Monday, February 11, 2019


War Horses
This odd scene recalls the era of World War II when Ridgefielders, trying to do their part in the war effort, went out of their way to collect scrap — what we today would call “recycling.” 
The horse-drawn wagon is loaded with metal contributions in what was later called “Ridgefield’s greatest wartime scrap drive.” We believe the snapshot was taken Oct. 17, 1942, when hundreds of local volunteers collected more than 133 tons of metal in a huge, one-day scrap drive. (That total, by the way, equalled 166 pounds per resident of Ridgefield at that time.)
The use of the horse-drawn transportation was probably designed both to entertain and to emphasize the need to conserve gasoline.
Scrap drives — wartime versions of today’s “recycling” — were important sources of metal and other materials to be melted and reformed into ships, tanks, guns, ammunition, and other pieces of weaponry. 
During the last three years of World War II, Ridgefielders collected 539,262 pounds of iron and steel — nearly 270 tons. They also donated 12,644 pounds of waste fats from kitchens; 48,925 pounds of tin (mostly cans); 4,000 pounds of rags; and 292,975 pounds of paper.
According to a Ridgefield Press account, “great piles of scrap metal began to appear in George G. Scott’s lot at the rear of the town hall (about where Colby’s is today). People put out piles of metal in front of their homes and it was picked up and transported to the main collection points by Irv Conklin’s horses, Ray Keeler’s trucks and a Dodge truck that belonged on the Swords estate on West Lane.  (In 1975, 50 years after the war, Ralph Deli-Bovi, then owner of the former Swords estate, still had that truck.)
As noted in an earlier posting on Old Ridgefield, the town’s scrap metal-collecting efforts gained national attention when the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Westbrook Pegler, who lived on Old Stagecoach Road, was photographed in Life magazine, removing his car’s bumper in front of town hall to contribute to the war effort. 
A bumper is nice, but nothing compared to Mrs. B. Ogden Chisholm’s donation: She gave her entire 1933 Cadillac roadster.  The car was shown in The Press (and on Old Ridgefield) being dismantled and turned into “scrap.”

Monday, February 04, 2019


Albert H.Wiggin: 
Chase’s Controversial Chief 
Throughout his long career, Albert H. Wiggin of Peaceable Street did wonderful things for his company, the Chase National Bank in New York City. He helped make Chase one of the biggest and most influential banks in the country, if not the world, and aided European countries recovering from World War I. But his reputation was tarnished  after the Crash of 1929, during which he pulled off maneuvers that made millions for himself in ways that wound up being investigated by the U.S. Senate.
Once listed among America’s richest people, Albert Henry Wiggin was born a minister’s son in 1868 in Medford, Mass. He never attended college and instead went to work in Boston straight out of high school, soon becoming a bookkeeper for a local bank. By the age of 23, he was an assistant for a national bank examiner. 
He continued to rise in the Boston banking world and in 1899, moved to New York where he became at the beginning of the 20th Century one of the founders of Bankers Trust (which, at the end of the century, was acquired by Deutsche Bank).
It was around this time that Wiggin caught the eye of Alonzo Barton Hepburn, CEO of Chase National Bank. Hepburn liked the young man’s ideas, hired him, and in 1904 Wiggin was named the
youngest ever vice president of Chase National Bank. He also became the youngest member of the bank’s board of directors, a situation that irked many veteran Chase executives.
Hepburn liked Wiggin so much, he encouraged him to establish a summer place in Ridgefield, and sold him some of the backland of his own estate on High Ridge, called Alnacraig. Wiggin built a many-roomed mansion at 47 Peaceable Street, calling it Peaceable Acres. The estate overlooked the Ridgefield Golf Club, later Ward Acres horse farm.
Locally Wiggin was known for his beautiful daughters, Marjorie and Muriel, and for being among the first owners of an automobile.
In 1911 Wiggin became Chase’s president. Under his leadership the bank’s deposits rose from $91 million in 1910 to more than $2 billion in 1930. He was CEO from 1917 until 1930. Time Magazine, which put him on the cover in 1931, called Chase “the biggest bank in the world” at that time.
In 1926, Chase merged with Mechanics and Metals National Bank to become the nation’s second largest bank, with Wiggin at its helm. At the time, The New York Times said Wiggin was
known as “a man of a million friends,” adding that “intimate associates in [the bank’s] various fields of activity describe him as a great organizer and an inspiring leader, quick in decision and unerring in judgment.”
Despite this acclaim, some authorities were soon labeling Wiggin a scoundrel after it was revealed that, during the period of the 1929 stock market crash, he had been selling short some 42,000 of his personal shares in Chase National Bank at the same time he was committing Chase’s money to buying. He put his earnings in a Canadian holding company to avoid taxes, and made millions that the bank itself did not discover until a later U.S. Senate investigation.
“This is like a boxer betting on his opponent — a serious conflict of interest,” said financial reporter Andrew Beattie.
And yet, he did nothing illegal.
Ferdinand Pecora, chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee, said of Wiggin, “In the entire investigation, it is doubtful if there was another instance of a corporate executive who so
thoroughly and successfully used his official and fiduciary position for private profit.”  
Economics professor and market historian Charles Geisst said what Wiggins did “gave banking and the stock market a bad name for at least two generations after the Crash.” 
Wiggin was forced to retire, but was never prosecuted for any legal wrongdoing. He was given a $100,000-a-year pension from the bank ($1.7 million in 2016 dollars), but later turned it down after a public outcry.
As a result of the case, Congress added what some called the “Wiggin Provision” to federal Securities Exchange Act to prevent company directors from selling short on their own stocks and making a profit from their own company’s bad times.
Despite this episode, Wiggin received praise for his efforts to curb the crash of 1929. Said The Times in 1951, “Mr. Wiggin was one of the banking leaders who made large sums available to boster the slipping market. The confidence that he and other leading bankers showed in the country was credited with having done much to prevent the complete collapse of the nation’s financial structure.”
Wiggin had sold his Ridgefield home in 1921, long before the crash, and eventually had a retreat on the shore in Greenwich where he died in 1951 at the age of 83.
He was a benefactor of many organizations. When he was a young man, he began collecting art prints, drawings, and watercolors, as well as antique books. He donated his huge collections of
these works to the Boston Public Library, the New York Public Library and the Baltimore Museum of Art. He contributed to the MIT library, endowed a scholarship at Middlebury College, and created a foundation that contributed to many organizations.
In 1949, Dodd, Mead and Company published Marjorie Wiggin Prescott’s biography of her father, New England Son. According to the dust jacket, “This is the life of Albert Henry Wiggin, a parson’s son who struggled his way out of Cousin Walter’s hand-me-downs to the eventual presidency of the largest bank in the world. It is a story of hard work, close friendships and salty New England humor — a uniquely American success story. It is a portrait of a remarkable man, the man who built the Chase Bank; but it is, more than that, the portrait of a golden era of American growth and optimism. You will share Mrs. Prescott’s amusement at the recollection of her father’s first job in Boston, when one of his daily duties was to make sure that a certain elderly party on Louisburg Square was likely to live long enough to pay off his bank debt. You will smile with her at the ironic Wiggin reply to a ceremonious cable from a banking group in London.”
The book, according to Ridgefield historian Richard E. Venus, also “presented a stirring defense of her father.”
He added, “One cannot read this warm portrayal of a father by his admiring daughter without gaining a large amount of respect for one of the most famous bankers that this nation ever produced.”

Friday, February 01, 2019


Ida Fossi Makes Her Own
Ravioli, Sauce & Passatelli 
Ridgefield Press, Feb. 24, 1977 — Homemade ravioli like the kind Mrs. Domenic Fossi prepares on special occasions is a whole different ballgame from the somewhat limp squares of stuffed pasta in sauce which we had tasted before we tried hers. And for anyone who has, or can borrow, a pasta machine, these little spicy Italian mouthfuls are not hard to make.
Her grandchildren love ravioli, Mrs. Fossi explained, and after one bite we came to the conclusion that anybody’s grandchildren would love them!
Ravioli takes time to make, however, so Mrs. Fossi also showed us how to make some marvelous cheesy noodles for soup which can be prepared quickly and ground out through an old fashioned meat grinder. These are called passatelli and are as unusual as they are good. Both ravioli and passatelli freeze successfully.
Ridgefield’s First Selectman, Louis Fossi, was one member of a large family which grew up enjoying such treats. Mrs. Fossi is his mother. Her daughter, Norma Contessa, and Mrs. Louis Fossi were on hand to learn exactly how to make the ravioli. With one accomplished ravioli-maker in the  family, they have tended to have other specialties.
Good eating has always been a family tradition, and Norma reminisced  about the homemade ice cream they took turns cranking in an old-fashioned machine when she was a child and the Fossis lived on a farm in Ridgefield with plenty of cream from the cows.
For  ravioli stuffing for one meal for eight people, you need:

One pound ground beef
A half pound ground pork
One pound spinach
One teaspoon salt
Half teaspoon pepper
Quarter teaspoon nutmeg
Half teaspoon clove
One egg

Cook pound of fresh spinach and chop fine. Mix well with other ingredients.
To make the pasta in which the filling will be stuffed, combine:

Yolks of 10 eggs  
Whites of eight eggs
Six cups sifted flour

Reserve extra two egg whites to use later.
Mrs. Fossi makes a mound of flour on a board, then scoops a hollow in the center of the flour and pours in the ten yolks and eight whites. Then she kneads the egg into the flour with her hands. If the dough were to be rolled out by hand in the old-fashioned way, it would require quite a lot of kneading, and then an hour’s time to rest before rolling out, she says. But by using a pasta machine, the cook cuts down the kneading to a minimum. Also, the pasta machine makes the hour’s rest unnecessary.
Mrs. Fossi pushes a small flat oval of the dough into the widest adjustment in the slot in the machine. The machine has two rollers and a handle which turns these in such a way that they pull in, and flatten the dough in the slot between them.
The long thin strip of dough which results gets folded double and put through the slot again, then folded and pressed through the rollers a third time.
An attachment on the machine will vary the space between the rollers. She adjusts the space between the widest and the narrowest, then puts the strip through again. Then she adjusts the machine to the next-to-the-narrowest width, and puts the dough through again. 
By this time the dough is in a long strip, several inches wide and very thin.
This strip of pasta gets laid flat on the board, and Mrs. Fossi beats the two egg whites till frothy and paints the strip with egg white. A pastry brush is best for this job. Then she places tiny mounds of the stuffing mixture two abreast on half of the length of dough and folds the other half of the strip of dough on top.
No need to press down to seal the edges. Just take a pastry wheel and cut down the center of the doubled strip of dough. Then cut cross-ways between each set of two mounds of stuffing. Next, trim the outside edges so the tiny dumplings are cut zig-zag and sealed all round. The scraps cut from the edges may be kneaded into a flat oval and put through the machine again, or cooked like noodles and served with a sauce on some informal occasion. 
Repeat till all dough and stuffing are used. This recipe makes between 200 and 300 ravioli squares, depending on size. Mrs. Fossi generally doubles the recipe and simply spends a day making lots of ravioli. She suggests a beginner might wish to halve it and try making ravioli for four.
To freeze the ravioli, Mrs. Fossi puts them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and, as soon as they are frozen enough to handle, packs them in plastic freezer bags, each bag containing enough for one meal.
To cook, drop the ravioli squares into well-salted boiling water with about one tablespoon of salt to three quarts of water. If the ravioli is fresh made, cook about five minutes and test one by
tasting. It should be “al dente,” or firm to the tooth, not mushy like canned ravioli. If frozen squares are dropped into the boiling water, the ravioli should be done about three minutes after the water comes back to a full boil.
Drain, top with tomato sauce and freshly grated real parmesan cheese  (we cut cheese in squares and grate it in a blender, but the texture is even nicer grated by hand the way Mrs. Fossi does it.) She served a dry red wine with the ravioli. At a holiday meal, this would be a first course, followed by a roast and vegetable and then dessert and coffee.
Freezer buffs may like to make spaghetti sauce wholesale the way Mrs. Fossi does. She browns five or six Italian sausages and a piece of chuck in sausage drippings, adds a small onion cut fine and two cloves of garlic, and when these are golden brown, takes out the sausage and chuck, and adds about a pound and a half of chopped meat, and browns that.
Then she puts sausage and chuck back, adds 28 ounces of tomato puree, eight six-ounce cans of tomato paste, and enough water to make a sauce that can simmer for three hours. Her daughters say they add some whole canned tomatoes, too, and Mrs. Fossi noted that the amount of onion and garlic can be varied to taste.  The maker also adds salt and pepper and spices as desired.
Generally, Mrs. Fossi removes the sausage and chuck and serves those for supper on the day she made the tomato sauce. The sauce gets frozen in quart containers and thawed as wanted for ravioli and other treats. Be sure to use a rich, meaty sauce on the ravioli, Mrs. Fossi says.
But suppose you don’t have a pasta machine, or time to make ravioli. Try passatelli. 
Mix well with hands:

A cup and a half of bread crumbs
Three eggs, beaten
One cup grated parmesan cheese 
One tablespoon of flour
A fourth teaspoon of cloves
A dash of nutmeg.

The mixture should be pretty firm, almost like bread dough, but moister. It will stick to the hands slightly as you kneed it.
Put dough through meat grinder. It will come out of the holes as small, slightly rough noodles. You can freeze these now and use later if desired.
Drop into simmering chicken stock and cook seven minutes. The resulting chicken soup is just the thing for cheese lovers. The chicken soup may contain diced chicken meat, or just the passatelli — marvelous either way.
Mrs. Fossi follows her usual custom of making lots of chicken stock all at once and freezing in meal-sized amounts. Into several gallons of water she puts one chicken, a few ribs of celery, carrots, a small can of tomatoes, and near the end when the chicken is tender, salt and pepper to taste. The chicken becomes chicken salad for immediate consumption and the stock goes in the freezer.

[Note: Ida Frances Montanari Fossi (1906-1987) lived on Mulberry Street and, at the time of this story, was a widow. She was born  in Senigallia, Ancona, Marche, Italy, a daughter of John and Matilde Montanari, and came to this country in 1917. She and Dominic Fossi were married in 1923 in St. Mary’s Church. They had seven children: Lou Fossi, Norma Contessa,  Elsie Craig, Dorothy Marconi, Thomas Fossi, John Fossi, and Robert Fossi. Members of the Fossi family still live in Ridgefield. The article was written by Elizabeth Daniels Squire, who became a successful mystery novelist in her later years. She also wrote books on phrenology and palm reading. A former resident of Ridgefield and Redding, she produced the “Food and Drink” column in The Ridgefield Press for many years.]