Saturday, March 31, 2018


The Shapleys of the School 
Of the many private schools that operated in Ridgefield during the 20th Century, none was quite like the Shapley School. It was a place where wealthy families sent gifted but sometimes undirected children to a estate-like environment that featured tiny classes, sophisticated courses and nightly dinners by candlelight.
Founded by Carl and Virginia Shapley, the sixth-through-12th grade school operated from 1962 until 1967 on the 26-acre grounds of the old Outpost Inn  — now Fox Hill condominiums.
However, its small size and large overhead doomed the operation. And the news that  undercover police found students using drugs did not help efforts to rescue the school.
Carl Betz Shapley was born in 1927 in Cambridge, Mass., a son of the famous Harvard astronomer, Harlow Shapley (who became a member of Shapley School’s board of directors). Carl’s
brother was 2012 Nobel Prize-winning economist Lloyd Shapley. 
Shapley grew up in the intellectual atmosphere of Cambridge where his family’s friends included the likes of Albert Einstein. 
He attended private schools in Cambridge and in Litchfield, Conn., and studied at Harvard and at Principia, a Christian Science college near St. Louis. Considered a gifted musician, he studied in Paris and Vienna before the war for a career as a conductor. However, he wound up after the war working with the National Gallery of Art on identifying and cataloguing rescued works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis. 
After more studies in Europe, including at the Louvre, he turned to teaching, and was an instructor at private schools in Connecticut before establishing The Shapley School with help of wife, Virginia Thayer Shapley, who had been a big-band singer in the 1940s. Mrs. Shapley’s grandmother was one of the founders of Sweet Briar College in Virginia and her mother was the very first student there.
The Shapleys began operating a school in 1962 in New Canaan, where their administrative
offices were. In 1963 they leased and soon purchased the recently closed Outpost Inn on Danbury Road in Ridgefield to establish their campus.
It was no ordinary private school. Shapley featured:
  • A student to teacher ratio of 4 to 1.
  • Availability of instruction in Greek, Latin, French, Chinese, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and German from seventh grade on.
  • Courses in space biology,  Greek philosophy and drama, geology, Far Eastern history, classical ballet, play production, piano composition, and many other subjects ordinarily found at college level. Students also took Bible classes.
  • Dinner each night by candlelight in what was once the dining room of an inn where celebrities like Eleanor Roosevelt were served.
  • A manor in England, ski lodge in Vermont, and a campus in Florence where students could spend vacations or summers in special learning and/or recreation programs. Shapley field trips included two weeks in Greece.
 “A 12-year-old can think real thoughts and the point is to create an atmosphere in which he
will produce,” Shapley said in a 1965 interview with the Ridgefield Press. 
He told the Danbury News-Times: “The talent is here in America, but it is wasted and neglected in the mass majority system of education.”
Shapley felt that teaching the Bible along with the many academic and arts-related courses would help establish a “nonsectarian self-discovery of those qualities and principles of respect and love underlying a constructive and dynamic environment.”
A  promotional brochure included among school’s many objectives: 
  • “To establish in the hearts and minds of the young people of today a recognition and appreciation of the basic values inherent in a liberal education;
  • “to re-establish the primacy of deep spiritual thinking;
  • “to bring fresh insight into new realms for discovery;
  • “to establish throughout the world a concept of education based upon the acknowledgement of man’s spiritual heritage and unlimited perfectibility.”
With a total enrollment that never exceeded 52 students spread over six grades, Shapley School had to charge a relatively high $3,000-a-year tuition — equivalent to about $27,000 today. By 1966, the school was struggling to pay not only its staff of 15 people, but its mortgage.
The school also had to deal with a serious public relations blow. On Dec. 5, 1966, while Carl Shapley was conducting a Bible class, 15 policemen descended on the campus in a drug raid, and wound up arresting two 17-year-old juniors for possessing marijuana and alleged amphetamines. The raid, which made headlines in many newspapers, was the result of an undercover investigation in which at least one especially youthful-looking police officer was posing as a student.
Rumors of the school’s possible closing worried students. “There is nowhere else I can go after this,” one student told a reporter. “This was my last chance to...to...I guess, make it.”
Desperate efforts were underway in the spring of 1967 to save the school — Shapley promised it would open in September. But despite an April fundraising art show and sale that featured works by Picasso, Utrillo and Chagall, the school continued to fall behind in its mortgage payments. A court approved a foreclosure sale at which the high bidder was David Paul, who went on to build Fox Hill condos. Paul, who was building Casagmo at the time, offered $146,500 ($1,093,000 today), far less than the $200,000 ($1.5 million) Shapley said the property was worth.
After the Ridgefield campus closed, the Shapley Schools International maintained a school in Florence for eight years.
The Shapleys then taught and traveled extensively, including in the United Kingdom, India, Greece, and Russia. Carl Shapley promoted the New World Educational Foundation, which he helped found, and was also a fellow of Royal Society of Arts in England.
 In 2005, Virginia Shapley moved to Ridgefield where, in her 80s, she became involved in the community.
“Even at 85, she was amazingly energetic, taking an active role in her new ‘hometown’ — from participating in peace walks to being an administrative assistant for life-enhancing techniques presentations to members of Founders Hall,” said her daughter, Judith Watkins of Hamilton, Mont. 
“She and Carl have had an exciting, exotic life since Ridgefield days and it was a bit ironic
for her to move back there and even to tour the condo development on the grounds of the old school, pointing out to me the preserved features from ‘the old days.’” 
Virginia Shapley died in 2007.
Carl Shapley continued his travels and humanitarian activities. He was a “peace ambassador” in the Universal Peace Federation, based in England, which said at his death, “He has been a longtime supporter of UPF and preceding organisations with the uncanny ability of turning up in the UK at the right  times to support our major activities.”
Late in life he considered himself an ontologist, one who studies the “branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.”
In 2012 he died at age 84 in Chisinau, Moldova, part of the former Soviet Union, where he is buried.
When the infamous drug raid occurred in 1966, most Shapley students were saddened at the harm it did to their school’s reputation. Several suggested that marijuana use was “more prevalent at the more placid-seeming Ridgefield High School,” one New York City newspaper reported.
A 17-year-old — who had earlier attended the National Cathedral School with President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter, Luci — observed: “Shapley is a trip in itself. You don’t need drugs.”


James ‘Jimmy Joe’ Joseph: 
The Victim and the Legend
Robberies occurred occasionally in and about town, but only one involved a Mickey Finn, flappers and a man who became a Ridgefield legend.
On Friday, Dec. 5, 1924, James “Jimmy Joe” Joseph was working at his small grocery store on the Danbury Turnpike, predecessor of today’s Route 7, in Georgetown. A car carrying two young men and two young women pulled up. The Ridgefield Press described the women as being “of the flapper species.”
The foursome seemed a friendly bunch, striking up what was later described as a “jolly” conversation with Jimmy Joe. Soon Ferris Hajjar, one of the men, pulled out a bottle of whiskey and offered Joseph a drink. “James is known as a man who never indulges in intoxicants and declined the invitation,” the Press reported. 
Then one of the women produced a bottle of lemon soda, poured some in a cup and offered it to Jimmy Joe. He took a drink and moments later, passed out. The quartet grabbed $135 — about $1,900 in today’s dollars — and took off.
• • •
James Joseph was an old-fashioned success story, both in his life’s work and his life’s length. He died March 6, 1972, and since his birth certificate seemed to say he was born Jan. 1, 1858, he was apparently 114 years old. He would have been around 68 when he was slipped the Mickey and robbed. While the date on the birth certificate may have been misread, or wrong, he certainly was a very old man at his death.
Born in Lebanon, then part of Syria, of an ancient Druze family, James Joseph came to the United States in 1903, and joined his brother, M.C. “Joe” Joseph, in operating a store in Danbury. They also sold fruit and vegetables on an auto delivery route through Ridgefield, which attracted them to the town. 
In 1918, Joe Joseph began operating Joe’s Store near the corner of Main Street and Danbury Road while Jimmy Joe opened a similar store in Georgetown. (The first Joe’s Store in Ridgefield was in a brick building on Danbury Road that has been recently used as a candy shop. Soon, Joe Joseph moved to the corner of Main Street and North Salem Road in the building now occupied by Country Corners. To this day, this intersection is called Joe’s Corner.) 
In the early 1940s, Joe Joseph died, and Jimmy Joe took over the Ridgefield store. 
He became a citizen in 1958, but could not become a voter because he couldn’t pass the literacy test — though he was well read in Arabic. 
When the Supreme Court banned literacy testing as a voting requirement in 1970, Jimmy Joe Joseph, well over 100 years old and a resident for nearly 70 years — walked into the office of Town Clerk Ruth Hurzeler to be sworn in as a voter. 
“He had tears in his eyes,” Hurzeler said later.
So did she.
• • •
Arthur A. Smith, a carpenter who lived near the Georgetown store, drove by around 4:30 that afternoon in 1924 and saw Joseph “jollying” with a group of people. A little while later, Smith returned to do some shopping, and found Joseph lying on the floor, unconscious. 
“Judging that the man was in serious condition, he telephoned to Dr. Charles Ryder, who quickly diagnosed the fact that the man was suffering from the effects of some powerful drug,” the Press said. “He ordered his removal to his home where he was given constant attendance during the night, but he did not fully recover consciousness until a late hour Saturday morning.”
Joseph did not see the car that carried the group of robbers, but he could give state police from
Ridgefield a detailed description of the quartet. His information must have struck a spark of recognition in the officers, for by Saturday evening, Sgt. John Kelly and Officer Leo F. Carroll were in Danbury, rounding up the robbers. 
They first arrested Tony Howard, 28, proprietor of a “coffee house” on River Street, Danbury, who apparently told police the whereabouts of his accomplices. A little while later, Mrs. Gertrude Conners, 29, Miss Isabelle Chambers, 23, and Hajjar, 29, all of Danbury, “were gathered in on the street,” the Press said. Hajjar was described as the ringleader of the group. They were jailed after failing to post $2,000 bond each.
• • •
Wilton Town Hall, used as a courtroom, was packed on Monday, Dec. 8, with friends and families of the Danbury suspects. Lawyers managed to get bond reduced to $1,000 for Connors and Howard, while Chambers had the bond lifted because, her lawyer maintained, she was in “ill health.” Hajjar remained under $2,000 bond. 
The three were unable to post their bonds and were returned to the jail in Danbury. However, they soon managed to scrape together the money, made bond and were released.
“Jimmy Joseph is again able to conduct business at his grocery and is being congratulated by many friends and patrons, not only on his complete recovery from the effects of the drugs, but because he has recovered over $50 of the roll that afternoon,” the Press said that week.
In early January before another large crowd in Wilton Town Hall, Hajjar and Connors pleaded guilty to theft, were fined $25 and costs of $92.01 each, and got 30-day suspended jail sentences. Chambers and Howard pleaded guilty to receiving stolen goods and were fined $15 and costs of $82.01, and given 15-day suspended sentences. 
The sentences may have been suspended because the foursome had already spent time in jail. However, one wonders whether they would have gotten off so easily if the four had drugged and robbed one of the town fathers instead of a humble immigrant from the Middle East. —From “Wicked Ridgefield, Connecticut” published in October 2016 by The History Press

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Edward Jones: 
Hanged As A Spy
War is hell, and some of the hell of war seems almost beyond belief. In the case of a Ridgefield man convicted of being a spy during the Revolutionary War, some of the story of his final moments may well be beyond belief.
Edward Jones had immigrated to the United States from his native Wales and had settled in Ridgefield in around 1770. Since he had so recently left his native land, it was not surprising that when the war broke out, he felt a loyalty to King George III.
While there were quite a few Tories in Ridgefield, the majority of the town had voted to support the Continental Congress (though not as quickly as other area towns). Loyalists were often harassed and sometimes even attacked. Jones was probably concerned for his safety, and after the British took control of New York City, he moved there and became a butcher for the British army.
According to later testimony, he was sent one winter day in 1779 into Westchester County to buy cattle to supply meat for the British forces but was discovered behind continental lines in Ridgefield. He was arrested for spying on the operations of General Israel Putnam’s encampment in nearby Redding.
Jones claimed he had gotten lost and did not know he was in Connecticut.
According to Redding historian Charles Burr Todd, General Putnam had been angry over both “desertions, which had thinned his ranks, and Tory spies, who frequented his camps, under every variety of pretext, and forthwith conveyed the information thus gathered to the enemy. To put a stop to this, it had been determined that the next offender of either sort captured should suffer death as an example.”
On the espionage front, Jones was that next offender.
Jone’s court martial was convened Feb. 4, 1779, and, “pressured by Putnam’s desire to return discipline to the ranks, was not inclined to believe that he had innocently wandered into the state, especially in the area around Ridgefield that he knew well, and he was sentenced to death,” wrote Daniel Cruson in “Putnam’s Revolutionary War Winter Encampment,” published in 2011.
After the verdict, Putnam ordered Jones executed late on the morning of Friday, Feb. 12,  “by hanging him by the neck until he is Dead, Dead, Dead.”
“From the orders, it is clear that there was to be no question of his physical state after the sentence was carried out,” Cruson said.
On the same day, John Smith, a teenaged Continental soldier who was caught fleeing to British lines, was also sentenced to be executed. However, as a deserter, he would be shot instead of hanged. (Smith was the basis of the fictionalized character, Sam, in the acclaimed 1974 young adult novel, “My Brother Sam Is Dead,” which described life in the Revolutionary War period in this area and has been read by countless Ridgefield students over the years.)
Both Jones and Smith were jailed in a house on Umpawaug Hill in West Redding. Often, locals would show up outside the house and taunt the prisoners. That prompted General Putnam on Feb. 10 to issue an order that no one be allowed near the prisoners “as frequent complaints have been made that they are interrupted in their private devotions by people who come for no other reason than to insult them.”
It seems a very humane order. Yet one account of the execution portrayed an event anything but humane.
John Warner Barber’s book, “Connecticut Historical Collections,” published in 1838,  reported that the hangman had disappeared from camp on the day of the execution, possibly because he found the task distasteful.
A makeshift gallows was set up that required its victim to climb a 20-foot ladder and stand on top with a rope tied from his neck to a cross-beam. The ladder would be jerked away, and the condemned man would fall to his death.
With no executioner at hand, General Putnam reportedly ordered Jones to jump from the ladder — in effect, committing suicide.
“No, General Putnam,” Jones is said to have replied. “I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge; I shall not do it.”
Barber’s account says that Putnam then ordered two 12-year-old boys who were somehow part of the audience to knock over the ladder on which Jones stood.
“These boys were deeply affected with the trying scene,” Barber wrote. “They cried and sobbed loudly, and earnestly entreated to be excused from doing anything on this distressing occasion. Putnam, drawing his sword, ordered them forward and compelled them at the sword’s point to obey his orders.”
The boys then followed the command, and Jones was hanged.
Barber said the account of the execution came from “an aged inhabitant of Reading [Redding], who was present on the occasion and stood but a few feet from Jones when he was executed.”
Other histories, including Lorenzo Sabine in his 1864 “Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution” and Todd’s 1906 “History of Redding,” repeat this story.
However, Todd points out that G.H. Hollister, in his “History of Connecticut,” disputes the account, and cites eyewitnesses, including the Rev. Jonathan Bartlett.
In 1855 at the age of 90, Bartlett “well remembers the Revolutionary encampment at Redding and frequently visited it. He is sure that the story in Barber’s ‘Historical Collections’ about Putnam’s inhumanity at the execution of Smith and Jones is incorrect. 
“Though not present himself, he has often heard his father relate the incidents of the occasion; and furthermore he once called the attention of Colonel Asahel Salmon (who died in 1848, aged 91), who was a sergeant in attendance upon the execution, to the statement, and he declared that nothing of the kind took place.”
The Rev. Thomas F. Davies, another historian, also pooh-poohs the account. “Mr. Barber must have been misinformed,” he said in 1839. “Reading is my native town and from my boyhood, I have heard the history of the proceedings on the occasion referred to, and was much surprised at the statements in the ‘Historical Collections.’ The Rev. Bartlett, whose father was chaplain on that occasion, informs me that General Putnam could not have been guilty of the acts there charged.”
Finally, James Olmstead of Redding, who died in 1882 at the age of 89, wrote in the Danbury News that his father, “being an officer himself and well known to some of the officers on duty, was one of the few who were admitted within the enclosure formed by the troops around the place of execution and able to witness all that there took place….He was within a few feet of the scaffold when Jones, pale and haggard, was next brought on, his death warrant was read, and he seemed to recognize some few of his old friends, but said very little except to bid farewell to all, and his last words, which were, ‘God knows I’m not guilty,’ and was hurried into eternity.
“My father had a pretty good general knowledge of General Putnam and his eccentricities, and had there been any unnecessary hardships or severity used in the treatment of the prisoners, he most certainly must have seen and known something of it, but in all I ever heard from him or anyone else, no allusion was made to anything of the kind, and in view of all the circumstances I think it may be safe to infer that no such thing occurred on that occasion.”
Tradition was that those hanged at the gallows were buried at the structure’s foot, and it’s believed that both Jones and Smith were buried at the execution site on what is today known as Gallows Hill. It’s just east of today’s intersection of Gallows Hill Road and Whortleberry Drive in Redding.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Jean and Harrison Horblit:
Philanthropic Collectors
Jean and Harrison Horblit were collectors and philanthropists who made often incalculably valuable contributions to many organizations — including those interested in the history and conservation of Ridgefield. 
A widely known and respected collector of antique books and manuscripts, Harrison D. Horblit was born in Boston in 1912, graduated from Harvard in 1933 and became a textile executive. But his avocation as a collector made him known around the world. His specialty was antique books and manuscripts related to the history of science, mathematics and navigation, and his own book, “One Hundred Books Famous in Science,” is still considered a bible in its field. 
Much of his collection of rare books and manuscripts, including many items from the 1400s and 1500s, was donated to Harvard's Houghton Library.  
After his death, Jean Horblit catalogued and then gave his large collection of 19th Century photographs, including 3,141 daguerreotypes and 3,100 paper prints from as early as 1839, to Houghton where it is now The Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography. 
Mr. Horblit was also interested in local history. In 1973, when a group of Ridgefielders tried to buy a 1780 English print of the Battle of Ridgefield at a Sotheby's auction, they quickly ran out of money. Mr. Horblit stepped in and eventually paid $16,000 for an item Sotheby's had valued at under $2,500. “This print belongs in Ridgefield if it belongs anywhere,” Mr. Horblit said at the time. 
Three months after his death in 1988, Mrs. Horblit donated the print to the Keeler Tavern Museum. 
Jean Mermin Horblit was born in 1910 in New Haven, where she grew up and was the 1927 Connecticut High School shorthand champion. She studied at Columbia University and became the head of fabric designs for a division of Marshall Field & Company. It was there that she met her husband; they were married in 1952.
She was a collector of antique Japanese woodblock prints, illustrated books and maps known as Ukiyo-e or “images of a floating world,” which cover scenes from everyday life of the people. Her prints and books have been exhibited at the Hammond Museum, Princeton University, and Katonah Gallery, and a rare 17th Century map of Tokaido was shown at the New York Museum of Natural History. 
She also donated pieces of their collections to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Mrs. Horblit had been a major benefactor of the new Ridgefield Historical Society and its efforts to restore the Scott House as its headquarters.
She also donated 22 acres of her estate bordering Round Pond to the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield.
The Horblit home itself, a magnificent English Georgian-style mansion that had been meticulously maintained by Mrs. Horblit, is an important piece of Ridgefield history. Built in 1930 from limestone imported from France, “Oreneca” was all but abandoned by its owner, Philip D. Wagoner, after the death of his wife a few years later. When the Horblits bought the place in 1965, the property was so overgrown they did not know the house overlooked nearby Round Pond. 
Avid yachters, Jean and Harrison Horblit sailed the Maine Coast for two months every summer for many years. Jean Horblit moved to Stonington in 2004 and died in 2009 at the age of 98.


Sascha Jacobsen: 
Violinists’ Violinist
One of the 20th Century’s finest violinists spent seven years in Ridgefield and brought some of the era’s leading classical musicians to town.
Sascha Jacobsen was born 1895 in Helsinki, Finland, then part of Russia, and came to the United States as a boy. He graduated from the Institute of Musical Art, now called the Juilliard School of Music, in 1915 and earned the school’s highest honor, the $500 Loeb prize.
That year he made his recital debut in Manhattan’s Aeolian Hall, the venue where the likes of     Rachmaninoff,  Prokofiev,  and Paderewski  appeared and where the world premiere of George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue,” with the composer at the piano and orchestrated by   Ferde Grofe, was performed. (Jacobsen is one of the subjects of George Gershwin’s humorous 1922 song, "Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha.”)
“At the end of the concert the applause was tumultuous and Mr. Jacobsen responded with so many encores that his supply threatened to run out,” wrote a “Musical America” critic. “He had to repeat [Cecil Burleigh’s] Village Dance for a second time before the ardor of his hearers could be appeased. Many of them were reluctant to leave even after the hall was darkened.”
Jacobsen performed with the New York Philharmonic, the New York Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera. He toured Europe and North America with pianist Samuel Chotzinoff  (who became a longtime Ridgefielder and head of music at NBC — Chotzinoff twice brought conductor Arturo Toscanini to Ridgefield for concerts). 
Jacobsen founded the Musical Art Quartet which performed from 1927 to 1933; Jascha Heifetz occasionally appeared with them. 
In 1926, he became a teacher at Juilliard, succeeding his late instructor, Franz Kneisel, who had died. Over the years many of his students became internationally known concert violinists. He even gave violin lessons to his close friend, Albert Einstein.
He also made many recordings, including some 50 solo performances.
In 1937, he bought an old house and 15 acres at what is now 257 Old Branchville Road. He “had chamber music sessions in our barn, which was then a studio in the 1930s,” said Alan Rockwell, who lives there now. “His friends who visited were Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein, and other members of the New York Philharmonic. They had some great parties here.”
Jacobsen was probably drawn to Ridgefield through his association with Chotzinoff. However, in 1944, he decided to go west. He resigned from Juilliard, where he had been head of the violin department, sold his house here, and moved to Los Angeles. There he joined the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory and did stints as concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under Alfred Wallenstein.
It was while he was concertmaster that Jacobsen was involved in an amazing story.
On Jan. 16, 1953, he was driving along the coastal highway to Pacific Palisades during heavy rainstorm. On  the seat beside him was the Red Diamond Stadivarius in its case. The 1732 violin was famous for its special glow created by an unusual ruby-colored varnish Antonio Stradivari had used on it. 
The car stalled near Santa Monica and water from an overflowing stream began rising around the vehicle.  Jacobsen grabbed his violin case, escaped from the car,  and struggled through the rising torrent to reach higher ground, but the violin was swept from his arms and carried toward sea. “He watched, helpless, as the violin case floated away,” according to an account of the event.
The next morning, a Los Angeles attorney named Frederick Sturdy was walking along a beach and spotted a violin case stuck in the sand. “Inside the case he found slime, sand, water—and the pieces of a violin,” the report said.
Sturdy just happened to be a friend of Wallenstein,  the philharmonic director. “When he learned the following day of Jacobsen’s disaster and the loss of the Red Diamond, Sturdy immediately contacted Wallenstein.”
The heavily damaged violin parts were given to Hans Weisshaar, an expert luthier, who spent nine months painstakingly restoring it to what Jacobsen called  its “former glory...both in tone and appearance,” He also said the Red Diamond sounded ‘better than ever.’”
Jacobsen died in 1972 in Los Angeles. 
Thirteen years later, Sotheby’s tried to auction the Red Diamond for $1 million, but a sale did not occur until a few years later when an anonymous collector bought it for an undisclosed sum.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Irene Hoyt:
Our Florence Nightingale on Wheels
Irene Smith Hoyt was a nurse – for most of her career, THE nurse – at the District Nursing Association, where she worked from 1927 until her death in 1972. But she was more than a nurse. “When Irene Hoyt came into a sick room,” Linette Burton wrote in a Ridgefield Press editorial, “the patient’s spirits rose as she crossed the threshold.”   
The Wilton native grew up in Ridgefield.  and graduated from the high school in 1925. After two years of nursing school, Hoyt joined the DNA, now the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association. 
During her 45-year career, she ministered to literally thousands of Ridgefielders. She was called Ridgefield’s “Florence Nightingale on Wheels,” and for decades her name was synonymous with the District Nursing Association — and a helping hand.
For most of her career, she was the only employee of the District Nursing Association, working out of a one-room office on Catoonah Street. As an example of what that meant, in 1956,
She handled 933 cases. Those cases entailed 4,823 visits.
At the same time, she provided health checks, including weighing and measuring, for 1,182 school children.
She did 1,139 vision and hearing tests for students.
She assisted the school physician with 596 physical exams of students.
She performed 990 individual health inspections “for emergency care and dressings to prevent spread of contagious diseases”
During that time, the DNA was governed by seven volunteer officers including a first vice president and a second vice president, and 19 volunteer members of a board of directors. All, to see that Irene Hoyt and her patients got the support they needed.
Today there are more than 100 paid staff members of the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association, the modern version of the DNA. Instead of a one-room office on Catoonah Street, the RVNA has a multimillion dollar headquarters which just opened on Governor Street. 
In 1964, when Philanthropist Jack B. Ward gave Hoyt a brand-new Studebaker Commander,
he observed that she “was all by herself and she had a tiny little dilapidated car – it was almost like in the old-fashioned days when a nurse got on a horse and went up into the mountains.That little lady worked so hard that I decided to buy her a proper car.”
The building Hoyt worked in “looked so run down inside” that Ward  once paid to have the association headquarters completely renovated.
Her devotion to the welfare of Ridgefielders led to her being named Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1962.
(An accidental fall from her high chair as an infant resulted in a broken chin so damaged that doctors were unable to properly repair it. It left her with a chin that was very recessed and she appeared to have no chin at all.)  
It was in her office, doing the work she loved so much, that Miss Hoyt died suddenly one Sunday in 1972 at the age of 63.
“She devoted her talents to helping people who were in trouble – physical, mental or emotional – and her success can be gauged by the number of people who will miss her gentle ministrations,” Linette Burton wrote.




Fairfield Hoban: 
Chess Saved His Life, Twice
“I thank the man who first taught me how to play chess,” said Fairfield Wallace Hoban in 1972. “It saved my life twice.”  
Mr. Hoban, a dapper, goateed fellow who walked with a limp from a childhood case of polio, admitted he was no chess master, though he had beaten some of the best players in the world. 
After spending 17 years as a lawyer, including service as a welfare fraud investigator in New York City, he joined the Peace Corps, serving in East Pakistan where, twice, chess saved his life. 
On one occasion, he was at a train station, fleeing an erupting conflict between India and Pakistan when a young Bengali man noticed he was carrying a chess board and asked to ride with him on the train so they could play chess. Soon after, they were accosted by six Bengalis who were ready attack the foreigner. The young Bengali chess player helped Mr. Hoban fight them off. “If it were not for chess which brought the young man and me together, I would never have made it out of that one alive,”  he said. 
Another time, in Dacca, a Bengali student with whom he played chess ran to his office one day to warn him that a group of Bengalis were on their way to attack the Americans. They escaped the office in the nick of time. 
With an added respect for the value of chess,  Hoban returned to the States, became chess columnist for The Saturday Review magazine, and then chess editor the  World magazine, founded by Norman Cousins, who’d been Saturday Review’s editor.  
Hoban’s book, The Pleasure of Learning Chess, was published in 1974.  In the late 1970s, he became the editor of Chess Life, the publication of the United States Chess Federation.  
After living here about eight years, he moved in 1975 to Pleasantville, N.Y. He died in 1997.  


Monday, March 26, 2018



Philip K. Saunders: 
'Dr. Panto Fogo'
Off and on for nearly a quarter of the 20th Century, the peripatetic P.K. Saunders lived in Ridgefield, probably where he wrote his critically acclaimed autobiography. But he was always heading off to other parts of the world, often to his native England and sometimes for extended periods, such as when he created one of Jamaica’s top golf clubs.
When he finally departed Ridgefield, the millionaire left behind a neighborhood served by a road bearing his name: Saunders Lane.
One of the more unusual characters in Ridgefield’s past, Philip Keith “P.K.” Saunders was  born in 1899 into an odd, but well-to-do British family. His father was a wealthy physician while his mother was an evangelical Christian who would move the family from town to town in order to find a local church suitable to her current needs. 
When he was only 15, he was sent to a Royal Navy training school and wound up serving in World War One as a British naval cadet and later engineer. During the war the teenage sailor nearly drowned when the dreadnaught he was serving aboard was sunk in the Dardanelles  and he had to swim for hours in the night before being rescued.
When he was 21, his family sent him to Brazil, where he worked as an engineer — one of his major projects was figuring out how to salvage hundreds of tons hides aboard a freighter that had run high and dry on a remote Brazilian beach. The wreck was far from civilization but close to native tribesmen, who would suddenly appear from the jungle to take their own share of the loot — Saunders and his crew put up no opposition, fearing the locals were headhunters.
The region was so remote that a “hotel” he stayed at in a nearby village while working on the freighter was little more than a thatched roof with four open sides. In his autobiography, “Dr. Panto Fogo,” Saunders describes an unusual feature of the hotel.
“The Hotel Mundo ... was infested with water rats from the nearby Carapata River, so instead of having a cat or a dog to keep the rats down, they had a tame anaconda, which was half grown and only 15 feet long,” he wrote. “Most of the time this pet lived in the rafters and you could wake up at night and hear a scuffle and a squeak as the rat went down. 
“At meals, Ninha, as she was called, would come round the tables and beg. She did this most
prettily, weaving her head and opening her mouth for titbits and she could catch better than an Australian cricketer, but the first time I met her it was quite a shock. 
“I had just arrived and was sitting at dinner, eating surprisingly delicious food. The only light was wax candles which flickered as the sea breeze blew through the room and a nice, gentle, big dog put his heavy flat head on my knee. So without looking down, I put my hand down to pat him on the head, only it was Ninha and the pretty little head was hard and stone cold.
“When I fell over backwards, old Captain Keelhauling, who was at the head of the table, lifted his long white beard to the sky and roared with merriment because it was his stock joke for newcomers and it had worked exactly to schedule on me.”
Around 1932 he moved to  South Africa, where he became an engineering draftsman for a company manufacturing explosives for the Johannesburg and Kimberley mines. As an engineer Saunders was assigned the task of cutting the costly power losses due to faulty, leaking valves used to supply air and water in the underground mines. While working in the mines at Witwatersrand, he invented a specialized valve for controlling air flow.
 The “diaphragm valve” traced its origins back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used a similar device to control the water and temperature of the hot baths.  Saunders had studied classical history and archaeology as a hobby, and knew of the ancient valve. His first modern diaphragm valve made him a millionaire.
Many patents were filed in his name for this valve, and he founded Saunders Valve Company in London to market his work. Saunders diaphragm valves are still used today, particularly in sophisticated medical equipment.
 By 1943 Saunders was in New York City, working for the U.S. Navy, installing anti-submarine devices on merchant vessels.
He continued to make the United States his home base, probably because he was irked by the climbing taxes in his native England. His autobiography is sprinkled with rants about the “socialists” who were taking his money. At one point he describes his savings account as  “devalued, inflated, exchange-controlled, and eventually tax-confiscated by a democracy in search of Utopia.”
Over the years he held many patents for inventions, usually related to valves and often designed to be labor-saving. He has been frequently quoted for his observation: “Laziness is the mother of nine inventions out of ten.”
By 1948 Saunders had discovered Ridgefield and moved to a house on lower Main Street.  At the time he was president of the Saunders Valve Company of America. 
In 1949 he bought the Starr estate, whose house is at the corner of Farmingville and Lounsbury Roads and whose land includes the site of today’s Farmingville School.  Almost immediately, he began plans for the 14-lot Saunders Lane subdivision, which he called Quaker Ridge. Houses began being built there in 1950. Oddly enough, one of the builders in the 1960s was William Saunders of Brookfield, no relation to P.K. 
 In 1960 Saunders wrote his light-hearted autobiography, whose full title is “Dr. Panto Fogo:  The Uninhibited Memoirs of A Twentieth Century Adventurer — His Inventions and His Escapades
on Four Continents and the High Seas.” The book is full of colorful tales of his experiences in South and North America, Africa and Europe, from his boyhood until just after World War II (he had planned a second volume to continue the post-war story). It was published by Prentice-Hall and he promoted it by observing, “The common belief is that all inventors are crazy, and I concur. Because if you are sane when you start off with an invention, the chances are you will be madder than a March hare by the time you are through — I was, as you will see.”
The book was praised by reviewers, including The New York Times and The Saturday Review, a literary magazine that said “Mr. Saunders is incapable of writing a dull paragraph,”
Dr. Panto Fogo is Anglo-Portuguese for “Dr. Pants-on-Fire,” a nickname friends gave Saunders after a rail trip through rural Brazil. He had ignored the friends’ warnings to keep his train compartment window closed and, as he napped,  his trousers caught fire from a spark thrown out by the ancient wood-fired steam engine.
While in Ridgefield, he continued to travel widely and, in 1950, to establish the Upton Country Club on the island of Jamaica. He maintained a home for himself and his daughter on Saunders Lane until 1974 by which time he was living in Manteo, N.C. He died there in 1997 at the age of 98.
 In an odd coincidence, the critic who reviewed Saunders’s book in 1960  for The Saturday Review was Quentin Reynolds, a journalist who had been a noted war correspondent in World War II. Reynolds later became even more famous for his libel suit against conservative syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler — a Ridgefield resident — who had called him “yellow” and an “absentee war correspondent.”  Represented by the well-known attorney Louis Nizer, Reynolds wound up winning $175,001 (more than $1.6 million in 2018 dollars) in the case — at the time it was the largest libel judgment ever handed down. The lawsuit later inspired a Broadway play, “A Case of Libel,” and two TV movies.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


John Hightower: 

The Museum Man
A lifelong leader in the world of museums, John Hightower directed major institutions such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and South Street Seaport, but also led smaller efforts such as Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium, which he helped to establish.
Born in Atlanta, Ga. in 1933,  John Brantley Hightower grew up in New York City, graduated from Yale University in 1955, and served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. 
After working in publishing, he became executive director of New York State Council on the Arts, appointed in 1964 by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Under his leadership the council added a film program, a poets and writers program, a museum aid program, a festival program, and a touring children’s theater. Over six years during which the council’s budget grew from $500,000 to $22 million, he “championed a grass-roots approach to the arts,” according to his New York Times obituary, and “gave money to a host of community theater companies, art outreach projects for poor neighborhoods and troupes touring rural areas.”
In May 1970 he was named director of the Museum of Modern Art. It was during a time when the Vietnam War had spawned an age of public protests across the nation, and he led museum for a turbulent year and a half during which MOMA was the site for demonstrations and “guerilla art actions” on topics that ranged from layoffs of museum staff to the number of new artists exhibited, and even the bombing of Cambodia. 
Dismissed at the age of 37 amid what was called a “highly charged political atmosphere,” he continued to work in culture and the arts. He served as president of the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan in the late 70s, converting “a shabby remnant of New York’s waterfront into one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations,” according to The Times.
He and his wife, Marty, came to Ridgefield in 1983; they had homes at first on High Ridge and later on Main Street.
Shortly after they arrived, he became executive director of the Maritime Center in Norwalk, and led its transition into the $30-million Maritime Aquarium with a museum, aquarium and IMAX theater.
In 1988, he moved south and oversaw arts planning and development for the University of Virginia. In 1993 he became director of The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va. There he led the creation of The USS Monitor Center and Conservation Laboratory,  preserving remnants and honoring the memory of the Civil War “ironclad” gunboat. When he arrived, the museum had literally a few pounds of Monitor artifacts; when he retired in 2006, it had 210 tons of Monitor material brought up from the floor of the Atlantic.
He also “guided the transformation of The Mariners’ Museum into an institution that tells the sweeping stories of man and the sea,” according to an obituary in The Daily Press of Newport News. 
He retired in 2006, but remained active in the cultural world of southeastern Virginia, serving with several organizations. 
“John was a Renaissance man,” said Mariners’ Museum board chairman John Lawson.
“He was a creative personality and had a command of the English language like nobody I’ve ever met. He was one of the people you feel fortunate to have cross your life.”
Mr. Hightower died in 2013 at the age of 80.


Gerard Herrick: 
Rotary-Wing Pioneer
Long before the military developed vertical take-off and landing aircraft, like the Osprey, Gerardus Herrick of High Ridge had invented an aircraft that did that.
Gerardus Post Herrick, who generally went by the name of Gerard, was a rather eccentric but talented lawyer and a skilled research engineer.  Born in 1873, he was a member of the 13th generation of the Post family to live in New York City since the clan arrived in 1654. He graduated from Princeton and became an attorney. 
After serving as a captain in World War I in the Army Air Service—not as a pilot but as a gunnery officer—he came up with the idea of a convertible aircraft that could fly either fixed-wing like a conventional plane or vertically as an “autogyro.”  In the 1920s and 1930s, he partnered with a couple of aircraft manufacturers to build a working model of his autogyro. 
   “The first aircraft, the HV-1, was ready on Nov. 6, 1931,” the Smithsonian Institution says. “The test pilot, Merrill Lambert, made several successful test flights in both fixed- and rotating-wing mode, but when he attempted an in-flight transition between the two, the aircraft fell out of control and crashed. Lambert bailed out of the aircraft, but was killed when his parachute failed to open.” However, an analysis of the accident found the basic design was sound, and Herrick continued to develop what he called a “vertiplane.” 
   The plane was a fixed-wing monoplane with a large overhead propeller, shaped somewhat like a smaller wing. The aircraft could take off as a monoplane and once in the air, convert to a
hovering aircraft using the large overhead propeller. It could then land in a very small area. The aircraft could also take off vertically, but could not convert to horizontal flight in mid-air, and had to remain a “helicopter” until it landed.
 A new version, the HV-2a, began flying successfully in 1936, cruising at 100 mph as a fixed-wing plane and 65 mph in autogyro mode. The 2,300-pound aircraft needed only 60 feet of runway to take off. Unfortunately, the aircraft’s “remarkable performance did not justify production as the weight penalties imposed by carrying both rotary and fixed wing structures eliminated its commercial advantage over conventional airplanes,” the Smithsonian said.  
   Herrick continued to work on convertible airplane ideas and unsuccessfully tried to gain investor and government support until his death in 1955. He didn’t limit his interests to aircraft, however, and over the years the attorney/engineer wrote a manual for small-arms instructors, and did research work into blast furnaces, steam engines, lenses, and rifle sights.
   “Gerard Post Herrick was one of the earliest to advocate combining fixed-wing flight with rotary-wing flight,” wrote Dr. Bruch H. Charnov in a study of the inventor. “He has been given little notice by vertical flight historians, quite unjustifiably becoming one of the forgotten rotary-wing pioneers, the champion of a concept that even today in various forms seeks legitimacy.”
   He and his wife, Lois, had their High Ridge home here starting in the 1920s. A large garage in back once housed the HV-2a, historian Dick Venus recalled. After Lois Herrick died in 1983, Mr. Venus was at an estate sale on the property when he came across “the largest propeller that I had ever seen, lying on the floor of the garage. No doubt this enormous thing could lift a house right off the ground if you had a machine with the energy to turn it.”  He concluded it was a spare for the HV-2a, which had already been donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
   Incidentally, Herrick was a cousin of Myron T. Herrick, the U.S. ambassador to France who greeted Charles Lindbergh on his arrival in Paris in 1927. Myron must have been popular: He’s the only American ambassador to France with a street in Paris named after him — Avenue Myron Herrick.—from “Hidden History of Ridgefield”



Saturday, March 24, 2018


Emily Eaton Hepburn: 
Landmark’s Builder
Ridgefield had many notable “summer residents,” New Yorkers who built weekend and vacation retreats that, more often than not, qualified as mansions. Emily Eaton Hepburn was among the more remarkable of these part-time Ridgefielders, but her accomplishments have been largely overlooked locally. 
A prominent figure in New York City’s intellectual, civic, and business scene over a half century, Emily Hepburn at the age of 61 built one of New York’s landmark hotels. The New York Times once called her “a real estate novice who created one of New York’s most distinctive skyscrapers.” 
The Vermont native was an 1886 graduate of Saint Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. where she met her husband, Alonzo Barton Hepburn, then a lawyer and state banking official. He became a leading New York City banker and was named United States comptroller of the currency by President Benjamin Harrison. 
   The Ridgefield Press took note of their impending arrival in May 1908. “Mr. A.B. Hepburn,
one of the most prominent financiers of the country, former comptroller of the currency and now president of the Chase National Bank of New York, is building one of the most handsome homes to be seen in this town of beautiful homes,” the newspaper said.   The report was a bit misleading. Emily, not Barton, was actually overseeing the design and construction of “Altnacraig,” a magnificent mansion on High Ridge whose name could be translated, “high rock.”  The building later became a well-known nursing home, also called Altnacraig, whose residents included suffragist Alice Paul. Altnacraig burned to the ground in a suspicious 1994 blaze, and was replaced with a house of similar size. (Pictures of Altnacraig are in the Old Ridgefield photos collection.)
   Barton also met an unlucky end: He was run over by a bus while crossing a city street in 1922. “He was benefactor to Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and six libraries in St. Lawrence County, N.Y., all of which are named for him,” reports St. Lawrence University, where his and Emily’s family papers now reside.
   Emily Hepburn had long been active in civic and charitable organizations including the New York Botanical Garden, City History Club for children, Inwood House girls reformatory, and the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Here, she was a member of the Ridgefield Garden Club, a group that both beautified and promoted the town. 
She was also active in the suffrage movement and, after women had won the right to vote, she addressed a new need in New York: Housing for young, working women. After the war, many recent college-graduate women were coming to New York to seek careers. In 1924 Mrs. Hepburn and several others built the American Woman’s Association, a high-rise residence for working women, at 353 West 57th Street.
Hepburn was dissatisfied with the result, however, and on her own, planned a better building, with a more modern architect. “The boxy, unornamented American Woman’s Association clubhouse
had been simple to the point of drab, the ‘International Style’ with a migraine, designed by the otherwise traditionalist Benjamin Wistar Morris,” wrote Christopher Gray in The Times. “Mrs. Hepburn went to John Mead Howells, son of American author William Dean Howells, and a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts.” 
   Hepburn almost single-handedly set about gaining support for the project, including selling stock (one of the stock purchasers was Sara Roosevelt, mother of Franklin Delano Roosevelt).  The
result was the 380-room Panhellenic House at First Avenue and East 49th Street, completed in 1928, described in early promotional brochures as “a club-hotel for women.”  The 28-story, orange-brick building is considered one of the great Art Deco skyscrapers in New York.
   “I wanted to prove that women could do big business,” Hepburn once said about her late-blooming career. The quotation appears “Daughter of Vermont,” a biography of her published in 1952, four years before her death.
   The hotel was not just a residence, but also a place where women could, in today’s parlance, “network,” and learn from each other. One supporter of the project called it “a training school for leadership, a mental exchange” for women.
    Hepburn, who also built and lived in an apartment building at nearby 2 Beekman Place, found occupancy rates at the Panhellenic House declining during the Depression, and opened the building to men as well as women, renaming it the Beekman Tower Hotel. The hotel continued in business until 2013 when it was converted to long-term residential suites.
 The Beekman, incidentally, is a block from the United Nations. The Times once reported that, “according to legend,” Hepburn “persuaded the Rockefellers to buy the East River land for the United Nations.” 
How’s that for good business sense? 


William Hanley in 1964. —N.Y. Times

William G. Hanley:
Acclaimed Screenwriter
Like so many other writers, William G. Hanley started out struggling, holding a variety of jobs to survive while spending his after-hours at a typewriter. But his talent and drive paid off, and he wound up winning two Emmy Awards and being nominated for a Tony, turning out dozens of stage and television scripts, and producing several novels. 
A native of Lorain, Ohio, William Gerald Hanley was born in 1931. His uncles included British novelists James Hanley and Gerald Hanley, and a sister,  Ellen Hanley, who was an actress and also a Ridgefielder. 
     He grew up in Queens, N.Y., attended Cornell for a year,  served in the Army, and studied the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he began writing scripts. To survive he worked in banks and factories and even as an encyclopedia salesman.
     His big break came in 1962 when two one-act plays, performed Off Broadway, won him high praise from critics and earned a Drama Desk Award. “Whisper Into My Good Ear” is about two lonely old men who plan to commit suicide together, and “Mrs. Dally Has a Lover” featured a married woman and her romance with a teenager. 
     Howard Taubman  in The New York Times called Mr. Hanley “an uncommonly gifted writer…His style is lean and laconic, shading almost shyly and unexpectedly into tenderness and poetry. His perception of character is fresh and individual.” 
      In 1964, his “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” opened on Broadway to enthusiastic reviews, but lasted only 88 performances.
Soon Mr. Hanley began writing television scripts. In 1966, he turned his stage play, “Flesh and Blood,” about the troubles of a disintegrating family, into a TV film for which NBC paid him $112,500 ($830,000 in 2016 dollars); The Times said that, at that time, it was the highest price ever paid to a single author for a TV script.  
Over the next 30 years, he wrote at least two dozen TV scripts. Two earned him Emmys: “Something About Amelia,” a 1984 ABC movie about incest, starring Ted Danson, and the 1988 mini-series, “The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank,” starring Paul Scofield and Mary Steenburgen 
He received an Edgar Award for his teleplay for the 1987 miniseries, “Nutcracker: Money, Madness & Murder.”
His novels included Blue Dreams, Mixed Feelings, and Leaving Mount Venus, all published in the 1970s.
His actress sister Ellen Hanley was known for her role as Fiorello H. La Guardia’s first wife in the 1959 Broadway musical “Fiorello!” Also in that production was actress Pat Stanley, who became Mr. Hanley’s wife in 1962; they were later divorced. 
Mr. Hanley, who had lived in Ridgefield during his later years, died in 2012 at the age of 80 and is buried in Mapleshade Cemetery beside his sister and his parents 

Friday, March 23, 2018


Robert S. Haight:
Church Historian
Robert Haight readily admitted he was a novice at writing history.  Yet, he was a meticulous researcher who spent several years poring over the records of St. Stephen's Church to produce his 1975 book, “St. Stephen's Church: Its History for 250 Years.” 
The 220-page volume documented, in the words of Ridgefield Press publisher Karl S. Nash, “the struggles of the small band of parishioners against unbelievable financial difficulties,” and the two and a half centuries of “devotion and hard work” that followed. It remains the most detailed and extensive history of any Ridgefield church, and one of the best church histories in the area. 
Robert S. Haight Sr. was born in 1914 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from New York University and served in Europe in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Haight spent 42 years with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, retiring as a marketing executive at the New York City headquarters in 1976. He and his family came to Ridgefield in 1955, living on Memory Lane. 
He began working on the church's history in the early 1970s, examining records and interviewing dozens of people.
“In this labor of love for his church, Robert S. Haight adds significantly to the history of Ridgefield,” Nash wrote in his foreword to the book, “for St. Stephen's Church was established only 17 years after the town's first settlers came here from Norwalk…”
Dirk Bollenback, the longtime Ridgefield High School history department chairman, called the book a “scholarly, well-documented, and thorough account of our first 250 years.”  Bollenback wrote a sequel covering the congregation’s history from 1975 to 2000.
In 1967,  Haight, a Republican, was elected to the Board of Education and two years later, was selected its chairman. It was during a period when the town was in the throes of rapid growth, and building new schools occupied much of the board’s time.
In 1968, besides serving on the school board, he was named chairman of the town’s Elementary Schools Building Committee, which oversaw the construction of Barlow Mountain School.
He resigned from the school board in 1970, both because of business commitments and disagreements with fellow board members over the future direction of the school system.
Haight belonged to the Ridgefield Lions Club, and was elected its president in 1965. He had also served on the Flood and Erosion Control Board, the Republican Town Committee, and as a director of the Community Center.
Active in boy scouting, he served as a director of the Mauwehu Council of the Boy Scouts of America. At St. Stephen’s, he had been a junior warden, a vestryman, and a chairman of the Nutmeg Festival, was active in the Men's Club and a delegate to various conventions.
In 1972, he and his wife, Georgina, sold their home here and bought a vintage house in Walpole, N.H. They continued to live in Ridgefield, at Casagmo, until his retirement in 1976, when they left town for New Hampshire.
He died in 2006 at the age of 91.   

Thursday, March 22, 2018


John F. Haight: 
First Career Policeman
John F. Haight Jr., who led the Ridgefield police for more than 10 years, was probably the town’s first career policeman.
Over a period of 30 years,  Haight rose from constable to chief and saw the police force grow from three to 30 officers. “He was one of the moving forces to get us from the town hall basement to where we are now," said Richard Ligi, who joined the department under Haight and later became its chief.
A native of Newburgh, N.Y., John Haight was born in 1920 and moved to Ridgefield as a child, attending classes in the old Titicus Schoolhouse, now the American Legion Hall. He graduated in 1938 from Ridgefield High School where he met his future wife, Marion Alice Roberts. The two were married in 1942; Mrs. Haight died in 1998.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army's Fourth Armored Regiment under General Patton, landing in Europe shortly after D-Day and receiving the Bronze Star for heroism.
One of his first jobs after the war was as an usher at the old Ridgefield Playhouse movie theater on Prospect Street. He also worked for the U.S. Post Office, driving bags of mail from the office on Main Street to meet the train in Branchville.
In 1947, he was hired as a policeman — then officially called a constable — joining Charles Wade Walker and James Brady in policing the town under the command of the first selectman and operating out of  70-square-foot “quarters” in the town hall. Constables handled motor vehicle violations and misdemeanors while the State Police, quartered at the barracks on East Ridge, did the major cases.
“In those days, we patrolled in our own cars,” the chief recalled. “We had no car, no radio, no equipment, no nothing.” The town bought its first patrol car around 1950.
In 1955, Ridgefield created a formal police department, with James Brady as chief, and John Haight was among the first officers. Ten years later, Chief Haight took command of the 10-person department, serving until his retirement in 1977 after 30 years on the job — a tenure   few others have attained with the police force.
During his nearly 12 years as chief, the department grew threefold to 30 officers, added a detective bureau, and moved from a few rooms in the town hall basement into its current quarters, the former State Police barracks, on East Ridge.
“In all humility, I believe I have turned over a police department to my successor of which you, the community, will be proud,” he said at his testimonial in 1977. 
Some 250 people attended that farewell party. “It is amazing that a man with a name like Haight can represent so much love,” emcee Paul Baker said at the event.
“He was always fair with his people and always concerned with their welfare,” said Chief Richard Ligi, who was hired as a teenaged clerk by Chief Haight in 1967.
Chief Haight’s first home here was on Washington Avenue, but in the early 1970s he built a house at the north end of Lake Mamanasco. After his retirement, he moved to Cape Cod, but returned periodically for visits and to host testimonials — after he stepped down as chief, he became a celebrated toastmaster, enjoyed for his wry wit. One of the last formal affairs he attended was a retirement banquet for Thomas Rotunda, who had succeeded him as chief.
He died in 2002 at the age of 82 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery.