Friday, February 19, 2010

Tony Bracha - Old Friend

My old friend, Anthony J. Bracha, passed away Wednesday at the ripe old age of 93. Known as “Tony” to one and all, he and his wife Ethel took up residence in the mid 1970s in their once summer cottage on Lake Drive in East Hampton, departing his home town of New Britain. Although retiring as an UAW Organizing Representative in 1977, life was just beginning for this affable fellow. Lifelong Democrats, Tony and Ethel became involved in local politics and within months, Tony was elected with his Democratic running mates, Eaton E. Smith and Rowland Beauleau, Sr. as majority members of our Board of Selectmen.

From East Hampton Democrats campaign brochure in 1977.

Tony at Democratic Headquarters.

Along with the likes of Gov. William “Bill” O’Neill, Raymond “Deke” Thatcher, Eaton E. Smith, my parents Donald and Pauline Markham, and some other friends such as William “Bill” MacDonald, John O’Neil, Charles Nichols and Anthony “Tony” Flannery, Tony Bracha was one of my early political mentors. As I look back at my own experiences and success, I am eternally grateful to the many, many people who worked for my campaigns, contributed funds, knocked on doors, and cooked or served meals for our famous “All you can eat for $5 - family spaghetti dinners!”

Paul and Elaine Puzzo cooking spaghetti in 1984.

Tony also played a very instrumental role that likely made a significant difference in my first campaign in 1978 and in the primary I faced in 1980. In 1978, Tony graciously took me to meet John Flynn, President of the United Auto Workers, lobbying him to support my candidacy. With Tony’s personal support, the UAW endorsed my candidacy, and that I’m convinced, made a significant difference in that first Legislative race.

Memorial Day Parade, 1979, l to r, Rep. Dean Markham, unknown, Selectmen Eaton E. Smith, Anthony J. Bracha, Chief Administrative Officer Eugene Shiller, Board of Finance Chairman James Standish, Selectmen Everett Breace and Mary Ann Barton.

Survived by a loving and caring family of his three daughters and son-in-laws, Patricia and Timothy Kaider who reside in Pennsylvania, Diane and Donald DeFronzo who reside in New Britain and our dear friends, Elaine and Paul Puzzo who reside in East Hampton, Tony also has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Recognizing Tony's retirement from the Board of Selectmen as he and Ethel prepare to move to Florida. Held in Tony's arms is David DeFronzo, son of State Senator Donald DeFronzo and his wife Diane Bracha DeFronzo.

Tony loved to fish. In fact, there have been times when he ventured out upon Lake Pocotopaug as dusk and after several hours, and the pitch black of night enveloping the lake, Elaine would become a bit agitated, strongly suggesting that Paul take the boat out and tow him back to the dock. Inevitably, Tony would pull up dockside with a string of fish. All was well.

Tony’s family and friends will miss him. But we don’t shed tears, but rather smile at having the privilege having known him.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Moodus Noises

The horrendous and tragic explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown Sunday February 7th touched us all. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the families of those men who lost their lives and for a speedy recover to the many injured. And we can all be thankful and appreciative at the splendid and dedicated emergency response personnel – fire, police and medical – and the emergency crisis team at Middlesex Hospital and throughout our State for their swift and prepared action.

Each of us will retain our own memories of the blast and I’m sure they will become a topic of conversation, probably not on the same scale as where were you or what we you doing when you heard John F. Kennedy had been shot, but important in a local sense. As for me, I was engrossed in Pastor Shelly Timber’s sermon at Haddam Neck Covenant Church. The Church, located on Haddam Neck Road high over the Connecticut River Valley is just a few short miles away from the River Road site. With a momentary lull in the sermon, I and others winced, looking out the windows and speculating as to what might have occurred. To my wife Debbie and me, the blast reminded us of a natural phenomenon periodically experienced in our town - the Moodus Noises!

Long before colonial times, the rumblings emanating in the area where East Hampton, East Haddam and Haddam converge at the Salmon River, probably put the same fright into the populous that the gas explosion caused, albeit without the same loss of life or property damage. Named “Matchitmoodus” by our Native American predecessors, the rumblings surely caused them to ruminate on what they perceived as the voice of the supernatural. Literally translated as “Place of Bad Noises,” the area was supposedly the dwelling place of Hobomoko, their sinister god who was forever plaguing mankind and spoke to them in tones of thunder. Today, geologists explain precisely what occurs. As rock solid as this New England area is, we sit on a geological fault line. As such, periodic shifting of the earth’s crust results in small, but at times loud, tremors that have been thought to amplify from a local cave on the hillside to the east of the Cave Hill Camp.

The last significant shake occurred in the mid 1980s where numerous residents reported picture frames falling off the walls.

I also find that my great, great grandfather, Francis W. Markham (b. 1836 in East Hampton) had studied the “Moodus Noises” since he was a young boy and had been quoted in an article on “Volcanic and Seismic Disturbances in Southern Connecticut,” which appeared in the Connecticut Magazine Vol. IX, pp. 68-74 in the 1890s. He says of the “Moodus Noises”:
“It has long been a belief of my own, which has come to me after some years of study, that the famous ‘Moodus Noises’ was a result of, and connected with, the great volcanic eruptions and seismic disturbances in ancient days. Not a few people in our State today will pronounce these noises to be a myth; a tradition which has no foundation in fact, but simply a superstition of the fathers. Such persons are wholly wrong. The did exist and are matters of record in history, and many now living can testify to having passed through experiences with them……”
“I may be pardoned from mentioning I was about eight years old, when living in southern Chatham, East Hampton Society. It was a black, stormy night in January. My father and mother [Hiram and Laura Markham] were making an evening call on a neighbor and the boy was alone with his grandmother. Early in the evening, without a moment’s warning, there came what seemed to be a tremendous rattle of stones on the southern wall and roof of the house [this is the same house sited in my previous blog article located at 95 Young Street]. Chairs and other furniture were dancing about; dishes were tossed up and down. Every instant those stones were expected to break through. Consternation prevailed and the frightened lad sought the protecting arms of his paternal relative. She, good lady, did not say a word, but her face whitened, lips tightened and she was frightened, as well as myself. The discharge lasted only for a minute or two and suddenly ceased. After only a small space of time the battery opened again, but now it was not so loud, so fierce in its attack and soon died away altogether. The next hour we spent together was a miserable one, expecting at any minute a reappearance of the apparent deluge of stones. One central idea in a boy’s brain remains at the present, and that was the end of the world was at hand.”
“Soon after nine father and mother came home, and the still agitated old lady questioned her son, ‘Did you hear those dreadful noises an hour ago?’ ‘Certainly mother.’ ‘And what were they?’ ‘Why, don’t you know?’ ‘Those were the Moodus noises.’ Immediately gentle peace descended and rested upon that disturbed household.”

Francis Wells and Mary Elizabeth Ackley Markham at the celebration of their 50th Wedding Anniversary on February 14, 1908, at their home at 95 Young Street.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Suggestions from Friends and Readers

I appreciate the kind words of support and genuine interest so many have conveyed concerning recent articles about our history. Having compiled a substantial list of topics, I have been pleasantly surprised by the frequent suggestions that have added to it. For example, Richard McKinney and Paula Free, the former working at the many factories in town such as Artistic Wire and Bevin Bros., and the latter, hanging after school at Barton’s Soda Shop, will provide some future stories.

The picture of Barton Drug, operated by Hubert Hodge for many years, became Barton's Soda Shop. Today this is the location of Devine Jewelers
Jim and Jill Swindal and Don Martin corrected facts on the age or ownership of their homes (much appreciated) and then there is Barbara Doherty. Barbara thought her house at 95 Young Street should have been on a list of homes built prior to 1799. My previous research taken from several studies of old EH homes had not revealed this. She had sent me a delightful email about her house and some history of her family in Town. Her grandparents had a cottage at the corner of Ola Avenue and Cornwell Terrace since the 1920s. Her parents, Michael and Beatrice Kripas were married at the Kayrock Inn in the early 1940s. Some of her stories and topics I plan to use in the future. But the heart of the matter was her house. I began to do a title search attempting to quantify the date it was constructed. To my surprise, my great-great-great grandfather, Hiram Markham had once owned this house. The builder however appears to be Clement Bates, and yes, around 1750.

Home of Barbara Doherty at 95 Young Street

A Middletown taxpayer/landholder, Bates received one of the proprietor grants in the distribution of the 3-mile Division creating Chatham. So, I thank all of you and greatly appreciate your kind words and assistance and will continue to fulfill this creative urge by ferreting out additional information about our community.