Monday, July 30, 2018


Joseph H. Donnelly: 
The First Lawyer
Joe Donnelly made quite a name for himself in Ridgefield. In fact, he made several names for himself.
Ridgefield’s first full-time practicing attorney and one of its most astute real estate entrepreneurs had a career that lasted more than 60 years and included countless hours of public service, both with Ridgefield government and in numerous community organizations.
“He was really good to an awful lot of people, and helped an awful lot of people — behind the scenes,” said Paul S. McNamara, who had been his partner for many years. “He was reserved and preferred to remain anonymous.”
Even so, his name does appear on three town roads.
Joseph Henry Donnelly was born in 1906 in Bridgeport, got his bachelor’s and law degrees
from Columbia University, and went to work for his brother’s  prestigious law firm in Bridgeport.
In July 1931, when he was only 24 years old, he decided to strike out on his own and arrived in Ridgefield in “an old Pontiac,” recalled former town historian Richard E. Venus. He lived at Ashland Cottage, the Victorian house just south of the St. Stephen’s campus where once another attorney had lived. While Samuel “Lawyer Sam” Keeler was a full-time attorney, he had practiced only in New York City; the newcomer, the town’s only local lawyer, was the first to live and practice full-time in Ridgefield.
After his marriage to Ellen Gavin, whom he had met at Columbia, Donnelly moved to a house on West Mountain Road. Later he bought a farm on Wilton Road West, part of which he eventually developed into a subdivision served by Donnelly Drive — one of three roads in town using his name.
Soon after his arrival Judge Donnelly became active in his new community. He was named the town attorney in 1935, serving until 1948 and again for a year in the late 1960s.
From 1941 to 1949 he was judge of probate, an elective office that was the source of the judicial title that stuck over the years — many people referred to him as “Judge Donnelly” long after he stopped being a probate judge.
For many years, he was involved in the drive to bring zoning to Ridgefield and was in the forefront of the campaign that led to zoning’s adoption in 1946. The ordinance he championed was written by his brother, John V. Donnelly, who was city attorney of Bridgeport and whose law firm broke in many of the state’s top trial lawyers, not to mention his own brother.
Joe Donnelly served in many other government posts including on a charter revision commission and the Police Commission. He was Ridgefield’s state representative from 1939 to 1941, and a prosecutor in the town’s Trial Justice Court in the 1940s. He was active in the Republican party, serving for a while as town chairman. He was a frequent moderator of town meetings.
Real estate was one of Donnelly’s long-standing interests and over the years he amassed a lot
of property. Though he had sold off some by the time of his death, he was still one of the town’s top 10 taxpayers — most of the other nine were corporations.
Among his earliest purchases was the commercial block belonging to Judge George G. Scott, whom he succeeded as probate judge. The block, which he acquired in 1943, consists of stores and offices between the Masonic Hall and the old Bissell building, which today includes Craig’s Jewelers, Shine Hair Salon and Rodier Flowers. He bought the land behind this in the mid-1950s and built the “Donnelly Shopping Center” that now houses the Ridgefield Thrift Shop, Ancona’s Wines and Liquors, Ridgefield Music, Colby’s, and other shops but had originally been home to Woolworth’s and First National.
He was involved in the development of Ridgefield Commerce Park on Danbury Road, and several subdivisions. Among these were the 1950s Scodon development in Ridgebury that includes Scodon Drive (he was the “don” while Ridgefield Savings Bank president Carlton Scofield was the “sco”).
With jeweler Francis D. Martin and real estate and insurance broker Arthur J. Carnall, he developed the road that’s named from the first three letters of the threesome’s surnames: Marcardon Avenue. Martin, also a large investor in real estate, was once Donnelly’s landlord — the judge’s first office was over today’s Planet Pizza in the Tudoresque building then owned by Martin.
Later, Judge Donnelly acquired Gov.  Phineas Lounsbury’s one-time home on Governor Street and converted it to offices, which included his own firm of Donnelly, McNamara and Gustafson (now practicing from the Ridgefield Bank building on Danbury Road).
Through his involvement in real estate, both in representing clients and in his own dealings,
he became perhaps the foremost authority on property in town, and some said his records were better than town hall’s. He maintained thousands of property records, first on three-by-five cards and later on microfilm. As historian Dick Venus observed, “he could search a title without leaving his office.”
“He was one of the best real estate lawyers,” said attorney John E. Dowling, who’d also been a probate judge. “He could tell you the deal on a closing many years after. Joe was a detail man.”
Donnelly’s business interests included the Cadillac dealership on Danbury Road, which he and Irving B. Conklin Sr. operated in the early 1950s; it later became Kellogg-Thiess. He had also served on the boards of directors of several banks. 
“He spent an awful lot of time on local organizations, helping the town,” said McNamara. Among the many civic groups for which he volunteered were the Salvation Army, the District Nursing Association, the Ridgefield and Fairlawn Cemetery Associations, and the Knights of Columbus. He was an honorary life member of the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department. During World War II he was on the Ration Board and the Selective Service Committee.
He belonged to St. Mary’s Parish, but was ecumenical in his assistance.  “He helped a lot of churches of all denominations,” said Dowling. “He did a lot of work for them and I don’t think he ever charged them for it.”
An avid golfer, Donnelly was a charter member of the Silver Spring Country Club.
“We used to play golf together,” Dowling recalled. “It used to be the lawyers against the bankers. Joe and I would play Scofield and (Frank) Warner.” Other Ridgefield businessmen who’d often be among his golfing partners or competitors included Abe Morelli, Reed F. Shields, Arthur Carnall, Fred Orrico, and Charles Coles.
In 1980 Donnelly was honored on his 50-year membership in the Connecticut Bar. He died in 1992 at the age of 85.
One of Joe Donnelly’s favorite legal cases  — and one he enjoyed recollecting — was his service as administrator of the estate of an 85-year-old Bethel woman named Helen Dow Peck. In 1955, Mrs. Peck bequeathed $180,000 ($1.7 million in 2018) to someone named John Gale Forbes, whom she’d “met” many years earlier via a Ouija board she had purchased at a toy store in 1919.
The bizarre case drew widespread publicity, especially after nine nieces and nephews appealed the bequest on the grounds that Mrs. Peck “did not have the right use of her reason when she executed her will,” giving a small fortune to a “spirit” she’d never seen in person.
The appeal went all the way to the state Supreme Court of Errors, and the relatives, represented by Dowling, won. 
The case “was on the Connecticut Bar exam at least once,” Dowling said with a smile.

Thursday, July 26, 2018


George Vetter: 
Betrayed Navigator
George Vetter survived Japanese anti-aircraft fire, ditching with his bomber in the South Pacific and hiding in an island jungle. But he could not survive the treachery of an island native, and lost his life less than three months before World War II ended. 
George Otto Vetter Jr. was born in 1923 in New York City. His parents moved to Picketts Ridge Road just across the Ridgefield line in Redding in 1932. George Vetter Sr., a World War I Navy veteran, was the longtime meat manager for the A&P on Main Street in Ridgefield. Because Redding had no high school and the Vetters were so close to Ridgefield (their mailing address was actually “Ridgefield”), George Jr. went to Ridgefield High School, graduating in 1941.
He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and became a navigator in the Pacific Theatre, flying B-24s. 
On May 9, 1945, his bomber, nicknamed the “Woody Woodpecker” and bearing nose art of the Warner Brothers cartoon character, took off from Pitu Airfield in what’s now eastern Indonesia to attack Japanese ships near the island of Borneo. The B-24 found its targets in the Makassar Strait.
However, while the crew was dropping bombs, the four-engine plane was hit with anti-aircraft fire. Its No. 4 engine lost its oil and fuel pressure and had to be feathered. No. 1 engine was smoking, but still working. Second Lt. Lee R. Dukes, the pilot, managed to keep the aircraft flying at 10,000 feet as crew members jettisoned the remaining bombs, plus every piece of equipment they could get their hands on to lighten the load.
However, engine No. 1 shut down, and over the Gulf of Tomini, engine No. 2 began to smoke. Dukes gave the order to abandon the aircraft and all 11 men bailed out at 9,000 feet near the Celebes. All made it safely to either Togian Island or Batoedaka Island.
The next day, the Army began searching for the downed airmen, using an OA-10A Catalina, a large amphibious aircraft piloted by Capt. Lloyd Humphreys. 
According to a contemporary military account, “Spotting two parachute flares, the Catalina landed and three of the crew went ashore, rescuing one of the crew and informing natives to search for the other crew members. Taking off again in the afternoon, Humphreys spotted a signal mirror and dropped a message directing the survivors to a pickup point on the west coast. Returning on May 11, 1945, the same Catalina rescued five more of the crew.”
The remaining five men had gathered together on a nearby island where they were rescued by natives, who brought them to their village. However, one of the natives apparently told the Japanese about the airmen. The Japanese attacked the village, killing four Americans — including Flight Officer Vetter — and wounding and capturing the fifth.
Friendly natives buried the dead Americans in a mass grave. 
Back home, Vetter’s parents had no idea what had happened to their son, who was listed as missing in action. They would not give up hope, however, and tried every way they could to find information about their son’s fate. They finally contacted a Catholic missionary in the Celebes, who interviewed natives and uncovered the details.
Flight Officer Vetter’s remains were eventually found, identified and returned to the United States. He was buried in 1949 in the family plot in a Lutheran cemetery in Queens, N.Y., where his parents are also buried.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Chicken Warrups: 
The Chief with A Past
When the settlers began building the town in 1708 or so, they weren’t the only “newcomers”: A number of American Indians had only recently arrived in the neighborhood. Chicken’s Rock, a large outcropping alongside the Martin Park bathing beach at Great Pond, recalls their leader, Chicken or Chickens Warrups, one of the territory’s most colorful characters in the days of the pioneers.  
“A large rock on the shores of Great Pond ... is still called Chickens’ Rock, as it was a favorite spot where the old warrior used to sit,” Ridgefield historian George L. Rockwell wrote in 1927. 
In his “History of Fairfield County” (1881), D. Hamilton Hurd said a “tract of land embraced within the bounds of the present town of Redding was claimed by a small and unimportant tribe of Indians, composed of a few stragglers or disaffected members of the Potatucks of Newtown, the Paugusetts of Milford, and the Mohawks of New York. This motley tribe was presided over by a chief bearing the euphonious name of Chicken Warrups, or Sam Mohawk, as he was sometimes called. It is supposed that he was a sagamore or under-chief of the powerful Mohawks, one of the tribes of the celebrated league of the Iroquois which inhabited New York, and who for some reason fled from his tribe and settled on Greenfield Hill. Here he killed an Indian and fled to Redding. He was a shrewd, cunning and important character in the early history of the town” of Fairfield. (Back then, Redding was part of northern Fairfield.)
Researcher Franklyn Bearce, who considered himself a descendant of Chicken Warrups, maintains Hurd’s account of a murder in Fairfield is incorrect, and tells a more colorful tale of homicide. 
“In his youth Chicken first killed an Onandaga youth of nonroyal blood over a girl, and the Grand Council banished him from the Five Nations; had he not been of noble Iroquois blood, he would have paid [for] the murder with his life. After he was banished and took the trail, he drifted into Connecticut, and … was captured by the Ramapoos, and his life was saved when the daughter [of] Catoonah claimed him for a husband.” That’s the same Catoonah or Katonah who was the Indian leader who sold the Ridgefield settlers their first 20,000 acres in 1708.  
In 1714, Chicken Warrups sold a sizable piece of land in the Lonetown area of Redding, then
part of Fairfield, to John Read, an attorney after whom Reading, later Redding, was named. Warrups subsequently sold other tracts to the settlers, but in a 1725 deed, he reserved “liberty for myself and my heirs to hunt, fish, and fowl upon the land and in the waters, and further reserving for myself, my children, and grandchildren and their posterity the use of so much land by my present dwelling house or wigwam as ... necessary for my or their personal improvement, that is to say, my children, children’s children and posterity.” 
Over the years, however, Warrups battled with the colonists over details of the agreements he’d signed, and on several occasions he petitioned Connecticut’s colonial leaders to clear up his problems. In “The History of Redding, Connecticut,” Charles Burr Todd says the chief “seems to have been a strange mixture of Indian shrewdness, rascality and cunning, and was in continual difficulties with the settlers concerning the deeds which he gave them.”
Warrups also provoked some fear. In 1720, according to colonial records, there was a rumor that he had “lately received two belts of wampumpeag from certain remote Indians—as it is said, to the west of Hudson River —with a message expressing their desire to come and live in this colony…” 
That rumor sparked “considerable apprehensions of danger from Indians, fearing that the belts have been sent on some bad design”—namely, plans to invade the “frontier towns” like Redding, Ridgefield and Danbury. The governor and the colony council ordered a meeting with Warrups about the “threat” and while Todd found no official record of what happened, one can assume that no Indian invasion occurred, and none probably was ever contemplated by the natives themselves.
Any concerns about Chicken Warrups came to an end in 1749 when the chief took John Read’s offer of 200 acres near the Schaghticoke Reservation along the Housatonic River in Kent, giving up any rights to his old lands in Redding. It is said Warrups found the fishing and hunting better in Kent. He died about 1765. He was survived by a son, Tom Warrups, who served with the American forces in the Revolutionary War, enlisting from Redding.
The Warrups family continued to create concerns in Redding long after Chicken’s death. In 1815 Redding selectmen noted in their minutes, “Eunice Warrups, an Indian woman, was born in this town, is upwards of 70 years old; has been absent 50 years; came from New Milford, she says, 1st day of Nov; came to this town; was warned to depart.” Towns back then were finicky about whom they admitted. They feared indigents; under law, once indigents had established themselves in a community, the selectmen could become responsible for their welfare. 
Hence, the tight-fisted officials in towns like Redding and Ridgefield often ordered indigents to leave before they could become welfare cases.  Eunice may have been a daughter or granddaughter of Tom Warrups, that Revolutionary veteran. If so, one would have thought she’d have been better treated.
While Chicken’s Rock is in Ridgefield, within an arrow’s shot of Redding, it may once have been within a small wedge of Redding land that projected into Ridgefield and that had been part of “Governor Fitch’s Farm,” a 120-acre tract that was in both towns. As a result of a 1786 petition to the General Assembly, this wedge—including perhaps the rock—became Ridgefield territory.
Incidentally, in the eastern side of the town of Westport (also once part of Fairfield) lies Machamux Park, a small open space between Green’s Farms Road and I-95 near the Beachside Avenue curve. A plaque on a large boulder in the park reports, “The name according to legend means ‘the beautiful land’ and was named by Chickens, a young sachem who settled here.”

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Frieder Weissmann: 
World Conductor
In the 1960s and 70s, Ridgefielders frequently encountered an elegant, elderly couple strolling the village sidewalks. Many thought they made a cute pair. Few recognized the man as a conductor of most of the world’s leading concert and opera orchestras. 
Over his long career, Frieder Weissmann once estimated, he had contributed to more than 4,000 classical music recordings, most of them in Germany in the 1920s.
   A native of Germany, Dr. Weissmann was born in 1893, studied at Heidelberg, Munich, Grenoble, and Geneva, and began his conducting career at the State Opera of Berlin while in his 20s. In 1932 and 1933, he was a guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, which the likes of Brahms, Dvorak, Grieg, and Mahler had also led.
But with rising anti-Semitic sentiments in Germany, he left the country in 1933, arriving first in Holland where he led the Concertgebouw in some concerts, and then spent several years in Argentina where he met and married his second wife, Rosita “Rose” Chevallier Boutell, an actress and daughter of a well-known Argentine soccer player. (He married his first wife, popular German opera star Meta Seinemeyer, as she was dying of leukemia at the age of 33.) 
During the next three decades, he conducted orchestras throughout North and South America, including almost every major American symphony orchestra. In this country he recorded for such labels as RCA Victor, Decca, Columbia, and Odeon. Many of his recordings are still being sold today.
The Weissmanns came to Ridgefield around 1960, summering at The Elms Inn  for nine years and then living full-time on Prospect Ridge.
“It is the most secretly guarded, God-given talent which enables you to stand in front of 100 men and without a word, only with the movement of your eyes, evoke from them as from one person the utmost of expression of delight, of harshness, of piano, of forte, of anything that might be contained in human nature,” Dr. Weissmann said in a 1966 Ridgefield Press interview.
The late Tom Belote, a Ridgefield attorney and historian who knew Weissmann when the conductor lived at The Elms, confirmed the power of the maestro’s eyes.  “He had blue eyes and used them when he talked to people,”  Belote recalled.  “It was impressive.”
Belote added, “He also used his cane in later years as he would have used a conductor’s baton. He would wave it while standing on the street to wave down a car for a ride. He would also use it in the restaurant and stamp it in the floor while he was sitting if he wanted something from a waiter.”
He was “a person of style and quality so obvious it demanded respect,” said Peter Laurence Cooper, who worked at The Elms when Weissmann was a frequent customer.
Dr. Weissmann continued to travel and conduct orchestras well into his 80s. “I’ll stop when I am dead,” he once said.
Rose Weissmann died here in 1980, and is buried in Ridgebury Cemetery. Two years later, Frieder moved to Amsterdam, where he died in 1984 at the age of 91.

Friday, July 20, 2018


John Neville Wheeler: 
News for You
Among the books in John Neville Wheeler’s library was a copy of “For Whom the Bells Tolls,” inscribed “To Jack Wheeler, who gave me the chance to go to war.” The book was signed by Ernest Hemingway, whom Mr. Wheeler had hired as a correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War. 
Hemingway was just one of many great writers John Wheeler worked with. 
A native of Yonkers, N.Y., and a graduate of Columbia University,  Wheeler fought as a lieutenant in France during World War I. 
He began his newspapering career as a sportswriter at The New York Herald. There, in 1913, he founded the Wheeler Syndicate, distributing sports feature stories throughout North America. He soon also began distributing cartoons and comics. Among his artists was Bud Fisher, creator of the popular Mutt and Jeff comic strip, who was hired at a guaranteed $52,000 a year ($1.26 million in today’s dollars).
Wheeler went on to establish several more press syndicates, including the Bell Syndicate, and in 1930, became general manager of the large North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). He hired and assigned many of the leading talents of the first third of the last century, including Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Joseph Alsop, Dorothy Thompson, Pauline Frederick, Sheilah Graham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, of course, Hemingway.
Though he sold NANA in 1965, he remained active as a writer and adviser to many leaders.
When President Eisenhower asked what he’d do about the growing conflict in Vietnam, he recalled in 1967, “I said I’d get the hell out of there. We never should have been there.” 
He and his wife, Tee, moved to Spring Valley Road in 1936; the name of Wheeler Road, then a dirt path that ran alongside their property, recalls them. 
On a grander scale, Cape Wheeler in Antarctica was named for John Wheeler because he had contributed to the cost of a 1947 expedition that explored that region, called Palmer Land, which is south of the tip of South America. 
Wheeler told the story of his life in an autobiography, “I’ve Got News for You,” which was published by E.P. Dutton in 1961.
He died in 1973 at the age of 87,  and is buried in Mapleshade Cemetery. In his obituary, The Ridgefield Press said John Neville Wheeler “never quit newspapering, permanently, until his death.”

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Ruth Wills: 
Legendary Latin Teacher
Ruth Wills was a scholarly woman whose advanced Latin students often excelled statewide. The five-foot-tall teacher was also tough: She had no problem grabbing a hulking, misbehaving football player and dragging him to the principal’s office.
“When Ruth let you have both barrels, it didn’t matter if you were a 245-pound tackle on the football team, you quaked,” recalled a former colleague, Dirk Bollenback, former chairman of the Social Studies Department. 
“She was a very, very special person,” added Bollenback. “I never met anyone on the Ridgefield High School staff who didn’t have the highest respect for Ruth Wills.”
Ruth Ella Wills was born in Monson, Mass., in 1897. She graduated from Colby College in 1920 and that September, came to Ridgefield’s Hamilton High School a few years after the town’s first secondary school had opened. The two-story frame building stood on Bailey Avenue where  there’s now a municipal parking lot. When the school moved to East Ridge and took the name Ridgefield High School, Wills continued to work there until her retirement in 1965.
Over her 45-year career, she taught Latin, French, German, and English. In later years, however, she taught only Latin. “Year after year her advanced students would score the highest in the state of Connecticut in the Latin Achievement tests,” Bollenback said.
She was famous as a strict disciplinarian. Although diminutive in size, Wills “scared some of the biggest guys in Ridgefield,” recalled Town Clerk Barbara Serfilippi, a 1960 graduate of the high school. “She was a little lady but, boy, you didn’t mess with her."
Despite that reputation for discipline, she was also known for her quiet sense of humor. Among her favorite stories was one about a Latin II test in which her student, in answer to a question about the second periphrastic conjugation, wrote, “This construction is known as the second pair of elastics.” 
Wills was a woman of many interests. She spoke several languages fluently, followed foreign affairs closely, collected antique foreign coins, knitted, did crossword puzzles, read extensively, and was an avid fan of the New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, and  — in their day — the Brooklyn Dodgers. She also surprised many ex-students by being sighted at the old Danbury fairgrounds race track  — she was an avid fan of midget class auto racing. 
When, in a 1954 interview, Wills was asked what she liked most about teaching, she replied in one sentence: “It is very gratifying to know that perhaps in some small way I have been able to help various students to attain and achieve their goal toward a happy, democratic way of life.”
Her work and her interests couldn’t have hurt her health: When she died in 2000 (the same day as her longtime colleague Linda Davies), she was 102 years old.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Mildred Gilman Wohlforth: 
An Original Sob Sister
“I didn’t invent the title ‘sob sister,’ but I’m the first gal reporter who ever used it,” Mildred Gilman Wohlforth told an interviewer in the 1980s. 
The term described Roaring 20s reporters who specialized in heart-rending stories of personal tragedies, and Mildred Gilman was one of the originals as well as one of the highest paid in New York. Her subjects ranged from sordid crimes to White House society, interviewing murderers and heads of state with equal expertise. 
But Mildred Gilman was prolific writer who did much more sophisticated work over her career.  She wrote eight novels;  “Sob Sister,” first published in 1931, came out in several editions,  and was turned into a movie the same year,  starring  James Dunn and Linda Watkins.
She also wrote many magazine articles. One piece in The New Yorker in 1928, which could be as appropriate today was it was in the ’20s, was about a mother and son being interviewed for a place in an upper-crusty New York City nursery school. 
The Chicago native wrote her first story when she was 12 and began selling them when she was at the University of Wisconsin. After graduation she got a job as secretary to noted New York World columnist Heywood Broun, and frequented parties with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wollcott, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, Bennett Cerf, Sinclair Lewis, Paul Robeson, and Harold Ross (she wrote one of the first profiles, on Robeson, for Ross’s then-new New Yorker).
While working for Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, she met Robert Wohlforth, a reporter for the competing Morning Telegraph. They were married in 1930, and later bought a 1730 home on Rockwell Road. 
She continued to write throughout her life and among the many celebrities she interviewed were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Shirley Temple, Amelia Earhart, Gene Kelly, and Jimmy Durante. She was also supposed to interview Hitler in 1933, but the Gestapo, distressed at probing questions she had already asked Hermann Goering, threw her out of Germany. 
In Ridgefield, she was the first chairman of the Historic District Commission, promoted planning and zoning, and penned scores of letters to The Ridgefield Press aimed at the betterment of the town. 
Well into her 90s, she rode her bicycle three miles a day. 
She died in 1994 at the age of 97.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Paul Draper: 
Targeted Tap Dancer
Paul Draper was yet another target of McCarthy-era attacks who found a brief refuge in Ridgefield. An international dancing star who was called “the aristocrat of tap,” Draper danced on the major stages of Europe and the United States with top stars of the 1930s and 40s.
He wound up in exile in Europe but unlike his close friend, harmonica virtuoso and fellow Ridgefielder and McCarthy victim, Larry Adler,  Draper returned to the United States to teach, dance and choreograph new works. 
“Draper brought cool intellectualism and playful wit to the dance form,” said The New York Times. “He performed everything from jazz to the bossa nova to Brahms and Scarlatti, establishing a style very different from that of Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers.”
Paul Draper was born in 1909 in Florence, Italy, into an artistic, socially prominent New York City family. His mother Muriel Draper was a writer and lecturer whose later home in London hosted such guests as Pablo Picasso, Henry James and Arthur Rubinstein. Novelist Norman Douglas promised a young Paul a penny every time he was naughty.
From a young age he loved to dance and mostly self-taught himself tap — he reportedly took only six lessons in his life. 
After teaching briefly at an Arthur Murray studio in Manhattan as a teenager, Draper moved to London, hoping to find work in tap dancing. “He scraped together a living performing flashy routines in Europe and the United States, then enrolled in the School of American Ballet and realized the possibilities of combining tap and classical ballet,” said entertainment historian David Lobosco. Draper got into the school with the help of his mother’s friend, George Balanchine.
He made his solo debut in London in 1932, introducing his new “ballet-tap” technique.  His career blossomed in the 1930s as he performed in Europe and the U.S. with his combination of tap dancing and ballet. He headlined at famous night spots like the Rainbow Room and Plaza Hotel’s Persian Room, danced at Carnegie Hall, and appeared in the 1948 film “Time of Your Life.” His greatest fame was perhaps as part of a two-man act formed in 1940 with harmonica  virtuoso Larry Adler, who also lived in Ridgefield around the same time Draper did.
Draper began coming to Ridgefield in late 1940s. A note in the May 5, 1949, Press said, “Mr. and Mrs. Paul Draper and family of New York City have leased ‘The Coach House’ on Branchville Road for a year from Miss Marthe Krueger... Mr. Draper is a well-known dancer in New York. The family spent a summer here recently in the guest cottage at the former Paul Palmer estate on Wilton Road East.” (Marthe Krueger was an international concert dance star and choreographer who had a teaching studio on Branchville Road in the “Old Coach House” of the former Hawk estate.)
Draper’s career hit the same rocks that sank many artistic talents of the era: anti-communist blacklisting. Two other local notables of the day — a leftist presidential candidate and a right-wing newspaper columnist — were involved.
Draper’s leftist leanings were no secret, and he publicly supported the 1948 presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, a former vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wallace lived just across the line in South Salem and attended St. Stephen’s Church here.
Draper was active in liberal or progressive causes. He served as a spokesman for a committee of actors, producers and writers who opposed an inquiry by the House Committee on Un-American Activities into Communist infiltration of the film industry, The New York Times said. “Mr. Draper had performed in benefits to raise money for groups and causes labeled as subversive by the committee.” 
A Los Angeles Times report noted that “Mr. Draper said he was a supporter of several organizations which had been called subversive by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, but steadfastly denied any communist affiliations.”
Then there was the “Draper-McCullough case,” which drew national attention in the early 1950s. It was later described by The Press: “A woman in Greenwich [Mrs. John T. McCullough] called dancer Paul Draper a Communist and Mr. Draper, who lived in Ridgefield, sued the woman for libel and — in line with Connecticut’s attachment law of that day — attached the property of Mrs. McCullough. This latter move aroused the ire of the Right Wing to an almost eerie extent, those espousing Mrs. McCullough’s cause appearing not to be prepared to recognize what Mrs. McCullough’s charges had done to Mr. Draper’s career.” 
The power of the anti-communist blacklisting of the era was described in the L.A. Times obituary: “In 1950, Mr. Draper’s dance routine was snipped out of a CBS segment from Ed Sullivan’s  Toast of the Town’ because the network received protests. His bookings were also canceled on other TV programs and at several upscale hotels around the country.”
Among those brandishing Mrs. McCullough’s banner was nationally syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler, who also lived in Ridgefield. The Press didn’t like Pegler and a 1950 editorial supporting Draper began: “We dislike mentioning the name of Westbrook Pegler in the Press because we have a certain pride in keeping our paper free of evil things. But now and then there is a tide which must be taken at the flood.”
The trial ended in a hung jury and, dejected, Draper left Ridgefield in 1951 to live in Switzerland. Soon after, his friend and frequent partner Larry Adler, also subjected to anti-communist attacks, moved from Ridgefield to England where he died in 2001. 
 Unlike Adler, however, Draper returned to the States and became a professor at the Carnegie-Mellon Institute in the 1970s. In the words of The New York Times, he “continued to be recognized as an important, if seldom seen, figure in concert dance.” His career never recovered from the blacklisting, though he did continue to occasionally perform. He also wrote the 1978 book, “On Tap Dancing.”
He died in 1996 at his home in Woodstock, N.Y., at the age of 86.
Paul Draper never denied belonging to the leftist organizations that the right accused him of supporting. “I did do the things and belong to the organizations they said,” The New York Times quoted him as saying in 1980. “I was happy to and am still proud of it.”
But he always denied ever having been a communist.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Max Wilk: 
A Man of Memories
“My mind is a repository of memories, of cameos and anecdotes,” Max Wilk said in 1997. “Nightly, I entertain a cast of thousands. Usually, at about 4 a.m., they arrive.” 
Then 77, Wilk was still doing what he had done for years – write books and scripts, and write them with a sense of humor. 
The son of a literary agent and Warner Brothers story editor,  Wilk was born in 1920, grew up in Minnesota, and studied drama at Yale. He served in the Army in World War II with a Hollywood motion picture unit, and wrote training films starring the likes of Alan Ladd, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart. After the war, he worked on Broadway and, starting in 1948, became a pioneer in television, writing skits for comedians like Ed Wynn, Victor Borge, Art Carney, and Jonathan Winters. 
He and his family moved to Silver Spring Road in 1951 and here he wrote his first book, “Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River,” published in 1960. “While the locale of this book is Connecticut, it has nothing of importance to say about Suburbia, Exurbia, or the stifling wave of Middle Class Conformity which, it is augured, will soon engulf the whole of Fairfield County,” the jacket says. 
Nonetheless, local readers could see many lighthearted slices of 1950s Ridgefield life in his portrait of Green Haven and an innkeeper (loosely based on Walter Tode’s Inn on West Lane, now Bernard’s). The book was turned into a movie starring Jerry Lewis, but its setting was changed from a Ridgefield-like town to London, England!
Wilk went on to write nearly 20 books with such titles as “The Golden Age of Television: Notes from Survivors” and “They’re Playing Our Song: Conversations with America’s Classic Songwriters.” He wrote the novelization of The Beatles’ cartoon movie, “Yellow Submarine.”  His novel, “Help, Help, Help,” also contains anecdotes based on living in Ridgefield. 
He  also wrote many TV shows and his CBS special, “The Fabulous Fifties,” won an Emmy, a Peabody and a Writers Guild Award. 
Wilk and his wife, Barbara, an artist who exhibited nationally and who had received the President’s Volunteer Action Award for community service, moved in 1966 to Westport where Wilk died in  2011 at the age of 91. 


Monday, July 09, 2018


Tony Wilmot: 
Mr. Baseball
If anyone could be called Mr. Baseball in Ridgefield during the last quarter of the 20th Century, it was Anthony “Tony” Wilmot. He not only starred on the local and collegiate diamonds, but coached winning Ridgefield High School teams.
Wilmot was born in Greenwich in 1963, the sixth and last child of Clifford and Jeremy Wilmot — his mother was a former Ridgefield selectman who was active in efforts to document Ridgefield history and save its historic buildings.
He came to Ridgefield as a child and “exhibited many talents at an early age,” his family said. “He was an acclaimed tennis player and an ardent golfer. But it was when he discovered baseball that he’d found the activity at which he would excel and that would consume him for the rest of his life — first as a player, then a coach and always as a passionate promoter of fair play and healthy competition.”
His talent began being recognized in Little League where he was a top pitcher and once hurled a perfect game.  He was captain of the varsity baseball team at Ridgefield High School, where he graduated in 1982. He earned a scholarship to Texas Christian University, where he was captain of the NCAA Division I baseball team and where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986. 
“Tony set the school single-season record for total hits and extra base hits,” Tom Belote said when Wilmot was honored by the Ridgefield Old Timers in 2010. “These accomplishments were achieved when TCU was part of the Southwest Conference, a conference considered by many to be the best college baseball conference in the country.”
Wilmot later served as head coach of the RHS varsity baseball team for six years, amassing a 77-43 record. He was also an assistant coach for the Western Connecticut State University Colonials. In addition, he gave his time and talent to the special needs kids who played in the Holland Division of Ridgefield Little League.
After college Wilmot went to work for Anheuser Busch in New York City, but eventually joined with his sister, Jessica, and learned the restaurant business at her Ancient Mariner.
In 2009, Tony and his wife, Kristina Traynor, also a restaurateur, opened their own restaurant, the Bar & Grille on Route 7. It was a sports-oriented establishment, where fans could gather to watch the games on 11 wall-mounted TVs and enjoy food prepared by two graduates of the Culinary Institute of America.
“I didn't want to be a typical sports bar,”  Wilmot said when Bar and Grille opened. “When I think of a sports bar, I think of deep-fried food, banners all over the place, waitresses in referee tops. This restaurant’s nicer than that.”
Tony Wilmot died in 2014 from influenza-related complications. He was 50 years old. 




Saturday, July 07, 2018


Gen. Wilber E. Wilder: 
Medal of Honor Winner
Gen. Wilber E. Wilder, one of three residents who had earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, is the only winner buried in Ridgefield.
In an 1882 battle with the Apaches in Horseshoe Canyon, N.M., General Wilder, then a lieutenant, carried a wounded comrade down the side of a mountain amid a hail of Apache bullets, an act of heroism that earned him the medal in 1896.  
“He carried off a wounded soldier who had been left between the Indians and the troops during a forced retreat which the troops had made,” his son Throop M. Wilder wrote at the time of his father’s death many years later.
Born in 1857 in Michigan, Wilder entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at the age of 16, graduated in 1877 and was assigned to the Cavalry, soon serving in the American Indian Wars in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the Indian Territories.
In 1886 he was considered a key figure in negotiating the surrender of the Apache chief Geronimo.
“His greatest single exploit was his ride into Geronimo’s camp at the end of a year’s pursuit by General Nelson A. Miles,” his son said. “No one knew whether the Indians would surrender, or whether anyone venturing into their camp to find out would ever return.”
Wilder did return and a surrender was finally agreed to.
By 1895, Wilder was stationed at West Point as adjutant of the Military Academy, but he was soon off to other assignments near and far.
In 1898, in the Spanish-American war he commanded the 14th New York “Volunteers.”
While a captain, he served as acting superintendent of Yellowstone National Park in 1899.
He was sent to Manilla during the Philippine-American War, serving under General Arthur MacArthur (both Arthur and his son, General Douglas MacArthur, were also awarded the Medal of Honor, the first father-son pair to be so honored). For a while Wilder was superintendent of police in Manila.
As colonel of the 5th Cavalry, he was second in command in General Pershing’s Expeditionary Force into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa in 1916.
He served during World War I as brigadier general in France.
Wilder retired in 1927 and came to live quietly for many years at The Elms Inn on Main Street. “He was a very modest man and did not talk about his exploits,” said former town historian Richard E. Venus. 
Gen. Wilder died in 1952 and is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery, where a special plaque marks him as a Medal of Honor recipient.  

Thursday, July 05, 2018


John Winant: 
A Man of Merit
To Ridgefielders early in the 20th Century, he was Gil Winant, the catcher on a team of teenagers from the Ridgefield Club. To the King of England three decades later, he was Ambassador Winant, the man who splendidly represented the United States during Britain’s darkest hour. 
John Gilbert Winant was born in 1889 in New York City, a son of a wealthy real estate executive. Starting around 1907 when he was in his teens, he would spend his summers in Ridgefield with his family, who occupied what became the Peaceable Street estate of B. Ogden Chisolm. Later the family acquired a farm in nearby South Salem. 
The Winants were undoubtedly drawn to Ridgefield because John’s mother, Jeannette
Gilbert Winant, came from an old Ridgefield family. Jeannette’s parents were John A. and Jeannette Wilkie Gilbert, who have a huge monument in Ridgefield Cemetery. While the monument lists John and Jeannette and their children, including daughter Jeannette, it is most likely a memorial; none of the family named on the obelisk is actually buried in the plot. 
Winant and his three brothers belonged to the Ridgefield Club whose headquarters later became the Congregational Church House that burned in 1978. “The club had a fine ball team  for several summers and the Winants made up about one-third of it,” The Ridgefield Press reported in 1941. Among the other players was a young Francis D. Martin, who became a longtime Ridgefield businessman;  Gil Winant caught Marty’s pitches.
Throughout most of his life, John Gilbert Winant would visit relatives and friends in Ridgefield.
Winant attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., which apparently introduced him to the
state that was to become his home. After studying at Princeton, where one of his history professors was Woodrow Wilson, he left to take a position at St. Paul’s, teaching history. In 1916, he got his first taste of politics when he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
However, a year later, with war looming, Winant joined the U.S. Army Air Service and was trained as a pilot. He wound up a captain, commanding the 8th Aero Observation Squadron in France.
After the war he returned to St. Paul’s and to politics; he was elected to the New Hampshire Senate in 1920. Five years later he was won a two-year term as governor of New Hampshire, the youngest person ever elected the state’s governor and the first to serve three terms. He was elected again in 1931 and 1933 at the beginning of the Depression, and though a Republican, “was quick to support President Roosevelt when the latter established the National Recovery Administration,” The New York Times reported. “This he did in the face of expressed disapproval of many rock-ribbed Republicans.”
While governor, The Times said, “Winant introduced many social and labor innovations that later were to become Federal laws. These included a minimum wage law, a state relief bill, aid to dependent children, and creation of the second state planning board in the country.” 
Under Winant, New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to fill its enrollment quota in the Civilian Conservation Corps. 
He also  limited the number of hours that women and children could work, and fought for transparency in government.  “Dismayed by the closed-door executive council meetings, he snuck a local reporter into the meeting, and the journalist wrote a front-page story on the council’s deliberations,” wrote Elizabeth Kendall in a profile of Winant.  “The meetings became open to the public as they remain today.”
New Hampshire historian Richard Hesse said Winant “was an excellent leader. He was very thoughtful and he could sit down and talk to a number of people who didn’t agree, and somehow bring them together.” 
Winant himself said, “Concentrate on the things that unite humanity rather than on the things that divide it.” 
His progressive thinking did not go unnoticed by President Roosevelt who in 1935 appointed Winant the first head of the new Social Security Board. Two years later he became U.S. representative to International Labor Office in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was elected director-general in 1939.
In 1941, as England was at war with Germany, Roosevelt picked Winant as U.S. ambassador to Britain, replacing Joseph P. Kennedy (father of John F. Kennedy). Kennedy had favored
appeasement of Germany while Winant made no secret that he and his government considered Germany the enemy. 
The Times in 1941 offered this analysis of the appointment. “The President, convinced that the war was causing fundamental social changes in England, desired as his representative in London a man of liberal mold intimately acquainted with the British labor leaders. Mr. Winant established such friendly relations as American representative to the International Labor Office and as its director since 1939...For this reason, as well as personal attributes — to his friends Mr. Winant seems to bear a moral and physical resemblance to Abraham Lincoln — the appointment is said to have been urged upon the President by Justice Frankfurter of the Supreme Court and others.”
Winant quickly won the hearts of the British people. When he arrived in England — which
was being bombed daily by the Germans — he declared at the airport: “I am very glad to be here. There is no place I’d rather be at this time than in England.” That statement was quoted on the front page of virtually every newspaper in that war-torn country.
“Winant lived modestly in London despite his station and traveled widely despite the Blitz,” said the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph in a 2010 article.  “He became a familiar figure at bombed buildings, helping where he could. He preferred conversing with janitors and waiters to rubbing elbows with the high-born.”
Nonetheless, he wound up becoming close to King George VI and especially to Prime Minister Winston Churchill — he was with Churchill when both men learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked; the two were excited because they knew it meant the United States would enter the war.
Winant spent many weekends at the prime minister’s country estate, Chequers Court, where he met and soon fell in love with Churchill’s daughter, Sarah, an actress 25 years his junior. According to an article published by the New England Historical Society, “They spent as much time
as they could together. They danced after dinner at wartime conferences in Cairo and Teheran, and saw each other in London, where her apartment was a five-minute walk from the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square. They were terrified of scandal and tried to keep the affair quiet.”
Sarah Churchill was separated from her comedian husband and Winant was married to Constance Rivington Russell, a former New York socialite, who was back in New Hampshire. Their marriage had been troubled from early on. “She loved Paris and parties, he loved Concord and social reform,” the historical society said.
After the war, Winant resigned as ambassador, took an apartment in London and told Sarah he would seek a divorce so they could be married. Sarah declined the offer. Winant was heart-broken.
For a while Winant served as U.S. representative to UNESCO. However, biographers have reported that he had hoped to be appointed the first secretary-general of the newly formed United Nations, and was disappointed when Trygve Lie of Norway got the post.
In early 1947, he left public life and retired to his home on Pleasant Street in Concord.  In her 2010 book, “Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour,” Lynne Olson said Winant “was an exhausted, sick man.” He was estranged from his wife, depressed over the outcome of his affair with Sarah Churchill, saddened at not getting the UN post, and financially broke. 
On Nov. 3, 1947 — the day his autobiography, “Letter from Grosvenor Square,” was published — Winant went into a bedroom in his Concord home and shot himself in the head. He was 58 years old. Sarah Churchill, who had talked to Winant on the phone only a few days earlier, blamed herself for his death.
Winant wanted to be buried on the grounds of St. Paul’s School, but because he was a suicide, the Episcopal institution would not allow it and he was buried in a Concord cemetery. Twenty years later the school had change of heart, and Winant’s casket was moved to St. Paul’s.
Winant’s service and support of England was so appreciated by the English that, a year after his death, he was made an honorary member of the British Order of Merit. He was only the second — and the last — American to be so honored; the other OM was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Throughout his life, John Winant was famous for his generosity. When he left for the war in 1917, he asked a friend to take care of his affairs. The friend was amazed to find a huge monthly bill for milk — Winant had been providing daily deliveries to needy families in the area. On his way to
the station to go to New York one day, he ran into a former maid at St. Paul’s who was financially destitute. He gave her all his cash and wound up having to borrow money at the station to buy his ticket. He often gave money to poor people outside the Statehouse and would tell the Concord police to buy breakfast for homeless people and send him the bill.
In 2007, 60 years after his death, a statue of John Gilbert Winant was erected in front of the State House in Concord. 
“Imagine if you can that he is here with us, right now, uncomfortably listening to us recount his good deeds,” said Mike Hirschfeld, rector of St. Paul’s School, during the dedication ceremony. “In my mind’s eye, I can see him shuffling uneasily, and awkwardly looking down at his feet, embarrassed by our praise.”


Linda Davies: 
A Long Career and Memory
Linda Davies was one of the last of a long line of educators who were born in Ridgefield, grew up in the town,  and spent their lives teaching here. In her case, that career lasted nearly a half century.
 As a 20-year-old in 1930,  Davies began instructing first through fourth graders at the two-room Branchville Schoolhouse, which still stands along Old Branchville Road. She went on to teach for 42 years. “Even after her retirement, she came back and served as a substitute for a number of years,” said former schools personnel director Paul Hazel. “What a delightful thing that is.”
Margaret Linda Davies was born here the day before Christmas in 1909, a daughter of William and Jenny Tait Davies. Her father, an immigrant from England who was an estate gardener, and her mother, who was born in Northern Ireland, had each left school after the fourth grade.
She attended Ridgefield schools and graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1928. She then studied in the teaching program at Danbury Normal School, now Western Connecticut State University, for two years and began working at Branchville. By the 1950s, she was teaching fifth grade at the new Veterans Park School and when she retired in 1972, was a social studies teacher at East Ridge Junior High School. 
Over the years she had continued her studies, receiving a bachelor's degree from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1939 and a master's degree there two years later. She did advanced graduate studies at New York University, Eastern Connecticut State College, UConn, and Fairfield University. 
She considered teaching a difficult but rewarding experience. "The processes of child development are extremely complex," she told a Press interviewer in 1955. “One of the greatest sources of satisfaction to the teacher is in noting [a child’s] improvement and realizing that she or he, through study and evaluation, has had an opportunity to be of some assistance in helping the child to make these gains, whether they be social, emotional, educational, or other."
Davies was active in many Ridgefield organizations, including the Sunshine Society, the OWLS, the Friends of the Library,  the old Grange chapter, and the Keeler Tavern, where she was a cashier for the gift shop. She lived for many years on  Ramapoo Hill Road
Davies belonged to the First Congregational Church where she was a member of the Women's Fellowship. “She was a very dynamic and practical lady,” said Dotty Hall, a fellow church member. “She had good sense and she always had the right answers.”
Davies had a lifelong interest  in politics. In 1978, she was selected as a senior intern to serve in the U.S Congress in Washington, D.C., from the Fifth Congressional District.
She was also an avid traveler and in her younger years, was an active bowler.
She died in 2000 at a nursing home in Mansfield at the age of 90.
Linda Davies was another oldtimer who was valued for her memory of the past. She could recall many details of what life in the village was like long before Main Street was even paved. She knew the people and places well, and had a collection of early photos of the town. She “maintained a vast knowledge of the history and people of Ridgefield,” a family member said.
For seven years, she aided the Ridgefield Archives Committee — forerunner of the Ridgefield Historical Society — in its efforts to identify thousands of old Joseph Hartmann photographs of the town and its people from early in the century. “She knew everything,” said Kay Ables of the Archives Committee and now town historian. “She knew all the people all the stories. She had all this information in her head.”

Wednesday, July 04, 2018




Paul Ullman: 
Artist and Patriot
A Ridgefield-based artist-turned-underground fighter died in the service of both his native and adopted countries.  
Born in Paris in 1906, Paul Ullman was the son of French artist Eugene-Paul Ullman and American writer Alice Woods. He first came to America as a child in 1914 when war in Europe broke out. While he became a U.S. citizen, he returned to France after the war for his college studies and decided to establish a studio in Paris, painting there from 1928 until 1939. 
“He was one of the outstanding young painters of France, belonging to an important group of exhibitors in Paris,” The Ridgefield Press said in 1944. Several books about him and his work have been published, and he has been exhibited at major museums in both the United States and Europe.
After Paris fell, Ullman served in the American Field Service as an ambulance driver. But he, his wife, Babette, and son Jacques were still based in France, and the dangers to Ullman, a Jew, were increasing. 
The Ullmans decided to move to the United States and eventually came to Ridgefield to live with his uncle, George Ullman, who, in 1942, bought the large Main Street house (114)  just south of
the Keeler Tavern and opposite the fountain. George was the head of General Printing Ink Corporation in New York City, which, in 1945, became Sun Chemical, today the world’s largest producer of printing inks.
A nephew of his father was involved in helping British Intelligence track the activities of German sympathizers and suspected agents in this country, and encouraged  Ullman to join the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) soon after it formed in 1942. 
Ullman jumped at the opportunity. During his more than a year of training, he was able to occasionally visit his wife and son in Ridgefield.
Because he was fluent in both French and English, the OSS loaned Paul to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a highly secret British espionage unit. There he underwent extensive training as an underground agent who would serve in France.
Meanwhile, in Ridgefield, his wife Babette became involved in efforts to help her native country. She packed hundreds of boxes of food and clothing for war relief efforts in France and hosted French sailors and other French visitors at the Ullman home. 
In the summer of 1944,  she and a family friend, Michael Wills, organized a Quatorze Juillet — Bastille Day — celebration to publicize and support the French war relief effort, reports Constance Crawford, who wrote the biography, “Babette.” They got permission to close off Main Street in the center of town, set out tables with checkered cloths in front of the stores to simulate
Parisian cafes, and had various celebrities perform — among them was the noted harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. There was dancing in the streets, The Press reported.
While the celebrating was going on, Babette was unaware that her husband had been killed by the Nazis.
In April of 1944 Paul Ullman was parachuted into France near Dijon on a mission to blow up a railroad bridge near Montbeliard.  He was taken to a supposedly safe house belonging to a man named Jean-Pierre Barbier in the village of Valentigney. 
On his second night there, the house was surrounded and raided by the Germans.
“Waking, Ullman pulled an overcoat and trousers on over his pajamas and while Madame Barbier was being questioned by the Germans, he jumped from a window,” reports British military historian Paul McCue. “As he made a run for it down the street, however, he was spotted and fired upon, a burst of automatic gunfire from the enemy hitting him from behind in the head. 
“Gravely wounded, he was taken to the German military hospital where two bullet wounds to his head were treated and dressed, but Ullman did not recover and died shortly after admission. 
“The Germans — reported to be the Gestapo from Belfort — were said to have been looking for the Barbiers' son (the family was very active in the Resistance, but the son was not then at home), rather than an Allied agent. If so, it was remarkably bad fortune that Ullman was spending only his second night in the field in the suspect house.”
The Germans never knew who Ullman was and his body, labeled “unknown,” was quickly released for burial in a local cemetery.  “A positive identification of Ullman was made post-liberation by the American Graves Registration Service from the morgue’s records and photographs and the body was subsequently re-interred in the American Military Cemetery at Epinal,” McCue said.
Ullman was 38 years old when he was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star by the U.S. Army, and the Croix de guerre and Legion of Honor by the French government.  At the OSS Memorial Wall at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in McLean, Va., he is included in the Book of Honor, which lists OSS operatives killed in action.
He died “fighting for the peace of the world and for the love of two countries,” The Press said at his death. 
Because of the secrecy surrounding his mission and the agency he worked for, Babette did not learn of her husband’s death until November, seven months later. Devastated, she attempted suicide by drinking a belladonna mixture, which severely sickened but did not kill her. 
She eventually married Michael Wills and moved to California. The Wills’s home in Portola Valley was called “Willy Nilly” and became a gathering place for artists, intellectuals and activists, including Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, filmmaker Felix Greene, and author Wallace Stegner.
Babette Ullman Wills died in 2009 at the age of 97. 
While she and Michael Wills were happily married until he died in 1994, she told   biographer Crawford that it took her 20 years to get over the loss of Paul Ullman. 



Sunday, July 01, 2018


Albert Tramer: 
The Last Outpost
From the 1920s until 1962, one of the most popular — and most beautiful — places to dine or spend a weekend in southwestern Connecticut was the Outpost Inn on Danbury Road. Guests seeking an escape in the country included Marilyn Monroe and her then husband, playwright Arthur Miller; Walt Disney and his family; and Broadway star Ethel Merman.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt drove herself over to have lunch there one day.
The Outpost Inn began life in 1928 when Col. Louis D. Conley, who owned nearly 2,000 acres
of northeastern Ridgefield and nearby Danbury as part of his Outpost Nurseries, decided to create a country inn on a piece of his property along Danbury Road just north of the village.
The main inn building was a house built in 1816 by Albin Jennings, a popular Ridgefield carpenter in the early 19th Century. Jennings had waited four years to gain permission from the parents of Polly Dauchy to marry his sweetheart, and once the parents acquiesced, he built this house
for his new bride. It had a number of features that demonstrated his skill as a fine builder, including a spiral staircase near the front entrance.
Over the years, the inn had had several managers or owners. The last owner was Albert
Tramer, a Swiss-born and -trained chef who had held positions in some of New York City’s top restaurants, and his wife, Gloria, who helped run the inn.
Born in 1905, Albert D. Tramer came to the United States in 1924. By the late 1930s, he
owned and operated La Petite Swiss, The Swiss Chalet, and the Tramer Restaurant in the city, taking time out during World War II to serve as a Navy chief petty officer in the South Pacific.
In 1953, the Tramers bought what was then called the Hearthstone Outpost Inn. They lived on
the inn grounds with their three daughters; he commuted between Outpost and his New York restaurants for a couple of years before deciding to devote his full time to the Ridgefield operation.
Outpost attracted not only celebrities, but local organizations, such as Rotary and the Jaycees, who would meet there — Rotary was so pleased with the accommodations the Tramers provided that
the club gave them a silver bowl in appreciation. Major magazines used its elegant setting and gardens for photo shoots. And townspeople enjoyed not only the food, but Outpost Pond.
“The pond along Route 35 was always open to the townspeople for ice skating during the winter and was hugely popular,” said Tramer’s daughter, Diane Wilush. “Often Albert would serve
hot chocolate to the skaters.”
In 1962, Tramer sold the place to Carl Shapley, son of Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley and brother of Nobel economist Lloyd Shapley. Carl operated The Shapley School, a prep school, which soon got into financial troubles and closed in 1967.
Soon after, David Paul — who was building Casagmo at the time — bought the property at a public auction, and developed Fox Hill, the town’s first condominiums. Plans were to turn the main inn building into a community center, but the building caught fire in 1968 and was eventually razed.
Tramer worked for a while as director of the restaurant at The Westport Inn. He retired and moved to Florida in 1973 where he died in 1994 at the age of 88. Gloria Tramer died 10 years later.