Friday, August 31, 2018


Leopold and Sady Weiss:
Why Houdini Wasn’t Happy
For decades stories have circulated about Houdini’s visits to his brother in Ridgefield. Some reports have gone so far as to maintain the world-famous magician practiced his underwater escape tricks in a pool at the grand Sunset Hall estate on Old West Mountain Road.
However, there is evidence Houdini wouldn’t have set foot in that house, which belonged not to his brother, but to his hated sister-in-law.
The brother was Dr. Leopold Weiss, a pioneer in the field of medical radiology. The sister-in-law was Leopold’s wife, Sadie — later Sady, a Manhattan fashion executive who owned Sunset Hall for six years.
Born in 1877 in Appleton, Wisc., Leopold David Weiss was the youngest of six children of Rabbi Mayer Weisz and his wife, Cecilia, natives of Budapest. One of the five Weisz brothers, Ehrich, went by the name of Harry Houdini. 
Dr. Weiss, who was called Leo, became what some reports say was the first radiologist in New York City. He started his practice from Houdini’s brownstone in Harlem shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. 
The Weiss family members were close and often gathered together. But in 1917, the family was in turmoil.
Sadie Glanz Weiss had divorced her husband, Nathan Weiss — brother of Leopold and brother of Houdini — and 10 days later, she married Leopold.
Houdini was heartbroken as well as furious over what he considered scandalous mistreatment of Nathan.
“The precise details of the family drama are not entirely known, but Houdini's displeasure
took many forms, including cutting Leo’s head out of family portraits and forbidding his burial in the Weiss family plot,” said John Cox, a longtime student of Houdini.
Accounts do not specifically mention Leo’s being disinherited, but do say that Houdini’s will specified that none of his estate should “ever directly or indirectly go to Sadie Glantz Weiss, the divorced wife of my brother Joseph Nathan Weiss, and the present wife of my brother, Dr. Leopold Nathan Weiss.”
Sadie Weiss, who by 1928 was spelling her name Sady, was a New York City fashion designer and executive. The daughter of Hungarian parents, she was born in New York and married Nathan Weiss in 1899 when she was about 22 years old.
In 1912, she and her sister, Anna Bruck, established the Bruck-Weiss Millinery, which by 1918 was “the largest exclusive millinery shop to be found on either side of the Atlantic,” according to a contemporary trade publication.  The firm owned a 10-story building just off Fifth Avenue, and occupied most of the floors, selling not only hats, but other articles of clothing for wealthy women.
“The interiors are finished in old ivory, after the period of Louis XVI, with reproductions of needlework tapestry, and festooned crystal chandeliers of the same period,” the “Illustrated Milliner” reported. “Rich Chinese rugs ornament the beautiful parquet floors, while the curtains are of extraordinarily fine Belgium laces…”
Sady, who was referred to in the press as “Madame Weiss,” believed women should have a clothing philosophy. “Until a woman has a well-established idea in her mind of just what clothes she can wear, she is unsettled, drifting,” she said in a 1928 interview published in newspapers across the country. “A clothes philosophy is almost as important in a woman’s life as a career.”
In November 1924, Sady Weiss bought the Ridgefield mansion of James Stokes, a place today called Sunset Hall. A Manhattan banker who was a pillar of the YMCA movement, Stokes had built the huge, 10-bedroom house on Old West Mountain Road in 1912 and died six years later. Sady Weiss purchased the place from a niece who had inherited it. Houdini’s brother Leopold was not mentioned in the deed or in any deeds involving the property.
Sady Weiss held on to the house until 1931, when she sold it to Ruth Cutten. 
Meanwhile, the same year Sady bought Sunset Hall, Houdini wrote his will, excluding her
and perhaps Leopold from any inheritance.
On Oct. 31, 1926, Houdini died of peritonitis from a burst appendix.
Thus, there were less than two years when Houdini could have visited Sunset Hall — between December 1924 and his death on Halloween, 1926.
For all this period, he is known to have hated Sady Weiss and was reported to be estranged from his brother as well.
Why then would he have visited Sunset Hall — Sady’s house?
Houdini scholar Cox has also found evidence that Leopold may not have thought much of his brother Houdini. An interview with a woman who knew Leopold’s office nurse revealed that Dr. Weiss did not speak well of his brother. She reported Leopold had said Houdini “was an embarrassment to the family because he was a magician.” 
Cox wondered about this. “Possibly Leo felt entertainment was a lowly profession compared to his own,” he wrote. “Or maybe the hard feelings between the brothers went both ways. But it’s fascinating to hear what Leo had to say because, until now, we’ve only heard Houdini’s side of the feud.” 
Compounding the mystery of whether or why Houdini would visit Ridgefield is the account of Richard E. Venus, former Ridgefield town historian. In a Dick’s Dispatch column in The Ridgefield Press in 1987, Venus wrote that Houdini and his wife, Bess, “spent many weekends at his brother’s Ridgefield home. I recall seeing him as he stopped in the local stores on a Saturday morning. On one occasion, I sold Houdini a Ridgefield Press.”
Adding still more to the mystery is the fact that Sady and Leopold themselves were not on the best of terms during the 1920s, according to testimony during their 1932 divorce proceedings.
The divorce battle was ugly. Leopold, who brought the suit against Sady, charged that she would spend weekends at Sunset Hall and another country home she had in Ossining with either of two boyfriends 20 years younger than her. Sady’s butler told Leopold he often served Sady and her lover breakfast in bed. One boyfriend was named “Locke Lorraine,” according to the suit.
Leopold also:
  • Maintained that he gave Sady the money to establish Bruck-Weiss, and that in return she agreed to pay him $8,000 a year for life, but did so for only three years.
  • Claimed he was broke now and wanted not only the promised payments, but also half of the $115,000 she got from selling Sunset Hall. (That selling price equals about $2.1 million in today’s dollars).
Sady in response charged that:
  • Leopold “persuaded her to get a divorce” from Nathan Weiss, and then turned around and refused to marry her unless she gave him $100,000 and half her interest in Bruck-Weiss.
  • Soon after they were married, he started abusing her and threatened to ruin her clothing business. “To keep the peace she agreed to give him $8,000 a year for life and did pay him that for three years,” said a newspaper report of the divorce proceedings.
  • Leopold finally walked out on her in 1930, despite the fact that throughout their marriage, she had supported him with her money.
After their divorce — whose settlement is unknown — Sady lived on West 59th Street in Manhattan until her death in 1935 at the age of 54.
Leopold continued his radiology practice until 1949 when he retired because of increasing blindness — due, it’s been suggested, to his exposure to x-rays. He eventually began running low on money and on Oct. 5, 1962, Dr. Weiss jumped off the roof of his apartment building, killing himself. He was 70 years old. 
“Leo left all his worldly goods to his long-time, former nurse, Marguerite Elliott,” John Cox reported. “But Marguerite’s husband forbad her from accepting, so all that was left of the last living Weiss sibling was thrown out.”
 Even though Houdini had supposedly banned him from the family plot in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens 38 years earlier, Leopold was buried there. 
 The whereabouts of Sady’s remains are unknown.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


John Morganti: 
A Solid Foundation
Giovanni Silvio Morganti was a teenager from Italy who spoke hardly a word of English when he arrived in America. Yet John Morganti, as he came to be known, fathered a multimillion dollar company and a family that have both been major forces in the shaping of Ridgefield in the 20th Century.
However, three times over the years he came close to dying — from disease, from war and from a fire. He survived to be 78.
Born in 1887 in Tomba, Italy, John Morganti got off the boat from Genoa on the morning of
April 17, 1903, with about $50 in his pocket. He was only 15 years old. He took a train from New York to Ridgefield and that afternoon, was hard at work on building the new sewer lines in the village. 
After some jobs in New Haven and then two years laboring at the Ridgefield Electric Company’s powerhouse alongside the old railroad tracks on Ivy Hill Road, Morganti worked for local contractors on building houses, including some of the High Ridge mansions – Altnacraig among them. Intent on becoming an American citizen, he studied English by attending night classes at the old Center School on Bailey Avenue.
In 1907, he decided to return to Italy to visit his parents for Christmas, only to be pressed into service by the Italian army and sent to Italian Somaliland in east Africa to help build a railroad. There, he contracted malaria and was sent back to Italy, spending 83 days in a hospital. 
Two years after his impressment into the Italian Army, Morganti decided it was time to go “home.” With the help of three friends, two of them Ridgefielders, he snuck across the Italian border into France and eventually returned to America in February 1910. He became a U.S. citizen in 1917.
In 1916, he started his own contracting firm. A year later he already had six workers and over the subsequent decades, employed dozens of Ridgefielders. 
Though he was reluctant to remain in the Italian Army,  Morganti had no qualms about joining the United States forces in World War I. He served in the Marne and Argonne campaigns in France with the 77th Infantry, fought in a half dozen major battles, and was wounded in the forehead.
After the war, he return to run his contracting company. “From its beginning through the 1940’s, Morganti grew from stonewall and small masonry projects into road building, bridge construction, high-end residential, shopping centers and commercial buildings,” Morganti Inc. says today on its website. A company motto is “Constructing solid foundations that last a lifetime.”
John Morganti and Sons also built and/or paved many of the roads in Ridgefield, and did some small-scale subdivisions. But large industrial and public buildings became the specialty of what became Morganti Inc.
The firm grew to the point where, in the 1970s, it was among the 400 largest construction companies in the nation. Among Morganti’s projects in town were East Ridge Middle School, Ridgebury School, Yankee Ridge shopping center on Main Street, Ridgefield Commerce Park on Danbury, and 901 Ethan Allen Highway (former Benrus Center, now the Pond’s Edge medical offices). Morganti built Wilton High School, much of Danbury Hospital, and in the last half of the
20th Century, many other schools, hospitals, and public buildings  throughout the eastern United States, and in the Middle East. 
John Morganti remained active in his company until the early 1960s when his son, Paul J. Morganti, took over as president. Paul Morganti was also well known in town, serving in the 1950s and early 60s as a selectman, and then again in the 1990s in the same position. John’s other sons, John, Joseph, and Robert, were also executives in the company and well-known in the community.
In 1988, his company was sold to Consolidated Contractors Company of Athens, Greece, which retained the Morganti Inc. name but moved its offices to Danbury. Other Morganti offices are now in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas, Abu-Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, and — appropriately enough — Italy.
John Morganti and his wife, the former Elizabeth Eramo, marked their 47th wedding anniversary in January 1965, three months before his death. He died on April 17, just 62 years and two days after he arrived in Ridgefield, an eager teenager from a far-away land.
In the early days of their marriage, John and Elizabeth lived in a three-story building on Bailey Avenue, just east of the Ridgefield Press. The Italian cooperative store occupied the first floor, along with Travostino’s bakery, while several families — including the Morgantis — lived upstairs. 
“We had nice, large rooms in the Cooperative building and there was electricity,” Elizabeth Morganti told Aldo Biagiotti, author of “Impact: The Historical Account of the Italian Immigrants of Ridgefield, Connecticut.”
“There was a bathroom along the hallway. We paid $12 a month rent. Once a month on a Sunday morning, Sam Denton knocked at the door to collect the rent.”
On the night of April 22, 1922, John and Elizabeth were awakened to the cries of “Fire! Get out!” It was Antonio Travostino, who had arisen early to start up his ovens and who had discovered the building was on fire.
“My husband and I ... rushed out onto the sidewalk,” Elizabeth said. “The only thing I had on was my nightgown. We lost everything, as did all the others, and I do mean everything.”
The building burned for three days. “You know, the firemen did not have enough water to fight the fire,” she said. “Some of the roofs of houses way over on Governor Street burned as a result of the fire.”
However, she added, “if it were not for Travostino, we would have all burned to death. Although we and the other families lost everything, we were lucky. We got out of the fire with our lives.”

Friday, August 24, 2018


The Tragic Story
 of Agnes Birdseye
Someone strolling along the western edge of the Branchville Cemetery would come upon the gravestones of the Birdseye family. They might smile at the name and say, “Frozen food!”
But no, these are different Birdseyes. And the gravestone of the first Birdseye who was buried there — a woman who shot her lover and killed herself — is mysteriously missing.
Agnes Elizabeth Birdseye was born in 1900 in New York City, a daughter of middle-class parents. Her father, Lewis, was an accountant who became secretary to the head of the New York Police Department and later was a superintendent of hospitals in the city.
In the 1910s, the Birdseyes bought a summer home at 70 Peaceable Street in Georgetown, a short distance east of the Branchville train station. They became members of the Georgetown Congregational Church and as a teenager, Agnes sang in its choir.
It appears that Mrs. Lewis and her children were living on Peaceable Street full-time by 1920 and Elizabeth, Agnes’s younger sister, graduated from the Gilbert and Bennett School (now a cultural center) in 1923.
Agnes Birdseye’s strange story began a year later when the 24-year-old nurse went to work for Dr. Milton Thomashefsky, an ear, nose and throat specialist with a practice near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A Columbia graduate, Thomashefsky was described in newspaper accounts as “dashing” and a “Don Juan,” the bachelor son of Yiddish theater celebrities Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky.
It appears a romance eventually blossomed, at least in Agnes’s mind. Friends said she called the doctor “Mickey” and he called her “Boo Boo.” They went out to dinner together, to parties, and the theater.
But according to Thomashefsky’s later testimony, there had never been any more to their relationship than friendship. He “conceded her infatuation for him, but added he had always told her it was hopeless,” he is quoted in a Brooklyn newspaper as telling investigators.
However the doctor may have felt, it seemed clear Agnes was in love with him. And when one day in the early August of 1931, she discovered a letter from another woman in one of his coat pockets, she reportedly became enraged with jealousy.
The letter was from Norma Jean Bernstein, a 24-year-old camp counselor whom the doctor had met upstate the previous summer and with whom he became friends.  “Dear, darling Mickey,” the letter began; it ended, “Oh, did I remember to tell you, dear, darling Mickey, that I miss you so much?”
Dr. Thomashefsky later  maintained that this relationship was also only friendship, not a romance.
On Monday, Aug. 10, Birdseye snuck into Thomashefsky’s apartment while he slept and chloroformed him. Then, according to one account, she “performed a mutilating operation on him.” Other reports say only that she cut him three times with a knife.
She also left a note, saying “Harry, we have settled our account with you. A.C.” Police theorized  that since the doctor had a brother named Harry, the note was meant to suggest the stabbing was a case of mistaken identity, diverting any suspicions that she was the culprit.
It didn’t work. On Wednesday, Aug. 12, at his office,  Thomashefsky confronted Birdseye about the attack.
“She confessed to cutting me and went down on her knees to beg forgiveness,” the doctor later told investigators. “I refused to forgive her and told her I was through with her.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. As Thomashefsky turned and went to answer it, Birdseye ran to her nearby desk, grabbed a revolver from a drawer and fired a single shot at his back. The bullet smashed his spine.
She then shot herself in the abdomen and the head. She died instantly from the head wound.
Thomashefsky lay on the floor a short distance from her body and, he said later, became suicidal himself.
“I knew I had been shot in the spine,” he told Brooklyn District Attorney William F.X. Geoghan. “I knew I was paralyzed.”
“I crawled to where the revolver was and broke it open to see how many bullets were left. I wanted to finish the job.” 
He found only three shells and all had been fired.
Thomashefsky then called Birdseye’s father, Lewis. “I told him to come right over, that something terrible had happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, Philip Pines, who had been knocking at the locked office door to meet the doctor for a dinner engagement, heard the shots. Pines had been acting as a bodyguard for the Thomashefsky since Monday’s knife attack.
With the help of building staff, Pines broke into the office, found the two gunshot victims, and called for help.
Thomashefsky was taken to the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn — the institution where Agnes’s father was superintendent. 
After investigating the scene and interviewing the doctor, police reported they believed the case was one of “attempted murder and suicide.”
Lewis Birdseye refused to believe her daughter could have committed the crime and killed herself. 
“Agnes did not do this,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ll get to the bottom of it despite Dr. Thomashefsky’s story.”
He theorized that a third party had shot the two. “In support of his theory [he] pointed out that several chairs had been overturned as though in a struggle,” The New York Times reported. “The authorities tried vainly to convince him of the correctness of their theory.”
There were other puzzling details and reports. Engagement and wedding rings were found in Birdseye’s purse, but authorities never explained how they may have been related to the shootings. There were reports that Birdseye and Thomashefsky had quarreled, and that Agnes had a black eye.
Dr. Thomashefsky underwent months of treatments before being sent home from the hospital. Confined to a wheelchair, he never practiced again, and instead lived with his mother in an apartment at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, where he died five years after the shooting. His death at age 39 was reported to have been due to complications from the gunshot injury.
He is said to have spent his last years writing plays and movie scripts. None was ever produced.
“Titian-haired Agnes Birdseye” was buried Saturday, Aug. 15, “in the little cemetery in Branchville,” the Norwalk Hour said. “Few spectators gathered to watch the final services for the young girl who was formerly a member of the choir of the Georgetown Congregational Church.”
Agnes Birdseye’s gravestone, giving only her name and the years of her birth and death, was
standing on Nov. 18, 1934, when a state official did a survey of all the monuments in Branchville Cemetery. 
It has since vanished. Instead, there are monuments for her parents, Lewis, who died in 1942, and Florence, 1949, along with her brother, Lewis Jr., who died in 1958. 
Also buried in the Birdseye plot is Dr. Archibald Abernethy, a native of Canada, who was a physician at the Norwich State Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Around 1930, he married Agnes’s sister, Elizabeth, probably a nurse at the same facility, and died two years later — less than a year after Agnes’s death. (His wife is not in Branchville, however; she later married Peter Thornton and moved to Florida where she died in 1980.)
What happened to the gravestone of Agnes Birdseye? Perhaps it was removed by members of the family who grew to be embarrassed by her tragic end. More likely the family removed it because they didn’t want sensation-seeking members of the public ghoulishly gawking at her gravesite.
However, it may even have been stolen by a souvenir seeker after the story resurfaced in newspapers across the country in 1936 when Milton Thomashefsky died.
A year after his daughter’s tragic death, and perhaps as a result of it, Lewis Birdseye left the world of hospital administration to become a social worker with the St. John’s Guild, a charitable organization sponsored by the Episcopal Church that focused on helping underprivileged children. 
He became widely known among the poor in New York City when he managed the guild’s Floating Hospital, a ship that mixed recreation with medical assistance. Thousands of city children in the summer took trips on the vessel, getting exposure to fresh air and the sea, and in the process receivings checkups and screenings from physicians and nurses on board. At the same time staff members would instruct parents in good child-rearing practices.
The Floating Hospital is still in operation today.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Bert Anderson: 
He Died On Duty
Only two Ridgefield police officers have lost their lives while on duty. One of them died in the town hall.
In the days before Ridgefield had its own formal police department, Bert Anderson was the town’s night constable, also called the night watchman, hired to patrol the village mostly on foot during the evening and early morning hours.
Anderson appeared “in excellent spirits” when he stopped by the Ridgefield Bakery at 4 a.m. on Oct. 9, 1939.
A few hours later, workers arriving at the Town Hall found Anderson dead in the constables’ office. He had been shot through the abdomen with his own 41 caliber revolver.
State police from Troop A on East Ridge, led by Lt. Leo F. Carroll and including the medical examiner, Dr. R.W. Lowe, investigated. Based on their findings, county coroner Patrick McIlroy of New Canaan declared that Anderson’s death was accidental.
“Lt. Carroll said Anderson was probably removing his gun belt when the weapon fell to the
floor and discharged,” The Stamford Advocate reported.
 Anderson was 60 years old.
A native of Baltimore, Md.,  Jesse Ebert Anderson was born in 1879 and came to Ridgefield around the turn of the 20th Century. He had been for many years superintendent of Casagmo, the estate of Miss Mary Olcott on Main Street.
In 1905, he married Florence Lillian “Lilly” Whitlock, a local girl. They had two children, including Lyman Ebert Anderson, a longtime Ridgefielder.
Various accounts says Bert Anderson had been chief of the Ridgefield Fire Department, but no record of that could be found. However, his grandson, Rodney A. Anderson, was chief  in 1972-73.
The other ill-fated officer was John Palmer. 


Sunday, August 12, 2018


Kathryn Morgan Ryan: 
A Woman of Words
Often working in the shadow of her famous husband, Kathryn Morgan Ryan was nonetheless an accomplished writer and researcher, who wrote four books and had a successful career in magazines. 
The work through which she touched the most lives may well have been as a researcher and editor on her husband Cornelius Ryan’s World War II books, including “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far.” 
Mrs. Ryan grew up in Iowa, the setting for her 1972 novel, “The Betty Tree,” which The New York Times described as “a novel about Midwestern attitudes and two adolescent children coping with affluent, busy parents.” (She admitted later that she wrote “The Betty Tree” after a dispute  with her husband in which he maintained she could not write a book on her own; she wanted to prove him wrong.)
In 1946, at the age of 19, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and had an early career that included writing and editing for Conde Nast magazines.  She was an editor at House and Garden until 1953,  starting out making “the extraordinary sum of $30 a week, but we were encouraged to wear hats in the office — the mark, in those days, of a lady editor,” she said.
From 1955 to 1960,  she was an associate editor with House and Home magazine.
“I was the resident house author on Frank Lloyd Wright,” she told an interviewer in 1972. “While my husband was roaming the world in search of one story after another, I seemed to be knee-deep in bricks and mortar.”
She and Cornelius Ryan were married in 1950, they had a son and a daughter, and for a while Kathryn Ryan was supporting the family while he was researching “The Longest Day.”
“Life really became difficult for us,” she said. “I was working full-time because my job was the Ryans’ only source of income. Our three-room apartment in New York was almost uninhabitable. The children slept in what we laughingly called ‘the master bedroom.’ We bedded down in a room that wouldn’t have made a good-sized closet. Everywhere else, the apartment was piled high with research.”
At the same time, she was also raising two children and helping her husband. “I organized, cross-referenced, filed mountains of information and edited copy,” she said. “Sometimes we worked until 2 or 3 a.m.”
During the same period she also wrote two books, “House & Garden’s Book of Building” and, with comedian Alan King, “Anyone Who Owns His Own Home Deserves It.”
Kathryn Ryan is best known for writing “A Private Battle,” the story of her husband’s death
from cancer, which became a Book of the Month Club selection, was condensed by Reader’s Digest, and made into a television special. The book, which bears her husband’s name as co-author, is based on secret notes and tape recordings her husband kept as he was dying from prostate cancer. The notes were discovered after his death.
“Connie was so objective he couldn't resist interviewing an ashtray if one happened to be there, and I think he was both fascinated and repelled by cancer,” she told a Times interviewer. “I think his attitudes indicate he probably would have written a pretty definitive book about it.”
She decided to use his notes to write “A Private Battle,” which was published by Simon & Schuster. 
It was a difficult, but cathartic experience, she told The Times. “Connie’s great desk sits just nine feet across the office from mine, and as I was writing it, I would be so immersed in the book I would really feel he was there.”
Over the years she received many honors. Some were unusual including, for her work on World War II, being made an honorary member of four paratroop units in the United States, England, and Poland. 
A Ridgefielder for nearly 30 years, she was active in community organizations, including St. Stephen’s Church, the Ridgefield Garden Club, and the District Nurse Association. She lived for many years on Old Branchville Road in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house of redwood, cypress and 84 windows overlooking eight acres. After her husband’s death, she moved to  Jackson Court in the village and some years later, to Florida where she died in 1993 at the age of 68.
Kathryn Ryan’s lifelong love of words came from her mother, who was an English teacher. “We played great games of parsing English sentences,” she recalled in a 1976 Ridgefield Press interview. “We learned grammar in a very entertaining fashion.”
She felt English often wasn’t well taught. “The problem today was the same thing my husband encountered and overcame in writing. History doesn’t have to be dull, and neither does English. It all goes back to imagination, to making something truly interesting to the pupil, to make him want to participate in what you are teaching.
“Once you get participation, you don’t have someone in the back of the room yawning.” 


Saturday, August 11, 2018


Philip Wagoner, 
Underwood’s Overlord
Philip D. Wagoner may have built one of the largest mansions in town, but the man who produced millions of typewriters and was a pioneer in making digital computers, spent most of his Ridgefield years living in his own caretaker’s cottage.
Wagoner came to Ridgefield around 1932, when he was head of a group of companies that included Underwood Typewriter. He acquired a spread on West Mountain on the shore of Round Pond that included a residence and a large icehouse used to store ice cakes in the days before the electric refrigerators. Wagoner tore down both the house and ice house and built a large — some said “pretentious” — two-story mansion that was reputed to have cost about $100,000 at that time ($1.4 million in 2016 dollars). The stone facing on the house and entrance gates was imported from France. He called the estate “Oreneca,” after one of the American Indians who sold Ridgefield to the first settlers.
In 1940, about seven years after Philip and Effie Wagoner moved into their new house,  Effie died at the age of 64. “Although he recovered from the shock of this loss, it broke his spirit, which had led him to erect his great home here, and thereafter he spent the major part of his Ridgefield days in the seven-room foreman’s house on the property, which was a replica of the larger 27-room mansion,” wrote Karl S. Nash, former editor and publisher of The Ridgefield Press.
Born in 1876 in Somerville, N.J.,  Philip Dakin Wagoner came from a family that were among  the settlers of Staten Island, N.Y.
He graduated in 1896 from Stevens Institute of Technology; his thesis was typewritten, which was very unusual at the time, according the Journal of Business Education. Perhaps it presaged his future career.
Soon after graduation, he joined General Electric where he specialized in making military
products — airplane engines and artillery casings. In 1918 he became president of the Elliott-Fisher Company which soon merged with several firms, including the Underwood Typewriter Company, eventually operating under the name of Underwood Corporation.
Since the 1870s, John Thomas Underwood had been making typewriter ribbons and carbon paper, much of which supplied users of Remington typewriters. Then Remington decided to make ribbons themselves. That prompted John Underwood to fire back: Starting in 1896, he began making typewriters. In 1900 he launched the No. 5, which became the top-selling typewriter in the world; more than two million were made by 1920, by which time Wagoner had taken over the operation. (Underwoods were still being used in the newsroom of the Ridgefield Press in the early 1990s.)
Editor Nash himself used a No. 5 most of his journalistic life — he was a two-finger typist, but very fast with both. He recalled in the 1960s that “although Wagoner did not participate actively in the town’s affairs, he early made himself known in the town hall, particularly in the assessors’ and selectmen’s offices. On one occasion he presented several new Underwood typewriters for use in town offices. It pained him somewhat to see other brands in use officially in his home town.”
However, Nash added, Wagoner “thought the old No. 5 used by the editor of The Press at that time was certainly not worn out.” 
Under Wagoner’s command, Underwood operated the largest typewriter factory in the world, located in Hartford. The plant could turn out a typewriter a minute.
His favorite motto, “It Can Be Done,” was proven during World War II when Wagoner led the conversion of that huge typewriter factory into one that produced M1 carbines for the military.
Long before electronic computers, Wagoner saw the need for computing machines that could  
help businesses with functions like accounting and payroll. He established the Underwood Computing Machine Company in the late 1920s, making mechanical calculating machines. By the early 1950s, Underwood had acquired the business of the Electronic Computer Corporation, and began manufacturing digital computers under the trademark, Elecom. Its “low-cost digital computer” in 1952 consisted of two sizable desk units with an output of “20 digits per second of computed data plus 14 digits of descriptive information.” This machine weighed 750 pounds, had 160 vacuum tubes, required two kilowatts of power, and cost $17,000 ($153,000 today).  Its “average error free running period” was six hours.
At digital computers, Underwood lost out to International Business Machines and others, whose desktop computers eventually helped spell the end of the typewriter, too. The last Underwoods were made in the 1980s, after the company merged with Olivetti, another typewriter manufacturer.
Wagoner retired in 1956 after 60 years in the business world and died in 1962 at the age of 86, still maintaining his chief residence in Ridgefield.
Oreneca later became the home of Harrison and Jean Horblit, whose profiles also appear here.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

“Who Was Who” INDEX

For several years, we have been writing and posting profiles of people who have been noteworthy in Ridgefield’s 300-year history. They include actors, artists, writers, singers, composers, designers, musicians, executives,  local political, religious and business leaders,  doctors, lawyers, war heroes, interesting characters, and even a few criminals. As of today, there are 406 biographies online.



All these profiles can be viewed here on Nature Geezer by using the “search” function to look for the person’s name. 



Additional biographies will be posted as we continue to research and explore the many fascinating people who’ve lived in Ridgefield.

Here is an alphabetical list of the Who’s Who profiles as of Aug. 9, 2018:

Abbe Family, The Charming Children
Abbot, Dr. Joel, 19th Century Congressman
Adams, Dr. Daniel, Father of Baseball
Adler, Larry, Harmonica Virtuoso
Aldrich, Larry, Champion of Art & Open Spaces
Allan, Edwin B., Main Street’s Smile
Allee, William H., ‘Father’ of Ridgefield High
Allen, William I., Watchdog and Much More
Allen, William W., Sports Grows Up
Ancona, Joseph, A Family Affair
Anderson, Harry, Golden Age Artist
Anderson, Henry B., A Man of Land and Utility
Andrews, Sperry and Doris, Artists with A Sense of History
Arnold, Paul Dean, The Baker Who Feared Flour
Arthur Arent, Progressive Playwright
Ashbee, Charles, Ridgefield’s Santa
Atherton, John, Art and the Fish
Babbin, Jacqueline, Early Writer for Television
Bacon, Peggy, Artist of Pictures and Words
Bahr, Abel, The Art of China
Bailey, Annie Keeler, Pioneering Physician
Bailey, Eldridge N., Frontiersman First Selectman
Baker, Amos, The Apple Doctor
Baker, Paul, Multimedia Wordsmith
Ball, Rev. John, Church Founder, Rights Leader
Bancroft, Lindgren, Lost at Sea to a Sub
Bassett, Preston, Inventor and Historian 
Baxter, D. Crosby, The Little Acorn
Bedini, Americo “Ben”, The Coach Who Was Tough But Fair
Bedini, Dominic, A Quiet Hero
Bedini, Ferdinand, A Silent Servant
Bedini, Silvio, Ridgefield’s Reviewer
Beers, Henry I., An ‘Adventure Capitalist’
Benedict, Delight, Teaching the ABCs
Bennett, Harry, Artist of A Thousand Covers
Biow, Milton,  Modern Advertising Leader
Birarelli, James, First to Die in World War II
Bishop, Sarah, The Hermitess on the Mountain
Bissell, Harvey P., The Man of the Store
Blackwell, Betsy Talbot, Magazine Innovator
Blankenship, William, Two Careers in Writing
Bluhdorn, Charles, The Mad Austrian
Blum, Dr. Harry, Centenarian Artist
Blumgarten, James, Writer for Early Television
Boland, Elizabeth and Mary, Teaching Sisters
Boring, Wayne, Superman’s Man
Boyce, Walter, A Good Sport
Boyd, Thomas, Novelist and War Hero
Brady, James J., First Police Chief
Brewster, Blandina Worcester, Early Woman Physician
Brickell, Herschel, Ill-fated Editor & Critic
Brophy, John, Working His Way Up
Bross, Edgar C., Editor, Novelist and Philopena Player
Brown, Eliphalet, Pioneer Photographer
Browning, Kirk, From Eggs to Emmys
Brunetti, Joseph, Fine Meats and Words
Bryon, Dr. B.A., Physician and Entrepreneur
Buhrman, Bert, Radio’s Music Man
Bulkley, Jonathan, The Home on the Hill
Bullock, Michael, Three Friends Who Flew
Burdick, Eleanor, Help and Understanding
Burt, Benjamin, Surviving Frontier Tragedy
Burton, Linette, The L.O.L 
Carboni, Benvenuto, First Family
Carboni, Octavius “Tabby”, A Caesar as Spry as A Cat
Carboni, Olinto, ‘Battling Bones’
Carnall, Arthur J., A Shropshire Lad
Carnegie, Thomas, Victim of Vietnam
Carroll, Gordon, Editor and FDR Critic
Carroll, Leo F., An Astonishing Leader
Carter, Samuel, The Drive He Couldn’t Escape
Cary, Melbert, A Man of Many Parts
Casagrande, Jeo, The POW and His Mom
Chambliss, Samuel, Wetlands and Rhinos
Chekhov, Michael, An Actor’s Actor
Chisolm, B. Ogden, A Voice for the Imprisoned
Chotzinoff, Samuel, Music over the Air
Clark, Tom, A Man Everyone Knew
Cleves, Mabel, Early Education Leader
Cobelle, Charles, Painting Joy and Happiness
Coca, Imogene, Sweetheart of TV’s Golden Age
Coe, Samuel, The “Mayor of Ridgebury”
Cogswell, Charles G., He Volunteered for More
Coleman, Rev. James, Saddlebag Preacher
Colt, H. Dunscombe, Archaeologist of the Desert
Conklin, Irving B. Sr., A Symbol of Change
Conley, Louis D., The Man from Outpost
Connolly, Michael, A Songful But Short Life
Copland, Aaron, American composer
Copp, John, The Man Who Helped the Settlers
Cornen, Cyrus, A Crisis for the Church
Cornen, Peter P., Oil in Them Thar Hills 
Costanzi, James, Community Contributor
Couch, Edward J., The Bird Man 
Crane, Thaddeus, The Spectacular Exit
Crocker Family, A Dynasty on Stage and Screen
Crosby, Fanny, A Pioneering Woman of Song
Crouchley, Ralph, Mentor of Boys
Culbertson, Ely, Revolutionary Bridge Guru
Cumming, William J., First to Go, First to Die
D’Addario, Dom, A Very Good Citizen
Davidson, Louise, Artist of Many Interests
Davies, Linda, Long Career and Memory
Davis, Hiram, The Last Blue
Davis, John, An Inside Look
Davis, Maude, Flappers, Bouviers and Kennedys
Denton, S.S., Uncanny Businessman
Dick, Edwina Eustis, The Contralto Who Cared
Dielman, Frederick, A Well-Rounded Artist
Doman, Glidden, On the Cutting Edge of Blades
Donnelly, Joseph H., The First Lawyer
Donovan, Jeremiah, The Progressive Barkeeper
Doubleday, George A., The Man of Westmoreland
Dowling, John E., A Jewel of A Jurist
Draper, Paul, Targeted Tap Star
Dunworth, Joseph, Theater and the Elderly
Dutton, E.P., A Devout Publisher
Earl, Consuelo Vanderbilt, A Last Link
Eason, Kay Young, Actress Who Missed the Battle
Eason, Myles, Actor with 10 Green Thumbs
Edelman, Arthur and Teddy, Fine Hides and An Old Barn
Edwards, Ralph, A Man of Consequences
Ellis, Gene, Actress Turned Writer
Farrar, Geraldine, A Great Human Being
Farrar, Sidney, First Baseman and Opera Dad
Farruggio, Sam and Joseph, Infamous Brothers
Fast, Howard, Prolific Novelist
Fawcett, Robert, An Illustrator’s Illustrator
Fayerweather, Frederick, The Man from Tiffany
Fields, Gail Rogers Glissman, Benedict Arnold’s Artist
Fitch, Gov. Thomas IV, Yankee Doodle’s Dad 
Fossi, Louis J., King Lou
Franklin, Fabian, A Three-Career Conversationalist
Frazier, Mary Fuller, The Heroine of Perrypolis
Frulla, Armando, A Hero’s Unlucky Number
Fry, Varian, A Man of Courage
Gabor, Jolie, A Chance to Play
Gage, D. Smith, Prosperous and Parsimonious
Gengarelly, Walter, His Own Drummer
Gilbert, George Washington, The Hermit of Ridgefield
Gilbert, Victor, The Skinker
Gilchrist, Huntington, A UN Founder
Gilkes, Lillian B., Scholar and Democratic Stalwart
Gillum, Pinky, The Rod to Die For
Gold, Andrew, A Man of Much Music
Goldsmith, Harold, The Prince of Pulps
Goldstein, Mel, Connecticut’s Weatherman
Goodrich, Samuel G., The Extraordinary Peter Parley
Grafton, Samuel, He’d Rather Be Right
Greco, Simon, Outspoken Artist
Green, Herb, A Good Ol’ Cartoonist
Grossfeld, Israel, The Crusading Father
Gunther, Max, A Prolific Writer
Haight, John F, First Career Policeman
Haight, Robert S., Church Historian
Hampden, Walter, Star of Stage and Screen
Hanley, William G., Acclaimed Screenwriter
Hartmann, Joseph, Artist and Historian on Glass
Hepburn, Emily Eaton, Landmark’s Builder
Herrick, Gerard, Rotary-Wing Pioneer
Hightower, John, The Museum Man
Hoban, Fairfield, Chess Saved His Life — Twice
Holleran, Clifford, Beloved Principal
Horblit, Harrison and Jean, Philanthropic Collectors
Howe, John Ireland, Pin Money
Hoyt, Irene, Our Florence Nightingale on Wheels
Hughes, John B., The News and Views
Hull, Elizabeth A., Feisty and Generous 
Hull, Harry E., Hero Who Led the Town
Hurlbutt, Hester, The Cutest Kid
Hurzeler, Ruth, Breaking Down A Barrier
Ingersoll, Rev. Jonathan, A Historic Minister 
Ingersoll, Jonathan, Overcoming A Handicap 200 Years Ago
Inkster, Dr. Henry, Helping the Health of Body and Soul
Jacob, Sereno, Fighter Pilot, Playhouse Fighter
Jacobsen, Sacha, Violinists’ Violinist
Jennings, Charles, A Boy of War
Johnson, Rev. Samuel, Founder of Church and University
Jones, Edward, Hanged As A Spy
Jones, Fred, Dog Detective
Joseph, James, The Victim and the Legend
June, Lewis, Circus’s Advance Brigade
Juran, Joseph, The Quality Man
Kampen, Irene, Life without Owen
Kaufman, Van and Gert, Successful Persuaders
Keefe, Tammis, An Artist of the Cloth
Keeler, Capt. Benjamin, The Ill-Fated Captain
Keeler, Ebenezer W., A Remarkable Man
Keeler, Nehemiah Lyman, A Last Link
Keeler, S.D., The Major Merchant
Keeler, Samuel, The Stern and Staunch Commuter
Kelly, John C., State’s Top Law Enforcer
Kemble, E.W., He Pictured Huck
Kendall, Marie, Early Woman Photographer
Kilcoyne, Marie, Half Century of Teaching
King, Joshua, Soldier and Statesman
Knapp, Joseph, Overcoming Adversity
Knoche, Joseph, An Artist in Rock
Knox, Edward M., Heroic Man of Hats
Kraus, Hans, Dachau Survivor Who Cherished Books
Kraus, Robert, Cartoons and Kids
Krushenick, Nicholas, No Apples on A Table
Landegger, Karl, The European Yankee
Landis, Jessie Royce, Mother to the Stars
Laszig, Paul and Johanna, Surprise Philanthropists
Leather Man, Mysterious Vagabond
Lee, James B Sr and Jr., Fedoras and Finance
Leeman, George Sr., Music for Kids and Stars
Leir, Henry, Visionary Philanthropist
Leonard, Elizabeth, The First First
Levy, B.E., Good Scents
Lewis, Frederic and Mary, The Showplace on West Lane
Lewis, Wadsworth, Millions in Gifts
Ligi, Richard, Youth and the Chief
Lippolt, Otto, Collector and Lover of Land
Lischke, Franklin, Artist and Model
Lounsbury, George E., The Plain and Simple
Lounsbury, Phineas, The Dry Governor
Lowe, Dr. Russell, A Physician and A Power
Lowe, Jim, The Green Door
Lown, Harvey, The Beloved Embezzler
Luce, Clare Boothe, A Most Admired Woman
Luce, Henry R., The Man of Time
Luke, Mary, Biographer of Ancient Royalty
Lund, Clayton R., Uncontainable Compassion
Lusk, William B., “Daddy”
Main, Hubert, Holy Music
Maine, Florene, Queen of Antiques
Mallon, Mary. Typhoid Mary
Marcus, Jerry, Cartoonist and White House Favorite
Martin, Francis D.,“Mr. Ridgefield”
McGlynn, Francis H., Theologian and Leader
McGlynn, Margaret, Lively Political Leader
McGlynn, Richard T., First Professional Fire Chief
McGlynn, Robert W., Beloved Man
McGovern, Gordon,A Kind, Corporate Leader
McHarg, Henry K., A Santa to Many
McKeon, Daniel, The Squire of Ridgebury
McManus, Peter, Judge and Legislator
McNamara, Walter, Our Father of Recycling
Medynski, Father Francis, Pioneer Pastor
Meltzer, Alan, A Generous Man of Music
Minot, Dr. Henry, The Bus-Driving Surgeon
Mitchell, John Ames, The Father of Life
Montgomery, Douglass, The Acting Life
Moorhead, Lillian, Ahead of Her Time
Moss, Donald, The Athletes’ Artist
Mulligan, Hugh, Globe-Trotting Journalist
Myers, Debs, Puckish Persuader
Nash, Charles S., First Fire Chief
Nebel, Frederick, Hero of Pulpdom
Nelhybel, Vaclav, Prolific Composer
Neligan, Patrick, Raising Health Standards
Nevin, Hardwick, Playwright, Actor and Poet
Nevins, Allan, Historian Who Loved Ridgefield
Nitsche, Erik, Self-Effacing, Top-Ten Designer
North, Alex, Music for the Movies
O’Neill, Eugene, Under the Elms
O’Sullivan, Margaret, Boosting Sports for Women
Oexle, William, Master Restorer
Olcott, George M., The Man from Casagmo
Oliphant, Elmer Q., An Early All-American
Olmsted, David, The Tale of the Red Petticoat
Olmsted, Ebenezer, Tax Collector Who Broke the Town
Olsen, Herb, Wonderful Watercolorist
Olsen, Olaf, A Man of the Movies 
Orrico, Fred, The King of Neptune
Orrico, John, A Distinguished Hero
Oskison, Hildegarde, Writing Was in Her Blood
Paccadolmi, Phyllis, The Face of the Library
Paddock, Archibald Y., A Strange Tragedy
Peck, Louise, Conservationist & Philanthropist
Pegler, Westbrook, Caustic Columnist
Perlin, Bernard, Artist Who Witnessed History
Perry family,Three Generations of Physicians
Perry, Dr. John G., Letter-Writing Civil War Surgeon
Perry, Gen. David, A Notable Portrait
Petroni, Romeo, The Friendly Judge
Pickett, Edwin D., Grasping the Colors
Pierrepont, Seth Low, The Man of the Park and Pond
Pontello, Mike, In Love with Ridgefield
Pope, Charles, King of the Choristers
Powdermaker, Florence & Hortense, Sister Scholars
Preston, John Hyde, Debunking Liberal
Recht, Charles, Voice of the Soviet Union
Regney, Noel, and Gloria Shayne, What They Heard
Remington, Frederic, He Knew the Horse
Richardson, Anne S., Benefactor Par Excellence
Risch, Joan, The Woman Who Vanished
Ritchard, Cyril, ‘Captain Hook’
Roach, Joseph, The Wounds of War
Roberts, Gail, Tough Dog Warden
Rockelein, Conrad, 90-Hour Weeks 
Rockwell, George, Mr. History
Rockwell, Mary “May”, A Hotel of Culture
Rogers, Donald I., Economic Conservative
Rome, Harold, Maker of Musicals
Rosa, Kathryn Venus, Pioneering Preservationist
Ross, Alexander, Artist of the Clinch and Cover
Ross, C. Chandler, Portrait Artist
Rowland, Alice V., A Leader on Many Fronts
Rowley, John, Murderer on a Monument
Rubel, Samuel, The Ice and Beer Baron
Ryan, Cornelius, “Reporter”
Ryan, Kathryn Morgan, A Woman of Words
Sabilia, Carmela, The Peanut Lady 
Safford, Theodore, Dedicated Family Physician
Salerno, Bartholomew T., Big Shop’s Savior
Salvo, Adam, A Huge Inspiration
Saunders, Phillip K., Dr. Panto Fogo
Scalise, George, The Swaggering Gangster
Scarry, Richard, The Father of Busytown
Scherf, Captain Meinhard, Irony and Tragedy at Sea
Schuster, Patricia, Dancer, Teacher, Founder
Scofield, Carleton, A Good Investment
Scott, Harold Walter, Lost in the War
Scott, Hiram K.. A Most Useful Man
Scott, John Walter, Artist of the West
Scott, John, A Hands-On Journalist
Scripps, Robert P., Powerful Publisher
Seligmann, Jacqueline, The Unhappy Heiress
Sendak, Maurice, The Wild Things
Servadio, Gildo, Food and Vodka Scientist
Seymour, Everett Ray, First to Die in Combat
Seymour, William O., Bridges and Oil for the Waters
Shaffer, Dr. Newton, Helping the Crippled
Shane, Margaret Smith, Writer among Writers
Shane, Ted, Humorist from Hell
Shapiro, Joseph, Simplicity Himself
Shaughnessy, Thomas, The Last Man
Sheehan, Dr. James, The First Pediatrician
Sheeler, Charles, Precise Painter
Shields, Hugh, A Two-Church Pastor
Shields, Laura Curie Allee, Flowers in Her Footsteps
Sholes, D. Smith, A Man of Many Shirts
Short, Rev. David, Strict Disciplinarian
Shortell, Richard E., Beloved Pastor
Shrady, Frederick, Artist Who Rescued Art
Skandera, Michael, A Record Educator
Smillie, George Henry, Artist of Old Ridgefield
Smith, Duncan, 75 Years in Journalism
Smith, Edward, He Hated Slavery
Smith, John W., The Orchid Man
Sonnichsen, Eric, Seaman and Wordsmith
Sorensen, Theodore, The President’s Man
Sperry, B.E., The End of An Era
Spire, Charles, The Music Man
Spong, Hilda, A Star of the Stage
Stebbins, Henry G., Civil War Congressman
Steele family, Early Black Ridgefielders
Stengel, George, Impressionist Artist
Stevens, Carlton Ross, War Hero and Inventor
Stockli, Albert, A Pioneering Chef
Sullivan, William Matheus, The Man from Dunrovin
Taylor, Frank, The First Shot
Taylor, Robert Lewis, Pulitzer-winning author
Teller, Daniel W., The First Historian
The Shapleys of the School
Thomas, Harry, The Village Smithy
Thomas, Norman, Six-Time Candidate for President
Tode, Walter, A Top-10 Chef
Toffler, Alvin, Future Shocker
Trahey, Jane, Women and Power
Tramer, Albert, The Last Outpost
Travaglini, Aldo, ‘Squash’
Tulipani Brothers, Aldo, Joseph, Albert, Alfred, John, A Five Star Family
Tulipani, Julius, The American Dream
Turner, Aaron, Circus Pioneer
Ullman, Paul, Artist and Patriot
Ullman, Robert, Tools for the Trades
Van Lidth de Jeude, Erland, A Large Talent
Velte, Paul, Saigon Escape
Venus, Richard E., Historian and Storyteller
Vetter, George, Betrayed Navigator
Wagoner, Philip D., Underwood’s Overlord
Walker, Charles Wade, Happy, Musical & Armed
Walker, Ralph Thomas, Architect of the Century
Walsh, Thomas, Man of Mysteries
Walters, Peter, The Personable Pianist
Ward, Jack, A Caring Citizen
Warrups, Chicken, The Chief with A Past
Washburn, Rev. Benjamin, Bishop of Newark
Webb, William, Fighting Racists and Racism
Weingast, David E., Superintendent and Scholar
Weissmann, Frieder, World Conductor
Welsh, Glenna, Immersed in History
Wheeler, John N., News for You
Whittelsey, Abigail Goodrich, Pioneering Magazine Editor
Wick, Peter, Artist, Athlete and Advocate
Wilder, Gen. Wilber, Medal of Honor Winner
Wilk, Max, A Man of Memories
Wills, Ruth E., Legendary Latin Teacher
Wilmot, Jeremy, A Sense of Past and Place
Wilmot, Tony, Mr. Baseball
Winant, John, A Lincoln in England
Winthrop, William, Mr. Ridgefield Lakes
Wohlforth, Mildred, The Sob Sister
Wohlforth, Robert, Writer and Publisher
Wood, Lee B., Rockefellers’ Dimes
Woodcock, J. Mortimer, The Forester Who Led Ridgefield
Woodford, Dr. Francis, ‘Country Doctor’
Wyden, Peter, 20th Century Issues
Wyton, Alec, Minister of Music
Yanity, Peter, Making Things Happen
Young, Mahonri, The Greatest Moment
Young, S. Howard, Art and Ike


Thursday, August 09, 2018


Arthur and Teddy Edelman: 
Fine Hides and An Old Barn 
When Arthur and Teddy Edelman came to Ridgefield a half century ago, they wanted a home that reflected their many and varied interests and talents that ranged from being leaders in the world  of luxury leathers and modern design, to their love of antiques and fine art, including the Old Masters.
So they bought a barn, took it apart, moved it five miles, and put it back together in a much glassier form. And there they lived the rest of their creative lives.
The Edelmans spent their long careers in the field of fine leathers and fashionable things crafted from them, working with people like Andy Warhol, who was their graphic designer for six years. The company they founded, Edelman Leather, supplies top designers today.
 Born in the Bronx in 1925, Arthur Jay Edelman was a son of Russian immigrants. His father was a leather tanner, but that’s not what the young Arthur wanted to be: After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he studied acting at Sarah Lawrence College, which had been a well-known women’s school.
“He went there when it was the first year they allowed men in,” said a co-worker. “He figured his odds were pretty good to meet a girl!” 
He did just that, meeting Theodora “Teddy” Joffe, a Brooklyn native born in 1928. Four days
after graduating, they were married and, 66 years later, they became the longest married couple to have met at Sarah Lawrence.
After deciding acting was not his forte, Arthur joined Teddy in creating pieces of art from leathers. That didn’t produce enough money to survive on so the two went to work for Teddy’s family business, Fleming-Joffe, in New York, which was to become a leading supplier of high-fashion leathers and reptile skins. The two eventually took over the company’s management. 
Andy Warhol joined Fleming-Joffe as a graphic designer,  producing many posters and advertising art pieces.  In 2016 Arthur Edelman told The Guardian how he first met and hired the artist in 1957. 
“One day I was calling on one of our most important customers...in the Empire State Building,”
he said. “I was waiting in a darkened hallway when a very peculiar-looking man walked in and joined me. He had a white face, hair that was the brightest white — it just didn’t belong to a human being. His suit looked like it had been pressed under his bed overnight, his shoes were paint-splattered with all the colors of the rainbow. And he was holding a portfolio. 
“Now, I’m a big man — six feet six inches — and I was scared.”
It turned out the specter was a struggling artist, there to show some proposed commercial work to Edelman’s customer. Edelman looked at the pictures, which involved snakeskin shoes. They were “most extraordinary,” he said.
The Edelmans had been looking for a promotional designer and Warhol was looking for a full-time job, and thus began a six-year relationship. “He came back to our offices a few blocks over and
shocked our receptionist with his appearance,” Arthur said. “He and Teddy immediately took a huge liking to one another. Teddy was very motherly to him, which I think he liked.”
Warhol and the Edelmans remained friends until the artist’s death in 1987.
In 1971 the Edelmans sold Fleming-Joffe and exactly 10 years later launched Edelman Leather, which today provides luxury upholstery to architects and interior designers for high-end residential, office, hotel, aviation, and marine projects. “We are in the business of art,” the company says.  “Our art is leather.”
     For his old friends in a new business, Warhol created what has become a well-known poster in art circles,  “This is a chair...”
In between their two careers running leather companies, the Edelmans decided to move to the “country,” buying around 30 acres of old farmland on Spring Valley Road. They wanted a custom-designed house with lots of views of the beautiful Mopus Valley, but they both loved antiques and wanted it to have a flavor of the old.
     They decided to fashion a new house from an old barn and
found the barn they liked on North Street, part of the old Stonecrest estate owned by the Conklin family. In November 1968, the huge, 6,800-square-foot structure was carefully dismantled and each piece

labeled before being moved to Spring Valley Road to create a new barn-like house. 
The result is an 8,500 square-foot, seven bedroom home that became the center of their estate. The barnwood walls displayed their collection of paintings by the Old Masters and new talents — from Paul de Vos to, of course, Andy Warhol. They also had many fine antiques that included
priceless Tiffany lamps.
The estate’s name? Something one wouldn’t expect in Ridgefield but would expect from the Edelmans: “Alligator Farm.”
Teddy Edelman died in 2016 at the age of 88, Arthur two years later at 92.
Among their five children, at least two have become leaders in fields related to design.  John, their youngest son, is president and CEO of the contemporary furniture company, Design Within Reach, which has three dozen stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The oldest son, Sam, founded Sam Edelman high-fashion footwear.

Saturday, August 04, 2018


Jonathan Ingersoll: 
Overcoming A Handicap 
200 Centuries Ago
Attaining success while dealing with a handicap has never been easy. Jonathan Ingersoll faced his very visible problem  two centuries ago and gained considerable success.
Many people with a casual interest in the history of Ridgefield — or Connecticut —   have heard the name of Ingersoll. Best known among this clan locally was the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll, second minister of the First Congregational Church, who served from 1739 until his death in 1778. (Rev. Ingersoll’s profile has already been published here on Old Ridgefield.)
Less known in town but once a prominent person in the state was his namesake son, Jonathan Ingersoll, who was not only a political leader but the head of family whose members were remarkably accomplished. At the same time he was a man who overcame an unusual handicap, one especially difficult for a lawyer to deal with.
Born in Ridgefield in 1747, young Jonathan grew up here and went off to Yale, where he graduated in 1766. He settled in New Haven, practiced law, and married Grace Isaacs. 
Active in the civic side of the colony, Ingersoll was elected a congressman in 1793 but wound up declining the post before the 3rd Congress convened, and was never sworn in to office. He served as a Superior Court judge from 1798 to 1801 and from 1811 to 1816. He left that job to become lieutenant governor of Connecticut, the ninth person to hold that position. He remained in office until his death in 1823 at the age of 75.
In his autobiographical “Recollections of A Lifetime,” published in 1856, Samuel G. Goodrich (“Peter Parley”) discussed Jonathan, whom he had known when he was a boy and described as physically “erect” and “slender.” Ingersoll suffered from a problem that is probably what physicians today call blepharospasm. 
“He was marked by a nervous twitch of the face, which usually signalized itself when he began to address the jury,” Goodrich said. “On these occasions his eyes opened and shut spasmodically; at the same time he drew the corners of his mouth up and down, the whole seeming as if it was his object to set the court in a roar. Sometimes he succeeded, in spite of all his efforts to the contrary. Indeed, it was impossible for a person on seeing this for the first time, to avoid a smile — perhaps a broad one. 
“It might seem that such a frailty would have been a stumbling-block in his profession; yet it was not so,” Goodrich continued. “I suspect, indeed, that his practice as a lawyer was benefited by it — for the world likes an easy handle to a great name, and this is readily supplied by a personal peculiarity. 
“At all events, such was the dignity of his character, the grace of his language, and the perfection of his logic, his law, and his learning, that he stood among the foremost of his profession. He became lieutenant-governor of the State, a judge of the Supreme Court, and held various other responsible offices.”
Ingersoll must also have been an influential parent: His children and grandchildren became leaders in Connecticut and the nation:
His son, Ralph Isaacs Ingersoll (1789-1872), a lawyer, became a United States congressman from Connecticut from 1825 to 1833. He served three years as U.S. minister to Russia in the 1840s and was elected mayor of New Haven in 1851. (His house at 143 Elm Street is now a building at Yale, from which he graduated in 1808.)
Another son, Charles Anthony Ingersoll (1798-1860), also a lawyer, served as a U.S. District judge for Connecticut from 1853 until his death in 1860.
His daughter, Grace Ingersoll (1786-1816) married a highly placed Frenchman named Pierre Grellet. She moved to France where, according to Goodrich,  she  became a celebrity at the Court of Napoleon “and always maintained a pre-eminence, alike for beauty of person, grace of manners, and delicacy and dignity of character.” Unfortunately, in 1816, she developed a “pulmonary complaint” and, as Goodrich rather darkly phrased it, “descended into the tomb” at the age of 29, leaving behind two young daughters. 
Grandson Colin Macrae Ingersoll (1819-1903)  of New Haven, a lawyer, was a U.S. congressman from Connecticut from 1851 to 1855.
Grandson Charles Roberts Ingersoll (1821-1903) of New Haven,  another lawyer, was governor of Connecticut from 1873 to 1877. 
Finally, a great-grandson was George Pratt Ingersoll (1861-1927), who was born in New Haven but later lived many years in Ridgefield. Yet another lawyer, he was U.S. minister to Siam from 1917 to 1918 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1910. His significance to Ridgefield is probably chiefly his house, which became an inn in the 1930s and is now Bernard’s restaurant — right across West Lane from the church whose congregation his great-great grandfather led more than two centuries ago.

Friday, August 03, 2018


Paul C. Velte Jr.: 
Escape from Saigon
Paul C. Velte Jr. led a quiet life in Ridgefield, serving as a scoutmaster, a church building committee chairman, and even a justice of the peace. But his last job was anything but quiet: Working for the CIA, he orchestrated the evacuation of more than 1,000 Americans in the final hours of the U.S. presence in Vietnam. 
Velte was CEO of Air America, a large airline that was secretly owned by the Central Intelligence Agency and used for a variety of missions in Southeast Asia. During the war years, Air America had flown civilians, diplomats, spies, doctors, refugees, commandos, drug enforcement agents, injured soldiers, and even Richard M. Nixon. But its last mission was rescuing Americans from Saigon as the city was about to fall to North Vietnamese troops.
On April 29, 1975, the South Vietnamese capital became the scene of what has been called the largest helicopter evacuation in history. “Two United States Marine Corps helicopter squadrons, ten U.S. Air Force helicopters, and Air America carried out 1,373 Americans and 5,595 people of other nationalities,” wrote William Leary and E. Merton Coulter in MHQ, a military history magazine.
Velte didn’t direct operations from the headquarters in Washington: He was on the ground in
Vietnam, often in situations where he, his pilots and staff were under fire, such as at Tan Son Nhut airport just outside the city. He planned to supply 28 Air America Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopters that were light enough to land on buildings; the larger Marine copters, used for most of the evacuation flights, were too heavy for many buildings to support.  
“Because of a shortage of pilots, many of these helicopters would have to be flown by a single pilot,” Leary and Coulter wrote. “According to the U.S. Air Force account of the final evacuation, ‘This was risky, but Air America was accustomed to such risks and expressed no reservations about that aspect of the Saigon air evacuation.’” 
Velte had to deal not only with the enemy fire, but also with political and other problems. U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin hesitated for days to act on evacuation planning. There was a lack of adequate fuel to keep the Hueys going. The military refused to protect Air America’s helicopters, and the North Vietnamese subsequently stole some of those undefended aircraft.  
In mid-April Velte had tried to get the Air Force to arrange for an aircraft carrier to be offshore to serve as an operating base in case his helicopters were needed for the evacuation and the Tan Son Nhut airport was under attack or overtaken.
“The baby carrier,” he told the Air Force, “had the necessary machine shops to do repair work, had fuel, and had mobility. It could move up and down the coast and would allow Air America to perform its missions as required.”  
An Air Force general said the carrier could not be provided, but then tried to arrange for 30 Marine pilots to serve as copilots on the Air America helicopters. Ambassador Martin, still reluctant to admit Saigon was about to fall, vetoed the plan for copilots. 
Martin was later criticized for delaying the evacuation planning and execution—even though most of South Vietnam had already fallen to the North. “Faced with imminent disaster,” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote, “Martin decided to go down with the ship…. I considered Martin’s stonewalling dangerous.” 
In the end Air America, down to around 13 helicopters, still managed to evacuate more than 1,000 Americans and Vietnamese to offshore ships or to locations on land where the bigger Marine copters could ferry them to vessels. 
“That was no small accomplishment, to be sure,” said a CIA analyst named Frank Snepp, “particularly in view of the fact that the maximum capacity of each Huey was barely 12 people.”
According to Velte’s grandson, David Wilson, his grandfather “was on the last helicopter out of Saigon with nothing but a .45 pistol and a pair of underwear.”
The end of the Vietnam conflict also spelled the end of Air America. On May 5, 1975, CIA Director William Colby cabled Velte: “The withdrawal from Vietnam draws to a conclusion Air America’s operational activities.”
He added a few words of praise for the staff. “Air America, appropriately named, has served its country well,” he said.
However, “the pilots never heard even that modest accolade,” wrote Leary and Coulter. “The CIA would not publicly acknowledge its ownership of the airline for another year, and it would not issue a commendation to these secret soldiers of the Cold War until 2001.” 
A native of New York City, Paul Christian Velte Jr. was born in 1914. He was a Pace College
graduate and World War II Navy veteran who had worked as an executive for Pan American Airlines before joining Air America. He was based in Taipei, Taiwan, and later at the main Air America headquarters in Washington, but had also maintained a home in Ridgefield from 1955 until his death at age 62 in 1976—the same year the CIA officially dissolved Air America. 
His contributions to aviation were recognized in Who’s Who in America, but his contribution to the largest helicopter evacuation in history has gone largely unnoticed or unheralded. 
He is buried in Ridgebury Cemetery where a small monument marks his grave.