His father was a local plumbing contractor and the family lived on Ramapoo Road. Cogswell gra
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Thomas Fitch IV:  Yankee Doodle’s Dad Connecticut’s venerable Fitch family loved the name Thomas. Generations of men were named Thomas Fitch I, II, III, IV and well beyond. But it was Thomas the Fourth who had a Ridgefield connection and it was his son, Thomas the Fifth, who could be one of the most unknown, yet at the same time hugely famous people in North America. Thomas Fitch IV was born around 1700 in Norwalk, son of — of course — Thomas Fitch III, one of the first settlers of that town and a man of some wealth. Thomas IV was the first Norwalk man to graduate from a college (Yale, 1721), where he studied law and also earned a master’s degree. He was a representative from Norwalk in the colonial assembly and was later a chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court.  He served as governor of the colony from from 1754 to 1766, a long stretch even by today’s standards. His tenure included leading Connecticut during the difficult French and Indian War, which resulted in t
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Samuel Rubel:  The Ice and Beer Baron The life of Samuel Rubel reads like a script to a lively Hollywood drama. A penniless Latvian immigrant arrives in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, begins peddling ice on the  streets of Brooklyn, soon creates a growing company, has his fiancĂ© arrested for grand larceny and then marries her, becomes a multi-multi millionaire, is indicted for heavy handed business practices, turns into a beer baron, parties with 10,000 orphans at Coney Island, sees his 32-room home burn to the ground, moves to a mountaintop mansion in Ridgefield, and soon dies. Oh, and his widow marries a supermarket magnate and lives on Fifth Avenue. Samuel R. Rubel was born in 1881 in Latvia, then part of Russia. Around 1904, he emigrated from Riga and, with barely a dollar to his name, arrived in Brooklyn. “He went to work in a seltzer-bottling establishment and by dint of many privations and much frugality, saved enough to buy a horse and wagon,” The
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Walter Gengarelly:  His Own Drummer Four Ridgefielders have been their party’s candidates for governor of Connecticut. The Lounsbury brothers, Phineas and George, were both Republicans and both successful at winning the office. Melbert B. Cary was a Democrat, but he lost. And Walter Gengarelly was a Libertarian and, perhaps needless to say, he also lost.  But few people have been as dedicated to a party and its ideals as was Gengarelly, who  died literally while running for office and whose name is recalled today in an award offered by the Connecticut Libertarian Party. Walter Janvier Gengarelly Jr. was born in 1935 in New York City, but grew up on a poultry farm in Hillsdale, N.J. He  served three years in the U.S. Army as an artillery radar technician. Gengarelly began his career in aviation when he took a job at the Ramapo Valley Airport in Spring Valley, N.Y.  to earn money to help pay for his own flying lessons. He worked his way up from a mechanic’s helper to a
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Peter Cornen:  Oil in Them Thar Hills? Oil wells on our ridges? If Peter Cornen had had his way more than a century ago, Ridgefield might have become a town dotted with derricks pumping black gold. One of Ridgefield’s few millionaires in the 1800s, Cornen knew oil. He had made a fortune wildcatting in the western Pennsylvania oil fields where he and his Ridgefield partner, Henry I. Beers, drilled one of the first hugely successful wells. And he was certain Ridgefield was a gold mine of oil. Peter P. Cornen was a storybook example of an adventurous, 19th Century, self-made man. Born in 1815 in New York City to a working-class family, Cornen attended city schools and started his career as a shipbuilder. By the 1840s he owned a Manhattan ship chandlery, a store that sold nautical items for vessels large and small, and had married Lydia Beers, a farmer’s daughter from Ridgefield.  As a teenager in the 1840s, Lydia’s brother, Henry, went to work for Cornen. When the Gold Rus
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William J. Cumming:  First to Go, First to Die Bill Cumming was the first man from Ridgefield to enlist in World War I and was the first in the conflict. An ambulance driver, he was “a soldier to the end,” said the headline in the Feb. 5, 1918 Ridgefield Press. Son of James and Margaret Cumming, William James Cumming was born in 1895 in South Salem, N.Y. His parents, natives of Scotland,  moved between 1906 and 1909  to Ridgefield where his father worked as a gardener on local estates.   Cumming enlisted on April 3, 1917 — three days before Congress declared war on Germany. He died in less than a year, on Jan. 5, 1918, in a hospital in Vitel, France, where he was being treated for “a serious illness” (which may have been the result of an influenza virus that was soon to cause one of the deadliest pandemics in history). “I do not think we have a member that was thought more of than Private William J. Cumming and a better boy could not be found,” Private W.E. West wrote to